Toolbox as Documentation

Posted by Liz Lerman On May - 15 - 2014
Liz Lerman

Liz Lerman

The topic for this salon is big. I am going to write about one small part of it. I am interested in how we observe our processes, discern them as repeatable actions, develop them to become tools for others to borrow and make their own. I believe that we can harvest our histories, make sense of what we did and describe it in terms that help us understand the context, the decisions, and perhaps the wisdom and meaning surrounding the work.  At the same time we can delineate the data, information, formats, processes that may aid others in their work.

In my case, the idea for such a toolbox made from thousands of hours of teaching and choreographing and dancing came in an instant.  It was a visitation born out of utter confusion and despair.  As I was preparing to lead a workshop for K-12 teachers I was pondering why the organizing arts and educational institution with whom I was working wanted an outline from me that would describe what was to transpire.  They wanted to hand it out at the beginning even though we all knew that the activities would change once I was in the room with the very particular people and needs that would coalesce that afternoon.  It was true I had a plan, but it was equally true that the plan would shift as soon as we began our work. Read the rest of this entry »

“You Know Your Film is Making a Difference When…”

Posted by Ellen Schneider On September - 25 - 2013
Ellen Schneider

Ellen Schneider

“I cried after my first big film was released,” she admitted, in hushed tones over the phone.  This was no traditional case of post-partum blues. This was an award-winning filmmaker, who had spent years of her life, thousands of her own dollars, and probably a relationship or two to bring her poignant, hybrid, social issue documentary to the light of day (or in her case, a night on PBS following a limited theatrical release). “I wanted to change the world with that film. But even though the critics liked it, and people saw it, I had no proof that anything changed. Silence. I still don’t know if it had any impact at all.”

I had phoned my friend (let’s call her Maya) because I wanted to see how the indie crowd at the Sundance Film Festival would respond to my question: “You know your film is making a difference when…” I first attended Sundance in the late-80s when I was a script reader in Hollywood, and participated during the decade I was at the PBS series POV. But this year in my current role leading the Active Voice Lab for Story & Strategy I did more listening than screening. As a lifelong believer in the power of story — and other creative work – to advance social change, these days I’m spending a lot of time trying to prove it.

I can admit it now: early in my career when I wrote the “Evaluation” part of grant proposals I would wince, concoct a few bullets about the kind of change I wanted to see, and keep my fingers crossed that the funder would be so dazzled by what we were actually able to accomplish programmatically that they wouldn’t feel compelled to go back and reconcile it with our originally-stated objectives. During the first 10 years at Active Voice we commissioned outside firms and social scientists to give us qualitative feedback about our process and our partners’ satisfaction. We weren’t trying to impress funders; we simply couldn’t afford to repeat mistakes. But it wasn’t until Active Voice brought on a full time evaluator that were we able to identify and actually measure the kind of shifts we think films can contribute to. Read the rest of this entry »

Can Public Art Play a Role in Public Health?

Posted by Sara Ansell On September - 23 - 2013
Sara Ansell

Sara Ansell

What is the Porch Light Program?

Does art have the power to heal? The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program thinks it does. Through the Mural Arts Porch Light Program, a partnership with the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), we mine the social power of art to not only address a community’s physical environment but ultimately the community’s health. The program strives to catalyze positive changes in the community, improve the physical environment, create opportunities for social connectedness, develop skills to enhance resilience and recovery, promote community and social inclusion, shed light on challenges faced by those with behavioral health issues, reduce stigma, and encourage empathy. Through participatory public art, we have tackled issues such as trauma, faith and spirituality, homelessness, immigration, war, and community violence.

The Porch Light Program builds a team of artists, service providers, program participants, and other community and city-wide stakeholders to collaborate on a transformative public art project over the course of a year. During that year, artists are embedded within a provider agency and work closely with service recipients, staff, and the surrounding community. Through the weekly workshops, community meetings, and Open Studios, the artists forge meaningful relationships and explore the issues most pressing to the community. After months of dialogue, brainstorming, and art activities, the artists delve into the mural creation process with program participants. The participants help design the mural and then move on to the most exciting phase of the work: painting the mural. At the end of a program year, we celebrate and honor the completed mural at a highly anticipated “Mural Dedication Ceremony.”

