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 »

Rebecca Yenawine

I have been a community arts practitioner in Baltimore City for the last 15 years.

After years of being asked by funders how my program evaluates its outcomes and answering with anecdotal stories and satisfaction survey results, I decided to try to find more meaningful ways tell the story of this work so that its potential for impact could be better understood and attract investment and resources. To this end, I began some small research projects.

In 2010, Zoe Reznick Gewanter and I conducted a study of 14 community arts practitioners. Practitioners were interviewed and asked how they define community arts, what their methods are and what outcomes they see as a result of the work. Here’s a video of that work:

After transcribing and coding their interviews, several clusters of outcomes emerged: Read the rest of this entry »

Let Evaluations Be Fun, Be Life

Posted by Marc Maxson On May - 1 - 2012

Marc Maxson

Think about the most fun you’ve had doing charity work. What was it that really appealed to you? Was it the smiling faces of kids playing a sport or painting a mural? Maybe it was the moment you realized someone’s life would be forever changed by the small token of love that a program enabled one person to give another.

Do you know what those moments have in common?

First, they are significant on an emotional, social, or metaphyiscal level—and so no traditional evaluation is well-suited to quantify them.

Second, these moments belong to those whose lives have changed. Your impact, as the person who helped make it happen, should not be the focus (unless you enjoy being self-centered and alone in the world).

So why do we continue to act as if “quantitative” surveys about our own “impact” are smart?

My decade working as a neuroscientist with actual “quantitative” data enables me to confidently dispel this notion once and for all. Here me out:

  • Social change is social. That means it depends on people. Lots of them. People lie, especially in surveys, and often with the best intentions. Self-reports from people are not quantitative.
  • So that’s why we have statistics, right? Inferential statistics depend on random sampling, and sampling is almost never random given the reasonable time and cost constraints placed on nonprofits.
  • Even more alarming, statistics has no really solid way of telling if the sampling was done randomly.
  • If random sampling is a problem, then results will not be reproducible over time and in different places. That’s why a lot of high-paid people interpret them and argue over methodology. But I think that’s a distraction from the core problem—which is our obsession with extrapolating from brief and tiny samples of life to broad and timeless descriptions of social change and impact.
  • 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. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Stern

Mark Stern

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Week of Arts Education in Washington (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Robert Lynch On April - 25 - 2012
Robert Lynch and Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin and Robert Lynch speak during the Arts Advocacy Day Congressional Arts Kick-Off.

This week I’m in Los Angeles attending a meeting of the U.S. Travel & Tourism Advisory Board and hosting an Arts Action Fund event with Los Angeles arts leaders. As I flew out here, I was thinking about the incredible events of last week that impacted arts education.

It all began with the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) Spring Forum April 12-13, followed by a combined meeting of the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network and our Americans for the Arts State Arts Action Network on April 15. The week concluded with our 25th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy and Arts Advocacy Day on April 16-17.

For those that weren’t able to attend these events, I thought I would share some of my experiences with you.

The AEP forum began with an exciting announcement—the National Endowment for the Arts named Ayanna Hudson, currently with Arts for All in Los Angeles, as their new director of arts education. Ayanna has been a program partner with, and a congressional witness for, Americans for the Arts during her time at Arts for All, and I’m really pleased she’s moving into this national role.

PBS NewsHour education correspondent John Merrow was the closing keynote at the forum, reminding us to let the 80 percent (the percentage of Americans that do not have school-aged children) know the good work that we are doing and how they can support us. In his words: “Don’t plead, lead.”

The next morning, I had the pleasure of speaking to forum attendees, reminding them that their voice is important in supporting arts education and that they are not alone. Read the rest of this entry »

The two clips below capture more of Alec Baldwin’s Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy given as part of Arts Advocacy Day on April 16 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

During this clip, Baldwin makes the case for the the support of arts funding:

And for the coda of his lecture, Baldwin summarizes the main points of his journey through the arts during his life and utters the most memorable quote of the speech (besides the gang dancing line much earlier…): Read the rest of this entry »

10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2012 (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Randy Cohen On April - 11 - 2012

Randy Cohen

Almost one year ago, I posted The Top Ten Reasons to Support the Arts in response to a business leader who wanted to make a compelling case for government and corporate contributions to the arts.

