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 »

Public Art & Community Attachment

Posted by Penny Balkin Bach On May - 16 - 2012

Penny Balkin Bach

Working in the field of public art automatically puts us in touch with the public, art, and its social context.

In fact, public art may be one of a community’s most overlooked and underappreciated cultural assets; it’s accessible “on the street”, any time, free to all, without a ticket, and diverse in content. It can be enjoyed spontaneously, alone, or in groups, and by culture seekers as well as new audiences.

There is data out there that supports the benefits of public art to the community.

The Knight Foundation and Gallup Corporation’s Soul of the Community study, for example, indicates that community attachment creates an emotional connection to place (which also correlates to local economic growth). They determined that the key drivers of attachment are social offerings, openness, and the aesthetics of place–all potential attributes of public art.

It’s fascinating that these drivers scored higher than education, basic services and safety, and the economy. Also, a local summer visitors survey conducted by the Greater Philadelphia Marketing & Tourism Corporation (GPTMC) found that of the city’s ten most popular outdoor activities, outdoor art ranked second–above hiking, jogging, and biking.

Public art can create community attachment, if we overcome perceived barriers and open pathways for engagement. With this in mind, the Fairmount Park Art Association developed Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO (MWW:AUDIO)—a multi-platform interactive audio experience, available for free on the street by cell phone, audio download, Android and iPhone mobile app, QR code, or online as streaming audio and audio slideshows. Read the rest of this entry »

Reevaluating My Thinking Around Evaluation

Posted by Joanna Chin On May - 4 - 2012

Joanna Chin

When I asked the bloggers for Animating Democracy’s Evaluation & Social Impact Blog Salon to write about this topic, I thought I knew what I was going to get. Animating Democracy’s Impact Initiative has been going strong for several years now with a fantastic set of evolving framings, vocabulary, metrics, methodologies, etc. and so forth.

In addition, a good handful of these folks have worked with us before and the rest I know through their incredible creative work. None of them are strangers to questions of social impact or evaluation.

I expected discussions about how to show funders and community leaders what impact was made; talk of how to establish outcomes and indicators; examples of surveys and interviewing. While many of these were touched on throughout the salon, what did emerge made me start to adjust my thinking around evaluation.

Perhaps even more important was what surprised me: that the trends in evaluative thinking and practice came from the work itself rather than an external driver.

Is storytelling just a fad?: Qualitative v. quantitative

At Americans for the Arts, we make the case for the arts daily and within that there is a delicate balance between the concreteness of numbers and the power of stories. However, as noted by Katherine Gressel, “surveys and statistics are out; stories and experiences are in.” Read the rest of this entry »

Thinking About the Impact of Public Art

Posted by Chris Dwyer On May - 4 - 2012

Chris Dwyer

I was impressed that so many posts during the Blog Salon have tackled the challenge of assessing the impact of public art—a particularly challenging area for building indicators of impact.

Several years ago I heard Richard Florida describe public art in terms of community image when making a point about vital cities, i.e. those that attract entrepreneurs and visitors and earn the loyalty of their residents.

The idea of assessing impact through the eyes of strangers intrigues me:

What does a collection of public art convey to those who don’t know the city? Does it say those who live here…

  • …are willing to take a risk?
  • …like to try new things?
  • …are open to new ideas?
  • …have a sense of whimsy?

We can perhaps all imagine cities we’ve visited where public art conveyed exactly those impressions of a new locale.

A worthy impact for the investment and not so difficult to measure.

Seeing the messages of public art through the eyes of a younger generation may offer a similar window into the impact of public art. Read the rest of this entry »

The Public Kitchen & the Dilemma of Evaluating a Gesture

Posted by Kenneth Bailey On May - 4 - 2012

Public Kitchen participants.

The next intervention the Design Studio is working on is called the Public Kitchen. It’s part of larger project we are developing called “The Public: A Work in Progress.”

