Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stakeholder Support Essential for Effective Advocacy

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

Lots of talk in the past two weeks on arts advocacy - and indirectly a conversation about using the 'instrumental' v the 'intrinsic' argument.  I am less concerned with this fundamental philosophical debate than with the practical tactics we employ to achieve whatever it is that is our ultimate goal (and I am assuming arguendo, that one of our principal overarching goals is to increase public funding).

We (the arts) lack massive and sophisticated lobbying machines, or the ability to fund that kind of political apparatus, and we also lack a highly motivated and mobilized public in support of what we want.  One of the things that interest groups in our situation can do is to leverage support of other groups of stakeholders who have an interest (direct or tangential) in our success, and who have more power and clout than we do, to help us to make our case in advocating for what we want.  Having powerful friends is a very good way to be treated the way you want.

Once upon a time, the arts had a link with the Chamber of Commerce and were quasi successful in getting the Chamber to carry our message to government decision makers. Unquestionably, the Chamber (national, state and local chapters) have access to, and clout with, those decision makers.  The arts are, like most Chamber members, small businesses. And many arts organizations are members of their local Chamber chapters. Moreover, arts organizations are interested in many of the issues most businesses are interested in: jobs, costs, regulations, and insurance among them.  Thus the relationship between the arts and the Chamber is a natural one; not contrived or artificial.

But something happened a decade or more ago that led to the arts and the Chamber moving away from each other.  I'm not sure how or why that happened, though it may have been a part of a larger political transition of the Chamber to align itself more closely with the governing faction of the Republican party -- which, at the time, began to cast the arts as an area that should not be receiving government support.  But move away from each other we did.

I took a look this past week at the national Chamber's 2015 Policy Priorities - a detailed list (31 pages) of the areas the Chamber thinks important to its membership and which it is on the record of supporting.  Generally, the Chamber is concerned with over-regulation of business (everything from energy and the environment to bidding for government contracts requirements);  government costs of programs (health care, social security, et. al) immigration reform; and other government things that are financed in large part by business (through taxes and fees including payroll taxes et. al) or which the Chamber feels may impact its business membership.   Their goals are to "advance jobs, growth and opportunity" that will "help revitalize the American economy, create jobs, spur growth and lift incomes."

Nowhere, of course, is there any mention of the arts - as a means to help achieve the stated goals and thus worthy in itself of support.  There is mention, in detail, of the goal of protecting American Intellectual Property - framed largely as part of the high tech and entertainment industries.  And there is a lengthy section on educational goals - with a mention of STEM but not STEAM.  The arts aren't otherwise mentioned directly or by inference (and to be fair, virtually no one industry or interest area is singled out specifically).  All of this would be ok, if the Chamber was visibly and vocally supportive of its' nonprofit arts membership - as that support would go a long way locally, statewide and federally in making our case to legislatures and legislators. But we don't have that.  Chamber lobbyists may or may not bend the ear of legislators for various interests within their membership when they lobby at the local, state and federal levels, but they don't do that for the arts - even though a lot of us might be their members.

I argued some time ago, that if half of all the arts organizations in the country would join their local Chamber of Commerce and assign somebody from the organization to be active in the chapter's committees, then in the aggregate (by virtue of our sheer numbers and our activity) the arts would be one of the major forces in the Chamber nationally.  And that would mean that when priorities are drafted we would have a much better chance to be included.  And more importantly, it would mean we would have the juice (voting power over Chamber leadership) to move the Chamber - as a stakeholder in our success because we too are small businesses - to lobby for us on our issues.  That's how politics works, and that's how to get us closer to our goals.  (And if you look closely as the above referenced Chamber 2015 Priority document under the Intellectual Property section (page 15), it isn't hard to see the efforts of Silicon Valley and the Entertainment Industry in lobbying the Chamber to include this section.)  The question is why don't we do this too?  And not just with the Chamber of Commerce but with a range of organizations - from those on our side - like the PTA,  to those coming to our side - like the AMA and various academic institutions.  Active stakeholder support may just be more important to our success than whether we use an intrinsic or an instrumental approach to making our case.

So, as we begin again our advocacy efforts this week, as we marshall our best stories to tell, and as we employ both instrumental and intrinsic arguments to keep the powers that be from cutting our funding (or, at best, only marginally increasing it in a symbolic way), I would hope the field would consider the specific political ways we might enlist stakeholder support to make some progress in this endless Sisyphusian nightmare of what we call advocacy.  I would hope we might be at least a tiny bit concerned with political gamesmanship, because getting what we want from government is a game with specific rules -- and we can't forever insist that we get the play the game by the rules we want to make up.

A more detailed post on the whole advocacy challenge (at least as the same relates to public funding) is coming in the near future.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Are You Meerkatting Yet? Maybe you should be!

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

Meerkatting.  (or soon to be Periscoping?)

One of the newest developments in social network communications is being called Meerkatting - named after a new (free) app that allows anyone with an iPhone (and inevitably it will be available on all smartphone platforms) to live stream video from their smartphone - and thus everyone is a potential roving reporter.  The app works by piggybacking on Twitter's network and porting people's social networks over from Twitter to the Meerkat service - the so called social graph.  Here's a brief description from an article on the latest phenom.

"The free application called Meerkat has become a virtual overnight sensation since its low-key arrival on Apple's online App Store late last month, winning over journalists, politicians, self-anointed pundits, social media celebrities and others.
Meerkat integrates with Twitter, allowing users of the messaging platform to launch live video streams with a single touch of an on-screen button.
In the rapid-fire Twitterverse, Meerkat has become a sudden hit with tens of thousands of users trying it.
Meerkat "marries the wide potential of livestreaming with the instant and social strengths of Twitter. Two great tastes that go so well together," wrote Hawaii-based consultant and blogger Ryan Ozawa."

The article goes on to note Twitter wants to own its own version of the app and so this week announced its purchase of a rival platform called periscope. And as of this writing, according to Buzz Feed, Twitter has shut down Meerkat's access to its platform, which means Meerkat users would have to build their own networks rather than have the ability to automatically push notices to their entire Twitter universe of followers (which may not be that hard for arts organizations).  So maybe the idea will ultimately be called Periscoping as Twitter rolls out its version.  Or maybe Meerkat will develop an easy way to aggregate followers for use with its app.  It hardly matters which app will become dominant; one will prevail if the idea resonates with users (and I'll bet it will).  The point is that there is now a new tool that seems to me to be readily adaptable and suited to the arts.

As we compete in the limitless world of communication, trying to distinguish our brands, our offerings, our wares, the ability to live stream dress rehearsals, museum curations, bits of performance pieces, fundraising events, informal pitches, day to day life in our organizations and more - all as part of our strategy to win over new audiences, media attention, donors and supporters - seems a natural fit; easy to do, cost effective (cheap), limitless creative applications and all built on an ever growing platform already part of our arsenal of tools (or one that would perhaps not be so hard to develop).

The original article went on:

"Danny Sullivan, founder of the blog Search Engine Land, "meerkatted" -- some are calling it "meercasting" -- a stroll around the South By Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, shortly after arriving there on Friday.
"It is kind of neat to give a taste of South-By to people who have never seen it and want a taste of it," Sullivan said, referring to the festival by its informal name. "It works surprisingly well; it is very impressive how easy it was to get going with the live stream." 
With Meerkat, a tweet is fired off containing a link that anyone can click to be connected to the stream while it is in progress. Tiny profile icons pop up to show who is tuning in to broadcasts.
Videos are available only at Meerkat while they are live, but the app gives users the option of saving what they have recorded on their devices."

Have a performance with tickets still available?  Meerkat (Periscope) a poignant one minute video, or better yet three quick rave testimonials from exiting audience goers and send it off.  Trying to complete that Kickstarter project, video a one minute synopsis of the project using your smart phone, and Meerkat (Periscope) it to your list. The possibilities are endless.  You only need a smartphone, the app and some inspiration.  Obviously, to distinguish your message, you will need to be creative in the content of what you Meerkat (Periscope), but we're suppose to be creative people.  And remember, the purpose of that kind of content marketing is not just to get people to respond, but to get them to pass your message on.  In fact, passing the message on may just be the most important goal as it increases the chances of the response level.

