Ford Foundation president Darren Walker's closing plenaryat the Skoll World Forum planted another stake in the ground in defense of the critical role the arts play in social change. He defends arts and culture ventures not only for their importance in shaping individual experiences and giving voice to social movements, but also against the rising tide of philanthropic 'wisdom' that the best investments are those we can plot on a dashboard of returns.
There is clear evidence that arts fuel our economies. According to Americans for the Arts, this sector generated $135.2 billion of economic activity (from nonprofit arts and culture organizations and event-related expenditures by audiences). This activity maintains 4.13 million full-time jobs and provides $86.68 billion in resident household income. We can track these streams of revenue and community impact. It is harder to do in other areas of advocacy or policy reform. Yet it is precisely this tension that we must continue to cultivate to keep moving social investing forward. We all want to know our contributions made a difference, yet it is the impact of arts and culture in communities and in those particular moments in our lives that spark a change. We've all had that experience of flipping of the switch, that elusive changing of heart and mind so many movements seek to attain. Art helps this occur in ways that are timeless, without borders and language and gender, limited only by our receptiveness. So when it happens, we should value it in its proper way, and support it. It doesn't need to look or sound like standard metrics, but it does have meaning and we can see its impact over time.
Street art like JR's Women are Heroes campaigngives us pause as we go about our day. A book like Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street helps young people (well, me, certainly) understand their blended cultural identity. A tweet with a moving image in support of a new campaign may ignite a new commitment. A video short or movie like The House I Live In opens our eyes to an issue we might otherwise ignore. Today these are all instances of using art for social change. As our forms of expression evolve, so too must the analytical tools that help us understand influence and impact.
Through the process of interviewing nearly 1,000 change agents from around the world for the book Good, Evil, Wicked, we've seen new and creative ways of blending the arts into education, women's rights, the environment, criminal justice reform, human rights, CSR, capacity building, and community development. It is clear from these interviews that we need all the tools at our disposal to communicate and create a narrative of lasting change. Arts and culture help us move the conversation to the next level, reach new audiences, use a more dynamic platform, and engage unusual allies. Given how rapidly our work strategies are changing, arts may well be the tool that helps us bridge these new dynamics and forge better collaboration across cultures and generations.
Visit the blog in the coming months as we begin to share stories about how social investors fuse arts and other strategies to tackle systemic problems around the world.
 "Arts and Economic Prosperity IV," Americans for the Arts http://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/reports-and-data/research-studies-publications/arts-economic-prosperity-iv/national-findings