Arts & Entertainment

A datathon for the arts: Harnessing the power of spreadsheets to expand arts access

Stock photo of files.
Stock photo of files.
Photo by Chris Blakeley via Flickr Creative Commons

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Dozens of researchers, artists, educators and community members are expected to spend this Saturday slicing and dicing numbers like these at the inaugural Los Angeles Arts Datathon. 

It's an event aimed at digging into numbers and coming up with big ideas -- in this case, on how to increase access to the arts in all corners of this sprawling region.

"Part of what we're trying to do is to actually look at the data and see if there are gaps in there -- either in the services that we provide, or in the grants that we give, or in the public art that we produce," said Wendy Hsu, digital strategist with L.A.'s Department of Cultural Affairs.

"Are there areas of vibrancy? Are there art deserts?" Hsu said. "If there is a desert, we want to actually be able to redeploy our services in a meaningful way."

The event is a partnership between the county arts commission and the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. And it's the latest step in the county's hunt for ways to expand the reach of arts programming and education. It's part of Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative launched by the Board of Supervisors in 2015.

"There's a lot of arts data out there, and folks don't really know that," said Bronwyn Mauldin, director of research and evaluation at the L.A. County Arts Commission. "Part of what we want to do is help people become aware of the data that is available and get them smarter about using arts data in developing programming and providing services around the county."

You can find the downloadable dataset participants will be working with at the event here. Participants are also encouraged to bring in new data.

The event has attracted a wide range of participants -- from data scientists and researchers to artists, educators and policy makers. 

After a series of presentations -- including a keynote speech from Sunil Iyengar, director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts -- groups will spend hours slicing and dicing data. Small groups will spend hours analyzing and brainstorming and, at the end of the day, they will make recommendations for policies, campaigns or research projects to spread the arts to more communities. 

"We work in these datasets all the time," said Mauldin. "But I'm really interested to see what's going to happen when we bring smart, thoughtful people from the community and have them take a look at the data with this lens of how do we improve access to the arts and find out what questions do they raise? What projects do they think of?"

Register for the event here or follow along on social media with #artsdatathon.

Correction: An earlier version of this post included an inaccurate title for Wendy Hsu. KPCC regrets the error.