The Research Lab @ CURRENT:LA Water

Welcome to the Research Lab @

A comprehensive social impact evaluation of L.A.’s first public art biennial was conducted by an innovative coalition of researchers from Kamella Tate Associates, LLC, and the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.

The Research Lab, led by Principal Investigator Dr. Kamella Tate in partnership with Rossier’s Dr. Kenneth Yates, explored and documented how CURRENT:LA Water worked to enable public participation and generate civic discourse around critical issues.

What can CURRENT:LA Water tell us about how social practice public art contributes to community livability and individual well-being while changing our understanding of the places where we live?


How could we tell the story of CURRENT:LA Water in a way that paid tribute to the initiative’s complexity while remaining manageable and intelligible? Complexity – several degrees away from complicated – implies levels of emergence, unpredictability, and adaptivity not seen in something that “only” has many moving parts. How, then, to identify and draw out the themes and threads that lead to understanding of what happened, what worked and why, and what’s next?

Our aim in this Casebook is to unfold the process and progress of our inquiry. From questions, frameworks, instruments, and findings to achievements, stumbles, and strengths.

CURRENT:LA Water was . . . 

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. . . a social practice public art initiative comprising high quality artworks, public programming, and virtual platforms located in and connected by the CITY.

At the heart of CURRENT:LA Water were the PEOPLE – artists, visitors, and supporters. In our investigation, we used community contexts to frame questions from the perspective of individuals.

We developed our suite of social impact evaluation tools to measure both outputs (artworks, attendance, social media) and outcomes (social capital, cultural value, awareness), while capturing evidence of promising practices and demonstrating the viability and replicability of the CURRENT:LA Water model.


When all you want is a manageable overview and some ideas on how to navigate the Casebook: What was CURRENT:LA, who are we, what did we do, how did we do it, and what did we find out?

The findings presented here include the confirmatory, the explanatory, and the speculative. Constructs, dimensions, and topics range from attendance and geography to motivation and social capital.

OK, We’re Going For It! Public Art as Collective Practice We reviewed the literature on high-performing teams in order to  understand the hows and whys of what worked through the lens of a theory-informed model of effectiveness.

Publications and links that informed our work, as well as others that provoked discussion and contributed to ideas for future engagement.

Data placemats display thematically grouped data designed to encourage stakeholder interaction with collected data and to promote the cocreation of meaning under the facilitative guidance of the evaluator.” (Pankaj and Emery, 2016)

Visual Re-Collect (Tate, 2006) is a collaborative process that uses images, video, and/or soundscapes to stimulate the re-collection of lived experiences, which are investigated through question prompts and group conversations.

Fingertip Facts: The Research Lab @ CURRENT:LA Water
Who, what, where, how

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Our interdisciplinary approach
The cultural sector needs patrons and audiences who think of themselves as “arts people.” People who attend regularly, spread the word, advocate for the arts. Research done by Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia (1956, 1964) on the affective domain gave us a map to think about how people develop intrinsic value systems. We also drew on theories from domains such as educational psychology to understand how people evolve from awareness to identification.

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Research Brief: The City as Gallery
was the City presenting itself as a gallery, with 15 wildly different settings and artworks – structures and sculptures and stages and fountains and gardens – spread over an area that extended 58 miles north to south. It was also hundreds of hours of programming, from artist talks and performances to films and foraging lectures. And it was also the neighborhoods and communities that visitors discovered and explored along the way.

The City as Gallery allowed both us and CURRENT:LA’s many stakeholders to consider what unfolded in a single exhibit space, as well as in the initiative as a whole.

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