Little Bit Of Love For Intangible Benefits In Economic Reporting

Being a big proponent of libraries a radio story by Marketplace on the value of libraries caught my attention. Being an economics focused show, their analysis initially focused on return on investment:

Farrell: Well, there’s this recent study — this one grabbed my attention — [by] three economists [from] Montana State University, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Miami University. And they calculate by some measures a healthy return on investment. So among their findings, library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkout of items by 21% and total library visits by 21%. Now, OK, that’s interesting, but increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts.

Long time readers know that I am also a proponent of not couching the value of everything in terms of economics and test scores so I was pleased that the reporters followed with a longer discussion of the intangible contributions libraries make to social cohesion:

Brancaccio: So there are interesting, almost hard-to-quantify benefits as well?

Farrell: That’s right. And that’s, you know, really the thing that stands out to me is we’re living through an era where there’s a lack of trust in so many institutions and, you know, the sense that we have connections with each other, I mean, that’s splintering. Well, public libraries are still trustworthy, community institutions and most important, public libraries are open to everyone. It doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter your race, ethnicity, social class and net worth.


Farrell: And this is why I think the return on investment, particularly as you’ve mentioned, the return on investment on the intangibles, is so important. So a lot more needs to be done to maintain buildings, update bathrooms, increase the number of hours that they’re open, and there’s a wonderful book by sociologist Eric Klinenberg, “Palaces for the People.” And you know, in that book, he persuasively argues that libraries, the people who work there, and the people who visit that they’re essential to our democracy, and to our community. So support your local library.

I Noticed You Checking Out Those Brush Strokes

CityLab had an article about an art museum in Bologna, Italy which is using eye tracking to learn how visitors interact with works on display. In the process, the museum has learned unexpected things about their visitors.

Let me just get this out of the way and say that my cynical mind immediately saw this technology becoming the basis to optimize attendance, sales, and ultimately what sort of art gets created based on what seems most popular.

This being said, the technology can also provide feedback and opportunity to better inform, engage and lower barriers for visitors. Or perhaps, as suggested in the last paragraph below, curators may find that visitors don’t value the same things they do.

Part of me would be curious to see if they put this technology up in some place like the Louvre, are there works no one suspected was getting attention as people made their way to and from the Mona Lisa. Does something catch people’s eye that makes them pause a moment? Is there a minor, but significant flow, to other galleries that no one had observed?

Some of the researchers’ findings have been unexpected. Examining observer data from the two sides of a 14th-century diptych by Vitale degli Equi, data showed that “attention was immediately attracted to the ‘busier’ representation of Saint Peter’s blessing, to the right,” said Bologna Musei President Roberto Grandi. He was surprised to find that many visitors simply skipped the diptych’s left half.

The data could lead to changes in lighting, staging and placement of artworks in relation to one another, Grandi said, with findings suggesting that museums and galleries might want to rethink how to make some paintings and sculptures more visible and accessible.

The life-sized statue of Apollo of Veii, dating back to 510-500 B.C., is a case in point, the researchers said. Though the statue is one of the crown jewels at Rome’s National Etruscan Museum, a separate test of ShareArt showed that relatively few visitors give it the attention experts feel it deserves. Placement near the end of the collection, possibly chosen in a “best-for-last” approach, may be leading patrons to skip the artifact altogether, ENEA’s Marghella said.

Colorado And The Case Of The Hidden Salary

I have noticed Drew McManus will get me riled up about an arts administration topic and then suggests I write an Arts Hacker post about it. Last week was no exception. Last Thursday he posted about how he had gone back to requiring employers posting positions on Arts Admin Jobs to include a salary range.  He had done so because there was a growing demand among job applicants and others within the non-profit world to have salaries included.

But that Drew also noticed an editorial on the Chronicle of Philanthropy (registration required) was making waves for suggesting that omitting the salary was in everyone’s best interest. And boy did that garner a spirited response from readers.

With good reason since part of the rationale seemed to be along the lines of someone being grossly underpaid at $40,000 would be too intimidated to apply for a job more appropriately paying $120,000, so it is better to keep the salary hidden….you know, for their sake.

There is a lot more to the effort than just some opinion pieces. As I note in my Arts Hacker post, Show The Salary started in the UK and is an international effort that probably extends even further than my research turned up.

There are definitely signs that there will be immense resistance by companies and organizations to list salary ranges. While there are a number of states and municipalities which have rules against requiring or discriminating against applicants who don’t provide their current salary, only Colorado requires employers to provide salary and benefits information in their employment listings.

As a result, a number of companies who allow employees to work remotely are specifically saying Colorado residents can not apply for open positions. Nike says residents will need to move from the state before performing any work.

Since there are a significant number of positions open in the arts right now, including at the executive level, there is an opportunity to create a strong precedent and expectation of listing salary ranges. Such a simple move is likely to exert a lasting influence and shift in the general work culture among arts organizations going forward.

There is more detail about the whole topic in my Arts Hacker post so check it out.


Time To Include #ShowTheSalary In The Hiring Process


The Arts Aren’t A Band-Aid

Links to a study examining the validity of claims about the efficacy of the arts in solving issues of health and well-being came across my Twitter feed today.  The study authors, Stephen Clift, Kate Phillips, and Stephen Pritchard, examined research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and found there were problems with the methodology and relevance of previous studies that made claims about arts solving physical and mental health issues for different populations.

The authors cited earlier work by Munira Mirza and Eleonora Belfiore who in 2006 were skeptical about making claims about the instrumental benefits of the arts on health outcomes.

Among Belfiore’s concerns that the authors quote are:

Any form of participatory activity could have “an empowering effect, whether arts-based or not”.

Existing reviews have ignored details which suggest “negative” impacts from arts and cultural engagement. Lessons from experiences of “culture-led regeneration” suggest that “the arts can actually be socially divisive”.

Little attention given to whether cultural and arts initiatives “provide the most cost-effective means to tackling social exclusion, health problems” compared with “established practices within social and health services”.

Little attention to longer-term outcomes as opposed to short-term effects.

Little attention to the artistic or aesthetic quality of cultural and arts engagements in assessing outcomes.

A focus on the role of the arts and culture my serve “as a convenient means to divert attention from the real causes of today’s social problems and the tough solutions that might be needed to solve them”.

While these were criticisms of arts policy in the UK in 2006, the fact that the authors found nearly identical concerns in more recent research conducted both in the UK for DCMS and internationally by WHO, indicate that the problems are shared across borders.

I was particularly drawn to the discussion of the use of art as a band-aid to obfuscate the existence of larger problems. The authors cite businesses use of “art washing” projects to create goodwill and draw attention away from the business practices which create harm in the world. They also note that studies often credit arts programs for reducing anxiety and behavioral difficulties in children without fully recognizing the poverty, domestic abuse and violence in their lives. They suggest that by positioning arts programs as a fix for children’s behavior, the studies accept and normalize the terrible conditions responsible for these problems.

While it wasn’t a central topic of their research, the authors made reference to two studies from 2020, one which states Culture is bad for you, based on the way current practices and manifestations reinforce social inequities; and another that asks, “Can Music Make You Sick,” examining the price musicians pay to pursue their careers. This was actually a theme Drew McManus pursued across a number of podcast discussions with various stakeholders in music organizations.

Long time readers will know that for years now I have been concerned about various claims being made about the instrumental benefits/value of the arts to rectify every ill – health, social, economic, education, etc., as more research occurs debunking these claims, the arts community will be in a difficult place trying to justify their existence in these terms. Which is why it is important to change the narrative away from the arts as prescriptions for whatever ails you.

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