Evaluation talent development. Save our talents…
By Nicole Mooij
MA AM Student
Evaluation talent development. ‘Save out talents, put evaluation on the agenda‘.
Talent development is a popular theme in the cultural sector. Especially since talent development is one of the themes incorporated into the cultural policy in The Netherlands and United Kingdom. For instance, ‘talent and renewal’ is one of the themes in the cultural policy More than quality: a new view on cultural policy (Zijlstra, 2011). In addition, talent development is one of the criteria in the application for funding from the basic infrastructure set up by the government (Raad voor Cultuur, 2012). Although attention is given to the theme talent development, cutbacks, own income rates and the focus on cultural entrepreneurship will lead to fewer possibilities for talents to evolve. The Council for Culture is as well concerned about talent development in The Netherlands, due to these changes in the new policy. In order to improve the connection between the cultural policy and contemporary arts centres concerning talent development in the visual arts, a practice based research has been done. The difficulty lies in the evaluation of their programs; Goals are not defined and how do you measure how and if a contemporary art centre contributed to the career of an artist?.
Definition talent development
The first difficulty in this research lies in the term ‘talent development’. The first part of the term ‘talent development’ is already difficult to define. A clear definition of ‘talent’ cannot be found and literature uses various terms and different perspectives. According to Christiaensen & Dochy et al. (2009) talent can be approached in three different ways. Firstly, some authors argue that talent is something you have from the day you were born; this is called the nature approach. Secondly, others state that talent is something you develop during your life. The third approach is a combination of these two approaches. Echols (2007) is an author who agrees with the nature approach. He states “Talent represents the strengths of a human that results from connections in the brain formed early in life, well before the teen years” (Echols, 2007, p. 37). Barab & Plucker (2002) agree with the second approach. The authors state that talent is a combination of an individual, his physical surroundings and the social-cultural context he finds himself in. The meaning of the term talent development in the arts sector varies per domain or even per situation. For example Drenth & Van der Zant (2007) state that talent development starts with youth at education, while the contemporary art centres often call this cultural education. Therefore, one of the conclusions of the research that has been done on talent development in the Netherlands and United Kingdom is that the definition of talent development is still not clear in the cultural sector. For example, results showed that the definitions that the contemporary art centres give vary widely. The connection between the policy makers, the Council for Culture and the cultural organisations would possibly improve if there was one clear definition made, which would be used by all the parties. And whether talent can be developed or not, it is a task of contemporary art centres to develop artists’ skills and to guide them in the cultural field after the academy.
Contemporary arts centres and talent development
The contemporary art centres all work on talent development and they play an important role in this. Mostly they work on talent development for many years or even since they have established. Moreover, it is embedded in their general programs. The contemporary art centres are an important intermediary party between the art academies and the creative work field. Through their efforts artists get the change to experiment, to develop their (presentation) skills and to expand their network. The centres organise different activities, however, research showed that they mainly work with upcoming artists in their exhibition space. Those artists are selected on the basis of their work, the qualities they have, their talent and the relationship their work has with the organisation and the current context. Age is not a selection criterion. In addition to the exhibitions focused on displaying work from new talents, the contemporary art centres have their own activities. This varies from master classes, research programs, courses, residence programs, workshops and internships.
Talent development is usually part of the general program of the contemporary art centres, which often results in unclear monitoring methods. The research showed that the interviewed contemporary art centres in The Netherlands do not set up goals specifically focused on talent development. Even though results showed that in London they do set up these goals, this is basically because it is required by their subsidizing organisations. Setting up goals is important, because it gives the organisations the opportunity to evaluate the program based upon these goals. It is the first step in the evaluation process: proper and effective evaluation afterwards starts with setting up goals up front. Contemporary art centres should therefore take the formulation of these goals serious for them to be beneficial in the end.
A visual artist’s career is influenced by many factors, both internal and external levels. On an internal level, the question remains if the contemporary art centre has contributed to the artist’s success or if the contemporary art centre has selected the talent very well. Furthermore, the career is influenced by external factors, for example it depends on who sees the work, at which moment, and who writes about it. Between all these influences, it is difficult to measure the contribution of the contemporary art centre. In addition, politicians are mainly focused on short-term achievements, while the contribution of the contemporary art centre to a visual artist’s career can take years. Also, when an artist ‘fails’ in a contemporary art centre, for example with bad visitor numbers or negative reviews, an artist can learn from this, and this might influence his or her career in a positive way in the end. In order to validate their programs it is important that contemporary art centres do evaluate and that politicians are willing to wait for these long-term evaluations as well.
