Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 3

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................."

Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).

Today's Question:

Funding varies from area to area, across disciplines and organization size - and remains one of the key challenges to every arts organization.  Is there any kind of tax or dedicated revenue stream that might have a chance of voter passage that would include all nine Bay Area counties?  Is that kind of approach viable?  Are there other ways the funding issue might be addressed from a cooperative approach?


Olivia Dodd:  A dedicated revenue stream for the arts that has a chance of passing is the million dollar question (pardon the pun)!  A meaningful revenue stream has been something our agency has spent a lot of time considering, as it has the potential to be transformative for not only our region but our California culture.  Although we have not yet found that there is an obvious path forward, I certainly believe there is merit to working collaboratively on the issue. There are several models deployed by other regions and industries that could be guides for us - of which many might only be lucrative if applied on a larger regional scale.

A few models we’ve discussed internally may be worth exploration on a regional level. Business Improvement or Tourism Improvement Districts have been successful for collecting pooled funds through industry-led self-assessments, helping re-development and destination marketing organizations at the city or county level. If applied to the arts, might this be an added art sales or ticket fee assessment that goes back into local nonprofit arts? In areas like Cincinnati and Louisville, regional united arts fund models have raised millions of dollars from philanthropists, special events, and corporate giving programs.  In the greater Portland area the regional governments support the operations of their local arts agency based on a cost of living formula and they even have an agreement that the arts can not be cut disproportionately to other services. Voters additionally approved an income tax levy that provides $35 per person for grants in education and access to the arts. Whether or not the Bay Area would be willing to do an income tax or sales tax like our northern counterparts is yet to be seen but worth exploring. Or, maybe, it would be better to explore a retail program that benefits a regional arts fund, like the state-run English Lottery or California vanity license plate program.  Whether privately or publicly funded, by looking at the issue of funding on a regional level we open up a much greater opportunity for our residents and arts community.
Within our county, I have seen how this sort of asset can transform an industry’s presence. Just seven years ago our county’s conference and visitor bureau was as a small agency hovering around a $250,000 budget annually. Then, the hotel industry came together and adopted a Tourism Improvement District for the county and within in each city that added an assessment to each visitor’s overnight stay in order to fund the marketing of Napa County as a destination. The CVB was then contracted as the agent for this joint marketing of the county as destination, now yielding them just over $6 million annually for our small county of just under 140,000 residents.

If we were to look at funding for the arts through a nine county approach, the challenge will be in deciding what is equitable and strategic in geographic distribution of the funds as well as what sort of infrastructure would support this venture. Would we need to establish a regional arts agency that the local organizations and agencies apply to or could it be a consortium of agencies that run the fund co-operatively?  Should we explore mergers among local arts agencies to combine our administration and grantmaking?  All of these questions offer great opportunity to step back and explore what could be if we’re willing to think outside the normal territorial boundaries.

Connie Martinez: I’d like to be wrong but hard to envision a public funding mechanism across all nine counties that would speak to the values and priorities of each unique sub-region AND be able to get voter approval.   That said, funding mechanisms that align with local values and priorities are worth exploring and could be reinforced by overarching regional messages that connect to and complement local campaigns.

Tom DeCaigny:  A regional tax or dedicated public funding stream for the arts across all nine Bay Area counties isn’t a viable option. Jurisdictional authorities in California are defined by city, county and state legislative bodies. Public funding structures mirror those jurisdictions making it difficult to fund multi-county initiatives. Historically, very few regional measures have passed and critical regional infrastructure bond measures like BART have struggled for decades.

That said, the arts stand to benefit from several regional planning efforts, particularly the long-term development of a second Transbay BART tube. A second Transbay tube would allow late night entertainment and cultural workers as well as arts audiences to access BART on a 24-hour basis which will become essential as more and more artists and cultural workers seek affordable housing around the Bay Area. The recent success of the BART bond measure gives hope that critical transportation infrastructure improvements may be able to secure regional funding in the future.
The best opportunity for securing new Bay Area arts funding may be through securing community benefits from the expansive amount of development taking place in the region. In 2015, the San Francisco Arts Commission worked with the SF Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to negotiate an arts community benefit package valued at more than $12 million. The benefits package, to be paid by Forest City as part of their development of the 5M project in the South of Market neighborhood, includes the gifting of the historic Dempster Building to the Community Arts Stabilization Trust as well as approximately $3 million to seismically retrofit and restore the building. The benefits package also includes an arts programming fund for the neighborhood and a nonprofit arts displacement mitigation fund to be administered by the SFAC. By sharing promising practices and lessons learned through networks like the U.S. Urban Arts Federation, communities across the Bay Area could negotiate similar community benefit packages for the arts.

Kristen Madsen:  The list of people who are smarter than I am about the intricacies of taxes and ballot measures is … oh right … everyone.  So I’m steering completely clear of that part of this question.

And I will also caution against imagining that the voters of our 9 geographically-connected-but-still-quite-diverse counties are homogenous enough to support a new tax or proposition.  There is a lesson to be taken from very recent history on making assumptions about our fellow travelers’ life concerns.

Here’s what I am comfortable saying.  Taking advantage of existing strategies and smart work by others is always a good option.  As an example, the Sonoma County Economic Development Board has recently submitted a proposal in partnership with Mendocino County’s Economic Development Board to the US Economic Development Administration to become an officially designated Economic Development District (EDD).  This program is specifically for multi-county regions working together to improve and expand their economic development efforts.  The proposal pre-approved a list of projects that will become eligible for federal funds if the EDD designation is approved.  Plus, the imprimatur of a federal designation may be helpful with other funding sources.  Creative Sonoma has a project that has been approved as part of the Sonoma-Mendocino proposal.  So, we’re taking advantage of an existing multi-county effort, where the heavy lifting has already been done, hoping that it will help open doors to potential new arts funding in our counties.

Michele Seville:  What about a $1 allocation for the arts on income taxes?

Kerry Adams Hapner:  Funding is a perennial issue. I frankly don’t see a regional effort as a viable option in the near future as getting voters across counties to support a regional initiative is a huge effort and the mechanisms to administer it are narrow. Alternatively, I see National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and California Arts Council funding as more urgent priorities. The Trump administration has threatened the eliminate the NEA and the field must act to protect this national resource.

With an annual appropriation of $146 million, the NEA is the single largest national funder of nonprofit arts in the U.S. Locally, the NEA’s investments meaningfully catalyze cultural vibrancy. Over the past three years, the NEA has awarded approximately $9.1 million in grants to organizations based in San Jose, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley.
I urge people to join Americans for the Arts’ Arts Action Fund for free at www.artsactionfund.org.  We can’t be complacent in this environment.

Thursday's Question:   
Arts Education remains somewhat of a Have and Have-Not proposition, with wealthy districts offering more than those that are struggling financially.  Is the solution an approach that unites all the districts in the greater Bay Area? If not, then what can each district do at this point in time to maximize the possibility of offering meaningful arts education to local students K-12?

Have a good day.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 2

Good morning
"And the beat goes on................"

Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see yesterday's blog for the introduction and participant list).

Today's Question:
Working in the arts probably means we understand the intrinsic value/ transformative power that the arts can provide or tap into.  How is your department or arts organizations in your county building public will for the arts across it's residents, so we aren't always pitting arts against every other important experience?


Connie Martinez:  We are working closely with the City of San Jose on their Building Public Will initiative and are using the language and messaging that the research has deemed important to building public will. As for pitting the arts against others, we use a collaborative approach in all of our work and see arts as a value add to many other sectors:  health, education, urban development, etc.  To that end, we bring the arts to the table to contribute to the strength of other sectors when we can and avoid an "us vs them" acknowledging that we are part of same community and share the goal of strengthening the common good.

