– By Cindy Starr
Throw a pebble into a pond, and the ripples spread outward.
If you sing a song in the city, do the notes ripple outward as well? Does a mural ripple? A Shakespeare play?
The answer is yes, yes and yes, according to Alecia Kintner, president and CEO of ArtsWave, the fundraising agency for more than 100 arts organizations in Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky. And Kintner has a growing body of evidence to support it. The 2018 ArtsWave community campaign, “Making Waves” is packed with events. It begins Feb. 1 and runs through April 26.
When children with special needs can sing every day at school, they are more likely to follow directions and use their indoor voices. When uplifting murals pop up in a business district, people take notice and say they feel more pride in their community. And when students learn to read and appreciate iambic pentameter, they gain a better understanding of other forms of literature.
The phenomenon is known in the arts world as the “ripple effect.” This evolving concept, which originated in Cincinnati in 2010, is based on research about donor motivation conducted when ArtsWave was known by its original name, the Fine Arts Fund. Organizers commissioned the research after discovering that 80 percent of their donors did not attend or subscribe to Cincinnati’s largest arts organizations.
“And that kind of rocked the world,” said Kintner, who joined ArtsWave in 2013. “We (at ArtsWave) had assumed that lots of (donors) felt what we did: that personal, transformative power of the arts.” Not so, it turns out. –Alecia Kintner
“As fundraisers for the arts, we had assumed people gave to the arts because they felt a personal connection to what happens on a stage or inside a museum when they are looking at a powerful painting. We had assumed that lots of other people felt what we did: that personal, transformative power of the arts.”
Not so, it turns out. Research conducted with help from a national organization found this was not necessarily the common experience. Rather, most people intuitively believed that thriving arts organizations created a stronger, more prosperous local economy as well as healthier social bonds and stronger schools. This sparked “a mind-bending paradigm shift,” Kintner said. “For some people, that passion for an art form exists, but for the broad general public – the tens of thousands of people contributing – the ripple-effect benefits were the reason to support the arts.”
Knowledge begot reinvention. The Fine Arts Fund – in a move Kintner calls “courageous” – abandoned a name that “was a barrier to the idea that every little gift can make a wave of impact through the arts,” and became ArtsWave. And the mission flipped from “What do the arts need?” to “What does the community need from the arts?” The discovery sparked a national conversation about the arts and culture as a public good, with the term “ripple effect” entering the lexicon of arts organizations throughout America.
“The ripple effect is absolutely real,” said Patty Beggs, general director and CEO of Cincinnati Opera, which has a decades-long history of bringing opera to the community. “While our reach at Music Hall is around 30,000 during the season, we reach 120,000 during the year by going out and bringing opera into various neighborhoods.” That outreach includes the free Opera in the Park, which attracts nearly 5,000 people to Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine; school residencies in grades K-6 throughout the region; Mindful Music Moments for people of all ages; and neighborhood outings with the mobile theater, The Opera Express.
How the ripple effect translates into measurable benchmarks related to employment, academic achievement and neighborhood vitality is a newer research phase for ArtsWave. The organization began moving in the direction of impact grant-making in 2012, and in 2015 it rolled out its “Blueprint for Collective Action” to more firmly establish common goals and to set strategies for determining five outcomes.
“We’re focusing on the return on investment we believe our donors can expect from the arts in this place in this time,” Kintner said. “There are five that we think collectively in this decade we can move the needle on.”
- Attracting and retaining talented workers to the region by providing extraordinary arts experiences
- Deepening feelings of community engagement by widening experiences in the arts, especially among people under 40
- Deepening cross-cultural competence, tolerance and empathy by increasing the availability and accessibility of arts experiences that include and represent all races and ethnicities
- Enhancing the vibrancy of neighborhoods, especially those that are underserved and/or undergoing revitalization, by increasing access to the arts
- Promoting the development of 21st century skills by ensuring that all youth in the region, particularly those who are underserved, have access to meaningful arts opportunities
The quest for outcomes data means that ArtsWave – the largest source of funding for 40 arts organizations – requires a quid pro quo. Recipients must align around the five outcomes and provide data and stories about their work. The quest for outcomes data means that ArtsWave – the largest source of funding for 40 arts organizations – requires a quid pro quo. Recipients must align around the five outcomes and provide data and stories about their work.Some of the first data points are in. During 2015-2016, 750 arts experiences outside of galleries and theaters were free or accessible, double the number four years earlier.
ArtsWave knows which organization is working in what school and at what grade level. “When you add that all up, it’s about 186,000 arts experiences provided in three of every five schools in every county in the Greater Cincinnati metropolitan statistical area annually by arts organizations receiving ArtsWave funding,” Kintner said. “There are 50,000-plus in Cincinnati Public Schools alone, 50,000-plus in Northern Kentucky schools. We’re meeting a real need that schools have, and now we can quantify it and track it going forward.”
Melodic Connections, an ArtsWave-funded organization with headquarters in Silverton, has shown that music delivered by a board-certified music therapist has improved outcomes for students in special education classrooms in public schools. Last year the organization tracked 253 children in 24 classrooms who were exposed to music therapy-based interventions. The result, according to Executive Director Betsey Zenk Nuseibeh: More than 90 percent of the children maintained or improved skills in 10 areas, including interacting with peers, taking turns and following directions. This year Melodic Connections extended its programming to seven Cincinnati Public Schools preschool classrooms.
