Are There Too Many Arts-Related Studies? And What If There Are?

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Judith H. Dobrzynski, on her blog Real Clear Arts, may have muddied the otherwise clear waters when it comes to the utility and especially the validity of arts reports, studies and statistics. To be sure, the industry is absolutely saturated with them — since the nonprofit arts world, for example, has learned how to leverage statistics to achieve progress in governmental and philanthropic circles, the means of delivering those statistics have multiplied. (So much so that Ian David Moss’ Arts Policy Library idea is not only terrific but abundantly necessary.)

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But as in anything scalable, quality can vary greatly when reports, studies and statistics are required at a faster rate than perhaps research organization can prepare them with adequate quality — or just common sense — control. That’s what Dobrzynski is getting at — consider a recent piece, she asks, released by Chorus America study. It looks at trends in choral singing and reaches conclusions and employs methodologies that seem suspect. Alas, she writes, the Chorus American study is

…hardly alone among arts organizations. I’ve already written here about the useless statistics collected by the Association of Art Museum Directors, imploring them to collect better information. (They told me they’re working on it…then said nothing was decided on the subject.)

…an Italian medical professor published a study in Circulation: The Journal of the American Heart Association supposedly showing that listening to dramatic music, like opera, influenced the human cardiovascular system predictably and therefore had application in the treatment of heart disease and stroke.

…But when I called the AHA, asking to speak with other researchers about the study, the whole thing fell apart. The recommended doctor, a board member, ripped into the study’s design and conclusions. What he said made perfect sense. (Makes one wonder, then, why the editors published it…) Let’s hope no opera company started using the study to attract audiences.

Are flawed studies a byproduct of the never-ending scramble for pro-arts talking points? How are the arts debased or devalued by studies that aren’t rigorous enough as to be skewed — noticably — toward a particular viewpoint?