The Art of Evaluation

Tools of the Trade

On my third day in London, I got lucky and was offered a place on a sold-out workshop hosted by the Live Art Development Agency that just sounded too intriguing to be missed. Here’s the description that caught my attention:

Fed up with the standard evaluation surveys? Situations and the University of Central Lancashire have been developing an innovative new group based evaluation method to move beyond overt measures of impact and unlock the deeper story of an artwork’s effects on the imagination.

Titled Thinking Beyond Measure, the day-long event, part of the Public Art Now national programme of events, promised a mixture of practice and theory to explore the scope of results and potential applications of what the research team calls the Visual Matrix: an interpretation process based on a series of images that act as prompts to elicit associative thinking and make it easier for people to think and talk about their experience.

The case studies we discussed were Nowhereisland, an itinerant, durational and participatory project by artist Alex Hartley produced by Situations in 2012 as part of Artists Taking the Lead, the Cultural Olympiad series of major commissions –  and Verity, the Damien Hirst’s half-sliced pregnant bronze warrior loaned for 20 years to the Devon resort of Ilfracombe, one of Nowhereisland’s port of call.

The research team, led by Professor Lynn Froggett and Dr. Ali Roy from UCLAN in association with Situations, conducted an evaluation in Ilfracombe on both works in 2013, one year on. They used the Visual Matrix alongside other forms of evaluation to explore Nowhereisland and Verity’s respective role in reflecting local engagement and citizenship, as well as their legacy in terms of change and transformation.

I’ve summarised a few key points from the day but there would be much more to say – not least about the contrasts in findings between the two selected works and between different methods.

Process

First, some disclaimers: the workshops featured two sample 20-minute Visual Matrix and participant feedback sessions, one on each work, so a short version of the 2 first steps of the full process. Besides, workshop participants had, for the vast majority, no direct experience of the artworks – this was meant to be an exercise. By contrast, the case studies that we were somehow reproducing had gathered people with a varied range of exposure to both artworks, from passer-bys to contributors, all living in Ilfracombe and therefore able to reflect on a personal and community level on the effect of these two artworks on citizenship and their legacy of change.

1. The Visual Matrix

Ideal group size should be between 6 and 20, with at least 2 facilitators.

– Chairs are arranged in a snowflake formation – concentric circles that are slightly out of alignment to avoid direct eye contact.

No introductions are made: this is to avoid the bias of expertise and authority that can sometimes be overwhelming in a traditional focus group.

– Participants are explained that they will be shown a slideshow of 20 to 30 images, each lasting for 10 seconds, about which they can then express what they feel – what it reminds them of, in which state of mind they find themselves. They are expressedly ask to suspend judgement and refrain from interpreting or analysing what they see, and instead to feel what the images do to them.

– In the ensuing 1-hour session, which can occasionally be stirred – but not chaired – by the facilitators, participants should be reaching a state of “rêverie”, gliding from one idea to the other. They are not quite holding a group conversation, but rather letting their mind go back to the images and the experience itself  and absorb the new thoughts and images produced by the group.

– A form of documentation, such as note-taking, audio and/or video recording – whichever is most practical and less intrusive – is essential to this stage of the process.

2. Feedback with participants

After a short break, the participants, guided by the facilitators, start pulling together the themes that emerge from the Visual Matrix. This was an interesting process of convergence, pulling together the threads of information produced in the first part of the session, and we worked as a group to make sense of what had been expressed. One of the facilitator organised the ideas in a visual form.

3. Feedback with research group

Reconvening after another break, the research group – now on their own – starts to analyse the participants’ responses, working on their memories and notes of the Visual Matrix session as well as the synthesis co-produced by the participants. The nature and quality of the metaphors and the vitality – or lack of – with which they were produced are equally taken into consideration.

4. Wider discussion

The last phase of the process looks once again at the Matrix results and the layers of interpretation created by the participants and the research group, and can involve external advisors if appropriate: the aim here is to expand and generalise the results, for example to the realm of policy-making.

