Blog Posts for Social Change

Arts: The Mother of Invention (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Janet Langsam, May 03, 2012 1 comment

Janet Langsam

Every morning, I turn on the treadmill, tune into the Today Show and run until I bank 150 calories to earn a glass of Chardonnay at the end of the day.

Matt Lauer and the NBC crew are usually just eye candy and background chatter, but [April 25] they hit a nerve talking about college degrees that may be “useless” like “fine arts, drama, philosophy, religious studies,” when it comes to getting a job. Lauer quoted a recent poll that said that one out of two recent college grads are either unemployed or underemployed.

Donny Deutsch, one of the Today panelists said, “I never looked at a (college) major in my life in hiring people.”

And a good thing too since the National Arts Index published by the advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, indicates that interest in the arts as a college major is growing. It says that from 1996–2010 more than 1.5 million degrees were awarded in visual and performing arts, with annual graduations growing steadily from 75,000 to 129,000—an increase of 73 percent.

Could all these college bound kids be wasting their time?

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'Beertown' — Making a Show That Builds Community

Posted by Rachel Grossman, May 03, 2012 0 comments

The official "Beertown" time capsule.

In September 2010, dog & pony dc (d&pdc) began developing a new show starting with nothing but two books and a question. Our goal was to create an original work as a collective from start to finish; the only thing we knew about the end product was that it would be fully produced 14 months later. Well: we also knew that in this production we wanted to push the boundaries of “audience integration.”

d&pdc is an ensemble-based devised theatre company that creates new ways for audiences to experience theatre. We carry a self-described “healthy obsession” with defining the performer-audience relationship for each show.

“Audience integration” is a foundation of d&pdc’s devising process; the audience’s role in performance is discussed from each project’s birth to its fully-realized production. The approach is highly elastic. On one end of the spectrum: the role of the audience is as witness. At the opposite end: the event doesn't move forward without audience propulsion.

In 2010, we wanted to explore the more risky end. We wanted to create a show in which the audience members were active, vocal participants who ultimately determined the outcome every night. To do that, the audience had to feel compelled to act; they had to become invested and take ownership. In other words: they had to care.

What makes us care? “A crisis” was our initial answer.

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The Arts, Culture, & Social Well-Being

Posted by Mark Stern, May 03, 2012 0 comments

Mark Stern

Mark Stern

As part of its collaboration with The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) and the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy (OACCE), Penn’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) is leading an effort to develop an index of livability/social inclusion for the city.

Our goal is to create a series of maps that identify several dimensions of social well-being across the city and to locate the arts and culture within the broader idea of social well-being. This semester, Ira Goldstein of TRF and I have co-taught an Urban Studies seminar focused of clarifying the conceptualization of social well-being and gathering the data necessary to create the index.

The project was inspired by the federal government’s—including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)—recent interest in promoting livability. As we looked at the question, we realized that our measure needed to move beyond livability to include more comprehensive measures of social justice, inclusion, and well-being. Rather than start from scratch, we used the 2009 report of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress as our starting point.

The commission proposed an eight-dimension framework for social well-being that included material standard of living, health, education, personal activities (including work and leisure), political voice and governance, social connections and relationships, environment, and economic and physical insecurity. Our first adaptation of the framework was to add housing as a separate dimension, giving us nine potential sub-indexes.

During the seminar, Ira, the students, and I have been able to develop preliminary version of seven of the nine indexes. Some of them were easier than others.

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Our Approach to Evaluation Should Be Just as Provocative as Our Practice

Posted by Jason Yoon, May 03, 2012 3 comments

Jason Yoon

One of my first “real” jobs was as an art specialist at a start-up charter elementary school. We did a lot of grading. The school was developing a comprehensive academic scope and sequence. Report cards reflected maybe 100-some skills and standards by subject. Teachers spent hours assessing each student.

As an idealistic young educator, the complexity of the thing was actually exciting. I couldn’t wait to see my “enrichment” section of the report card and the skills and standards in the arts I was responsible for. I then found that I had the smallest section of the report card:







4=Excellent 3=Good 2=Needs work 1=Seriously deficient

That’s it?

This school had mapped skills and standards to the minutest details and I only got two vague behaviors? I wanted credit for teaching my kids important and real things too!

I bring this up not to criticize the school. The school has expanded admirably since, received national recognition, expanded their arts programs and I figure now has a more robust method for assessing arts learning.

In that small example, is the dilemma that faces the art world right? We want to be taken seriously.

And one message is that we can get there by being graded and measured in easy-to-digest numbers like other subjects or fields. The institutional message then was that I was just the art teacher. Put simply, the school’s charter probably wasn’t going to be revoked if my kids couldn’t paint.

But we have to be careful not to adopt the fallacies of the “accountability” movement, too.

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Public Art & Storytelling in the Social Media Age

Posted by Katherine Gressel, May 03, 2012 0 comments

Katherine Gressel

“How [can we] merge our ‘evaluation’ with life’s activities?”

This is an especially provocative question posed by Marc Maxson earlier in the Blog Salon

He suggests, “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.”

Maxson discusses Global Giving’s collection of tens of thousands of anecdotal stories throughout communities served by the organization.

This and many of the other entries suggest that when it comes to evaluation and the arts, surveys and statistics are out; stories and experiences are in. Also, social media platforms, like the ones cited above, have opened doors for the often unsolicited, ongoing collection of such stories and experiences.

In my first post, I wrote about the challenges of evaluating the impact of public art, especially on audiences and communities, by traditional quantitative data collection. Instead, what types of “stories” and “experiences” with public art could be recorded or collected, and how?

In her summary of Fairmount Park Association’s Museum Without Walls: AUDIO program, Penny Balkin Bach describes using storytelling to deepen each artwork’s engagement with a general public. Rachel Engh describes a feature allowing users to record their own stories about experiencing art in public spaces.

I do believe that new online and mobile technologies such as these are making it more and more feasible to collect and document a much greater archive of anecdotal evidence of people interacting with public art, “liking” public art, and discussing the issues behind it.

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Connecting Art to the Needs of the Community

Posted by Rebecca Yenawine, May 03, 2012 0 comments

Rebecca Yenawine

In reading people's Blog Salon posts I am glad to see innovative approaches to assessing the impact of public art, how inviting people to tell stories can be used as an assessment tool, and how one can look at arts impact on well-being and social cohesion.

I am even more convinced that it is important that the evaluation process be one that is engaging and inclusive of arts richness rather then an empty distillation of findings that caters to a potential funders need to assess impact.

This process must be more then about giving funders what they want or about being able to tell whether one program, artist or project is better than another, but rather, to help us understand arts role in our communities and on the individual so that we might advocate for a change in the way investment takes place.

If art is in fact offering a space for developing social understanding, for connecting and building relationships, and for developing greater cohesion, part of the story that needs to be told is about how and why this is a valuable counterbalance to a society whose bureaucracies emphasize productivity, economic success, and competition without fostering the larger social fabric of communities.

One possible way to frame evaluation is to make clear the problems that art addresses.

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