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Staff Spotlight: Intern Gavin Crowell-Williamson

Meet Gavin Crowell-Williamson, the Research and Evaluation Intern for Metro Arts, and learn a little about the data-driven perspective he's brought to our team!


Tell us a bit about what your internship involves:

My job essentially entails considering how we collect data, what data we look at, and analyzing the results of said data. I’m trying to bring an analytic edge to the arts world.

Can you describe a little bit about your background and how it has helped prepare you for the work you do now?

I often describe this role as somewhat serendipitous – my mother is a visual artist and my father is a data analyst. Somehow, I’ve found myself nestled right in the middle in my role at Metro Arts.

I got my undergraduate degree in psychology at Knox College, where I dove down the rabbit hole and did as much research as I could get my hands on. I began to view my pursuit of psychology as being somewhat myopic, however, which led me to Vanderbilt University’s Community Development and Action (CDA) master’s program. CDA is interdisciplinary at its heart, and has allowed me to explore a number of interesting topics from policy analysis to geospatial mapping.

All of this is to say, I think I bring a strong analytic background as well as an open mind. I am curious about how data can help the arts world, and vice versa.

What is your favorite thing about the work you do?

It has been really exciting to be in a role where I can see tangible results from the work I’ve done. Often when I finished an experiment in the psychology world, I felt like I was just throwing results into the wind, hoping that the right person would read what I wrote. Following the tornado and COVID-19, Metro Arts released a disaster response survey ascertaining the needs of local artists and arts organizations. The data analysis I did on that survey directly contributed to the resources and services Metro Arts was able to provide, which was incredibly gratifying to see. Metro Arts is so close to the work they do, which is just really cool to see and be a part of.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? Or, what were you surprised to learn about your job? About Metro Arts?

I think arts get painted as somewhat of a monolith – people think about painting, sculpture, murals, etc., which of course Metro Arts supports, often directly through projects such as Public Art initiatives. But there’s so much more going on here. To name just a few programs that excite me: Restorative Arts, Build Better Tables, THRIVE, and Learning Lab, all of which contribute to Metro Arts' broader mission to support a vibrant and equitable arts community.

Can you share one story or memory that encapsulates your work? Something that will stick with you?

While COVID-19 has stymied a lot of my efforts to get out in the field and do community-focused work, it has been really gratifying to see how much Metro Arts values community perspective. I’ve been working with the Restorative Arts team, and they’ve been really receptive to my feedback on integrating community-based participatory research, focus groups, and other qualitative evaluation methods.

A particular memory would be seeing how Nichole Robinson took some of the preliminary work I did interviewing Restorative Arts stakeholders, combined that with fieldwork of her own, and used that to rework programming pretty rapidly, constantly incorporating community feedback. Program change is hard, but there’s a lot of optimism and genuine appreciation in the community regarding the work she’s doing.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The team has been nothing but supportive and welcoming to me as a newcomer, which makes the work all the easier and more gratifying. I’m grateful to have landed here.

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