Performance evaluations in the arts: evidence from the Netherlands and Flanders

Date: 1 June 2015

Venue: University of Antwerp, Hof van Liere, F. de Tassis hall - Prinstraat 13 - 2000 Antwerp

Time: 3:30 PM

PhD candidate: Ellen Loots

Principal investigator: Prof. dr. Arjen van Witteloostuijn

Co-principal investigator: Prof. dr. Annick Schramme

Short description: PhD defence Ellen Loots - Faculty of Applied Economics


If measuring and assessing the performance of organizations is an arduous task, measuring and assessing the performance of nonprofit organizations in the arts may be even thornier. Nonprofit organizations tend to accrue divergent goals and seek to satisfy multiple stakeholders including their funders. Artistic production can be considered as a collaborative effort by many different parties, of whom the values and interests may not align.

Building upon different literatures such as nonprofit studies, studies of valuation and evaluation, and the institutional logics perspective from within neo-institutional organization theory, in our thesis we study the performance of organizations in the arts. More specifically, in three empirical chapters the thesis focuses on evaluation processes by parties external to organizations in the performing arts (mainly theatre) in the Netherlands and Flanders.

In a first chapter, we investigate the intentions and implications of the income standard, a measure developed by the government in order to evaluate the financial performance of arts organizations. In the Netherlands, with the income standard the government breaks with a long-lasting tradition of financing the arts with 'lump sum subsidies' in favor of a 'matching' principle, which may be a threat to the nonprofit form of organizing the arts.

In Flanders, an equivocal measure may engender unwarranted spendings or accounting practices. A second chapter investigates to what extent expert panels take into account the criteria that a government puts forward in order to assess subsidy applicants. By quantitative content analyses and statistical testing, we find that in both the Netherlands and Flanders artistic criteria prevail in the assessments, to the detriment of social and audience considerations, and business-related criteria. Theatre critique is the central theme of a third chapter, in which we focus on the selection and influence processes by professional reviewers for high-quality newspapers. Based on in-depth interviews with Dutch and Flemish theatre critics, we disclose how a market logic is increasingly becoming part of the reviewing process.

Taken together, by disentangling performance evaluations, this thesis yields evidence on how elements of a market logic have entered the logic of a state and that of the media. We infer several implications for arts organizations (that combine a professional, corporate and community logic) and illuminate behavior that may illustrate the resistance of the arts field against market imperatives.