Being a busy guy, he didn’t want a lot to read: “Keep it to one page, please.”

With the arts advocacy season once again upon us…(who am I kidding, it’s always upon us!)…here is my updated list for 2012 which now includes new stats from our Arts & Economic Prosperity IV Study.

10 Reasons to Support the Arts

1. True prosperity. The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. They help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, the arts are salve for the ache.

2. Improved academic performance. Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates, and even better attitudes about community service—benefits reaped by students regardless of socioeconomic status. Students with four years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with one-half year or less.

3. Arts are an industry. Arts organizations are responsible businesses, employers, and consumers. Nonprofit arts organizations generate $135 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 4.1 million jobs and generating nearly $22.3 billion in government revenue. Investment in the arts supports jobs, generates tax revenues, and advances our creativity-based economy.

4. Arts are good for local merchants. The typical arts attendee spends $24.60 per person, per event, not including the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, and babysitters. Non-local arts audiences (who live outside the county) spend nearly twice as much as local arts attendees ($39.96 vs. $17.42)—valuable revenue for local businesses and the community. Read the rest of this entry »

Without the Data, You’re Just Another Person with an Opinion

Posted by Randy Cohen On April - 11 - 2012

Three years before writing Future Shock in 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler first wrote The Art of Measuring the Arts, and noted, “A cultural data system is needed to provide information for rational policy-making in the cultural field and to assist those outside the field in understanding their impact on it.”

This week, Americans for the Arts released the 2012 National Arts Index report, which delivers a 2010 score of the health and vitality of the arts in the U.S.

From its low point in 2009, the Index rose slightly from 96.3 to 96.7 in 2010.

This year’s report bears witness to how the arts sector fared during the Great Recession—and the losses were swift and measurable.

In 2010, half of the 83 indicators measured increased, which is equivalent to pre-recession, 2007 levels. In comparison, only one-third of the indicators were up in 2008 and in 2009, just one-quarter increased.

Here are just a few top-level findings from the 2012 National Arts Index:

1. There has been significant growth in the number of nonprofit arts organizations: In the past decade, the number of nonprofit arts organizations grew 49 percent (76,000 to 113,000), a greater rate than all nonprofit organizations (32 percent). Or to look at it another way, from 2003-2010, a new nonprofit arts organization was created every three hours in the U.S. Read the rest of this entry »

Achievement Gap Exposed in New Arts Education Report (An EALS Post)

Posted by Jennifer Glinzak On April - 6 - 2012

Two major arts education studies were released this past week, the FRSS 10-year comparison and the Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth, a 12-year longitudinal study. When these studies are married, their effectiveness as a tool for advocacy becomes undeniably clear.

While the FRSS will get much of the press because U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan presented it, the study is of little consequence to the progression of arts education other then outright stating of significant declines in the amount of offerings across the board.

On the other hand, move over Charlie Bucket, the longitudinal study is the golden ticket arts education advocators have been praying for.

The longitudinal study gives the data for students of Low Socioeconomic Status (low SES) with both high and low arts exposure, and their counterparts in the High Socioeconomic Status (high SES).

The matrixes measured for each of the four categories include high school graduation rates, civic involvement, recorded grade point average, college graduation rates, average test scores, volunteer rates, other extracurricular activities, and labor market outcomes.

The results are startling, not because they affirm what advocates have said for years, but because of the achievement gap between low SES/low arts and low SES/high arts. Read the rest of this entry »

The Subversive Tack: Arts + Economy

Posted by Tara Aesquivel On April - 6 - 2012

Tara Aesquivel

Thinking about the economy can be rather depressing. For many people, it can seem like a volatile god: a mysterious force that affects everything and we mere mortals have no control over its whims.

Let’s start with a basic idea of what I mean when I write about “the economy.”

Economic analysis is often an attempt to make the complex world of interconnectedness more comprehensible by quantifying everything, usually through monetization. In other words, the world is complicated so we make charts.

The “economy” is everything that happens. Economics is a (left-brained) method of analyzing everything that happens, and it’s mostly focused on measuring everything in dollars and euros.

