Last week, almost 200 people descended onto the campus of the Vermont College of Fine Arts to learn, network, and workshop the emerging Vermont Creative Network (VCN). The VCN is a burgeoning collective impact initiative that has been modeled after successful Vermont models like Farm to Plate. It intends to bolster and develop the creative economy in Vermont.
The Vermont Arts Council has been a leader in the work. “I envision an opportunity for a broad variety of Vermonters to come together for a single purpose of using creativity as the vehicle for making life better for all,” said Executive Director Alex Aldrich.
I was selected to attend the conference and present about Results-Based Accountability with a focus on performance measurement. Over 20 people joined the session, to learn about RBA, and work together develop performance metrics for arts organizations.
Some of the key thinking that emerged from the group:
It is possible to measure “better offs” for arts programs designed to use arts as a therapeutic tool, or with the purpose of helping people. For example, returning soldiers exposed to the arts may report an increased ability to talk about their experiences or trauma.
It is harder to measure “better offs” for programs intrinsically designed to share the arts with large audiences. How does one measure the effect of a local theatre on the surrounding community? On the patrons? What is the value of the symphony? To me, the challenges raised by these organizations were similar to the struggles that advocacy organizations can have with metrics. How do we ensure that we don’t lose sight of long-range goals in favor of short-term impacts? How do we concretely measure our influence, when it is diffuse by nature?
It is imperative that the creative economy shows up in the Vermont State Outcomes and Indicators. There is work to be done in making the case that a rich arts community contributes to a vibrant quality of life in Vermont towns.