Arts + Culture Report: The Creative and Cultural Economy Initiative
REPORT: Our State of Arts and Culture
In November 2014, voters overwhelmingly approved authorization for Rhode Island to issue a $35 million in Creative and Cultural Economy Bonds. Policymakers want to know in what ways and in what time frame does investing in arts and cultural organizations benefit Rhode Island?
In response, in April 2016 an Arts and Culture Research Network was formed by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA), in partnership with The College and University Research Collaborative (The Collaborative) and with the active cooperation of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC).
A Research Team, comprised of faculty from the Brown University School of Public Health, Bryant University, Rhode Island College’s Public Administration Program, and a visiting arts scholar at Brown accepted the charge to address the following three priorities distilled from the legislation’s intent.
- Economic Return, primarily the impact on job creation in Rhode Island.
- Programmatic Return, primarily the impact on venue programming growth and expansion
- Quality of Life Return, primarily the impact on the vitality of the communities served by each of the grant recipients.
The Collaborative distilled the three legislative impact areas into two questions:
- What opportunities does the Cultural Facilities Bond present to measure the impact of investments in the arts?
- What tools and resources do arts organizations need to better understand and measure their impact across a range of desirable legislative outcomes?
The research team conducted extensive community forums to inform the development of a data collection instrument. From the information gathered during the development and testing of the data collection instrument, researchers made the preliminary observation that the average organization, in the sample of 9 organizations, shows a positive return on the State’s investment. Composite data was used to create an example report (Fig 2) that participating organizations might receive in the next phase of this initiative
Continued data collection efforts with larger sample sizes are necessary to validate and replicate the results of this pilot survey.
TOOLS: Date Collection Instruments
Two distinct, brief data collection tools were developed to capture organization-level and project-level data in line with the organizations’ annual reporting cycles.
Surveys were distributed to nine organizations listed below who have benefitted from the bond funds, including three named in the bond statute, three other art-centric organizations and three preservation organizations...
- 2nd Story Theatre, Warren
- Blackstone River Theatre, Cumberland
- Greenwich Odeum, East Greenwich
- Jamestown Arts Center
- Newport Opera House
- Old Slater Mill, Pawtucket
- Preservation Society Newport County
- Providence Public Library
- Stadium Theatre, Woonsocket
Each organization responded to a survey relevant to the organization’s current state of grant or bond award implementation. Thus, using this cross-sectional sample is appropriate for testing the strengths and limitations of the data collection tool.
The surveys capture data in the following areas;
- Organization and Key Contact Information
- Employment/Contractors Information
- Revenue/Expenditure Information
- Participant/Patron Information
- Impact Area Specific Questions
The organizations user-tested the survey for clarity of questions and directions, keeping in mind the goal of easing the data collection burden. The response rate was 89% (eight of the nine completed the surveys within the three-week window provided).
The research team endeavored to include as much guidance and input from the stakeholders as possible. Participants were invited to ask questions during the feasibility testing, provide feedback in the survey, and after completion of the testing, invited to participate in a fifteen-minute phone interview.
The example organization report on the previous pages is designed to illustrate the return on the State’s investment and benefits of collecting data. A call for suggestions regarding additional data that organizations would like to compare over time has been included.
Due to the small data sample and truncated timing of data collection, additional data collection with a broader group of organizations would provide a more comprehensive data analyses on the impact of bond funds.
STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT: Community Forum Results
As part of the effort to understand the nature and availability of data within the community and to enable the eventual implementation and success of these efforts, a series of community forums were convened.
The primary objective of the forums was to identify and define key indicators and metrics that measure the economic, educational, community development, and quality of life investments in Rhode Island. Participating stakeholders helped to identify opportunities and potential barriers related to data collection and offered their recommendations for possible solutions. The community forums were not intended to be exhaustive but rather representative. An in-depth summary of community forum results is available at collaborativeri.org/arts.
Stakeholder Engagement Approach
The research team adopted a stakeholder engaged approach to develop a tool and recommend a process of implementation. This method was selected to ensure that at every step of the process, the key constituents from the arts and culture sector were key partners in development.
