Category: Past Virtual Study Groups

Content from past Virtual Study Groups, online gatherings to learn and talk together about emerging issues in cultural research.

Everything you (n)ever wanted to know about theory of change: an advanced workshop on theory of change applications in the arts

With the support of the Cultural Research Network, Ian David Moss and Dr. Kim Dunphy organized a Virtual Study Group to present different perspectives and applications of theory of change.

PowerPoint Slides

Theory of change is a framework and methodology for articulating how and why a desired change or outcome can be expected to happen. It originated in the field of evaluation in response to the challenge of understanding causal factors that lead to desired community change. In the decades since, theories of change have gained widespread adoption in fields outside the arts, to support program developers and managers to be clear what they are doing and why. Even so, many arts funders, organizations, and practitioners have yet to make use of this tool, despite seeking and spending public and philanthropic resources on the basis of change they seek to instigate or support.

In this hybrid workshop/discussion, presenters Ian David Moss and Kim Dunphy will share insights from their experiences using theory of change as researchers and advisors to cultural organizations, in different countries and professional contexts. Kim and Ian will discuss innovations in theory of change methodology and use that they have encountered or pioneered and welcome a lively dialogue with audience members throughout. The session is primarily aimed at researchers and others interested in introducing or deepening the use of theory of change into their practice.


Chair/Moderator: Dr. Natalia Grincheva, Research Fellow, Research Unit in Public Cultures, University of Melbourne.


Ian David Moss one of the US arts sector’s leading practitioners of theory of change.  As a consultant working with grantmakers, government agencies, and impact investors, he specializes in the alignment of evidence and strategy within large institutions and across complex ecosystems. Over the past decade, strategic frameworks that Ian helped create have guided the distribution of nearly $100 million in grants by some of the largest arts funders in the US. Ian was also a significant influence guiding Cincinnati-based ArtsWave in aligning $10 million/year in regional arts funding with a transformative new focus on impact. ArtsWave is still using a version of this framework to drive its grantmaking seven years later. Ian is the founder of Createquity, a think tank and online publication investigating the most important issues in the arts and what we can do about them, as well as the Cultural Research Network. He holds BA and MBA degrees from Yale University and is based in Washington, DC.


Dr. Kim Dunphy is a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne (Australia)’s, Creative Arts Therapy Research Unit. Her research interests focus on change that can be effected through arts participation and how that can be understood and measured. Recent publications include chapter in Oxford Handbook of Community Music on theorising arts participation as a social change mechanism, her PhD thesis on the participatory arts in social change in Timor-Leste and co-edited collection Making Culture Count: the politics of cultural measurement (Palgrave, 2015) including her chapter proposing a holistic approach to evaluation of outcomes of arts engagement. Kim also works as consultant for the Cultural Development Network (CDN), Melbourne, Australia, an organisation that supports local government to assist local communities to make and express their own culture. CDN leads a national project across Australia on cultural development planning, where arts agencies, including state and local governments, are supported to develop theories of change for their arts program delivery and funding programs.

Open and Public Data in Arts Research

On September 26th, the Cultural Research Network Steering Committee member W.F. Umi Hsu organized a Virtual Study Group to explore open data sources in arts research.


Open and Public Data in Arts Research from Cultural Research Network on Vimeo.


Arts and cultural data have been made available than ever. This Virtual Study Group explores the affordances of data sharing and public data in applied arts research. These emerging data practices result in research events like the Arts Access Datathon and tools such as open data portals, public art archive, open source cultural heritage work (Loca Preservation School), data-informed policy map (CultureBlocks), and arts programming (e.g. placemaking and public art, ex. Monument Lab). They provide open and potentially collaborative modalities for research in government agencies, public-sector/nonprofit arts research, and artist-driven projects in social practice and creative placemaking. This VSG features speakers who are arts researchers forging new paths with practices in related fields such as civic technology, digital design, and digital cultural heritage.


  • Monument Lab: Laurie Allen
  • CultureBlocks: Lindsay Tucker So
  • Open data in historic preservation: Eli Pousson

Produced and moderated by W.F. Umi Hsu (CRN Steering Committee Member; Digital Strategist, City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

Arts Indexes

On July 25th, the Cultural Research Network Steering Committee arranged a Virtual Study Group  to explore the concept of Arts Indexes.

There are currently a mix of Arts Indexes (or Indices) in operation around the world. The NEA has indicators for livability. NCAR has an arts vibrancy index. The Canadian Index of Wellbeing has a cultural element as well. There is an Arts Index devised by the National Campaign for the Arts in the UK which is inspired by the one produced by Americans for the Arts. Indexes and Indicators have also been used by the cities of Chicago or Denver, to name but two.

In this VSG, Zannie Voss introduces the NCAR approach and we broaden out the discussion to include David Brownlee from the National Campaign for the Arts in the UK to ask in what ways these tools are useful, as analytical devices as well as political or advocacy prompts.

This VSG was produced by James Doeser and Jennifer Armstrong.


To view the entire webinar, please click below:

CRN Virtual Study Group: Arts Indexes from Alan Brown on Vimeo.

Impacts of Creative Placemaking: A Review of ArtPlace Research Findings

On July 11th, the Cultural Research Network hosted a webinar about the impacts of Creative Placemaking, which included a review of ArtPlace’s research findings. These findings involved nearly two years of a comprehensive, multi-year research initiative to unearth promising practices and trends at the intersection of community development sectors with arts and culture.


