October 2nd, FSU Art Education Alumnus Dr. Michael Sikes was a guest speaker in Dr. Antonio Cuyler’s Grant Writing and Development in the Arts class.
Grant writing and development explores the fundamental processes that influence the conceptualization, design, development, review, and management of a grant funded project in a nonprofit cultural organization. This class also features a service-learning component that will allow students to prepare their assignments on behalf of and in consultation with a local nonprofit cultural organization.
Dr. Cuyler introduced his guest as “an expert in evaluation with previous experience working at the Arts Education Partnership and the National Endowment for the Arts.” Among the topics discussed were difficulties measuring the impact of arts and culture, extrinsic vs. intrinsic impacts of arts and culture, best approaches and strategies for demonstrating how arts and culture impact people’s lives, significant changes in evaluation, and strong arts evaluations that students can study and learn from.
We were able to catch up with Dr. Sikes and ask him some questions about his career as an evaluation consultant. Read on for his responses.
What opportunities did you pursue that led to your current occupation?
In 1992, I became an evaluator. This step consisted mostly of deciding to enroll in the FSU Education College’s five-course sequence in evaluation. I had been encouraged toward this route by Jessie Lovano-Kerr, one of my advisors. It was said that she encouraged most art ed students in this direction, but few took the advice. I was glad that I did.
Within a short time, my imagined career directions—teacher, curator, arts administrator—had mostly given way to that of program evaluator, though with a distinctive concentration in the areas of art and culture. I’ve strayed a bit from evaluation, per se, from time to time. But at the end of the day that is what I call myself. I enjoy it because it is inherently interdisciplinary and because the essence of its work is always close to the ground and caught up with the everyday experiences and aspirations of people.
What unique abilities/traits do you possess that gave you an advantage in your career?
If I did not possess them before choosing this path, planning and conducting evaluations developed the following skills or habits of mind:
-Being aware of my own thinking and the reasons behind it
-Skepticism of truisms, platitudes, formulas, and clichés
-Being interpretative and analytic
-Openness to new possibilities
-Being part of and valuing a great community of practitioners
Did any particular experience in the FSU program provide you with the tools you needed to lead you in this career path?
The hours spent in the art education classes (e.g., of Tom Anderson, Jessie,Chuck Dorn), especially those sessions focusing on aesthetics and criticism,gave me some of my best preparation as an evaluator. From literally judging a nonprofit program as an artwork to understanding that programs can be judged on their unity, variety, and complexity, seeing art as a metaphor for life has given me a perspective not taught in other programs.
Is art important? I think so. Is knowing how to perceive and respond to art essential? Absolutely. It becomes a mode of thinking.
What was the most important/influential thing that you learned while in school or during your career?
I learned, first at FSU and then in the field, that all value and meaning that we impute to programs, projects, artworks, or other reasoned human action are conditional, provisional, and highly subjective. And knowing that leads to all kinds of new ways of obtaining knowledge. Evaluation is, after all, the science of discerning value, so this was a more than incidental lesson for me.
Do you have any advice for students or professionals who might desire to follow in your footsteps?
I think that life teaches scepticism of following in any footsteps. So I have one piece of advice: Find your own path. You will know it is true when you come home satisfied about your work and go back to work excited about the possibilities.
That being said, if you are interested in evaluation as a career direction, explore. Go the American Evaluation Association Website (http://www.eval.org), or contact the regional affiliate in Tallahassee (http://www.southeastevaluation.org). Read the journals and blogs. It is an entrée into much more than you may think,as I found out in 1992.
As always, we appreciate the opportunity to hear from our Alumni about their contributions to their respective fields. We thank Dr. Sikes and look forward to hearing more of his accomplishments moving forward.
If this blog was of interest to you, consider taking Grant Writing and Development in the Arts next semester. The class affords students the opportunity to gain valuable experience with the grant writing process and to hear from experts in the field such as Dr. Sikes.