Welcome to SIAP!

What’s SIAP?
Pronounced si’-ap as in sci’-ence.

The Social Impact of the Arts Project a/k/a SIAP
is a research group started in 1994 at the
University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice,
located in Philadelphia, PA, USA.

SIAP conceptualizes the arts, culture, and humanities as integral to urban vitality and social wellbeing and develops ways to measure the impact of this sector on community life.  SIAP conducts project-based inquiry in metropolitan Philadelphia and other U.S. cities with support primarily by external private and public funders.

Our work is available for public use with full citation requested. Reports and documents (except for copyrighted material) are downloadable in PDF format. SIAP’s modus operandi is work-in-progress.  We welcome comments, questions, and especially updates.

What’s new?

SIAP has recently completed the research phase of the CultureBlocks project—a partnership with The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), TRF’s PolicyMap, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) and Department of Commerce—made possible by generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and ArtPlace. Highlights of the project include development of a policy tool to assess social wellbeing by neighborhood and an online cultural mapping tool for Philadelphia. For a full description of the project and to access related materials, see Completed Projects.

The CultureBlocks project marks an important event in the development of cultural research and its contribution to urban and social policy. The web tool provides an opportunity to open up the discussion of the future of culture and the arts in Philadelphia neighborhoods to a broader public. The SIAP/TRF research findings and their dissemination provide ideas and evidence that can inform that discussion. 

CultureBlocks policy tool—a neighborhood-based, multi-dimensional index of social wellbeing

For the CultureBlocks project, SIAP and TRF collaborated on a research agenda that involved development of a policy tool for Philadelphia to enable assessment of how the arts connect with livability and other dimensions of social wellbeing in Philadelphia. Our final report compiles the results of that research. Two papers discuss SIAP/TRF’s endeavor to develop a neighborhood-based index of social wellbeing for the city. A third paper examines changes in the cultural ecology of Philadelphia between 1997 and 2012. To review and access these papers, see: Cultural Ecology, Neighborhood Vitality, and Social Wellbeing—A Philadelphia Project (December 2013).

For a discussion of SIAP’s rationale about why cultural research needs to move beyond purely economic yardsticks to judge wellbeing, see Mark Stern’s postings for Animating Democracy’s 2012 Social Impact and Evaluation Blog Salon.

Rethinking Social Impact: We Can’t Talk About Social Well-Being Without the Arts & Culture
Posted by Mark Stern on May 1, 2012

The Arts, Culture, & Social Well-Being
Posted by Mark Stern on May 3, 2012.

CultureBlocks.com—Philadelphia’s new online mapping tool

The most visible element of the CultureBlocks project has been development of a free web-based cultural and community asset mapping tool for the city of Philadelphia. CultureBlocks, powered by TRF’s PolicyMap, launched in spring 2013. Check it out at www.cultureblocks.com/wordpress.

The Cultural Research Network (CRN) featured CultureBlocks as the first topic for its new online forum: cultural-research@googlegroups.com. For CRN’s overview of the CultureBlocks mapping tool and interview with SIAP’s Susan Seifert, see Kiley Arroyo’s CRN postings on May 17, 2013 (in PDF format).

Below is selected press that describes the CultureBlocks tool, its users, and its potential:

“[CultureBlocks] democratizes a lot of the data that has been collected by researchers …”  
From “Data Democratized: CultureBlocks Launches” by Vivienne Tang, April 30, 2013, posted by Hidden City Philadelphia.

In the world of big data, anything can be mapped — including, apparently, the creative economy and the artistic and cultural output that powers it. … the City of Philadelphia released a compelling new online tool called CultureBlocks, a detailed atlas of the city’s cultural terrain.
From “Down to the Parcel, ‘CultureBlocks’ Maps Philly Arts and Culture” by Patrick Kerkstra, Next City, May 2, 2013.

“CultureBlocks allows city departments, foundations, arts organizations and community development corporations to make data-driven decisions ...”

“By using CultureBlocks reports, … advocacy organizations will be armed with data that are difficult to argue with or ignore. Funding for the arts across Philadelphia’s many neighborhoods may become more equitable …”
From “Culture Blocks” by Anya Saretzky, Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal, October 2013.

Recent publications

Stern, Mark J. 2014. Engaging Social Welfare: An Introduction to Policy Analysis. New York and London: Pearson.

Stern’s new book examines how practitioners—in this case, social workers—can influence policymaking through practice. SIAP believes that a policy practice approach has potential for cultural workers and socially engaged artists and educators interested in translating their practice into meaningful action that helps shape urban and social policy.

Stern, Mark J. and Susan C. Seifert. 2013. “Creative capabilities and community capacity,” In Enhancing Capabilities: The Role of Social Institutions, Hans-Uwe Otto and Holger Ziegler (eds). Opladen, Berlin & Toronto: Barbara Budrich Publishers.

Finkelpearl, Tom. 2013. “Project Row Houses. Interview: Rick Lowe, artist, and Mark J. Stern, professor of social history and urban studies,” in What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, Chapter 5, “Social Vision and a Cooperative Community.” Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Change, tradition, and culture-mixing in New Orleans
A goodbye to Treme HBO series
by Matt Zoller Seitz
New York Magazine,
December 23, 2013

Participatory Postcards
One man dancing
around the world



Cities and Their Citizens:
Fostering Civic Engagement
through the Arts

University of Chicago



The arts and social inclusion
Mark J. Stern
June 2011