Friday, February 6, 2015

The Blog Is Finished

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This blog is now finished and there will be no more postings.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How Will Our Arts Communities be Impacted by the 2013 Americans for the Arts Convention?

Here we go again – another annual AFTA convention in Pittsburgh, June 14-16, 2013. I think this will be my 8th or 9th convention. There is no published theme for the convention, however the website talks about the overarching topic of storytelling and messaging. As usual, there are several pre-conference offerings. They are Cultural Districts, Emerging Leaders, and Public Art. In addition, the various business type councils (such as united arts funds, urban arts federation, arts education, private sector) will be taking the opportunity to meet.

The schedule has been described in ‘tracks’ – Discussions, Workshops, and an Innovators speaker series.  The schedule can be easily organized by the track you wish to follow, or your choice from the scheduled listings. In reviewing the schedule, here are some of the offering areas:

·      Reviewing Business Models
·      Arts Education
·      Your Local Cultural Ecosystem
·      Resources and Services for Artists
·      Income Streams
·      Role of Arts Agencies
·      Partnering with Business
·      Civic and Community Identity

And, of course, the Keynotes, Art Venture Tours, receptions and late night jam sessions! But really, when you get down to it, the real value is in the networking with colleagues – reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. The opportunity to share, learn, and grow are incalculable.  Perhaps the deepest value of this is being reminded that others share your issues and problems so you are not alone, and to have our passion for the work we do rekindled.

I am personally looking forward to our conversation with some of the participants and Advisory Council with the National Endowment for theArts’ creative economy definitional research that has been in process for months. This research was submitted by the Creative Economy Coalition of the National Creativity Network in collaboration with Creative Alliance Milwaukee. Margaret Collins (Center for Creative Economy, Winston-Salem), Dennis Cheek (National Creativity Network) and I are in the throes of putting together the final report now. We will be submitting to the NEA by end of August. Watch this space!

But then again, I wonder about the bigger picture at AFTA. Will we really collectively tackle the issues facing us – how do we reach more audience, is our connection to the creative economy hurting or helping us, what changes in programming and product delivery do we need to make for more relevance in today’s community, what will we all do as soon as we get back home to improve the trajectory of our organizations – or are we just nibbling around the edges?

Don’t get me wrong – I love the networking and the learning, but I have been around long enough (have been in arts administration for over 30 years) to witness way too often patting ourselves on the back, focusing on advocating for public funds at the expense of developing new earned revenue strategies, and not getting into the nitty gritty of discussing the impact of larger societal trends on our work and sustainability.

Collaborative discussion and collective impact is tough work, particularly with a large crowd, but if I were to wish one thing about this convention it would be that we dive deep into the tough stuff collectively, roll around in the mud, and get a newly invigorated conversation about our future underway.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The TIME Creativity Poll and Creativity Conference

On April 26, in a one-of-a-kind event, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) convened leaders from the world of politics, media, business and government to engage in a direct dialogue about the role creativity plays in our economy and in creating the workforce of the future in Washington, DC. The Creativity Conference brought together many of the most important artists and innovators of our time from all parts of society for a mediated conversation about spurring growth and opportunity based on creativity. This event was presented in partnership with TIME and Microsoft.

Panelists and speakers included President Bill Clinton, TIME Managing Editor Rick Stengel, film studio executive Harvey Weinstein, House majority leader Eric Cantor, and the chairman and CEO of the MPAA Chris Dodd. They discussed questions that are fundamental to the future of the country–from the push to develop environments that inspire creativity to how our leaders can harness the power of a workforce that is moving from industrial manufacturing to the tapping of the creative mind. You can watch speaker highlights here.

In advance of the conference, TIME conducted a poll on creativity and the economy. More than 7 in ten people say the current economic situation makes creativity more important, and even over 8 in 10 think America should be considered a global leader in creativity.

Here are the results:

* 72% say creativity is more important in today's economy
* Of those who say America is not the creative leader, 31% say that American schools are not building creativity in students and 30% say that the American government is not doing enough to support creativity
* 55% say that technology is making Americans more creative, while 32% think it is making us less creative
* 81% of employees say creativity is important to them in the workplace, with 41% of them saying very important
* 31% say that their employers place little to no value on creativity

This says we have an imperative opportunity that if we don't do something about could cost us global competitive edge. The poll shows we agree that improving our creativity capacity is critical today and yet our schools are not doing enough to build creativity and employees think their employers don't value it very much. This disconnect needs to be addressed and shifted so that we prioritize and support advancing our community's creativity.

You can access the TIME poll here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Link Between More Creativity and a Stronger Economy

The 2010 IBM Global CEO study, called Capitalizing on Complexity, revealed that over 1500 CEO’s consider creativity to be the number one leadership capacity needed to manage the complex issues of our global economy.

You see it all around you these days – we need to be more creative to be more competitive in today’s global economy; our children are not being better prepared for the creativity needed in the 21st Century workforce; our creativity is too tied to our technological devices, etc. Messages about creativity are coming from the business world, the human development and psychology world, and the educational pundits. Basically, they are all saying that without more creativity in our workplace we will not have the kind of innovative nation that will fuel continued growth.

