Impact in the Arts Think Tank

On January 17, the Arts Research Center brought together Bay Area leaders in the arts and culture and UC Berkeley arts, humanities, and social science professors to address social and economic ‘impact’ in different artistic models. This daylong think tank discussion kicked off a series of related but differentiated activities we are plotting this term to explore a variety of research and art practices that address social and economic questions in the arts.

Our conversation began with reflection on a broad collection of readings about impact in the arts, setting the scene for all of our participants and offering a platform to think through the larger themes of the texts, which ranged from the NEA’s How Art Works and François Matarasso’s Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in the Art to The Urban Institute’s Cultural Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators.

The day continued with an exploration into ‘measuring differently,’ led by arts consultants Sarah Lee (Vice President for Arts & Culture, Slover Linett Audience Research) and Rebecca Ratzkin (Consultant, WolfBrown). Both researchers helped the group explore methods and values of defining and measuring effects that are often intangible, non-linear, social, psychic, and sometimes ambiguous in the arts and culture sectors.

During our “Inside Art Projects, Organizations, and Initiatives” segment, we talked through the inherent issues cultural organizations face. We examined the challenges encountered by A Blade of Grass, a New York arts nonprofit that funds socially engaged art, with Founding Director Deborah Fisher. We also discussed The Exploratorium Arts program with Marina McDougall (Director, Center for Art & Inquiry) and Paul Ramirez Jonas (Artist & Associate Professor, Department of Art & Art History, Hunter College, CUNY). Other participants, such as Beth Rubenstein (Founder, Out of Site Youth Arts Center, Arts & Community Development), Joanna Haigood (Artistic Director, Zaccho Dance Theatre), Rebecca Novick (Director of Artistic Engagement, California Shakespeare Theater), Judy Nemzoff (Program Director, San Francisco Arts Commission), Berit Ashla (Executive Director, The Brower Center), Arthur Combs (Interim Executive Director, Intersection For The Arts), and Ebony McKinney (Founder, Emerging Arts Professionals/SFBA), offered key examples, and concerns, from their respective organizations.

The day concluded with a passionate and frank conversation on “Cultural Economies, Cultural Labor, Cultural Policies” led by Michael O’Hare (Professor of Public Policy, UC Berkeley), Courtney Fink (Director, Southern Exposure), and Rob Bailis (Director of External Relations and Artistic Initiatives, Cal Performances, UC Berkeley), allowing the think tank to close on thoughts of the labor of culture, among other cultural economic/policy issues.

Participants included: Richard Andrews, UC Berkeley; Deborah Fisher, A Blade of Grass; Berit Ashla, The Brower Center; Joanna Haigood, Zaccho Dance Theatre; Rob B. Bailis, Cal Performances, UC Berkeley; Michelle Hensley, Ten Thousand Things; Shannon Jackson, UC Berkeley; Aimee Chang, UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; Sarah Lee, Slover Linett Audience Research; Catherine Cole, UC Berkeley; Marina McDougall, Exploratorium; Arthur Combs, Intersection for the Arts; Ebony McKinney, Emerging Arts Professionals/SFBA; Courtney Fink, Southern Exposure; Judy Nemzoff, San Francisco Arts Commission; Rebecca Novick, California Shakespeare Theater; Rebecca Ratzkin, WolfBrown; Michael O’Hare, UC Berkeley; Beth Rubenstein, Out of Site Youth Arts Center; Joël Tan, YBCA; Paul Ramirez Jonas, Hunter College, CUNY.