As part of the special feature ‘Why should philanthropists fund the arts?’ in the March issue of Alliance, Michelle Coffey in her feature Weighing the imagination? and Barry Knight in his article Is access to art a human right? both raised the very important issue of how to measure the social impact of arts and culture. Charitable foundations and donors support both areas generously, particularly in Russia, but they want evidence that the money they spend produces positive effects. On the other hand, it’s hard to disagree with Coffey that ‘standardized measurements fall drastically short in allocating value to artistic practice, failing to notice and account for the transformative power of art’.
The Vladimir Potanin Foundation has been supporting leaders and cultural institutions for more than 15 years. By investing in culture, we advance creativity and knowledge, develop critical thinking and the spirit of entrepreneurship, and provide new opportunities for individuals and institutions. In the course of this, we face the dilemma outlined above.
We use different assessment models, including quantitative ones. However, they are not about the number of grants given or the amount of money spent. Among the indicators used are the economic impact of cultural institutions (eg increase in tourism and local economy, new employment opportunities), the strengthening of local communities (eg volunteers, co-funding of cultural projects from local sources, participation in cultural projects), and the development of cultural and regional identity (eg common values, positive self-perceptions). We do not therefore value artistic performance as such but its effect in creating a better place to live by connecting people and providing social cohesion and a platform for dialogue.
‘We do not therefore value artistic performance as such but its effect in creating a better place to live.’
Assessing impact at the personal level is also very important: arts and culture primarily concerns individuals rather than institutions. What do we need to assess here and how do we do it – the amount of money spent, the number of grantees or people involved in projects? Those figures are undoubtedly needed, but taken alone they would not justify the investments. What makes a difference here are personal stories, when cultural leaders become role models for their communities. We believe that our investment contributes to the appearance of new community and opinion leaders, the creation of networks, and increasing professionalism in the field.
Raising the issue of measuring the social impact of our investments in arts and culture is a positive step. We need such debates in order to look critically at our own work and to increase the value of what we are doing.
General director, Vladimir Potanin Foundation