Michele Seville:  Two ways: a) the Richmond Arts & Culture Commission is proposing a Percent for Art in Private Development ordinance – which will bring even more public art to our environment; and b) the commission has decided to embark on a project called “Community Conversations” where we invite unlikely partners to the table to discuss what they want to see in their community, and how to achieve it together through the arts.

Kerry Adams Hapner:  The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs is participating in a multi-phase national initiative called Creating Connection to build public will for the arts and culture.  Through aligning the arts with the existing closely-held values of San Joseans, the goal is for the arts to be recognized as a vital and essential part of the daily fabric of life.

Conceived and led by Metropolitan Group and Arts Midwest, this initiative is supported by multiple local, regional and national funders in the public and private sectors who understand that a thriving arts and cultural environment is essential to sustain strong communities. Because of its diverse population, vibrant neighborhoods and thriving cultural community, San Jose was selected by our partner the California Arts Council as the pilot community to represent the State of California for this growing national initiative. The Packard Foundation has been a wonderful supporter of the three phases of this project to date.

This public will-building approach coalesces support for social change by connecting an issue to existing, closely held values of individuals and groups. Through this connection, new expectations can influence long-term changes and achieve positive community outcomes.  This approach has a proven track record in other public policy areas, having catalyzed significant change in community expectations regarding now-commonly accepted practices as smoke-free public space, library support and improved water quality.

Phase 1 focused on national surveys, supplemented by focus groups in local communities, to uncover the core, shared public values and behaviors around community, education, self-expression, and family. The research found that the value of connection - with ourselves, the people closest to us, and the world around us - is the most strongly aligned with arts and culture.  Entitled Creating Connection, the research report for Phase 1 can be found at www.artsmidwest.org.   Key findings for the San Jose and other pilot areas include:

  • Connection is a key motivation driving personal behaviors. 
  • “Creative expression” has a greater resonance with the public than “arts and culture.” 
  • Engaging in or experiencing creative expression is associated with a beneficial personal outcome. 
  • People under 40, women, parents of younger children, and people of color are key audiences for whom creative expression is a priority. 
  • Barriers to creative expression and activities exist, but, not insurmountable. 

The research findings in Phase 1 informed the development of a national message framework which serves to communicate the connections between the inherent benefits of the arts and existing community priorities.  Recently completed, Phase 2 equipped a cohort of diverse arts organizations to take the research findings and messages to a broader audience. Organizations in the implementation cohort received message training with tools, programmatic recommendations, and funding to implement the framework. An exciting outcome of the cohort is that the organizations chose to adopt a hashtag called #408Creates that serves as a means to develop critical mass. A third phase is being launched now, which will offer another cohort and funding opportunity to San Jose groups, a social media campaign, as well as a convening of cross sector leaders to provide input on the building pubic will initiative.

In addition to working through arts partners, the OCA has designed a complementary programming initiative entitled San Jose Creates & Connects, which is designed to build a more vibrant San Jose by connecting San Jose residents across communities and within neighborhoods through creative, participatory experiences in arts and culture.

In supporting cultural activity within neighborhoods across the city, OCA’s objective is for residents to view the arts as integral to their everyday lives. Residents will celebrate their neighborhoods, connect with their neighbors, and have their voices heard through the arts. This initiative also supports the local employment and financial viability of artists and artist-run business as cultural producers, teachers, neighborhood anchors, and community organizers.

Specific initiatives being considered for inclusion over the course of two years are:

  • micro-grants and investments in place-based arts-businesses;
  • city-wide public art initiative connecting across communities, such as murals at underpasses or participatory art projects in parks, libraries and community centers; and
  • participatory arts festivals in non-traditional venues.   

Working synergistically, Creating Connection and San Jose Creates & Connects help ensure that San José’s robust cultural environment continues to thrive now and in the future.  These efforts serve to strengthen the local arts and cultural sector - by providing organizations with proven messages and strategies that demonstrate the connection between their offerings and the public’s existing values.

Olivia Dodd:  To my mind, it is critical that we (the arts most devoted fans) understand how the average person sees and feels about the arts (or at least the term) and work to: demystify the field, make it more approachable, and find relevant ways to engage in public issues.  It’s on us to speak and show why we believe so passionately that the arts matter, not in our own terms but in the language that is relevant to our broader communities. If we want to be a part of the fabric of California life, then it would go a long way to show how the arts can be a resource for the other important issues and experiences. 

While lack of access, lack of diverse arts exposure, or a distant association with the term “art”, there are a number of reasons the value of the arts haven’t yet resonated with the general public. BUT I believe that more of them have experienced the transformative power of the arts, than realize it - so I propose that it’s our task to breakdown our own walls, whether it’s between disciplines or genres or between pop, folk/traditional and academic arts. Each aspect of culture is a gateway to being exposed to another. 

As an agency, we have prioritized building public will as critical to the success of our local arts and culture field.  Beginning in 2015, we started to convene a cohort of local arts leaders to develop common language and pilot a Leadership Seminar program that focused on advocacy and public-will training. We started with an exercise in considering what our community cares about and how the arts might serve some common values within our resident populations and how we might integrate with reigning public issues of transportation, land use, agriculture, environment, affordable housing, visitor management, and immigration. Just this year, we announced the reorientation of our annual arts month, Napa Valley Arts in April, to engage the public where they already are in arts that is relevant to their lives - a locals first approach. Putting student voices at the forefront of our arts education communications for advocacy.  Public Art programs prioritizing community-build projects. 
We can look to  groups like ArtsWave in Cincinnati that have institutionalized this approach to better serve their communities, with great success. I am very appreciative to Margy Waller of Topos Research who was a part of the public will building initiative for ArtsWave and has shared insights into their work with our community through a workshop last Fall.  I also recommend we follow Arts Midwest’s national public will building campaign, being piloted locally in partnership with the City of San Jose (I am curious to see Kerry Adams-Hapner response to this question and how they are finding the work in practice.)  

Roberto Bedoya:  In light of the Ghost Ship Fire it has been invigorating to see how the artists’ DIY community who been have organizing themselves around policy matters related to “space” and in these efforts they have spoken clearly at public hearings and community meetings either at City Hall, neighborhood centers or art venues that artists are part of a larger community of folks in need of affordable housing, not a special interests group. Articulating how an underground illegal housing market whether it is a warehouse or residential garage is a civic crisis that demand remedies.

To speak of will – there’s the political will, public will and poetic will that I encounter that enliven the city. The political will of elected officials, lobbyists or get out the vote drives; the public will of a Women’s March, or the Save the Bay movement and the Poetic Will of how we imagine our plurality via images, the lyric, the story, or gestures, through acts of cultural citizenship that make a claim on civil society are woven together in my job as a civil servant.

I pay attention to the poetic will at play in civil society and how it moves in society, not so much as the I, but the we. The poetic will of art often unhinges the rational world of empirical reasoning with its images – images of freedom, beauty, possibilities, the abject, morals, or ethics as opposed to facts as definite, scientific, and absolute. The composing, the dreams, vision, utopia or dystopic energies that animate the secular, the interconnectedness that governs daily life via the promise of the city - expressive life a locale which is woven together through an interplay of people, land, arts, culture, and engagement that is a form of aesthetic ordering that roots a city in its development, its identity and creates the space and place called home. It is a form of ordering and speech that sources the work we do.

Kristen Madsen:  Let’s avoid the trap in this question that imagines the binary argument of the arts against every other cause.  If you’ve sat through a City Council of Supervisors’ budget hearing, you know that every issue and every cause is – and will always – be fighting to increase its share of the pie.  

That said, helping any resident of our community understand that creativity is in all of us – that we can get in the habit of exercising our creative muscles a bit more often – is core to the mission of Creative Sonoma.  We’re starting at the start with the recognition that providing access to arts education for all students is as likely as any other arts related issue to garner broad support.  I outline our specific plans in that regard in response to Question 4 below.  

