Hard Evidence for the Value of the Arts

A fascinating study that was linked to “Free Night at The Theatre” in San Francisco sought to develop data on the intrinsic value of theatre to audiences. Impossible? Maybe.

The study asked theatregoers to rate things like “How captivated were you?”  “How inspired?” “Did you get out of your comfort zone?’ and so on.


Here’s more:

SAN FRANCISCO, June 5, 2009 – How do you measure the feeling of being spellbound by a live theatre performance and its contribution to the richness of one’s life? For a long time arts organizations have struggled with the difficulty of quantifying the intangible value they provide to their audiences and to society. This week Theatre Bay Area releases results from a groundbreaking pilot study that measures and demonstrates the inherent value of the arts. The study’s findings will be presented in detail at the upcoming TBA Press Conference being held at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9th at the New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco at 25 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.

The study “Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of the Bay Area Free Night of Theater Program” aims to understand how audiences are transformed by live theater performances and provides an insight into how to develop new mechanisms to track audience impact in the future. In doing so, the study accomplishes what many believed impossible — to statistically demonstrate the intrinsic value of the performing arts.  The study surveyed  Bay Area Free Night of Theater (FNOT)  attendees on a variety of measurable criteria, including the audience’s expectations for the performance, level of captivation and  impacts experienced   during the performance , and  lingering impressions  felt  days later.  The study considers the potential of six different kinds of impacts:  emotional resonance, intellectual stimulation, spiritual value, aesthetic growth and social bonding.  The study further explores   how Free Nighters experiences differ from those of regular ticket-buying audience members.  Some 80 theaters participated in the study, which was conducted during Theatre Bay Area’s Free Night of Theater campaign in October 2008.  Just over 1,400 FNOT patrons and another 675 regular (paying) audience members took the survey.

>> FNOT audiences tend to be younger, more ethnically diverse, and equally well educated as ticket-buying patrons. 

>>  Compared to regular audiences, FNOT audiences were initially less confident that they would enjoy the performance, yet FNOT audiences were more likely to follow the work of that theatre company in the future

>>  Significantly, while FNOT audiences attend theater less frequently than ticket-buying patrons and have fewer friends who attend theatre regularly, FNOT reported significantly higher levels of intellectual stimulation, and were more likely to leave the performance with new insight on human relations.

>> FNOT audiences were also twice as likely as regular audiences to say that they were exposed to a new style or type of theatre, a key indicator of aesthetic growth. 

A copy of the “Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of the Bay Area Free Night of Theatre Program” report can be accessed online through the DataPoint section of Theatre Bay Area’s website, www.theatrebayarea.org/datapoint or at www.wolfbrown.com.


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