As a monitoring and evaluation professional, working in the space of arts, education and wellbeing, I have found myself asking this question a number of times;

“Should we even evaluate arts? If yes, then how?”

What do we look for in our evaluations? –

“Are the children able to get the perfect brush stroke?
Or are they playing the right musical note? ”

One is faced with a number of dilemmas and questions related to what we want to evaluate –

“Do we want to evaluate how ‘brilliant’ the artistic output is?
Or do we want to evaluate how skilled the artist is?
Who decides what is perfect in the field of arts?”

With all these questions, a common dilemma arises: who decides what is high-quality artistic output or who is a skilled artist? What are the standards against which we evaluate them? and is such an evaluation fair?

Questions worth pondering on… aren’t they?

While navigating through the space of many such dilemmas, one tends to go back to the basic question of –

 “What is the purpose behind teaching arts to our young learners?”

And believe me, this is an easier question to answer compared to the many questions I asked in the beginning. I think most of us here at NalandaWay would resonate with the idea that we teach arts to empower our young learners. To use arts to reflect, introspect and use it as a language of expression.

‘Ah! Clarity at last”

And so, this purpose becomes the cornerstone that guides how we approach evaluations in the space of arts. 

At NalandaWay, we take inspiration from the framework provided by the National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) to design evaluations for projects that fall under the umbrella of structured arts education. The National Core Arts Standards was released by the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards in June 2014. It is the framework guiding arts education curriculums in the United States. The NCAS framework categorizes artistic abilities under the following heads 

This framework aligns with our philosophy of understanding arts as a medium for personal growth and development, and not purely an endeavour for mastering a certain kind of artistic output. 

 An example of this is NalandaWay’s Arts in Education (AiE) programme. Targeted at children studying in classes 1-5, in government schools across Chennai, the project aims to provide the children with a safe space to use arts to reflect, introspect, question, discover and express. 

At the beginning of the intervention, we see many children tend to draw things that they like, or have seen around themselves. However, three months into the intervention, one can observe how children use arts as a means of expression, to communicate their aspirations, learnings from life or messages that they feel strongly about. Some examples are presented below – 

Fig 1. A drawing by a 9-year-old participant, depicting his dream of becoming a police officer and saving the world!
Fig 2. A drawing by a 10-year-old participant, depicting the message ‘never give up’ based on her personal experiences.

Let’s look at what our young artist, has to say about her artwork – 

“Earlier, my classmates teased me by seeing my drawings. So I thought not to participate in the drawing competition. My sister advised me to join and motivated me to draw well, then I participated in the competition. Now I feel happy because I have been selected for the drawing competition. Thus, I have drawn my journey, to spread the message – Never give up.”

This is one way out of the million ways that probably exist to evaluate arts. It works for us because it resonates with our philosophy. What do you think? Should art be evaluated? 

Written by Noyonika Gupta, Associate – Projects at NalandaWay Foundation. Noyonika holds a Master’s in Applied Psychology. Her key interests involve research work centering around mental health, positive psychology, child and adolescent development. At NalandaWay Foundation, she is involved in the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) vertical.