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Expanding the Evidence Base

Several weeks ago I visited Catherine Bunting, head of research for Arts Council England (ACE), in her London office. We compared our research ‘wish lists’ and talked about the growing demands of public and private sector authorizers in both of our countries to produce evidence of positive outcomes. In the U.S., WolfBrown has studied impact at the microcosmic level (i.e., the impact of a live performance on an individual), and more studies along this line are in the works, both in the U.S. and the U.K. But much work remains to be done to understand impact in the macrocosm. For example, what is the cumulative benefit to an individual of a lifetime of arts participation? What is the cumulative impact of an arts institution on its community? What is the impact of the totality of a community’s arts and cultural programs on its citizenry? A new “Culture and Sport Evidence Programme” (CASE) was recently launched by Catherine and her colleagues at sister agencies under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The three-year effort aims to elevate “the quality of evidence underpinning public policy in culture and sport.” You can read more about it here and sign up for a monthly e-mail briefing. The initiative aims to tackle fundamental questions such as “What is engagement?” and “What is value?” Once again, the Brits are way ahead of us. More of our country’s leading arts agencies and funders need to get serious about new methodologies for tracking creativity and cultural engagement over time, and expanding the base of evidence of the impact of the arts on children and adults.

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