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 »

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 »

Resonance as Indication

Posted by Kenneth Bailey On April - 30 - 2012

Kenneth Bailey

First let me say that we are still working to figure out how to evaluate the impact of Design Studio for Social Intervention (ds4si) and our various unusual approaches to creating change.

We would love to think with practitioners, funders, artists, and other allies on this issue and use it as a way to build solidarity, increase the breadth and creativity of evaluation approaches, and further spread any new insights we uncover. (Unfortunately, the current climate is one where evaluation frequently creates distance between practitioners and funders. It would be interesting to explore this as a cultural practice as well!)

One of the ways we want to explore evaluating cultural practice is in gauging an intervention’s resonance within the situation it’s hoping to affect. Resonance might be a way to make a distinction between our social interventions and those artist-led practices that aren’t informed by and in embedded solidarity with a population’s or organization’s desire for a particular change.

We aren’t saying that social practice art projects that aren’t deeply informed as such shouldn’t happen, but that they might be considered differently that those that are.

Let’s take the projects we designed working with youth activists on youth violence. We have designed and tested three different interventions since we started this work with youth over four years ago.

One of these interventions was aimed at disturbing the social practice of “grilling,” which is the term for the glare which takes place when two youth make eye contact and immediately infer danger from each other. To us, we found resonance when youth across the board stated that “you can’t stop the grill.” In fact, the emotional investment and intensity with which youth thought they couldn’t affect this practice was what made us pick it. Read the rest of this entry »

Hill Harper: Arts Advocacy is Something I Live Everyday

Posted by Tim Mikulski On April - 23 - 2012

2012 Arts Advocacy Day Co-chair Hill Harper took a few minutes out of his busy schedule during the two-day summit to talk to ARTSblog about arts advocacy, his own arts education experiences, and how he fights to help future generations receive it.

First-time Arts Advocacy Day participant Tiffani Thiessen (White Collar, Beverly Hills 90210, Saved by the Bell) took the time to speak to ARTSblog about her experiences in the arts, advice to her daughter, her love of Lucy, and the Young Playwrights Festival she works with in Los Angeles:

For more videos, check out Americans for the Arts on Vimeo.

Making Change Outside the Office

Posted by Carlos Velázquez On April - 5 - 2012

Carlos Velázquez

In a recent article about Chicago-based artist Eric J. Garcia, whose politically charged work he calls a “weapon to strike at injustice”, he added a caveat for aspiring artists: “Oh-all of this is done on our off-time when we’re not at the day job that pays the bills.”

His words came back to me when reading the prompt to this salon, a quote from Diane Ragsdale on arts sector reform:

“If our to hold onto our marginalized position and maintain our minuscule reach—rather than…actively addressing the social inequities in our country, and reaching exponentially greater numbers of people—then…I would suggest that it may not merit the vast amounts of time, money, or enthusiasm we would require from talented staffers and artists, governments, foundations, corporations, and private individuals to achieve it.”

I am glad to know that the arts sector is not confining itself to simply holding onto its miniscule reach, and that emerging artists and arts leaders, many working in art and humanities-based nonprofits, are taking the lead.

My position is that they are using the organizational skills, social vocabularies, and leadership experience gained in nonprofit environments well beyond the scope of the workday, to be wielded as “weapons” addressing social inequalities. Read the rest of this entry »

Enrichment, Recollection, Fulfillment—What Else is Necessary in Life?

Posted by Melissa Lineburg On March - 5 - 2012

Seniors benefit from ballroom dance. (Photo from The Payson Roundup)

I recently received my alma mater’s College of Visual and Performing Arts newsletter and was blown away by the enriching work of a former classmate.

It is becoming common knowledge, thank goodness, that the arts are vital to the proper mental and physical development of our youth as well as the maintenance of a high quality of life for our aging population.

My classmate Emily McKinney, a junior at Radford University, took advantage of the university’s class and degree offerings to combine two of her loves: dance and teaching children with disabilities.

Specifically, she teaches private and/or small group dance classes to autistic children in the community around Radford. Her work has given children who have difficulties communicating and expressing themselves an instrument to “be their true selves.”

Despite the challenges she faces working with them, Emily knows patience and careful guidance help her dance students discover immense amounts of joy that would seem otherwise impossible.

In addition to these findings and personal accounts, I found it interesting that the same is applied for the elderly, namely patients being treated for dementia and Alzheimer’s. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry and Promise: Education Reform & the Arts

Posted by Ken Busby On February - 17 - 2012

I judged a poetry slam this weekend—Louder Than A Bomb–Tulsa!

It’s amazing to hear young people sharing about their lives and ideas through poetry. This was the second year for the event. The excitement and enthusiasm expressed by these students was palpable:

Listening to their poetry really made me start thinking anew about just how important the arts are to shaping young minds—helping build self-confidence, fostering creativity, and excelling in school. We as artists, art professionals, and art educators are very often a major factor in a student’s success.

