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Chicago Dance Ecosystem Report Highlights Gaps in Arts Sector Data

Cover of the June 2019 edition of Mapping the Dance Landscape in ChicagolandAs the communications and development specialist at Sustain Arts, a project that synthesizes and relays data on the arts sector, I had the privilege of partnering with Candid and See Chicago Dance (the leading dance service organization in Chicago) to publish Mapping the Dance Ecosystem in Chicagoland. This study revisits seminal Dance/USA research published in 2002 and synthesizes data about dance organizations, funding, and participation in Chicago.

The study demonstrates dance sector growth:

  • From 2002 to 2016, the number of dance studios and schools increased by 97 percent.

  • The number of dance-makers increased by 23 percent.

  • Institutional philanthropic funding for dance increased by 46 percent, despite a significant decline following the 2008 financial crisis.

And some worrisome trends:

  • Funding was directed to relatively few organizations; the top three received 56 percent of dollars.

  • Only 9 percent of funding was targeted toward communities of color, something that is required to address areas of inequity.

  • Some 12 percent of dancers and choreographers worked without pay, and nearly two-thirds earned less than $15,000 annually.

Our hope in publishing these findings (confirming what many Chicago dance stakeholders know from lived experience) was to catalyze conversations that lead to concrete actions that increase the health and vitality of dance in the Chicago region. The need for more accurate data in the arts sector has already emerged as a crucial discussion.

Since we published the study in March 2019, several readers expressed disappointment that it did not include information on physically integrated dance and the experiences of dancers, choreographers, and audiences with disabilities. Others noted that the demographic data in the study describing the race and ethnicity of dance artists didn’t accurately reflect what we know to be true. Specifically, that there are more Native American and Asian American dance artists than the study reported. Still others expressed concern that our methodology for capturing philanthropic funding, which combined both paid and authorized grant awards, was confusing and potentially misleading.

These inaccuracies and methodological limitations reflect the state of the data currently available to the arts sector.

Our methodology was to synthesize information from existing, reputable arts and cultural databases (see p. 8 of the report for a complete list of data sources), analyze that data to draw conclusions, and incorporate feedback from local dance experts.

We were acutely aware at the outset of the project that, although data can enrich our understanding of the ecosystems in which we operate, it can also reinforce harmful biases. When we fail to collect and relay data on historically marginalized groups, we effectively make them invisible by omission. Thus, a primary goal of this project was to highlight gaps in knowledge that require further data collection and research. We included questions in the study prompting readers to consider what further research is needed.

I am deeply grateful to the excellent advocates who called attention to the lack of data on artists with disabilities and from other marginalized groups. A narrative that doesnt include their stories is not only incomplete but potentially damaging to people and organizations that have worked to dismantle oppressive barriers and gain greater visibility. On behalf of all groups that contributed to the study, Id like to sincerely apologize for these omissions.

Sustain Arts, Candid, and See Chicago Dance have taken the following steps to amend the report and work to ensure that future narratives are clearer and more inclusive:

  1. We amended text in the philanthropic funding section to explain in greater detail our data collection methodology (which is funder-oriented) and its implications, specifically for recipient organizations.

  1. We added information to the report about physically integrated dance in Chicagoland. Although existing data sets are not available, we were able to gather anecdotal information from the local physically integrated dance community.

  1. We added an explanation to the report about why demographic data on the race and ethnicity of dance artists in Chicagoland doesn’t reflect what we know to be true. The updated report with these select additions is available here.

  1. See Chicago Dance, the leading dance service organization in Chicago, has amended its database that catalogs local dance artists and organizations to track physically integrated dance. We encourage other organizations that capture data about their constituents to take similar proactive steps to improve information gathering for the future.

  1. See Chicago Dance is building new partnerships with individuals and organizations working in physically integrated dance. As a first step, their staff attended the Dance and Disability workshop at the Dance/USA conference this week in Cleveland, Ohio.

We hope this moment also sparks ideas about what steps you and your organization might take to encourage more inclusive data collection.

“Where to start?” you ask.

Based on what we have learned, we suggest that, if your organization collects data, you dissect your process and ask, “Whom am I missing?” and “What activities am I not capturing?” Asking the same questions about the external databases and research that you rely on for information is also a great way to take action. And if your exploration leads you to incomplete or inequitable data, I urge you to contact the person on your team, or the external researcher, responsible for data collection and analysis to share your concern. Seriously, do it this month. Call them, take them to lunch, or invite them to your office to review the data in question and get to the bottom of flaws together.

We must hold each other accountable and all take responsibility for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our sector’s research efforts.

The impact will extend beyond our spreadsheets. More inclusive data has the potential to change our programming, staffing, marketing, grantmaking, and cultural policy for the better.

Topics: Social Sector Data Dance Chicago, IL