Blog Posts for Social Change

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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Planning That Gets You New Partners (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Robb Hankins, Apr 27, 2012 0 comments

Robb Hankins

Most community leaders don’t think about the arts much and most don’t really believe there is a link between arts and economic development.

I try to change that by hosting my own arts and economic development planning process, but I do it on a shoe string—quick, dirty, and cheap. It’s exhausting, but totally worth it.

Last year we started 20/20 Vision—the ten year plan for arts and economic development. On March 20, 2012 we unveiled our ten strategies: five community strategies and five county-wide.

20/20 Vision has already dramatically changed the landscape for the arts in Stark County (Ohio). We have new partners (and new dollars) available for the arts from places we’d never touched before.

Business leaders like Robert Timkin, managing director of Cormony Development, are leading the effort by planning to increase creativity and innovation in business through arts-based workshops, and increase cultural tourism by creating a marketing partnership between five major nonprofit tourism attractions in downtown Canton.

This strategic marketing partnership hopes to dramatically increase the number of visitors and increase overnight stays, as well as create day trip opportunities for arts destinations throughout the rest of the county.

Here’s the quick story on how we did it:

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The Early Bird Finds Opportunities in the Current Arts Landscape

Posted by Graham Dunstan, Apr 27, 2012 0 comments

The plug first—Today is the early bird registration deadline for the 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention.

Register today to save up to $175 and join us in San Antonio from June 8-10.

As if the video wasn't enough, here are some more reasons why you should attend:

This year's Americans for the Arts Annual Convention focuses squarely on how arts organizations can change and thrive in The New Normal—a landscape of economic uncertainty and shifting demographics. And for me, the key word is "change."

There are so many opportunities for nonprofit organizations of all shapes and sizes to rethink how they do what they do, how they could do it all better, and what needs they are really interested in serving.

It's the new ideas and innovations coupled with best practices that always makes the Annual Convention exciting for me, whether it's attending as a staff member of Americans for the Arts or as an Emerging Leader 13 years ago for the first time in Atlanta.

Sessions on arts in healing, programming for culturally specific populations, and serving veterans through the arts will present what the discoveries of arts groups on the cutting edge. And speakers such as Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation, and Naomi Shihab Nye, inspiring poet, will remind all of us why we chose the nonprofit arts field in the first place.

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