To view the entire webinar, please click below:



  •  Anna Muessig, Gehl/SF and Cultural Research Network Steering Committee Member (Host)
  •  Jamie Hand, ArtPlace America (Facilitator)
  •  John Arroyo, MIT (Arts/Immigration Research)
  •  Alexis Frasz, Helicon Collaborative (Arts/Environment Research)
  •  Danya Sherman, ArtPlace America (Arts/Housing Research)
  •  Victor Rubin, PolicyLink (Respondent)

Preview Three New Collections in the CultureLab Library

On May 9, 2017, Alan Brown – Chair of the Cultural Research Network, hosted a brief webinar to preview three new collections in the CultureLab Library. The following graduate students in Arts Administration at Drexel University presented on their topics of interest:

  • Karen Tarkulich’s collection of literature exploring the impact/relationships of public art and communities;
  • Rolanda Williams’ collection exploring diversity in arts leadership from a perspective of women of color; and
  • Meghan Randolph’s collection delving into the theory and practice of marketing “risky” or adventurous artistic work.

To review these collections, please view the video below:


“Ask Me Anything” with Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research and Analysis

On April 3, 2017, the Cultural Research Network held a virtual study group to explore the NEA’s new five-year research agenda. Sunil Iyengar (Director of Research and Analysis at the NEA) kindly agreed participate, and fielded questions from the membership. The format resembled a 60-minute “Ask Me Anything” in the style of Reddit, with James Doeser moderating. The discussion covered topics like:

  • What has changed since the publication of “How Art Works”?
  • What has been learned from research outside the US?
  • Why do some research questions seem to persist indefinitely?
  • How can we coordinate efforts better?

Questions were able to be submitted in advance, and were actively posed during the Study Group

To review the NEA’s research agenda in preparation for the VSG, click here.


CultureLab Fellows’ research collections

On Tuesday, January 31, 2017, seven members of the Cultural Research Network who received CultureLab Fellowships from Alan Brown/WolfBrown presented overviews of their collections as an informal webinar. These collections are groupings of researching literature in the CultureLab Library–a free online resource for students, researchers, and managers–each under a unifying concept. The Fellowships were supported by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to build the library as a resource for the field.

The CultureLab Fellows and their collections include:

Brea Heidelberg: Emerging Arts Leaders Programs

Laura Elayne Miller: Alternative Modes of Cultural Production – The Contemporary Practices of Artist-Run Platforms and Small-Scale Arts Organizations

Lynn Osgood: Civic Engagement and the Arts

Rachel Engh: Creative Placemaking

Tracy Hudak: Creative Economy

Diedre Thomas: Funding Equity in the Arts

Julie Judson: Millennials in Philanthropy


The CultureLab Library is a free online resource. To request a user account, go to and click on ‘Request an Invite’.

Measuring quality

On November 30, 2016, the Cultural Research Network hosted a virtual study group to explore a new research method that seeks to help artists, arts organizations and funders to develop a shared approach to evaluating the reception of their work.

The session comprised a short presentation from an independent researcher who has worked with the Culture Counts Quality Metrics system in the UK: Catherine Bunting.

This was followed by a panel discussion with Catherine and Dr. Abigail Gilmore (University of Manchester, UK), featuring contributions from around the world, with Alan Brown (WolfBrown: USA) and Kim Dunphy (University of Melbourne/Cultural Development Network: Australia). We were able to feed questions and observations from attendees into the discussion.

The VSG was hosted by James Doeser, CRN Committee Member.

The concept of quality measurement has attracted a great deal of controversy, from the arts community as well as researchers. The purpose of the VSG was to demystify this particular approach, and to interrogate the policy, theory and methods that underpin it.

The following readings were distributed to study group registrants to get them up to speed on the issues at hand:

  • Quality Metrics on the Arts Council England website:
  • An explanation of its application in Scotland:
  • An arts correspondent’s take on the controversy it’s generated

“Cultural and Creative Spillovers in Europe” report discussion

On January 26 , 2016, the Cultural Research Network hosted a Virtual Study Group on the report Cultural and Creative Spillovers in Europe.

We heard from Andrew Erskine (from Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy), the main author of the report, as well as two of the commissioners: Nicole McNeilly (Arts Council England) and Tsveta Andreeva (European Cultural Foundation).

The Study Group was hosted by James Doeser.

After learning about the research – what happened; what was discovered – the discussion focused on whether or not the work touched on the cultural sectors in all parts of Europe, what could be learned from a trans-national research program, and what we can confidently say about cause and effect in cultural policy.


Click here for the full report and executive summary.

What is the future of art school?

On Monday, March 30th, 2015, the Cultural Research Network held a virtual study group on the topic “What is the future of art school?” featuring Caroline Woolard, Vicky Virgin and Susan Jahoda from BFAMFAPhD and Steven Tepper from The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP). This VSG focused on the lives, livelihoods, and careers of people who complete degrees in the arts, and the implications of this research on how we shape arts education curricula and policy.  Our guests  discussed their respective findings about the careers of artists after art school, and discuss policy implications.

Questions asked included:

“What is the impact of art school on the lives of arts graduates?”

“In a world where a degree improves economic and professional outcomes for graduates, does this hold true for an arts degree?”

“In our changing economy, with an increasing focus on contract labor and the ‘knowledge economy’, what is the future of art school?”

About the presenters:

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP), partners with degree-granting institutions to administer a survey to arts graduates from over 92,000 arts alumni in America. Comprised of an online survey, data management, and institutional improvement system, SNAAP is focused on using their research findings to enhance the impact of arts-school education. View their 2014 report here and an interactive SnaapShot of findings here.

Concerned about the impact of debt, rent, and precarity on the lives of creative people, BFAMFAPhD makes media to connect viewers to existing organizing work. They are a collective of artists, designers, makers, technologists, curators, architects, educators, and analysts who ask: What is a work of art in the age of $120,000 art degrees?  Their recent report, “Artists Report Back A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists” shares findings on how arts graduates make their living and manage their debt.

Moderator: Anna Muessig, Gehl Studio