Bill Clinton was president. Cher topped the charts. The millennium loomed. And the Chicago Symphony Orchestra wanted a little help with audience research.
We began working with cultural organizations in 1999, starting in our hometown—first with the CSO and, eighteen months later, with the Art Institute of Chicago. Both of those projects turned into years-long relationships and led to engagements with other renowned museums and performing arts organizations around the country. Our research began to challenge longstanding assumptions and shine light on new possibilities.
In 2003, we started working with science museums, public media producers, and foundations that support the arts.
Then, in 2005, our founders—Cheryl Slover-Linett and Peter Linett—were joined by Chloe Chittick Patton, Sarah Lee, and other colleagues who helped grow Slover Linett into one of the leading cultural research consultancies in the U.S.
2005 also saw us move into our current offices in a converted factory building in Chicago’s Ravenswood Corridor. (Well, not entirely converted. There’s still a manual elevator straight out of a Bogart movie.)
The rest has been a story of learning with and from our clients – and with and from their audience, communities, and participants. Each year, it seems, we take on new and more complex research about how culture works, how participation is changing, and how experimentation can lead to relevance.
Years ago, we were bummed when one of our freelance data-entry workers told us he had to quit: his band was going on tour. That band? The Arcade Fire. That young man? Multi-instrumentalist and composer Richard Reed Parry.
Next door to our suite in the building on Ravenswood was the political office of Rod Blagogevich, then governor of Illinois. So we shouldn’t have been surprised one morning to find federal agents blocking the hallway and carting out his files. Wire fraud, attempted extortion, and conspiracy to solicit bribes? “That’s the Chicago way.”
We used to work in higher education as well as the cultural sector, helping universities like Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and the University of Chicago understand their applicants, students, and alumni. That practice was acquired by Huron Consulting in 2013.
Over the years, our staff of researchers-by-day has included a circus performer, a classical pianist, a BMX bike-dancer, and a theater director. It still includes some people who might surprise you.
To me, research is a means to an end, not an end in itself. That’s why we don’t go into a project advocating a particular method in advance. We always try to better understand what an organization or funder is trying to accomplish through cultural engagement. Then we pick from the many tools in our toolkit: frameworks, models, and methods from our various disciplines and backgrounds.”