NEA Systems Map

[7:29] Oops! I ran out of juice (the electrical, not the metaphysical kind) just as things were wrapping up. Anyway, I thought Andrew Taylor did a great job of moderating that last panel and pointing out some of the more interesting features of the model as it’s been developed. At the end of the day, as he pointed out, this was developed to satisfy a federal OMB requirement for all departments to have logic models describing what they do. And since the NEA now has that, it’s mission accomplished in a sense. But I can’t help but feel that this was a missed opportunity to dig deeper than we’ve yet seen into the detailed dynamics of how arts work. Tony Siesfeld at one point put up a slide of an insanely complex drawing by a RISD student to illustrate what the model could have looked like had they tried to map everything, implying that this was something to be avoided. But honestly, I think we need that complexity – or at least, that’s where the true value of these efforts lies, since no one seems to be eager to take it on. I don’t have any gigantic issues with the model that was shown today other than that it seems, well, kind of obvious. It’s the other aspects of the presentation – particularly how the model fits into the NEA’s research agenda, and how the NEA has used it as a framework for gap analysis – that intrigue me more.

[5:08] Kushner: same mapping process will work for other countries, but values attached to different nodes may be different. (But that would require values to be attached to the nodes in the first place!)

[5:00] This panel is really elevating the conversation. Making a valiant attempt to connect the map to everything else.

[4:49] Roland Kushner: who are the audiences for this research? Are we the wrong people? Also struck by relative absence of dollars in the system. If these benefits are flowing one way, what’s flowing the other way? Also wishes that it said more about aesthetics.

[4:47] Andrew Taylor loves the fact that “Human Impulse” needs to “jump” over the system in order to get into it.

[4:45] Roland Kushner: what happens when we start to fill the holes? What do we do with it next?

[4:44] Lots of praise for the NEA’s research work on this panel, which consists of David Fraher, Roland J. Kushner, and and Kathy Dwyer Southern. They’re particularly responding to the fact that the agency is reaching out to other arms of government and trying to do work in context.

[4:36] some chatter about the “Education and training” bucket. Does it refer to education and training of artists or of the general public? Also, how does this translate between cultures?

[4:30] Questioner making the point that the map placing the arts in the center is perhaps too comfortable for artists. Anne L’Ecuyer says it’s “mapping the artistic ego.”

[4:10] Ximena Varela questioning subsuming of economic impact into the larger “benefit to society and communities” category in the main map.

[4:03] John Borstel making useful analogy of the map to anatomy – understanding how all the parts work together.

[3:37] Creating a taxonomy or “menu” of arts benefits also seems like a solved problem. Gifts of the Muse explored this territory seven years ago, and I see it is heavily cited in the report. I also like Alan Brown’s “Architecture of Value.”

[3:35] My thoughts: I’ll be interested to dig into the report further, but from this presentation I’m surprised that it doesn’t get into more detail. The result is, as the first questioner pointed out, a very highly abstracted framework that seems like an anticlimactic result for a year’s work.

[3:30] OK, break time. Next panel: Impacts on Individuals, moderated by Anne L’Ecuyer, with panelists John Borstel, Shahin Shikhaliyev, Ximena Varela.

[3:24] Regarding the virtual research network, sometimes NEA feels like they’re a step behind the field – they’re especially wanting to tap into international dialogue about arts research.

[3:20] Joan Jeffri, commenting from the audience, commends everybody on job well done, makes plea for continuing to involve graduate students.

[3:17] Sunil ending with a couplet for Joan Shigekawa via Frost: “We dance around in a ring and suppose. But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”

[3:16] Sunil: The “dark horse” of the report is the appendix listing resources and data sources, available online here.

[3:13] Cross-cutting projects to support capacity building include research grants, an online data repository, and a virtual research network.

[3:11] Sample NEA research projects for second-order outcomes of the arts (societal capacities to innovate and express ideas; outlets for creative expression; new forms of self-expression): The Arts, New Growth Theory, and Economic Development; Analysis of Arts Variables in the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey; Study of Design Patents and Product Innovation. Shortage of high quality research in this domain.

[3:09] Sample NEA research projects for direct and indirect economic benefits, benefit or art to society & communities, benefit of art to individuals: NEA-NIH-NAS Public Workshop and Paper Series on the Arts and Aging (completed); National Children’s Study Arts/Music Supplement; Arts and Livability Indicators; Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account

[3:07] Sample NEA research projects for arts participation: An Average Day in the Arts (completed); SPPA 2012 First Look, Summary Report, and Monograph Series; GSS Arts Supplement Report and Monograph(s)

[3:05] Sample NEA research projects for arts infrastructure and education and training (input variables): Artists and Arts Workers in the United States (completed); How the United States Funds the Arts (3rd edition); Understanding Arts Education Access by School and School District Characteristics

[3:04] NEA says that they’ve taken the map and painted upon it the NEA’s research projects over the next five years. “Arts participation” has five projects, “arts infrastructure” has four, “benefit of art to individuals” has 10.

