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ACA TIG Week: Setting the Stage: Evaluating Live Performance Attendance

My name is Rekha S. Rajan and I am an associate professor at Concordia University Chicago and program leader for the Masters degree in grant writing, management, and evaluation. I am also the author of the books: Integrating the Performing Arts in Grades K-5, Grant Writing: Practical Strategies for Scholars and Professionals, and the forthcoming titles, In the Spotlight: Children’s Experiences in Musical Theater, and Musical Theater in Schools.

Lessons Learned: The value of the arts has consistently been debated, discussed, and challenged both within schools and in our communities. As an arts educator, I have been involved in many of these discussions at the state and national levels. As an evaluator of arts-based programs and partnerships, and with a background in teacher education, I have had the opportunity to see “both sides of the coin” – to observe how learning takes place in schools, and to find ways of documenting the process of arts engagement.

Even for those of us who know how important the arts are to learning and development, the question often arises as to how do we document learning in the arts? The field of evaluation is a resolution to this conflict, providing strategies for exploring artistic experiences across a wide range of contexts, disciplines, and programs.

In a recent evaluation that I completed for the Chicago Humanities Festival, I was asked to document student engagement with live multimedia performance. The Stages Engagement Pilot Program (SEPP) was developed as an extension of the First Time for a Lifetime initiative through the Chicago Humanities Festival, with the goal of examining student learning and appreciation for live theater. Importantly, students experienced live performance, leaving their classrooms to be audience members.

Many evaluators and researchers might look at another arts evaluation and say – “we know the arts are important, so what?” However, every arts program is unique, often only bringing one discipline (music, theater, dance, visual arts) into classrooms. The value is found in the types of activities that engage students, the artistic discipline, and the level of active participation that extends after the program concludes.

A central component of the SEPP program was that students were engaged in a pre- and post-performance activity that was designed with strong collaboration between the teachers and teaching artists. The opportunity to prepare in advance was beneficial for the teachers, artists, and students, enabling everyone involved to clarify expectations and follow through with activities after the performance.

Hot Tip: Although funders often place a heavy emphasis on quantitative reporting, much of what we know about the learning that takes place through the arts is evident in the rich narratives and observations of qualitative data. Any evaluation of arts programs should strive to be mixed-methods in the approach, to provide the statistical data that funders need coupled with examples of student work, teachers’ perceptions, and the teaching artists’ experiences.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Arts, Culture, and Audiences (ACA) TIG Week. The contributions all week come from ACA TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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