On another, quite different track, we are working to launch a new mini-grant program, adapted from an existing program from LA Cultural Affairs:  “Pop-Up Creativity Grants.”  The grants will be made to fund production of temporary creative events, objects, installations or experiences, in neighborhoods across the county.  Projects that include engaging community members in art making will be encouraged.  We’ll market the projects as they occur and after each season’s worth of grants in an effort to show the collective creativity that exists of all kinds in Sonoma County.  This is a our first effort to remind Sonomans that they should take great pride in the creativity that is on full display every day in our county, with the ultimate goal of making “creativity” a defining characteristic of Sonoma County.  

Tom DeCaigny:  The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) is currently in the fourth year of a 5-year strategic plan. One of the issues identified in our organizational assessment during the planning process was low visibility of the City of San Francisco’s arts investments with members of the public. In response, the SFAC’s strategic plan defines several strategies to build public will for the arts. They are: 
  • Act as liaison between the arts community and policymakers to increase understanding of how artists can contribute to creative problem solving of larger policy issues.  
    • Over the past three years the SFAC has received over $2.5 million in special ‘add-back’ funding from the SF Board of Supervisors to support neighborhood arts projects that improve the quality of life for San Francisco residents and visitors. Examples of projects from our most recent Request for Proposals can be found here.
  • Collaborate with other city agencies to understand the intersection between arts and support for children, youth and families, public health, environment, etc. 
    • The SFAC currently has partnerships and work order funding from several peer City departments including the SF Department of Public Works, the SF Public Library, the SF Planning Department, the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families.
  • Participate in national research projects that highlight the importance of the arts in the local economy and improving the quality of life for San Francisco residents and visitors.  
  • Support small, grassroots organizations that serve the community directly through grants and capacity building. 
    • The SFAC’s Cultural Equity Endowment Fund received an ongoing annual increase of $1 million in Fiscal Year 2016. These new funds represent a 50% increase to the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund and have supported increased grant amounts to grassroots arts organizations for artmaking and capacity building.
  • Connect arts to other social sectors and issues.
    • The SF Arts Commission Galleries has recently expanded into a new space at the Veterans War Memorial Building. The current show, Not Alone addresses the experiences of veterans and their families and has received significant press coverage including a recent feature in Hyperallergic.  
The SFAC’s Arts & Communities: Innovative Partnerships grant program supports organizations working at the intersections of art, social justice, immigration, public health, education and the environment.

Wednesday's Question:

Funding varies from area to area, across disciplines and organization size - and remains one of the key challenges to every arts organization.  Is there any kind of tax or dedicated revenue stream that might have a chance of voter passage that would include all nine Bay Area counties?  Is that kind of approach viable?  Are there other ways the funding issue might be addressed from a cooperative approach?

Have a nice day.

Don't Quit

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 1

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................"

Katherin Canton, Lead Organizer of the San Francisco Bay Area based consortium of arts leaders  ABBA - Arts for a Better Bay Area  - asked me if I would organize an online blog forum with leaders of the local arts agencies in the area.

Despite their popularity, I haven't hosted a blogathon (blog forum) in some time, as these events seem to get ever more difficult to organize.  It isn't that people don't want to do them, it's that schedules have never been more demanding for people, and time a precious commodity of which there is never enough.  So it now takes considerable effort on everyone's part to find a convenient and consensus time period to schedule a forum.  And so I am very grateful to the panelists who agreed to participate in this forum and for their thoughtful answers to five questions. 

All five questions adhered to the general theme of the Bay Area as an interconnected, interdependent whole - one in which, while local agencies still function as separate and independent arts ecosystems, often in silos, those agencies are increasingly part of a larger construct.  And the challenge is whether to, when, how and where to work as part of a region.  That reality is, I think, not unlike any number of metro areas across the country. 

The Bay Area is generally thought of as nine contiguous counties with the major cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose included.  And while San Jose is actually a larger city than San Francisco and more of a hub to Silicon Valley, and while Oakland has seen tremendous growth in their arts and artists moving there, and while the outlying areas (including a number of cities) have developed vibrant arts ecosystems and infrastructures of their own, San Francisco still continues to be the principal hub for the entire region. While San Francisco is home to more arts organizations than in the other cities and counties, those organizations depend on people in the other counties as their audiences and supporters.  Indeed, there is a certain interconnectedness and synergy, as well as cooperation, collaboration and competition by and between the nine counties and the various cities, each of which has a version of its own local arts agency.  While increasingly these organizations are out of their silos and interface with each other, they are all still autonomous entities dealing with widely varying demographics, populations, issues, circumstances and challenges. 

The participants who accepted the invitation to ihis blog forum are:

Tom DeCaigny - Director of Cultural Affairs, San Francisco Arts Commission
Michele Seville - Arts & Culture Manager, City of Richmond
Connie Martinez - CEO, Silicon Valley Creates
Roberto Bedoya - Cultural Affairs Manager, City of Oakland
Kerry Adams Hapner - Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Jose
Kristen Madsen - Director, Creative Sonoma
Olivia Dodd - CEO & President, Napa Valley Arts Council

I will post their answers to one of the five questions each day beginning today and continuing through the week.

I believe ABBA plans to post the entire forum on their site as well.

ABBA Blog Forum:

Question 1:  
The greater Bay Area arts ecosystem is dependent to a degree on residents of different areas patronizing and supporting the arts in neighboring cities and counties.  Yet historically organizations have essentially operated in territorial silos.  How might city and county local arts agencies and individual arts organizations cooperate and collaborate together more to the benefit of all?  Is it a good idea? What kind of infrastructure exists, or might be created, to facilitate and nurture those kinds of joint efforts?  What are your suggestions to move forward?


Tom DeCaigny:    It may be a misconception that greater Bay Area arts organizations operate in territorial or geographic silos. Data shows that Bay Area arts audiences often travel to follow programming that appeals to them and many arts organizations have added new project locations and collaborative partnerships in response to the diverse communities they serve. Organizations such as The Lab, Queer Cultural Center, Youth Speaks, SFMOMA, A.C.T., Radar Productions, Axis Dance, Destiny Arts, Zaccho Dance Theater and many others have missions that serve the region and include regular programming collaborations throughout the Bay Area and beyond.

The Bay Area also has several strong arts service organizations that serve the region well. Established service organizations such as Theater Bay Area and Dancers’ Group as well as advocacy organizations such as Californians for the Arts and the Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area facilitate regional dialogue and foster collaboration. Newer organizations like the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) are also set up to serve the region. CAST started in San Francisco with seed funding from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation and recently expanded their real estate model to Oakland. Organizations such as CAST offer innovative models for public and private sector partnership and therefore offer a promising path forward for advancing regional solutions to persistent challenges such as affordability of space for artists.

City and county local arts agencies are not as well positioned for regional cooperation when compared to private arts organizations and philanthropy. Public policymaking has consistently shifted more and more to local control and local arts agencies such as the San Francisco Arts Commission typically have geographic restrictions on public funding. Elected officials who control public arts funding are inherently focused on their local constituents and therefore lack incentive to support regional initiatives. On the contrary, much of private philanthropy serves the region and has greater flexibility around funding guidelines and regional initiatives. The Arts Loan Fund at Northern California Grantmakers has provided longstanding infrastructure for regional sharing of resources and promising practices. This group of greater Bay Area public and private funders meets monthly to review loan applications and discuss regional arts policy issues. Northern California Grantmakers is also host to the regional Nonprofit Displacement Project which grew out of San Francisco’s Nonprofit Displacement Mitigation Program, a $4.5 million initiative to help nonprofits find permanently affordable space in San Francisco.