So, how can we link our creativity to building a stronger economy? We’ll look at three connections – personal, educational, and corporate.

First, make it a priority to invest in developing your own personal creative capacities.  Here are some resources that could be helpful.  The Four Steps Toward an Everyday Creativity blog by Beth Robinson – develop an insight outlook, build a tool box of problem solving techniques, capture your ideas, use your eyes to help your mind. Another group blog on How to Enhance Personal Creativity. And, from the Merit Resource Group,  Top Ten Keys to Developing Personal Creativity. Basically, believe that you are inherently creative, break out of everyday routines, identify steps of the creative process that work for you, and make it a habit to deliberately practice some element of the creative process everyday.

Second, help your community reframe the conversation about arts education in our schools.  For decades the research has been proving that arts education helps develop creative and critical thinking capacities, team development, cultural understanding, higher academic performance, and keeps at-risk youth in school. And yet, not only has the needle has not moved on access to quality arts education for every student across the grades, budgets have been cut and specialist art teachers have been eliminated. There is no correlation built between an education that includes the arts and being a more creatively productive member of the workforce.

So, it's time to change the conversation. Let’s talk about creative education – including art, music, theater, dance, multi and interactive media, design – and how experience in these areas builds our individual and collective creativity capacities.  And, let’s make sure that we develop assessment protocols that measure growth in creative capacity.

Third, let’s get our definitions accurate in the corporate lexicon. From my research, I have learned that the business community often prefers to talk about ‘innovation’ versus ‘creativity’. Why?  Because they think that innovation means product, productivity and profit whereas creativity is artsy and squishy. But the truth is, you will not have innovation without creativity. In order to optimize our innovation potential we need to maximize our creative capacities. I am reminded of the ICI continuum: Imagination = conceiving of what is not; Creativity = applied imagination; and Innovation = novel or unique creativity. There is an inherent process that is important to recognize and language appropriately.

If we get serious about building the creative capacities of our communities on an individual and collective basis, then we will have built a foundational and self-sustaining link between our development and growing a stronger, more globally competitive economy.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Role of Indicators in Tracking Creative Placemaking Success

Because I have enormous respect for Ian David Moss from Fractured Atlas and the Create Equity blog, I am re-posting his entire recent blog with guest Ann Markusen. If you have any interest in the future of creative placemaking this is a must read. Ms. Markusen is a leading researcher and thought leader in this field. Below is Ian's latest Create Equity posting.

(If you don’t know the name Ann Markusen, you should. As professor and director of the Project on Regional and Industrial Economics at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Ann has become one of the most respected and senior voices in the arts research community over the past decade. Among her best-known recent efforts was her authorship, with Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, of the original Creative Placemaking white paper published by the NEA prior to the creation of the Our Town grant program and ArtPlace funder collaborative. So when she approached me to offer a guest post on evaluation challenges for creative placemaking, building on previous coverage of the topic here at Createquity, I could hardly say no. I hope you enjoy Ann’s piece and I look forward to the vigorous discussion it will no doubt spark. -IDM)

Creative placemaking is electrifying communities large and small around the country. Mayors, public agencies and arts organizations are finding each other and committing to new initiatives. That’s a wonderful thing, whether or not their proposals are funded by national initiatives such as the National Endowment for the Arts’s Our Town program or ArtPlace.

It’s important to learn from and improve our practices on this new and so promising terrain. But efforts based on fuzzy concepts and indicators designed to rely on data external to the funded projects are bound to disappoint. Our evaluative systems must nurture rather than discourage the marvelous moving of arts organizations, artists and arts funders out of their bunkers and into our neighborhoods as leaders, animators, and above all, exhibitors of the value of arts and culture.

In our 2010 Creative Placemaking white paper for the NEA, Anne Gadwa Nicodemus and I characterize creative placemaking as a process where “partners… shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.” A prominent ambition, we wrote, is to “bring diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.”  Creative placemaking also “animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, (and) improves local business viability and public safety,” but arts and culture are at its core. This definition suggests a number of distinctive arenas of experimentation, where the gifts of the arts are devoted to community liveliness and collaborative problem-solving and where new people participate in the arts and share their cultures.

And, indeed, Our Town and ArtPlace encourage precisely this experimental ferment. Like the case studies in Creative Placemaking, each funded project is unique in its artistic disciplines, scale, problems addressed and aspirations for its particular place. Thus, a good evaluation system will monitor the progress of each project team towards its stated goals, including revisions made along the way. NEA’s Our Town asks grant-seekers to describe how they intend to evaluate their work, and ArtPlace requires a monthly blog entry. But rather than more formally evaluate each project’s progress over time, both funders have developed and are compiling place-specific measures based on external data sources that they will use to gauge success: the Arts and Livability Indicators  in the case of the NEA, and what ArtPlace is calling its Vibrancy Indicators.

Creative placemaking funders are optimistic about these efforts and their usefulness. “Over the next year or two,” wrote Jason Schupbach, NEA’s Director of Design, last May, “we will build out this system and publish it through a website so that anyone who wants to track a project’s progress in these areas (improved local community of artists and arts organizations, increased community attachment, improved quality of life, invigorated local economies) will be able to do so, whether it is NEA-funded or not. They can simply enter the time and geography parameters relevant to their project and see for themselves.”