So, if you aren't Meerkatting yet - or Periscoping in the near future - perhaps you need to take a look at getting on the bandwagon now, and incorporate this tool into your communications / marketing strategies.  It seems a natural fit for us.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Interview with Vickie Benson - The McKnight Foundation

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

Vickie Benson is arts program director for The McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis. Before coming to McKnight, she was vice president of the Jerome Foundation, St. Paul, program director at Chamber Music America in New York City and senior program specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C. Vickie was a member of Grantmakers in the Arts’ board of directors from 2003-10, and for her last two years, she served as the board’s president. She is currently a member of the operations committee for ArtPlace, a grantmaking collaboration of fourteen national and regional foundations focused on creative placemaking. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in arts administration from St. Paul's Metropolitan State University, and a master's degree in nonprofit management from the Hamline University Graduate School of Management. She studied music at the University of Minnesota as an undergrad. An avid advocate for artists, Vickie has a background as a folk singer and guitar player.

Here is my interview with Vickie:

Barry:  One of the major challenges for foundations today is where to allocate scarce resources.  There is tremendous pressure, from different quarters, to keep key, older cultural institutions alive on one end of the spectrum, and to giving equal support to smaller and ethnically diverse arts organizations on the other.  How do you balance those competing priorities and what is your stance on how foundations ought to allocate their resources?

Vickie:  Foundations are in business to be in support of their missions. McKnight’s arts program follows a legacy set early on by the McKnight Foundation Board of Directors—the arts program supports working artists. We rely on arts organizations to provide the support structures that working artists need to be successful--institutions of all types, sizes, and ages that support working artists. That said, McKnight has long supported small and mid-sized organizations because they are very important to a system of support for artists. McKnight has also a strong history of supporting artist founded, artist led organizations. McKnight along with other arts funders are investigating ways in which grantmaking will be culturally equitable and socially equitable into the future.

Barry:  Another issue in the arts funding philanthropic community has been how long a funder ought to stay with a grantee.  What are the factors that play in this challenge and what are your thoughts on this issue?

Vickie:  McKnight funding has been crucial over long periods of time to many key organizations that have built Minnesota’s robust arts ecosystem. These organizations have been critical to McKnight’s mission. We are transparent about the challenges. When a foundation continues to support organizations that are doing great work, it IS challenging for newer organizations to receive funding. That is the program officer’s challenge, to continue to support great work while also making recommendations for new ideas, all while staying within a set budget. Every foundation needs to answer this challenge against its own mission.

Barry:  For a couple of decades in the last century, funding was directed primarily to “projects”.  The tide has now turned, and increasingly funding basic operational costs is seen as preferential in many cases.  Venture Capital firms in the tech industry invest in ideas, but place a premium on investing in proven leadership. Should we be considering funding proven leadership rather than specific organizations.  What are your thoughts on moving to investing more in people, rather than in programs, projects or institutions?  Is that even possible?

Vickie:  I believe that foundations already invest in people—McKnight makes grants to organizations, but those organizations are driven by their people. McKnight’s grantmaking in the arts funds a system of support for working artists. There are the McKnight Artist Fellowships that are managed by artist service organizations and community institutions. The innovations within those programs come from the artists’ ideas and needs. Many of McKnight’s grants are made to organizations whose leaders are artists and innovators, whose ideas are at times on the leading edge.

Barry:  Grantee applicants often tailor their programs (and even sometimes operations) to what they think a funder will fund.  That seems a negative to both grantee and funder.  How do you change that dynamic for both parties benefit?

Vickie:  Here’s a little bit different take on that. McKnight has crafted our program, partly connecting to its legacy of supporting working artists through our Aritist Fellowship program. In our guidelines, we state that we prioritize compensation to artists and other support structures (professional development, exhibition, space, time, connection to community and other artists, etc.). This is key to our program’s strategy and it is, in part, meant to influence others’ thinking and action about support structures, including compensation, for artists. For too long, artists’ work has been devalued. It is the foundation’s job to shepherd its resources in a way that has impact.

Barry:  Professional development and management training opportunities are arguably a critical component in arts administrators being competitive business people.  But those opportunities are often inconvenient or even impossible to access, expensive, and not tailored to the needs of arts administrators.  What ought to be the role of funders in supporting a better trained pool of arts managers?  Should all grant applicants be required to have a line item in their budgets for professional development?

Vickie:  Professional development is important for all professionals. Each foundation, however, would have to consider that for its own purpose.

Barry:  GIA is a much different organization than it was five years ago.  Where would you like to see it go in the next five years?

Vickie:  I am very proud of the work that Grantmakers in the Arts has done in terms of connecting a broad and diverse group of arts grantmakers to important issues of our time. Janet Brown has done an amazing job as its President and the board of directors are serious about making sure that their leadership is broad and diverse. I only hope that it continues to be responsive and leading in the issues of the day and continues to make room for the next realm of leaders.

Barry:  A major source of friction between organization executive directors and their Boards is (real or perceived) board micromanagement.  What is the role of a funder in addressing that problem?  What ought a funder demand in terms of Boards competency and behavior, if anything?

Vickie:  As a rule of due diligence, program officers ask questions about governance, staff board relationships. etc. There are varying stages of an organization when boards of directors are needed to roll up their sleeves and serve in day to day functions of the organization and then, of course, at other stages, boards have more of a policy role. All boards have fiduciary responsibilities.

Barry:  Which should be the greater priority, funding the creation of art, or access to it?  And if a healthy balance is your answer, where is that balance?

Vickie:  The decision should be based on the foundation’s or program’s mission. Accordingly, McKnight focuses on the structures that are helpful and crucial to working artists. We surveyed the field and saw that it would be impactful for McKnight to marshall its grantmaking resources in this direction given others’ attention to access and education. One is not more important than the other, we need it all, but foundation staff and boards need to make choices about how their resources can have impact in fields.

Barry:  How do you balance allocation of foundation funds between the needs of specific organizations and the needs of the sector as a whole?  For the most part, funding goes to organizations (as project, program or operational support). Should foundations have as part of their portfolios initiatives that strengthen the entirety of the ecosystem?  How is addressing that goal constrained by the territorial limitations of working for a family foundation?

Vickie:  The McKnight Foundation staff and board realize that although we work in Minnesota, our work has impact nationally and beyond and vice versa. We know that a portion of the grantmaking resources is well utilized for support of national associations and data, in particular. Case in point is the Cultural Data Project—we know that having credible data for our field can only be helpful to the working artists in that field.

Barry:  How do you know when its time to pull the plug on a grantee?  Are legacy grantees sometimes getting an undeserved free ride, and what is the cost and impact on the whole of the arts ecosystem?

Vickie:  Program staff are thoughtful about making exit or final grants because no matter what size the organization, those funds need to be replaced and it is generally complex, regardless of the size of organization. Each foundation has to thoughtfully assess whether or not to continue funding. The one generalization that I will make is that it is better for the field when assessed on a case by case basis and not decided in a sweeping exit. That said, missions and directions of foundations change. This has occurred as long as there has been philanthropic giving—it is a reality of the field.

Barry:  Which services do you think arts service provider organizations need to do a better job at providing and why?

Vickie:  I am fortunate to live in a land of 10,000 lakes and many incredible artist service organizations. Many times the leaders of these organizations are artists and are deeply connected to artists. They are nimble at seeing opportunities ahead for artists and figure out how to connect and network the opportunities. I think it would be an interesting question to pose to the artist service organizations about how grantmakers could do a better job because I think, in general, the service organizations are incredible.

Barry:  Because things are now in a constant state of change, and there is little that any organization can completely rely on for anything but the very short term, it seems futile to engage in any long term planning.  Yet an approach that focuses on being adaptable, innovative and flexible is hardly a plan by itself.  Where is the balance between the need to be flexible and adaptive and the need to have some kind of roadmap to follow?

Vickie:  I think that you just nailed it in the last sentence—the key is finding the balance between those aspects of planning. The days of spending inordinate amount of time on a five year plan that sits on the shelf are long over. Flexible and relevant organizations moved away from that kind of planning long ago. Strategic frameworks that stay true to mission while also underscoring adaptibility are the roadmaps that organizations seem to be creating and following.

Barry:  Assess the sector’s efforts at community engagement?

Vickie:  I think that the arts and artists in particular have long been leaders in community engagement. I believe other sectors look to the arts to get ideas and inspiration.

Barry:  What drives you crazy about the nonprofit arts sector?

Vickie:  I’ve been blessed to spend my entire career in this sector—I’ve made incredible friends, I have a great network of colleagues, I am intellectually challenged on a regular basis, I’ve always felt at home in this sector, I’ve been privileged—it hasn’t driven me crazy…just the opposite actually.

 We talk a lot about technology - particularly as it may relate to our marketing, fundraising and audience development efforts.  Yet we seem perennially two steps behind mainstream private sector business in making technology work for us.  How can funders help the sector better integrate technological innovations into their businesses?

