Taking Note: More Resources for Arts Data-Miners

By Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research & Analysis
Museum hallway lined with paintings

Delaware Art Museum by flickr user Jeffrey.

The nation's museums and libraries are taking prodigious steps to bring their most prized collections of artistic and cultural heritage online. But what about data concerning those institutions? If we increasingly have the chance to view a painting, piece of sculpture, or rare manuscript from any location, then how easy is it to access basic stats about those items, to run them through analysis without cumbersome software, and to create visualizations that can be shared on multiple platforms?

The Institute of Museum & Library Services, under the intrepid leadership of Director of Planning, Research, and Evaluation Carlos Manjarrez, is on the case. Manjarrez and his talented staff have created an open data catalog at data.imls.gov. 

Powered by the firm Socrata, the site currently hosts at least three major data sources: administrative data covering past IMLS grant recipients from 1996 to 2013; a "census" of U.S. museums, itself flowing from a combination of survey and administrative data; and 20 years of survey data from U.S. libraries.

Offering more than the data alone, the IMLS site lets users build original reports and visualizations of the data, and it enables web developers and/or "hackers" to grab APIs of these datasets for the purpose of styling new apps.

This new service, like IMLS' regular participation in data hackathons, is part of the agency's efforts to make good on the President's "open data" and "open government" initiatives. The NEA has its own game afoot: later this year, we intend to roll out the first of a series of new and improved Arts Data Profile pages, with interactive data visualizations to accompany descriptive statistics on a host of arts-related research topics. And a few months ago we launched the National Archive of Data on Arts & Culture, a growing library of arts-related datasets and their technical documentation. Finally, on the Research page of the NEA website, the public can download reports stemming from projects that received funding under the agency's Research: Art Works program. 

The Office of Research & Analysis will spend much of 2015 not only on expanding these resources, but on finding ways to track their utility among researchers and policy-makers so that we can anticipate shifts in demand and adjust our products accordingly.