Methods to evaluate
Since evaluation is highly important, there should be a clear strategy for this. However, the contemporary art centres in The Netherlands have a limited number of employees and they do not have time and money to evaluate the program thoroughly. Evaluation methods for talent development in the arts are made, for instance by Windhorst & Van der Zant (2010, p.53-56) and Willemsen (n.d.) from Art Notion. However, the contemporary art centres do not make use of these structured methods to evaluate. As Pieternel Fleskens from Marres said in an interview about the evaluation of the programs and artists who contributed: “That is something you always would like to do, but we do not have time and money to do it in a structured way.” Moreover, Ton Broekhuis from Noorderlicht said: “I see that it work, I am there. And of course we discuss the program with the project leader afterwards”. However, the organisations in London are as well still looking for structured methods to evaluate their programs, especially to prove to the politicians that their programs contribute to talent development. The arts centres in London are trying to develop their own evaluation methods. For example, Camden Arts Centre has made a timeline of an artist’s career. Although this is a genuine attempt for effective evaluation, it is a difficult thing to do and cost a lot of time. Moreover, according to the director of Camden Arts Centre Lena Nix, this is not possible with every artist. Arts Admin is working on structured team evaluations for projects and they have made a movie where artists explain how the bursary program of Arts Admin contributed to their careers. The art centre Space has got evaluation forms which are filled in by artists and which are discussed by the project leader and team. The research showed that each of the organisations is looking for possibilities to evaluate their own programs in their own way.
Importance of evaluation
Evaluation of talent development might be a difficult topic, but also an important topic. According to Willemsen (n.d.) there are four arguments why it is important to evaluate (art) projects: (1) it provides the overview of the impact of actions and the effects of decisions, (2) thereby it gives control over the implementation of a project, (3) it shows the results of a project, (4) the organisation becomes owner of the gained knowledge and experience. The Art Council of England (ACE) also stresses the fact that measuring is important. Reeves (2002) has done research into this topic for the ACE. She states that the field itself has accepted economic, and more recently, social rationales for its activities. Currently the opinions in the art sector vary widely about priorities for a future arts impact research programme, but some corresponding topics have occurred from theories and discussions. Some examples are: “Agreement around the need for common definitions and concepts to underpin measurement of arts outcomes and consistency in their use, the need for systematic evaluation and more robust methodologies and evidence” (Reeves, 2002, p. 102). As underlined by the research and mentioned before, this is also a problem for the contemporary art centres; they do not have a clear methodology that can be used for evaluation. Although Bosch (2012) is convinced of the necessity of measuring arts, she also thinks it is a difficult task. Bosch gives workshops about evaluation in the arts sector and she states that general evaluation methods are difficult to use in the arts sector, because they were not created for the arts and culture sector. Therefore, evaluation methods for arts and culture should be developed by the contemporary art centres, preferably even specialized for their own programs on talent development.
Although the current State Secretary Jet Bussemaker (2013) explains in her vision on the cultural policy that talent development is an important theme, the cutbacks will not be repaired. The focus on own income rates and cultural entrepreneurship will lead to fewer possibilities for talents (Raad voor Cultuur, 2012). Contemporary art centres show upcoming, new artists. They were established to experiment and innovate, but it is difficult to get funding for these tasks. Getting money for unknown artists and projects is tough: funds do not always give grants for pioneer projects, so an open and flexible approach is required. Furthermore, it is difficult to get donations and to find sponsors for projects or artists that are not well-known, specifically in this economic recession. Moreover, a funder should be aware of the fact that if contemporary art centres have to reach a certain income norm or number of visitors this will influence their way of programming. This is not what the organisations were originally meant to do. The organisations in London do not specifically get money for their talent development programs either. Their role in talent development actually costs them money; however, they see it as an investment in the future. In order to prove the importance of investment by external parties in talent and the development of this talent, evaluation of the programs are required.
In short, contemporary art centres play an important role in the field of talent development of visual artists. However, consistent guidelines, methods and proper acknowledgements of the importance of evaluation, fail to receive attention. Evaluation of the programs and the influence on an artist’ career is a difficult task, because many factors (internal and external) are involved. Even though evaluation of the programs and the measurement of the influence on an artist’s career are difficult tasks, it is important for art centres to validate and ultimately improve their programs. The outcome of these evaluations can prove the success of the programs for talents. This may be resulted in more attention and -hopefully- opportunities for our talents of the future.