Kerry Adams Hapner:  There exist numerous organizations that provide critical forums and networks, offering opportunities for collaboration and knowledge exchange. Through these networks, we are able to advance goals at the local, regional, state and national levels. As a local arts agency leader, I am in regular dialogue with my regional colleagues, many with whom I partner. We share resources, get referrals, provide advice and feedback, and share opportunities. In the Bay Area, we often do this through organizational convenings of the Center for Cultural Innovation and Theatre Bay Area. For example, on March 13th, I will be participating in the Theatre Bay Area’s annual conference with Tom DeCaigny of San Francisco and Roberto Bedoya of Oakland to discuss emerging public policy in the arts and other contemporary issues like art spaces after the Ghostship tragedy and threats to the NEA.

In Silicon Valley, the San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs partners with Silicon Valley Creates on multiple initiatives. Their CEO, Connie Martinez, and I meet at least monthly to ensure our agencies are supporting and complementing each other.

Statewide, I serve on the Californians for the Arts board. CFTA holds an annual conference called Confluence in partnership with the California Arts Council. There, arts professionals of all disciplines come together to learn, network and advocate.

Nationally, there are several service organizations that connect peers from across the US. Among them are Americans for the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts, United States Urban Arts Federation, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters. Each serve a unique niche. It is through this local, statewide, and national arts ecosystem that we advance our own local art agency and collective goals.

Olivia Dodd:  My answer here is, wholeheartedly, ‘yes - let’s do it!’ We all share the goals of providing access and engagement in the arts within the Bay Area and to see a thriving local arts culture. There are a wealth of ways both individual arts organizations and local arts agencies can more effectively collaborate to the net benefit of all.  Whether we are a local arts agency, individual organization, or a community-minded artist, the human capital we have in the Bay Area is incredible in our creativity, diversity and resourcefulness. There is much to be gained by simply sharing information and ideas in our areas of strength and seeking partners who have found success where we are weaker.

The first steps, as I see it, are to identify the common goals, to know our shared audiences (habits, interests, and needs), and to build relationships with groups sharing those interests. A quick phone call or email to these groups can be the start to a whole new approach. If there is one thing I have learned about our field, it is that we like to help each other out. I have grown so much from just being able to reach out to a fellow arts professional and say “I love what you’re doing, would you be willing to share a bit about it?”. This does mean that we have to prioritize pausing, every once in awhile, to step back from our own work and engage in what our colleagues are up to.  This can be one of the most challenging aspects of collaboration - simply making the time - but when you do, you will find it exponentially worth it and so will our audiences.

The easiest ways to begin may be simply information sharing (communicating among ourselves opportunities, news, program offerings, etc) and document outlines/templates (governance toolkits, program applications, creative for arts advocacy, etc). Beyond this we can enhance our promotional reach by finding  partners to cross-market to each other's networks or by developing more reciprocal membership programs  (like studios arts centers - where you may have certain facilities and another city may offer complimentary but different tools).  As we get more sophisticated, I think there’s opportunity to build strategic partnerships that can support cost-saving in shared administrative functions like web development, accounting, human resources, etc. (an example of this live is ArtsPool out of New York).

That being said, there is a lot that can be done to better facilitate and sustain this collaboration among arts throughout the Bay Area, which is the function of the local arts agencies, regional organizations, and networks. Together, we can function in a greater capacity to host collaborative ideation, problem-solving, and infrastructure development.  Thanks to the growing capacity of the California Arts Council and Californians for the Arts, we have been helped forward with statewide convenings, re-initiating our State-Local Partner regional networks and even available funding to formalize alliances (like the five-county True North Arts & Culture).  While we have not convened as the full nine county region, the 2016 Confluence conference gave our North Bay region the opportunity to connect and discover our commonalities and points of differentiation. And I am excited to continue this work, especially among those of us who share large numbers of commuter and tourist populations, like Sonoma and Solano counties. There has been relationship development among the local arts agencies in Marin, Napa and Sonoma over the past three years to discuss everything from calendar systems, education advocacy, grantmaking, and regional arts marketing. However, I believe I speak for all my North Bay friends when I say that we can and should network more regularly to facilitate easier connections for our artists and arts organizations. I see that there is especially fertile ground for collaborating in offering professional development, leadership training, disseminating opportunities, and networking.

I’d even extend the benefits of collaboration past the audiences who travel to participate in the arts, to those who have not and perhaps might not even be aware of what lays beyond the territorial border. In our community there is a very real “Napa Valley bubble” - once you move here, the invisible boundaries of the rural county quickly become your world view and, especially for the economically disadvantaged, access to the greater Bay Area is extremely limited. In this instance, a relationship of a local museum with a partnering institution in another part of the region may provide the students’ first opportunity to leave the county.  And we may be able to provide urban students with their first opportunity to be in an agricultural and open spaces environment.

Roberto Bedoya:   Communication among the local LAA leadership is paramount and if a common agenda is to be advanced related to some of the cultural challenges we face in our jobs, the first step is the dialogue among us. I’m fortunate that through my involvement with the United States Urban Arts Federation (USAF, which is a network of Executive Directors from the largest 60 cities), I’ve gotten to know my colleagues Tom from SF and Kerry from San Jose. To have professional colleagues to talk shop and policy with, that you admire is a joy. It is an informal network of information sharing and one of trust. How to deepen this peer network into a more formalized structure…an arts version of ABAG (The Association of Bay Area Governments) is up for discussion. I’m lukewarm about it this idea. For the time being the old-school phone call or a meal together works fine. On those occasions where we do meet we discuss our challenges and our working relationships to elected officials, philanthropic, civic and arts leaders who will engage with as we move forward to enliven a Just City and support the aesthetic articulations of our city.

The Ghost Ship tragedy Oakland has brought me to the table of the City’s Housing, Building, Public Works, Fire, Police Departments with the Mayor as convener as we work on ways to respond to this tragedy. As we generate actions that will build safety, we are establishing some common language that move us out of work silos and deepening our cross-sector working relationships and civic charge.

Connie Martinez:  Specific to a regional cooperative campaign it would only work if a funding source existed that could showcase the strength and diversity of Bay Area arts as a whole, and the unique value of each sub-region and its artistic or creative personality.  It is great that arts lovers travel across city and county borders and are able to enjoy an eclectic menu of offerings.   But “inclined” patrons find the information they need through social media and the Internet.  And the task of cooperating and collaborating between organizations is only possible if both sides trust each other and perceive equal value.  In other words it has to come from within the participating organizations for a collaboration to work, rather that a partnership designed or controlled by a regional strategy.  If there were funding sources to encourage these kinds of connections and collaborations that would be great. I would start by asking regional arts agencies (infrastructure already in place) if they would be willing to help fund of find funding for regional initiatives.

As for regional initiatives and collaborations in general, each of our local communities are unique, have unique arts communities, and unique populations, so a broader plan might be most useful around advocacy, visibility of importance of arts and key issues (ie displacement), and for LAAs to share best practices and support each other with staff development opportunities and internal collaborations on execution.

Kristen Madsen:  We’ve all heard people say, many times:  “Arts Organization X, you should work with Arts Organization Y, because you are both arts organizations doing similar things.”  I’ve never really understood why people think that makes any sense.  Imagine saying to Nike, “You should work with Adidas because, you know, you both make shoes.”  Of course, if any organization or enterprise can find organic reasons to collaborate with another and that leads to more effective use of limited resources, that’s a total win.  I’m just not sure it’s as easy as it sounds or inherently a good idea.

If an LAA has already tested the market to determine that there is a need and a will for collaboration, a grant program encouraging and supporting collaborative efforts would make sense, whether it be for artistic or administrative – or otherwise.  LAAs that are already supporting arts incubators are probably bumping up against this objective.  They would be a good focus group to determine if it’s a viable concept, especially as participants in the incubators graduate.