Each of the community forums included discussion related to the use of data in arts and cultural organizations. Four community forums were held in January and February 2017. Each forum focused on thematic areas as defined in the project plan – economic, education, community development and quality of life. Participants were asked to rank their organizational objectives and impact. These qualitative and quantitative data were reviewed and analyzed (Fig 4).
Emerging Themes from the Community Forums
The consensus that emerge from the forums was a cautious optimism about the prospect of collecting data for assessing the impact of bond investments within the arts and culture sector.
Participants voiced concern that resulting quantitative or qualitative data might unfairly advantage one type of organization. For example, merely looking at the ratio of funding to attendance rates to assess impact is problematic for some organizations that have space constraints. There was a grave concern that comparisons among organizations without proper context could occur. They stated firmly that any data derived from these endeavors should be used to supplement, not supplant, decision making and that under no circumstance should data be used “against” an organization.
Despite these concerns, most participants articulated the importance of data. Although, they were firm that the longevity of any data collection effort would be linked to administrative burden, even if the data collection is a worthy endeavor. Participants noted a lack of local resources to support data collection, analysis and interpretation, which would need to be addressed for a viable data-driven culture to emerge in the arts and culture sector. The participants also wanted to ensure that attention is paid to capturing the value of what they do by measuring what is not lost by their organizational presence (e.g., a historic building or other locally iconic community symbols).
Impact Area: Economy
Measuring the economic impact of arts and cultural investments includes direct (organization employees, trades) and indirect (raw materials, consumption of goods and services) indicators.
Rhode Island has robust, local arts and cultural training programs. However, the vulnerability of the sector impairs retention of trained personnel. The insecurity in the funding climate creates a boom/bust type cycle which increases temporary employment opportunities and results in few long-term, full-time employment opportunities.
The sensitivity to externalities combined with the specialized nature of the work leads to instability. Thus, patterns in economic indicators require strong contextualization. Single quantitative indicators (i.e., the number of employees hired) are subject to many externalities (availability of specialized personnel, number of concurrent projects) that may confound their interpretation. Clarity of context may differ within, and across organizations from year to year and from project to project, thus strong partnerships with data collecting organizations must occur.
Impact Area: Education
Participants cited a strong commitment to education in its many forms. From collaborations with K-12 educational institutions and programs for teaching workforce development to intergenerational programming, education is an important component of the work and mission of may arts and cultural organizations.
For some organizations, there is a formalization of educational initiatives by offering classes, workshops, and lectures where people can engage and develop their work. In the arts sector, these endeavors often culminate in public exhibition or reading, which involve the community and often include families and close networks of artists and participants. For others, the emphasis is on engagement with multigenerational and hands-on programming. Additionally, some historic preservation organizations educate groups about their space – but also offer their space for use by other organizations for education/training initiatives such as citizenship classes.
Participants articulated that merely having spaces available for convening to occur were just as meaningful as actual events happening within the spaces. The emphasis was placed on preservation of spaces that can potentiate social action and education.
Impact Area: Community Development
“Placemaking” is an important concept frequently mentioned by participants. For many of them, it provides the link between culture, economics and community development (e.g., a public library where multiple people interact as a community pursuing different purposes). Audiences are an essential variable in defining placemaking. Any community development data effort requires a definition of shifting audiences and best practices for capturing the impact of programming on those audiences.
The role of Boards of Directors received some attention as a community development concern. More than one participant noted that in Rhode Island (as compared to other New England states or nationally) employers do not promote philanthropic giving or board membership as a cultural imperative. These cultural norms disadvantage local arts and cultural organizations.
Impact Area: Quality of Life
Quality of Life (QOL) is a multidimensional concept recognizing that individuals and communities have multiple needs. The role of policy is both to create opportunities for human needs to be met, if possible, and to create conditions that increase the likelihood that people will effectively take advantage of these opportunities.
Standard indicators of the QOL include financial security, employment, physical and mental health, education, recreation/leisure time, built environment and social belonging. It was generally agreed that QOL in Rhode Island is impacted, and very often improved, by the arts and culture sector.
