A new view of arts organization
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A new view of arts organization

Database expert Stuart Gripman shares how Airtable can fundamentally change the way arts organizations operate

The following post comes courtesy of author and database expert Stuart Gripman. Gripman has been wrangling databases for over two decades, first at FileMaker and later as the founder of Crooked Arm Consulting, a database consulting firm that has helped everyone from the U.S. space program to fine art patrons, system administrators, digital projection cinemas, vintners, oenophiles, aspiring mixologists, data recovery practitioners, architects, commercial artists, and a Grammy award-winning ensemble. He’s the author of multiple books on FileMaker, including the beloved ‘Missing Manual’ series.

One of the greatest advantages Airtable holds over spreadsheets and documents is real-time multi-user access to all the information in a Base. It’s easy to grasp how compelling that is, but wielding it effectively sometimes requires a little planning. Multiple users usually means multiple roles, each with its own needs. Showing all the information to all the users all the time is inefficient and potentially problematic. So how do we give each job role just enough information to achieve their objectives? Views.

Let’s take the case of Kelly. She’s the director of an art festival and maintains a Base with a row for each artist who will be participating at this year’s event. Besides the artist’s name, each row has information about their artistic medium, which booth number they’ve been assigned to, how much money they owe the festival, and everything else Kelly needs to execute the event. The festival offers optional electricity in the booths. And it’s here where Views will give each user just the right amount of information.

A couple days before the festival, setup crews descend upon the site and assemble the booths. The Electrician requires a list of booths to be wired. Kelly could simply share her Director’s View of the base with the setup staff, but that has everything about every artist and wading through all the extraneous information for the relevant bits it inefficient and error-prone. So let’s give our electrician her own View with just the info she needs to complete her job.

A quick aside to establish terminology. Each Base contains one or more Tables of data. A Table is just that, rows and columns of data. In our Art Festival Base, we have one Table called “Artists” with a number of columns pertaining to each Artists’ involvement in the festival. To see and interact with the data in a table, we use Views. Any given view doesn’t have to show all the columns or all the rows from its table. But hiding columns and filtering rows doesn’t alter the contents of the table, it simply doesn’t show information we don’t need to see in that View.

The default View in the Art Festival Base is the Director’s View. It has all the information about every artist including who ordered electricity. Our electrician just needs a list of booth numbers that require outlets so let’s create that for her.

Click on Director’s View and, from the menu that pops down, click Grid view. By default it’s given the title “View 2” but let’s name it something more apt. As soon as a new View is created the name is automatically selected so all we need to do is type “Electrician” and press Return or Enter.

If our new Electrician View appears suspiciously like the Director’s View, it’s because Airtable shows us all the available columns by default. But we can winnow those down to just what our electrician needs to see. Just to the right of the View name, click that “Hide Columns” button. A handy pop-down menu shows us all available columns and, at the moment, all of them are selected. Uncheck all of them except Booth Number. Now we’ve got it down to just the columns she needs to see- the name of the artist and the booth numbers.

“But wait!” you’re saying. She needs to see which artists get electricity. Why would we hide that column? Giving users exactly the amount of information they require isn’t solely about the columns. If we show every row, we’re still making our Electrician do more work than necessary by forcing her to look at every single artist just to determine which ones get electricity. Let’s spare her that burden by automatically hiding all the artists who haven’t requested wiring by adding a Filter to our View. Click on the “Add Filters” button, then click “add a filter”. To the right of the word “Where” click to select “Electricity” then check the box next to “is”. Our row count shrinks from 50 to 24 but nothing has been deleted, we’ve just filtered the non-electric rows from this view and the electrician can be certain that if the artist is in her view, they’ve requested electricity.

Now our electrician has a focused list enumerating only the artists who requested power and hiding the columns that are impertinent to the task. But let’s give her one more thing: a way to keep track of which booths have been wired. Click on the + to the right of Booth Number to make a new column. Type “Electric Complete” then click on “Single Line Text” and change it to “Checkbox”. Finally click Save.

The electrician can mark off the booths as they’re wired and Kelly, our intrepid Festival Director, will be able to keep an eye on the progress from her office in real time. This automatic updating between views flows both ways. As artists opt for electricity or change their minds and opt out, the Electrician view will seamlessly maintain the correct list of artists.

Let’s reflect on what we’ve achieved. Starting from a director’s view that shows all the information about every artist in the festival, we’ve identified a need to provide a targeted subset of that data to the electrician. By creating a new view, hiding some columns, and applying a filter, we can now present exactly the information the electrician needs, nothing more and nothing less.

The power of Airtable Views helps every user focus of just the information necessary to complete their objectives. And changes to data in one View automatically appear in every other View based on the same Table. Now everyone can me more efficient, accurate, and reliably up to date. That may not be art, but it is a beautiful thing.

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