Over the past two years, I have been consulting with creative placemaking leaders and given talks to audiences in many cities and towns across the country and abroad. Increasingly, I am hearing distress on the part of creative placemaking practitioners about the indicator initiatives of the National Endowment for the Arts and ArtPlace. At the annual meetings of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture last month, my fellow Creative Placemaking panel members, all involved in one or more ArtPlace- or Our-Town-funded projects, expressed considerable anxiety and confusion about these indicators and how they are being constructed. In particular, many current grantee teams with whom I’ve spoken are baffled by the one-measure-fits-all nature of the indicators, especially in the absence of formal and case-tailored evaluation.

I’ll confess I’m an evidence gal. I fervently believe in numbers where they are a good measure of outcomes; in secondary data like Census and the National Center for Charitable Statistics where they are up to the task; in surveys where no such data exist; in case studies to illuminate the context, process, and the impacts people tangibly experience; in interviews to find out how actors make decisions and view their own performance. My own work over the past decade is riddled with examples of these practices, including appendices intended to make the methodology and data used as transparent as possible.

So I embrace the project of evaluation, but am skeptical of relying on indicators for this purpose. In pursuing a more effective course, we can learn a lot from private sector venture capital practices, the ways that foundations conduct grantee evaluations, and, for political pitfalls, defense conversion placemaking experiments of the 1990s.

Learning from Venture Capital and Philanthropy
How do private sector venture capital (VC) firms evaluate the enterprises they invest in? Although they target rates of return in the longer run, they not do resort to indicators based on secondary data to evaluate progress. They closely monitor their investees—small firms who often have little business experience, just as many creative placemaking teams are new to their terrain. VC firms play an active role in guiding youthful companies, giving them feedback germane to their product or service goals. They help managers evaluate their progress and bring in special expertise where needed.
Venture capital firms are patient, understanding realistic timelines. The rule of thumb is that they commit to five to seven years, though it may be less or more. Among our Creative Placemaking cases, few efforts succeeded in five years, while some took ten to fifteen years.
VC firms know that some efforts will fail. They are attentive to learning from such failures and sharing what they learn in generic form with the larger business community. Both ArtPlace and the NEA have stated their desire to learn from success and failure. Yet generic indicators, their chosen evaluation tools, are neither patient or tailored to specific project ambitions. Current Our Town and ArtPlace grant recipients worry that the 1-2 years of funding they’re getting won’t be enough to carry projects through to success or establish enough local momentum to be self-sustaining. Neither ArtPlace nor Our Town have a realistic exit strategy in place for their investments, other than “the grant period’s over, good luck!”

Hands-on guidance is not foreign to nonprofit philanthropies funding the arts.  Many arts program officers act as informal consultants and mentors to young struggling arts organizations and to mature ones facing new challenges. My study with Amanda Johnson of Artists’ Centers shows how Minnesota funders have played such roles for decades. They ask established arts executive directors to mentor new start-ups, a process that the latter praised highly as crucial to their success. The Irvine and Hewlett Foundations are currently funding California nonprofit intermediaries to help small, folk and ethnic organizations use grant monies wisely. They also pay for intermediaries across sectors (arts and culture, health, community development and so on) to meet together to learn what works best.

The NEA has hosted three webinars at which Our Town panelists talk about what they see as effective projects/proposals, a step in this direction. But these discussions are far from a systematic gathering and collating of experience from all grantees in ways that would help the cohorts learn and contact those with similar challenges.

The Indicator Impetus
Why are the major funders of creative placemaking staking so much on indicators rather than evaluating projects on their own aspirations and steps forward? Pressure from the Office of Management and Budget, the federal bean-counters, is one factor.  In January of 2011, President Obama signed into law the Government Performance and Modernization Act (GPRA), updating the original 1993 GPRA, and a new August 2012 Circular A11 heavily emphasizes use of performance indicators for all agencies and their programs.

As a veteran of research and policy work on scientific and engineering occupations and on industrial sectors like steel and the military industrial complex, I fear that others will perceive indicator mania as a sign of field weakness. To Ian David Moss’s provocative title “Creative Placemaking has an Outcomes Problem,” I’d reply that we’re in good company. Huge agencies of the federal government, like the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and NASA, fund experiments and exploratory development without asking that results be held up to some set of external indicators not closely related to their missions. They accept slow progress and even failure, as in cancer research or nuclear fusion, because the end goal is worthy and because we learn from failure. Evaluation by external generic indicators fails to acknowledge the experimental and ground-breaking nature of these creative-placemaking initiatives and misses an opportunity to bolster understanding of how arts and cultural missions create public value.

Why Indicators Will Disappoint I: Definitional Challenges

Many of the indicators charted in ArtPlace, NEA Our Town, and other exercises (e.g. WESTAF’s Creative Vitality Index) bear a tenuous relationship to the complex fabric of communities or specific creative placemaking initiatives. Terms like “vitality,” “vibrancy,” and “livability” are great examples of fuzzy concepts, a notion that I used a decade ago to critique planners and geographers’ enamoration with concepts like “world cities” and “flexible specialization.” A fuzzy concept is one that means different things to different people, but flourishes precisely because of its imprecision. It leaves one open to trenchant critiques, as in Thomas Frank’s recent pillorying of the notion of vibrancy.

