Lessons Learned Report Coming Soon



What is Sustain Arts?

Through on-the-ground capacity building, Sustain Arts equips communities with meaningful data on activity in the arts and cultural sector. The project supports cross-discipline networks, brings to light new knowledge, creates intuitive technology, and promotes informed action. The work we do is positioned to answer critical questions such as: Where are arts and cultural organizations located? Who participates in the arts now, and who might in the future? Where does funding come from? How do the arts maintain relevance over time? And what are the funding and programmatic challenges to arts and culture that threaten long-term sustainability?


What is the project’s ultimate goal?

Sustain Arts goal is to increase data-driven decision-making in arts and culture. Individuals and organizations in the sector use our resources to strategically respond to everyday programmatic and funding challenges, while planning for long-term sustainability. Regionally, Sustain Arts fosters collective action and cultural planning efforts across traditional boundaries.


Why use data for arts and cultural decision-making?

Rather, Sustain Arts wonders, “Why is data used so rarely to make informed choices about arts and cultural activities?” While intuition and anecdotal information can never be replaced as a valuable part of decision-making, we’ve designed our resources to convey data in an accessible, relevant, and clear manner, addressing the everyday questions of the field. Grounding decisions in facts helps build strategic responses to the sector’s most pressing challenges and opportunities.


How do you expect arts and cultural leaders to participate?

Sustain Arts collaborates with a diverse group of stakeholders in each region—within this network, we gain valuable feedback on individual and institutional goals. In turn, these conversations assist in designing resources that are relevant and intuitive. Stakeholders shape Sustain Arts, making our work infinitely more valuable to their decision-making. Their participation increases the likelihood they will use our resources, ultimately influencing both opinions and actions.


How did you choose the regions?

Metro areas play a distinct role in the sector—they’re places where supportive economies can contribute to arts and cultural sustainability. Still, many face large-scale challenges that threaten the sector. Sustain Arts is focusing on diverse regions that demonstrate a commitment to bringing a data-driven approach to dialogue about art and culture, leveraging opportunities and addressing challenges. Additional geographic areas are dependent on interest, regional funding, the availability of data, and technological development.


Who is working on Sustain Arts?

Our partners each contribute to the expertise and knowledge base of the project. Sustain Arts was developed at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at Harvard University and transitioned out of Harvard ownership to a local ownership model in 2017.

Candid (formerly Foundation Center) is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide and maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. and, increasingly, global grant makers and their grants. Within Sustain Arts, they handle data collection and analysis.

Fractured Atlas empowers the cultural sector by eliminating practical barriers to artistic expression through new technology development, cultural asset mapping, research and data analysis, and advisory services. The team is tasked with building the Sustain Arts online data platform, making our research accessible and intuitive.

This combination of academic, philanthropic, technical, and industry competency forms the core project team. Equally critical is the engagement and participation of regional stakeholders, who bring their local expertise to the endeavor and maintain Sustain Arts resources at the end of research and development.


Who is funding the project?

We’ve intentionally assembled a broad cohort of individual and institutional funders, all of whom believe strongly in data-driven decision-making. Our complete list of funders can be found here, along with field advocates and research partnerships vital to the undertaking.


How are you ensuring relevant regional voices are heard?

To achieve diversity in the project’s invested parties, we’ve brought on field directors with years of experience in art and culture to support our work in each region. Tasked with ensuring Sustain Arts connects with individuals and institutions of all shapes and sizes, field directors cultivate a broad and representative network that contributes to the development of our resources. Furthermore, our online and public communication is designed to engage those invested in the conversation that may be outside our regions or unable to participate consistently in the process.


What is the project’s research design?

Sustain Arts builds on the work of many outstanding research efforts that have been conducted to date. Our focus is on aggregating and analyzing existing information, and where essential data has yet to be collected, supplementing our source list with primary research. The presentation of this information will be comprehensive and easily digestible.


How is Sustain Arts different from other data efforts in the sector?

Rather than deliver a single static report conveying the sector’s health at a particular moment in time, Sustain Arts offers a dynamically updated platform that reveals compelling information on art and culture over time, through simple and straightforward data visualizations. By aggregating existing data on funding, participation, artists and cultural organizations, and layering on new data on crowd-funding, donor advised funds, and emerging arts projects, Sustain Arts reveals the value of information in ways never seen before.

Sustain Arts is:

  • Updated over time through a dynamic online platform
  • Intuitive data visualization and technology—you don’t need a PhD to understand the information or how to use it
  • An asset for a diverse network of stakeholders, including policy-makers, large and small arts and cultural organizations, individual artists, for-profits and non-profits, private funders and individual donors
  • One of the largest collaborations of arts and cultural funders to date, including individual philanthropists, foundations, and service organizations
  • Both micro and macro-level information on the health of the sector, used to empower leaders to make data-driven decisions


Where do I fit in?

Once launched, Sustain Arts regional resources will be free-to-use and easily accessible at Sustainarts.org. Artists, cultural programmers, institutional administrators, civic leaders, educators, and others invested in a sustainable future for art and culture can engage with regional networks, gain new knowledge, search and visualize applicable data in our intuitive technology, and promote informed action.


What is the future of Sustain Arts?

While Sustain Arts has proven a useful tool in Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area and South East Michigan, core funders in the three regions have decided not to continue support of Sustain Arts moving forward. Thus, we will sunset Sustain Arts at the end of 2020 after eight years of providing free arts and cultural data to the arts and cultural community.

Sustain Arts Chicagoland online resources will remain available until December 31, 2020 and we’ve already concluded work in the San Francisco Bay Area and in South East Michigan.


Why sunset the project?

To understand why we’ve decided to sunset Sustain Arts it’s helpful to compare where the project started and where it is now.

Sustain Arts’ founders envisioned a robust national project with regional platforms across the country. We projected that the cost of updating data in each region would decrease as new regions were added and shared the cost of data licensing. However, when the project transitioned from central ownership at a major research institution to local ownership, Sustain Arts lost significant human and financial resources. Sustain Arts’ trajectory shifted from a national project covering many cities to a smaller project with only three regional platforms. Thus, the annual cost of maintaining and updating each regional Sustain Arts platform became higher than expected. Unfortunately, continuing this work without the significant additional financial and operational support is not feasible.