Monday, 21 March 2011

Is it possible to measure the impact?

Pororoca, by Brazilian choreographer Lia Rodrigues,
presented at Culturgest in April 2010. (Photo: Sammi Landween)
When we speak about the intrinsic value of culture in general, and the arts in particular, we believe there is no way to evaluate it. We defend it by intuition, from our own experience, using empirical evidence, but it doesn´t seem possible to us to research it scientifically. This is a subject of particular interest to me, so I was very curious when I came across a reference to a study entitled Assessing the intrinsic impacts of a live performance. What I found on the Interner was this summary of the results of the study, which I started reading with great interest.

The study was carried out by WolfBrown, an american company dedicated to the study of the arts and culture. Alan Brown, in particular, has carried out various studies related to the intrinsic impact and community involvement. Together with the co-author of the study, Jennifer Novak, Brown explains that through their research they tried to define and measure how audiences are transformed by a live performance. More specifically, they based their research on three hypotheses: 1) that the intrinsic impacts from attending a live performance can be measured; 2) that different types of performance create different sets of impacts; and 3) that an audience member´s ‘readiness to receive’ the art affects the impacts received. Between January and May 2006, they surveyed audiences of a total of 19 performances of various genres of music, dance and theatre. They used two questionnaires, one before the performance, that would evaluate the respondents´s mental and emotional preparedness for it, and another one after the performance, filled in at home, that aimed to investigate a range of reactions to that specific performance.

Through the first questionnaire, the researchers aimed to measure: the context index (how much experience and knowledge the individual had about the performance and the performers); the relevance index (an inidividual´s comfort level with the performance experience, that is the extent to which one was in a familiar situation, socially and culturally); the anticipation index (the individual´s psychological state immediately prior to the performance, his/her expectations). Through the second questionnaire, Brown and Novak tried to identify and measure the impacts of the performances on respondents. The indices defined were: captivation, intellectual stimulation, emotional resonance, spiritual value, aesthetic growth and social bonding.

All this sounded fascinating. But I couldn´t imagine what kind of questions they had asked in order to evaluate and reach some conclusions regarding these factors. So I wrote to Alan Brown and he was kind enough to quickly send me the complete report, including the questionnaires and tables of results.

Neva, by chilean company Teatro en el Blanco, presented at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in June 2010, part of  the programme Next Future.
(Photo: Taina Azeredo)
The first part of the study tried to identify the openness / preparedness of people for living the performance experience. Questions in this questionnaire, that aims to explore the above mentioned three indices, seem to be quite obvious and direct: previous knowledge of the work of the performers and familiarity with the specific art genre; frequency of attending performances of this or other kinds; information sources regarding the performance; details about organizing going to the performance; group constitution; main reasons for attending; state of mind, enthusiasm and expectations that one would enjoy the performance. Very briefly, the results of this first part of the survey indicate that respondents with a higher context index were more likely to benefit from the performance; the majority buys tickets for performances within their cultural comfort zone; expectations for a pleasant experience are the best indicator that the performance will result in satisfaction.

In what concerns the second part of the survey, questions regarding each index of impact were the following:

Captivation: to what degree were they absorbed, lost track of time and forgot about everything else?

Intellectual stimulation: did they feel provoked, challenged, intellectually involved, did they reflect on their own opinions and ideias, were there things they would like to ask the performers about, did they discuss the meaning of the performance with others who attended?

Emotional resonance: was the emotional response strong, which were most intense emotions, did they relate to the performers, was the performance therapeutic for them?

Spiritual value: did they feel inspired, empowered, was it a transcendent experience?

Aesthetic growth: were they exposed to a style or type of art with which they were not familiar, did they change their minds about it, did they feel more equipped to appreciate it in the future?

Social bonding: did they feel a sense of conectedness with the rest of the audience, a feeling of belonging, did the performance serve to celebrate their cultural heritage, were they exposed to a new culture, were they left with a new insight regarding human relations and social issues?

Once again very briefly, and highlighting only some of the results that were of particular interest to me, the study showed that the captivation index is related to high levels of satisfaction and influences other impacts; the majority of those surveyed would have questions to ask the performers and discussed the meaning of the performance with other people; there is a strong connection between the emotional index and the memory of the experience; feeling inspired is not necessarily an impact sought after by audiences; the majority felt better prepared to appreciate the specific type of art to which it was exposed; social bonding occurs when people are exposed to new cultures and also when they attend performances related to their cultura heritage.

In the summary of results mentioned above you may find many more details about this study and also about people´s levels of satisfaction. This survey does not aim to evaluate the quality of the performances, although some impacts may be related to it. I have some doubts whether respondents understood the meaning of some questions in the second questionnaire, especially it being self-completion one, that is, people filled it in at home without being able to ask any questions should they have any doubts. Nevertheless, I can say that reading this report satisfied my curiosity. It seems that yes, it is possible to measure and reach conclusions regarding the impacts of a live performance. My curiosity now extends to those impacts that persist, months or years later; to what remains; to how and why it remains. Registers in our memory and in our soul that don´t fade away.

Sonia, by The New Riga Theatre, presented at Maria Matos Theatre in June 2009, part of the programme Days of the (un) probable stories. (Photo: Ginta Maldera)

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