Concepts and Theoretical Underpinnings

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The Theory Behind Intrinsic Impact

The theoretical basis for Intrinsic Impact grew out of WolfBrown’s work for the Major University Presenters consortium. In that study, Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance, audience members were surveyed both before performances, to assess their ‘readiness to receive’ the art, and after performances, to assess the intrinsic impacts they derived from the experience. These constructs were subsequently refined based on analysis of additional data. For a lengthier and more comprehensive discussion about the value system surrounding arts experiences, please see An Architecture of Value.

Intrinsic Impact Constructs

Intrinsic Impacts are the core benefits that can accrue to individuals by virtue of experiencing an exhibition or live performance. In this model, there are five constructs of Intrinsic Impact: Captivation, Emotional Resonance, Intellectual Stimulation, Aesthetic Enrichment, and Social Bridging & Bonding.

Emotional Resonance

The extent to which the audience member experienced a heightened emotional state during or after the performance or exhibition.

Intellectual Stimulation

The degree to which the performance or exhibition triggered thinking about the art, issues or topics, or caused critical reflection.


The extent to which the audience member was absorbed in the performance or exhibition. Captivation is the linchpin of impact. If you are captivated, other impacts are likely to happen. Whereas, if you are not captivated (or, worse, if you snooze through the program), other impacts are less likely to happen.

Aesthetic Enrichment

The extent to which the audience member was exposed to a new style or type of art or a new artist (aesthetic growth), and also the extent to which the experience served to validate and celebrate art that is familiar (aesthetic validation).

Social Bridging & Bonding

Connectedness with the rest of the audience, new insight on one’s own culture or a culture outside of one’s life experience, or new perspective on human relationships or social issues.

‘Readiness to Receive’ Constructs

Sources and References

Historically, arts and cultural organizations have used figures for ticket sales, attendance, and ancillary spending on programmes and drinks as ‘metrics of success.’ At best, these are proxies for impact. They do not indicate anything about the transformational nature of the underlying experience. The search for better ways of assessing impact is ongoing in the U.K., U.S., and Australia. A variety of resource documents are available to those wishing to learn more about impact assessment.

  • Theatre Bay Area commissioned WolfBrown to undertake a large-scale pilot study of audiences at 58 different productions mounted by 18 theatres in six U.S. cities. Counting New Beans, the book released Theatre Bay Area in early 2012, summarizes a great deal of thinking about intrinsic impact, and can be purchased here. The WolfBrown research report, including technical appendices not available in the book, may be downloaded for free;
  • In June 2011, the Liverpool Arts Regeneration Consortium released a research report by WolfBrown and Baker Richards, How Audiences and Visitors are Transformed by Cultural Experiences in Liverpool. The study investigated the intrinsic impacts of programs offered by eight Liverpool arts organizations, spanning the visual and performing arts;
  • In February 2011, Arts Council England released a provocation paper, Arts Funding, Austerity and the Big Society: Remaking the case for the arts by John Knell and Matthew Taylor arguing for a new approach to balancing instrumental and intrinsic arguments for the arts;
  • A new handbook for surveying theatre audiences about intrinsic impacts, Capturing the audience experience: A handbook for the theatre, was released in 2010, commissioned by the Independent Theatre Council, the Society of London Theatre, and the Theatrical Management Association, and prepared by nef (new economics foundation);
  • A comparative study of the impacts of the National Theatre’s pilot broadcasts in cinemas, in relation to the impacts of its live performances; resulted in the report, Beyond liveDigital innovation in the performing arts, prepared by NESTA and released in 2010;
  • As part of its Artistic Vibrancy initiative, the Australia Council for the Arts commissioned WolfBrown to develop a new audience survey tool, to be released in 2011, to assist its regularly funded organizations in assessing the intrinsic impacts of their work;
  • In 2009, the Australia Council for the Arts hosted a debate about the role of impact assessment in artistically-driven organizations, with Alan Brown, Kate Champion and Bruce Gladwin (both artistic directors in Sydney). View the video;
  • In the U.S., Theatre Bay Area, a service organization for theatres in the San Francisco Bay Area, received over $200,000 in funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts to pilot test a new impact assessment service with 18 theatres in six cities across the U.S., including automated online dashboard reporting, in partnership with WolfBrown. Visit the Theatre Bay Area Intrinsic Impact page for more information;
  • An initial attempt to assess the intrinsic impacts of live performances was commissioned by the Major University Presenters consortium in the U.S. in 2006. The resulting report, Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance, by Alan Brown and Jennifer L. Novak, served as the basis for numerous subsequent research efforts. Listen to an audio recording of Alan’s presentation on the results of the study at the Scotland: Creative Nation conference in 2008. Much of the inspiration for this line of research emanated from the research report Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts, by Kevin F. McCarthy, Elizabeth H. Ondaatje, Laura Zakaras, and Arthur Brooks, RAND Corporation, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation;
  • Researchers in Australia have developed alternative models for assessing program quality. See Jennifer Radbourne, Katya Johanson, Hilary Glow, Tabitha White (2009) The Audience Experience: Measuring Quality in the Performing ArtsInternational Journal of Arts Management11(3), Spring 2009: 16-29.

If you are aware of other studies that should be referenced here, please send the citation to Alan Brown.