For a long time as an artist and arts administrator I feared data. Working with young people and adults making arts and evaluating the impact art can have in people’s life can be daunting. Outside the arts and cultural fields there is a tendency to think about the arts as disposable, or not important in comparison to other areas such as science and business. I strongly believe that arts and culture are one of the most valuable assets people have. How do I prove this beyond what I’ve known talking to students, parents, and participants and having anecdotally and intuition of that work to people outside of the field? When I used to think about evaluation I used to roll my eyes and thought about how the usual process involved “took away” time from the actual work. Maybe the evaluation process was not compatible with what I was doing in the classroom with participants. Sometimes the evaluation process felt rushed or even not relevant. I realized that evaluation needs to be thought out as part of the work and not separate from the work or as an afterthought. Evaluation strategies need to be attuned to the work and embedded into the work itself. What I liked about the evaluation process was that it helped me understand my own work. This is a great thing for me, but I am also interested in looking at the impact of the work itself on participants and society at large. What was hard was to think about people’s complex experiences, realities, and contexts as humans and not as numbers, or statistics. So how do you quantify art and its larger impact without losing these complexities in the process? An important part of the answer to this question lies in data.
When I realized that I needed to look closely at data, I then had to decide that I was not going to be afraid of data anymore. I’ve realized that in order learn and tell the story of what arts can do I needed to shift the framing of my thinking. I needed to look into evaluation seriously and closely. I needed to make peace with data and embrace it and not forgetting the complexities stated above. So, I shifted my thinking and looked at data as a guide. Data is rooted in facts, in actuality is there waiting to be found and read. The better I am able to understand data the better equipped I’ll be to see if the goals that I set out to do are being met. I began by asking a simple question: Am I actually doing what I say I do? The trick is how to get to the data that is the most relevant to the question asked and be able to capture it, interpret and analyze it and finally tell a compelling story with it. The better I’m able understand these facts the better I am equipped to move closer to fulfilling the goals I set out to do, the better I’m able to assess and shift course if needed to reach those goals. The first step is probably the most crucial one and that is to not be afraid of data.
Hatuey Ramos-Fermín is an artist, educator, and curator based in The Bronx. He is the co-founder of meta local collaborative, a Bronx-based artist collective, and Boogie Down Rides, a bicycling and art project celebrating cycling in the Bronx. He has organized projects and made presentations at a security guard training school (in tribute to Fashion Moda), community centers, churches, restaurants, laundromats, as well as galleries and museums. He has mentored young adults at the Center for Urban Pedagogy, and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, where he also served as Curator of Education. Ramos-Fermín has also participated in the Elizabeth Foundation for the Art’s Shift Residency, and The Laundromat Project’s Create Change Public Artist Residency. He received his BA from the University of Puerto Rico and his MFA from St. Joost Art and Design Academy.