This focus on monetization is problematic for the arts because the value of artistic products is not always calculable by how much it cost to make them or by how much people are willing to pay for them. In fact, we often strive for the opposite—to give away the arts for free and know that they are priceless.

The subversive tack accepts economics for the way it is and uses the system to our advantage. In order to do that, we need to know the basic principles and be able to speak the lingo: quantification.

The arts sector is getting much better at quantifying the value and impact of the arts. Here are three great examples:

I took my first economics class in graduate school. I had no idea what to expect. As it turns out, the heart of economics can be summed up in a phrase: “supply and demand.” This is something we already understand in the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

The Subversive Tack: Arts + Education

Posted by Tara Aesquivel On April - 5 - 2012

Tara Aesquivel

The realm of combining arts and education is vast. I do not intend to address this vast landscape in a modest 600 words. However, I will highlight two of my favorite approaches to arts + education in the Los Angeles area.

Inner-City Arts (ICA) offers a variety of programs—school field trips, afterschool and weekend workshops, teacher training, programs for parents—to give children in one of the nation’s poorest areas opportunities for skill-building, artistic expression, and a safe environment.

ICA backs up its work with phenomenal statistics and partners with UCLA, Harvard, and the Department of Education to publish research that others can leverage. In addition to their excellent work and partnerships, the stories from Inner-City Arts are a never-ending source of inspiration.

Arts for All is the mothership for organizing sequential K–12 arts education in Los Angeles County and our 81 school districts. (Yes, eighty-one.) More than half of these districts have signed on since 2003. In addition to providing half a million students with arts education, the organizations backing Arts for All actually agreed on a definition of “quality arts education”.

Despite amazing organizations like Inner-City Arts and herculean efforts like Arts for All, we’re still fighting for the arts’ righteous place in society and education. We do have reason for cautious optimism, though. The #1 most-watched TED talk is Sir Ken Robinson talking about the faults of linear-based education, a product of the industrial revolution. He illustrates his point with the story of a dancer, which gets us artsy types all atwitter. 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 »

DREAM & TELL!: Arts Integration Models at Work (Part One)

Posted by Merryl Goldberg On March - 15 - 2012

Merryl Goldberg

In considering quality, engagement, and partnerships, I’m really thrilled to be writing about DREAM and TELL!

Developing Reading Education through Arts Methods (DREAM) is a four-year arts integration program funded through the United States Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement: Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Grant Program.

Theater for English Language Learners (TELL!) is a multi-year project with funding this year from the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts in Education category.

Both programs are partnership programs involving school districts, a university, and professional artists. In this post and my next one, I will describe each of these projects. This one introduces DREAM.

“Some schools don’t have what kids need to enjoy school,” said Jordan Zavala, 9. “I used to have a hard time reading, but since I’ve been in Mr. DeLeon’s class I’ve done better because we act out what we learn. It’s really been fun.” (San Diego Union Tribune 2/10/12)

The DREAM program is a partnership of the San Diego County Office of Education via the North County Professional Development Federation, and Center ARTES at California State University San Marcos.

The program’s goal is to train third and fourth grade teachers to use visual arts and theater activities to improve students’ reading and language arts skills. Read the rest of this entry »

Clayton Lord

For the next few weeks, I have the good fortune to be traveling with researcher Alan Brown to eight cities across the country as we present the findings from Counting New Beans: Intrinsic Impact and the Value of Art, the two year study and resulting book just published by my organization, Theatre Bay Area.

This week, we visited Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul and spoke to nearly 200 artists, arts administrators, and funders about the work. It was energizing, exciting work—as a field, it is clear that we are, many of us, anxious to learn how to talk more effectively and accurately about the power of the art we make, and this research, which attempts to quantify the intellectual and emotional impact of art, was provocative for many in the audiences.

In Chicago, I met an acoustic consultant named Evelyn May who believes that impact assessment (surveying your audiences about how impacted they were by your work) might be an extremely useful way to understand small but important changes you make in the physical space.

While May was particularly talking about things like rattling vents, squeaky floors, etc, I was caught up in thinking about whether you could survey audiences before and after, say, configuring your space in various ways to see what configuration was most impactful. 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.