How might an arts organization best serve its local community?
In Fall 2017, the performing arts organization CounterPulse embarked on a 6 month initiative to better understand the role public art could have in their neighborhood. The resulting research and synthesis became the Tenderloin Public Art Exchange, an open source report sharing the findings and program mission, as well as a renewed internal roadmap to charter the emerging public art initiatives of the organization. In the first three months of adopting the approaches in the document, the organization increased public art engagement while creating greater organizational sustainability.
In 2017 CounterPulse was ready to critically understand the impact of their public art initiatives, while finding new opportunities and streamlining strategies.
CounterPulse had recently moved into a new home in the Tenderloin, a bustling, creative neighborhood at the heart of San Francisco that hosts the city’s greatest density of low-income housing. We had been hosting public art programs for 18 months, and we were ready to begin co-designing this work with our neighbors while creating the systems to rigorously define and measure impacts. As the Director of Strategy & Engagement, I was responsible for the research initiation and definition, as well as the design of the process to help us empathize more with our public art audiences, develop new strategies, and define and measure our impact.
We set up a design methodology to guide us through the research phase and help us find meaningful insights from our users— residents, service providers, workers, and other Tenderloin dwellers.
We framed our user research around two major areas: daily life in the Tenderloin and art experiences. We traveled around the neighborhood, visiting community meetings to begin our information collection. We hosted focus groups and interviewed 60 Tenderloin residents, service providers, frequent visitors, and workers.
We developed insights using a structured design methodology to download and synthesize the findings. Through this process we identified six core insights about life and art in the Tenderloin.
These core insights led us to identify the needs gap our programming could help bridge, and define the vision and mission of the CounterPulse Public Art initiatives.
We created a roadmap to direct the strategies towards this new mission and vision, and mapped them to our current initiatives on a three year timeline. We used this activity to understand which initiatives to focus resources on, an essential decision in a scrappy arts non-profit. We identified co-design opportunities and have launched multiple resident committees and stakeholder groups to continue to guide the public art programs ongoing. And crucially, we identified the essential outcomes and evaluation schedule for understanding the impact of this work.
In using this human-centered design process to better empathize with the user of our public art initiatives, while engaging them in ongoing co-design processes, CounterPulse was able to drive a 30% increase in overall engagement in the first three months of implementation. Simultaneously the organization achieved greater sustainability by streamlining the public arts initiatives towards a common goal.