Artis Community is a community arts organisation based in Pontypridd – working throughout Rhondda Cynon Taf – rooted in a belief in the transformational power of creativity to make a difference to people’s lives.
It works with a host of professional and community organisations, schools, local authorities and health boards to inspire people of all ages and abilities to take part in a wide range of artforms, particularly creative dance and visual arts programmes, across the South Wales Valleys and beyond.
They’re exploring how digital technology can play a role in quantifying the social impact of participation in community arts activity, and in doing so, drive forward organisational decision making, and develop potential for investment from a wider variety of sources.
We spoke to Richie Turner about the project so far:
There are two driving forces behind community arts. The first is offering high quality artistic participatory activity. The second is for that experience to be transformative for the lives of the people and communities taking part, often by providing people with a voice or means for expression in the face of disadvantage.
But the evidence we have to prove this transformational impact is generally anecdotal or case study based, and it doesn’t always reflect the full story. We need a way of producing far more robust and objective data to show the real social impact of community arts interventions in areas around health and wellbeing, education and community regeneration. To do this, we’re looking at building an arts impact data portal, that is flexible enough to record and measure the social impact of any project. We want to show how specific interventions result in specific outcomes using actual impact data. From this we could start to learn which art forms have better outcomes for particular interventions than others.
We’re working with partners from Welsh Government and the arts, health, and education sectors to support the collection of this cumulative data. The project is also pan- Wales as our lead partner is Artworks Cymru (the Wales wide participatory arts research group). We’re aiming to build the portal quickly through agile development in the R&D phase, getting arts organisations to input data to test its effectiveness, while working with the other sectors to create a system for inputting their information.
quantifying the social impact of participation
Has this process shaped or changed your relationship with digital technology?
The real change for us has been in the recognition that using digital technology – in this case data management and analysis – can help us to be really accurate in assessing the impact of our work. The fact that the portal will be accessible to everyone takes us to a whole new level, and allows us to share that information quickly with lots of people. As an organisation we can really champion the principle of sharing data with other arts organisations as a way of making us stronger, collectively.
What impact do you think this project could have on your organisation?
Direct funding of the arts is declining and may continue to do so. Being able to better evidence our impact will allow us to promote our work to non-arts sectors, pitching ourselves against other interventions and providers to sustain ourselves financially and artistically. It will also enable us to focus activity on projects that have the highest social impact, allowing us to benchmark success against other community arts organisations working in Wales. So, robust data analysis will be at the core of a new artistic and operational model for the organisation. On a wider level though, this has the potential to impact hugely on policy making and research. It could enable government to hold clear, reliable and robust data which could embed social impact of the arts as a central component to public policy making.
Has the innovation process shaped or changed your understanding of the problem?
The biggest change came as a result of the consultation and conversation with our public sector partners. Through that conversation we’ve recognised that trying to identify a set of common indicators was way beyond the capacity of the project. It was particularly helpful to sit down with experts in data and research from Welsh Government who highlighted some of the unrealistic ambitions of the project and honed our expectations down to the simple question of ‘how best can you the impact of the work you do?’. We realised that it wasn’t our job to solve the issue of common social indicators, but instead to build something that was flexible enough to accommodate any project and any outcome from any community arts organisation.