SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Pittsburgh Steelers, Lost Art from WWII, and Data? Meet our New Associate Director of Research

  • Posted Mar 22, 2019

Part of Daniel Fonner’s fascination with cultural policy and arts management can be tied to his love of history. Daniel has spent several years developing tools to research and recreate art that was lost in WWII – yep, you read that right.

Hitler had two main goals with the Nazi plunder. One was to collect all the Great Art and put it in his Führermuseum, which would showcase mostly Roman Classical art and anything else that helped support his ideas. The second goal was to destroy pieces that he considered to be degenerate art, many Impressionist and Abstract works fell into this bucket. Some estimate that there are up to 100,000 paintings still missing from the Nazi plunder. It’s unknown exactly how many have been destroyed under the pretense of degenerate art versus how many still exist and are stored away somewhere, undocumented.

Recently, Daniel has recreated a painting that was stolen from a Jewish family in 1937, entitled Neoplasticisme Nr. 2 by Piet Mondrian. To sum up the complicated process, he uses black and white photos taken during WWII (because the Nazis were at least diligent in documenting just about everything they stole and destroyed) and recreates them using a modern technology software system he built that mimics the paint strokes, texture, and colors of the original work as best as possible. The software scans digital archives of other works from the artist and compiles information to build the work as accurately as possible, given the limited documentation available. Daniel’s mission with this passion project, ReMasterpieces is to not only provide recreations of these lost works for everyone’s enjoyment, but to also help those families who owned these works heal some wounds.


Visit ReMasterpieces

As any true researcher, his fascinations and projects don’t end there. Using WWII military morning reports that provided a coordinate system and over 500 letters his grandfather had written, Daniel retraced his grandfather’s steps as he fought against the fascist regime in Germany.

During an incredible and sentimental two-week journey, Daniel and his wife followed where his grandfather was injured, where he stayed in hospitals, fought, and slept and is currently working on a book to tell his story, which I think we need to start a pre-order list, because wow!


“So…Are you all in on the Steelers?”

Without hesitation, he swivels in his chair, reaches for a plaque propped up at the edge of his desk, and with a grin on his face, turns to show us the iconic Steelers logo, bold and center. But just in case that wasn’t enough to prove his true devotion to his home team, he swiftly opens his top desk drawer and pulls out The Terrible Towel that was conveniently placed in immediate arms-reach.

Daniel Fonner lived in Pittsburgh, Penn for several years, not only developing loyalty to his favorite football team, but also loyalty to the arts while earning a Master of Arts Management Degree at Carnegie Mellon University. For two years, he worked as a research and policy associate for Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, compiling economic and cultural district research, collaborating with top organizations in the field, such as Americans for the Arts, and researching and writing 13 policy briefs to spur effective change in the state.

Soon after graduation, Daniel was selected to represent the US as a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar at The University of Warwick in the UK. During his time abroad, he studied International Cultural Policy and Management and was exposed to the stark differences in government funding and overall support for arts and cultural organizations compared to the US.

My primary area of research focuses on cultural economics, specifically on the economic rationale of government subsidy for the arts and culture sector. Many attempts to quantify the arts in monetary terms have led to misstatements caused by misunderstanding methodology, interpretation, and communication of economic results. As the focus of my dissertation, I sought to determine if correlation existed between government subsidy and the economic activity of the cultural sectors of the United States, England, and Wales from 1989 to 2013. My hope is that continued research in this area will inform and improve advocacy efforts for the sector as a whole as well as for individual organizations. By providing insight based on sound quantitative methods, the arts and culture sector can make stronger arguments for government subsidy.

- Daniel Fonner, Research Statement

Misstatements and misunderstanding methodology in the arts and cultural sector has led to a lot of confusing and contradictory reporting over the years that makes it more difficult for leadership and advocates to develop strong arguments for funding. It’s imperative for organizations such as ours to not only analyze and present data, but to also clear those misunderstandings. We aim to teach others about how they can apply accurate information in making effective cases for support, and in turn foster deeper relationships with funders. 


Playing the drums growing up and always with a natural interest in the arts led Daniel to pursue a Bachelor of Music in Percussion Performance. As a performer himself, studying and working in the industry, he saw needs for better management and leadership in the field. His interests and passion for the arts continued to evolve throughout his college career and eventually led him to seek ways in which he could make a real impact for the sector as a whole through government policy.With an impressive background in arts management and research working at BOP Consulting in London and Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, he is equipped to identifying and forging strategic research and data partnerships in order to support field-wide data standards and create new opportunities for collaborative, data-driven initiatives, products, and services.

As SMU DataArts’ new associate director of research, he has been tasked with the planning and execution of our applied research agenda and priorities to serve arts and cultural organizations nationwide in developing a culture of data-driven decision-making among arts leadership, advocates, and funders. He plays a large role in managing ongoing improvements of our survey platform, the Cultural Data Profile, as well as the development and reporting of integrated field surveys conducted on behalf of national arts service organizations.


Over the next year, Daniel will be working closely with Executive Director Zannie Voss and others on the team to employ ongoing improvements to our products and studies as well as dive into specific research regarding congressional redistricting and culture.

The SMU DataArts team is mostly split between Philadelphia and Dallas and many of our constituents are based in Pennsylvania where congressional redistricting has been a hot topic, especially as the upcoming 2020 census will inform how those lines are redrawn. Daniel will be researching how this has affected arts and cultural organizations in receiving National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funding in the area, which are intended to provide at least one grant for every congressional district, as well as how elected officials impact the overall support for the NEA.

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