By sharing success stories and ideas. I would have you turn to the great work that Sarah Lutman has done on behalf of the Wyncote Foundation, “Like, Link, Share: How Cultural Institutions are Embracing Digital Technology.” Also, I would have us all look to Media Impact Funders who are helping us understand the possibilities for artists and cultural organizations in understanding the creative opportunities that exist in technology.

Barry:  If there were an Arts Funder Hall of Fame, who would you like to see inducted?

Vickie:  Roberta Uno. No question. Her work at Ford has been inspirational and has made great change for the sector. As she leaves the philanthropic field, I know that she will continue to make an impact in the world. I have learned so much from Roberta and for that I am grateful.

Barry:  McKnight is a family foundation with a defined territorial area of operation.  What are you not able to fund, that you wish you could, and why?

Vickie:  I have made a point in my career to remember that the resources that I’m shepherding are not mine and that when I work for a grantmaking entity, my recommendations for funding are within the mission of the foundation—McKnight’s arts goal is that “Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive.” It’s a great goal and the program is able to fund really great work.

Of course, I’m also a private citizen, so I make contributions to organizations that I want to fund with my own dollars. I’ve found it important not to mix up the two hats that I wear.

Barry:  What is the biggest lie the arts sector continues to buy into?

Vickie:  The sector doesn’t have the time or energy to buy into lies.

Barry:  For years we have been talking about capacity building. Assuming that concept includes competency building, what are the core competencies our organization leaders need to master?

Vickie:  Understanding and action regarding the changing demographics and inequities in our sector and the critical importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in grantmaking, opportunities for artists, arts access, hiring, and board development.
Leaders—board, staff—need to grasp the importance of the balance sheet, how that is tied to mission and the important stories that are embedded in the numbers.

Thank you Vickie

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, March 2, 2015

WESTAF launches the Creative Vitality Suite, a new online tool to measure the robustness of an area’s creative economy

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

WESTAF has just launched the Creative Vitality Suitea new online tool to measure the robustness of an area’s creative economy.

• The Creative Vitality Suite is a major advance for the arts and cultural field. Because it is an online tool, it provides 24/7 access to a wide variety of up-to-date data. This is very different from the traditional commissioning of a report on the creative economy, which--by the time it is completed and delivered--is usually substantially out-of-date.

• Moving beyond the advocacy-focused use of data, this tool helps organizations that seek to sit at the table with decision makers such as economic development experts, who demand credible data.  Moreover, the data helps drive informed decision making in a variety of ways.

• The Creative Vitality Suite is the initial phase of a very robust data portal for the arts. The site already contains huge amounts of data. Westaf's plan is to add much more to the site. Doing so will help ensure that the arts community has access to the data they need to make good decisions and to partner with the broader community.

• Nicole Stephan lead the design and development of WESTAFs Creative Vitality Suite online tool (formerly Creative Vitality Index). Stephan previously served as a data design lead on a Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Adviser web tool, an innovative charting platform displaying up-to-the-second economic data and market sentiment. She holds a BFA in graphic design from the College of Creative Studies and a MS in information and communication technologies for development from the University of Colorado Boulder Alliance for Technology Learning and Society (ATLAS) Institute. 

• The CVSuite tool was developed to encourage interaction and exploration of data. This investigation allows users to gain knowledge about factors in their creative economy and how to best report findings. The benefit from an organizational standpoint is controlling the variables used to report on a region’s creative economy.

Here is information from Westaf's press release:

"The Creative VitalityTM Suite is a tool that provides in depth and up-to-date employment and economic data about both the for profit and nonprofit sectors of the creative economy. Data in the tool are available on a nationwide basis and can be accessed by state, county, MSA, state legislative district, congressional district and ZIP Code. Developed by WESTAF, a nonprofit arts service organization, the online tool is now available for use at

For more information about the Creative Vitality SuiteTM, please contact Blake Brown, WESTAF Technology Services Associate or via telephone 303-629-1166.

WESTAF developed the Creative Vitality SuiteTM from the “bottom up” for researchers and administrators working in the area of the creative economy. The online tool allows you 24/7 access to creative economy data.

CVSuiteTM labor market data are based on North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes and Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes.

  • The CVSuiteTM lets you conduct custom analyses by selecting the NAICS codes you want to include in a definition of the creative economy.
  • You can pull data from competing geographic areas and compare them across multiple factors.
  • Reports on creative industry sales, employment patterns, workforce demographics and earnings data are available instantly.
  • Reports originate from independent third-party data sources.
    • National Center for Charitable Statistics
    • National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
    • Economic Modeling Specialists International collects and cleans multiple streams of creative economy data from more than 90 sources, including:
    • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The CVSuiteTM tilts toward research not just advocacy.

  • Data are updated quarterly (except nonprofit data which is updated annually)
  • CVSuiteTM reports places creative-economy advocates at the table with informed economic- development specialists, who expect to discuss findings rooted in credible data sources.

The Creative Vitality SuiteTM is a budget-friendly tool.

  • Annual subscriptions starts as low as $3,500.

The CVSuiteTM includes comprehensive data and analysis and does not require an agency or organization to assist with local data collection.

The CVSuiteTM allows for annual tracking of an array of data streams, and provides credible trend data.

The CVSuiteTM provides for timely actionable information and allows for low-impact inclusion of this measure in annual budgets.

The CVSuiteTM gives developers and planners, as well as arts advocates and administrators, concrete measures to make informed decisions about jobs, commercial cultural-business activity, and development of arts-related businesses and institutions.

WESTAF designed the CVSuiteTM as a tool for state- and local-level measurement of the creative economy.

  • The CVSuiteTM contains economic data for every ZIP Code, county, MSA, and state in the nation. + You can compare virtually any geographic and political subdivision with any other nationwide, and make relevant local comparisons with urban, rural, and demographically similar areas.
  • Grant data are accessible by U.S. congressional district and will soon be available by state legislative district.

The online tool gives you 24/7 access to creative economy data.

  • WESTAF believes this easy to access online tool will help arts advocates, administrators and researchers present reliable, up-to-date information about commercial and nonprofit arts in any community.

The Creative VitalityTM Suite helps you “picture” the data. Using the CVSuiteTM tool, you can download reports with easy-to-read charts and graphs.

Data used in charts and graphs can be customized to give a community a detailed analysis of how many creative-sector jobs already exist, how much sales activity the sector generates and taxes paid."

Check it out.  In a world where data is increasingly an essential component in making informed judgments and decisions, it may be of tremendous use and value to your organization - in everything from audience development, media support, donor solicitation, advocacy, and growing relationships with government and business partners. I'm not the most technically oriented person, but I am impressed with this tool. 

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, February 22, 2015

In the Skills Adults Think Kids Need to Succeed, the Arts Come in Last

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

In a recent Pew Research Center survey of what adults think are "the most important skills for children to get ahead in the world today", disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the arts come in last. Again.

"Across the board, more respondents said communication skills (90%) were most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork (78%), writing and logic. Science fell somewhere in the middle, with more than half of Americans saying it was important.
Rounding out the bottom were skills more associated with kids’ extracurricular activities: art (23%), music (24%) (sorry, right-brained people) and athletics. There was virtually no difference in the responses based on whether the person was a parent of a child aged 18 and younger or not."

This is frustrating.  At the core of art is "communication"; at the essence of performing arts is "teamwork".  That's intuitive.  Why then does someone who values communication and teamwork as skill sets, not equally value the arts?  It's mind boggling.

What was somewhat surprising in the study (to me anyway) is that whites and college educated people ranked the arts lower than Hispanics and Blacks, and lower than those with a high school diploma or less.  Assuming that most of the educational decision makers are white and with college educations, that is discouraging.  The assumption (mine included) that whites and college educated people are likely to be more supportive of the value of arts education is also somewhat discouraging.  On the plus side though, there is increased support from the growing ethnic communities, and at least (nearly) a quarter of the respondents did pick Arts / Music as important.  We need to embrace and build on that foundation.

For some reason (unclear to me) the Survey arbitrarily included Music and Art as separate categories instead of the wider and more generic Arts (plural) category (but curiously left off entirely as a choice - Social Studies).  Music fared better on the ranking than did Art - but not by much.  The ten skills might have gotten a different response if creativity and / or innovation were included, but the results are still telling.  Political affiliation (unsurprisingly) impacted the responses: Democrats and independents put a higher value on learning about music, a skill that just 17% of Republicans agree would be helpful for kids to succeed.

