People who've been paying attention in the arts world have been saying colloquially to each other that over-expansion and over-investment in buildings has contributed to the crisis of large arts organizations across the country.

Yesterday, I mentioned that the recession seems to have had a "trickle-up effect" on theaters—the fringe and mid-sized theaters felt it first, and adjusted (or died). Then the regional theaters quaked. This week, the opera announced it was busted with a $1 million deficit.

Now it's empirical. The University of Chicago has just released a study called Set in Stone demonstrating that many arts organizations should be less ambitious with their growth and focus on using what they already have in a smarter way. From the overview:

We studied more than 800 building projects and conducted interviews with more than 500 organizations. These included museums, theaters, and performing arts centers; new facilities, expansions and renovations; costing at least $4 million between 1994 and 2008.

The research we conducted does indeed point to substantial evidence that there was overinvestment during the building boom—especially when coupled with the number of organizations we studied that experienced financial difficulties post-building. Eighty percent of the projects we studied ran over budget, some by as much as 200 percent.

We all suspected it. Here's the proof.