Mapping the Media Arts Field

Jack Walsh

“Mapping the Media Arts Field” is a NAMAC research project that sets out to accomplish something long overdue—create a baseline assessment of the media arts nationwide. The project is critical to field-wide planning and to the long-term health and viability of our field. It is designed to capture empirical data about the field and to assess our economic, community, and creative indicators. At the project’s conclusion, we will have produced the first comprehensive national census of the media arts and created an interactive, living tool for use by media arts organizations and stakeholders, as well as by the general public, to help them understand the state and ramifications of independently produced media in the United States.

We are undertaking the project in three stages, which together will lay the groundwork for current and future analyses related to the media arts field and public policy:

  • Research and Development (June 2005-July 2006)
  • Data Collection and Analysis (January-December 2007)
  • Dissemination (March-December 2008)

“Mapping the Media Arts Field” began formally in June 2005, when we launched the research and development phase. To ascertain the informational needs of the field, we convened leaders of 49 organizations that collectively represent the field’s diversity. Next, we engaged the Center for Survey and Statistical Methodology at Iowa State University to shape a survey instrument that would integrate the identified constituent needs with NAMAC’s research design, and would include specific questions for production facilities, exhibitors, and distributors.

In March 2006, we convened at the William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia a group of peer organizations that also serve national constituents. Attending that meeting were Karla Berry, University Film/Video Association; Gretjen Clausing, NAMAC board of directors; David Haas, Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media; John Mungar, Dance/USA; Carol Pierson, National Federation of Community Broadcasters; and Kavita Singh, Community Technology Centers Network. We asked this focus group to review the survey prototype, provide feedback about its direction, and offer advice about how to maximize field-wide participation toward the project’s next phase, data collection. Finally, we identified three highly regarded analysts to review the collected data and present their findings on the role of the media arts as a social force, once the survey is complete: Roberto Bedoya will focus on cultural policy; Tom Borrup on economic development; and Alyce Myatt on democratic engagement and the creative process.

“Mapping the Media Arts Field” will provide the most comprehensive view ever of the media arts in the United States. Although it will not survey individuals, it will capture information from organizations that provide direct support services to those who create independent media, as well as organizations that exhibit, broadcast, and distribute their works. The resulting baseline assessment will position NAMAC and our member organizations to begin building the evidentiary case for the field’s value and impact.

For this project to succeed, we will need your help. We will call on you to fill out our survey, which is quite comprehensive and asks for information on staffing, programs, financials, and community. The survey will be long, but we hope that the resulting benefits will compel you to complete it. And we will award prizes like iPods and Conference registrations that will help motivate you to complete it in a timely manner. We will also be seeking your help in referring us to organizations in our field that may not be NAMAC members. We want to cast the widest net we can, which means including data from collectives and unincorporated groups as well as university- or museum-based programs. This request for other organizations will accompany the survey. If all goes well, and we can raise the resources to undertake the data collection and analysis phase, look for surveys to begin appearing in June 2007. We would like to report out preliminary findings at our 2007 Conference in Austin.

“Mapping the Media Arts Field” is just the beginning of NAMAC’s strategy to create longitudinal data and analysis about the media arts field. Periodically, we will resurvey the field so we can measure our health and accomplishments over time. In building this evidentiary database we seek to create tools that our members can use to create their stories about the role of the media arts in American culture, as well as workforce development and community engagement. This is an extension of our ongoing policy work, which develops original research and presents it to our members for review in order to build the case for the media arts. And it will also complement the focus of this year’s regional meetings, where we will gather values-based stories about the work that our members do, stories that will be shared as a toolkit on our website in 2007.

Phase I of “Mapping the Field,” research and development, could not have been completed without the support of our partners, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Surdna Foundation, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, as well as all of our members who joined us in regional meetings in 2005 to let us know what kinds of information will be of use to all of you.