Benefits of the Visual Matrix

The Visual Matrix is inspired by Social Dreaming and aims at unlocking the deeper effects of an artwork on the imagination. Because it is based on imagery and metaphors, and not on expertise or status, such process makes it easier for anyone to participate. All thoughts are valid and they feed into one another to express a rich and nuanced response to an artwork or situation.

It is essentially a collective, participatory process, which seems appropriate to explore the collective resonance of complex works of public art (or other situations in the public realm).

It is also an open-ended creative process, and as such closer to the artistic process itself than sliding scales of enjoyment or debates about taxpayers’ ROI.

Considerations

The workshop allowed plenty of time for a group exchange about theoretical and practical considerations, and here are the ones that stuck out for me.

A. Training

The Visual Matrix method has been used for a while in different settings, but introducing it as part of a new evaluation framework for the arts would take some dissemination and training. It would be interesting to get to practice the interpretation steps and to be guided by an experienced mentor, to be able to reap the full benefits in a set amount of time.

B. Participants

Results are highly influenced by the group composition, and the dynamics between the participants will have a bearing not just on what they produce, but also on the ‘quality’ of the matrix – whether it is solid and keeps going in a steady state of “rêverie”, or breaks down into analysis and critical judgement.

Participants for the two case studies presented mostly responded to invitations from mailing lists and in the local media; they were self-selected and not screened against specific criteria.

My concerns here are as much about outreach – to attract a varied group of participants – and effective facilitation, to create the right setting and understand barriers and biases.

C. Image selection

The matrix is supported by visual materials – although other types of sensory prompts could be used, such as sound or movement – so it seems rather important to choose them well. It is probably also worth stating to the participants that the sequence of images is not meant to form a narrative sequence.

Practical Applications

This is an interesting method not just for evaluating the effects and legacy of public art, but also any collective experience: for example, applied to a volunteer programme, this method would allow to go much deeper than focus groups to uncover the intrinsic motivations of arts volunteers and the benefits of volunteering. It enables to measure success in terms of effect, not just figures.

Just like any other evaluation method, the trick is in the interpretation of the findings – and as it’s the part of the Matrix that we didn’t get to do by ourselves, I look forward to more workshops and guided applications to learn more about the process.

 

www.situations.org.uk
www.uclan.ac.uk
www.publicartnow.com

Activate your Alley

Spotlight

…and so the alley could once again become a special world, not so much a place for the discards and helpless but for a wider range of city dwellers. It offers one of the few urban rather than suburban or rural ‘retreats’, an enclave just off the busy street, a step away from the hurly burly.

from Alleys: A Hidden Resource by Grady Clay

As the streets of Toronto are disappearing one more time under a beautiful blanket of snow that will turn in no time at all into slush and ice, an article on alleys and urban renewal in Torontoist made me long for the days when you can go out without the mandatory down-filled uniform (video). After all, now is the perfect time to plan for next summer’s alley parties, so here are a few thoughts, images and links.

Eventful Alleys

World Cup screening, Alley Network Project, Seattle (2010)

World Cup screening, Alley Network Project, Seattle (2010)

‘Alley activation’ is one of the core activities of Seattle-based not-for-profit International Sustainability Institute. Focusing on the network of alleys around the historical Pioneers Square and working collaboratively with residents, business owners and community groups, they have developed the Alley Project Network to promote local arts, commerce and healthy living.

Since 2008, the Alley Network Project has hosted art installations, documentary screenings, bike festivals, Tour de France and World Cup viewing parties and performance art shows, attracting over 5,000 visitors to the alleys surrounding Pioneer Square.

They share the lessons learned in a handbook (pdf) that provides a step-by-step guide to organising an alley event, from a planning checklist that would be relevant to most situations (including cleaning, signage, communicating with residents…) to a breakdown of the alley permit application in Seattle, useful to understand the kind of process and responsibilities that might be involved in other contexts and plan in consequence.

