Judith Marcuse on Evaluating Community-Engaged Arts: an interview by Mass Culture
From March 28-30, 2022, MASS CULTURE — in partnership with the Association for Opera — held the “ARTS IMPACT DATATHON” to collect resources related to measuring arts’ impact. This is the 3rd phase of their “Building an Arts Impact Community“, well worth checking out!
Our own ED, Judith Marcuse, was interviewed for the datathon. Here is the text for that interview.
Q: Why do you believe we need to assess arts impact on society?
JM: In our country, art is still considered an “extra” or “frill” not an essential element of what it is to be human. It ranks very low in policy creation priorities at a time when creative thinking, co-creation, dialogue, and the life of the spirit are all core values needed for our survival.
What is forgotten is that participation in the arts whether as creators, consumers and, importantly, as co-creators, provides pathways for expression, insight and wellbeing in all sectors of our communities, impacting physical and mental health, in education, social justice, helping us to address environmental challenges and cross-cultural conflict, to explore solutions for economic recovery, poverty reduction, and for policy creation itself.
We need to know where we are now before we can move forward. As we strive for cultural democracy, qualitative, quantitative, and arts-based research allows us to get a glimpse of the arts’ diverse impacts. There are many challenges to measuring them – not the least of which is that they continue over lifetimes.
In a transactional, capitalist, consumer society “hard” data can be effective and is needed. But when we think about what matters, it’s stories/quantitative research that move us to understandings that transcend numbers.
At a time when, inevitably, there will be reduction of public spending and triage of support for arts and culture, we need to hear from individual citizens, communities and organizations about how participation in arts activities has changed lives, enabling exchange, insight and creative possibility and hope.
Q: How can we make assessment more accessible so that other arts groups and artists can understand the impact that they are making on society?
JM: Evaluation has always been a conundrum for artists and their organizations. Over many decades, the sector has been asked to fit into evaluative frames that are often irrelevant and/or impossible. Yet there are many ways to self-assess how we are doing, based on the values that underpin our work. And there are methods to measure and describe impact that can be adapted to suit the wide diversity of arts practices.
I refer you to one of many resources in our website ICASC.ca: the ASC Evaluation Tool at https://icasc.ca/asc-evaluation-tool. It was created by a team of artists and researchers over several years and provides a plethora of approaches, including those developed by other arts organizations. A basic principle across all methods is the need to develop and bake in evaluation processes from the inception of projects and programs.