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Data literacy and empowerment

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

For close to a decade, and accelerated during the pandemic, the arts sector has been systematically building its digital capacity. Now it’s time to up our data competency. Today, digital and data literacy are fundamentally important and intertwined skill sets.

Learning how to gather, manage and share meaningful and impactful data allows us to make better decisions and plan brighter futures.

Other sectors have known the value of data for years. Retailers micro-inspect our purchasing history, airlines measure why flights are on time, and just about every service call, email, and interaction is tracked. The benefit of all this data? Companies can figure out how to better solve customer needs, improve and recommend services and operations, and so much more.

Self-governance of arts data will strengthen our sector’s ability to inform policy, influence investments, connect ecosystems and build bridges between sectors such as tourism and economic development. Some of these benefits have already begun to emerge from the data generated from the October 2021 Vancouver Island Arts Impact Study.

It’s no accident that the arts sector has yet to fully dive into data literacy. Data is power. It’s powerful and empowering. Big companies figured this out a long time ago, and have been getting bigger and richer from our data - all the while perpetuating myths meant to separate us from our data and make us feel powerless.


  • Data management is only for big companies

  • Data management is complex and difficult to understand

  • Data management requires big budgets, big teams, big platforms

  • More data is better and small datasets are worthless

  • Algorithms are better than humans at managing data


A lot of people are talking about data empowerment these days (aka literacy, competency, sovereignty, humanity), and there are all sorts of useful resources to help us upskill quickly and easily. Like the We All Count framework and Data Feminism.

Here on Vancouver Island, artists and arts organizations are starting to explore data sovereignty with the assistance of one of Canada’s top academics and leaders in global data empowerment. Over the past year or so, Creative Coast has had the good fortune of building a relationship with Professor Sheelagh Carpendale from Simon Fraser University’s Computer Science Department.

Sheelagh is Canada’s Research Chair in Information Visualization. Her research on information visualization, large interactive displays, and new media draws on her dual background in Computer Science (BSc. and Ph.D. Simon Fraser University) and Visual Arts (Sheridan College School of Design, and Emily Carr College of Art). This 15-minute video offers a bit of insight into her thoughts on data sovereignty.

This year we are submitting at least two data competency and empowerment grant proposals in partnership with Sheelagh: one to the Canada Council for the Arts (February 2022), and one to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) (September 2022).

Here is an excerpt from our Canada Council proposal.

The purpose of this project is to construct a foundational dataset of the economic, financial and social infrastructures that support Vancouver Island’s arts ecosystem, and begin to identify its less tangible structural hierarchies/inequities. The goal is an easy-to-understand and manage dataset that helps governments and practitioners achieve a more strategically and equitably resourced sector, equipped to fulfill its potential as a key driver of economic/social resilience, and digital connectivity.

Interested in joining our journey to data competency? Email us at

APRIL 2023 UPDATE: Neither the Canada Council nor NSERC grants were approved, but we were successful with Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant.


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