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The Hewlett Foundation Blog

Photo Essay: Communicating Impact 

April 7, 2015 — By Sheena Johnson

The best ways to measure the impact of the arts has been the subject of a field-wide debate. How do you begin to quantify individual and communal transformation, healing, cultural understanding, and bonding?  In the arts sector, qualitative information such as stories, photos, and video can do just as much—or maybe more—than balance sheets and audience numbers to capture the intrinsic value for those who participate in and experience the arts. Communicating this impact in the age of strategic communications requires that organizations not only have high quality digital content but also have the skill to translate that content into compelling organizational stories.

Like our grantees, the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program also wanted to be able to better communicate our impact on Bay Area communities.  In late 2013, we launched a digital assets project to create three mini-documentaries and photo sets that highlight the impact of our core strategies. As part of this project we recognized that we wanted to share, visually, the breadth and diversity of our portfolio. Historically, our high quality photos and video came from larger budget institutions in our grantee portfolio; often, small to mid-size community based organizations lacked the capacity to invest in and develop the high-quality video and photos that are essential for effective storytelling and strategic communications. Therefore we decided our mini-documentaries should focus on community-based grantees serving diverse Bay Area communities. 

The first grantee we worked with for this project was the incredibly brave School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza (MHP) in East San Jose, California. MHP was a great pilot partner on this project, and we learned a lot about the staffing and infrastructure support needed to successfully produce this type of media, as well as how time consuming it can be. During a roughly eight month process, our production company partners Rapt Productions created the beautiful and moving five minute mini-documentary you see above, as well as a fantastic set of photos that truly captures the energy and spirit of MHP and the critical role it plays in its community in East San Jose. The video and photos clearly communicates the vital importance of cultural heritage and multicultural arts education in giving voice to young people and building stronger communities in a way that words and figures just can’t hope to match.

It was clear to us that an effective partnership, and a successful project, would require a great deal of time and effort on the part of MHP—and that the project couldn’t end with the delivery of the video and photos. An important part of this process has been to support MHP in using the materials effectively to further their strategic goals. In addition to helping shape the content of video and photos, MHP staff also attended a Foundation-hosted communications training by Spitfire Strategies to develop a plan to link the visual media to their broader organizational goals: increasing class enrollment, facility rentals, and foundation support .

As you’ll see in the video above and the photos below, the work that MHP is doing in East San Jose is having a remarkable impact in the lives of individual students and the neighborhood. We are tremendously grateful to MHP for their partnership on this project, and for the opportunity to help show how they are transforming lives and empowering a whole community.

If you’re interested in reading more about the history of the School of Arts and Culture at MHP, I encourage you to read my colleague Heath Wickline’s recent story about them: Building a Place of Safety, Inclusion, and Community.

Work in Progress

The Hewlett Foundation Blog

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