Blog Posts for Social Change

Time-Tested Tools for Evaluation

Posted by Chris Dwyer, May 02, 2012 1 comment

Chris Dwyer

I’ve had the good fortune to live in the same community for the past 27 years and the double good fortune to have participated over time in a wide range of arts-based initiatives in that community:

  • site-based work related to immigration
  • explorations of the history of a working class neighborhood now gentrified
  • rediscovery and recognition of the paved-over African Burying ground in our white New England city
  • perspectives on the challenges faced by seniors
  • and the most widely known, The Shipyard Project, which was a two-year exploration through dance of the intertwined histories of a large naval military installation and a port city that have co-existed side-by-side for over two hundred plus years.

So, I’ve had an advantage that most project evaluators never experience, that is, a really longitudinal view of unfolding impacts.

Long after initiatives have concluded, I have seen relationships that began in a community arts project rekindle to tackle a new issue or witnessed policies that were the object of arts-informed debate finally take hold after several failed attempts. I have seen young people who were inspired by the arts planning of my generation decide to settle in the community and become the next generation of arts and community leaders.

The real impacts become visible many years after the evaluator has delivered the final report to the funders.

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Creating Social Change Through Community Connections & Shared Arts Experiences

Posted by Marty Pottenger, May 02, 2012 2 comments

Marty Pottenger

Art At Work

Recently, I found myself sitting in a circle in Portland, ME, leading a group that includes the city manager, police chief, a leader in the Occupy Maine movement, one of the founders of Portland’s NAACP, leaders from the Sudanese and Congolese refugee communities, the president of a city union (CEBA), and a doctor active in public health, among others. The members of this group are impressive and diverse, but what we are sharing is more so.

In only seven minutes, 20 city and community leaders composed poems that draw upon their personal histories, the history of Portland, and those things they have witnessed in this place we all call home.

Increasing the Odds

All of Art At Work’s projects are designed to increase the odds that Portland and their partner cities (Holyoke, Northampton, and Providence in 2012), launch their own Art At Work will be better able to turn anticipated social and economic crises into opportunities by integrating creative engagement in their ‘way of doing business.'

This workshop was a part of Portland Works, another one of our experiments in figuring out how to harness the transformative power of art to achieve concrete community-based outcomes. These workshops bring together community and city leaders to create a dialogue and increase understanding between individuals and groups that often see one another as obstacles as opposed to allies. “It’s just brilliant,” says Mike Miles, the City of Portland’s director of human resources, “using art to break conceptions about who people are and what people do.”

Art At Work, of which Portland Works is just one part, is designed to improve municipal government through strategic arts projects involving city employees, elected officials, community leaders, and local artists.

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“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”

Posted by Dr. Raymond Tymas-Jones, May 01, 2012 0 comments

Raymond Tymas Jones

National Arts Advocacy Day is significant because it grants us an opportunity to gather as a community to reflect on the role of contemporary artists in the 21st century. No matter what the chosen art form, the passion to do art and to be art is born out of an insatiable yearning to make beauty, to make sense, and even to make waves.

As artists, we are summoned to bear witness of the truth of the human experience…the human condition and truth is more than simply facts. It is realness of life that is imbued with the psychological, emotional, spiritual elements of living that is not always easily accessible. It is this sense of urgency to communicate that artists find avenues to connect through music, theatre, film, dance, art, and literature.

For example, the powerful play by American playwright Stephen Adly Guigis, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, explores in a witty, provocative, and sometimes-funny manner, questions about love and redemption through the story of a man who is considered the most notorious villain in human history. The genesis of this kind of art is the visceral reality that only comes from self-understanding. It is the quest for self-understanding that gives way to constant questioning, observing, celebrating, and revering the complexity, mystery, and beauty of humanity. Self-understanding fortifies us from self-deception and easy consolations.

We, as artists, are the first beneficiaries of the power of the arts to tell our personal story that mirrors our own realities. Each of us can be an alchemist, taking our ideas and understanding of the world around us along with our imagination and creativity to transform them into precious elements of universal elixir.

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Public Art Engagement Creating Neighborhood Reporters

Posted by Rachel Engh, May 01, 2012 0 comments

Rachel Engh

Last week, I heard local artist Kinji Akagawa’s joyful chuckle as I stood still, swept up in his world while viewing his public art piece, Enjoyment of Nature, in Minneapolis. And he wasn’t even next to me. Instead, I was listening to a recording done by Akagawa for Sound Point, a collaboration by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and the City of Minneapolis.

