Defining Outcomes in Arts Education

Posted by Bruce Whitacre On December - 16 - 2013
Bruce Whitacre

Bruce Whitacre

What is the purpose of theatre education at the K-12 level? What underlying objectives are shared by diverse programs in diverse communities? How do we reconcile a theatre’s objectives in engaging future audiences with the educational objectives of schools and parents? The practical reality is that a climate of education budget cuts, standardized testing and stiff competition for budget dollars makes providing young people, especially in underserved communities, with meaningful arts education opportunities a challenging question.

This surfaced recently when I was sitting in a donor’s office laying out our plans for Impact Creativity, an ambitious undertaking to raise $5 million over three years to bridge the budget gaps of our 19 member theaters and their education programs. American creativity is at stake, and so is our sense of equal opportunity — 40 percent of underserved youth risk losing their access to arts education.

“But what are you setting out to do, actually?” the donor asked. “Raise $5 million,” I answered. She paused. “And then…?”

Ah ha. We needed to connect the dots, in other words define theater education and its impact in more tangible ways, so that we can have a national conversation about something that currently differs from state to state, school to school, and theatre to theatre.

The network of 19 National Corporate Theatre Fund (NCTF) member theaters then set out to define clear objectives for the national Impact Creativity program while communicating how the individual theatre education programs address the larger questions facing our education systems: equity, resource scarcity and increasing demand for a high-functioning workforce. 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 »

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 »

Collective Impact and the Wisdom of Slow Culture

Posted by Bill Cleveland On December - 7 - 2012

Pomegranate Center works with communities to imagine, plan, and create shared public spaces designed to encourage social integration and build local identity.

In the world of commerce scaling up has a long history. In the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries, mass production spawned the industrial revolution. In the twentieth century, scaling applied to retail businesses like fast food and electronics manifested as chain stores and franchising.

The intention with these enterprises is to maximize profit by providing reliable and affordable products and services through economies of scale. In terms of profitability, mass production, chains, and franchising have been stupendously successful.

On the nonprofit side, given the significant gap between community needs and resources it is understandable that policymakers and funders are going to eager to find ways to extend the benefits of what they see as effective ideas and practice. Slow Food USA, Link TV, and KIPP charter schools are good examples of how innovative nonprofits have shared and spread the wealth.

The downside, of course is that one-size-fits-all predictability and sameness can have a sterilizing effect on the delicate strains of quirk and diversity upon which vital culture depends to multiply and thrive. For people like me who are concerned with community cultural development, or in the current vernacular, creative placemaking, this is no small thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts

Posted by Ian David Moss On December - 4 - 2012

Ian David Moss

How does scale influence impact in the arts?

In 2007, back when I was a fresh-faced grad student, I actually addressed this question head on in the eighth post ever published on Createquity. I argued pretty strongly that scale in the arts was a myth, or at least not salient to the same extent as in other fields:

“It’s not that I don’t think large arts organizations do good work, or that they don’t deserve to be supported. What I’m going to argue instead is that there is a tendency among many institutional givers to direct their resources toward organizations that have well-developed support infrastructure, long histories, and vast budgets, and in a lot of ways it’s a tendency that doesn’t make much sense (or at the very least, could use some balance).

For one thing, those well-developed support infrastructures don’t come cheap. Consider the case of Carnegie Hall… [snip]

In contrast, small arts organizations are extraordinarily frugal with their resources, precisely because they have no resources of which to speak. It’s frankly amazing to me what largely unheralded art galleries, musical ensembles, theater companies, dance troupes, and performance art collectives are able accomplish with essentially nothing but passion on their side.

A $5,000 contribution that would barely get you into the sixth-highest donor category at Carnegie might radically transform the livelihood of an organization like this. Suddenly, they might be able to buy some time in the recording studio, or hire an accompanist for rehearsals, or redo that floor in the lobby, or even (gasp) PAY their artists! All of which previously had seemed inconceivable because of the poverty that these organizations grapple with.” Read the rest of this entry »

Does Size Matter? (or Welcome to Our Blog Salon on Scaling Up)

Posted by Joanna Chin On December - 3 - 2012

Examples of scaling.

The notion of scaling up has gained currency as arts organizations, artists, and funders seek greater impact from their efforts and investments. The idea of sharing something that is effective so that the benefits can be experienced by more people is attractive, especially when something is producing good results.

One Story of Successful Scaling

A significant example of scaling up for the public good came to us just last week through a news update from one of Animating Democracy’s early grantees. Since its PBS broadcast in June 2008, Katrina Brown’s film, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North has spawned a nonprofit, the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery, which has engaged thousands of people from all backgrounds in honest, productive dialogues about race, privilege, and the history of slavery, based on the story of Katrina’s ancestors’ role in the slave trade in New England.