A final comment, particularly important for those of us on the north side of the Bay.  Localization is a fascinating and growing trend in so many areas of our lives, including how and when we want to experience and participate in art.  So for organizations whose audiences may live or work within the same neighborhood, but are divided by the somewhat arcane county lines, the idea of collaborating likely holds a greater potential to explore.

Michele Seville:  This is something that we have tried to do over the years in Richmond…getting our art non-profits and related entities together at meetings. We had minimal success, partly because each of the entities sees itself as vying against the other for private funding. Eventually we stopped having the meetings. However, I still think that regional events could work periodically where art-relevant topics were discussed that affect us all. Especially now that federal art funding is being challenged! This could be a great opportunity for brainstorming and collaboration.

Tuesday's Question:
Working in the arts probably means we understand the intrinsic value/ transformative power that the arts can provide or tap into.  How is your department or arts organizations in your county building public will for the arts across it's residents, so we aren't always pitting arts against every other important experience?

Have a great day.

Don't Quit

Sunday, February 12, 2017

States Arts Advocacy Report Update

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on.........................."

Updates to the State Arts Advocacy Scan Report.

1.  Florida was inadvertently left off the list.  It should have been listed as a Tier I organization.

2.  Nina Ozlu Tunceli, at Americans for the Arts, asked me to clarify the legal position of the Arts Action Fund.  Here is her suggested language:

"Federal:  Americans for the Arts is the primary organizer of arts advocacy at the federal level.  Their grassroots advocacy arm – the Arts Action Fund – has a PAC and it is the only really viable PAC for the nonprofit arts in the country, and their annual war chest to award to candidates at the federal level who are arts supportive is the largest and basically only financial clout the arts have.  Working with AFTA are the NASAA, the national service provider organizations representing the various segments and disciplines within the arts sector, which organizations also rally their memberships in support of federal arts issue positions, and provide them with advocacy tools, training, information and advice."

3.  Narric Rome at Americans for the Arts provided me with new information suggesting changes to several of the classifications as listed in the report.  Based on the information from Narric,  and at his suggestion, I am pleased to move the general advocacy arts organizations in Arkansas to Group I, and North Dakota and Virginia to Group II.

Narric had several other suggestions about moving a number of State Arts Education Advocacy organizations higher in the Groupings - mostly from Group IV to Group III, with some from Group III to Group II.   This State Arts Advocacy scan was attempt to get a picture of the status of state advocacy efforts - both as participants in supporting federal advocacy efforts, and as organizations able to advocate on behalf of state and local issues - but beyond just arts education issues.  The various Arts Education Advocacy groups were included in the scan primarily to note some state advocacy presence in those states where it appeared that there was either no active general state arts advocacy organization (Group IV), or the general state arts advocacy organization was largely dysfunctional (Group III).  Indeed, in interviews many stated that they actively advocate for support for their state arts agency.  Narric also noted states that are in the process of launching (or re-launching) general arts advocacy efforts, and those states will hopefully, at some future point, then more appropriately be grouped in higher tiers, but that reality awaits further progress.  Finally, the Washington D.C. advocacy organization was not included as the scan was limited to the states.

As stated in the initial report, Americans for the Arts is the premier organization organizing and coordinating national advocacy at the Federal level, and they do an extraordinary job.  As such, their principal concern is federal policy.  The AFTA State Arts Action Network (SAAN) includes many state Arts Education Advocacy leaders as state captains, primarily in states that don't have a general arts advocacy organization, and while their participation is no doubt invaluable in helping to organize on the state level for federal advocacy and, in all likelihood, to the extent they are able, on the state level for state issues advocacy as well, the scan's focus was on the existence, or non-existence, of general arts advocacy organization structures that had as their charge the full range of arts issues.  The Arts Education Advocacy groups, by definition, as well as practice, for the most part focus the lion's share of their energies and resources on Arts Education advocacy, and that is their purpose.  They do excellent work, and many help, when and where they can, in general arts advocacy efforts, but Arts Education Advocacy organizations are not the same as having a fully functional and formal general arts advocacy organization.  Thus, for the purposes of the scan in identifying functional state arts advocacy organizations that have the full complement of nonprofit arts issues as their portfolio, state arts education advocacy organizations don't really qualify.  Their groupings in the scan were indicative of their assuming, from time to time, and in specific instances, a modest role of a general arts advocacy group.

The takeaway from the scan was the reality that there is a relatively high proportion of states that do not have a solid general state arts advocacy organization, or which have a barely functioning organization.  I note that even allowing for upward movement of all of the state arts education advocacy organizations included in Narric's analysis, there would still be roughly 28% of the total that would fall into Group III or Group IV - non functional or non-existent.  I would also note that the criteria was a fully functioning organization with staff, resources, a structure and means of communication.  Without criticism, Board run organizations, those with Facebook presence, and organizations that limit their activities to an Arts Day or the like aren't really the fully functional kind of advocacy effort we really need in the arts to protect our interests and advance our priorities.  That is not  meant to diminish their support, nor a criticism of the efforts out there, but rather a lamentation that we haven't yet been able to do better.  As noted in the previous blog, the scan was not a comment on the efforts and / or successes of advocacy efforts in any state, on any level; nor, as noted, was it a comment on the Herculean efforts of thousands of dedicated arts supporters across the country.  It's premise was that a formal general advocacy organizational structure was an asset every state ought to have to maximize their potential effectiveness.  The grouping of states into various tiers was meant to give a thumbnail assessment of the existence (or absence), and the relative strength, of such a formal structure - one dedicated to general arts advocacy.

We believe every state should have both types of organizations.  It is our hope that every state will continue to try to do whatever is necessary, and within their means and abilities, to insure that they have solid, funded, staffed, advocacy organizations for both general arts issues and for arts education issues specifically.  And we hope many of the players, including State Arts Agencies, funders, AFTA and other national organizations, will devote their funding, personnel, expertise and experience to help every state achieve that benchmark.

Advocacy and lobbying on all levels is getting ever more important, while simultaneously more complex and competitive.  We need the best infrastructure and tools we can get to do the best job we can in furtherance of our positions.  We need to ask why our state advocacy infrastructure isn't as formidable as we want, and whether or not we can do anything about that reality.  As said in the last blog, We can and must do better.   Many states need help.  I hope that help can be forthcoming.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, January 29, 2017

States Arts Advocacy Report - One Third of the States Have No Functioning Advocacy Organization

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on........................."

The Federal budgetary process is complex and takes time  (indeed, Congress spends up to 75% of its time on budgetary matters), the continuing resolution for government funding is good until April, and we don't yet truly know if, and to what extent, the arts and the NEA may be a target for funding cuts or even elimination.  What is clear is that the arts may be under attack and more vulnerable than in some time.

The prudent course of action is to prepare to lobby heavily for the value of the arts and the continued existence of the NEA in particular, and it is never too early to organize for that effort.  And as there will likely be a dozen or more federal issues that will impact the arts and in which we have a stake as to the outcome, organization of the advocacy infrastructure for our positions on all those issues cannot begin too soon either.

Last year I did a study / survey for WESTAF of the nation's State Arts Advocacy organizations in an attempt to identify which states had strong arts advocacy infrastructures in place, and which states were less than prepared to carry on advocacy activities from the state level.

The results were mixed and of some concern, in that a large number of states (roughly a third) either had no real functioning arts advocacy organization, or the existing organization was barely operational.  That finding is particularly distressing as the sector now gears up for actions that may come - both on the Federal and on the State levels - that will impact the sector.  While Americans for the Arts and the national service provider organizations may be able to pick up the slack in Federal matters - where state advocacy infrastructure is lacking, and state arts agencies and other groups within the states with the weakest advocacy preparedness may be able to cover for the lack of a viable advocacy presence, it would be beneficial if every state had, at least, the barest fundamentals of a working operation, if for no other reason than to address issues wholly within each state.


