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Arts Learning and Education Research: What Are We Up To?

As you might have noticed in the flurry of communication about all things new for us (new name, new strategic plan, new logo, new set of work imperatives), Arts Cleveland is also igniting a new focus on the arts learning and education ecosystem.

This is exciting work, but anyone who knows this field, knows it’s a monstrous area of study. There are lots of players, variables and unknowns, and we are treading carefully to make sure we fully understand it. Megan Van Voorhis, our president and CEO, said in an interview with ideastream’s Carrie Wise, “There is so much conversation happening around ensuring access to out-of-school-time activities and so many investments that are being made in that space. One of the things I think we provide, is that systems-level view of what’s happening there.”

"playable" life-size figures by local students

To kick off this work, a critical first step is an intensive field scan of local arts education programming happening outside of and up to the school systems. The research process, which will continue into 2019, will rely on outreach—including interviews and focus groups—and analyzing existing data sets. Happy to report, the project is in motion! You may have already received an email from me looking to talk, while Kristin, our senior researcher, has begun analyzing program location data from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture

Take a look at a few FAQ’s about this work and what’s to come:

Q. Why is Arts Cleveland getting involved in this work and why now?

A. Arts in learning and education is one of our strongest public opinion messages when it comes to investments in arts and culture, yet we know the least about it. During our strategic planning process, we heard that local research in arts learning would provide significant benefits, and stakeholders would like Arts Cleveland to apply our research skills in that area. Having a group like us do this is beneficial because we’re local, and we can respond quickly to the arts learning field’s data needs. Arts Cleveland also has a long history of doing this kind of work in the community and has a dynamic understanding of the arts and culture sector in Cuyahoga county.

Q. What is the ultimate goal for this research?

A. We’re aiming to provide a picture of the community-based arts education ecosystem in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. We will identify unique strengths, opportunities for development, and help better articulate and prove impact. We heard from folks in the arts education field, that there is no common language around evaluation. Breaking through some of the silos in the field would help provide continuity and support the idea of an arts learning ecosystem. This research can also help address some specific issues within the field such as concerns around duplication of programming & activities.

Q. Why is the focus only on out-of-school or community-based programming?

A. Data around arts education that already exists largely relates to the schools, and other efforts are underway that address in-school programming such as the recently launched Ohio Arts Education Data Dashboard. There is little to no information in aggregate related to out-of-school or community-based arts learning programs.

OAC Arts Education Data

Q. Why are you doing more research instead of taking action on a solution? How is more research better than action?

A. It’s difficult to take action or find a solution if you don’t understand the full scope of issues in any given area. Our experience tells us that research is a foundational first step to changing minds, building a common understanding of value, and making long-lasting change. 

Q. Are you going to send me a survey?

A. We don't have any surveys planned at the moment. To start, we’re going to leverage, interviews, existing data sets and potentially focus groups for the info gathering.

Q. How is the community going to benefit from this research?

A. This particular project will allow us to gain a clearer understanding of what arts education programs exist, where they are and when they’re happening. Once we have that picture, we’ll be able to compare that data with what the community wants and what’s missing. Organizations and individuals providing this kind of programming can use this information to help connect with one another, fill service gaps and advocate. We’ll also be able to provide funders and policy makers with the most relevant and up-to-date data, which can help them make informed decisions and ultimately benefit those participating in arts learning programs. 

We have a lot of work ahead of us and we’re just getting started. Stay connected with us and keep an eye out for data briefs along the way.

Categories: Arts Education, community, research, strategic planning, teaching

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