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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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: Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Lynch and Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin and Robert Lynch speak during the Arts Advocacy Day Congressional Arts Kick-Off.

This week I’m in Los Angeles attending a meeting of the U.S. Travel & Tourism Advisory Board and hosting an Arts Action Fund event with Los Angeles arts leaders. As I flew out here, I was thinking about the incredible events of last week that impacted arts education.

It all began with the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) Spring Forum April 12-13, followed by a combined meeting of the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network and our Americans for the Arts State Arts Action Network on April 15. The week concluded with our 25th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy and Arts Advocacy Day on April 16-17.

For those that weren’t able to attend these events, I thought I would share some of my experiences with you.

The AEP forum began with an exciting announcement—the National Endowment for the Arts named Ayanna Hudson, currently with Arts for All in Los Angeles, as their new director of arts education. Ayanna has been a program partner with, and a congressional witness for, Americans for the Arts during her time at Arts for All, and I’m really pleased she’s moving into this national role.

PBS NewsHour education correspondent John Merrow was the closing keynote at the forum, reminding us to let the 80 percent (the percentage of Americans that do not have school-aged children) know the good work that we are doing and how they can support us. In his words: “Don’t plead, lead.”

The next morning, I had the pleasure of speaking to forum attendees, reminding them that their voice is important in supporting arts education and that they are not alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Roseann Weiss

In the second week of April, when St. Louis was blooming with an early spring, 292 people came for Rustbelt to Artist Belt: At the Crossroads—an arts-based community development convening—to be part of the discussion about the arts and social change.

This conference combined the three Rustbelt to Artist Belt meetings that took place in Cleveland and Detroit with the At the Crossroads convening that took place in St. Louis in 2010.

I proposed this combination when attending the conference in Detroit and the idea stuck with Seth Beattie from Cleveland’s Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC), the organizer of Rustbelt. With phone calls and emails back and forth and with a grant from the Kresge Foundation, we did it!

I wondered whether our gamble—combining the people who talk about creative regeneration of neighborhoods in the Rustbelt with people who practice community arts and social engagement—would pay off.

Would we all be able to significantly connect these threads that make up the fabric of positive social change? Read the rest of this entry »

Jon Schwartz

Throughout my career as a teacher, I’ve been faced with many situations that required some creative ingenuity to help insure my students received the best chance at education in my classroom and beyond.

In my first grade classroom at Garrison Elementary in San Diego this year, I’ve been faced with helping non-native English speaking students learn English while assimilating in the classroom and culture at large.

In the past, I’ve successfully adopted out-of-the-box approaches to connect with my students (such as the student blogging program I started with my fourth and fifth graders last year) and this situation seemed ripe with the possibility of doing something similar.

As I watched my students tire of the old classics like “Old MacDonald” and “B-I-N-G-O” I decided to try a different tactic. I loaded my iPhone with some good, old-fashioned Blues standards and got those kids rocking! I could never have predicted what came next.

As you can see from our YouTube video below, there was something about the Blues that really seemed to reach the kids on a foundational, universal level. Read the rest of this entry »

Just outside the Arts Advocacy Day Congressional Arts Kick-Off event on April 17 in Washington, DC, Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe (executive producer/judge on So You Think You Can Dance and executive producer of American Idol) braved the wind to talk about their greatest arts experiences, arts education, and whether or not Alec could be a dancer:

2012 Arts Advocacy Day Co-chair Hill Harper took a few minutes out of his busy schedule during the two-day summit to talk to ARTSblog about arts advocacy, his own arts education experiences, and how he fights to help future generations receive it.

Ursula Kuhar

I love yoga. It’s all the rage—even Nancy Hanks Lecturer Alec Baldwin is a fan. Yoga practice is a great fitness activity that has physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. A thirty minute workout comprised of sun salutation, downward facing dog, and accompanied by a little “om” action provides the energy and balance needed to chug through the day.

What about arts wellness? I propose this: advocacy is the new yoga.

I promise, I’m going somewhere with this. Just hear me out.

Every year in April, hundreds of arts advocates arrive in Washington, DC for Arts Advocacy Day.

The two-day summit covers advocacy training, break out sessions regarding current arts issues, the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and a day on Capitol Hill—meeting with legislators to discuss the state of the arts and future objectives.

It’s an empowering and inspiring experience. Even as a seasoned veteran, I discover new information, meet and discuss issues with colleagues from all over the country, and leave Washington knowing that somehow, in some way, I planted a seed by educating and encouraging my elected officials regarding the positive power of the arts and their support and continued funding benefits the country in countless ways.

But what happens when we leave our nation’s capital? It is all too easy to “fall off the wagon”: to put our Congressional Arts Handbook and other resources on a bookcase in the office, only to be revisited the following April.

Here’s where yoga comes in. Read the rest of this entry »

The two clips below capture more of Alec Baldwin’s Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy given as part of Arts Advocacy Day on April 16 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

During this clip, Baldwin makes the case for the the support of arts funding:

And for the coda of his lecture, Baldwin summarizes the main points of his journey through the arts during his life and utters the most memorable quote of the speech (besides the gang dancing line much earlier…): Read the rest of this entry »

Candy Nguyen Smirnow

I came to Arts Advocacy Day for the first time this year not knowing exactly what to expect.

I’ve never considered myself a political person. I rarely sign petitions and have never campaigned for any one organization or candidate. I’ve just always been very passive when it came to politics, most certainly because of my Gen X mentality.

So, when my boss asked me to join her I was hesitant, wondering does my voice really matter? But, I’ve learned a lot in the business world, and one of those things is never to pass up an opportunity to learn something new. So, I quickly reconsidered the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill.

As I walked into day one, I was amazed by the congregation of over 500 advocates. I was especially surprised by the number of young people who were participating.

When I was their age, I would’ve never even considered joining something like Arts Advocacy Day. I grew up in the public education system in Southern California, which unfortunately did not have much of an arts-infused curriculum.

In elementary school we had a “music cart,” where once a week Mr. Nelson would roll into the classroom with his keyboard and pass out the maracas and tambourines. It was everyone’s favorite day of class, but unfortunately it didn’t come quite often enough. Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.