In preparation for its October 2016 Symposium on Arts Advocacy, WESTAF sought to survey the nation’s fifty states for an updated composite picture of arts advocacy in each state.

Using internal data, the Americans for the Arts State Arts Advocacy Network (SAAN) listing, online information, and information provided by State Arts Agency (SAA) leaders, telephone interviews were conducted directly with leadership at the state arts advocacy organizations or, where no state arts advocacy leadership could be identified or contacted, with State Arts Agency (SAA) and other leaders to identify current core information about each state advocacy group and effort.

Disclaimer: This scan sought to identify which states were organizationally active on the advocacy stage, the assets each state had to carry out its advocacy mission, which states were only minimally equipped to be effective advocates and which states currently had no real operational advocacy organization.  The study was not intended to be a ranking of state arts advocacy organizations, or any judgment of their success or failure on their state stages. Editorial commentary contained herein refers to and reflects the whole of the state arts advocacy ecosystem and not as to any single state organization.  Moreover, a number of states classified as barely operational may have efforts underway to correct those situations.  And, even in states without a formal functional arts advocacy organization, considerable advocacy may nonetheless be going on.

Here is that report:


Like every other special interest group, the nonprofit arts sector has a vested interest in having the will and capacity to advocate and lobby government officials, (elected, appointed and civil service), on various issues and policies that impact it, including funding support.

Federal:  Americans for the Arts is the primary organizer of arts advocacy at the federal level.  Their PAC - the Arts Action Fund - is the only really viable nonprofit arts PAC in the country, and their annual war chest to award to candidates at the federal level who are arts supportive is the largest and basically only financial clout the arts have.  Working with AFTA are the NASAA, the national service provider organizations representing the various segments and disciplines within the arts sector, which organizations also rally their memberships in support of federal arts issue positions, and provide them with advocacy tools, training, information and advice.

State:  The “state” of state arts advocacy organizations runs the gamut from well financed and supported, stable, successful organizations to non-existent efforts.  Some states are fully functional though they may lack one or more key assets that are thought to be essential to fully represent the arts interests in political situations.  Some states with no advocacy apparatus are in transitional periods; they may have previously had an advocacy organization, which, for a variety of reasons, may have declined to the point where it was no longer operational.  Finally, some states have virtually no advocacy presence nor activity with only limited and vague attempts to launch more active and viable organizations.

The political realities of each state are vastly different and tend to mirror the political control of the governor’s houses and the legislatures.  Yet even in states with supportive governors and legislatures, the arts do not always fare as well as they might hope, due to both economic considerations and a lack of actual competitive political clout among other variables.

One key variable in the success of state arts advocacy organizational function and preparedness seems to be leadership. Without an effective leader, paid or volunteer, for the advocacy sector, it is axiomatically more difficult to sustain an ongoing operation.  Certainly financial and other resource availability is also a major determinant of the success of state arts advocacy organizations.

City / County:  In a number of the most populated states with major metropolitan areas, there exists, in addition to the state arts advocacy group, individual cities with strong arts advocacy organizations.  These agencies prioritize local issues, but also cooperate and collaborate with the state and federal advocacy efforts.  However, most cities and counties do not have any real, full time organized advocacy mechanisms, and any advocacy or lobbying done at this level is essentially ad hoc and more often than not reactive, rather than proactive.  These organizations and their efforts were not the subject of this scan.


In addition to the base criteria (staff size and whether full or part time, paid or volunteer;  years the leader has been involved with the organization; whether or not the organization engaged a paid lobbyist, and core information, (organization contact information, organization structure, budget, revenue sources), the survey sought to inquire: a). as to the sources of funding, b). whether or not the current budget was more, less or the same as the previous three years, and c). the communications platforms used by the organization to motivate grassroots arts support.

In addition, the survey sought to identify whether or not the organization:

1.  provided advocacy training
2.  had launched major initiatives in the last two years
3.  had support (financial or otherwise) from the foundation, corporate / business, media and community interest areas
4.  the current political climate of the state (supportive or non supportive governor, and the existence of an arts / cultural caucus in the legislature)

CLASSIFICATION:  Organizations fell into two principal categories: 1) General Arts Advocacy organizations that advocated for a wide range of arts positions, including state funding support, and 2) Arts Education Advocacy organizations that focused primarily, or in some cases, exclusively on arts education issues.  Some states had both kinds of organizations, some one or the other, and some neither.

Of all the responses obtained, state arts advocacy organizations were grouped into four general categories based on specific criteria, as follows:

Note:  Organizations (below) designated with an asterisk (*) are principally Arts Education focused, but also serve, for the most part, to advocate for the arts in general, and in many cases, the SAA.  Many of these organizations serve as Americans for the Arts SAAN representative for their state.

Group I - fully functional state arts advocacy organizations meeting the following criteria:
a).  Full time paid staffing leadership.
b).  Engagement of a lobbyist or lobbying firm to represent the group’s interest with the state legislature and governor.
c).  Consistent annual budget at minimally $10,000.
d).  Formalized structure - either a 501 (c) (3) and / or a 501 (c) (4) with a governing Board of Directors

Caveat:  Arts Education Advocacy organizations are included in this grouping so long as they also engaged in advocating for other arts issues, including increased state funding to the SAA.

In addition to the above criteria, the organizations that appeared to be the most stable over time, shared a number of common characteristics, including:  1) Longevity of leadership in the position; 2) substantial budget resources, including diversification of income sources; and 3) additional staffing beyond the executive leadership.

It should be noted, however, that the most recently successful organizations in securing increased state public funding for the arts (California, Texas), were not necessarily those that scored the highest on all of the arbitrary criteria.  It should also be noted that many state arts advocacy groups have, for a decade or longer, fought a frequent (and for some an annual) battle to keep from having public funding cuts to the SAA or the arts in general.   Their victories are not necessarily any less impressive than those states that were able to secure increased funding, but rather the political situations and circumstances in each state dictate the realities of what can and cannot be achieved through the kinds of advocacy normally available to the arts.

Group I States:

New Jersey
North Carolina
South Carolina
South Dakota

**note:  The Vermont SAA s not a public agency, but rather a nonprofit.  It does its own advocacy and its Executive Director is a registered lobbyist.

Group II - fully functional state arts advocacy organizations lacking one or more of the elements of those classified in Group I above.

Group II States:

New Hampshire

Group III - states with a form of an arts advocacy organization, but which organization was marginally dysfunctional, and which lacked several of the elements of the Group I state classification, including states with current active efforts to revitalize or relaunch essentially dormant arts advocacy organizations.  A number of organizations in this grouping do not have any staff personnel at all, and the voluntary leadership of the organization is principally from the Board of Directors or otherwise outsourced.  None of these organizations have paid lobbyists.

Group III States:

New York*

Group IV - states with no real functioning arts advocacy organization.  Many of the SAAs in these states fill the void by spending time and resources to educate and inform state legislators and other decision makers as to the value of the arts and arts education.  Other ad hoc efforts may also be going on sporadically.

Group IV States:

New Mexico
North Dakota
Rhode Island*
Virginia (note no response from this state, but indications are that it does not currently have a functioning organization)
West Virginia

Regionally (using the RAO designations: WESTAF, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Arts Midwest, South Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts and Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation), the state arts advocacy organizations were relatively evenly split as to which (above) designated groups they fell into, with each region having states that were designated in each of the groupings.


State arts advocacy organization budgets ran the gamut from two plus million dollars down to virtually nothing.  The average of the Group I and II organizations was between +/- $10,000 to $150,000.  Most state arts advocacy organization budgets in this grouping have been stable over the past three years; a few reported gains.

