In 2017 Deb Dyer, Executive Director of this 30+-year-old center that supports artists with developmental disabilities, needed help articulating to outside stakeholders the effects of the center’s studio art program on the artists who participate. The center already tracked the amount of money participating artists earned selling their art work, but the director felt there were other, more subtle changes they had yet to document.
I was hired to work with the art teachers to identify the kinds of artistic growth and social skill building staff observed in artists over time. First, we developed a logic model and then a pilot observation tool the teachers would use to periodically assess each artist’s demonstrated art-making interests, abilities and social skills. We also developed a pilot interview protocol for a staffer to engage each artist in a conversation about their experiences at NIAD and how they felt they had changed.
One year after data collection began, Dyer analyzed the data and determined that the studio art program appeared successful in moving the needle in participants’ commitment to art-making and their development of a distinctive artistic style–attributes that staffers believed were tied to their ability to sell their work and generate income. She also was able to document that, for many artists, more time at NIAD led to increased social skill development, including the ability to work calmly with others in the large studio. She further learned that the shift in these meaningful outcomes was much more discernible if the artist participated at NIAD at least three times a week. As a result, she decided not to accept new artists who were able to commit to attending NIAD’s studio art program only once or twice a week, as they were not reaping the benefits of the program.
Said Dyer, “This topic [of program evaluation] is especially hard in arts organizations as they have focused on activities rather than the impact of programs. Add in the disability portion and it becomes even harder. Eleanor walked the staff through the process [of developing appropriate and meaningful participant outcomes] and brought consensus to this necessary step so everyone understood the importance in attracting funding as well as improving the program using solid data.”