Take livability, for instance, prominent in the NEA’s indicators project. One person’s quality of life can be inimical to others’. Take the young live music scene in cities: youth magnet, older resident nightmare.  Probably no worthy concept, as quality of life is, has been the subject of so many disappointing and conflicting measurement exercises.

Just what does vibrancy mean? Let’s try to unpack the term. ArtPlace’s definition: “we define vibrancy as places with an unusual scale and intensity of specific kinds of human interaction.” Pretty vague and….vibrancy are places?  Unusual scale? Scale meaning extensive, intensive? Of specific kinds? What kinds? This definition is followed by: “While we are not able to measure vibrancy directly, we believe that the measures we are assembling, taken together, will provide useful insights into the nature and location of especially vibrant places within communities.”  If I were running a college or community discussion session on this, I would put the terms “vibrancy, places, communities, measures,” and so on up on the board (so to speak), and we would undoubtedly have a spirited and inconclusive debate!

And what is the purpose of measuring vibrancy? Again from the same ArtPlace LOI: “…the purpose of our vibrancy metrics is not to pronounce some projects ‘successes’ and other projects ‘failures’ but rather to learn more about the characteristics of the projects and community context in which they take place which leads to or at least seems associated with improved places.” Even though the above description mentions “characteristics of the projects,” it’s notable that their published vibrancy indicators only measure features of place.

In fact, many of the ArtPlace and NEA indicators are roughly designed and sometime in conflict. While giving the nod to “thriving in place,” ArtPlace emphasizes the desirability of visitors in its vibrancy definition (meaning outsiders to the community); by contrast, the NEA prioritizes social cohesion and community attachment, attributes scarce in the ArtPlace definitions. For instance, ArtPlace proposes to use employment ratio—“the number of employed residents living in a particular geography (Census Block) and dividing that number by the working age persons living on that same block” as a measure of people-vibrancy. The rationale: “vibrant neighborhoods have a high fraction of their residents of working age who are employed.” Think of the large areas of new non-mixed use upscale high-rise condos where the mostly young professional people living there commute daily to jobs and nightly to bars and cafes outside the neighborhood. Not vibrant at all. But such areas would rank high using this measure.

ArtPlace links vibrancy with diversity, defined as heterogeneity of people by income, race and ethnicity. They propose “the racial and ethnic diversity index” (composition not made explicit) and “the mixed-income, middle income index” (ditto) to capture diversity. But what about age diversity? Shouldn’t we want intergenerational activity and encounters too? It is also problematic to prioritize the dilution of ethnicity in large enclaves of recent immigrant groups. Would a thriving heavily Vietnamese city or suburb be considered non-vibrant because its residents choose to live and build their cultural institutions there, facing discrimination in other housing markets? Would an ethnic neighborhood experiencing white hipster incursions be evaluated positively despite decline in its minority populations that result from lower income people being forced out?

Many of the NEA’s indicators are similarly fuzzy. As an indicator of impact on art communities and artists, its August 2012 RFP proposes median earnings for residents employed in entertainment-related industries (arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations). But a very large number of people in these occupations are in sports and media fields, not the arts. The measure does not include artists who live outside the area but work there. And many artists self-report their industry as other than the one listed above, e.g. musicians work in the restaurant sector, and graphic artists work in motion pictures, publishing and so on. ArtPlace is proposing to use very similar indicators—creative industry jobs and workers in creative occupations—as measures of vibrancy.

It is troubling that neither indicator-building effort has so far demonstrated a willingness to digest and share publicly the rich, accessible, and cautionary published research that tackles many of these definitions. See for instance “Defining the Creative Economy: Industry and Occupational Approaches,” the joint effort by researchers Doug DeNatale and Greg Wassall from the New England Creative Economy Project, Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts, and me at the Arts Economy Initiative to unpack the definitional and data challenges for measuring arts-related jobs and industries in Economic Development Quarterly.

Hopefully, we can have an engaging debate about these notions before indices are cranked out and disseminated. Heartening signs: in its August RFP, the NEA backtracks from its original plan, unveiled in a spring 2012 webinar, to contract for wholesale construction of a given set of indicators to be distributed to grantees. Instead, it is now contracting for the testing of indicator suitability by conducting twenty case studies. And just last week, the NEA issued a new RFP for developing a virtual storybook to document community outcomes, lessons learned and experiences associated with their creative placemaking projects.

Why Indicators Will Disappoint II: Dearth of Good Data
If definitional problems aren’t troubling enough, think about the sheer inadequacy of data sources available for creating place-specific indicators.

For more than a half-century, planning and economic development scholars have been studying places and policy interventions to judge success or failure. Yet when Anne Gadwa Nicodemus went in search of research results on decades of public housing interventions, assuming she could build on these for her evaluation of Artspace Projects’ artist live/work and studio buildings, she found that they don’t really exist.

