Sunday, January 14, 2018

Taking A Page from the Boy Scout Merit Badge Program

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

The Merit Badge program is an integral part of the Boy Scout experience, and a requirement for the higher ranks of Scouting from Star and Life Ranks to the Eagle Scout designation - all three of which require earning a number of Merit Badges - some required and others a matter of choice.

The program has expanded to include over 130 different badges since its inception in 2011, with periodic updates as to the requirements for earning any given badge.  The subjects of the badges range from American Business to Woodwork - and include several in the broad Arts category - including original badges for Art, Architecture, Music, Painting, Photography, Sculpture, and later additions, including Animation, Game Design, Graphic Arts, Moviemaking, and Theater.

A Scout must complete the published requirements for each Merit Badge and work with an assigned counselor, who ostensibly has expertise and familiarity with the chosen field.

With a population of over 2.2 million Boy Scouts, nearly 2 million Merit Badges were earned in 2016, of which about 100,000 were in arts categories.  The most popular badge was First Aid - one required for the higher ranks.  The Art Badge came in 24th, with nearly 23,000 Scouts earning the badge.  Music and Moviemaking each garnered over 10,000.  And the Sculpture and Pottery badges were will represented as well.  There is no badge for Dance, nor one for Poetry.

While Scouts can pursue fulfilling the requirements for any badge on their own, the literature suggests increasingly that fulfillment is done in groups at meetings, outings etc.   And while the requirements are not as comprehensive, demanding and arduous as perhaps a curriculum based, sequential arts in school program taught by trained professionals - they are well  designed to advance the stated purpose of the program, which is to allow Scouts to examine subjects to determine if they would like to further pursue them as a career or vocation.

That said, the requirements are not a cakewalk.  Consider, as an example, the Theater Merit Badge requirements:

"Theater merit badge requirements:
See or read three full-length plays or scripts. These can be from the stage, movies, television, or video. Write a review of each. Comment on the story, acting, and staging.
Write a one-act play that will take at least eight minutes to perform. The play must have a main character, conflict, and a climax.
Do THREE of the following:
a. Act a major part in a full-length play; or act a part in three one-act plays.
b. Direct a play. Cast, rehearse, and stage it. The play must be at least 10 minutes long.
c. Design the set for a play or a production of a circus. Make a model of it.
d. Design the costumes for five characters in one play set in a time before 1900.
e. Show skill in stage makeup. Make up yourself or a friend as an old man, a clown, an extraterrestrial, or a monster as directed.
f. Help with the building of scenery for one full-length play or two one-act plays.
g. Design the lighting for a play; or, under guidance, handle the lighting for a play.
Mime or pantomime any ONE of the following chosen by your counselor.
a. You have come into a large room. It is full of pictures, furniture, other things of interest.
b. As you are getting on as bus, your books fall into a puddle. By the time you pick them up, the bus has driven off.
c. You have failed a school test. You are talking with your teacher who does not buy your story.
d. You are at a camp with a new Scout. You try to help him pass a cooking test. He learns very slowly.
e. You are at a banquet. The meat is good. You don't like the vegetable. The dessert is ice cream.
f. You are a circus performer such as a juggler, high-wire artist, or lion tamer doing a routine.
Explain the following: proscenium arch, central or arena staging, spotlight, floodlight, flies, center stage, stage right, stage left, stage brace, stage crew, cyclorama, portal, sound board.
Do two short entertainment features that you could present either alone or with others for a troop meeting or campfire.

Click here for the Art Badge requirements, and here for the Music Badge requirements.

In looking at the program, it occurred to me that perhaps we ought to seek out a partnership with the Scouts to help them with the Arts related Merit Badge offerings, including expansion to include Dance, Poetry and perhaps other disciplines.  Our arts organizations and artists could help expand the Arts offerings and bring additional expertise and experiences to Scouts interested in the badges.

And beyond that, it might be worth considering adopting the "idea" of the Merit Badge program and developing an after school program on similar lines, but expanded and tweaked to complement in school arts programs and other after school arts activities, with, instead of a Merit Badge, some other kind of Award or Recognition.

