Civic Engagement and the Arts: Issues of Conceptualization and Measurement
Written for Animating Democracy's Arts and Civic Engagement Impact Initiative, this 69-page paper speaks directly to arts and civic engagement work, surveys current research, and makes recommendations for future practice. The paper has three sections. The first attempts to define and differentiate civic terms: civic engagement, social capital, public sphere, community engagement, community and civic capacity, arts, culture, humanities, social inclusion, cultural citizenship, and the cultural public sphere. It also describes three theories of action for ways the arts could influence civic engagement. They are didactic (educational), discursive (discussion-based), and ecological (environmental) theories of action. In discussing didactic theories, the authors walk readers through the history of this approach in action, giving numerous examples that span a century. In presenting discursive theories of action, the authors offer five scenarios: artist as provocateur or animateur; civic ritual and construction of community; public art, public space, and place-making; art as social inclusion strategy; and art as engagement. The ecological theories discussion explains the approach (as unintended consequences of art-making on civic culture) and offers a number of examples. The second section of the paper discusses methodological issues and strategies for arts and civic engagement work, including formulating the problem, methodological challenges, data collection, and implications for evaluation research. This portion seems tailored more to evaluators and/or program directors interested in the process of design and evaluation. The third section presents the authors' recommendations for connecting this survey of research to real-life practice. They address their recommendations and strategies according the scale of the endeavor: organization or program scale, regional scale, and initiative scale. The most comprehensive part of the recommendations section relates to organizational or program-scale strategies and describes five steps: 1) Become a learning organization. 2) Develop an approach based on principles of participatory evaluation and collaborative inquiry. 3) Build capacity for qualitative evaluation methodologies with a regional folklife or a local ethnography center. 4) Develop simple, in-house systems for broad-based participant data gathering. 5) Partner with a regional data and mapping center. The parts relating to regional scale and initiative scale strategies speak to indicators, community mapping, surveys, field schools, experimental methods, advocacy measurement, policy, outcome mapping, and developmental evaluation. The authors close with a brief section on policy context of practice. The language in this scholarly paper is somewhat complex and may be a bit challenging for some in the arts field.Graphics throughout the piece serve to enhance reader comprehension.