Here are five serious operational problems confronting creative placemaking indicator construction.

First, the dimensions to be measured are hard to pin down. Some of the variables proposed are quite problematic—they don’t capture universal values for all people in the community.

Take ArtPlace’s cell phone activity indicator, for instance, which will be used on nights and weekends to map where people congregate. Are places with cell activity to be judged as more successful at creative placemaking? Cell phone usage is heavily correlated with age, income and ethnicity. The older you are, the less likely you are to have a cell phone or use it much, and the more likely to rely on land-lines, which many young people do without. At the November 2012 American Collegiate Schools of Planning annual meetings, Brettany Shannon of University of Southern California presented research results from a survey of 460 LA bus riders showing low cell phone usage rates among the elderly, particularly Latinos. Among those aged 18-30, only 9% of English speakers and 15% of Spanish speakers had no cell phone, compared with 29% of English speakers over age 50 and 54% of Spanish speakers.  A cell phone activity measure is also likely to completely miss people attending jazz or classical music concerts, dramas, and religious cultural events where cell phones are turned off. And what about all those older folks who prefer to sit in coffee shops and talk to each other during the day, play leadership roles in the community through face-to-face work, or meet and engage in arts and cultural activities around religious venues? Aren’t they congregating, too?

Or take home ownership and home values, an indicator the NEA hopes to use. Hmmm… home ownership rates—and values—in the US have been falling, in large part due to overselling of homes during the housing bubble. Renting is a just as respectable an option for place lovers, especially young people, retirees, and lower-income people in general. Why would we want grantees to aspire to raise homeownership rates in their neighborhoods, especially given gentrification concerns? Home ownership does not insulate you against displacement, because as property values rise, property taxes do as well, driving out renters and homeowners alike on fixed or lower incomes. ArtPlace is developing “measures of value, which capture changes in rental and ownership values…” This reads like an invitation to gentrification, and contrary to the NEA’s aspirations for creative placemaking to support social cohesion and community attachment.

Second, most good secondary data series are not available at spatial scales corresponding to grantees’ target places. ArtPlace’s vibrancy exercise aspires to compare neighborhoods with other neighborhoods, but available data makes this task almost impossible to accomplish at highly localized scales. Some data points, like arts employment by industry, are available only down to the county level and only for more heavily populated counties because of suppression problems (and because they are lumped together with sports and media in some data sets). Good data on artists from the Census (Public Use Microdata Sample) and American Community Surveys, the only database that includes the self-employed and unemployed, can’t be broken down below PUMA (Public Use Microdata Areas) of 100,000 people that bear little relationship to real neighborhoods or city districts (see Crossover, where we mapped artists using 2000 PUMS data for the Los Angeles and Bay Area metros).

Plus, many creative placemaking efforts have ambitions to have an impact at multiple scales. Gadwa Nicodemus’s pioneering research studies, How Artist Space Matters and How Art Spaces Matter II, looked in hindsight at Artspace’s artist live/work and mixed use projects where the criteria for success varied widely between projects and for various stakeholders involved in each.  Artists, nonprofit arts organizations, and commercial enterprises (e.g. cafes) in the buildings variously hoped that the project would an impact on the regional arts community, neighborhood commercial activity and crime rates, and local property values. The research methods included surveys and interviews exploring whether the goals of the projects have been achieved in the experience of target users. Others involve complex secondary data manipulation to come up with indicators that are a good fit. Gadwa Nicodemus’s studies demonstrate how much work it is to document real impact along several dimensions, multiple spatial scales, and a long enough time periods to ensure a decent test. Her indicators, such as hedonic price indices to gauge area property value change, are sophisticated, but also very time- and skill-intensive to construct.

Third, even if you find data that address what you hope to achieve, they are unlikely be statistically significant at the scales you hope for. In our work with PUMS data from the 2000 Census, a very reliable 5% sample, we found we could not make reliable estimates of artist populations at anything near a neighborhood scale. To map the location of artists in Minneapolis, we had to carve the city into three segments based on PUMA lines, and even then, we were pushing the statistical reliability hard (Artists’ Centers, Figure 3, p. 108).

Some researchers are beginning to use the American Community Survey, a 1% sample much smaller than the decennial Census PUMS 5%, to build local indicators, heedless of this statistical reliability challenge. ArtPlace, for instance, is proposing to use ACS data to capture workers in creative occupations at the Census Tract level. See the statistical appendix to Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC)’s Creative Communities Artist Data User Guide  for a detailed explanation of this problem. Adding the ACS up over five years, one way of improving reliability, is problematic if you are trying to show change over a short period of time, which the creative placemaking indicators presumably aspire to do.

Fourth, charting change over time successfully is a huge challenge. ArtPlace intends to “assess the level of vibrancy of different areas within communities, and importantly, to measure changes in vibrancy over time in the communities where ArtPlace invests.” How can we expect projects that hope to change the culture, participation, physical environment and local economy to show anything in a period of one, two, three years? More ephemeral interventions may only have hard-to-measure impacts in the year that they happen, even if they catalyze spinoff activities, while the potentially clearer impact of brick-and-mortar projects may take years to materialize.

