Making CultureCount

By: Joel Brown

The color scheme - washed-out Howard Johnson's - takes some getting used to. But CultureCount, which calls itself new England's Cultural Database, could end up being a valuable tool for arts managers, funders, fund-seekers and journalists. Mind you, the account-creation process is not without its baffling moments. "Are you an individual artist or a humanist?" is a yes-or-no question to CultureCount. But the web site, a project of the New England Foundation for the Arts, offers the beginnings of a treasure trove of "financial, demographic, geographic, and other related information about businesses, cultural organizations and individual artists" in the six-state region.

The data includes 22,000 records from government sources, IRS form 990s, public and private funders and more. Much of it is searchable by location. I popped up a community profile for my homebase of Newburyport and learned that our borders contain 42 cultural nonprofits, 11 cultural businesses and 180 vacation homes. A pie chart told me how many of us are married, widowed, divorced or never married. Popping our zip code into a form on a different page brought me to an alphabetical listing of those 53 cultural groups - I knew about Anna Smulowitz Productions, but not AMERICAN GUILD OF ORGANISTS - NEWBURYPORT, MASSACHUSETTS CHAPTER. All are linked to profile/contact pages and located on Google maps. Nice. Of course, mass data collection like this leads to some anomalies - I'm sure the Excellent Jazz Band is, less clear why they're the only one of our town's many bands to make the cut. The gallery listing is kinda hodgepodge too, with a certain Massachusetts focus. Presumably that will improve quickly as more groups sign up.

"CultureCount is an outgrowth of NEFA's New England Cultural Database, which was useful as a data warehouse for the small group of researchers and state arts agency staff that knew to use it. CultureCount is geared toward a more public audience," Dee Schneidman, NEFA Research Manager, said in the replease announcing the site.

Clicking over to look at a bar graph of the last decade's cultural grants in 01950, I learned that only four sources of grants are currently in the database - Mass. state and local cultural councils, the National Endowment for the Arts and the NEFA itself. I used the site's Impact Calculator to determine the economic impact of those 53 organizations on our town and found they spent - gulp - almost $11 million last year, with an additional $7 million in indirect impact. Averaging over $207,000? I am going to have to look at that list more closely - the numbers seem high. But they sure offer a starting point for discussion, especially for cultural groups trying to shake some money or attention from local governments in these strapped economic times.