Through this collaborative creative process, individuals and communities are not simply beneficiaries of public art or recipients of treatment, but co-creators of the work as they learn new skills, gain knowledge among peers and community members, and play an active role in improving their physical environment. National foundations, health leaders from across the country, and universities are looking at the Porch Light Program closely as an example of progressive public health promotion: the consideration that our physical and social ecosystem impacts our health as much as a visit to the doctor. Read the rest of this entry »

Sharing Shifts in Evaluation from the Funder Exchange

Posted by Joanna Chin On September - 6 - 2013
Joanna Chin

Joanna Chin

A May 22 Funder Exchange on Evaluating Arts & Social Impact, presented by Americans for the Arts’ Animating Democracy program and hosted by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, brought together 32 funders, evaluation professionals, and arts practitioners to learn about concrete approaches and measures funders use to understand the impact of arts and social change investments. We heard case studies are using from Crossroads Fund in Chicago about its Social Movements Development model, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation about its use of Developmental Evaluation, as well as from the Fledgling Fund and Porch Light Initiative, part of the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia.

At least within this group, evaluation is no longer viewed as a necessary evil, or worse, an empty exercise. Funders and practitioners alike shared examples of shifts in thinking about evaluation toward:

  • Frameworks that identify shared goals and clarify how grantees’ work aligns with larger values and social movements
  • Cross-sector indicators and tools that help stakeholders understand what difference is occurring as a result of their work
  • Iterative learning that moves future efforts toward more effective practices and greater potential for impact

There was a general consensus that if funders were more deliberate in communicating with each other about common interests, intentions, and results, their collective impact could be better understood and perhaps expanded. The need to embrace experimentation and even failure was also broadly supported. Participants valued the in-depth exchange with peers this day afforded and recommended that Animating Democracy organize additional convenings to extend the learning around new cases. Read the rest of this entry »

12 Ways to Market Your Public Art (Part Two)

Posted by Elysian McNiff On February - 15 - 2013
Elysian McNiff

Elysian McNiff

After reading nuts and bolts ideas for marketing your public art in Part One yesterday, here are some innovative ways New England-based (and one Mid-Atlantic) public art programs get the word out:

8. Mapping public art & walking tours. State and municipal programs in New England use Google to create public art maps. You too can create a map by clicking on “My Places” in Google Maps and pinning locations. Public art walks are also effective. They can be in the form of downloadable maps, printed maps, and audio guides. The Boston Arts Commission taps into family audiences with its Family Walk called Public Art QUESTions—a guide for talking about public art with kids in Boston.

The Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium utilizes the draw of Maine tourism. Its website proclaims “enjoy public art and Maine’s scenic vistas while you and your family visit the magnificent sculptures on the Symposium Sculpture Tour. Culture NOW is an online website that allow public art programs to upload and map their public art collections. The website features self-guided tours, podcasts, maps and smartphone apps.

9. Audio/Videotape it. Video narratives are effective ways to increase awareness of and access to public art. The Vermont Arts Council hired a filmmaker to create a documentary about the process and product of the Danville Project. The Middlebury College Museum of Art hired a student to create video versions of its downloadable audio walking tour. The Museum uploaded the videos to YouTube and visitors play audio/video on their smartphones while viewing the works. The Museum also added QR codes to the stone markers so that visitors can scan their way quickly to the content. Philadelphia’s Association of Public Art is leading the pack with its Museum Without Walls audio tours—a great model for all. Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Education Must Exist Beyond Evaluation, Measurement, and Standards

Posted by Rob Schultz On December - 11 - 2012

Rob Schultz

I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m only passingly familiar with many of the theories and practices of arts education. Teaching visual art classes is in my distant, hazy professional background, but my career since then has been in managing community arts education programs and the capable, expert staff who deliver them.

It’s certainly been interesting reading and discussing various approaches to comprehensive arts education over the years, how best practices are defined at any one particular time, and how new approaches redefine what we thought we already knew.

I can appreciate how valuable these theories and practices are and what results they achieve in students of varying ethnic, age, and socioeconomic diversity. Of course, there’s also been an ever-increasing focus on standardization and evaluation, in large part I suppose because of the need to meet “proof of effectiveness” requirements demanded by grantors and others in the business of providing financial support to the arts education field.

All of us were pleased when, in 1994, the National Arts Standards were adopted and our field proudly saw that the arts had been recognized and earned a place at the public education table. More recently, the Common Core State Standards arrived on the national scene, and so now we grapple with ways to make their integration and implementation a reality.

A colleague on the Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts, Talia Gibas, recently wrote an excellent essay on the value of “shared delivery,” whereby a child is taught through three processes: a generalist classroom teacher who integrates the arts on a daily basis; an arts specialist who “hones in on skills and content specific to their art form;” and a professional teaching artist who deepens engagement. Read the rest of this entry »

Blog Salon Recap: So, Does Size Matter?