The handbook opens with the guiding principle behind the ‘alley activation’:

WHY EVENTS?
Putting people in your alley is a first step. People breath new life into spaces that have long been used for illegal activity or dumping trash. Our approach was to throw unique events. After hosting numerous events over several years, we can see Pioneer Square’s alleys transforming. A bicycle repair shop recently moved into one alley – with its front entrance in the alley. Plants and flower pots are starting to sprout up in the nooks and crannies of alleys. And some shops now feature their signs and menus on alley doors. All of these steps are collectively starting to change how these spaces are perceived and used.

The cobbled back streets have hosted photo slams (local professional journalists presenting 5 to 8 minute photographic essays on a variety of topics, from prison photography to portraiture), a summer festival called Alley-Palooza, various screenings (documentaries, World Cup, Tour de France…), PARK(ing) Day installations and an annual dog parade (with hot chocolate and live music), all of which are free, broadly inclusive and involve local businesses or interest groups. Coming up: a Bike Love Party, with beer and tattoos. In late 2013, the Project also led a series of community consultation workshops to develop a new “historically appropriate” lighting and resurfacing design.

alley-Open-House-10.3-1024x768

Alley Design Concepts Survey ‘open house’ (2013)

———————

There are many other projects around the world injecting a new life into the dark and neglected back alleys, most of which I borrowed from Vancouver blog This City Life.

Green Alleys

Vancouvery Photo c:o Ben Nelms for National Post

Country Lane, Vancouver (Photo: Ben Nelms for National Post)

Vancouver has been running a Country Lane programme for several years, ‘countrifying’ back lanes by depaving them, save for 2 concrete strips, and planting durable grass.

Montréal has a similar volunteer-run programme, Ruelles Vertes – the website offers lots of links and practical tips (in French).

Chicago has retrofitted over 100 laneways since 2006 and produced a free Green Alley Handbook (pdf) for inspiration.

San Francisco is also developing a community-led Living Alley concept and offers workshops to residents to help them design and implement a Living Alley Network.

Ruelle Verte, Montréal (photo Sylvain Ouellet)

Ruelle Verte, Montréal (photo: Sylvain Ouellet)

Public Art & Design

Athens street

Pittaki Street, Athens, Before Light & Imagine the City (2013)

Sydney has developed a curated programme of commissioned public art, Laneway Art, featuring among many other projects the lovely Forgotten Songs by Michael Thomas Hill, a sound installation commemorating the songs of fifty diurnal and nocturnal birds once heard in central Sydney; yarn-bombed steps in Sussex Lane by Knitta founder Magda Sayeg; and a giant PVC donut by Brook Andrew.

Austin Art Alliance created “temporary activations” in Alley #111, a “mix of installations and multi-generational happenings” including visual and sound installation, an opening party, a Pecha Kucha and a family day.

Athens-based non-for-profit urban renewal organisation Imagine The City partnered with creative studio Before Light to illuminate one seedy back-alley for one year, gathering “Chandeliers, shantungs, bell shades, paper Asian lanterns (…) retrofitted with new wiring and weatherproofing” to create a party-ready fairy-tale atmosphere (video) that makes the alley both safer and prettier.

Dublin‘s city centre Dame Lane got ‘activated’ for 8 full days by designers me&him&you, who conducted a community consultation to install colourful custom seating, a ‘play me’ piano and lots of plants.

And finally, small street parties everywhere have their own planning toolkit (covered a few months ago) which goes hand-in-hand with the outdoor event accessibility guide.

Laneway Project Dublin

Laneway Project Dublin by me&him&you (2010)

Street Art

Most of the banner images I use on this blog were taken in Toronto’s back alleys.  They provide access to garages and business back doors – and, incidentally, perfect canvases for street artists.

Lego Head - Spud & DMC

Lego Head – Spud & DMC – via Torontoist

Toronto is developing guidelines and programmes for street art, encouraging commissioned murals to ‘beautify’ neighbourhoods and deter vandalism (including graffiti). A map of these official murals is available on the City website, and if some are easily forgotten, others are pretty epic, such as Andrew Schoultz’s ‘The Winds Are Changing‘, which I try to walk by as often as I can.