As public infrastructures—hospitals, water, schools, transportation, etc.—are privatized, the Public Kitchen takes a stab at going in the reverse direction. It is a “productive fiction”; it’s our experimentation with a new, more vibrant social infrastructure that can:

  • Challenge the public’s own feelings that “public” means poor, broken down, poorly run, and “less than” private
  • Engage communities in claiming public space, the social and food justice
  • Make a new case for public infrastructures through creating ones that don’t exist

The first step of the Public Kitchen occured last fall when we worked with artist and graphic designer Jill Peterson to create what we called a “mobile ideation kit.” This enabled us to have interesting conversations with passers-by in a variety of communities, with an easy, attractive way to ask about what would be important to them in this made-up new form.

Next, we created an indoor Public Kitchen exhibit for Roxbury Open Studios. Over 100 residents, activists and artists came for a bite, took home fresh veggies, imagined new food policies, checked out architectural sketches, and added their ideas for what’s possible for a Public Kitchen.


Read the rest of this entry »

How Art Can Strengthen Evaluation

Posted by Renan Snowden On May - 4 - 2012

Renan Snowden

Let’s be honest: sometimes evaluation can feel like taking medicine. What’s more, the results of evaluation often take the form of dry reports that are unwelcoming and, at worst, hard to penetrate. But evaluation doesn’t have to be this way.

Evaluation can be a useful and engaging process that incorporates creativity and participation to help an organization learn how it can more effectively reach its goals. Evaluation presents an opportunity for arts organizations to demonstrate the impact they are making in their communities. Incorporating artistic practice and a combination of narrative documentation and compelling graphics can make evaluation interesting and build off of an arts organization’s existing skill set.

Artists and arts organizations have an advantage with evaluation: you want it to be a creative process. Right now, some arts organizations are taking the lead in including drawing, storytelling, and graphic design as part of their evaluation process and reporting.

By making evaluation a creative and dynamic process, these organizations are helping make assessment more attractive to practitioners by showing that evaluation can build off the work your organization already has expertise in.

As a graduate student in urban planning, I’m interested in ways that the arts can help create shared spaces for community development. Writing short summaries of the in-depth resources available on the Animating Democracy website as the spring IMPACT intern, I began to notice that some of the best case studies of measuring the impact of social change incorporated the arts as part of the evaluation process. These innovative approaches to evaluation are facilitating new ways of evaluation that emphasize experience and engagement as key components of evaluation. Read the rest of this entry »

Visionaries in Evaluation: Beyond Samples & Quantitative Data

Posted by Marc Maxson On May - 4 - 2012

Jim Henson and his fellow Muppeteers perform as Bert & Ernie.

In my first post, I explained why we mustn’t let our fears prevent us from experimenting with evaluations that are neither purely quantitative nor based on random samples when trying to understand whether our social interventions are working.

Now, I want to share examples from visionaries who practice what I preach. The people you should know are Jim Henson, VI Hart, David McCandless, and Jonathon Harris.

Evaluations are a search for the truth about whether our work has changed lives. And I believe good evaluations are conceptually simple.

When Jim Henson was developing the design for Sesame Street, child psychologists and early education experts insisted that they knew the right way to do the show. Jim only cared about measuring whether each segment of video was good, and that kids were watching. You can’t teach kids anything if they aren’t paying attention, he argued.

His greatest innovation was a simple method to quantify whether kids were paying attention at each point during a test episode. They brought some five-year-olds into a play room and showed them visuals on two televisions simultaneously. One played an episode of Sesame Street, while the other played a random series of interesting images for seven seconds each (“the distractor“). Read the rest of this entry »

Making a Difference Online and Off

Posted by Marc Vogl On May - 4 - 2012

Marc Vogl

There are several particularly interesting things about The Awesome Foundation.

First, it’s not a Foundation. It’s 30+ self-organized chapters around the world of individuals kicking in $100/month to get behind ideas they think are cool.

Second, the grants that Awesome Foundation recipients get are $1000.