We know from our case studies and from decades of urban planning and design experience that changes in place take long periods of time. For example, Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District, a case study in Creative Placemaking, required at least five years for vision and conversations to translate into a feasibility study, another few years to build the streetscape and renovate the two existing shuttered theatres, and more to build the new one.

Because it’s unlikely that the data will be good enough to chart creative placemaking projects’ progress over time, we are likely to see indicators used in a very different and pernicious way – to compare places with each other in the current time period. But every creative placemaking initiative is very, very different from others, and their current rankings on these measures more apt to reflect long-time neighborhood evolution and particularities rather than the impact of their current activities. I can just see creative placemakers viewing such comparisons and throwing their hands up in the air, shouting, “but.. but…but, our circumstances are not comparable!”

One final indicator challenge. As far as I can tell, there are very few arts and cultural indicators included among the measures under consideration. Where is the mission of bringing diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired? Shouldn’t creative placemaking advance the intrinsic values and impact of the arts? Heightened and broadened arts participation? Preserving cultural traditions? Better quality art offerings? Providing beauty, expression, and critical perspectives on our society? Are artists and arts organizations whose greatest talents lie in the arts world to be judged only on their impact outside of this core? Though arts participation is measurable, many of the these “intrinsic” outcomes are challenging data-wise, just as are many of the “instrumental’ outcomes given central place in current indicator efforts. WolfBrown now offers a website that aims to “change the conversation about the benefits of arts participation, disseminate up-to-date information on emerging practices in impact assessment, and encourage cultural organizations to embrace impact assessment as standard operating practice.”

The Political Dangers of Relying on Indicators

I fear three kinds of negative political responses to reliance on poorly-defined and operationalized indicators.  First, it could be off-putting to grantees and would-be grantees, including mayors, arts organizations, community development organizations and the many other partners to these projects. It could be baffling, even angering, to be served up a book of cooked indicators with very little fit to one’s project and aspirations and to be asked to make sense out of them. The NEA’s recent RFP calls for the development of a user guide with some examples, which will help. Those who have expressed concern report hearing back something like “don’t worry about it – we’re not going to hold you to any particular performance on these. They are just informational for you.” Well, but then why invest in these indicators if they aren’t going to be used for evaluation after all?!

Second, creative placemaking grants create competitors, and that means they are generating losers as well as winners.  Some who aren’t funded the first time try again, and some are sanguine and grateful that they were prompted to make the effort and form a team. But some will give up. There are interesting parallels with place-based innovations in the 1990s. The Clinton administration’s post Cold War defense conversion initiatives included the Technology Reinvestment Project, in which regional consortia competed for funds to take local military technologies into the civilian realm. As Michael Oden, Greg Bischak and Chris Evans-Klock concluded in our 1995 Rutgers study (full report available from the authors on request), the TRP failed after just a few years because Members of Congress heard from too many disgruntled constituents. In contrast, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, begun in the same period and administered by NIST, has survived because after its first exploratory rounds, it partnered with state governments to amplify funding for technical assistance to defense contractors struggling with defense budget implosion everywhere. States, rather than projects, then competed, eager for the federal funds.

Third, and most troubling, funders may begin favoring grants to places that already look good on the indicators. Anne Gadwa Nicodemus raised this in her GIA Reader article on creative placemaking last spring. ArtPlace’s own funding criteria suggest this: “ArtPlace will favor investments… and sees its role as providing venture funding in the form of grants, seeding entrepreneurial projects that lead through the arts and already enjoy strong local buy-in and will occur at places already showing signs of momentum….” Imagine how a proposal to convert an old school in a very low income and somewhat depopulated, minority neighborhood into an artist live/work, studio and performance and learning space would stack up against a proposal to add funding to a new outreach initiative in an area already colonized by young people from elsewhere in the same city. A funder might be tempted to fund the latter, where vibrancy is already indicated, over the other, where the payoff might be much greater but farther down the road.

In an Ideal World, Sophisticated Models

In any particular place, changes in the proposed indicators will not be attributable to the creative placemaking intervention alone. So imagine the distress of a fundee whose indicators are moving the wrong way and which place them poorly in comparison to others. Area property values may be falling because an environmentally obnoxious plant starts up. Other projects might look great on indicators not because of their initiatives, but because another intervention, like a new light rail system or a new community-based school dramatically changes the neighborhood.

What we’d would love to have, but don’t at this point, are sophisticated causal models of creative placemaking. The models would identify the multiple actors in the target place and take into account the results of their separate actions. A funded creative placemaking project team would be just one such “actor” among several (e.g. real estate developers, private sector employers, resident associations, community development nonprofits and so on).

A good model would account for other non-arts forces at work that will interact with the various actors’ initiatives and choices. This is crucial, and the logic models proposed by Moss, Zabel and others don’t do it. Scholars of urban planning well know how tricky it is to isolate the impact of a particular intervention when there are so many others occurring simultaneously (crime prevention, community development, social services, infrastructure investments like light rail or street repaving).