Cultural organizations are typically small “businesses” operating in Rhode Island and serve to train individuals uniquely qualified for local jobs, specifically in historic preservation. Participants noted that their employees “learn, work and stay in Rhode Island” whereas other businesses suffer from “brain drain” – the phenomena of investing in workers to train them to be proficient in necessary skills, only to have them leave once they have adequate opportunity to do so. Less transitive populations, stronger ties to community and maturity of a skilled workforce may not be unique to the arts and culture sector, but it is undoubtedly an essential aspect of quality of life.
A subset of the QOL impact area is the role of government. Improving the quality of life is typically an implicit or explicit public policy goal, and so we discussed the role of policy and government intervention to promote arts and preservation activities and the views of the forum participants, not surprisingly, focused on three areas: Support, Planning, and Funding. The bond issues are welcome, but having a sustainable annual funding stream would be beneficial to the sector.
In what ways and in what time frame does investing in the cultural organizations benefit Rhode Island?
The dimensions and timing of return on investment require a robust data set to inform these questions with the specificity and sensitivity to capture the nuance of the role of the arts and culture sector in plays in the Rhode Island economy. The development and testing of a data collection tool is the first step. To ensure these questions are answered with actionable and accurate data, consistent implementation of data collection efforts is required. Longitudinal data spanning, preferable collecting pre-award and post-award data on both the project and the organization are necessary to answer these questions adequately. Data collection also requires data contextualization – balancing both quantitative data derived from the forms with qualitative data from the organizations (explanations of circumstances, unique insights, etc.) to produce appropriate analyses. Arts & cultural organizations ascribe to a unique ethos and operate differently than other sectors of the economy. We will lose understanding and widen the gap between evidence and policy if we do not continue to engage the organizational stakeholders.
What opportunities does the Cultural Facilities Bond present to measure the impact of investments in the arts?
The Creative and Cultural Economy Bond has created the opportunity
- to build and sustain an environment that can support and promote efforts to secure grant/foundation funding due to sector-wide access to timely data that articulates project, organization, region, sector and state level impact. The data itself is an investment in future sustainability.
- for the state to conduct analyses to understand the impact of Cultural Facilities Bond investments. The annual collection of organizational and project data, when completed consistently with appropriate resources, permits year-by-year analyses and, when combined, longitudinal analyses, to assist state policymakers’ understanding of the immediate and long-term sector-wide impact of these investments.
The Creative and Cultural Bonds may create
- the conditions for Rhode Island to position itself as a model for evaluation of the impact of arts and cultural efforts on state/local economies, workforce, community development, education and other policy areas.
- the opportunity for administrative, managerial, policy questions that may not have been considered otherwise to be considered for example the role of the sector in STEAM initiatives.
MOVING FORWARD: Recommendations
What tools and resources do arts organizations need to better understand and measure their impact across a range of desirable legislative outcomes?
During our community forums, it was clear that the culture of data is an area of concern, but also opportunity. Few organizations and individuals in this sector have access to data analysis skills and tools. Acquisition of these skills and tools are expensive, regarding cost and time invested, when sought by individuals. This is not unique to the arts and culture sector, and borrowing solutions from other sectors may benefit the community. For example, these organizations may benefit from access to shared services for data collection. Partnering with local universities may provide access to these skilled individuals to:
- Build capacity within arts community to leverage existing resources
- Build capacity within the state to utilize the data
These recommendations assume to continuation of a data collection effort
- Develop a data “steering/advisory committee” to annually review existing data collection efforts (locally, nationally) to ensure that the tool is not burdensome or duplicative
- Education/Resources: Training in principles of data for organizations engaged in the process
- Seek to provide opportunities to develop data analysis skills for those interested – the research universities locally have many educational opportunities available. Partnering with these institutions would provide the sector with professional development opportunities.
- Strive for a good data return rate (> 80%). Absent high data return (>80%) analyses may be uninterpretable
- Collect this survey longitudinally, ideally pre or just post award and post project completion.
- Role Clarity: Clear articulation of who is responsible for distributing and collecting surveys responses including the training of the grantee level organizations
- Work with the organizations to enable them to gather the data (this may require more staff)
- Clearly identify who will be doing the data analysis
- Ensure a clear statement of purpose of the data collection is articulated and agreed upon by organizational stakeholders