State arts advocacy organizations have a number of sources of financial support.  The single largest number of advocacy organizations report that membership dues (organization members primarily, but in many cases individual dues - or contributions - as well) are the largest single source of revenue.  Grants, state agency support - some for operations, some for projects - some corporate and some earned income (principally from hosting a Governor’s Awards for the Arts event) are also part of the mix of funding.

Organizational Structure / Governance:
The vast majority of the states have 501 (c) (3) structures.  Some have 501 (c) (4) structures.  And some have both structures in place, often sharing a Board.  The majority of state advocacy organizations recruit their Board membership principally from the arts sector, but a number also have representation from other segments of the wider community.  Boards range in size from 5 to over 50, with an average near 20.

Organizations in Group I all had full time, paid executive leaders, and most had additional staffing, though the most common additional staff member was a bookkeeper.

Two organizations contract out the management of the organization to private sector companies.

All the states in Group I and many in Group II retain a paid lobbyist on a contract basis to represent the interests of the nonprofit arts with the governor, legislature, elected officials and other decision making bodies.  For some states, their lobbying effort is a complement to their grassroots effort to mobilize public opinion in favor of their positions.  For others, the lobbyist is part of an “insider game” strategy played in the political arena.

Note, beyond the scope of this survey is the question of how and to what extent arts advocacy organizations manage, or are involved with, the strategy to build public will for the arts.

SAA Relationship:
In the past, a number of state advocacy organizations had, at best, arms length relationships with their SAA; some might even have been characterized as territorial or hostile.  Today, that seems to no longer be the case except in very isolated situations.  When asked to characterize the relationship with their SAA, virtually all of the arts advocacy organizations described it as cooperative and collaborative, and many indicated the relationship was particularly strong.  Only in a few cases was the relationship characterized as strained or less than ideal.

Initiatives and Focus Work Sampling of the States:

Arts Convenings:  A large number of states host Arts Advocacy Days at their state capitols.  Many also convene periodic regional meetings around the state.

Research:  A number of organizations are at least tangentially involved with research and data collection that support making a case for the value of the arts.  The principal focus is on economic development and impact.  Several states are trying to play a larger role in this arena.  The role and place of the arts in the creative economy is a focus for many advocacy campaigns.

Community Development:  Several states are actually reframing their focus to complement the work of state and local Community Development efforts.

Arts Education:  Several states are working jointly with either the Kennedy Center or AFTA on arts education issue advocacy.

Political Climate:  States are divided as to political support (governor / legislature) dependent on politics, though absolute red state / blue state designations and conclusions based thereon are fraught with the potential to over simplify situations, and which conclusions do not really accurately reflect the more complex realities on the ground.  Many, but not a majority of states, have legislative arts caucuses.  Several states are in the midst of stepped up attempts in candidate education efforts.

While the survey did not include a question on whether or not the advocacy organization had a Political Action Committee (PAC), anecdotal responses suggest that virtually no state arts advocacy organization had, or was affiliated with, a local arts PAC.  One or two states indicated they are attempting to launch an Arts PAC. And, at the time of writing, Texas just announced the plan to form of an arts PAC.

Placemaking:  A couple of states are involved with benchmarking positive impacts of placemaking efforts.

Funding:  Several states are spending major energies on increased state funding for the arts campaigns, including investigation / consideration of possible taxes in support of the arts.

IT:  Several states are involved with facilitating increased use of IT, social networking and other tech communications modals.

In terms of which communications platforms state arts advocacy organizations use, most use email, their websites, Facebook and Twitter.  Many communicate via meetings and gatherings.  And many use Americans for the Arts Voter Voice for rallying grassroots support for positions.  A few continue to produce a newsletter (now electronic).  While some issue regular communications, others only reach out when action of some sort is needed.

Advocacy Training:
A large percentage of the organizations hold / host Arts Advocacy Days at the Capitol events to bring arts supporters together with legislators.  These events are also the single biggest opportunity for arts advocacy organizations to hold advocacy trainings for supporters, though most such training consists primarily of providing talking points for the supporters in their meetings with legislators or media, and some simple guidelines for such encounters.  Far fewer states do year round advocacy training, and of those that do, many provide online support, together with trainings at periodic “in the field “ events.

We asked if the state advocacy organization received consistent support (financial or otherwise, including endorsements) in any of the following areas:

Foundations -  Most organizations had only negligible foundation support.

Corporate - But for participation by corporate entities for Governor’s Awards events, most states had only marginal corporate support.

Media - While some arts advocacy organizations report having some media support for their efforts, more often than not, such support, if there at all, is tepid at best.  More common is the situation where the media has little to no interest in the nonprofit arts issues. Some states continue to have, at least, moderate coverage of the arts.  Many no longer do.

Community groups - (e.g., Chambers of Commerce, the Tourism industry, the Economic and Community Development sector, civic groups, business arts councils) et. al.

Over half the advocacy organizations report that they have relationships with segments of their communities and from which they get some support.  Those segments include: 1) the tourism industry; 2) community economic development interests; 3) local Chambers of Commerce; 4) civic groups; 5) the statewide nonprofit umbrella group; and 6) arts service provider organizations.

TRENDS IN ARTS ADVOCACY:   new community support with new possibilities.

An increasing number of the Group I and II Arts Advocacy organizations are moving towards a kind of rebranding of what it is they do, to include a wider portfolio of projects and an agenda that goes beyond traditional advocacy goals and objectives.  These organizations are moving towards a wider vision of promoting the arts, and advocating and lobbying for support of various kinds from various and diverse communities, while at the same time, expanding to projects that complement the enhanced vision.  Thus more organizations are moving into research, more are working closely with economic development agencies, more are embracing the wider creative industries concept, more are positioning themselves to include a wider constituent community beyond their core of nonprofit arts organizations, to include segments of the community that share an interest in the creative economy and community, and more are partnering with economic and community development forces.  This expansion of both purpose and operations has yielded some early impressive victories and resulted in new resource revenue streams, allowing for expanded staffing.


In assessing the current state arts advocacy situation, it is instructive that the Groups I and IV above are nearly equal - that is, there are as many states with non-functioning arts advocacy organizations as there are with fully functioning entities.  Given Tip O’Neil’s admonition that “all politics are local “ it bodes ill for the arts that there is such a large gap.  Not only does the lack of any advocacy mechanism in so many states negatively impact the ability of the arts to influence policy on the state level, it makes cooperation on federal advocacy even harder as well.

Every state should have a fully functioning arts advocacy apparatus - with full time, paid and adequate staffing, reasonable budgets and diverse revenue streams, paid lobbyists and a solid structure.  Despite the impressive and encouraging work of the top tier advocacy organizations, the absence of any viable organization in nearly a third of the states (13), and organizations that are somewhat handicapped in another 6 states leads to the inescapable conclusion that arts advocacy at the state level in America needs serious attention to bring it up to even a minimal national level of competency and readiness.  Given the repeated attacks at all governmental levels on arts funding resulting in continuous cutbacks in numerous jurisdictions, the fragile nature of the state arts advocacy is an enigma.  It may be that the arts continue to erroneously believe that advocacy (and lobbying) isn’t permitted and is ill advised for nonprofits — a belief to which many funders, unfortunately, still subscribe.  Or it may be an absence of leadership or of adequate financial resources.  While it may be a great deal of work to successfully solicit funding for arts advocacy and lobbying, and to reinvent what an arts advocacy organization is, or can be, (let alone to organize effective PACs,)  the stakes are so high, the payoff so potentially meaningful, and the negative impact so potentially damaging, that the arts are not further along in the development of a first rate advocacy system at the state level across the county is a damning indictment of a failure of leadership at some level.