What does it all mean?   It means despite decades of work citing and arguing the value and benefit of the Arts as a core subject important to the education of our children, despite substantial research on that importance,  despite the flourishing of hundreds, if not thousands, of exemplary programs across the country, and despite all our efforts, the public seemingly STILL thinks of the arts (at least as important in education) as a frill, a luxury.  It means that despite the recognition in the survey of the importance of communication skills and of teamwork as a skill, the public doesn't make the link between the arts and those two key skills - let alone to reading and writing.  We haven't yet succeeded in demonstrating and convincing the public that inclusion of the arts in the curriculum directly relates to preparing better communicators and team players.

We've centered our past arguments in support of Arts Education on the value of the arts in improving SAT and other test scores, in fostering better academic performance and model classroom behavior, and in raising the level of self esteem and confidence of young students.  We've argued that Arts Education helps to equip innovators and is the natural hand-maiden of creativity.  Perhaps we now ought to spend more effort on linking the arts directly to those skills the public already values - communication, team work, reading, writing and even math and science.  And help the public to make the link between the arts and those valued skills.

If we want universal, curriculum based, sequential arts education, then (it seems to me) one of the potentially most fruitful strategies will be to convince parents to demand it in their schools.  And maybe we can move to increase that demand if we link the role of arts to what those parents already seem to value as critical preparatory skills.

Somehow, some way, some day we have to successfully challenge, attack and bury once and for all the notion that the arts are just a nice indulgence unrelated to truly valuable skills.  I'm tired of always coming in last in these kinds of surveys.   We really need to ask ourselves WHY we continue to come in last; and how can we move purposefully and strategically to change that.  We ought to do research, surveys, focus groups and dig deep into the reasoning behind the public's perception with an eye to changing it.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 16, 2015

Interview with Jonathan Katz - Part II

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

Here is the conclusion of the interview with Jonathan Katz:

Barry:  Some people think SAA’s should move away from grant making and focus more on providing other kinds of services and initiatives to their constituents.  Where do you come out on that debate and why?  Is there a balance that would be better than the current situation?

Jonathan:  This question always troubles me because it seems to be based on presumptions that strike me as wrong.  One is that “grant making” is a uniform term and not a basket term for many different purposes and methods of distributing money, so one can reasonably be for or against it.  Another is that this decision can reasonably be made in general terms, in the abstract, as if environmental factors – such as the density of arts organizations or patterns of arts participation or population demographics – that make one state different from another aren’t germane.  Grant making is a tool. It’s a means to an end. The question isn’t are you for it or against it; the question is whether there’s a variation of it you should use to affect the indicators you have identified, to achieve the goal, the outcome, you desire.

My general observation is that the most useful discussion of grant making takes place when the achievement of various goals is what drives discussion of what kind of grant making can (a) be most effective and (b) build sustaining public value.  Grants can be given to encourage or enable grantees to achieve outcomes that are the priorities of the grantor.  Grants can be given to support the goals of grantees.  General operating can be given and the grantees can be offered their choice of documenting whether it results in broadening their reach, improving their quality or strengthening their financial situation. Grants can be given to encourage activities done using a particular method, such as collective impact, or through a particular process, such as strategic planning. Sometimes you talk to someone who has been described as not giving grants and what they are doing is distributing funds through requests for proposals or within a relationship that, because it involves their recipients following through with some thank-you’s to authorizers and documentation, is called a partnership agreement. To me, these are all kinds of grant making.

Grants can be given to test a strategy as an experiment to see what happens, or to test a promising model of funding as a pilot, or to take a successfully tested program model to scale, or to document a program, or to evaluate a program, or to encourage a practice such as collecting certain kinds of information or using certain promotional methods. Grant making can take the form of formula funding, operational support, project support; can require no match, 1:1 matching or leveraged matching such as 3:1. NEA grant funding to states and regions is a mix of formula and categorical funding, Most public agencies, like state arts agencies, employ a mix of grant making strategies.

There are states where the size, number, distribution and influence of arts organizations makes an emphasis on general operating support and/or formula funding practical. In other states, where crafts, traditional, folk, ethnic and tribal artists are numerous and influential, RFPs, individual grants, and project support might be more practical. In some states, where state government is focused on economic development and job creation, grants that respond to what looks like a business plan and look themselves like investments and venture capital projects and job training might make the most sense.  My experience is that the broad question about grant making is more seriously and frequently a topic raised in the West than elsewhere.  During the 1990’s, state arts agency budgets doubled in the aggregate but not in that region, so it’s quite possible that that results in some difference in perception about how SAAs can distribute money and provide services to build public value.

Barry:   If the search committee for your successor is looking for a candidate who can “develop and diversify the financial resources necessary for NASAA to ensure future stability and sustainability”, and “Lead fund development efforts that secure dues revenue, garner government support, attract corporate and philanthropic contributions and generate earned income” - how do you think NASAA can succeed in each of those areas?  Do you think NASAA should partner more with foundation or other funders in launching new initiatives that benefit the states as a way to diversify its own funding, and do you have any specific ideas to suggest?  Is NASAA too dependent on member dues?  Is it too dependent on its share of NEA funds?  How might NASAA monetize more of what it does, and thus increase its earned income?

Jonathan:  NASAA represents the best vehicle for ensuring that a $300 - $400 million revenue stream from state and jurisdictional governments for arts participation continues.  SAAs use substantial portions of their grant funds to support local arts agencies, arts education leadership, and general operating funds to arts groups. Their partnership building for the arts, convening role, support of statewide arts service groups, public information, promotion of the public benefits of the arts, research, celebration of artistic achievements, and strategic planning function are vital activities that provide benefits throughout a state.  Foundations and other funders would be wise to invest in NASAA’s capacity to strengthen SAAs. They would be wise to consider how NASAA and the SAAs can be useful as allies in achieving their top priority program goals.  NASAA is in the process of reviewing all revenue sources with an eye towards diversification and, as you note, this will be a priority for the next CEO. I view knowledge and learning services, and leadership development, as areas of staff strength where more revenue can be realized, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see enterprise collaborations with regional arts organizations, other national organizations, or institutions of higher education.

Barry:  AFTA and NASAA together have focused their advocacy efforts at the Federal and State levels.  But where is the direct attempt to organize advocacy from the city (local) level upward?  Would that be a worthy goal for NASAA?  Why, or why not?  What is, and what ought to be, the relationship between SAAs and the major city arts agencies in each state and why?

Jonathan:  These relationships are very different from state to state. In a number of states, the major city agencies – especially those that operate united arts funds – have significantly larger budgets and staffs than the state arts agency.  In any case, the state and city arts agencies share local constituents and can only gain from regular conversation between their leaders about what they see as key issues, trends, goals and programs.   That naturally leads to exploring whether there are ways to complement each other’s work or collaborate.

Barry:  What are the negatives and what are the positives in the relationship between SAA and staffs and their governing Councils, and how might that relationship be changed for the benefit of the state agencies?

Jonathan:  This is difficult to generalize about because in one state the ED might be a governor’s appointee and the Council’s role entirely advisory while in another state the chair of the Council might have the key political relationship, the Council operate like a board and have hiring and firing authority over the ED. In any case, much about the health of the relationship between the SAA staff and the Council members hinges on the partnership between the executive director and the chair of the Council. The ideal situation is where the chair and ED agree on priorities, communicate regularly, and take responsibility, respectively, for aligning the work of Council members with the work of staff members. One key element is the degree of input either the chair or the ED can have with the authority responsible for appointing Council members. This varies from state to state and administration to administration.  When agency leadership can make recommendations that are seriously considered, it can make an enormous difference in the quality of contribution the Council can make to the agency’s decision making, resource development and representation.

Barry:  What can be done to more fully integrate the planning and programming by and between NASAA and the Regional Arts Organizations?

Jonathan:  The RAOs interested in national advocacy do work collaboratively with NASAA. RAOs also work on information collection collaboratively with NASAA in various ways. A couple of times, when I felt the need to meet with all SAA leadership in person, the RAO ED’s were enormously helpful in providing opportunities in and around their own meetings for that to happen.  From time to time, when they meet as a group in Washington, they have invited me to join them. For many years, a seat on NASAA’s board has been reserved for RAO representation in order to ensure regular communication.  NASAA board members are encouraged to report on NASAA activities at their regional meetings. If a payoff for the investment of more time and attention to collaboration were readily apparent, it would have happened. Obviously, we all value our autonomy and the RAOs have developed a variety of national programs without needing assistance from NASAA. The structure remains one of great potential for various kinds of collaboration. NASAA’s development of earned revenue strategies or program ideas that a new CEO might pursue could catalyze that collaboration.