[3:01] NEA has a five year strategic plan whose research goal is to promote knowledge and understanding about the contributions of the arts. Emphasizing “contribution” again. Also distinguishing between evidence of the arts’ value vs. impact. Value is primarily internal, impact refers to effects on arenas outside the arts.

[2:59] Over to Sunil Iyengar, Director of the NEA’s Office of Research and Analysis, who will talk about how this work fits in to the NEA’s research agenda.

[2:57] Audience member/choreographer expresses gratitude for having art at the center. Alludes to shift in funders’ perspective.

[2:55] AFL-CIO’s David Cohen delivers a provocative question: what happens if you take out the word “art” and replace it with “science”? Points out the very high level of abstraction. Siesfeld does say that they tried it with “sport.”

[2:53] Obligatory “more research is necessary” message delivered: Siesfeld calling the map “a beginning, not an end.”

[2:48] Key findings of the project, as reported by Siesfeld:

  1. System map reflects several key “truths” reaffirmed throughout this collaborative research project:
    • Nice to see that art is at the center.
    • The human impulse to create is a key driver/input.
    • Benefits are not always equally distributed and not always positive.
    • Art makes important contributions to quality of life. Not a cause per se, but can enhance or detract.
  2. System map provides “negative capability” – can imagine the system without having to resolve apparently contradictory aspects. E.g., is it high art or low art? In the map, it doesn’t matter. You could look at symphonies or mashed-up music, can test the same things.
  3. The system map does provide an integrative & holistic framework for organizing research and measurement for arts impact.

[2:46] Whoa, Siesfeld just spoke of gentrification and artist colonization in Oakland as a “net positive.”

[2:43] Discussing system “multipliers” – factors that hit the system and influence it: markets/subsidies, politics, technology, demographics/cultural traditions, and space & time.

[2:38] Siesfeld taking the position that this is a model of “contribution, not attribution.” There are many factors that can improve quality of life, art is one of them.

[2:38] Siesfeld notes that lots of attention is being paid right now to the economic benefits of the arts.

[2:37] Here’s a link to the report, which includes the map in question.

[2:33] OK, now we’re getting to content. Map has arts participation at the center, with arts creation as a subset of participation. It divides first-order benefits into society/communities (economic & civic) and individuals (cognitive & emotional).

[2:28] The process took nearly a year, and the map went through a number of revisions based on feedback from practitioners. Initial version was very simple, looking almost like a heart, but gradually got more complex as more elements were added.

[2:22] Siesfeld quoting Hewlett Foundation ex-president Paul Brest on theories of change. Initially they thought about doing a traditional theory of change, but quickly decided that what was being described was far too complex for TOCs’ left-to-right structure. So they wanted to incorporate non-linear elements, and thus went with systems mapping.

[2:18] Tony Siesfeld from Monitor Institute is now presenting the map (which, to be clear, is a conceptual map rather than a geographic map). The goals of the project are to “establish a measurement framework for assessing arts’ impact over time” and advance our understanding of relationship between the arts and key domains such as creativity, sustainable communities, health and wellness, economic prosperity. It’s also designed to flow into a research agenda by identifying which areas of the map have lots of research available, and which have less.

[2:15] The systems map so far has been variously referred to as “both too complex and too simple” and “productively inaccurate.” Reminds me of the maxim that “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” In any case, interesting to see the crew downplaying things a bit.

[2:03] Starting off with introductions from Sherburne Laughlin, Phyllis Peres, Peter Starr, and Rocco Landesman. Two simple questions: 1. What is art? 2. What exactly happens when art happens?

I’ve gotten away from event blogging for the most part, but I thought I would emerge from semi-retirement for this one since it’s the most public forum to date at which the National Endowment for the Arts has shared its plans for research. If you want to follow along, you can do so at the Twitter hashtag #HowArtWorks or watch the livestream here. Keep refreshing for updates, which will appear in reverse chronological order.

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  • Kamella Tate

    Re. abstracted framework: This appears to me as an Atlas-level freeway map — we’re the cartographers in our organizations, communities, states, and regions, exploring and drawing the “lay of the land” going forward. We’re the detail.

  • Andrew Taylor

    Thanks Ian! Great to have you in the room, and sharing it through the intertubes.