SIAP Approach and Methods
The Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice, is a recognized innovator in the development of empirical methods to examine the intersections between cultural engagement, community change, and social wellbeing. SIAP believes that if culture and the arts do, in fact, play an important role in improving the lives of ordinary people, we should be able to measure it. We use the tools of social research, including statistical analysis and qualitative investigation, to identify social impacts at the neighborhood level—that is, the place where people live.
In 1995 SIAP pioneered the use of geographic information systems (GIS) as a strategy for integrating data on the arts with other socio-economic data. The team also developed methods for collecting and integrating data on different forms of cultural engagement, which contributed to the cultural asset mapping methods that have gained wide emulation. More recently, SIAP in collaboration with Reinvestment Fund (see below) has developed a neighborhood-based, multi-dimensional index of social wellbeing that integrates culture as a dimension of wellbeing. See SIAP Collections: Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City 2014-2017 and Culture and Social Wellbeing in Philadelphia 2012-2014.
Reinvestment Fund collaboration. SIAP enjoys a working partnership with Reinvestment Fund, a community development financial institution also based in Philadelphia, to develop a variety of measures of economic and non-economic impacts on urban neighborhoods. In 2006, thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, SIAP began to collaborate with Reinvestment Fund to merge cultural asset data with other types of information on community change. The collaboration has enabled the research team to use a variety of data—for example, public health indicators, ethnic and racial harassment, and housing markets—to examine the relationship of cultural resources to the wellbeing of urban communities.
The SIAP/Reinvestment Fund collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation produced a set of materials that inform public policy and community investment decisions related to culture, creativity, and neighborhood development. See SIAP Collections: Culture and Community Revitalization: A SIAP/Reinvestment Fund Collaboration 2007-2009.
Cultural asset mapping and cluster analysis. One concept that crystallized through Reinvestment Fund collaboration is what we call a "natural" cultural district—that is, a cluster of cultural assets in a neighborhood generated by the activities of local residents, businesses, organizations, artists and activists. SIAP has developed cultural clustering as a method as well as a concept. The method involves integrating citywide data on cultural assets into a geographic information system (GIS) to produce a Cultural Asset Index (CAI) that can be used to identify census block groups with the highest density of assets. We can then use a city’s CAI to identify “natural” cultural districts for case study using multiple methods—in particular, statistical analyses of neighborhood cultural ecology and social geography, which are elaborated by fieldwork and qualitative study.
For a discussion of SIAP’s cultural clustering method (Cultural Asset Index) and its significance, see "Cultural Clusters: The Implications of Cultural Assets Agglomeration for Neighborhood Revitalization," by Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert, in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, JPER 29 (3) 262-279, March 2010.
Conceptualization and methodological issues and strategies. For Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, SIAP undertook a review of literature on the arts and civic engagement with a focus on the conceptual and methodological challenges of social impact assessment. Our 2009 report, Civic Engagement and the Arts: Issues of Conceptualization and Measurement, concludes with recommendations for an integrated approach to evaluation design, that connects research and practice, drawn from SIAP’s experience with empirical methods grounded in ecological theories of action. We also produced a short field guide to data gathering methods and rationale based on the report.
SIAP’s approach to the study of civic impacts, the challenges of that endeavor, and the cost of failure was the subject of an essay by Mark Stern—“The arts, civic engagement, and the ‘tragedy of the commons’ “—prepared as a talk for the Americans for the Arts Conference in Philadelphia in June 2008. See SIAP Collections: Civic Engagement and the Arts 2008-2009.
Who We Are
SIAP is housed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice and benefits from the Penn community, in particular, from the scholarly and collegial support provided by faculty, students, and administrators. We operate on a project basis—thanks to years of generous support by external funders, primarily foundations and government agencies, and the occasional bridge grant by the university.
Our work is available for public use with full citation requested. To browse all the Social Impact of the Arts Project Collections (since 1994), listed in reverse chronological order, go to the SIAP home page. Please contact us with any questions or comments about the work.
Mark J. Stern, Professor of Social Policy and History
Principal Investigator, Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP)
University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice
Mark J. Stern, co-founder and principal investigator of the Social Impact of the Arts Project, is Professor of Social Policy and History at the University of Pennsylvania. An historian by training, Stern has taught social welfare policy and history since 1980. His scholarship covers United States social history, social welfare policy, and the impact of culture and the arts on urban communities. He is author of Engaging Social Welfare: An Introduction to Policy Analysis (Pearson Education, 2014) and co-author of Social Welfare: A History of the American Response to Need (9th Edition, Pearson Education, 2018). He is co-author of One Nation Divisible: What America Was and What It Is Becoming (Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2006), which examines the history of social inequality during the 20th century. Stern holds a Ph.D. in history from York University in Toronto, Canada and a B.A. from Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
Susan C. Seifert, SIAP Director
Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP)
University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice
3701 Locust Walk, Philadelphia PA 19104-6214
Susan C. Seifert is co-founder and research director of the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice. Seifert is an urban planner with a focus on the cultural ecology of urban communities. Prior to SIAP start-up, she practiced as a city planner and policy analyst in downtown revitalization, cultural development, and housing preservation in Philadelphia and New York City. Seifert holds a M.Sc. in Urban & Regional Planning from the University of Toronto, Canada and pursued post-graduate studies in landscape architecture and ecological planning at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Design.
