Many of us have complained about the metrics we use in the arts to inform our management and measure our success. Number of tickets sold. Growth/decline in audience numbers year over year. Overall budget growth. These are inelegant and off-mission indicators that distract us rather than focus our work. But our complaints always ended the same way: what else is there?
The WolfBrown report, Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance, just released from embargo this month and posted yesterday for free download, works to bring both intent and insight to the transformative power of live performance. Says the report summary:
The true impact of performing arts experiences is what happens to individual audience members when the lights go down and the artist takes the stage — and the cumulative benefits to individuals, families and communities of having those experiences available night after night, year after year. If this is true, it would seem that efforts to assess the impact of arts programs would aim to better understand and measure how audience members are transformed — what happens to them in their seats.
Most other discussions on intrinsic value conclude that we lack the language and the tools to discuss and measure such values. This effort takes that conclusion as its beginning. The three driving assumptions behind the work are simply stated but radically conceived:
- Intrinsic impacts derived from attending a live performance can be measured
- Different types of performances create different sets of intrinsic impacts
- An individual’s ‘readiness-to-receive’ a performing arts experience influences the nature and extent of impacts.
I’ll be digging into this report in greater detail in the weeks to come (I’ll be attending a series of discussions involving its findings at the upcoming Arts Presenters conference to help me understand it more clearly myself). But I wanted to provide the pointer as soon as it was available.
This is important stuff.
Thanks to Alan Brown and his team for taking on the challenge. And thanks to the consortium of leading university presenters that brought their money, their time, and their significant attention to the project to bring it to life.