Empowering Arts Leaders with High-Quality Data and Evidence-Based Resources: In Conversation with SMU DataArts Director Zannie Giraud Voss

Professor Zannie Voss (Photo: Kim Leeson)Zannie Giraud Voss Ph.D. is Director of SMU DataArts as well as Chair and Professor of Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship in the Meadows School of the Arts and the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. She is also one of the co-creators of the MMIAM programme. Laura Adlers interviewed Professor Voss recently to discuss the evolution of the MMIAM programme and her new role as Director of SMU DataArts.

You are one of the co-chairs and co-creators of the MMIAM programme, now in its sixth year. How has the programme evolved since it was first launched?

The biggest evolution since launching is now having a fabulous alumni base – a very welcome addition to the programme!

We have learned over time how to ease the transition to new countries and how to help students be mindful that the ability to adapt to new cultures is an essential part of what they learn in the programme.  The course content has also evolved.  We communicate with students and our international advisory board about whether students are getting out of the programme what they need in order to be successful in their chosen careers, and we have made adjustments to meet those needs.

What is the focus of study for the MMIAM programme at Southern Methodist University?

The students begin the programme at SMU.  Our intial thought in designing curriculum was for each of the universities to provide students course offerings that reflect the strengths of their faculty and strengths of the unique aspects of each country’s way of producing/presenting/ exhibiting arts and culture.  Towards these ends, the focus of study at SMU is on comparative international cultural policy, international law and the arts, arts budgeting and nonprofit financial management, cultural economics and the international art market, and fundraising in the arts.

Why do you think the specific study of international arts management is important for the profession and for the cultural sector?

First, the arts market is international, so it makes sense to prepare those going into the profession for that reality.  The arts are borderless.  There are international tours in the performing arts.  Dance, music, plays, and opera are interpreted and performed outside their country of origin.  There are global distribution systems for films, books, and recorded music.  Works of art are exchanged by museums around the globe, and exhibitions travel internationally.  Those who want to work in this arena need to understand that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all cultural lens on how work gets done.

Second, regardless of how well someone understands the ecosystem of arts and culture in their own country, there is always something to be learned by studying how the arts are produced, presented, valued, and consumed in other countries.  Diversity of perspectives helps us to assess the benefits of alternative models.  Good ideas can come from anywhere.

Professor Zannie Voss presenting (Photo: Kim Leeson).

Professor Zannie Voss presenting (Photo: Kim Leeson).

DataArts.RB

In August 2018, SMU announced a merger between the National Center for Arts Research and DataArts and the news that you are leading this exciting new organization. Can you tell us more about SMU DataArts and the work you and your team are doing?

SMU DataArts exists to empower arts and cultural leaders with high-quality data and evidence-based resources and insights that help them to overcome challenges and increase impact.  We collect data from arts and cultural organizations and link it to data on their communities.  Out of this, we generate insights and knowledge, and then personalize this knowledge to individual organizations through the creation of online tools. In essence, we are providing arts leaders more knowledge about their organizations out of their own data. We undertake this work to help the national field of arts and cultural organizations be increasingly essential, robust and sustainable contributors to their communities and to have more resources to direct to mission-related work.  Our intention is that by making the simple things simple, we can help a growing number of organizations make the hard things possible.

What are some of the notable trends you are seeing through your research of the U.S. cultural sector in recent years?

Arts and cultural organizations in the U.S. are facing headwinds. There is environmental uncertainty related to changes that affect tax-deductibility of contributions, regular threats to the elimination of federal arts funding, and changing consumer preferences that favor digital, on-demand consumption. Moreover, the organizations are largely cash-strapped and unprepared to weather another economic downturn, with working capital shrinking by 55% for the average organization between 2013 and 2016, and average attendance on the decline for more than half of the arts and cultural sectors. Arming those who lead these organizations with more facts, knowledge, and tools related to organizational health is essential for long-term sustainability.

 

 

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