How do we value the arts? How do we measure their impact and make that measurement count?
On a personal level, we know the breathtaking power of a masterpiece, the exhilaration of a standing ovation, and the joy and sometimes emotional anguish of immersion in drama, dance, and music. We know firsthand how art teaches compassion, empathy, and cultural understanding; how it memorializes and celebrates what’s important in our world; how it gives us rightful pride and identity. These powers to transfix, transport, and transform are intrinsic impacts that live in our hearts and minds, our souls and our stories.
But we also know that the arts have concrete, instrumental impact on so much of t
he world around us and on what we value in the quality of our lives and success of our communities: quality education and healthcare, vibrant downtowns, jobs, recovery, better senior living, kids at risk, and on and on. While the arts almost invisibly connect to so much of the civic agenda, they have real quantifiable impacts.
This week nonprofit arts organizations around the state will receive a request from Americans for the Arts to complete a survey that will provide a clear picture of the economic impact of their work. As part of the national Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 Study, completed every five years, ArtPride NJ is joining 18 other states to learn more about the return on investment in the arts.
Five local partners in New Jersey — Cape May, Cumberland, Mercer, Morris counties and Newark — are joining over 330 other local studies happening throughout our nation. In addition to data about the direct spending by arts groups (salaries, fringe benefits, rentals, supplies and other purchases), audience members throughout the state are completing simple surveys at performances and exhibitions throughout 2016.
The result of this massive effort for New Jersey will be a comprehensive picture of how arts groups and patrons spend dollars and the trail that spending takes in our economy, available early next summer. The last such study in New Jersey was conducted in 2008 and is the most often requested piece of information in ArtPride NJ’s online arts advocacy toolkit.
Why do we even need this information? Don’t we already know such truths as arts education is critical to sound education and student success in the workplace of tomorrow, one that values critical thinking skills, creativity and teamwork? Haven’t we heard personal stories of the transformative power of art to help those who are overcoming critical illness, addiction, depression, and disenfranchisement? Why aren’t these stories enough? Don’t numbers sort of miss the bigger point?
I ask this almost daily, because compelling stories flood my e-mail inbox in great number. But I must remind myself that it’s MY inbox, and that I may have a somewhat skewed perspective considering promoting the arts has been my life’s work. Economic impact may tell only part of the story of how the arts have positive and powerful effect on our lives and communities; but, it’s critical in making the case to policy and decision makers in government, philanthropy, and business.
In these arenas performance measurement is calculated in direct relationship to investment, and priority is placed on outcomes that are tangible and measurable. To compete with all the other vital issues making claim upon public and private resources, and often bedeviling decision makers, we must make our case. Making that case, and equipping others to do so are at the very core of ArtPride’s mission.
We have learned from hard-fought victories (and losses) that economic impact numbers really do matter. When they’re strong and credible they open doors, and eyes. Although they’re rarely the determining factor, when coupled with compelling stories to illustrate them, they provide heft to the argument and instill confidence (and sometimes courage) to the investor.
And that’s basically the bottom line.
Stealing the title from recent Data Arts workshops in New Jersey, Data + Stories=Impact, and that impact directly affects resource allocation. It’s time for new numbers to gird our growing body of empirical evidence and make our case even stronger.
>>If you receive the invitation by email to complete the organizational survey, please meet the Aug. 5 deadline.
If you didn’t receive the invitation and would like to be part of this important study, either by completing the online survey or by surveying audience members at an upcoming performance, please contact the ArtPride office.
Ann Marie Miller is the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ArtPride New Jersey and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. Email her at email@example.com. Click here to visit ArtPride’s website.