Such a cooperative venture and community involvement with the Scouts, and / or a riff off the idea, might help to expand arts education offerings and get more students and parents involved in the effort -- not as a replacement nor full alternative to curriculum based, sequential, K-12 arts education taught by trained and qualified artists and teachers - but as an adjunct thereto.  It is also a way for us to expand our outreach for public awareness and support.

By singling out recognition for pursuing the arts, even if at a modest level, we might have another way to increase the arts profile, excite kids about the Arts and get them involved.  And that can help us expand real arts education, and build the support base for the arts for the future.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Interview with Sofia Klatzker - Arts for L.A.

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

Arts for L.A. - the greater Los Angeles area arts advocacy organization - is one of the most successful regional advocacy arms in the county, with broad based local arts support, and an enviable record of success. It is currently expertly led by Sofia Klatzker, who graciously joined me in the following brief interview.

Sofia Klatzker Bio:
Sofia Klatzker is the Executive Director of Arts for LA, a regional advocacy organization dedicated to promoting arts and culture across government, education, business, and community life. Under her leadership, the ACTIVATE advocacy leadership training program more than doubled in size now representing 226 leaders; created a new mobile website connecting Arts for LA’s 60,000 members with local officials; surveyed over 350 candidates across 60 local elections in November 2016; and launched a campaign to register arts and cultural organizations to become polling stations. She has over 16 years experience advocating for and implementing arts policies, arts education, and grant making. Sofia currently serves on the boards of California Arts Advocates and Californians for the Arts, and serves on both the California Alliance for Arts Education’s Policy Council, and the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network Advisory Council. Sofia received her B.M. in Electronic Music Composition from Oberlin Conservatory and her M.A. in Arts Administration from Goucher College.

Here is the interview:

BARRY:  Arts for LA is one of the most successful urban arts advocacy organizations in the county.  What are the key elements that have made the organization so successful?

SOFIA:  There are six concepts that contribute to our success:
- At our core we are deeply collaborative. We work closely with other nonprofit arts organizations, social service organizations, public partners, funders, individual artists, and our network of action and contributing members. There are also a number of fabulous arts advocacy organizations across the country from whom we continuously learn how to improve our strategies and campaigns.

- We see the region as a unified ecosystem and don't put value on one aspect more than any other. We need big nonprofits, small nonprofits, individual artists, commercial production, private arts, amateur arts, and embrace moments of personal and private creativity that happen in the home.

- Our work operates at the community grassroots level as well as the leadership and policymaking grass tops level. We convene people and connect arts leaders with their policy makers.

- Founded by arts leaders, in our bones we represent the needs of a strong nonprofit cultural arts sector.

- Through programs such as Arts Vote, we make the arts part of larger conversations to ensure that arts questions are asked at candidate forums. Every person running for election is asked their view of the arts.

- We don’t assume sole leadership, we strengthen the leadership of local voices.

BARRY:  While AFTA provides an exemplary framework for federal arts advocacy efforts through its State Arts Action Network and its PAC, the Arts Action Fund, a third of the states lack any real functioning general arts advocacy organization, and there are few solid urban city or regional arts advocacy organizations. Why is that, and what ought to be done to change that reality?

SOFIA:  I wouldn’t presume to tell local communities how to address their advocacy needs. It must be a local response to the representative needs of the whole community. Not every community needs a formal nonprofit advocacy organization that empowers people on the ground to advocate for their interests. You do need a way to connect people on the ground with their policy makers so that they know how much power they have and then ideally there is some central body that is helping either create or track the priorities of that community. But that can happen at the largest performing arts organization, or in partnership with another grassroots community organization, or a cross-sector partnership. I would stress the outcomes over the infrastructure. Ultimately, we’re not looking for more nonprofits, we’re looking for more Arts.

In many states, local advocacy efforts for the most part can be managed and coordinated by a state advocacy agency. However, Los Angeles is enormous and our state  advocacy organization (of which I am a board member) can't possibly serve the variety of needs that we represent: 10 million people spread over 4700 square miles in 88 cities and 81 school districts. That’s the size of Connecticut and the population of Michigan. Yet, we still maintain a focus on building relationships with local policy makers by tracking elections, surveying all candidates running in every race (school boards, city councils, and the County Board of Supervisors).

Our origin may be replicable elsewhere - we started with an ad hoc group of arts leaders, public agencies, and nonprofits. We have found that opportunities emerge when there is a specific plan, group, or vision to coalesce around.