Left to their own devices, alleys develop other interesting sights. Local guide Graeme Perry (from whose website the opening Grady Clay quote is borrowed) has been leading free walking and cycling alley tours for 10 years and has documented his favourite categories on his website: greenery, textures and ‘funk dump junk’.

Graeme Perry_GreenGraeme Perry_TextureGraeme Perry_funk dump junk

Local photographer and urban cyclist advocate Yvonne Bambrick also captures the alley sights, here framed within reclaimed bicycle wheels:

Yvonne Bambrick, Rusted (2013)

Yvonne Bambrick, Rusted (2013)

Yvonne Bambrick hot pink

Yvonne Bambrick, Hot Pink (2013)

If Toronto’s alleys lend themselves well to urban exploration and graffiti safaris, they’re also prime estate for another type of activation, also a bit more on the wild side than previous examples.

Every summer for the past 3 years now, the Ossington neighbourhood has hosted an Alleyway Party that has everything from local bands – including Toronto’s very own Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk-Super Band, dancing in the rain, communal BBQ, giant Scrabble and collective garage door painting. It’s a bring-your-own, pass-the-hat affair between neighbours, with no lane closure – traffic is usually very light – or formal schedule. Time to get planning…

Ossington Village Alleyway Party

Ossington Village Alleyway Party (2012)

Ossington Village Alleyway Party Scrabble

The Art of Disruption

Programming

How to present what you do, as a freelancer/contractor? How to be both descriptive enough to be credible, yet keep the door open to new collaborations? As François Matarasso puts it: “In this neoliberal world, where people are commoditised, a freelancer must be ready to stand in the shop window, if not the auction block, in his best clothes. We’ve all got an elevator pitch now.”

In a perhaps misguided attempt to cover all grounds, I’m currently using ‘Events Manager, Audience Developer and Translator’ on my business card. My ‘services’ page also lists Programme Management & Coordination, Research and Copywriting. I could go on – but I’m not sure that adding more specialities would make my achievements and skills look any better. In fact, such an enumeration is not even reflecting what I do overall.

That’s why I’m using ‘Cultural Producer’ on my ‘about’ page and on LinkedIn: because it’s not just describing the different parts of the process, but how they’re all converging.

Jeremy Deller, Procession (Manchester International Festival, 2009) via BBC Manchester website

Jeremy Deller, Procession (Manchester International Festival, 2009) via BBC Manchester website

I like this definition, used by someone called Gina Tarantino in her Penn State University blog:

A creative cultural producer is a professional that plans, designs, organizes and manages artistic projects that have a cultural impact on the public that will interact with them.

Play Me I'm Yours, 2012, Toronto (Mexico piano, University & Dundas)

Play Me I’m Yours, Mexico piano (Toronto, Canada 2012)

And even more this one, developed by London-based creative company Nimble Fish to describe their own practice, which they felt was not accurately reflected by the categories “Theatre” or “Theatre-in-Education”:

Cultural Producers establish, implement and manage a self-generated creative vision, typically outside the purview of traditional performance or gallery spaces. Cultural Producers are rarely restricted to a single artistic form, preferring instead to work with whatever combination of forms best suits a particular idea or theme. Cultural Producers often seek to animate or re-interpret public spaces in the context of the communities they serve, and consequently their work often has a strong component of community participation or co-creation.

City-wide flood simulation produced by La Folie Kilomètre and pOlau

Jour Inondable, city-wide flood simulation produced by La Folie Kilomètre and pOlau (Tours, France , 2012)

Arts Council England and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation commissioned a 2007 publication titled “The Producers: Alchemists of the Impossible” to “celebrate and explore the role of the producer in the arts” through 14 portraits of creative individuals.

