The Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) began as a summer project in 1994. Thanks to a grant from the dean of the Penn School of Social Work, Mark Stern, professor of social welfare and history, was able to organize a team of graduate and undergraduate students to scan for theories and methods about how the arts impact society. The students focused on reviewing the literature on social impact and conducting fieldwork at several mural sites in Philadelphia neighborhoods. The resulting working paper (August 1994) explored the value that community members attached to the murals.
Meanwhile, given the unexpected dearth of data on Philadelphia’s nonprofit cultural sector, Stern and collaborator Susan Seifert began construction of a nonprofit cultural organization database for the five-county region. During the fall of 1994, Stern and Seifert used SIAP’s first version of a Philadelphia nonprofit cultural database and the 1992 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (National Endowment for the Arts) to examine how the presence of cultural resources in a neighborhood influences cultural participation—a topic to which the team would return in later projects.