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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following is the final piece in a four-part story about our initial findings. 
 
Contributed by Alan Brown and Sean Fenton, WolfBrown

SPARK SchoolIn the SPARK project we ventured into new territory—we asked students as young as 8 to respond to in-seat surveys about the impact of a performance they had just seen. We wanted to know if young people could help us to develop a deeper understanding of the impact of live theater experiences.

Our survey instrument includes quantitative measures of emotional response, anticipation and impact, as well as open-ended questions pertaining to students' curiosity and feelings about the performances. To make this work, house staff distribute the printed surveys and special pencils during the Q&A session following each performance. Then staff collect the student responses, and everyone heads out to their school buses waiting on 42nd Street within 10 minutes. As of the end of the 2017 school year, we will have collected approximately 2,000 surveys for nine shows. As completed surveys come in, we clean, code and upload the data to an interactive dashboard through which New Vic staff can query the results.

So far, the results paint a picture of distinct "impact footprints":
  • Shows featuring acrobatics, circus acts and other spectacles tend to spark interest in the artists themselves and their training;
  • Story-based productions tend to elicit more questions about characters' emotions and production design choices;
  • Shows with more complex narratives and character arcs evoke a greater mix of positive and negative emotions in students, which may be evidence of empathy development;
  • Both spectacle-based and story-based productions can produce powerful social bridging (i.e., learning about other people and cultures) and aesthetic growth outcomes (i.e., exposure to new art forms).
Survey Results

These results suggest that an artistic director is curating impact, as much as specific works. A season is a tour through a varied emotional landscape—an opportunity to explore a magnificent range of human emotions, ideas and histories. Our work with New Vic has underscored the idea that "challenging" artistic work—work that draws on a wide emotional range, including feelings of sadness or disappointment—has an integral place in a well-curated season, alongside works that elicit feelings of joy and wonder.

The results from this study open a new chapter in our journey to understand the immediate effects or intrinsic impacts of arts programs on both children and adults. But this work is just beginning. Further analysis will investigate how students at different grade levels respond to the same work, whether students with more experience in the SPARK program respond differently and how multiple points of intervention/exposure may stack to create greater impact.

Learn more about the SPARK program here
 
 
Alan Brown Alan Brown is a leading researcher and management consultant in the nonprofit arts industry. His work focuses on understanding consumer demand for cultural experiences and helping cultural institutions, foundations and agencies see new opportunities, make informed decisions and respond to changing conditions. His studies have introduced new vocabulary to the lexicon of cultural participation and propelled the field towards a clearer view of the rapidly changing cultural landscape. 
Sean Fenton As director of WolfBrown's Intrinsic Impact audience feedback program, Sean Fenton has played a seminal role in bringing new tools and approaches to audience measurement efforts nationwide. He brings to the team a background in anthropology, community relations, communications, and arts marketing, as well as over 13 years of experience in the performing arts sector.
Posted by Beth Henderson

Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following piece is the third in a four-part story about our initial findings. 
 
Contributed by Steven Holochwost, WolfBrown

SPARKIncreasingly, arts and cultural organizations are asked whether they contribute to the greater good. Answering that question is rarely simple, particularly at a time when public and private funders alike press organizations to prove that something they did (e.g., changing concert format, working with seniors or running programs in juvenile detention centers) actually caused the change that they would like to claim (a more diverse audience, fewer doctor visits or lowered rates of recidivism).

In the case of the SPARK program, we were looking to make the case that young people who participated became different from their peers: that time spent in the world of theater could cause stronger inter- and intra-personal skills. Like many evaluators, we turned to the existing research literature to find out how others have measured the growth in these hard-to-capture domains. This method of working from past research to inform new studies has many advantages: measures taken from the research literature often reflect years of conceptualization, testing and refinement. So, drawing on past research, we decided to use a measure called Reading the Mind in the Eyes which assesses children's knowledge of other people's emotions by asking them to look at photos of the upper portion of faces and naming the emotion they detect there. Since becoming available twenty years ago, this measure has been used in over 500 published studies, including those examining the effects of theater education.

SPARKBut the measure behaved in unexpected ways. We found that children participating in The New Victory's programming—over 90% of whom were young people of color—struggled to identify the emotions in the photos—the great majority of which portrayed adult Caucasian faces. Moreover, when young people selected an incorrect option, it often reflected a hostile emotion (e.g., anger). This was a moment when the tables turned: it was time for practice to inform research. The more diverse youth in SPARK classrooms had a message for research: to assess children's ability to read emotion expressions validly, our photos had to represent the people whom SPARK students "read" and react to every day. By putting out a call to its diverse population of theater artists, New Victory staff helped to develop a revised measure that included people from a wide array of ages, cultures, and backgrounds.

We have just begun to collect data with this new tool. We may have still more to learn on our way to valid measures. But the experience opened all of our eyes—researchers, staff and teaching artists—to the ways in which research tools reflect our assumptions, including whose faces are "universal".  It was investing in sustained work in new neighborhoods, with young people of color who have not been the usual subjects of arts education research, that made this clear.

Learn more about the SPARK program here
 
 
Dr. Steven John Holochwost's interests focus around factors that mitigate the effects of risk on child development, and what programs and policy may do to foster the presence of these factors. One of these factors is access to high-quality arts education, and as such Dr. Holochwost's work with WolfBrown has centered on projects with children, including Community Music Works, From the Top and Carnegie Hall's Musical Connections. 
Posted by Beth Henderson
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