The Arts sector can learn a lot from the 2008 election cycle when a lot of small donors supported a candidate without reliance on one big special interest. A lot of voices came together on a national scale. Sometimes in Arts advocacy we look for that one foundation or donor who will support this work, but our greatest power is within all the small organizations, audience members, and individual artists who collectively have a lot more power than we regularly acknowledge. Giving these individuals a modest level of structured leadership training can result in a strong unified advocacy voice on the ground at a variety of scale.

BARRY:  Generally, even for the most successful arts advocacy organizations, irrespective of the level (federal, state, local), only a small fraction of the total number of arts organizations within the territory are actually involved in advocacy, beyond responding to some annual request to support government budget requests - and even then not so many.  Why don’t more arts organizations actively contribute and participate in arts advocacy efforts?

SOFIA:  We should ask what support organizations need to successfully advocate when there is something on the line for which to take action. When Arts for LA launched ACTIVATE, our leadership fellows program, we found that most people didn't know where to begin, starting with how to define the change they sought. They didn’t know who was in their inner circle that had influence and power to help realize their goals.

As a field we need to move away from reactive advocacy toward aspirational advocacy. Aspirational advocacy means having a joint vision. In broad terms, this could bee broadly “more arts everywhere for everyone”. This vision encompasses arts in every classroom, in hospitals and in-patient treatment plans, using arts in the military for rehabilitation, and in our justice system for reducing recidivism. It is about safe and affordable housing for artists and valuing the sector as it exists, while expanding it to be more representative of the working artists who may not feel included in these discussions. It is about supporting and strengthening the career options for professional artists and the jobs that support creative enterprises. It is a big vision that works across the entire sector.

We must be united in saying that we need more art everywhere for everyone and that there are different ways to achieve that goal. Each nonprofit organization needs to define for themselves what it is that they are doing and that they believe in to move that ideal forward.

A few years ago we launched a simple, yet transformative project asking our nonprofit arts organizations to become polling places. This opened up their relationship with their local community and provides a way to have a non-transactional relationship with their neighbors. It also shows that we are community members who care about the local legislation and policies that affect our lives as individuals and as organizations that serve our neighbors. In many cases it also is an opportunity to expand the audience of who these organizations are reaching. The primary goal is to expand the definition of who the organization is and how do they fit into "more art everywhere".

BARRY:  Despite decades of good information detailing why and how arts organizations can, and should, be active in lobbying (as opposed to just advocating) for the arts, still a large number don’t understand that it is permitted, and more just don’t seem interested.  How can we change that?

SOFIA:  In many cases this is a case of fearing alienating their board, funders, or audiences. In some cases, nonprofits don't know what they can do in terms of lobbying, but often it's more a fear of causing offense, fear of losing tax exempt status, or fear of losing funding that causes organizations lobbying paralysis.

Our nonprofit tax exempt status means we must represent the entire community with our work. Part of that mandate means representing the interests that we as specialists have in representing the arts and culture in the legislative process. We have a right and a duty to be that voice. If nonprofits don’t do it, who will?

BARRY:  Foundations and private philanthropy efforts still tend to shy away from funding advocacy, let alone lobbying, even though both are permitted.  Why, and how do we move those funders towards funding?

SOFIA:  As with all aspects of advocacy, this is a personal relationship building opportunity. If we want to have more foundations and funders provide support for advocacy, then we need to have informed conversations with those foundation executives and board members  - especially those who have recently been changing their giving priorities by removing the arts as a specific giving area. We must remind them that the work is non-partisan, that we do not endorse candidates. Most funders of nonprofits are trying to improve the quality of life for local people in some way. That is impossible to do if there is not some lobbying arm as part of the work. Those of us in the arts sector have our work cut out for us to show that it is possible to be part of lobbying while not being part of partisan or candidate related politics.

BARRY:  Many state and local arts advocacy efforts continue to be volunteer efforts with no paid staffing.  How important is it to have paid leadership for advocacy organizations?