Barry:  What is your stand on the equity in funding debate?  Some argue that an unfair disproportionate amount of available funding continues to go to large, urban based Eurocentric legacy arts organizations.  Should more state money go to multicultural and smaller arts organizations in a manner more reflective of current demographic trends?  What is the role, if any, of the SAAs in changing the funding allocation paradigm?

Jonathan:  There are many kinds of equity that merit policy analysis.  Race, age, gender, geography, income, education, and language are all factors to be considered. As part of their public planning processes all SAAs identify underserved constituencies and the actions they are taking to address concerns. Grant making is one measure of attention to equity, but, for SAAs, the make-up of councils, staffs and panels; provision of staff services; the availability of leadership and professional development opportunities; encouragement of networking; and inclusion in promotional and information systems are also important. From the data SAAs collect it’s not easy to gauge all dimensions of equity in grant making, but one can observe the success of the job SAA community development staff have done over decades of traveling their states in the percentage and number of SAA grants to rural America. The role SAAs play in mapping the availability of arts education, the quality of arts education, and grade-level arts learning proficiency is important in bringing visibility to widespread inequities and making the case for resources to correct them.  Another model of what SAAs can do is Poetry Out Loud, whose 365,000 annual participants represent broad racial and ethnic diversity, most obviously among the state champions.

Barry:  There may be some agreement on how the arts should move forward in any number of areas, but why are there not more codified (and official), consensus national policies that would guide our collective action on such things as arts education, research, funding allocation, and more?  What is necessary for the field to develop and establish national policies in these and other areas?

Jonathan:  This is a very complex question. One book I’m writing is focused on the observation that American public policy – in general – tends to emphasize the protection of individual, local and private sector prerogatives. So we have the most decentralized education system, some of the lowest tax rates, some of the free-est speech in the developed world, as well as a strong resistance to explicit federal educational and cultural policies. Hence the absence of official national curricula and need for the state-based Common Core, our extraordinary reliance on individual (tax-deductible) giving to provide social, health and cultural services, etc.  We provide for arts education policy interpretation and a clearinghouse for research in that area through the Arts Education Partnership, driven by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education.  The Cultural Advocacy Group of national arts service organizations who employ lobbyists does guide collective action, collaborates on writing the policy briefs for Advocacy Day, and there is a sub-group that organizes collective action on education issues.  A sense of national identity - and threat to it from globalization - and the need to protect our language, music and film industries is not what drives centralized cultural policy in the U.S. as they do in other countries. If it did, we’d have a ministry or cultural policies driven by a coalition of federal agencies or federal legislation designed by the Congressional arts caucuses. We assume our dominance and identify with our popular culture, which does dominate the world market place. So the most general answer here is that national consensus is not likely to be articulated by an “official” source, but developed in all these areas through the facilitation, coalition-building, will-building, collective impact, these are variations on the theme, of a group of leaders who share the vision of a common outcome, and whose networks, together, can influence what will be national policy, whether adopted officially or not.  Lack of consensus, as well as absence of infrastructure, we should note, is also, de facto, a policy.  For the reasons I’ve noted, de facto policy is not uncommon for cultural issues in the United States.

Barry:  There is a lot of emphasis today on innovation in the strategies and actions arts organizations adopt to stay healthy.  SAAs operate in the climate of state government which, as a bureaucracy and in its obligation to the public, arguably limits to a degree innovation, flexibility, and creative risk taking.  How do the SAAs address that challenge?

Jonathan:  It might also be said that the bureaucratic requirement of a public planning process, the prospect of a peer application review upon which the federal partnership agreement is contingent, the need to align with changing state government priorities, and the reality that its programs must please constituents in order to motivate advocacy for its resources combine to ensure that SAAs must continually demonstrate a degree of innovation, flexibility and creative risk taking.  Constant consultation with artists and arts organizations as well as other agencies of state government, leaders in other fields, and other state arts agencies is key to effectively adapting to a changing environment. So is monitoring trends in arts participation, other leisure time use, education, the economy, politics, technology and equity. Networking, perspective and information make effective leadership possible.  In my response to another question, I mentioned that SAA innovation in programs, partnerships and operations is documented regularly in the “State to State” column in NASAA’s monthly online newsletter. SAA adaptive ingenuity can be gauged by viewing the last 75 columns that feature three innovations a month over the past six years, more than 200 examples selected from among many more. I’d also observe that in the climate SAA leaders have had to work in during the last decade of multiple recessions innovation, flexibility and creative risk taking combined would not have been sufficient for individuals to resist burn-out and for agencies to survive. Passionate commitment to both the value of the arts and to public service, energy and resilience were also necessary.

Barry:  Some argue that arts leaders across the spectrum are now faced with an ‘information overload’ that is negatively affecting their productivity, ability to focus on the big challenges and even in job satisfaction.  What can be done to manage this overload of information?

Jonathan:  Everyone is faced with information overload. Managing it starts with individual discipline because there is so much distracting data constantly being delivered, so many emails and texts, and social media updates.  I have a couple of screening methods I’m trying to make into habits. One is to sort stuff as it appears into data (isolated), information (facts related to issues and decisions), knowledge (what has been learned from various uses of information) and wisdom (what guidance knowledge suggests for the future) – and spend as much time on the wisdom end of that continuum as possible. Another screen is “Can I use this to teach others something?” If the answer is yes, it crowds out other stuff.  The information function of a service organization like NASAA used to be the gathering and sorting of comprehensive and encyclopedic collections of information.  But as the digital revolution progresses, it is more and more the distillation of data and customization of its delivery, so a user is enabled to select the examples or lessons that are precisely pertinent to an issue or decision. What this means is that your decisions on what websites to check regularly and what associations to join will be big factors in the efficiency of your information management.

Barry:  You have long championed the ability of the arts to tell effective stories about their contributions to our civic life as a way to effectively make our case to decision makers.  But that approach has had great success sometimes, and very little success in other situations. What other approaches might complement our storytelling as a means to succeed in our goals?

Jonathan:  Storytelling is most likely to be transformational -- to affect perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and actions -- when it takes place within a relationship of openness and trust. So a storyteller, let’s say an arts advocate, needs to build that relationship before expecting the information delivered or action requested to get the desired response.  There are also times and occasions when listeners are more prone to empathize with a story.  One might observe that right around budget time, when decision makers are under pressure and receiving requests in volume, is a time for a reminder of a story delivered earlier under more comfortable conditions. There is also a complementary relationship between stories and evidence. Both are necessary to initiate the affective response that triggers change or action and to reinforce the conviction to continue along that path. The selection of storyteller is also key. More attention can be expected for a story coming from a teller relevant to the listener’s power and influence, self-esteem, or affection. A powerful persuasive formula is what I call “the advocacy trifecta” -- shared sensory experience combined with story to interpret the experience and evidence to reinforce a rational commitment. So, for example, the legislator observes a dynamic arts education class, hears how someone’s nephew on the way to dropping out was turned around by his music class, and is presented with the hard data about how arts education is linked to test performance, college enrollment and job preparation.

Barry:  What are your future plans?

Jonathan:  Thanks for asking. I didn't decide to retire from NASAA and then plan an agenda. I developed an agenda that necessitated a big change in how I use my time. So my own reinvention will be through writing and consulting. In the past couple of months I’ve completed a book of poems and sent the manuscript to a few publishers. Now my most immediate subjects for publication and presentation are Explaining America: Values and Consequences, Gain Theory: Why Movements Win and Lose, Problem-Solving in Professional and Personal Life, and The Seven Calculations of Winning Poker Players. I have hopes the new dimensions of my writing will lead to new dimensions of speaking and consulting. I would love to continue, on a selective basis, keynote speaking and consulting on cultural trends and policies, strategic planning, and leadership development. Along those lines, I will be doing some work for Americans for the Arts, for the Sarasota County Arts Council, and on a coalition interested in connecting arts, science and humanities education. Right now, I'm testing for professional e-mails the address

Thank you Jonathan.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Interview with Jonathan Katz - Part I

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

Jonathan Katz served as the head of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies for 29 years, and his tenure defined not only that agency, but the whole state arts agency movement.   He stepped down from that post late last year.  He agreed to an interview, and I appreciate his candor and frankness.  I am posting the interview in two parts - today and next week.

I often wish I could do these interviews live, so I could pose follow up questions suggested by the interviewee's initial responses and have that kind of Charlie Rose conversation.

