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Arts-based methods are not expensive...and other myths busted

Updated: 2 days ago

When we tell our clients and colleagues about the exciting arts-based work we do, we often hear that they would LOVE to do that too. If only they had more time, money, and resources. Afraid that arts will bottom-out their accounts, stall progress, or tank their credibility as "serious" professionals, people hesitate to be creative in their program evaluations.

Yes, arts-based methods are not right for all people, all projects, or all the time. Yes, expertise is needed to figure out which methods could work (because arts are not all the same or interchangeable). Yes, sometimes a survey really is the right choice.

And also...

There are some myths about arts-based methods in program evaluation that need to be stopped.

A desk with art supplies and blank sketchbook

Myth 1: Arts are more expensive than any other method

Umm...what? Do you have scrap paper and a promotional pen lying around? Fantastic! You can draw or scribble down a poem.

It is true that some techniques may require more expensive equipment or supplies. But, lots of techniques are accessible with any budget. The three most common techniques we use in our practice require zero dollars. By using things that are already available, we add value not cost.

Myth 2: Arts take way more time than any other technique

You can make just about anything work in any amount of time. It all depends on the question you're trying to answer and who you're working with. We often set short time limits for activities so that participants and colleagues don't over-think and panic. Typically, 5 minutes for art-making and 10 minutes for debriefing is plenty for a strategic planning session. 30 minutes or less is all that we need for in-depth interviews with a photography, drawing, or narrative component for adults (and less than than for kids).

There are plenty of options that work in less time than it takes to finish a survey.

Myth 3: You need to be an artist to participate

"Oh, I'm not an artist." Sound familiar? People constantly tell us that they can't do something artsy because they won't be any good. Yes, the fear of failing, looking ridiculous, and feeling embarrassed is a real barrier for some people (perfectionism is a side tangent for another time).

Terrible art makes for awesome data! Why? Because being "good at art" isn't what makes art good at answering questions. We make awful scribbles, blurry photos, cringy poems, incoherent stories, and awkward theatre the expectation - and for evaluation it is *chef's kiss* fabulous! Meaningful self-expression is what matters most.

Myth 4: Art-based methods are fluffy and frivolous

Rude! Arts-based methods require the same level of planning and careful thought as any other data collection method.

Arts are how we express ourselves, share our cultures, experience our deepest emotions, tap into our shared humanity, and replenish. None of that is fluff. Engaging in, guiding people through, and fostering authentic expression takes practice, skill, and discipline. To lead an arts-based project, practitioners need to understand (or partner with folks who understand) the principles embedded in each craft that makes it it's own wonderful thing.

If you're wondering if arts are right for you and your project...

  • Explore! There are lots of fabulous ideas for creative projects all over the internet

  • Ask us. We'd love to nerd out with you about your artsy questions and curiosities

And if you're an evaluator wondering how you can get started using arts-based methods in your own practice, consider taking our beginner course on arts-based evaluation.

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