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What is ‘Real Value?’

If you want to put a room full of artistic and managing directors to sleep, start talking about evaluation. While most of them care deeply about the impacts of their programs, talk of evaluation reliably produces anesthesia. Why? Some say they’ve been subjected unfairly to funder-mandated evaluations. Others say that the outcomes of arts experiences are inherently mysterious and cannot (or should not) be measured. A few honest souls will confide that ‘measurable outcomes’ feel antithetical to their sense of artistic autonomy. Maybe part of the problem is that we have yet to define outcomes that speak to the real benefits of arts experiences.

Understanding the accountability environment is, perhaps, one of the most important dialogues we can have as a sector. Is outcomes-based evaluation a distraction or a necessity for nonprofit cultural organizations? What expectations should funders have of grantees with respect to their capacity to undertake evaluation? Why should nonprofit cultural institutions voluntarily hold themselves accountable to a higher standard? As we investigate these and other questions in more depth, I hope you will send us your thoughts and ideas.

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