Furthermore, models should be longitudinal, i.e. they will chart progress in the particular place over time, rather than comparing one place cross-sectionally with others that are quite unlikely to share the same actors, features and circumstances. If we create models that are causal, acknowledge other forces at work, and are applied over time, “we’ll be able to clearly document the critical power of arts and culture in healthy community development,” reflects Deborah Cullinan of San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts in a followup to our NAMAC panel.

Such multivariate models, as social scientists and urban planners call them, lend themselves to careful tests of hypotheses about change. We can ask if a particular action, like the siting of an interstate highway interchange or adding a prison or being funded in a federal program like the Appalachian Regional Commission, produces more employment or higher incomes or better quality of life for its host city or neighborhood when compared with twin or comparable places, as Andrew Isserman and colleagues have done in their “quasi-experimental” work (write me for a summary of these, soon to be published).

We can also run tests to see if differentials in city and regional arts participation rates and presence of arts organizations can be explained by differences in funding, demographics, or features of local economies. My teammates and I used Cultural Data Project and National Center for Charitable Statistics data on nonprofit arts organizations in California to do this for all California cities with more than 20,000 residents. Our results, while cross-sectional, suggest that concerted arts and culture-building by local Californians over time leads to higher arts participation rates and more arts offerings than can be explained by other factors. The point is that techniques like these DO take into account other forces (positive and negative) operating in the place where creative placemaking unfolds.

Charting a Better Path

It’s understandable why the NEA and ArtPlace are turning to indicators. Their budgets for creative placemaking are relatively small, and they’d prefer to spend them on more programming and more places rather than on expensive, careful evaluations.  Nevertheless, designing indicators unrelated to specific funded projects seems a poor way forward. Here are some alternatives.

Commit to real evaluation. This need not be as expensive as it seems. Imagine if the NEA and ArtPlace, instead of contracting to produce one-size-fits-all indicators, were to design a three-stage evaluation process.  Grantees propose staged criteria for success and reflect on them at specified junctures. Funding is awarded on the basis of the appropriateness of this evaluative process and continued on receipt of reflections. Funders use these to give feedback to the grantee and retool their expectations if necessary, and to summarize and redesign overall creative placemaking achievements. This is more or less what many philanthropic foundations do currently and have for many years, the NEA included. Better learning is apt to emerge from this process than from a set of indicator tables and graphics.  ArtPlace is well-positioned to draw on the expertise of its member foundations in this regard.

Build cooperation among grantees to soften the edge of competition for funds. Convene grantees and would-be grantees annually to talk about success, failures, and problems. Ask successful grantees to share their experience and expertise with others who wish to try similar projects elsewhere. During Leveraging Investments in Creativity’s ten-year lifespan, it convened its creative community leaders annually and sometimes more often, resulting in tremendous cross-fertilization that boosted success. Often, what was working elsewhere turned out to be a better mission or process than what a local group had planned. Again, ArtPlace in particular could create a forum for this kind of cooperative learning. And, as mentioned, NEA’s webinars are a step in the right direction. Imagine, notes my NAMAC co-panelist Deborah Cullinan of Intersection for the Arts, if creative placemaking funders invested in cohort learning over time, with enough longevity to build relationships, share lessons, and nurture collaborations.

Finally, the National Endowment for the Arts and ArtPlace could provide technical assistance to creative placemaking grantees, as the Manufacturing Extension Partnership does for small manufacturers. Anne Gadwa Nicodemus and I continually receive phone calls from people across the country psyched to start projects but needy of information and skills on multiple fronts. There are leaders in other communities, and consultants, too, who know how creative placemaking works under diverse circumstances and who can form a loose consortium of talent: people who understand the political framework, the financial challenges, and the way to build partnerships. Artspace Projects, for instance, has recently converted over a quarter century of experience with more than two -dozen completed artist and arts-serving projects into a consultancy to help people in more places craft arts-based placemaking projects.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in a few years’ time, we could say, look!  Here is the body of learning and insights we’ve compiled about creative placemaking–how to do it well, where the diverse impacts are, and how they can be documented. With indicators dominating the evaluation process at present, we are unlikely to learn what we could from these young experiments. An indicators-preoccupied evaluation process is likely to leave us disappointed, with spreadsheets and charts made quickly obsolete by changing definitions and data collection procedures. Let’s think through outcomes in a more grounded, holistic way. Let’s continue, and broaden, the conversation!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The NEA's "How Art Works" Research Approach

Cover of How Art Works  On September 20, American University hosted the National Endowment for the Arts' unveiling of its HOW ART WORKS report. This report is both the presentation of a systems map as a conceptual framework to inform priorities for research planning and prioritization, and an agenda for the NEA's five-year research strategy. The systems map is both complex and too simple - attempting to articulate and demonstrate how arts expression and experience impacts individuals, communities and society.

For the NEA, the idea of a systems map was chosen because it reflects the world of art itself - as a complex, interrelated connection of people, ideas and the impact of the expression of those ideas. And, if the complexity is well articulated, it provides multiple entries into understanding and reflecting on the components of the system.

The public forum at American University offered a presentation of the systems map by the researcher Tony Seisfeld, partner at Monitor Institute; a presentation by Sunil Iyengar, Director of Research and Analysis, of the NEA; as well as opportunity for Q&A and two panel discussions - one the Impact on Individuals and one on the Impact on Society and Communities. The event is available in individual video segments.