The news update cites a breathtaking array of ways the organization is reaching people—from a workshop for members of the Connecticut General Assembly and its staff to sharing the film and related work with thousands of attendees at the 77th Episcopal General Convention. Using the film’s narrative, the Center has reached across education, government, faith, and cultural sectors to make a difference on pervasive and persistent issues of race and class in America. Read the rest of this entry »

Showing Others What We Do

Posted by Kaity Nicastri On May - 15 - 2012

Kaity Nicastri

Editor’s Note: Following Public Art Network Council Member Sioux Trujillo’s post, project partner Kaity Nicastri describes the benefit of using logic models in evaluation.

Evaluation. That’s a hefty word. Most people cringe when they think of evaluation, but it’s really not that scary and doesn’t need to be feared.

With the arts in mind, evaluation can take on many forms—it can be programmatic, project-based, user/patron feedback, monitoring sales/attendance, but they all have a unifying theme: understanding the impact of your work.

I started working with a community public art program over two years ago as a Master’s-level intern from the University of Michigan’s Community Based Initiative. With a concentration in policy and evaluation, I fit the nerdier side of social work. I’m not your average caseworker.

In my new role, I was faced with a program that had surveys, but no real evaluation and no understanding of the results of the surveys. Simultaneously, taking a technical evaluation course, I started with a logic model. This process is truly the crux of all good evaluation. If you don’t understand what you are trying to accomplish, evaluation will mean very little.

Through the logic model, I learned invaluable information about the structure of the program and goals of the directors, funders, and participants for various investments in the program. The logic model process created a useful document that informed my evaluation knowledge and development. Read the rest of this entry »

Jason Yoon

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

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

Enrichment

1

2

3

4

   Attitude
   Effort

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

That’s it?

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

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

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

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

But we have to be careful not to adopt the fallacies of the “accountability” movement, too. Read the rest of this entry »

Scaling Back to Scale Up

Posted by Mark Rodriguez On May - 2 - 2012

Mark Rodriguez

Upon reviewing a blog entry about The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth study released by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) earlier this month, I ran across a respondent who stated, “It’s great to have all of these studies, but how does it help me and my organization? How can small or midsized arts organizations measure their impact without the resources of large institutions like the NEA?”

The following shares the story of how Changing Worlds, a midsized Chicago-based educational arts nonprofit went from basic surveys and pre- and post-residency exercises to a longitudinal study that improved our practice, reaffirmed the quality of our program, and helped build an organizational culture of inquiry.

In 2003, I became the executive director of a small start-up nonprofit that had little to no infrastructure in place to assess its programs. We had lots of informal data and some feedback from program partners. I knew immediately that if we were going to grow, thrive and succeed, we had to identify our unique niche, solidify our program model and select program inquiry questions we wanted to explore.

From 2003–2008, we went through various renditions of evaluation tools and we even contracted with three independent evaluation consultants. After five years, we learned some new things, developed the basic capacity to measure the impact of our residency programs and invested lots of time. While this helped us gain insight into our short-term impact, it didn’t address the potential long-term impact and implications of our program. 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 »

Teasing Messaging Strategy Out of Research

Posted by Clayton Lord On October - 4 - 2011

Clayton Lord

At the place where marcomm* and advocacy meet, discussing our value in the landscape of possible activities is becoming increasingly important. Because at its core, both marcomm and advocacy are about where someone should put dollars, albeit on different scales.

In the most recent edition of WolfBrown’s e-newsletter, On Our Minds, Zach Kemp wrote about a study published in the Journal of Epedemiology & Community Health (abstract here) on the difference between the types of art that seem to generate the most health benefit for men and women. By looking at what the study calls “creative cultural activities” and “receptive cultural activities” (i.e. art that you do, like painting, singing, etc versus art that you watch, like theatre, concerts, exhibitions, etc) in a large-scale community study, the researchers were able to demonstrate, essentially, that women report more physiological benefits from doing and men report more physiological benefits from seeing.

This may seem a bit heady and esoteric, but I’m always interested in the place where hard science intersects with artistic consumption, as that’s often (if you dig) a good place to start thinking about good marketing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Relationship Between Innovation and Impact

Posted by Ryan Hurley On July - 27 - 2011

Students display a bench they created for their school/community garden.

I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Diego. One of the most engaging ideas that I took home with me was the relationship between innovation and impact.

We talked about how these two ideas are often assumed to go hand-in-hand and although many innovative ideas do have significant impact on large groups of people, sometimes innovation is for the sake of innovation.

One member of my table used the analogy of the space pen – how NASA spent tons of money and research developing a zero gravity pen that could write in space, which is a cool, I want one, but pencils always seemed to work just fine in the past. Was this innovative, probably, did it have a significant impact on a large group of people or was it a catalyst of great purpose, probably not.

I must admit I am a bit biased on what we termed ‘The Space Pen Theory’ because of my arts education background. We are trained to weigh much more heavily on the impact of a project than the novelty of the idea, not to say that we aren’t often able to bring those two elements together but for educational purposes, the process is often more closely examined than the product.

We deliberately tried to balance impact and innovation with the 53rd Street School Community Garden Project. Community gardens and school gardens are not super fresh ideas but the fusion of the two in a project that uses the arts to engage the entire community from the inception, brings new life to both. Read the rest of this entry »