Community Characteristics as Performance Drivers

To consider what drives the performance of arts and cultural organizations, we return to the concept of the Arts and Culture Ecosystem and its elements: independent artists, arts and cultural organizations, the community, and cultural policy. This means that characteristics of each element of the Ecosystem should be considered as a potential factor that impacts performance. 

The NCAR Report is structured so that each performance index we report on is exploring a relationship that is unpacked into a numerator and denominator. For each numerator and denominator, we then identified likely organizational, community, and policy variables that act as predictors of it. The only measure we have at this time regarding independent artists is the percentage of the population who self-identify as artists, which we wrap in with our community variables.

What follows are the more interesting findings that answer the question:


Some of our findings confirm what you’d expect – i.e., they predict what you’d expect them to predict. Other findings were somewhat surprising and deserve more discussion and further exploration. 

Organizational Highlights

  • Organizational age and size (total expenses) boost performance in every case.
  • The more NEA and/or IMLS grants an organization receives, the higher performance is on each index.
  • The number of subscribers and whether the organization owned its own spaces exerted positive effects on performance. 
  • The number of world and national premieres and total number of live, self-produced shows – exerted positive effects on all but one model in which they appeared.

Other decisions and characteristics exerted different patterns of results. For example:

  • The number of local premieres increased program revenue and marketing expenses but decreased contributed revenue and engagement.
  • Funders appear to prefer giving money for world premieres and not for local premieres.
  • Local audiences may turn out to see the local premiere but not become more engaged with the organization.
  • Likewise, total square footage was positively related to attendance and engagement but negatively related to total offerings. Presumably, these large organizations invest in a small number of large offerings with broad appeal that both draw audiences and encourage community engagement.

Do any of these findings resonate with you and your organization? What did you find surprising? Let us know @artsresearch or on Facebook!