Data skills are critical for future leaders

data analytics

Guest post by Sherry Wagner-Henry

The Bolz Center for Arts Administration is an MBA degree program located in and supported by the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has been a part of the business school since its inception in 1969.  What this means on the coursework side of the learning equation is that Bolz students are getting the core curriculum offered to all students pursuing an MBA degree, which includes a Data to Decisions statistical analysis course.  The core courses are coupled with specialized courses in arts administration--Foundations Seminar (one year), Nonprofit Board Leadership and Placement (one year) and Cultural Planning and Consulting (one year). Electives are drawn from approved depth and breadth areas--such as Entrepreneurial Management, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, Data Analytics, Finance, Real Estate, Urban Planning, Market Research, etc.

Many of our students have become drawn to the Creative Placemaking movement and are therefore taking more classes in urban and regional planning, community development and finance.  Within that range, several of them focus on urban economics, population statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data, as well as real estate development and planning, so data analysis is a significant component of what we do.  But we do not have as many dedicated courses required in data analytics as perhaps some other programs.  Instead, we are building the tools and techniques into other coursework, like our cultural planning, strategy, fund development, program evaluation and market research-based consulting projects with arts organizations and municipalities.  We also put some of these skills and tools to the test through the Bill Dawson Research Initiative--a funded research partnership with the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP)— and in speaker and specialized workshops that introduce us to additional tools and data resources.

New this year for Bolz, it should be noted that we are also consulting with Blackbaud™ to better understand and measure the use of social media in disseminating information around creative placemaking--by mapping and analyzing influencer behavior.  Our analysis will be applied to better understand how to help universities engage in this work more effectively, find funding resources and begin to explore teaching and research in this field.  Our collaboration, which also includes support and content input from the Alliance for Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) at the University of Michigan, has been a highly useful exercise for students to practice data analysis, and translate that data into insights and recommended actions in service to real-world, real-time solutions.

I agree with Levitt that these skills are critical for future leaders to understand, practice and translate into insights and hopefully, actions that can help them make better decisions about organizational capacity, growth and sustainability.  I believe that many management and leadership programs across the country will continue to build courses and applied learning opportunities into their program offerings, just as the Bolz Center has done.  However, I also predict that for those of us not based in Fine Arts schools and colleges (such as Business, Public Policy and Nonprofit and Public Management) we will have more access to courses and instructors as well as more bandwidth to incorporate this learning outcome into the whole of our students' education.


Sherry Wagner-Henry is the director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration in the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The Bolz Center supports an MBA degree program that connects artists and other creatives to business curriculum and experiences, fostering inquiry and collaborative practice around the processes for making a living, spaces and places where the arts are central to learning and leading.  Sherry is responsible for BCAA strategy—including recruitment of students as emerging leaders, teaching through applied professional practice, job placement, and the development of enhanced educational experiences—and the rollout of the UW campus-wide Arts Business Initiative.