Other SIAP Publications
Finkelpearl, Tom. 2013. “Project Row Houses. Interview: Rick Lowe, artist, and Mark J. Stern, professor of social history and urban studies.” In What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, Chapter 5, “Social Vision and a Cooperative Community” (132-151). Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Stern, Mark J. 2017. “A new ‘culture war’?,” Cultural Trends, Vol. 26, Issue 4 (338-341). Informa UK Limited: Taylor & Francis Online. Published online: 15 nov 2017.
Stern, Mark J. 2017. “From Poverty to Wellbeing: New Tools for Addressing Concentrated Disadvantage.” In John L. Jackson, Jr. (ed), Social Policy and Social Justice (148-160). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Stern, Mark J. 2014. “Measuring the Outcomes of Creative Placemaking.” In Wilfried Eckstein (organizer), The Role of Artists & The Arts in Creative Placemaking, May 30-31, 2014, Baltimore, MD—Symposium Report (84-97). Washington DC: Goethe-Institut and EUNIC.
Stern, Mark J. 2011. Age and arts participation: A case against demographic destiny. NEA Research Report #53. Washington DC: National Endowment for the Arts.
Stern, Mark J. 2002. “NYC Inc: Performing Miracles.” City Limits Magazine, Vol 27, No. 9, November. New York: City Limits.
Stern, Mark J. 2000. “Arts, Culture, and the Quality of Life.” Background paper prepared for Strengthening Communities through Culture: Art Culture & the National Agenda Issue Paper, November 2001, by Elizabeth Strom. Washington DC: Center for Arts and Culture.
Stern, Mark J. 2000. “Home is Where the Art Is: Domestic Art in a Regional Context.” In Home is where the Art Is. An exhibition and programs by the Abington Art Center, September 16 to December 16, 2000. Jenkintown, PA: Abington Art Center.
Stern, Mark J. and Susan C. Seifert. 2017. “Culture, equity and social wellbeing in New York City,” in Capability-promoting policies: Enhancing individual and social development, edited by Hans-Uwe Otto, Melanie Walker, Holger Ziegler. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press, University of Bristol, UK.
Stern, Mark J. and Susan C. Seifert. 2013. “Creative capabilities and community capacity,” In Hans-Uwe Otto and Holger Ziegler (eds), Enhancing Capabilities: The Role of Social Institutions (179-196). Opladen, Berlin & Toronto: Barbara Budrich Publishers.
Stern, Mark J. and Susan C. Seifert. 2010. "Cultural Clusters: The Implications of Cultural Assets Agglomeration for Neighborhood Revitalization." In Journal of Planning Education and Research (Special Issue on Art, Culture, and Economic Development), Vol. 29, No. 3, Spring (262-279). Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.
Stern, Mark J. and Susan C. Seifert. 2008. Culture and Community Revitalization: A Collaboration. “From Creative Economy to Creative Society.” Grantmakers in the Arts Reader, Vol. 19. No. 3, Fall (11-18). Seattle: Grantmakers in the Arts.
Stern, Mark J. and Susan C. Seifert. 2007. “From Creative Economy to Creative Society.” Progressive Planning: The Magazine of Planners Network (Special Section on Philadelphia and Camden). No. 170. Winter (14-18).
Stern, Mark J. and Susan C. Seifert. 2002. “ ‘Irrational’ Organizations: Why Community Based Arts organizations are Really Social Movements.” Multitudes, The Magazine of the Walt Whitman Arts Center, Fall. Camden, NJ: Walt Whitman Arts Center.
Stern, Mark J. and Susan C. Seifert. 2000. “Re-presenting the City: Arts, Culture, and Diversity in Philadelphia.” In Gigi Bradford, Michael Gary, and Glenn Wallach (eds), The Politics of Culture: Policy Perspectives for Individuals, Institutions, and Communities (286-300). New York: The New Press and Washington DC: Center for Arts and Culture.
Stern, Mark J., Susan C. Seifert, and Domenic Vitiello. 2010. “Migrants and the Transformation of Philadelphia’s Cultural Economy.” In Paul DiMaggio and Patricia Fernandez-Kelly (eds), Art in the Lives of Immigrant Communities in the United States (23-51). New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press.