The Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative responds to:
Art’s power to illuminate civic experience. Art communicates beyond the limits of language; expresses difficult ideas through metaphor; and creates indelible images. The arts can broaden citizen voice and participation, give disenfranchised groups access to the civic realm, enhance public understanding of complex and often divisive issues, and motivate people to make change. Artists and cultural organizations are being called upon to apply this power to encourage and facilitate civic engagement and work toward civic and social goals.
The need for more concrete evidence. Anecdotal evidence is commonly given to substantiate the arts’ civic or social impact, but many believe that quantifiable data is necessary. Many civic leaders are not fully convinced of the contributions the arts can make at the same time public and private funders report being under greater scrutiny to prove, in concrete terms, the impact of their investments.
The need to foster a culture of evidence. Although many arts practitioners want to improve their practices, effect change, and make a more convincing case for support, there is not yet a culture of evidence to motivate evaluation efforts. Practitioners need to see the value and benefits of evaluation so that it becomes a natural and integrated part of planning and implementing their work. At the same time, arts practitioners, as well as funders who support their work, may need to rethink expectations about what are reasonable impacts to expect and realistic evaluation efforts that can be taken within typically modest means.
The Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative received initial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Americans for the Arts was one of forty organizations from across the country to participate in the foundation’s Learning Community in Civic Engagement. Participating organizations shared knowledge and learning with each other and informed the Kellogg Foundation’s civic engagement strategy while also receiving support for respective individual projects.