Ten states, including Oklahoma, recently received a reprieve from complying with certain aspects of No Child Left Behind. It seems like we keep lowering our standards rather than lifting up our youth to meet and exceed the challenges put before them.

How are we going to have a capable workforce replete with skills for the 21st century if we keep lowering our requirements for graduation? Companies are spending millions of dollars every year providing remedial training. Universities are spending millions of dollars every year on remedial classes.

We cannot solve our current economic woes by burying our heads in the sand and hoping by some miracle that our youth will figure it out and be successful when we haven’t provided the proper foundation or the means to foster success. Read the rest of this entry »

A Transformational Student Performance

Posted by Victoria Plettner-Saunders On February - 10 - 2012

Victoria Plettner-Saunders

When was the last time you attended a student performance in your community? You know the junior theater’s production of My Fair Lady or the young art show at the museum…

Although I spend a good part of my time working to keep arts education in the schools, and many of the client projects I work on are related to student learning in the arts, I don’t get to as many student performances as one might think. I do as many do and opt for the big orchestras from out-of-town, or the modern dance company I’ve seen many times over. Boy have I been missing out!

Last weekend we attended a San Diego Youth Symphony (SDYS) concert at the invitation of our friend and SDYS President and CEO Dalouge Smith.

What I experienced was, in a word, transformational.

To begin with, the students were just phenomenal. The clarinetist showcased in Luigi Bassi’s “Fantasy on Themes” for clarinet from Rigoletto had won their 2011 Orchestra Concerto Competition. She could have easily given many professional musicians a run for their money as she deftly moved over the notes with accuracy and poise.

And the Orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in b minor “Pathetique” was the highlight of the evening. Their powerful execution of the third movement was amazing and not something one would think could come from a group of teenagers in the sunrise of their experience as musicians. This was not amateur hour. Read the rest of this entry »

Youth, I.N.C. (Improving Nonprofits for Children)

Posted by Sahar Javedani On November - 14 - 2011
Sahar Javedani

When I first stepped into my position as Director of Educational Programming at Pentacle last August 2010, our organization was deep in the throws of planning our first year of Celebration partnering with Youth, I.N.C., an incredible organization working “to improve the lives of youth through a unique venture philanthropy model that empowers, develops, and educates nonprofit organizations serving young people.”

Founded by Steve Orr back in 1994, a former Wall Street dude and co-founder of his own consulting firm Orr Associates, Inc. (OAI); he saw the critical need for infrastructure support for New York City’s youth organizations. Since its’ creation, Steve has helped raise over $37 million for NYC youth!

How do they do it?

“By applying best practices from the corporate and nonprofit sectors we empower our partner nonprofits with the tools to achieve sustainable growth.”

It’s a multi-layered board structure at Youth, I.N.C. which includes a formal Board of Directors (governs the organization, providing financial oversight and strategic direction); the Consulting Advisory Board (recruits corporate professionals to serve on the boards of our nonprofit partners); the Sustaining Board (designed to leverage the experiences, insight, and expertise of former board members still committed to building and investing in the future of Youth, I.N.C.); and the Young Professionals Committee (organizes fundraising events, learning opportunities, and volunteer projects for young professionals). Read the rest of this entry »

Empowering Youth Toward Community Leadership

Posted by Sara Bateman On November - 9 - 2011

One the community gardens operated by the Norris Square Neighborhood Project. (Photo Courtesy of Norris Square Neighborhood Project)

Throughout the first half of the Animating Democracy Blog Salon, several have spoken to the powerful potential of creative placemaking for igniting engagement and change at the local level.

By capitalizing on community assets, placemaking can aid in elevating the potential of a neighborhood’s space, reinvigorating both the physical and the psyche of the local environment.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to wander through Las Parcelas, one of the six community gardens operated by the Norris Square Neighborhood Project (NSNP) in Philadelphia.

Consisting of over three dozen plots and coming alive through the vibrant colors found within bird houses, benches, garden ornaments, murals, and a rural Puerto Rican casita, the garden has breathed life back into a community historically plagued by low-income levels, high drop-out rates, and a deadly drug culture.

Las Parcelas has created an important third space for Norris Square youth and neighbors alike to embrace their heritage and celebrate the identity of the neighborhood through gardening, community gatherings, and educational programming. Read the rest of this entry »

The Arts & Social Justice

Posted by Maya Kumazawa On September - 2 - 2011

Maya Kumazawa

Having completed my internship at Americans for the Arts, I’m excited to take back what I’ve learned to my local community in Western Massachusetts.

Over 10 weeks, I worked on a wide range of projects that involved public art, local arts agencies, and emerging leaders. One topic, community engagement, is something I can be a direct advocate for even after the summer is over.

Through Net Impact’s Board Fellow program, I’ve served on Youth Action Coalition’s Board for the last year. The Arts for Change program at the Youth Action Coalition pairs intensive arts immersion with social justice education for youth. This program is free to any youth in the community interested in creating a change in the area through high quality arts programming.

How can the arts actually be used for social justice education and youth empowerment? YAC’s four primary programs engage different audiences through various media: Read the rest of this entry »