In West Price Hill, restoration in 2002 of the Covedale Cinema, which had become an eyesore, led to renovations of neighboring businesses and, according to Cincinnati Police District 3, reduced “crime and disorder” in the area. More recently, the 2015 opening of the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater in East Price Hill sparked a 400 percent increase in construction permits, according to Rodger Pille, communications and development director for Cincinnati Landmark Productions.
A study of students who participated in a Cincinnati Shakespeare Company program found an 80 percent increase in their comprehension of obscure plays or complicated plots, said Jeanna Vella, the organization’s marketing director.
A survey of students who worked with the company’s teaching artists while studying “Romeo and Juliet” saw a 400 percent improvement in comprehension and a 23 percent increase in arts appreciation.
A second group that studied “Romeo and Juliet” without the company experienced a 14 percent decrease in arts appreciation.
Farther afield, ArtsWave in 2016 launched its inaugural partnership with the regional tourism network to promote Cincinnati’s arts scene outside the region’s 100-mile perimeter during prime arts months, from September to December. Those marketing and promotional efforts yielded an additional $14 million in hotel and restaurant revenue, Kintner said, while increasing the percentage of arts audiences coming from outside the region by 3 percent.
Kathy DeBrosse, ArtsWave’s vice president of marketing and engagement, points to the economic and social impact of the BLINK art and light festival, which drew more than a million people downtown, boosting retail and restaurant sales and “connecting the community in a way that’s indescribable.”
In Hamilton, ArtsWave funding helped a project called StreetSpark produce five murals on urban building walls, generating jobs for artists, visual impact and pride among local residents. (vimeo.com/247500228)
Collecting data, one might say, is the wave of the future for the arts. And as with all new ventures, there is a learning curve. “We’re learning all the time,” Kintner said. “We call this our impact journey – as we figure out what words to use, even how to describe the impact. Collecting data, one might say, is the wave of the future for the arts. And as with all new ventures, there is a learning curve. “We’re learning all the time,” Kintner said. “We call this our impact journey – as we figure out what words to use, even how to describe the impact.” For all organizations, getting in a position to be ready to collect data and put those systems in place is a continual evolution. We’re working hard to teach each other.”
Evolution & Relevance
It is a necessary evolution, she believes. “If organizations are not intentional about these objectives, we are not being as relevant as we need to be for all of our donors and community members and stakeholders. If we are not relevant as a sector, we are not sustainable into the future.”
Backed by a 70-year community fundraising history, significant donations from community leaders, 300 participating workplaces and 40,000 individual donors, ArtsWave could not be in a better position as the 2018 Make Waves campaign begins.
“A majority of our donors are giving $150 or less,” Kintner said. “Major donors are vitally important and the bedrock of the campaign, but we’re really tapping into more people who are able to give smaller gifts because they see ripple effects. That’s where the power is, and that’s why it’s so important to keep sharing this message.”
Two examples of the ‘ripple effect’ in action
– By Connie Yeager
At Melodic Connections, grants power learning
For Melodic Connections, ArtsWave Impact Grant support has empowered students to become teachers, expanding the ripple effect to the next generation.
The Silverton-based community music therapy studio provides transformative music programs for all ages and abilities. The program has seen measurable results through its Musical Books program, one of four Melodic Connections activities funded under the ArtsWave Blueprint Goal, “Arts Fuel Creativity and Learning.”
Musicians with developmental disabilities, who have been taught at Melodic Connections, are paired with musicians without disabilities to lead music and literacy sessions in underserved Greater Cincinnati preschools.
Utilizing Ohio Department of Education Step Up to Quality standards, the program promotes learning through the intentional use of music and inclusion of students with varying learning needs and abilities. The combination of music, literature and movement has been shown to support development of literacy skills in early childhood education.
At Woodford Paideia Elementary School, two MC teaching pairs led 20-minute music and literary sessions for 32 students in four classrooms last fall, observed and supervised by board-certified music therapists.
MC measured students’ level of attention by studying videos of student response. That showed 75 percent maintaining attention throughout the experience in six out of 18 classroom sessions.
“The data we gathered in these initial pilot classrooms confirm that when intentional music interventions are integrated with literature in the classroom, the combination of music and literature has the potential to hold students’ attention so that learning can happen,” said Betsey Zenk Nuseibeh, executive director and board certified music therapist.
MC is employing the data to refine the program’s second semester at Woodford Paideia, and to plan expansions to additional schools in the fall of 2018.
At Kennedy Heights Arts Center, the arts bridge cultural divides
ArtsWave rewarded Kennedy Heights Arts Center with funding because of the center’s work in bridging cultural divides – a key ArtsWave goal.
KHAC, which serves a diverse neighborhood, strives to be an inclusive place for people of all ages and abilities, as well as of different races and economic levels. Its annual artist-in-residence program reinforces that mission through a variety of performing arts.
Last spring the focus was on dance.
The residency opened with a public performance by Cleveland’s Inland Dance Theatre. Inland Dance Theatre member Joshua Brown then led four weeks of classes in modern dance and improvisational movement with nine groups of children ages 4 to 17.
He also met with a core group of adults four days each week. Participants ranged in age from their 20s to 75, and a community of varying backgrounds and abilities developed, one dance step at a time.
Ultimately 175 people participated in the dance residency, which culminated in a community performance showcasing the multi-generational array of dancers. All of them reported the experience as “meaningful,” and 76 percent added that it helped them feel more connected to their neighbors and community. That bond was expressed by one participant: “I really think there is value in working with people you would not otherwise ordinarily encounter or take the time to know.”