Posted by Joanna Chin On December - 7 - 2012

Joanna Chin

As the newest staff member on the Animating Democracy team, reflecting on how our past has informed present work has been illuminating.

By placing individual artists and organizations such as those that made up our original Animating Democracy Lab cohort into a national or field-wide context, we hope we have helped to magnify their impact over time and on a national scale.

Although the initial Animating Democracy grant cohort was a relatively small group (36 organizations), we continue to see the connections and ripples from relationships formed through many deep learning exchanges. As time progresses, the connections made within a small group of artists and arts organizations continues to “scale out” (a phrase borrowed from Roberto Bedoya’s post) in the form of collaborations and cross sector work such as that of Sojourn Theatre.

We have always been a national initiative; but, we accomplish our goals by creating opportunities to capture and translate the practitioner’s voice to a broader field and across sectors. This is still essentially true in our current work exploring the social impact of the arts as well as mapping art and social change trends.

We are national in scope, but scale has been achieved primarily through promoting human connections and ripples over time. In this vein, I’d like to take a crack at summarizing and connecting our bloggers under some major themes/approaches that emerged during the Salon: Read the rest of this entry »

Go Deep to Go Wide

Posted by Jeanette Lee and Mike Medow On December - 6 - 2012

Attendees enjoy an Allied Media Conference session.

Organizers often believe we have to choose between breadth and depth. Do we prioritize meaningful relationships or strive to “reach” the greatest number of people?

At Allied Media Projects we see this is a false dichotomy. Over the past 15 years of organizing the annual Allied Media Conference (AMC), we have learned that we can achieve broad engagement while also prioritizing deep relationships.

Relationships are key

The AMC has a unique conference organizing model that fosters relationships at the internal and interpersonal, community, and inter-community levels. Small-scale relationships fostered through the AMC have ripple effects that create large-scale impact. Founded as a zine conference in 1999 around the independent press mantra of “become the media,”  the AMC has since evolved a theory of change that says:

Creating our own media is a process of speaking and listening that allows us to investigate the problems that shape our realities, imagine other realities and then organize our communities to make them real. When we use media in this way, we transform ourselves from consumers of information to producers, from objects within narratives of exploitation and violence to active subjects in the transformation of the world.

Our definition of “media” has grown over the years to include everything from breakdancing to broadcasting community radio and building web applications. The conference features more than 140 hands-on workshops, strategy conversations, caucus meetings, and art and music events. Read the rest of this entry »

Shared Outcomes and Collective Impact for Scaling Up

Posted by Victor Kuo On December - 5 - 2012

Victor Kuo

What are funders interested in scale and results talking about these days? A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Grantmakers in Arts 2012 Conference in Miami.

This year’s conference theme was “Forging Connections,” and I found the notion of connections incredibly relevant for scaling impact. Creating vibrant, livable communities is the responsibility of not just one project or organization, but rather partners across a sector and the entire community working together for change.

We explored an example of a community aspiring to build connections involving entire sectors, such as the arts, education, and workforce development.

The Greater Cincinnati area has a strong history of collaboration. Leading funders, such as the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, are considering ways to take a collective approach to achieving social impact.

Specifically, they are talking about a collective impact approach described in “Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work” that identifies five key factors to facilitate change:

1) a common agenda,  2) shared measurement, 3) mutually reinforcing activity, 4) continuous communication, and 5) backbone support. Read the rest of this entry »

Local Arts Classroom: Stepping Outside of Your Bubble

Posted by Jenna Hartzell On October - 9 - 2012

Jenna Hartzell

When the call for applicants went out for the first ever Local Arts Classroom (LAC) program with Americans for the Arts I didn’t hesitate to apply.

I had attended the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in 2011 and returned to work thinking, “I need more.”

I felt the need to stay connected to what’s happening on a national level, but had a desire to learn more about what I should be doing as a Program Director of a local arts agency. I read blogs, followed @Americans4Arts on Twitter, and was connected on a surface level, but missed the sense of camaraderie the convention facilitated.

Enter the LAC and a chance to learn about cultural planning, making space for art, advocacy, board and staff development, fundraising, and making the case for the arts; a chance to learn with arts administrators from all over the country; a chance to absorb different perspectives and experiences of those who know what it’s like to be an arts administrator.

I say “absorb” because that was how I approached the class: to be a sponge, and absorb every concept, idea, and piece of advice I could possibly take in.

