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SMU DataArts Receives $30,000 Grant From National Endowment For The Arts

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SMU DataArts, a national center for arts research, has received a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This grant will support expansion of a data collection project conducted by TRG Arts, SMU DataArts' longtime partner in advancing the culture and arts sector, which is helping arts organizations in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. understand how the COVID-19 virus has affected their operations.

The project is the COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard, developed by TRG Arts in collaboration with U.K.-based audience analytics company Purple Seven, and launched in early April. The dashboard, which is free, provides near real-time intelligence and advice to help arts leaders see results as they respond to the pandemic.

When an organization signs up for the dashboard, an automated data feed is set up between the organization's box office and the dashboard's secure server. The automated feed provides a daily update on ticket sales, refunds and donations for the organization. In addition, data from all other organizations participating in the dashboard is aggregated in an anonymous format to create a national benchmark, which shows up on the dashboard and allows an organization to see how it compares with a large group of its peers. The dashboard is entirely anonymous, so no one else's sales figures or customer data are identifiable to an organization. The dashboard provides daily insights for individual organizations that they can share with constituents and stakeholders; reveals sector trends in almost real-time, which can assist in short- and long-term planning; allows arts leaders and policy makers to track daily sales data across entire sectors; and by data gathering and benchmarking across the U.K., Canada and the U.S., gives a clearer picture of the effects of the virus on the arts sector and the recovery in each country. Monthly Insight Reports will be posted on the SMU DataArts and TRG Arts websites.

Currently, nearly 400 arts organizations in the U.K. and the U.S. are participating in the dashboard, and SMU DataArts and TRG Arts hope to increase that to 1,000 with the help of the NEA grant, which will allow secure feeds to be established with five additional ticketing software providers.

"The COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard is already showing value in the U.K. by providing insightful data for use by trade bodies, funders, government and the media," said TRG Chief Executive Officer Jill Robinson. "The generous and savvy investment by the National Endowment for the Arts will help drive rapid volume growth of this critical, quality intelligence for use by U.S. arts organizations and sector stakeholders."

SMU DataArts will integrate data collected through the project into its larger data set on arts organizations and their communities nationwide to research important issues in patronage and sustainability.

"We are deeply grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts for its support," said Dr. Zannie Voss, director of SMU DataArts. "This is a critical moment to tap into near real-time intelligence to help arts and cultural leaders overcome the challenges brought on by the pandemic. NEA funding will not only allow more U.S. organizations to access their own COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard, but it will provide us data to closely examine how patron decisions affect organizational health during these extraordinary times."

For more information about the COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Dashboard, including instructions on how to enroll, visit

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