The Perplexing Role of Metrics in the Arts

Metrics are everything these days — they’re used to find ways to measure outcomes, finding ways to prove that your effects are having an impact, finding [insert buzzword and buzzverb], or [insert another buzzword and buzzverb], etc, etc. If in no other setting, most people are at least vaguely aware that metrics are a huge part of the major conflicts that have been taking place in the nation’s education system — specifically, the way in which many so-called “reforms” in education tie programmatic or teaching success to standardized testing scores. But issues around metrics exist in every sector, including the arts. The stakes in the arts may not seem as dire or far-reaching as in education, for instance, but it’s all part of a societal shift toward relying on fairly abstract numbers to dictate how decisions are made around funding, opportunity, and what groups of people are targeted in programming.