Measuring the Intrinsic Impact of the Arts

February 19, 2009 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Harris School of Public Policy Studies, 1155 E. 60th Street, Room 224

Jennifer Novak, WolfBrown

Historically, it has been difficult for arts organizations to demonstrate and assess their true impact on the communities they serve. In the absence of other measures, success is often reported in terms of revenues and attendance. However, these same organizations define success very differently in their mission statements - arts organizations are in the business of transforming individuals and communities through arts experiences.

Recent publications from major think tanks in the US and UK have prompted an increasing amount of attention be devoted to understanding how people are transformed by arts experiences.

How can the arts sector move beyond anecdotal description of audience responses and measuring success in terms of revenues and attendance?

What metrics might be used to systematically measure the intrinsic benefits of the arts?

How could they be used to better manage arts organizations, shape policy, and advocate for the arts?

Jennifer will discuss the motivations for, and concerns about, measuring intrinsic impacts. She will also present the survey instrument, findings and implications of her recent research with WolfBrown, Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance.

Jennifer Novak is a consultant for WolfBrown, one of the country's top providers of research-based knowledge to the cultural sector. She is co-author of the recent reports Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance, commissioned by a consortium of major university presenters, and Cultural Engagement in California's Inland Regions, commissioned by the James Irvine Foundation. She is also co-author of Arts and Culture in the Metropolis: Strategies for Sustainability (RAND, 2007) and a contributor to Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts (RAND, 2004). Jennifer is completing her PhD at the RAND Graduate School. She received a master's degree in public policy from the University of Chicago's Harris School in 2004 and holds BAs in art history and international relations from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.

Harris School feature story

By Elizabeth Vivirito

The Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago hosted Harris School graduate Jennifer Novak, MPP'04, who returned to campus last week to present the results of a groundbreaking cultural arts survey. The survey, published in a co-authored report by WolfBrown, assessed the "intrinsic impact" of live performances, an area not well explored until now.

Novak conducts research on cultural policy matters for WolfBrown, a consulting and market research firm for nonprofit organizations. In 2007, she was part of a team that completed a project to develop a methodology for measuring how audiences are transformed by a live performance. "The purpose of the study was to have an empirical base and to provoke questions," said Novak.

The study addresses an enormous gap in research on audience participation and arts marketing. Instead of focusing on economic measurements, such as ticket sales, Novak looked at the intrinsic impact of live performances.

But first, the team had to define the tools used to measure that impact. They developed a vocabulary to describe what people gain from live performances--dimensions they designated as captivation, intellectual stimulation, emotional resonance, spiritual value, aesthetic growth, and social bonding. They then mapped how these multiple dimensions interact. For example, individuals who rated strong "captivation" during an event were more likely to rate the other dimensions higher as well.

Novak argued that understanding these dimensions is the key to explaining what makes a live performance successful, information that could be helpful for decisions about how to program and market an organization's performance seasons. While arts practitioners frequently share anecdotal evidence for the effect of live performance on the individual, to date there has been a lack of solid non-financial- and non-attendance-based metrics. Said Novak, "It's not to say that things such as [the number of] 'butts in seats' aren't extremely important, but that is not the full picture."

Further, she argued that tracking attendance and revenue from ticket sales may be making it more difficult for advocates to construct persuasive arguments in favor of arts funding and support. "The arts are selling themselves short by focusing only on their [most easily quantifiable] benefits," she claimed. Because factors like captivation and stimulation are difficult to measure, Novak and her partners used the survey results as indices of relative measurements rather than absolute rankings.

Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance was funded by a consortium of 14 major arts research universities across the country--Major University Presenters (MUP)--and is available for free download. The Cultural Policy Center, which sponsored this and other lectures on the arts, is an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to informing policies that affect the arts, humanities, and cultural heritage.