By Alan Brown

Great analysis, Adrian. You should be a consultant. (:~>) I know this will sound self-serving as a researcher, but what gets measured is often what really matters, particularly in the eyes of dispassionate authorizers. All I know for sure is that we need a new outcome rubric for arts and culture, one that re-balances 'heritage' and 'voice,' and one that every community can buy into. That, and a well-funded champion for cultural policy, and we're off to the races - at least the races where everyone doesn't bet on winning horses.

Seriously, maybe the moment is right now for an expressive revolution, given the tidal wave of interest in personal creative expression that is sweeping our country. But whenever I start talking with large budget producing organizations about making more connections to the inventive and interpretive modes of engagement, I get blank stares and hear an undertone of hostility about being taken 'off mission.' What should be made of the recent finding from an Irvine Foundation study that a third of adults in some regions of California want to take dance lessons? There is no infrastructure, nonprofit or commercial, to accommodate even a fraction of that demand. Nor does the dance field seem to care about it. Whose job is it to respond to this sort of public demand, much less detect it?

Only a couple of disruptive changes might actually shift the locus of power, and one would be to introduce a new measurement system for "expressive life" or "creative capital." As Bill has said, "policy accretes around bodies of data." If we can develop commonly accepted metrics for characterizing expressive life, then we stand a better chance of influencing policy. You can't win the game if you don't know the score. And, if no one else is keeping score, then you get to design the rules and thereby change the game.

I hate to bring this up, but Richard Florida's scorekeeping rubric for creative economies changed the conversation amongst civic leaders, in part because he produced a quantitative measurement system that policymakers could believe in, and that motivated them to 'win the game.' It tapped into a competitive streak amongst communities. Whether or not you agree with his premise, Florida changed the policy conversation. I envision a time, maybe 10 or 15 years from now, when communities across the country strive to increase their 'creative capital' in order to be competitive. The National Arts Index is a good step forward, but we need to press forward on this front much more vigorously.

A better framework for assessing the public value of arts and cultural programs and facilities might also help create a more objective basis for considering policy alternatives, as Adrian suggests. How does one weigh the value of seeing a great work of art in a museum against the value of seeing a cheap reproduction of the same work every day for twenty years over the kitchen sink?

January 27, 2010 11:58 PM | | Comments (2) |


Thanks for a good article.

I personally think the only way of giving the public what they want is by having online forums and or blogs or 2.0 sites.

I think if the local governments had more 2.0 websites (where people can leave feedback and comments etc.) they would be in the "know" in regards to what the public wants (.i.e dancing classes or painting classes).

Many thanks for your article.

Kind Regards John

Hi Alan and others,

I have been reading your recent conversation about the “expressive life” on It got me thinking (which I believe was the objective, so well done!) about the larger, communal context of the artistic vibrancy discussion.

For context - I have been working for the Australia Council for the Arts has on developing ways of defining and measuring "artistic vibrancy" of arts organisations, which go beyond "artistic excellence" and also look at community relevance and artist development. Our published resources are now online at

After reading your conversation, I think that there might be another way to understand artistic vibrancy, which may also be useful to how you understand the arts' relationship with the "expressive life" of an individual.

We could think about an organisation's "artistic vibrancy" in terms of how “vibrant” its most important relationships are.

From this perspective, artistic vibrancy could be understood as the quality of certain “relationships,” as follows:

Artistic quality or excellence of craft
- relationship with peers;
- artist’s relationship with themself

Audience engagement and stimulation
- relationship with audience

Fresh approach to the preservation or development of the artform
- relationship with the artform
- artist’s relationship with themself

Artist development
- relationship with the artist community

Community relevance
- relationship with the general community (national, State, local, specific groups)

Meta-relationships (relationships which cross all five elements) could include: relationship with staff and board; relationship with funders.

This idea feels like a small, conceptual breakthrough for me, though not sure it is of much use to anyone else ;-). As the physicist Richard Feynman once said, “All mass is interaction.” I think this is definitely the case in the arts.

The notion of relationships as core to the arts is certainly not new (network theory has reached even my ears!), but it may be useful for arts organisations to conceive of themselves as being deeply embedded in, indeed, essentially consisting of, a web of relationships (with themselves, other artists, public, audience, funders…).

On a practical level, thinking about an arts organisation as just one node of relationships, in the web of relationships that is the wider community, could help arts organisations understand why they should care about their wider relationships with the community. All relationships are connected: an organisation must nurture its relationships with public and community, and not just focus on their relationship with audiences and artists.

Thinking about an arts organisation as having a relationship with each individual in the community might also help with the tools of measurement for the expressive life.

For example, you could ask what impact the relationship with an arts organisation (even if the relationship is peripheral, in the form of institutional value – value merely by existing) has on each individual in the community’s “happiness” index, “creative” index and/or “social connectedness” index. You could cross-tabulate an individual’s results with their social connectedness results and so on, and adjust for other factors (like income and family), and see if artistically deeper-connected individuals are happier or more socially connected. This might be useful advocacy data for the arts organisations. I am pretty sure you have far more sophisticated ideas on this front, but this is off the top of my head, in response to your blog conversation.

Or in the context of helping arts organisations be more valuable members of their community, you could use the artistic vibrancy tools which we have published, and use the results to understand an arts organisation’s levels of connection with audience, artists, peers and community. The organisation could then use these results in future planning, to deepen these connections where necessary.

I think the relationship perspective can also be applied to “public value,” ie Holden’s idea of intrinsic, instrumental and institutional value. Really, this is like talking about an artist’s relationship with an individual, community or the general public.

Anyway, I look forward to future conversations on this front!

Jackie Bailey


This Conversation Are the terms "Art" and "Culture" tough enough to frame a public policy carve-out for the 21st century? Are the old familiar words, weighted with multiple meanings and unhelpful preconceptions, simply no longer useful in analysis or advocacy? In his book, Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey advances "Expressive Life" as a new, expanded policy arena - a frame sufficiently robust to stand proudly beside "Work Life," "Family Life," "Education," and "The Environment." Is Ivey on the right track, or more

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