Finding meaningful measures of impact

As with many empty space initiatives, their impact is often gathered through anecdotal evidence, such as the decrease in graffiti during the time the program was running in Chinatown and response to postings by the program on Facebook about particular events.

“At the artists’ talk in Chinatown, people mentioned that they had come from outer counties for the event and were planning to eat out and shop as part of their visit.” says Robynn. “And I get phone calls like ‘I’m coming from south of San Francisco – how do I get to Central Market?’  So just by getting that kind of contact we know the Art in Storefront's project has generated interest. 

“We got destination awards from 7 by 7 and San Francisco Magazine and have generated local tourism - local interest to come into neighbourhoods that people might not have previously visited.”

A academic from the UC Berkeley Public Policy School provided evaluation models to work with in Chinatown but Robynn found the tools were not specific enough to make the direct correlation between the Arts in Storefronts program and benefits to the community.

“Taxes in the neighbourhood went up during the Art in Storefronts program, but maybe they also went up throughout the city,” she says. “With the local surge in tourism and foot traffic - can we say with confidence it’s because of us? It’s the same with the downturn in graffiti noticed by our property owners, maybe there was a police crackdown at that time so the graffiti incidents were down throughout the whole city. 

“It seems really difficult to quantitively measure short-term impact. I think, particularly with Central Market, this investment is going to be about the long term outcomes.”

Since first year of funding for the pilot program, the Arts Commission has invested more money into Central Market project sitest  and Art in Storefronts continues to develop relationships.

“These relationships and activities with the artists, with the arts organisations and with the neighbourhood are immeasurable - but you can see it all out there, on the street,” says Robynn.