Evaluating the arts

I love the arts, particularly bouncy, moderately cheesy dance music experienced in a club. Programme evaluation has been poking at the arts for a while now and attempting to quantify their impact on wellbeing. And I really wish evaluators would stop and think what they’re doing before rushing in with a wellbeing questionnaire. The experience I have dancing in a sweaty club is very different to the experience wandering around Tate or crying in a cinema. Programme effects are contrasts: the actual outcome of the programme versus an estimate of what the outcome would have been in the programme’s absence, e.g., following some genre of “business as usual”. Before we can measure the average causal benefits of the arts we need a sensible theory of change, and some ideas about what the counterfactual is. Maybe you can find out how I feel dancing to Free Yourself, but what’s the contrast? Dancing to something else? Staying in with a cup of tea and chocolate, reading a book about standard errors for matching with replacement? What exactly is the programme being evaluated…? (End of random thoughts.)