Bio:  Jonathan Katz, Ph.D., served from 1985 through 2014 as CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the association through which the nation's 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies share knowledge and strategic thinking, develop leadership and professionalism, and advocate the value of the arts and culture. In that capacity, he co-founded the Arts Education Partnership (, the nation’s coalition of more than 100 organizations for the advancement of learning in the arts, and the Cultural Advocacy Group, which is the forum through which the national cultural service organizations of the United States develop their united federal agenda. Before then, he was awarded tenure as a full professor of public policy and administration at the U. of Illinois at Springfield, where he directed the graduate arts administration program. He has directed the Kansas Arts Commission, The Children's Museum of Denver, and he is proud that his support helped establish Poetry Out Loud, a partnership between the NEA, The Poetry Foundation and the state arts agencies that now engages 365,000 high school students in competitive recitation each year.

Here is Part I of the interview:

Barry:  Looking back on your long tenure at NASAA, what are the major trends in the SAA field that you think have defined that field?  And what do you see will be the future trends that will impact the SAAs?

Jonathan:  I would first observe that the state arts agency movement in the United States is an exceptional and evolving experiment in the exercise of purposeful cultural policy in one big laboratory – the federal government – and 56 diverse but networked laboratories – the state governments. After 1776, it was 122 years before the first state (Utah) established an arts council, and 189 years until the authorization of the NEA.

A key word that defines the field is “purposeful.” Much of public policy making in the U.S. focuses on response to or regulation of purposes coming from the private sector to the exclusion of the identification and implementation of leadership roles for government. Therefore, the most general and significant trend that defines the state arts agency field is the creation of a locus in every state for a public dialogue about what are the most important benefits the arts provide, which benefits government should play a role in providing, and what that role should be.          

The program and service trends that define the state arts agency (SAA) field derive from what an agency of state government devoted to fostering participation in the arts must do in order to maintain sufficient support from government officials and from a community of advocates to compete successfully in the annual legislative budgeting process. The artistic mandate to foster participation is itself complex. One challenge is to broaden experiential access, which is a matter of education, resource distribution, and overcoming a host of societal inequities.  Another challenge is to ensure that the aggregate quality of artistic experience available exemplifies and trends towards the most powerful and valuable level, that which people describe as “excellent,” “transformative,” or, more recently, as putting one “in the flow.”  Understanding these challenges helps to explain why SAA grant making and staffing has trended towards an increasing proportional investment in arts education – school-based, community-based, and the capacity of artists and arts organizations to assist in providing it.  

One governmental imperative for SAAs is to distribute funds and services for arts activities in ways that build broad and enduring political support. General operating support has long distinguished SAAs from other grant makers. More purposefully, every SAA has developed decentralization strategies suited to its unique cultural mix, geography and demography.  These include re-granting systems, local arts agency support, statewide arts education programs, touring and presenting initiatives, as well as programs that spotlight the state’s folk, traditional and ethnic traditions, foster cultural districts and rural arts activity, and identify underserved populations for special attention. Another imperative is to broaden the vocal arts constituency beyond artists and arts organizations. Most notably since the early 1990’s, SAA advocacy has emphasized the public benefits that derive from transformative arts experiences and the activities of arts organizations. Even during the decade following the Mapplethorpe, Serrano and “NEA 4” controversies, state arts agency leaders and advocates doubled their aggregate budgets (growing faster than state government budgets overall) by documenting and promoting the benefits of the arts in terms of the economy, education, tourism, youth at risk and strengthening community life.  SAAs have learned to include elected state officials and their staffs in their planning surveys and listening tours, and to welcome them on their councils.

The foreseeable future for SAAs will be influenced strongly by the two devastating recessions in the first decade of the 21st century; political polarization, a skeptical reappraisal of the roles of government, and loss of public trust in both the public and private sectors; an intense debate on how to improve public education; America’s increasing demographic pluralism; and the continuing effects of the digital revolution on arts participation. To sustain support in their evolving environment, SAAs will need to be competitive in terms of their perceived ability to create jobs and strengthen a state’s economy, develop an agenda that unifies advocacy from a broad artistic and cultural community, demonstrate relevance to a state’s education improvement policy, and maintain a political constituency that crosses party lines.  Advocates will need to be prepared to debate the most fundamental questions about why an SAA is necessary. They will need to engage in this debate at both the federal and state levels, drawing upon the testimony of local partners and stakeholders.  For at least the next few years, it looks like effectively positioning and implementing integration of the arts in creative economy, creative place making, creative aging, military rehabilitation and education improvement strategies will be rewarded.

Barry:  Following up on that question, what do you think are the major accomplishments of NASAA over the past 30 years, and what areas do you regret that you have not been able to address as you might have wished?

Jonathan:  Let’s imagine state arts agencies operating without the association they created to provide themselves with a collective voice and the capacity to learn from each other. NASAA has enabled SAAs to communicate as a field – and to partner in programs – with Congress, with the White House and the federal government, with the NEA, with governors, with state legislatures, and with other cultural constituencies. Over the past 30 years, NASAA has helped establish the federal commitment from the NEA approximating $50 million annually to SAAs that helps sustain both support for the NEA in Congress and support for $250 million - $450 million annually from state legislatures. NASAA has also helped ensure that the benefits of statewide distribution were applied to federal funding programs such as ARRA and Goals 2000.  In the 1970’s, NASAA and the NEA created the National Standard for Arts Information Exchange, which was a pioneering achievement in designing the kind of data collection that would make cultural policy analysis possible – and which still guides baseline public sector grant data collection. NASAA facilitated the use of the SAA grant application process in every state to distribute AIDS awareness information to the cultural community.  Thirty thousand groups, a significant percentage of the universe of arts organizations, participate in that process. Through NASAA, the SAAs were able to partner in coalition with other cultural groups to defend the NEA in Congress from those people critical of its links to the work of Mapplethorpe, Serrano and the “NEA 4.” That National Cultural Alliance evolved into the Cultural Advocacy Group, which continues to serve as the forum through which the national arts service organizations plan and advance a unified agenda for the federal cultural agencies.  Illustrations of how NASAA operates to benefit all SAAs include contributing to the series of National Governors Association issue briefs  on how the arts provide resources to address the most pressing issues facing state executives and working with the National Conference of State Legislatures to conduct focus groups aimed at determining what state officials want to know about the arts and how they want to be provided that information. NASAA also gives SAAs the capacity to collaborate with national partners in ongoing programs such as Poetry Out Loud and the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards.

I have to admit I’m jealous of the opportunities the next NASAA CEO will have to make progress in several areas.  The policy partnership between NASAA and the NEA can be strengthened, especially in the area of arts education. There are new and promising opportunities for NASAA and the NEA to work together with other federal agencies. There’s an openness in communication between NASAA and Grantmakers in the Arts that can be pushed towards more pervasive collaboration between public and private grant makers nationally, and maybe even some programmatic partnership. I think NASAA and its member agencies will be important participants as the national conversation about diversity and equity in arts participation and funding progresses to its next level. I also think that NASAA’s growing expertise with new technologies will lead to new methods of assisting cohorts of states to explore common interests together – such as creative aging, cultural district development, other creative economy initiatives, and collaborations with the military.

Barry:  Certain constituent groups seem to have been a natural fit for NASAA - including state (and city?) advocacy organizations, state arts education groups, and perhaps even state business for the arts groups.  Those have been folded under the AFTA tent over the period.  Do you think that NASAA should have been more aggressive in making those groups part of the NASAA tent?  If not, why not?

Jonathan:  NASAA has the very focused mission of strengthening the state arts agencies.  The state leaders who created NASAA and govern it are also its clients and support its services with their dues. They have been quite clear about their priority needs being knowledge, leadership development, representation and community. They want these needs met in depth and with the necessary frequency that only an association tightly focused on this membership can provide. It’s not a tent designed to fold over other groups except for a few, strategically chosen partnerships. NASAA’s ability to be as effective as it has been on behalf of the state arts agencies in Congress and in its relations with the NEA has a lot to do with staying on point and thoroughly communicating with and through its members.  NASAA’s budget, cash reserve and staff resources are strong, and member satisfaction ratings are all very high.  No members were lost during the two recessions, which is an amazing achievement considering we are talking about state government budgets under huge pressure to cut expenditures.  In fact, members have just set records for individual giving to NASAA, matching a $50,000 challenge grant and exceeding that match the following year without the challenge grant. AFTA’s mission and methods are different, and, consequently, right-sizing means something different to the two organizations. AFTA has numerous member segments and an interest in direct public interface, which differentiate it from NASAA. On AFTA’s Artsblog, Chad Bauman’s bio notes that when he was director of marketing and communications for AFTA he was responsible for promoting more than 480 different programs. NASAA and AFTA are the closest of allies, joining forces in advocacy at the federal level through the Cultural Advocacy Group, where we’ve worked with other groups to determine and manage a unified agenda for the federal cultural agencies, and at the state level through joint meetings of SAALA (State Arts Advocacy League of America) and SAA leaders, where we’ve shared experiences, modeled successes, and are fostering good working relationships between agencies and advocates.  