And for all the variety to be found in the funded  projects a common denominator is that $1000 made a difference.  In other words, a principle of the Awesome Foundation’s philanthropy (as decentralized and informal as it is) is that proposals are ‘right-sized’ if they can make the case that $1000 will tip the project into being successful.

As a former arts program officer at a major foundation I think that’s beautiful and also a simple concept to hang on to as one contemplates increasingly complex (and confusing) methodologies for understanding the impact the arts make.

The topic is definitely hot, and there has been really interesting work from those seeking to measure arts’ intrinsic impact  This includes the work from Theatre Bay Area  and others adding to the catalog of studies on arts’ instrumental impact. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Beertown’ — Making a Show That Builds Community

Posted by Rachel Grossman On May - 3 - 2012

The official "Beertown" time capsule.

In September 2010, dog & pony dc (d&pdc) began developing a new show starting with nothing but two books and a question. Our goal was to create an original work as a collective from start to finish; the only thing we knew about the end product was that it would be fully produced 14 months later. Well: we also knew that in this production we wanted to push the boundaries of “audience integration.”

d&pdc is an ensemble-based devised theatre company that creates new ways for audiences to experience theatre. We carry a self-described “healthy obsession” with defining the performer-audience relationship for each show.

“Audience integration” is a foundation of d&pdc’s devising process; the audience’s role in performance is discussed from each project’s birth to its fully-realized production. The approach is highly elastic. On one end of the spectrum: the role of the audience is as witness. At the opposite end: the event doesn’t move forward without audience propulsion.

In 2010, we wanted to explore the more risky end. We wanted to create a show in which the audience members were active, vocal participants who ultimately determined the outcome every night. To do that, the audience had to feel compelled to act; they had to become invested and take ownership. In other words: they had to care.

What makes us care? “A crisis” was our initial answer. Read the rest of this entry »

The Arts, Culture, & Social Well-Being

Posted by Mark Stern On May - 3 - 2012
Mark Stern

Mark Stern

As part of its collaboration with The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) and the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy (OACCE), Penn’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) is leading an effort to develop an index of livability/social inclusion for the city.

Our goal is to create a series of maps that identify several dimensions of social well-being across the city and to locate the arts and culture within the broader idea of social well-being. This semester, Ira Goldstein of TRF and I have co-taught an Urban Studies seminar focused of clarifying the conceptualization of social well-being and gathering the data necessary to create the index.

The project was inspired by the federal government’s—including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)—recent interest in promoting livability. As we looked at the question, we realized that our measure needed to move beyond livability to include more comprehensive measures of social justice, inclusion, and well-being. Rather than start from scratch, we used the 2009 report of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress as our starting point.

The commission proposed an eight-dimension framework for social well-being that included material standard of living, health, education, personal activities (including work and leisure), political voice and governance, social connections and relationships, environment, and economic and physical insecurity. Our first adaptation of the framework was to add housing as a separate dimension, giving us nine potential sub-indexes.

During the seminar, Ira, the students, and I have been able to develop preliminary version of seven of the nine indexes. Some of them were easier than others. 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 »

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 »

A Brief Conversation on Evaluation, Privilege, & Making Trouble

Posted by Carolina 'CJ' Jimenez On May - 2 - 2012
Photo by Jesse Banks III

Photo by Jesse Banks III

Going into high school, you’re still trying to figure out who you are. It became apparent to me why people had existential crises. It’s hard to find out who you are when no one knows your name. When I started high school, I was no longer Carolina Jimenez or CJ.I became my student number (8259745).                       

Locker number (367)

My GPA (2.3)

My test scores (97 percentile in English; 35 percentile in Math; 85 percentile in Writing/Reading; I still have no clue what that means…)

I became more obsessed with how I looked on paper than what I was learning. I felt myself being remodeled from a human being into a receptacle for lectures and test scores. Learning should result from curiosity, not obligation.

~ Carolina Jimenez, May 2010 (senior year of high school) 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.