One concept that I’ve applied frequently since I graduated from LAC is one about fundraising, planning, and community:

When planning for an event or fundraiser, organizations typically take this approach:

  • Name the activity/goal/event
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Evaluate
  • Ask: What is a success for the organization?
  • Ask: Was it a success for the community? 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 »

Measuring Access to Arts Education, or Not Another Survey!

Posted by Deborah Vaughn On June - 22 - 2012

Deb Vaughn

Since I started my job 4 ½ years ago, I have been looking for a way to quantify arts education. There are an overwhelming number of models circulating:

Washington State did an invited, online, school principal survey, leveraging the partnership of their Arts Education Research Initiative to elicit responses.

Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming worked with the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) to develop a shared survey instrument, administered in collaboration with the four state offices of education and public instruction.

Communities involved in The Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child initiative have created extensive school-based survey instruments, drawing on the expertise of locally-formed partnerships to create the best instrument and guarantee response rates.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

With over 1,300 public schools in the state, the cost to hire a research firm to design and administer a survey instrument was prohibitive, and every existing survey instrument we looked at needed substantial adaptation to satisfy our stakeholders.

Luckily, two years ago, a graduate student in public policy at University of Oregon, Sarah K. Collins, mentioned to me that her thesis project involved pulling data from the Department of Education to examine access to arts education. The Oregon Arts Commission hired Sarah to produce a state-level summary report of her thesis, which we then published.

While the summary data was useful in tracking overall trends, it wasn’t applicable to most citizens, who wanted to know what the numbers meant for their local school. This demand evolved into what is now the Oregon Arts Commission’s newly launched online arts education databaseRead the rest of this entry »

PAN-OUT — A Broad View of the 2012 Public Art Network Preconference

Posted by Liesel Fenner On June - 14 - 2012

Liesel Fenner

2012 marks my tenth Americans for the Arts Public Art Preconference, six of which I have planned and orchestrated over the years with the help of Public Art Network (PAN) Council members and local hosts.

This year proved to be another shining star, aptly-hosted in the Lone Star state of Texas and San Antonio, a sparkling gem of creative community that rolled out the red carpet for us.

Held at Pearl, Preconference attendees were greeted to hearty breakfast tacos (localvore favorite) and iced coffee, in preparation for the 90 degree-plus predicted temperatures. Newcomers were welcomed to an orientation in Pearl’s Center for Architecture, the American Institute of Architects local chapter office with crisp-geometric interiors offering flexible meeting space (everything on casters) for PAN’s breakout sessions throughout the day.

Attendees trekked across the Pearl campus to the nearby historic Stable, an oval-shaped plan once housing up to 70 horses, today hosting 270 Preconference attendees! Texas hosts, Martha Peters of the Ft. Worth Public Art Program and PAN Council member and Jimmy LeFlore of Public Art San Antonio, led everyone in a rousing welcome.

Representatives of the PAN Council presented a state-of-the-field report highlighting critical issues the Council is addressing including: public art and quality of life, evaluation, and social practices and community engagement. Read the rest of this entry »

Multiple Interpretations & Approaches to Public Art Evaluation

Posted by Liesel Fenner On May - 18 - 2012

Liesel Fenner

A ‘lucky 13’ total number of public art blog posts were published this week from public art administrators, artists, designers, educators, and students.

Thank you to everyone in the Public Art Network (PAN) community for contributing and sharing the posts with your networks. Let us know your thoughts on the Blog Salon (you can view all 13 posts with this link) and future public art topics that you would like to see discussed through blog posts, webinars, and other information resources.

A cogent comment by Barbara Goldstein asked “does it work?” and emphatically stated, “It would be virtually impossible to measure whether one work of art has an economic impact in a specific place.” When public art administrators are asked for public art economic impact studies from elected officials, city commissions, and constituents it is incumbent on the public art program to look more deeply at how the artworks work within the larger urban and cultural context.

As Goldstein proposed, “questions that can be asked are more subtle—what makes a specific place memorable? Can you describe what you experience there and how it makes you feel? What do you think when you see a particular artwork? Does it improve your experience of this place?”

Studies are tackling the challenging approach of how to cull one’s personal experience of place, as Penny Balkin Bach introduced us to The Knight Foundation and Gallup Corporation’s Soul of the Community study that states, “community attachment creates an emotional connection to place.” The study determined that the key drivers of attachment are social offerings, openness, and the aesthetics of place—all attributes of public art. 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 »

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

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

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.