Barry:  State funding to the SAAs has been a roller coaster ride - often rising and falling with the health of the economy.  Some people have suggested that SAAs may now have less of an impact on their states than they had in the past. What do you think can be done to increase and stabilize SAA funding in the future, and what action needs to be taken to blast the agencies into a more meaningful orbit?

Jonathan:  Let’s take this series of statements and questions piece by piece.

State funding is a roller coaster ride – for most agencies and functions of government in most states. Tax revenues go up and down, often unpredictably, and for many different reasons. One reasonable definition of success is that gains are maximized and sustained, and that losses are minimized and strategically managed.
It’s not irrational to suggest that SAA impact on states is less now because there have been years when SAA aggregate appropriations have been higher; not irrational, but wrong in most cases. The current impact of SAAs, is, I think, in general, far greater in the cultural lives of states now than in the past. Over the years, SAAs have established partnerships within state government and in communities throughout their states that leverage their resources and increase their impact. The arts education programs of SAAs are more integrated now in school systems statewide than ever before.  Their integration in Common Core activities, STEM and 21st Century skill initiatives; their expanded inclusion of students, teachers, teaching artists, parents and other educators over the years; their establishment of statewide programs such as HOT Schools, Whole Schools, A+ Schools and others; the NEA’s longtime support of the professional development of SAA arts education managers; the development of working relationships between the SAA arts education managers and state education agency arts education managers; the research and teaching resources now available online; and the models of mapping access, surveying the quality of teaching resources, and assessment of learning in order to demonstrate an equity case for arts education have all made today’s SAA arts education activities more impactful than in years past.  Among state arts agencies, the expanded knowledge, networking, and communities of practice in creative economy, creative aging, cultural district development, arts and healthcare, cultural tourism and other program areas have also leveraged SAA impact. Within individual states, SAA impact is multiplied by agency partnerships in tourism, youth development, rural community development, transportation, economic development, education and other program areas.  Public value strategies have changed the relationships between SAAs, their grantees, constituents and authorizers, increasing SAA impact. And the more sophisticated knowledge resources available now to SAAs from NASAA, AFTA and other service organizations and websites have also contributed to increasing SAA impact. As Regional Arts Organizations have developed partnerships, tapped resources available to multi-state consortia, and produced programs that take advantage of economies of scale, their member SAAs have gained impact. This all may be differently perceived by specific arts groups who, over time, have not experienced their SAA grants keeping up with inflation.

Increasing and stabilizing agencies generally comes from focusing on the value-building basics:
-- Aligning goals and activities with the priorities of state government and the interests of key decision makers.
-- Fostering a strong advocacy network, building its resources, and developing a good partnership between it and the SAA.
-- Using the planning process and targeted programs to broaden the constituency for the arts to include educators, the travel and tourism professions, the business community, health care and aging industries, the information technology sector, etc.
-- Encouraging collaborations between the public arts agencies and the philanthropic community.
These practices are well known and understood, but they are still challenging to implement strategically, methodically, opportunistically and constantly.  Every program and operational activity of artists, arts organizations, local arts agencies and the SAA has to be perceived and implemented as an advocacy activity.

As we headed deeply into recession a decade ago, I developed a workshop on what it takes to make a quantum leap. One factor is the habit of mind to imagine taking programs to scale. If it costs X dollars to reach one tenth of the students in the state with an arts education activity or Y dollars to provide a performance in 7 cities or Z dollars to prepare and tour an exhibit to 3 venues in 3 counties, how much would it cost to reach every student in the state, 100 cities with a performance each, all 75 counties with the exhibit?  Another habit of mind is imagining the funding or distribution support of a powerful partner or network. Supposing a major corporation decided to support your agency’s new initiative; supposing a foundation or bank or accounting firm decided to sponsor a residency or an arts scholarship or an artist internship with a for-profit in all the communities where it does business? What are the pieces that had to be put into place for a program like Poetry Out Loud to go from zero to 365,000 students annually? Another habit of mind is aligning your mission with the mission of one or more other influential constituencies and targeting a big, collective goal. Think of the Legacy funds in Minnesota and how water resources, hunting and cultural activities became beneficiaries of a constitutional amendment slightly increasing the sales tax. Another habit – not just of mind but of will power as well – is to go through the same process of building the constituency, the relationships with authorizers, and the familiarity of request a thousand times, until the resource environment ripens and everything that didn’t work completely, but which but built your accountability over time, falls into place. Like the magnificent jump in Florida’s arts appropriation for this fiscal year.  The point is that the same play designed to achieve a first down can also be considered as a system and designed for a scenario in which it scores a touchdown. Quantum leaps require imagination, analysis and management.

Barry:  If your successor asked you:  “Where are the danger spots in this job?  What do I need to know to protect both myself and NASAA as I assume the helm?” - what advice would you give him/her?

Jonathan:  NASAA is a national association. Despite technology, there are months between meetings and great distances between members and staff. It is also a network of people who want easy, productive relationships with their authorizers and colleagues. There are always high hopes that the CEO and staff can resolve the problems and conflicts that arise.  So my advice includes:

  • Never forget your influence depends on the capacity and willingness of your leadership and membership to support you. Always cultivate and solidify support internally before taking a position externally.
  • You will accurately perceive a thousand injustices to your field and members; that doesn’t mean they will be grateful for the opportunity to confront either the issues or people involved. If you can’t imagine a clear path to board members taking up leadership and becoming spokespersons on an issue, seriously consider spending your time and energy on something else.
  • Rehearse how you, as CEO, represent yourself and NASAA when you answer the question that you will be asked constantly, “So, what is NASAA up to?” Regardless of what you know, you have to sound like you’re in control. 
  • Learn to identify issues that divide your membership and avoid them whenever possible. 
  • Beware of attractive partnerships; they are always more complex, stressful and time-consuming than can be imagined, even when they are worth it.
  • You will constantly be requested for NASAA to endorse statements and join coalitions. Debating, responding and following through on these can be incredibly time-consuming. Put an expeditious process in place with the board for this that weeds out whatever is not close to mission and worth follow-through. 
  • Don’t assume anyone remembers anything from a previous meeting or previously distributed materials. 
  • There is no such thing as “off the record.” 
  • Practice saying negative things in constructive language.  People remember how you said something and made them feel long after they remember what you said. 

Barry:  Assess the state of professional development for SAA leaders and staffs and what needs to be done to offer all those people meaningful and adequate opportunities to improve their management skills?  What are the biggest needs in the advancement of SAAs management skills training?  And are we attracting the breakthrough thinkers we need to successfully meet the challenges SAAs face?  Should we be looking outside the arts for some of that leadership?

Jonathan:  There are excellent SAA leaders who have not excelled at producing or presenting art, but I think it’s a great advantage for SAA leaders and staffs to have their service informed by that experience. I think skills related to strategic planning, public policy making, systems thinking, problem solving, negotiation, organizational dynamics, and persuasion, as well as fluency with social media and up-to-date understanding of trends affecting participation in the arts are all extremely valuable to someone working for an SAA.

I’m a little unsure of what the questions about attracting “breakthrough thinkers” and looking outside the arts for leadership actually mean. State arts agency innovation in programs, partnerships and operations is continuous, and documented regularly in the “State to State” column in NASAA’s monthly online newsletter. Anyone who questions the creativity with which SAAs are adapting to their environment can go to the online newsletter archives and view the last 75 columns that feature three innovations a month over the past six years, more than 200 examples selected from among many more. This month features three ways state arts agencies and regional arts organizations have harnessed Internet-enabled technology to better serve the arts.   Delaware’s new smartphone app connects artists and audiences statewide, making it easier to browse the state's arts and culture opportunities and to make plans to enjoy them. What's On, available for free on iTunes and Google Play, features an interactive map locating ongoing and upcoming performances, exhibitions, films, concerts and more across Delaware. By tapping event icons on the map, a user immediately accesses links to event websites as well as contact information, driving directions and other useful information. These listings and their logistics also are available in the form of a searchable list.  Pennsylvania’s new website features grantee stories and videos. In addition to a new agency Facebook page, the site features a section entitled “What You Do” that showcases the work of PCA grantees to organize and present diverse arts and culture events. Incorporating its new YouTube channel, PCA features in this section videos telling "Impact Stories" of its Arts in Education grantees and recognizing the "Best of the Best" projects supported by its Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts grants. Through their regional arts organization, the New England Foundation for the Arts, the six New England states have just rolled out CreativeGround a free on-line creative economy directory, featuring 30,000 profiles of cultural nonprofits, creative businesses, and artists of all disciplines and mediums. Designed to meet the needs of the region's artists, arts audiences and arts administrators—as well as non-arts entities like city planners and private developers—CreativeGround allows users to sort profiles through specific combinations of variables such as arts disciplines, services, populations served, languages spoken, institution/business type, venue characteristics and accessibility collaborations, statewide partnerships created between the arts and other constituencies, creative planning methods, peer training and consulting networks, etc. ]  Beyond these examples, I’m aware of a great deal of SAA testing of new methods and new program partners to address the new forms of art and the new business models that artists are  constantly creating. The SAAs in the states of Washington, Colorado and Kansas have even changed their names to represent better their evolving brands and missions.