One of the featured producers is Helen Marriage, co-founder of Artichoke, “a creative company that works with artists to invade our public spaces and put on extraordinary and ambitious events that live in the memory forever”. Artichoke will probably forever be known for the Sultan’s Elephant (see below), but they’ve also created, more recently, the city-wide night-time Lumière events in Durham and Derry-Londonderry, the giant spider in Liverpool and One & Other, Anthony Gormley’s Fourth Plinth Commission project.

Durham Cathedral, Lumière Festival Durham, produced by Artichoke (2009)

Durham Cathedral, Lumière Festival Durham, produced by Artichoke (Durham, UK, 2009)

In 2012-2013, Helen Marriage was awarded a Loeb Fellowship by Harvard Graduate School of Design, to “study the intersection of design, public art and urban infrastructure”. She has since embarked on a series of talks and seminars on the topic of cultural disruption and ephemeral urbanism, and her recent presentation at the Ramsay Gardens Seminar series is summarised on International Futures Forum’s website.

She retraces the 5-year journey to get permission to close streets in London and stage a huge peripatetic performance, recalling the shifting point that made it all possible and the self-discovery that ensued:

For the first three years the answer was always no. But in the end the mood shifted:  from “why would we do this?” (a plea for justification, outcomes, evidence) to “why would we not do this?” (an enrolment in playing a part in producing something magical).  Helen’s message – “it will be fantastic and you will be really proud” – finally struck home.

In retrospect, she realised that she herself had been the problem. She had been asking an impossible question – in asking for permission. They could not possibly say yes. But once it got into the minutes that the event was scheduled to happen, everyone assumed that somebody else had given authority and from then on their role was to help.  It was a valuable lesson and one that she now follows always: her job is to take responsibility, to be the bearer of risk for everyone involved, which frees them up to be as helpful and creative as they can without formally ‘owning’ the project themselves.

Artichoke: Sultan's Elephant (London, 2006)

Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke & Royal de Luxe (London, UK, 2006)

Reviewing The Producers for a-n , Charlotte Frost surveyed a number of established cultural production agencies (listed below). Despite clear differences, such as the diversity of organisational structures, she finds them to share three key functions:

  1. Matchmaking collaborative relationships: combining artists and artforms, often assembling a custom back-end team, and bringing together projects and venues, funders and other supporters.
  2. Providing the necessary time and space: directly by providing physical space (Artsadmin) or virtual platforms (Furtherfield.org), and also through committing to the long-term durational process (Artangel).
  3. Being the “risk absorber” (Steven Bode, Director of FVU): “Every project starts from square-one in terms of the producer having to find creative partners, a venue and, usually, funders” (Electra Co-Founder and Director Lina Dzuverovic); “Its very important that all of us, Artsadmin, Artangel, Forma, and everyone else… keep encouraging new work to happen, if we don’t, everything will get very stagnant. That is, what is inspiring and compelling for us, and it is something that I would reiterate to Arts Council England, this experimental work influences the mainstream and feeds everything else.” (Judith Knight, Co-Founder and Director of Artsadmin).
Floating Cinema, Up Projects (London, 2013)

Floating Cinema, Up Projects (London, 2013)

The video below shows the LIFT Festival production of Haircuts by Children, an “aesthetically scintillating experience”  developed by Toronto-based culture production workshop Mammalian Diving Reflex that has already been re-created in 30 cities.  Artistic Director Darren O’Donnell explains:

Haircuts by Children involves children between the ages of 8-12 are trained by professional hairstylists, and then paid to run a real hair salon, offering members of the public free haircuts. The project invites the consideration of young people as creative and competent individuals whose aesthetic choices can be trusted. While providing atypical entertainment for the public, Haircuts by Children also shifts the traditional power dynamic between children and adults, creating a safe social space where children and adults who live in the same community can meet and share a unique creative experience together. The idea that kids should be allowed to cut our hair evokes the same leap of faith, courage and understanding required to grant children deeper citizenship rights. For many it is actually less terrifying to contemplate allowing kids to vote.