SOFIA:  We fund our values and priorities. That is true in school systems, in neighborhood councils, and in city government. It is also true in our own local advocacy efforts. I serve as a volunteer board member for the California Art Advocates and Californians for the Arts. While hard-working volunteers keep the arts visible, without full-time paid staff, the work ends of being year-by-year, mostly focused on keeping or increase public funding for the arts, and distribution of funding to underserved areas. We need full time staff to implement our long-term vision with a multi-layered strategy. By not having paid staff we perpetuate our triage mentality. We also inadvertently show that as a sector this is not a valued priority – it is very hard to ask for money when we are not willing as a sector to support a formal body who represents the interests of the local arts.

BARRY:  Public valuation of the arts is high on surveys, but not in actions.  Many people still cling to the notion that the arts, while of value, are a frill or luxury, despite decades of talk within the field about moving the public in this belief.  What can we do to make substantive progress that we are not now doing?

SOFIA:  I believe in some ways we have been our own worst enemy when it comes to making too many claims of our power and value. To be certain, I believe we are the heart of humanity, the reflection of who we are as people. But when we claim we are the answer to every problem and social ill, and the people we claim to represent do not identify with these claims, we undermine our message.

It is not enough to identify isolated incidents of arts as solution partners or arts contributing to thriving communities. Instead, we must show that we are embedded and begin to build an identity of arts and creativity for the people who live in our communities. Thankfully this work has started happening over the last few years.

This includes embedding arts voices across all levels of government. We need to remove the false equivalencies of arts versus X (i.e. homelessness, immigration, housing, etc.). Once we have arts representatives embedded within these departments and impacting policies, we will begin to see modest change. We are starting to see this across many different communities, and it is causing advocates like myself to track non-arts budgets in order to calculate current support for arts across larger public systems. That is a terrific change and I think we will see more of this moving forward.

However, until people outside of the art sector identify the arts in their daily lives, the power of creative community or part of the creative economy, then we will not change minds. This is about individual identity and what we value, neighborhood by neighborhood, state-by-state.

BARRY:  If even 25% of arts organizations would each do a benefit for arts advocacy efforts once every two years, we could likely raise millions of dollars annually to help our efforts.  I’ve asked countless artists over the years if they would be willing to do that, and not one has ever said “no”.  Yet arts organizations are reluctant to even consider the idea.  Your comment?

SOFIA:  Similar to the question about nonprofit participation, if they don't know what they're asking for, it is hard to enlist others to help raise money. What are they raising money for? To what end? Are we going to have to fight this again next year?

For instance, I support a modest approach to increase federal funding for the arts. However, advocating for the NEA budget to be increased to represent one dollar per person is shortsighted. We definitely want to increase the NEA budget, but as advocates we are not sharing the total number we *should* be spending on the arts per capita, because we don't know that number. Instead, we set ourselves up to continually need, year after year, to ask for more in the next budget cycle. We are always behind, we are trying to recover or restore past budget cuts, we focus on filling in gaps instead of building a larger vision. These are sweeping generalizations, and there are many examples of tremendous work that is strategic, thoughtful, and pushes the envelope. Ultimately, most arts advocacy comes down to advocating for more public money, more resources, more staffing, more equity. None of this advocacy inspires a vision for future that is well-resourced and stable.

We need to be inspirational! Happily, this is what we as artists do best!

The work I'm most excited about, besides local cultural equity initiatives, is how the arts are now being embedded in other areas of our legislative process and all levels of governing systems such as justice, probation, health and education budgets. Once we are embedded in these ways, then we can showcase the best of who we are no matter the art form. That is the intrinsic value of arts.

BARRY:  Arts advocacy has longed championed making the case for the arts via storytelling and explaining how the arts benefit communities, when the political reality is that it is votes, or the threat of withholding votes, that is most persuasive to elected officials.  Why don’t the arts embrace that reality?

SOFIA:  As a parent and audience member, I’m aware that many of my peers aren’t concerned with the overall economic impact of the arts sector. However, we do care about the options available to us as we raise future participants. Numbers don't sway these patrons. They know what they believe in, they know what they value. Parents and audience members are who we must focus our storytelling and benefits language towards.

But elected officials need to feel justified investing in a sector that shows a positive ROI. They need a different message with a different set of consequences. It is good to remind your representatives that we as a sector vote on higher percentages than the general population. Incidentally, I encourage nonprofit to ask their members and constituents if they are registered to vote and if they voted in the last election. These are number that should be shared with elected officials.

