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The Value of Audience Feedback

May 22, 2014
Sean Fenton

The value of impact assessment data lies in its ability to raise questions that can stimulate meaningful discussion about artistic outcomes. Why did visitors to one exhibition report more preparation than visitors to another exhibition?  Why did a particular theatre production generate higher or lower levels of emotional resonance? Is culturally specific programming producing more social bridging or social bonding outcomes?

Impact assessment is a specific form of audience feedback. The value lies not only in the resulting data, but in the process of training audiences to characterize their reactions to a work of art — not just in terms of whether they liked it or not, but in terms of its impact on them. Over the years, we have come to understand that audience feedback programs can play a major role in the aesthetic development of an audience.

In other words, this is mission critical 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 here). What is certain beyond a doubt is that audiences and visitors measurably benefit from attending the arts, in many ways. Intrinsic impact is at the core of the value system surrounding the arts. If the impact doesn’t occur at the time of the exchange between the art and the audience, then the economic, social and civic benefits associated with the arts can’t happen. This is why the quality of the experience is so important, and why investments in artistic processes and creative programming endeavours can pay substantial dividends to individuals, families and the community.