What we have is a two tier advocacy reality - with nearly a third of the states functioning at a positive level, and a third not functioning at all.  We have had remarkable success on some levels given that reality, and that success is due to the extraordinary work of a few champions with superior leadership skills and other segments of our sector that pick up the slack when necessary.  While that reality is better than nothing, given what is needed and required, particularly to be competitive today, the reality is, frankly, in the author’s opinion, wholly inadequate.

We can, and must, do better.   And we can learn from those in the field who are doing the best work.

As the arts community gears up to defend the sector against attacks, it would behoove us to immediately shore up our state advocacy apparatus.  Organization is key to successful lobbying.  Not only is the community facing imminent and near term possible White House and Congressional challenges on a number of issues, including funding, in addition to current efforts, it will be absolutely critical for the field to begin now to organize for the 2018 midterm elections as the next battleground to secure political support.

Have a good week, and please begin to organize at the grassroots level now.

Don't Quit

Monday, January 23, 2017

Blog Milestone: One Million Page Hits

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................"

Not much to celebrate of late - for anyone really.

But I hit a small milestone last week, recording the blog's one millionth page hit - over the ten year plus life of the posts.  That's in addition to the five million plus times the blog has been in subscriber's mailboxes.  Of course, that doesn't mean that many people read all these blogs or even a goodly amount of them.  And I am sure many people ended up on the site unintentionally and by mistake.

But the fact of the numbers brought a smile to my face, and a certain humility in that I never envisioned that doing something like this would have that kind of ultimate reach.  Quite astounding to me.

Blogging is a bit of an arrogant conceit, thinking you have something important and meaningful enough to say that justifies invading people's time and space, and I have no illusions that in trying to provide relevant, useful information or insights, that I likely miss the mark far more often than I am on target. And that's ok with me.  If now and then I get it right, to even just a few people, that makes it worthwhile for me.

So I am enormously grateful to the readership for continuing to check in from time to time.

I don't know how much longer my health will allow me to keep posting, but I enjoy doing it, and intend to keep at it as long as able.

Thank you all again.

And I hope somehow things start to look a little brighter for everyone.

Don't Quit

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trump to Eliminate NEA?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on........................"

Several reports today that the Trump Administration is considering elimination of funding to the NEA and the NEH.  This is line with the recommendations of budget cuts by the Koch Brothers funded Heritage Foundation, which, the reports indicate, is a blueprint for Trump's first budget.

Now this is hardly yet a done deal.  Budgets take time to craft and changes are frequent.  Moreover, virtually every Presidential budget is merely a starting point for consideration by Congress.  And Trump (who wanted Sly Stallone to Chair the agency) may not go for it.  But this is a threatening possibility - the sum of all fears for the nonprofit Arts sector.

There is no question that there are forces within Trump's team and within Congress that would like to see funding pulled from the Endowments.  The ostensible public reason is to further deficit reduction (though the pittance amount of funding for the Endowments will hardly have any effect at all in reducing the deficit), but the Endowments have long been a symbolic target for a sector of the conservative right.  Whether or not elimination of all funding will end up in a Trump budget isn't yet clear.  We will simply have to wait.

A herculean effort to flood the new Administration with public outcry is probably a required step to try to protect the agencies.  And it probably should start immediately.

And if elimination is in his budget, then the arts can try to muster a massive public outcry with tens of thousands of letters, phone calls, emails, petitions, editorial support and more to try to support the bi-partisan Arts Caucus in Congress that has been supportive of the arts (at least marginally so).  Will that kind of rallying of support be enough to protect at least some part of the Endowments budgets?  Who knows.

The arts, of course, have little political clout or power to leverage a victory, but we are not without support - if we can muster a big enough response.  We will have to forcefully make the arguments as to the value of the arts - economically, to jobs, to community development and otherwise - with data, stories and local impact reminders.  And we have to hold Congress' feet to the fire if they move to eliminate the agency.

Elimination of the Endowment would mean the agency's grants would disappear, as would their first rate research efforts, their convening apparatus, and the imprimatur of the federal agency's stamp of approval, which helps to leverage local support.  Elimination might also embolden state efforts to eviscerate local funding as there are many who want all funding, at every level, to the arts gone.

And elimination of the 40% share of the NEA's budget that is allocated directly to the states and the regional arts organizations, may put any number of smaller, more rural state agencies (the GOP states) at risk of, if not outright closure, then severely curtailing programming, as many depend heavily on that federal money to keep their doors open.

It also sends a global message that America doesn't value arts or culture.

But all of that may not matter to those that want us gone.

We have no idea yet if other federal monies in other agency's budgets that support arts programs might also be at risk.

And so now it begins..............

I hope Americans for the Arts, the other national service providers, the state and city agencies and all the arts discipline organizations can mobilize massive efforts to lobby Trump and Congress not to defund the Endowments - the total funding of which is a minuscule less than one half of one percent of the total federal budget.  I hope the nation's press rallies to our defense along with a public that has some appreciation for art and culture as part of the nation's fabric.  I hope other groups as far flung as the Federal Reserve and the PTA will join our cause.

But we're in a new world here, and we just really don't know what will happen, and whether or not we can stand up against the forces that may align against us.  One big problem for us is that there will likely be funding cuts and program eliminations across a wide specter of government spending and thus we will find ourselves in a long line of interests that will be fighting for their own survival.  Allies and friends will have their own battles to fight and we may find it difficult to justify our existence against many worthy programs, and to recruit partners in our defense.

So we wait.  Organize and wait.  Much the same as the entire nation will have to wait to see how all of this plays out.   We hope that Trump will not want it as part of his legacy that arts and culture become a victim and are wiped from the federal support map under his administration.

The only comfort I can offer is to remind all sides - theirs and ours - that American politics always has been, and remains, a pendulum.  And as the pendulum makes dramatic swings in one direction, inevitably it swings back the other way. The more wide the arc, the quicker and more forcefully it swings the other way.

And this much is pretty clear:  the boomers are dying out, and that exodus will accelerate.  All the older angry white voters that caused the pendulum to swing so violently, will see their numbers shrink over time.  And the Millennials numbers will then proportionately get larger.  Moreover, the voting blocs of people of color will also grow as the white population declines.  And finally, the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas will continue and even grow.  And in the last election, the Millennials, people of color and those in the cities (even in red states) all went heavily democratic - not Republican.

Now this demographic shift will take some time, there will be impediments thrown up to thwart the voting, as Millennials age they are likely to shift some of their political beliefs, and there will still likely be anger out there (especially since Trump, like all presidents, will not be able to deliver on all his promises, thus disappointing many of his backers) but it is inevitable that the bloc that elected Trump will eventually no longer hold sway.  The pendulum swings this way, then the other way.

That will be of little consolation to those who will suffer under new policies and priorities - and Trump is only half the equation, as the various agendas on the Republican side of Congress fight among themselves to gain victory, but it must be remembered that time is likely on our side.  There may be considerable damage wrought before the pendulum begins to move the other way.  Those horrified by the Trump presidency and the Republican Congress will inevitably lose many of the coming battles.  Then again, the pendulum may move much faster than people think.  The distrust and negative feelings towards the new administration are historically high.  And Trump may still surprise.

What to do?  Every single person and every single arts organization must actively rally to the defense of the NEA funding.  No one can afford to sit on the sidelines.  No excuse is acceptable.

We're all in for a rough ride on myriad fronts.  Remember we are the majority, not the minority.  You will need to steel yourself with courage for the fight of your lifetime.  And please, don't sit this one out.

And remember too that no matter what happens, actors will act, dancers will dance, painters will paint and sculptors will sculpt, film makers will make films, musicians will play, songs, and plays, and scripts and books and poems will be written, performances and concerts given, operas staged, and millions of people will see, hear and read it all, and the arts will forever be omnipresent.  Creativity is part of the human makeup.  Nothing will stop that.

As Obama said: "It's going to be ok."  Believe in what you do and who you are.  And fight for that.

Don't Quit.