Monthly Mentor

Shelly Breaux (December)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Shelly Breaux established the Art Program at David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy in Lafayette, LA. In her classroom, Breaux focuses on inquiry-based learning, problem solving, collaboration, conceptual thinking, and constructive criticism. She believes in using art as an educational tool, and that art provides her students with a voice and an outlet. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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January 08, 2018

Happy New Year!

From: Robin Schnur

This is the time of year that many people make personal resolutions for the year ahead. Perhaps more pressingly, this is also the time of year that many of us in museums and non-profits lay plans and craft budgets for the next fiscal year. That’s where my head is on this January morning: when I get back to the office on Monday, January 8th, I and my team need to finish up the process of outlining our fiscal year 2019 plan and determining how much everything will cost.

As we near the end of our planning period, I thought I’d share a few of the big questions we’ve asked ourselves as part of the process, which began back in September and will be all tied up in early February when I have to submit our official budget. In this blog post and subsequent ones, I’ll write about those questions and how we endeavored to answer them.

Question #1: What’s the ultimate goal for our work?

That’s a big one. I’ve worked at the same museum for 16 years and for most of those years I have been involved in leading efforts to create programs, resources, spaces, and leadership opportunities for K-12 students, teens, and families. Annual planning has always involved shaping a strategy, priorities, and actions for the year ahead.

This year we looked further out, asking ourselves what the ultimate outcome of our work should be. This entailed getting two divisions of our department together—School Programs and Youth and Family Programs—to craft an impact statement for our shared efforts to reach and engage young people. An impact statement is a one-sentence articulation of what an organization (or group within an organization, as in our case) intends to deliver at the highest level.

Crafting an impact statement can be tricky. We often propose our work in future-facing language about what the museum will do for/with a group of people (e.g. This new digital initiative will empower families to…). An impact statement centers the community, group of people, or system and the intended effect it expresses is much deeper and broader than any one program, resource, initiative, or group can achieve on its own.

A good example of a succinct statement of intended impact comes from the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History: “Our Community Grows Stronger and More Connected.” Nina Simon writes about the process of defining the museum’s impact and theory of change in a series of blog posts from 2015.

In our process, we found it was sometimes challenging to not have our impact statement include an indication of the changes our museum needs to make in order to be a more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable place for young people. Ultimately, though, an impact statement is not an articulation of organizational transformation. It is an expression of the positive change that will happen for people if your organization makes the right plans and executes them well. So, it sits out there at the very end of your theory of change or logic model; it’s the beacon on the horizon toward which you point all of your efforts, including those aimed at internal change.

This a basic theory of change model:

If we do these things (strategy, actions) >>> then these immediate outcomes will be achieved (e.g. teens will be involved in enriching arts-centered activities after school) >>> and then these intermediate outcomes will be achieved (e.g. teens will develop their creative voice in an inclusive environment) >>> and then ultimately this impact will be achieved (this is where the impact statement lives).

The distance between outcomes and impact is somewhat indeterminate. Generally, immediate outcomes are things we can observe in the space of a program or learning opportunity. But we know that transformation doesn’t happen right before our eyes. It can take years for an idea, an inclination, a way of seeing one’s self to take shape. The long horizon and aspirational focus of impact makes it very difficult to evaluate. I’ll try to come back to this in a subsequent post.

Back to our process. We began our exercise by using a series of sentence stems to keep us focused on the people rather than the programs or the museum. These were the ones we used:

I wish for every child and teen to feel…

Through an encounter in the museum every child and teen should be able to…

Every child and teen should walk away with…

To be honest, these are flawed sentence stems, and these flaws were well debated during the process. The second two were particularly problematic. Many people bristled at the word “should.” Rightly so, it does feel a bit like we intend to impose our will upon young people in these sentences. Once we wrestled with and moved beyond the imperfectness of language, we generated dozens of sentences that surfaced our aspirations for the affective, cognitive, social, and other dimensions of our work with youth. I should note that we did this first within our divisions—School Programs and Youth and Family Programs—separately, in two sessions each.

Then, we got this big group together to winnow pages of aspirational language down to one statement, using this protocol:

- first, people worked in pairs (one person from each division) to synthesize and craft a provisional statement
- then, pairs grouped together into 4s to share and synthesize their respective ideas
- then, we moved into two large groups of 8 to further synthesize ideas

At the end of the hour, we had a small handful of working ideas that were fairly close together. Subsequently, the head of School Programs, Sarah Alvarez, and I got together to merge and prune our language into one draft impact statement, which I’ll share in my next post after it has been reviewed and accepted by our teams.

At times, I and others have questioned the merit of spending much time on this effort of defining impact in one sentence. Can you really sum up one’s aspirations in 20 words or less? Have we approached this as thoughtfully as possible? What haven’t we considered yet? With all these questions, I remain optimistic that this process has positioned us to better align the efforts of a talented staff to the needs of youth and with the resources at hand and will enable us to communicate the value of the museum for and to young people in Chicago.

If you’re interested, here’s another good story in Medium about a museum seeking to define its social impact, by Kelly McKinley, Deputy Director of the Oakland Museum of California.



Laura Milas

Thank you for connecting organizational values with the budgeting process. Language always seems inadequate- have you ever used images or symbols to do this?

Robin Schnur

Dear Laura,

Thanks for your comment and question. I had not thought of using images as proxy for language when it failed us, but one of the things that I find most compelling about the Santa Cruz theory of change is the way that it pairs image and word together to convey social impact. I'd love be to able to arrive at that place, but perhaps you are right that a visual or diagrammatic approach would also be helpful in getting there.

If you have used this method or have examples, please share!


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