Evaluation, Research, Strategy

Measuring the Impact of Arts & Culture

A family had been supporting an opera house in South America for the past decade. A legacy of the recently deceased father, the children now wanted to understand the impact of the theatre on the surrounding populace, in particular on youth.

Our Role

We worked with one of our strategic partners to conduct a Social Return on Impact (SROI) analysis of the theatre. The goal was to produce a report for the family, as well as a public version which could be used to encourage others to support the theatre.

Measuring the impact of a particular arts and culture program, especially on a segment of the population that might only be exposed to that program once a year, is very difficult. We spent months combing through a combination of publicly available data and, once we were in the field, conducted in-person interviews with nearly 3 dozen stakeholders.

Project Success

The social return was indeed strong, but not in the way that the family had expected. While the impact of listening to classical music once may pale in comparison to the ongoing efforts by the local school system, the family could indeed feel proud that they had supported the project, as the theatre had created a bridge between different socio-economic classes in the region. This was, for many people we interviewed, their only chance to feel connected to wealthier community members. For the children in particular, it provided a way to socialize and make friends with other children, regardless of the wealth or class of their parents.

What We Learned

The end result of the research was astounding to us, because it was completely contrary to what we had expected at the outset of the project. The true impact of the theatre resulted from bringing two worlds together – rich and poor – and not by exposing the children to Beethoven or Bach.

We saw, however, that various stakeholders in the arts world were less than pleased with the results, as the original narrative was one that they had a hard time letting go of.