Lizard Brains & Other Learnings from the Preschool Classroom

Posted by Korbi Adams On March - 20 - 2013
Korbi Adams (r) with a friend.

Korbi Adams (r) with a friend.

My professional journey into early childhood education surprised me. Childsplay, the theatre for young audiences where I work, was invited to be a keynote experience at a local Head Start conference.

At this time, we were heavily focused on Drama Frames, an Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination grant program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, working with fourth through sixth grade teachers to integrate drama into writing. So we jumped into this preschool venture blind, and totally fell in love. We left the conference energized about preschool and drama. After a glimpse into the work of early childhood education (ECE), we wanted to stay.

Excited about new possibilities, we took our professional development model to The Helios Education Foundation and proposed that we revise this model for drama and literacy in the ECE classroom. They looked at us and said “no,” politely pointing out to us: “you know education, and you know drama, but you don’t know anything about preschool.” We had to agree.

What happened next changed the course of our project forever. Helios gave us an incredible opportunity. Instead of turning us down outright, they gave us a training grant. We suddenly had the luxury of 18 months to bring in experts, read books, ask questions, and observe the world of ECE!  Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art Assessment & Conservation

Posted by Aliza Schiff On February - 12 - 2013
Aliza Schiff

Aliza Schiff

Every two years Arlington Public Art contracts a conservator to review our collection of more than 60 permanent artworks and for the first time this year our portable works—60 framed artworks hung in county buildings. This year’s review was recently completed and I am now reviewing the condition reports and making decisions with the rest of the Public Art staff on specific conservation and maintenance actions to take.

Some of the findings in the reports are straightforward and the recommendations are simple to implement. For example, mend the fence around a play sculpture in a park; or clean the dust and dead bugs out of a stained glass skylight at a community center. We have good relationships with other county departments especially Parks & Recreation and our Public Art Master Plan (see page 82) makes clear that sponsoring county departments are responsible for maintaining artworks in their facilities or sites.

Artworks that were commissioned by private property owners as a community benefit through the county’s site plan process are also reviewed by our contract conservator. Our Public Art Master Plan states that the site owner is responsible for maintaining the work of art as a community benefit in perpetuity. When these artworks need attention, I contact the property owners to have the work done. This often includes recommending products or specialists and I consult with the artist, if possible, and the maintenance plan submitted at the project’s completion.  Read the rest of this entry »

What Arts and Cultural Groups Can Learn from Five Guys

Posted by Ron Evans On January - 22 - 2013

Testimonials are all over Five Guys restaurants.

I’m a strong believer that arts and cultural organizations should explore the practices of for-profit companies, and assimilate what works. Take the popular burger chain Five Guys. I heard about Five Guys launching in my city from my friends. “You have to try the burger…awesome…” they said. I have tried it, and it is a great burger experience. I also noticed interesting consumer psychology at play, and began to think about how these ideas could be adapted to arts and cultural organizations.

Testimonials

Every Five Guys location has its walls covered with huge media testimonials about the awesomeness of the food. Consider:

“FIVE GUYS SERVE HEAVEN ON A BUN” – Tampa Tribune

“Voted Best Burger in Florida” – Best of Florida Awards, ’08, ’09, ’10 Florida Monthly

Under the large banners are smaller articles. You can’t sit in the location without noticing. These signs are not there to get people into the store. But once people are in the room, the signs project a social influence on the user experience.“Other people really like these burgers (and you will too)” they are saying. Cue the concept of the “social norm.” Read the rest of this entry »

Artistic Assessment and the Rise of the Standing Ovation

Posted by Michael R. Gagliardo On July - 6 - 2012
Michael R. Gagliardo

Michael R. Gagliardo

Every time the Etowah Youth Orchestra gives a performance, it seems, we get a standing ovation. I think that’s great—I mean, what better way to recognize the accomplishments of our young musicians, right? And it’s not that they don’t deserve the ovation—after all, they work their tails off at every rehearsal to prepare and present the best performances possible. And with young artists, we should always recognize and praise their efforts.

But on the professional level, I’ve been to a number of performances lately where the performance itself has been adequate, at best, and the audience has still recognized the performers by rising to its feet and loudly and enthusiastically heaping praise upon those on stage.

That’s fine, I guess—we’re recognizing the effort, perhaps; but, in terms of assessing the performance, is this really doing our art any favors? Don’t get me wrong—I want my young players to get standing ovations, to be recognized for their efforts, their achievements, and their accomplishments. But only when it is deserved.

