Counting New Beans: Intrinsic Impact and the Value of Art
The strength of Counting New Beans is in its impressive list of contributors. Through interviews, artistic leaders engage in conversation about audience, community, and the value of art. Beyond these thoughtful essays, the book includes the results of a two-year study titled, Understanding the Intrinsic Impact of Live Theatre. This study, composed of patterns of audience feedback in 18 theaters and 58 productions, was commissioned by Clayton Lord of Theatre Bay Area and was completed by Alan Brown and Rebecca Ratzkin of WolfBrown. In the first chapter, Clayton Lord, sets the stage with the state of valuing and evaluating the impact of art. He suggests that nonprofits are asked to “justify their existence by talking about two things: anecdote and economics” (p. 24). Instead of continuing on this path, Lord calls for a return to valuing and attempting to measure the “unmeasurable” parts of art, despite the difficulties in doing so. The two-year study of the intrinsic impact of theater, based on WolfBrown’s metrics described below, offers a starting point for standard metrics and a common vocabulary to “talk about the intangible power of theatre and art” (p. 37). Chapter 2 details the Brown and Ratzkin study on live theater. The researchers use three constructs of “readiness to receive” and five constructs of intrinsic impact to interpret the survey data. The five constructs used as metrics for intrinsic impact included intellectual stimulation, emotional resonance, aesthetic enrichment, social bridging, and bonding, were based on WolfBrown’s 2007 work, Assessing the Intrinsic Value of Live Performance. The results of the live theater study are not discussed thoroughly by the researchers. Instead, the reader is led to draw his own conclusions with a return to conversation and essays with artistic leaders. In the third chapter, twenty artistic leaders engage in interviews to address how audience feedback influences their work. Additionally, the conversation spans to how theater can influence civic discourse. Michael Rohd of Sojourn Theatre rarely administers surveys to understand audience feedback and impact. Instead, he is interested in knowing how the spirit of the project has continued after the performance, as may be demonstrated in the actions of community members and organizations. In sum, this piece offers an approach to collect and interpret the intrinsic impact of art, specifically within the context of live theatre. The contributing artistic leaders offer examples of successes and challenges in this process, as well as thoughts for moving forward. See further reviews of this work by Grantmakers in the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.