Links:

UK

artangel.org.uk
artichoke.uk.com
artsadmin.co.uk
electra-productions.com
forma.org.uk
furtherfield.org
nimble-fish.co.uk
upprojects.com

CANADA

www.mammalian.ca

FRANCE

www.lafoliekilometre.org
www.polau.org

Jeppe Hein, Follow Me, Bristol, 2009. Photo: Jamie Woodley­. Courtesy University of Bristol

The New Rules of Public Art

The Long Read

Public Art Now

Demand new rules for public art now!

An organisation born in Bristol, UK, Situations reimagines what public art can be and where and when it can take place. We like to think and reflect on what happens when the spark of an idea is lit. We test out new ways in which to share those ideas through new commissions, events, interviews, books and blogs – just like this, The New Rules of Public Art.

Sign-up here to receive a link to download your free ‘The New Rules of Public Art’ poster or scroll down to get hold of your very own rulebook. In the meantime enjoy, share and debate The Rules.

THE NEW RULES OF PUBLIC ART

Rule no. 01

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO LOOK LIKE PUBLIC ART.

The days of bronze heroes and roundabout baubles are numbered. Public art can take any form or mode of encounter –…

View original post 887 more words

Second Floor

Virtual Street Art: Tour Paris 13

Spotlight

Tour Paris 13 is an old crumbling residential tower in Paris’ 13th arrondissement marked for demolition in less than a month. It’s also, for that remaining time, allegedly the biggest collective street art project realised to date. Over 100 artists, coming from 16 different countries, were invited to use the 9-floor, 36-apartment tower as their canvas – from the basement to the facade and every single inch of the floors, walls and ceilings.

The art is as real as it gets and visiting the tower is free as long as it’s still standing, in small groups of 49 people maximum at a time for safety reasons. So what’s virtual about it? How we can experience it.

El Seed

El Seed

While the artists were working inside the tower, the project was kept under wraps and extensively filmed by Thomas Lallier – in preparation for a documentary – and audio recorded by French public service Radio France (well known for their excellent ‘création radiophonique’, or radio art), to create an immersive digital experience.

Second Floor

Second Floor

When ‘visiting’ an apartment, a collage of user-generated images scrolls across the screen, revealing the space by fragments, and the voices of the artists at work raise above the ‘soundtrack’: traffic, sirens, footsteps echoing in these empty spaces, doors creaking, phones ringing, and the sound of the spray can, with that clicking of the shaking and phrasing of the breathing, in long lines and short bursts.

Sébastien Preschoux

Sébastien Preschoux

The project was spearheaded by Galerie Itinerrance, a local gallery specialised in street art. It’s not the first time that it spills out of the walls: as well as representing artists and showing their work, gallery owner Mehdi Ben Cheikh has been offering ‘official’ outdoor tours to discover large-scale murals in the neighbourhood (presumably commissioned). In an interview available on the Tour Paris 13 website (with English subtitles), he talks about his remit, as a street art gallerist, to have an ‘urban practice’. He also tries to describe the tower project:

I don’t like the word exhibition. It’s something a bit strange… It’s not a museum, it’s not a gallery, it’s not a wasteland neither, it’s not a squat… It’s a mix of all of these. It’s something more or less organised, but that still has a soul.

He also talks about the role of the internet – and therefore of digital experiences such as the tower’s – in making street art “the first truly international movement”.

Shoof

Shoof

After 31st October, the Tour will be closed to the public, but the website will remain accessible. During the following 10 days, virtual visitors will be asked to ‘save’ the art by clicking on what they want to keep, pixel by pixel. The resulting archive will become a ‘witness’ of the artistic project.

Mosko

Mosko

Finally, the 52-minute documentary that will be released in September 2014 will reveal the creative process of the artists involved, but also the history of the tower itself and of the neighbourhood, pre- and post-urban renewal.

Sean Hart

Sean Hart

All photos are from Tour Paris 13‘s website; click on images to access the artists’ individual photo gallery, interview and biography.