I look at it this way—if I gave a performance that was just lukewarm, I wouldn’t want this type of accolade. It almost feels like pity, in a way—like the audience is saying, “Well, it wasn’t that good of a performance, but we should recognize the effort anyway—I’m sure he worked very hard to put that performance together.”

When we assess the arts, we have to be fair. I know, I know—we struggle every day, for funding, for acceptance, for a place in education, for a place in our communities. And it’s so easy to justify everything we do, to laud and praise every effort, in our desire to win the fight and solidify our place in society. But at what price? Read the rest of this entry »

Talking Points: Public Art and the Challenge of Evaluation

Posted by Katherine Gressel On May - 17 - 2012

Katherine Gressel

The Challenge of Evaluation

In the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Public Art Review, Jack Becker writes, “There is a dearth of research efforts focusing on public art and its impact. The evidence is mostly anecdotal. Some attempts have focused specifically on economic impact, but this doesn’t tell the whole story, or even the most important stories.”

Becker’s statement gets at some of the main challenges in measuring the impact of a work of public art—a task which more often than not provokes grumbling from public art administrators. Unlike museums or performance spaces, public art traditionally doesn’t sell tickets, or attract “audiences” who can easily be counted, surveyed, or educated.

A public artwork’s role in economic revitalization is difficult to separate from that of its overall surroundings. And as Becker suggests, economic indicators of success may leave out important factors like the intrinsic benefits of experiencing art in one’s everyday life.

However, public art administrators generally agree that some type of evaluation is key in not only making a case for support from funders, but in building a successful program.

Is there a reliable framework that can be the basis of all good public art evaluation? And what are some simple yet effective evaluation methods that most organizations can implement? Read the rest of this entry »

Interconnectedness is the Key to Understanding Public Art

Posted by Christina Lanzl On May - 15 - 2012

Christina Lanzl

Many of us will readily name a favorite work of art in a treasured public place, a priceless cultural asset. Similarly, we can probably point to the destruction of such works by neglect, human or institutional failure, war, or extreme events. To put a finger on why certain outdoor works of art are so important or to provide a clear value can already be more challenging.

If anything, one can point to the unique, irreplaceable quality of the treasured cultural asset. If anything, the qualifier ‘priceless’ may be the only accurate valuation of something that is of high quality and unique. Because public art programs and cultural planners have been asking for such a tool kit, the Public Art Network at Americans for the Arts is currently developing a framework for public art evaluation

While public art programs create permanent public art in partnership with contemporary artists, these works immediately begin their art historic trajectory once installation is complete, beginning with a short and long-term maintenance plan. Thus, collection management evaluation criteria for public art can serve as a point of departure and should be coordinated in partnership with existing preservation initiatives. At the national level, heritage preservation institutions like Save Outdoor Sculpture take on advocacy and protection roles in the U.S., joined by local and state historic preservation organizations.

Once the approach has been determined, the process needs to zero in on the types of questions and figures that not only quantify, but also qualify the value of public art. Evaluation of public art projects and programs is a difficult task, particularly so if the researcher considers them within the framework of the cultural or urban context. 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 »

My Name is Rachel Grossman & I Am a Measurement Junkie

Posted by Rachel Grossman On May - 1 - 2012

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Stories Have Impact, But How Do We Know?

Posted by Jen Gilomen On April - 30 - 2012

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 »

Assessing What to Assess in Public Art

Posted by Jon Pounds On April - 30 - 2012

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 »

Making Adjustments: The Art of Decision Making

Posted by Hillary Anaya On April - 6 - 2012
Hillary Anaya

Hillary Anaya

Recently, the Emerging Leaders of Mobile were given the task to receive a performance critique. The goal was to find a skill that needs improvement and to gain motivation to strengthen it.

I consider myself lucky, because I couldn’t have better bosses. While for some, asking for a performance critique can be intimidating, I have a welcoming work environment for this sort of thing. This is great because this activity was my idea, and if anyone HAD to do it, it was me.

One of my character traits is that I tend to get annoyed when I have to make adjustments. For example, when I receive incomplete submissions on a deadline day, I get a little irritated. I don’t mean I throw a full-blown temper tantrum, but I do tend to complain. I have always been aware that I do this, but I never really considered changing.

Recently, I was on the receiving end. I missed a deadline and had to get an extension. With the combination of advice from my bosses and being on the other side, the resolution was clear as day.

Mistakenly, I assumed my job as an administrator was to make sure the guidelines are ALWAYS followed. But I have been wisely advised that when working with people, especially in the nonprofit realm, rules sometimes need to bend so we can better serve our community. Read the rest of this entry »

Supporting Art or Inhibiting It?

