It’s 8am on a Saturday, and I’m barely awake. I’m in my car, headed towards the 12-hour parking along 21st St near the Parkway. By the time my meter runs out at 7pm this evening, though, my day will still be going strong. I’m working at the Philadelphia Museum of Dance, and it’s going to be a quite long, but also quite interesting, day.
Before all is said and done, I will have sorted thousands of program guides, surveys, and bright pink bracelets into bags for volunteer docents and surveyors, helped to construct event signage, welcomed and responded to the questions and concerns of 30 volunteers, and recorded more than 20 conversations with audience members. The volunteers will collectively welcome 1,500 visitors, gather almost 250 audience intercept surveys, and answer countless questions from attendees. Then there are the dances, and the dance artists, which I will do my best to catch as many glimpses of as I can during the day, though I can’t linger in any one spot for too long, because my job is to find out what other people here today are experiencing. I am the evaluator for the Philadelphia Museum of Dance, and I have just one day to gather everything I want to know about the audience and their experiences.
After the day is over, there will be more data to gather, and many more conversations to have. The evaluation of this project involves considering its impact from six different perspectives, including those of the audience, the co-curators, the three partnering institutions who produced and presented it, the 115 dance students from five area colleges who participated in one of the pieces commissioned for the event, the professional dance artists who performed, and the volunteers. Some of these perspectives will be assessed by surveys, others by personal interviews. All of them matter in understanding what can be learned from a project like this one.
The Philadelphia Museum of Dance was made possible by a grant to Westphal College from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. As the project’s evaluator, my role is to determine what was achieved relative to the project’s artistic and other goals, and what was learned along the way. It’s a complex set of questions, requiring a substantial investment of my time and attention in collecting and assessing data. Though I’ve been attending weekly project meetings for about a year, my work really takes off now, with the review of many hours of audio interviews and hundreds of survey responses.
I’m able to do this work because this year I received a gift that few other people I know are offered — a sabbatical. I have been granted about six months to focus on my research, and in that time period I am relieved of my teaching and other responsibilities to Drexel. Sabbaticals provide time for individuals to take a deep dive into their personal or professional development, by freeing them from the usual pace and process of their work. They are purposely designed to enable a different kind of productivity to occur, one that simply can’t happen in the midst of our regular day-in, day-out activities.
For me, this sabbatical is a chance to spend more concentrated time on research than I have been able to in my tenure at Drexel so far. Normally, I simply wouldn’t be able to give a project as large as the Philadelphia Museum of Dance the time and attention it deserves, but a sabbatical enables me to do exactly that. My research focuses on arts advocacy, how we make the case for arts and culture, and why individuals and communities care about it. Over time, I have realized that there’s a connection between how cultural organizations evaluate their programs and how we engage in arts advocacy. Namely, the way any given organization conducts its program evaluation represents their assessment of its value and impact — that same value and impact that we use to advocate for the arts.
That’s why I am excited to have this sabbatical (though I really do miss getting to know everyone in class!). It’s giving me the time not only to do full due diligence on the evaluation of the Philadelphia Museum of Dance, but to reflect on the ways that program evaluation and arts advocacy are related, and reinforce one another. I’ll be excited to come back to class next spring, too, ready to share what I’ve learned and experienced along the way.
For more information on the Philadelphia Museum of Dance, please visit http://charmatz.westphal.drexel.edu/pmd/
To reach Julie, send her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.