Solving the Underpants Gnomes Problem: Towards an Evidence-Based Arts Policy

Ian Moss

November 14, 2012 - 5:00pm to 6:30pm

DCA Storefront Theater
66 East Randolph Street

Ian David Moss, Research Director for Fractured Atlas and editor of Createquity

A famous South Park episode features a group of "underpants gnomes" who steal boxers and briefs while you sleep for profit. How would one profit from used underpants, one might ask? It turns out the underpants gnomes don't know either; their business plan (as presented by one of the gnomes) takes it on faith that one will lead to the other. While the underpants gnomes may be fictional, their lesson most certainly isn't: many interventions in the arts, whether undertaken by governments, foundations, or individual organization leaders, are grounded in little more than intuition and anecdotal experience. What's more, the research that does take place in the arts is typically pursued outside of the context of a shared research agenda for the field, resulting in a fragmented body of knowledge that only haphazardly serves the needs of those stewarding resources on behalf of our sector.

The likely consequences of this gap are no joke: wasted money, duplicated effort, veering far off track from intended goals. Fortunately, the tools for righting the ship already exist — we just need to figure out how to use them. In this expansive conversation, Ian David Moss will explore the untapped potential that research, evaluation, and learning offer for effective policy and decision-making, and consider what a true information infrastructure for the arts could someday look like.

As Research Director for Fractured Atlas, Ian David Moss helps funders, government agencies, and others support the field more effectively by harnessing the power of data to drive informed decision-making. Ian designed and leads implementation of Fractured Atlas's pioneering cultural asset mapping software, Archipelago, which aggregates and visualizes information about creative activities in a particular geography in order to better illuminate who's making art, who's engaging with it, where it's happening, and how it's made possible. Since 2007, he has also been editor of Createquity, a highly acclaimed arts policy blog followed by thousands of arts managers and enthusiasts around the world. Previously, he was Development Manager for the American Music Center and founded two first-of-their-kind performing ensembles: a hybrid electric chamber group/experimental rock band and a choral collective devoted to the music of the past 25 years. Ian has been named one of the top leaders in the nonprofit arts sector by his peers each year since 2010, and is in demand as a writer, editor, speaker, grant panelist, consultant, and guest lecturer. He holds BA and MBA degrees from Yale University and is based in Washington, DC.