Singing Our Praises: Case Studies in the Art of Evaluation

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Suzanne Callahan

The 171-page book, Singing Our Praises, demystifies evaluation by highlighting glowing examples of how arts presenters have used it to learn about their success. Case studies tell the stories of presenters, artists and funders as they learned about the concept of participatory evaluation and put it into practice. These voices from the field provide real-life experiences, but they also reflect some of the more universal issues that will arise for other arts practitioners. The first case study, the Chicago Dancemakers Forum, is a multi-year project that provides support for the creative process and professional development for local artists; evaluation data comes largely from the artists, and the information gathered was used to refine the program in subsequent years. The second case study, Improbable Theatre’s residency with the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Walker Art Center, with support from the British Council, is an international project that involved presenters, agents, and a government agency, and toured to some of the major national venues in the U.S. Evaluation data comes largely from audience responses to the premier of their work, The Hanging Man, and the process prompted reflection on the part of all involved about the quality of the collaboration and the relationships that have been built over the years. In both case studies, as the evaluations progressed, these arts leaders learned about the ways in which audiences and artists value their work. In both, arts practitioners discuss how they interpreted and used the information gathered. The case studies are complemented with a running commentary in the form of sidebars that explain methods used, give hints, and answer common questions. The sidebars provide some introductory training in research methods and explain common terms. Chapter 4, "Singing Your Own Praises," talks about what arts practitioners can gain from the participatory approach. A guide to applying the concepts from the book to other evaluations appears in Chapter 5, "Try This At Home." Finally, Chapter 6, "Resources," is about terminology used, online and print sources of information, alternative ideas for data collection, and summaries of some of the major national arts studies. Serving as a guide, the book’s two-pronged approach allows users to: Read compelling stories about the ways in which peers have used evaluation to learn about programs; Apply the concepts in the stories to their own situations, and incorporate their own contexts; Learn by example some of the more technical aspects of evaluation, including how to use tools such as a logic model and an evaluation plan; Identify their own outcomes and evaluation techniques, rather than merely replicate what works for others; Think about a number of ideas, through answering the summary questions at the end of each chapter; Use the tools and worksheets in the chapter entitled, "Try This At Home," to begin to conduct their own evaluations.

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