The premise of the systems map to both understand 'how art works' and to inform the next five years of research for the National Endowment for the Arts is quite intriguing. And, intellectually, taking the NEA, and by extension the field, into a brave new world. I found Sunil's articulation of the NEA's research agenda particularly interesting because it provides those of us in the field with a framework to connect with, push against, or propel forward the value and impact of the arts in our world.

If you care about the future of arts research and its societal impact, scanning these videos and getting a copy of the report will be worth your while. Enjoy!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why Defining the Creative Economy Matters

Let's talk about defining the creative economy and then look at why it matters.

From a national perspective, there is no one accepted definition or quantification of the ‘creative economy’. This makes assessment and benchmarking around the country virtually impossible right now. While there have been definitions for and strategies to develop the creative economies of the European Union and Australasia, the US is at least fifteen years behind such a comprehensive approach to this economic sector.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development wrote a Creative Economy Report in 2010 and reported that “in 2008, despite the 12 percent decline in global trade, world trade of creative goods and services continued its expansion, reaching $592 billion and reflecting an annual growth rate of 14%. The emerging creative economy has become a leading component of economic growth, employment, trade and innovation, and social cohesion in most advanced countries”. For full report go here.

There have been many cities, regions, and states who have defined and measured their creative economies – each using the definition and data sets most relevant to their communities. During the fall/winter of 2012/13, a national profile of the various definitions of the creative economy is being compiled by Christine Harris with the Creative Alliance Milwaukee under the umbrella of a National Endowment for the Arts grant. This is designed to shed light on what could become a national definition for measuring the creative economy across the nation. The research hopes to provide an avenue for communities to compare and contrast across the country, and set benchmarks for creative economic development.

There has been much written about how to define and measure the creative economy in the US. Richard Florida has taken a very wide view with his distinction of  ‘creative class’ talent but definitions of the creative economy are most generally connected to the production of goods or services generating revenue. Significant research approaches have come from the New England Foundation for the Arts (see their report) and the leading consultants in this field, Mount Auburn Associates (their website with their studies). This is not about the creative process or creative thinking per se, but about understanding the role and quantifying the impact of creative goods and services on a community’s economy.

The concept of a creative economy/industry is still quite new to many development agencies around the country. Creative Alliance Milwaukee’s Creativity Works! Milwaukee’s Regional Creative Industries Project 2010 received the first ever grant from the US Economic Development Agency to support creative economy research. In more recent years, economic development practitioners, researchers and policy makers are recognizing the crucial role of creative enterprises and creative workers as significant to local economic strength and differentiation. Often these industries are catalysts for change and growth, contributing to place identity (often referred to as ‘creative placemaking’), competitive advantage, new employment opportunities and the overall well-being of an area.

Measuring the economic value of an industry sector includes measuring its enterprises and its workforce. The industries that make up the creative economy are a set of interlocking industry segments including nonprofit arts/culture groups, for profit creative businesses and sole proprietor creatives – all of whom create, produce and distribute products or services.  Therefore, a definition is suggested below for determining what makes up the creative economy.

Creative Industries: Those organizations, individuals and companies whose products and services originate in artistic, cultural, creative and/or aesthetic content.

Generally, the definition includes counting both the creative businesses and the creative occupations within the industry sector. A creative business is comprised of those individuals and companies working within that industry, e.g. architecture firm or recording studio; and a creative occupation is any occupation which has as its primary purpose tasks requiring creative or aesthetic skills, e.g. graphic designer whether in an ad agency or a manufacturer.  A more detailed definition can be found in the aforementioned Creativity Works!  report.

Now let's look at why it matters.

There are two things that the creative industries produce – ideation and conceptualization of new products and services; and revenue. Casting the net over this interlocking set of businesses and measuring their economic value often leads to a surprisingly sizable component of any community’s economy – both in terms of economic output and related jobs. Then, of course, there is the role these industries play both in new idea and innovative product development with respect to differentiating competitive advantage and expanding tourism opportunities.

A strong creative economy is a symbol of a vibrant, clean, environmentally friendly, and forward-thinking community. The benefits creative industries and its workers can bring include:
·       greater diversity of people and work opportunities, which is highly attractive to young professionals  and their families – who can work anywhere
·       greater ability to attract new employees, who seek quality of life and a more creative lifestyle
·       higher profile in the media if your community is seen as ‘cool’ and ‘creative’
·       a more engaged, interesting citizenry with increased creativity outlets
·       a proven record as a growth industry
·       elevated tourism appeal

Finally, it is important to note that unlike any other industry sector, the creative industries offer a triple return on investment.

First, the industry sector itself represents significant economic and employment value. When measured, this sector often comes up as one of the largest industry sectors in a community.

Second, it provides a positive impact on all businesses by helping them be more creative, differentiating products and services, supporting a strong tourism and hospitality business, and fostering artistic/artisan opportunities.

And third, a strong creative economy improves community attractiveness because people (including creatives!) like to be around creative people, it fosters a vibrant community life, it helps define the ‘quality of place’ and it enhances quality of life.