Who Did Public Trust Reach?

Update: Download the full report from SuperNormal here.

The quantitative impacts of an artwork—especially a free, temporary, artwork visiting multiple sites like Public Trust—can be challenging to measure. But tracking who interacts with our work is necessary not just to secure funding or media coverage. Data are also vital for any organization dedicated to presenting works and opportunities that speak within and to a community, to see who we're reaching and how we can create meaningful interactive art experiences, and how to improve with the next project.

Now + There collected many kinds of data during Public Trust to see who was coming to the artwork to make a promise or observe the process. About half of the participants completed a survey after having their photo taken in front of the billboard spelling out their promise. From the surveys, we learned what people loved most about their promise-making experience:
    Talking with a stranger and having a vulnerable conversation
    Swearing on the Jupiter Stone
    The visceral experience of making a blood oath and seeing the promise rubbing made
    Being pushed to put your promise into specific words

We also learned how many people came to check out Public Trust after hearing about the artwork from Now + There, a friend, or a professor, and who made a promise after seeing the sixteen-foot billboard walking through their normal day. Passersby made up roughly half of Public Trust's 956 participants. But we wondered, did Public Trust change foot traffic patterns in Dudley, Kendall, and Copley? Were we talking to people who live in that neighborhood, or further away? What data can we collect to see who Public Trust reached?

Kate Gilbert has written before on the challenges and methods of collecting data on public art projects. Last fall we teamed up with Supernormal, a local big data/design firm, to choose potential sites for Public Trust. During the project, Supernormal collected "scrubbed" (that is, anonymized) cell phone data to tell us some of the demographics that we didn't ask during the survey, like: how old are you? are you normally in this area?, and other invasive questions that are better and more accurately collected at the macro level.

These maps show where people went after encountering Public Trust. The differences in these patterns show how our choice of locations was able to draw from different audiences in the city. Dudley is a hub for all of Roxbury, stretching into Jamaica Plain and Mattapan. People in Kendall head north, to Central and Harvard, or downtown. Copley visitors, meanwhile, spend a lot of time in the center of Boston. Is this what we expected or is it a surprise? As long as we keep an open mind, data can confirm our hunches and teach us new things about how to reach people across Greater Boston.

We also learned:

  • the median age of Public Trust observers and participants in Copley and Dudley, based on cell phone records, is 8-10 years younger than in Kendall
  • in Kendall, 70% of people included in the data set carried iPhones, and 30% Android; in Copley, iPhones were the device of choice for 86%; in Dudley, 92% carried Android devices
  • across the three locations, Public Trust made almost 6,000 "impressions": people spending time at the artwork compared to normal usage of each plaza space

These data answer some questions and raise others. We know that iPhone usage is tied to higher socioeconomic status. We know, from observing, that the crowds in Dudley Square had a wide range of ages. Were the older populations there not carrying phones? Is the older population in Kendall due to its proximity to MIT—and our week there coinciding with parents bringing their children back to school?

In this current election season of intensive, ubiquitous polling, the benefits and insight by big data are on many minds. Arts organizations, like pollsters, use data from anonymized data as well as information collected onsite to learn more about how artworks (like campaigns) are connecting with people, and with whom. The data collected by Supernormal confirm that public art participation benefits from being near transit centers (the Kendall T stop just feet away) or civic centers like the Central (in Copley) and Dudley Square Branch of the Boston Public Library. Even more, it's clear that in those typically busy spaces, Public Trust was a destination—a place that people came to on their commute, or went out of their way for.

Close up: This map illustrates that foot traffic increased directly in front of  Public Trust  in Dudley Square. The project was easily visible from the Dudley Square transit station and businesses further north on Warren Street.   

Close up: This map illustrates that foot traffic increased directly in front of Public Trust in Dudley Square. The project was easily visible from the Dudley Square transit station and businesses further north on Warren Street.


For some more numbers on Public Trust, check out "Tools of Public Trust."