Sound Point is a technologically innovative way for people in Minneapolis to connect with art, artists, and public space. After the (optional) recorded welcome by Mayor R.T. Rybak, the listener/viewer can experience 13 pieces of art, all within a two-mile radius. In these short recordings, artists explain the significance of the pieces’ spatial contexts and what they hope visitors will experience while viewing their work.

I stood, phone to my ear, for a whole three minutes, as I listened to Akagawa talk about his piece. He communicated his wish of creating a gathering place for people, either waiting for the bus or sitting in the sun sipping coffee, and even birds who can visit the bird bath.

One aspect of Akagawa’s built environment is a moonscape, depicting the moon’s movement over a month-long period. Akagawa notes that it honors the people who clean the city at night, many of whom are people of color and immigrants.

Next, I walked to the City’s Public Service Center where I found another Sound Point, Wing Young Huie’s Lake St., USA. A community photography project, it was originally a set of hundreds of black and white photos that was publicly displayed along six miles of Lake Street in Minneapolis. Now, some of them hang on the walls where the city planners pass every day. In his recording, Huie notes the importance of showing his photos in public spaces because they “reflect realities of so many different people.”

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Let Evaluations Be Fun, Be Life

Posted by Marc Maxson, May 01, 2012 5 comments

Marc Maxson

Think about the most fun you’ve had doing charity work. What was it that really appealed to you? Was it the smiling faces of kids playing a sport or painting a mural? Maybe it was the moment you realized someone’s life would be forever changed by the small token of love that a program enabled one person to give another.

Do you know what those moments have in common?

First, they are significant on an emotional, social, or metaphyiscal level—and so no traditional evaluation is well-suited to quantify them.

Second, these moments belong to those whose lives have changed. Your impact, as the person who helped make it happen, should not be the focus (unless you enjoy being self-centered and alone in the world).

So why do we continue to act as if “quantitative” surveys about our own “impact” are smart?

My decade working as a neuroscientist with actual “quantitative” data enables me to confidently dispel this notion once and for all. Here me out:

  • Social change is social. That means it depends on people. Lots of them. People lie, especially in surveys, and often with the best intentions. Self-reports from people are not quantitative.
  • So that’s why we have statistics, right? Inferential statistics depend on random sampling, and sampling is almost never random given the reasonable time and cost constraints placed on nonprofits.
  • Even more alarming, statistics has no really solid way of telling if the sampling was done randomly.
  • If random sampling is a problem, then results will not be reproducible over time and in different places. That’s why a lot of high-paid people interpret them and argue over methodology. But I think that’s a distraction from the core problem—which is our obsession with extrapolating from brief and tiny samples of life to broad and timeless descriptions of social change and impact.
  • If you want quantitative data about people and social change, it’s probably more practical to transform our evaluation tools into a regular part of daily life—like Facebook or Google—so that we’re constantly looking at tens of thousands of bits of knowledge instead of just a few hundred.
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My Name is Rachel Grossman & I Am a Measurement Junkie

Posted by Rachel Grossman, May 01, 2012 5 comments

Rachel Grossman

I developed my deep fondness for assessment over 12 years in theatre education and community programming and I bring that affinity into my work as an artistic leader for dog & pony dc, the administrative leader for Washington Improv Theater, and a “chief experience officer” focused on community building and civic discourse through arts participation.

Why am I fond of measurement?

As a box-checker, it provides a tremendous sense of accomplishment. As a lifelong learner, it allows reflection on choices I make and their effect...in order to make stronger/more interesting or daring choices in the future. As a manager, it supports the creation and execution of successful programming and initiatives.

I grew up as an arts educator early in the assessment and evaluation movement in regional theatre education.

I learned some valuable lessons:

  • be realistic (you can only accomplish so much in 45 minutes with 30 third graders);
  • plans can be adjusted (and improved) when you know the endgame;
  • assessment is linked to impact and change;
  • if you can observe it, you can measure it.

It was no surprise when I fell head-over-heels for Theatre Bay Area and Wolf Brown’s Intrinsic Impact study, which reaches beyond measuring success by ticket revenue and surveys that only ask if audience liked/not a show.

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