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History of the Cultural Data Project / Professional Opera Survey Collaboration
Larry Bomback, Director of Finance & Operations, OPERA America
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Original Content2/10/2010

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In August 2008, OPERA America staff met with Marian Godfrey and Neville Vakharia of Pew Charitable Trusts to discuss the possibility of OPERA America integrating its Professional Opera Survey (POS) with the Cultural Data Project (CDP). OPERA America had already been planning to turn the Professional Opera Survey into an online form, and consultants Cool Spring Analytics had referred OPERA America to CDP to see if there was mutual benefit. After seeing a demonstration of how the CDP collects information and generates useful reports instantaneously, OPERA America staff left the meeting impressed and excited about a potential collaboration.

OPERA America staff convened a small committee of finance network representatives to gauge their interest in and enthusiasm for such a collaboration. The committee included a few representatives from companies in Pennsylvania and California, where CDP had already established a presence in the state, and they were particularly supportive of a joint form. Other representatives, including those from New York City Opera and Boston Lyric Opera, were already aware that CDP would soon have a presence in their states and saw the inevitability, if not the necessity, of an integrated data collection system.

After discussions with other national arts service organizations in early 2009, OPERA America formally engaged CDP as a collaborating partner. Both organizations immediately went to work on creating supplemental pages that would feature questions from the POS not collected in the CDP’s existing 12-page form. Professional Company Members (PCM) in states where the CDP was already being administered would have their old data automatically imported into this new combined form.

A test version was available for OPERA America staff to troubleshoot and comment on in fall 2009, and a pilot phase for select users, began in November 2009. Participating companies included Pittsburgh Opera, Mississippi Opera, Sarasota Opera, Opera in the Heights, Fort Worth Opera, The Santa Fe Opera, Opera Omaha, Townsend Opera Players, Glimmerglass Opera, San Diego Opera, Opera North, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera and The Dallas Opera. Pilot users completed a short survey afterwards that provided valuable feedback about the new form and resultant changes were incorporated before the end of the year.

OPERA America made the new form available to all PCMs in January 2010, thus making OPERA America the first the national arts service organization to launch a collaborative online survey form alongside the CDP. Larry Bomback led a webinar with CDP’s Jessica Cahail on how to best input data and maximize this comprehensive resource; this webinar will shortly be available to members on the OPERA America Web site.

The annual Development, Marketing and Education Benchmarking Surveys have also been transitioned into an online form and incorporated into the collaborative survey process. After a user submits both the CDP Data Profile and the Opera Survey, an e-mail is sent to the user, providing hyperlinks to the Benchmarking Survey forms. The information can be forward to the appropriate department to complete these forms. Duplicate data submitted in the CDP Data Profile and Opera Survey will auto-fill certain fields in the Benchmarking Surveys to eliminate redundant questions and ensure accuracy across departments.

Taken as a whole, these powerful online management tools will streamline the annual data collection process and provide all statistics for future POS and Benchmarking Reports.
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