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Stages of Impact

For the last two months, I’ve been immersed in a sea of literature concerned with the value and impacts that are created through experiences of arts and culture. This is the subject of a literature review I’ve been working on with Alan for Arts Council England (due out in May). The focus is specifically on the impacts of the experience itself, not the larger social and economic outcomes that may be expected to result from cultural activities — though these are undoubtedly related to some extent. The second question that we address in the literature review is what organizational capacities are needed to engage audiences in impactful experiences.

Alan has an extensive background both in the theoretical underpinnings and methodological approaches to measuring audience impacts, so he has been an invaluable guide through large swaths of the literature; however, in this literature review we wanted to take a broader look at impacts and move beyond those captured by post-event surveys. Are there subconscious components of the arts experience that can’t be captured in surveys? Are there impacts that occur later on in life — weeks, months, or even decades after the audience has left the venue and completed their evaluation surveys? What do we know about those impacts? How can we learn more about them?

To answer these questions, I’ve been reading up on everything from perspiration and piloerection (hairs standing up on end) during artistic events to practices such as keeping tickets stubs and programs as mementos of past experiences and the different meanings a cultural institution can have for people at various stages in their lives. In thinking about these issues, Alan and I have started to differentiate between several stages at which impacts can occur in relation to an experience. These stages are not necessarily separated in the participants’ experience, but they provide a simple means of conceptualizing which impacts are captured using particular measurement techniques at specific moments in audience members’ lives. This is a rich field of inquiry with many facets and several unresolved issues that are very much “on our minds.”

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