Blog Posts for social change

"You Can't Know What Will Grow from the Seeds You Plant."

Posted by John Bare, May 01, 2012 0 comments

John Bare

Let’s start with two assertions:

  • First, every meaningful social change movement for the last 1,000 years, at least, has been driven, in large or small part, by the arts.
  • Second, many arts-based civic works contribute little or nothing to individuals, communities, or societies.

It boils down to this: You can’t produce great social change without the arts. But there’s no guarantee that every arts-based program accomplishes something.

As with all interventions, whether arts or education or agriculture, much ends up on life’s cutting-room floor—or, if not tossed, left as a relic. If great art alone would suffice, Woody Guthrie’s Plane Wreck at Los Gatos would have changed the American experience for immigrant farm workers.

Let’s circle back to the first assertion.

  • Imagine what would have come of spiritual life in the last 2,000 years without the contribution of literature (pick a version of the Bible and say thanks to Gutenberg).
  • Imagine the LGBT movement without the contribution of theater (see Charlotte circa 1996).
  • Imagine the Civil Rights movement without Guy Carawan teaching We Shall Overcome to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at its founding in Raleigh in 1960.

Back in 2008, Guy’s wife, Candi, explained to me that Myles Horton had embedded music in every undertaking at the Highlander Folk School.

“Myles, before he founded Highlander, had been over to visit the Scandinavian folk schools. He had observed in Denmark that when people came together to work on problems, they did a lot of group singing. He kind of brought that idea back to Highlander. He was not a musician himself. But he was really supportive of anything that would help grassroots people feel stronger.”

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Stories Have Impact, But How Do We Know?

Posted by Jen Gilomen, Apr 30, 2012 2 comments

Jen Gilomen

We’ve all had the experience of sitting in a dark theater and being moved by a compelling documentary story. And as documentary mediamakers, many of us have felt that power materialize during animated discussions that occur with and among audience members when the lights come up for the Q&A.

But how do we really know if our films are having an impact beyond the walls of the theater, and how do we know that our film is causing something besides “clicks” and “likes” online?

At Bay Area Video Coalition, we’ve come a long way in our understanding of impact evaluation and its purpose. It used to be that evaluation was another box to check off in order to satisfy the requirements of our funders. We collected surveys at the end of each training or program, and when funding allowed, we began to track our program participants and projects over a longer period of time.

Our thinking about the purpose of evaluation began to shift, however, when we received a multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation that included a funded, dedicated evaluator to help us design and implement an evaluation not just for reporting purposes, but to create feedback loops that would shape future programming throughout the program’s lifecycle.

Participating in the design of this evaluation freed us to shift our focus from one of conducting surveys and basic reporting (for others, usually as an afterthought) to one of viewing evaluation as an opportunity to better understand the real and long-term impact of our work—for ourselves, so we could become more effective.

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Assessing What to Assess in Public Art

Posted by Jon Pounds, Apr 30, 2012 1 comment

Jon Pounds

I believe we need to be really careful about what results we claim public art produces. Inevitably, and understandably, we will be asked by someone to produce the evidence to back our claims.

Careless claims can be most difficult task prove and, unproven, confound the good efforts of us all.

My caution is not because I think public art does little; rather that some things we might believe (or hope) we do are difficult to prove.

There are recent examples of assessments of well-known cultural agencies that provided little or no support for the assumptions made about their work. Does that mean that the work is not valuable (or properly valued)…or that the assessment of its value is nearly impossible even when well financed and professionally investigated? Assessing public art is nothing like counting beans.

There are examples of attitudinal assessments that work for some cultural experiences—not so much public art.

If you assess attitudes before and after a theater performance, at the very least you are asking someone to reflect on an experience that is both visual and aural and one that they have invested some significant amount of time (and perhaps money) to experience. Similarly, if someone has gone to a museum, they have invested time (likely at least an hour) and money and have chosen the experience because they anticipate satisfaction of their desire. And, in both cases the producing agency can hope to see an increase in funding from annual memberships as a long-term form of assessment.

