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Information Literacy for Arts Management Staff

As an arts management staff member, you work hard to create the content you need to successfully to reach your goals.

If you are in Educational Outreach, you might be writing discovery guides, lesson plans, teaching aids and other types of educator resources.

If you’re in Development, you’re probably authoring donor correspondence, grant proposals, and membership reports for senior management.

Marketing teams are busy developing press releases, advertising, guest lists, web pages, sales campaigns and content for many types of media outlets.

In order to accomplish this, everyone is creating email, documents, photos, spreadsheets, artwork, web pages, presentations, and other types of content we call “unstructured content”.

What is Unstructured Content ?

It's information that isn’t stored in tabular form. It doesn’t live in a database. For theatre companies, it’s usually everything that’s not in your box office system (most likely Tessitura).

Guess what? The latest data shows that unstructured content is growing five times as fast as structured content. In fact, 90% of all information in today’s companies is unstructured.

So, why do we ignore the fact that arts management professionals need to better organize and manage their unstructured information? Most of the time, they’re left to fend for themselves, the only technology support being their own hard drives or perhaps a shared drive for long term storage if they’re lucky.

Here’s the thing. The life of arts staff would be immensely better with some simple, foundation processes and policies in place. Without a shared understanding of the content created and used by departmental teams, the result is:

  • information chaos

  • wasted time searching for files

  • duplicated work

  • inadequate communications with patrons

  • lost transactions

Let’s start with the basics.

Information in digital form is usually referred to as a “content asset”.

And as mentioned above, digital information comes in two flavors: structured and unstructured.

Structured content lives in databases, which use columns and tables to express relationships. Unstructured content is everything else. Because unstructured content assets have so many formats (images, video, photos, text documents, spreadsheets, etc), we need some way to organize it that uses terms everyone is familiar with.

One method is to employ metadata fields. Metadata tags are associated with a particular piece of content. They tell us something meaningful about that content. Among many other things, they may tell us:

  • The author

  • The title of the content file

  • The date the content was created

  • What the content is about

  • Who the content is intended for

  • If the content is ready to be used or if it is still under development

Information flows through organizations much like a river. Do you know where the information you need comes from, upstream? Do you know who uses the information you create downstream? Every theatrical process, whether it be developing audience loyalty, constructing scenery, reaching out to young students or planning next year’s season requires information to be produced, defined, used, stored, and circulated across more than one department.

What if you were able to capture content at the point of creation and it was stored in a way that made it available to others so that they could find it easily for their own work?

Today’s business environments call on everyone to be content stewards. Developing guidelines for managing content increases the information literacy of staff members.

And here is a secret weapon for theatres:

By using strategies to better structure your unstructured content, you can merge it with your CRM data to give you valuable new insights into your audiences.

Yessss! The Holy Grail!

Jayne Dutra is an enterprise information architect and a stage designer. Her IT consulting practice supports performing arts companies to better organize their materials so that they can focus precious resources on the creative process instead of drowning in information overload.

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