SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Finding Success and How To Maintain It

  • Posted Jun 27, 2019

Opinion | Karen Brooks Hopkins


As we review the findings of some of the recent SMU DataArts reports related to fundraising, audience behavior, and community vitality, it is essential to step back for a moment and focus on the field’s most vital asset – great programs!

Recently, after seeing several consecutive knockout shows at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse (including the Tony Award-winning, radically reimagined production of Oklahoma!), I am reminded that extraordinary artistic vision and courageous program choices are the most important ingredients for success.

As many arts organizations struggle with the day-to-day challenges of selling tickets and raising money, sometimes there are those rare seasons when the entire institution is simply “in the zone.” This state of being exists when every show is working, audiences are connecting with the content and funders are rewarding a well-run, consistently imaginative organization. These outcomes may have a lot to do with your organization’s Key Intangible Performance Indicators, or KIPI scores. Intangible aspects like good decision-making, artistic and managerial expertise, reputation and relationships, and intellectual capital are all difficult-to-measure elements that influence an organization’s performance.


It is thrilling when these “in the zone” moments come to fruition because of your good decision-making, extraordinary work, fundraising, and relationships with the community, but beware, they can vanish in an instant if the management team is unprepared or lacks the ambition to maximize success.


When things aren’t working well, we may spend hours in endless meetings discussing how to turn the situation around. But what about when everything is cooking at every level?


Resting on your laurels may be convenient, but when you are “in the zone” it is the worst time to kick back or retreat. As a leader, this is the opportune time to convene the staff for an unbridled creative brainstorm, allowing all suggestions and creative conversations to flow. Fundraising, in particular, can flourish when you “are hot,” so it’s the right time to step on the gas and accelerate renewals and increases while getting asks out immediately to all potential new supporters.


Development staff should be assigned to “greeting duty” every night of the run. Leave no stone unturned – top down/bottom up.


The “in the zone” seasons are the best for inhaling the data that you are collecting all year because it is precisely at this instant that you are poised to garner the maximum return from the information that lives inside of those reports and surveys. You are able to run analytic reports through your Cultural Data Profile account at any time. Go back, review your reports, uncover trends, and share your findings with colleagues and board members.


A hit show or exhibition doesn’t last forever. The force is with you – now, take advantage!

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About The Author

Karen Brooks Hopkins serves both as an intellectual partner and counsel, working with SMU DataArts' leadership on the critical issues prevalent in the arts and culture field, as well as an ambassador for the research center.

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