Can public art begin to match those conditions for assessment? No.

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Here & There: Social Impact through the Media

Posted by Shirley Sneve, Apr 30, 2012 0 comments

Shirley Sneve

When is the point in a project’s life that you can say that was success?

How do you know you’re making a difference—that your programming touches people’s lives and makes them think?

What does having fun and learning at the same time look like?

Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) is a national organization based in Lincoln, NE. We work with American Indian and Alaska Native media makers to deliver programming to PBS stations. Major funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

It’s a fine line we walk as we balance how much our organization and individual staff members give back to our local community, when the nation and over 560 federally recognized Tribes make up our “service area.”

We decided to do a local film festival.

With the Mary Reipma Ross Media Arts Center and other Nebraska venues, we brought 37 Native films (both features and documentaries) to the VisionMaker Film Festival last fall as our fourth biennial film festival. The six filmmakers that we brought to Nebraska spoke to high school and colleges groups, in addition to their Q & A session after the screening.

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Resonance as Indication

Posted by Kenneth Bailey, Apr 30, 2012 0 comments

Kenneth Bailey

First let me say that we are still working to figure out how to evaluate the impact of Design Studio for Social Intervention (ds4si) and our various unusual approaches to creating change.

We would love to think with practitioners, funders, artists, and other allies on this issue and use it as a way to build solidarity, increase the breadth and creativity of evaluation approaches, and further spread any new insights we uncover. (Unfortunately, the current climate is one where evaluation frequently creates distance between practitioners and funders. It would be interesting to explore this as a cultural practice as well!)

One of the ways we want to explore evaluating cultural practice is in gauging an intervention’s resonance within the situation it's hoping to affect. Resonance might be a way to make a distinction between our social interventions and those artist-led practices that aren't informed by and in embedded solidarity with a population’s or organization’s desire for a particular change.

We aren't saying that social practice art projects that aren't deeply informed as such shouldn't happen, but that they might be considered differently that those that are.

Let's take the projects we designed working with youth activists on youth violence. We have designed and tested three different interventions since we started this work with youth over four years ago.

One of these interventions was aimed at disturbing the social practice of “grilling,” which is the term for the glare which takes place when two youth make eye contact and immediately infer danger from each other. To us, we found resonance when youth across the board stated that "you can't stop the grill." In fact, the emotional investment and intensity with which youth thought they couldn't affect this practice was what made us pick it.

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Blog Salon: Evaluating the Social Impact of the Arts

Posted by Joanna Chin, Apr 30, 2012 2 comments

Joanna Chin

Growing interest in capturing impact of many types of programs has resulted in escalating discourse and developing practice-based theory about the social impacts of the arts. This current focus on understanding what difference we make builds on, and goes beyond Robert Putnam’s theory, which connected the power of arts and culture in creating social capital.

Across the board, researchers are exercising leadership in this area. For example:

  • Alan Brown, in An Architecture of Value, has drawn out and interpreted key concepts from the RAND Corporation’s Gifts of the Muse report to advance a framework of public value centered in and building from the arts experience.
  • Clayton Lord and Alan Brown, working with theater partners across the country, have devised indicators and scales to measure the intrinsic impact of experiencing theater.
  • In the media arts, American University’s Center for Social Media has reviewed state of the art methodologies for the strategic design and evaluation of social issue documentary films in its Designing for Impact.
  • Mark Stern and Susan Seifert at the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) have developed cultural clustering as both a methodology and a concept. The method involves integrating data on cultural assets into a geographic information system to produce a Cultural Asset Index that can be used to identify census block groups with the highest density of these assets. SIAP is developing a Creative Assets Mapping Database as a community and economic development tool.
  • The Knight Foundation and Artplace are working to create vibrancy measures for communities, while the National Endowment for the Arts is looking for indicators to assess the impact of Our Town and other grant programs.

Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, has been working to bring together these strands of thinking in the Impact section of our website; particularly, when artists are intentional and art is integrated with practices of civic engagement and social activism as catalysts, conveners, forums, and forms for change.

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