The question of whether some leadership to meet the challenges SAAs face should come from outside the arts could be understood to ask whether ideas and models from other fields should be considered by arts leaders to identify and solve problems. They should be and are. Diverse professional backgrounds in addition to the arts abound among SAA staff members responsible for communication, operations and financial management, grant processing, information technology, research and evaluation.  In addition, conference speakers and workshop leaders, planning consultants, program partners in many fields such as health care and tourism, grantees, as well as state officials, colleagues in other state agencies, board members of cultural organizations including the regional arts organizations all provide ideas and perspectives from outside the arts. The environmental scanning and problem-solving activities in strategic planning, and program evaluation activities also provide opportunity for drawing upon expertise from outside the arts.

The question could also be understood to ask whether we should hire more people who do not have professional experience in an art form, with an arts group, or in cultural policy.  Many successful SAA EDs – past and currently – have come to their positions from primarily government, academic, or business backgrounds, but they have usually brought with them at least a passionate conviction about the public benefits of the arts, if not actual professional arts credentials.  I haven’t observed them to operate their agencies significantly differently from their colleagues. Knowledge of and experience in some combination of creating, presenting, interpreting and appreciating the arts is such an asset to carrying out so many of the primary tasks for someone in any SAA leadership position that the idea of looking for people from “outside the arts” is more likely to be detrimental than helpful, more likely to lead to disaster than revelatory innovation. Also, I’m wondering what different hiring practice would be useful when it seems that most public arts agencies are currently being informed by leaders with backgrounds that combine professional credentials both in and outside of the arts.  I don’t see a shortage of such people, especially among emerging leaders – who have all sorts of professional experience related to digital technology skills.
Barry:  You’ve also seen many changes over the years at the NEA.  What do you think the NEA could do better?  And how can the relationship between NASAA and the NEA be improved to the benefit of both?  Where in that relationship can collaboration be improved?  You once raised the issue of having more of the NEA funding allocated to the states.  Is that a position (one that is arguably potentially appealing to Congress) NASAA might (or ought to) revisit?

Jonathan:  Let me follow the practice of phrasing everything positively and looking ahead. I think the NEA serves itself and the public well when it creates ongoing conversations and a variety of forums with its constituents – especially those that represent organized and influential cultural networks – for strategic consultation.  That means exchange of perceptions, ideas and information about trends and issues, and exploration of the roles all parties could play, separately and together, to broaden, deepen and diversify participation in the arts.  To facilitate this kind of dialogue – state leadership to federal leadership – is one of the primary reasons that the SAAs created NASAA. I want to be perfectly clear that, being a former CEO, I am not speaking here on behalf of NASAA, but I think that a strategic conversation between NASAA and the NEA on the topic of how best to advance arts education, for instance, could be tremendously beneficial.

Actually, I didn’t raise the issue of having more of the NEA funding allocated to states (from 20% of grant funds at the time).  In the aftermath of the Mapplethorpe, Serrano and “NEA 4” controversies, members of Congress themselves raised the issue and some specifically tested our response to having all of the NEA grant funds go through states – which we immediately and strongly advised against. Ultimately, even though a group of national arts organizations, including NASAA, was asked for input, the decision that Congressional leaders hammered out was part of a suite of changes made quite independently to re-shape NEA operations into what enough members of Congress would consider letting survive. What the press coverage completely missed was that Congress – across party lines – was just as interested in seeing NEA funds broadly distributed among the states as they were concerned about the recurrence of controversies. At the time, if I remember correctly, more than 80 Congressional districts didn’t receive a direct grant from the NEA. That has since been remedied.  Between 1990 and 1997, in addition to  prohibiting the NEA from making general operating and season support grants, and limiting individual grants to only jazz masters, folk and heritage honorees, and literary artists, they added language directing that no state’s grants could exceed 15% of the total, that the National Council would be more geographically representative, that six members of Congress would sit on the National Council without voting rights, and that a lay member would be added to each panel.  In 1990, they increased the SAA portion of NEA grant funds incrementally to reach 27.5% by 1993 and, over several years following, increased that portion to 40%, maintaining 7.5% within that to reach the underserved.

The annual appropriations process usually focuses on budget and the budget committee’s instructions about programs.  Major policy issues are typically taken up during a reauthorization process when everything about how an agency is structured and operates is scrutinized for potential change. Congress considers 40% to states (including their regional consortia) to be the law, to be a vehicle for reaching the underserved, and for ensuring that substantial federal arts funds not only reach all states, but support state priorities as identified by SAA public planning processes. In my personal opinion, given the likely Congressional environment, it will not be in the interest of either the state arts agencies or the NEA to open discussion of any issue as structural as the state percentage in the foreseeable future.

Barry:  NASAA has been a leader in the conducting and provision of useful research for not only its membership but for the field in general.  Which areas of research need more attention and why?

Jonathan:  There are several areas of research in which I am particularly interested because they are necessary to inform rational decisions of two kinds: through what actions can artists and arts organizations most effectively broaden and deepen participation in the arts and through what policy making can public cultural agencies complement and support these efforts.

So I like to see behavioral models of participation put forth and then tested by practitioners and evaluated in practical terms. I follow the line of research influenced by Rand’s A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts, which suggested the profitability of marketing to several stages of decision making based on people’s backgrounds, their perceptions, practical considerations, and experiences; and I think the kind of research that Alan Brown and Jennifer Novak-Leonard do that links consumer behavior to intrinsic impacts is very rich in implication. This whole area of behavioral research is expanding as cultural agencies all over the world try to put digitally influenced arts experiences – new media, new modes of participation, possible new motivations for engagement, possible new individual and social outcomes -- into contexts amenable to policy goals, grant category design, service programs for the arts field, service programs for the public, and leadership initiatives. Your blog drew attention to the recent NEA report Measuring Cultural Engagement: A Quest for New Terms, Tools, and Techniques.  Connecting cultural policy makers with new knowledge about why, how and with what results people engage in the arts and cultural activities is vital. It will be a major challenge – and should be a priority – for funders and service organizations in our field to work together to invest in, translate and create learning opportunities for this kind of research to inform practical decision making.    

This is going to sound odd, but I wish there were more research or that I knew how to bring together different kinds of research findings that would provide evidence for things that I know are true and say all the time about arts education.  I know that the arts are a symbol system (we can call it sensory imagery) of equal importance to literacy and numeracy. I know that if you don’t include and resource arts education as you do literacy and numeracy that a large portion of the student population will learn much less of all subject matter, and all students will not learn to their potential. But I don’t know what research substantiates this claim.  I know that the competencies of communication and of empathy that are taught in arts classes are vital to the healthy participation of citizens in a democracy, that true democracy and the honoring of diversity begin with the cultivation of each child’s individual voice, but – other than Catterall’s linkage of an arts-rich education with some basic civic behaviors – I don’t know what research substantiates these claims. I know that the problems facing humankind in the near future are of such a complexity and require such a degree of motivation to both engage and change behavior that artistic vision and competencies will be needed to address them in addition to the competencies that the sciences and humanities foster. I’d like to see the public-policy-making, problem-solving and arts education research literatures brought together that substantiate that claim.

And while we’re at it, researchers need to map every state in the country for access to arts education, quality of instruction provided, and grade-level proficiency assessment. That will provide the necessary equity case for arts education.  Of course, research needs to continue on the consequences and costs of providing arts education inequitably, as the NAEP and other assessments have already suggested is currently the case.

Part II - next week.

Have a great week everybody.

Don't Quit