Posted by Elizabeth McCloskey Miller On April - 4 - 2012
Liz Miller

Elizabeth McCloskey Miller

In my last post, I wrote about a “leading vs. following” conversation that happened at an Emerging Arts Leaders DC event with Liz Lerman in January.

Lerman’s most recent book, Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer, sparked another interesting topic of conversation at that same event.

In her book, she dedicates a section to “Structures and Underpinnings.” In the introduction to that section, Liz acknowledges that her dance company is always in transition, and attributes this frequent shape-shifting to the improvisational structuring that informs choreography.

At the event, Liz emphasized the importance of building flexible structures in our art and our arts organizations. This idea resonated deeply for me. Too frequently we identify a process, idea, or concept as successful, then proceed to build walls around it. That marketing strategy worked for one show, so now we need to do it for every show. Creating inflexible structures not only inhibits our success as emerging leaders, but also inhibits our ability to create and support art in our community.

The conversation about flexible structures immediately made me think of a survey I was creating at work to assess interest in a project. We had filled the questionnaire with “select one” answers designed for quick and easy analysis of the results. Read the rest of this entry »

Observing Where We Are, How We Got Here, & What is Next

Posted by Jennifer Bransom On March - 15 - 2012

Jennifer Bransom

Bringing people together to partner on a hot-button issue such as quality is tricky. And that, my friends, is an understatement, wouldn’t you agree?

When navigating these waters it’s important to chart where you’ve been and how you arrived where you are.

Over the past two years Big Thought, with the support of The Wallace Foundation, has digitally documented our community’s quality teaching and learning work at Creating Quality. We hope this site will serve as a place for community dialogue and sharing, both locally and nationally.

All of the material in the Tools and Resource Library (e.g., letters, reports, templates) that were created in Dallas can be downloaded and edited per your needs. This is because we don’t imagine that quality looks the same in any two places.

Ownership of quality is essential. And, ownership only comes when you, as a fully engaged partner, have defined quality in terms that you are prepared to support. Then, and only then, can you assess and make investments to advance quality.

This is how the Dallas arts community embraced and folded-in district and community educators from the other four disciplines: English/language arts, math, science, and social studies. Read the rest of this entry »

Building Commonly Valued Outcomes & Committing to the Journey

Posted by Jennifer Bransom On March - 14 - 2012

Jennifer Bransom

Confession time, I’m writing this second blog in advance of the first blog being published (this is how publication works). So, I am hoping we’ve had a widely successful conversation already about quality teaching and learning.

If we haven’t, then close your eyes, call forth the best dream conversation you can, attribute it to this blog, open your eyes, and let’s proceed.

In all seriousness, creating an open and rich conversation about quality is akin to facilitating a quality teaching and learning experience for and with students.

You need to set a climate where all feel comfortable sharing. This includes keeping the conversation focused and productive, while ensuring mutual respect among all parties.

You also need to generate engagement and investment by outlining clear expectations and offering multiple entry points for participants to stretch and extend their thinking.

Shared dialogue is another critical element. Not just talking, but listening, responding, and collaboratively using evidence and examples to construct new meaning, raises the quality of the work.

Skills, technique, and/or knowledge form the backbone of the work. They are the “what” we are teaching and learning. Read the rest of this entry »

“Talking About Quality Arts Education is _____.”

Posted by Talia Gibas On March - 13 - 2012
Talia Gibas

Talia Gibas

Depending on where you sit, a host of different words may have popped into your head to fill the blank in the title of this post—ranging from “exciting” to “difficult” to plain “weird.”

Based on my experience working with school district leaders in Los Angeles County, I fill in the blank with a simple “engaging.” If allowed to break my own rule and add a few more words, I would say, “necessary if we are serious about engaging new partners.”

During the 2009–10 school year, I worked on Arts for All’s Leadership Fellows Program, a professional development series meant to help school district leaders (namely superintendents, assistant superintendents, and district-level visual and performing arts leads) better advance arts education across their school districts.

Over the course of a school year, leadership teams from five districts in Los Angeles County met monthly to explore topics related to arts education. At the end, when asked to reflect on the elements of the series they found particularly useful, they kept bringing up a particular topic: quality.

Specifically, they enjoyed the session that focused on the four lenses of quality arts education as defined in Harvard Project Zero’s The Qualities of Quality. That session also delved into using the lenses as a tool to observe, assess, and discuss what was happening within their classrooms. Read the rest of this entry »