Technology and the Performing Arts Field: Usage and Issues

Suzanne Callahan

The world is constantly evolving in how it uses technology. In consequence, the arts field has struggled, adapted, and sometimes excelled in its own utilization of technology. To capture and better understand these trends, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation commissioned a study of technology usage in the arts field to learn about organizations’ practices and needs. This report combines a comprehensive survey of the arts field with more recent in-depth qualitative research.

In late 2008, a survey was administered to the memberships of five discipline-based arts service organizations: the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), Dance/USA (D/USA), the League of American Orchestras (LAO), OPERA America, and Theater Communications Group (TCG). Information collected from the survey provided a rich resource of information about organizations’ range of experiences and attitudes towards technology. Newer qualitative research was conducted through case studies and interviews. A combined analysis seeks to present the survey information in its full depth and nuance, and augment it with up-to-date material that reveals the sometimes profound changes that organizations have undergone in their use of technology since the survey.

Within the research, the experiences of non-profit arts organizations are examined, with special consideration to questions about their trials and successes: What are the most prevalent technological barriers that organizations face? How do these barriers affect their management practices—and what kind of toll do they take on staff and boards? In what ways have arts organizations demonstrated creativity, resilience and leadership in adapting to technology use? And what are possible solutions and programs that would support the field?

In order to better understand the true circumstances of arts organizations, the analysis identifies eight key themes that recurred among all of these sources. These themes are presented visually to convey a sense of their relative prevalence and importance in responses. Then, each key theme is explored individually, to reveal the detail and trends that the surveys conveyed and to incorporate the new research (case studies and interviews), which updates and illuminates the survey responses.

The themes and highlights that emerged from this analysis hint at future directions for technology research in the non-profit arts field and better prepare Mellon and service organizations to design responses to the field’s technology needs.

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