Public Art & Storytelling in the Social Media Age

Posted by Katherine Gressel On May - 3 - 2012

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Connecting Art to the Needs of the Community

Posted by Rebecca Yenawine On May - 3 - 2012

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. Read the rest of this entry »

What Substantive Value Do the Arts Bring?

Posted by John Bare On May - 3 - 2012

John Bare

That art, in and of itself, may be a good thing is, well, not much of a concern either way these days.

Moving past the notion of intrinsic value, professionals are pursuing a different question: What substantive value do the arts bring?

From an evaluation standpoint, this one is easy. All that is required is to add the arts to the list of independent variables that are tested as means for improving outcomes on any number of fashionable dependent variables, such as math and science achievement.

Work over the past century has revealed a set of mechanisms evaluators routinely use to assess the relative value of these independent variables. Whether arts inputs yield as much value as, say, extra hours of tutoring, will be left to standardized beta coefficients.

With these mechanisms, evaluators imagine variables as gears in life’s assembly line. This frees evaluators to take up life’s issues as an engineer would assess operations at a manufacturing plant.

While the methods are elegant, they are also blunt. As a result, we miss out on the uncertainties, nuances, and grand questions that are part of complexity.

It is here, in complexity, where another opportunity is hanging out there for the arts, one where both the risk and potential reward are higher. Read the rest of this entry »

Time-Tested Tools for Evaluation

Posted by Chris Dwyer On May - 2 - 2012

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Stern

Mark Stern

Susan Seifert and I began the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) in 1994 in response to the attention that economic impact studies were gaining at the time.

We felt—in addition to their methodological flaws—that these studies captured only a fraction of the importance that the arts held for society. We committed ourselves to think through the theoretical and methodological issues involved in documenting the contribution that arts and cultural engagement have for community life.

Over the years, we’ve discovered many connections between the arts and social well-being, some of them quite surprising.

It turned out that the arts were associated with preserving ethnic and racial diversity in urban neighborhoods, lower rates of social distress, and reduced rates of ethnic and racial harassment. Perhaps most surprisingly, we found that the presence of cultural assets in urban neighborhoods was associated with economic improvements, including declines in poverty.

We used the concept of “natural” cultural districts to study neighborhoods where we found unplanned concentrations of arts organizations, cultural enterprises, artists, and cultural participants and documented that it was the social and civic engagement associated with the arts that seemed to drive these economic benefits and revitalization.

Over the past several years, we’ve been trying to re-conceptualize our findings and their meaning for the cultural community, urban public policy, and scholarship. Read the rest of this entry »

Resonance as Indication

Posted by Kenneth Bailey On April - 30 - 2012

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 »

Blog Salon: Evaluating the Social Impact of the Arts

Posted by Joanna Chin On April - 30 - 2012

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 »

At the Crossroads of the Rustbelt and the Artist Belt

Posted by Roseann Weiss On April - 24 - 2012

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 »

Capturing the World of an Emerging Arts Leader

Posted by Stephanie Hanson On April - 6 - 2012
Stephanie Hanson

Stephanie Hanson

I am consistently inspired by the innovation that comes out of the Emerging Leaders Network, and this week’s blog salon was no exception.

We heard from representatives of 11 Emerging Leaders Networks, and gained some insight into what was happening in their communities. This week, bloggers have questioned and affirmed why they continue to dedicate their careers to the arts; wrote about examples of artists and arts organizations leading authentic community engagement; questioned the social inequity of unpaid interns; and shared a list of Things We Wish Someone Had Told Us at 25.

We gave ourselves permission to fail, permission to have multiple interests outside of the arts that may or may not intersect with the field, and reminded ourselves not to get stuck in a structure that no longer works for us as individuals or organizations.

It’s clear that emerging arts leaders are looking at their careers, organizations, and neighborhoods in a different way than arts administrators who have come before them. I believe it’s important that we honor the hard work of those who started in the field before us. Without them, we wouldn’t have the National Endowment for the Arts, the structure of public funding support, or the diversity of arts, cultural, and community engagement organizations that exist today.

There are four generations currently working and leading in the workforce, and we must find ways to work with one another, share our strengths, and support each other’s weaknesses at all levels of the generation spectrum.

To me, this blog salon demonstrated how many mini ripple effects of change are taking place in communities across the country at the same time. This is change at a very fundamental level that has the potential to reform our field in the way that Diane Ragsdale envisions in her post (and is our muse for this salon). Read the rest of this entry »

Cultural Historians: Paying Homage to the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

Posted by Molly O'Connor On April - 6 - 2012

Molly O'Connor

Working part time at a bookstore to pay for college, it was in 2001 when I first learned about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. I was shelving books when I came across a copy of Up from the Ashes by Hannibal B. Johnson.

I recall flipping through the pages, stunned that such massive atrocity that had taken place in my home state. And how was I just learning about this? The riot was certainly not included in Oklahoma History class.

Since that day, I’ve discovered I’m not the only Oklahoman who has been oblivious to the Tulsa Race Riot, the most horrifying act of racial violence in American history.

While this incident made national news, local history books and classes were devoid of information about this violent attack on the community of Greenwood. Even today, researching the event often leads to more questions.

There are discrepancies in the numbers of fatalities, and, as always, history has been written and controlled by those who have committed genocide. The mysteries of what really happened on May 31, 1921 are perhaps lost in the ashes.

For Oklahomans, how do we collectively reconcile this deep scar in our history and take steps to heal the wounds that still hurt and divide us? How do we ensure that we learn from the Tulsa Race Riot so that history does not repeat itself? Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Education: It’s About Providing Hope

Posted by Molly O'Connor On April - 5 - 2012

Molly O'Connor

There’s a crisis underway in Oklahoma’s public schools. Even though House Bill 1017 requires art and music as core curriculum, these programs have disappeared from too many Oklahoma schools in communities both large and small.

This is nothing new, but that fact alone ensures that any attempt to reinstate these programs faces increasingly tough challenges. Today’s generation of parents were some of the first to miss out on art and music education, and therefore, are often unaware of the benefits of arts education and what their own children are missing out on.

Interestingly enough, several community leaders in Oklahoma continue to step up in efforts to pick up where the schools are falling short. Although, in most cases, it’s about so much more than providing an arts learning experience: It’s about providing hope.

With a thirty-year history of presenting modern dance in Oklahoma, Prairie Dance Theatre has developed new outreach programs for underserved youth and struggling Oklahoma City public schools. Artistic Director Tonya Kilburn is one of the instructors who has been instrumental in implementing dance into physical education programs in the public schools.

Tonya: “Bringing dance to children in OKC is both exciting and rewarding for me as an educator and as a concerned community member. I’ve always felt very fortunate that my chosen art form is so physical, and with Oklahoma rated as the seventh most obese state in the nation, I feel very connected to the solution.” Read the rest of this entry »

Making Change Outside the Office

Posted by Carlos Velázquez On April - 5 - 2012

Carlos Velázquez

In a recent article about Chicago-based artist Eric J. Garcia, whose politically charged work he calls a “weapon to strike at injustice”, he added a caveat for aspiring artists: “Oh-all of this is done on our off-time when we’re not at the day job that pays the bills.”

His words came back to me when reading the prompt to this salon, a quote from Diane Ragsdale on arts sector reform:

“If our goal..is to hold onto our marginalized position and maintain our minuscule reach—rather than…actively addressing the social inequities in our country, and reaching exponentially greater numbers of people—then…I would suggest that it may not merit the vast amounts of time, money, or enthusiasm we would require from talented staffers and artists, governments, foundations, corporations, and private individuals to achieve it.”

I am glad to know that the arts sector is not confining itself to simply holding onto its miniscule reach, and that emerging artists and arts leaders, many working in art and humanities-based nonprofits, are taking the lead.

My position is that they are using the organizational skills, social vocabularies, and leadership experience gained in nonprofit environments well beyond the scope of the workday, to be wielded as “weapons” addressing social inequalities. Read the rest of this entry »

Unique Leaders, Common Characteristics: Who We Are (Part One)

Posted by Jaclyn Johnson Tidwell On April - 2 - 2012

Jaclyn Johnson

I write from Nashville, TN, a nationally recognized music city and a burgeoning arts town.

As an actor, community arts project manager, theatre producer, and staff member of an arts service organization, my days bustle with arts leaders, new and seasoned. They provide the spark for the city’s growth. And those stepping forward as new leaders will define the future of the creative sector.

When I look around at my ensemble and community, I see common characteristics that will weave through our individual impact as emerging leaders.

In this blog series I will explore three of those characteristics: who we are, how we will work in the arts and why we will dedicate so much of our hearts to it.

Who are we?

We are artists first and manager-janitors out of necessity. We are arts entrepreneurs.

From crowdfunding to self-publishing, it is becoming increasingly easy to take this do-it-yourself approach to making art.

“Film is an ever more do it yourself word,” said Coke Sams at a recent Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville seminar on alternative funding options for art projects. Coke is a producer at Nashville-based Ruckus Films and part of the team for the Blue Like Jazz film, the most successful film project in Kickstarter history raising over $345,000. Read the rest of this entry »

Kelly Seward

Spring is my favorite time of year because companies across Kansas City begin luring artists, writers, musicians, dancers, and filmmakers from their cubes for the sixth annual Art@Work corporate arts festival.

When the program began in 2007, I believed Art@Work was about showcasing the arts in all of its various forms. I know now that it’s about showcasing people.

Two years ago, Pat Wigley, a cable lineman at Kansas City Power & Light, created a sculpture of a wind-bent tree using the overhead line he works on every day. His co-workers awarded Into the Storm a first place ribbon and advanced Pat’s sculpture to our city-wide competition.

During the opening reception, I was approached by a teenage boy who saw the piece and wanted to know more about it. After we found Pat and his wife in the crowd, the boy energetically shook Pat’s hand and exclaimed, “It’s an honor to meet you, sir. You’ve inspired me to become an artist.” Pat looked confused but his wife absolutely beamed.

The two talked for a while about electricity,  wire-bending techniques, and inspiration. Before he left, the boy shook Pat’s hand again and said, “I’m going home to start making art right now.” Read the rest of this entry »

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.