We must speak to many different audiences and interests, and we need to know when to use which message. For our neighbors, this is about embedding the arts into their local identity. Los Angeles is, by numbers, the creative capital of the world. But my neighbors do not all take pride in living in an arts-rich city. They do not talk about the job opportunities of the creative economy, even though 1:6 jobs locally are in the creative arts and related economy. The movement we must cultivate is one where people outside the arts sector take pride in an abundance of arts and culture. The arts are part of what makes this a place they want to call home.


Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New Year's Resolutions for the Arts Sector

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

I suppose there was actually a time when people seriously resolved to make things happen, and used the New Year as a genesis point.  Now the ubiquitous most popular resolutions of losing weight, exercising more, and eating healthy are more often than not breached within days of making the commitment.  In a sense, that pattern has become the paradigm for action on most fronts that seek to address some long standing negative - be it personal or public.  We resolve to make it happen, knowing full well we will not see it through.

So, I am under no illusions that any suggestions of New Year's Resolutions that the arts, as a sector, ought to make will yield any result other than a yawn at best, and scorn at worst - but I'll make a couple anyway:

I.  RESOLVED, the Arts will finally do what is necessary to build real political power - and that includes effective advocacy / lobbying organizations with paid staff at the Congressional, State, City and County levels - supported by the entire field across disciplines and special interests.

Doable?  Yes, IF the field has the "will power" and can somehow get beyond the notion that exercising political power is a bad thing.  To pay for it, we would have to dig into our own pockets, get artists and creative people to do benefits, and finally convince funders to pour money into the arena.  And we haven't yet done any of the three.  But we could.......

Odds it will happen?  Given our history of willingness to be political animals, the odds are about zero the field will see its own self interest as a legitimate cause.

II.  RESOLVED, the arts will deal with the equity in funding issue, by spreading the wealth.  We're not talking about taking away all the funding from where it presently goes.  We're just talking about equity - meaning spreading the money around more fairly, for there is no equality if some get it all, and the rest get nothing.

Doable?  Absolutely, if the powers that be simply decide to change the allocation formulas.  Will they?  Not without substantial pressure put on them -- but the field, as a whole, has the ability and the wherewithal to apply that pressure to both public and private funders if they would act in concert and make their wishes known.  Are we capable of seeing the greater good and our long term best interests?  Yes, we're capable, but will we?...............

Odds it will happen?  Given years of lame excuses, and little to no action, despite seemingly committing to change, the odds here are, in the short run anyway, near zero too.  We will continue to talk a good game, with the reality something very different.

III. RESOLVED, the current arts leadership will work to more fully integrate and involve the future generational leadership in the decision making processes and the full active life of each of our organizations.  That means more delegation of authority.  It means more focus on the full range of our managers' needs as both employees and stakeholders.  It means a rearrangement of how we structure our businesses and our commitments to personnel; it means people become the primary focus.

Doable?  Certainly, if we get to the point where we understand that all the people that work in the arts constitute our biggest asset and move policy in support of that understanding.  It will take some sacrifice and some real leadership, but this one is actually the easiest of all these resolutions.  In a real family, sacrifices are made for the next generations.  Are we a real family?  We could be.............

Odds it will happen?  Not favorable, because power is relinquished very begrudgingly, if al all.  And even the best of us, don't necessarily remember how it was way back when we were the neophytes and the newbies.   But were such a titanic shift to be made, it would change everything in a positive way.  IMHO.

Ok, I could go on, but no sense making us feel bad in the aftermath of our likely failure to see our resolutions through to reality.  And without personal responsibility, we can easily blame the other guy for that failure.

But that said, I think we are better than that.  These three resolutions are long, long overdue.  And each one can become reality if we simply decide to make it so.  We can make them a reality just as sure as we can lose five pounds if we really, truly want to.  


Maybe we might at least resolve to try.  

Welcome to 2018.  It's going to be a year not unlike the one just past.  There are those for whom last year was a good year, and those for whom it was horrible.  The chaos, confusion, rancor, and bitter fighting is likely to continue within and without, here at home and across the globe.  But there are also sure to be surprises.  We can hope those surprises are good ones.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit