I am in the midst of a series of workshops and speaking engagements, centered around the theme of Mainstreaming Engagement. One early sponsor, Anne Katz of Arts Wisconsin, asked me to come up with questions for workshop participants to consider ahead of time, and I realized that a set of them I had put together earlier had rolled off my radar screen. Since I think they are fairly helpful additions to the workshop, I thought it would be good to share them with readers of this blog.
The first is one I’ve used with boards of directors for years. It’s been a bit astonishing to me how much difficulty some people have with the question. And that difficulty is directly related to the issues the arts face and the root of the work that needs to be done.
- How are the lives of the people of your community made better by the work that you do? (No variant of “because we exist” addresses this question.)
The second question is designed to force a little reality testing, albeit internal. “Do I really think this is true?” And, “To whom would I point (individuals and groups outside of the arts’ inner circle) as specific beneficiaries of our work?”
- Would community members who are not “arts believers” agree? (How do you know? How many–percentage, numbers, etc.–would agree? Would community leaders agree? Would the “person on the street” agree?)
And finally, is there any evidence that people outside of the arts think your organization is improving the life of individuals in the community?
- What are the practical ways this belief is made manifest in your community (e.g., greater than normal governmental funding, your inclusion in the “community family,” or widespread support in times of stress)?
This may not be the ultimate community engagement diagnostic tool, but it certainly gets at the issue of public value. Stay tuned as the questions get refined.