Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Brief Report on the Second International Teaching Artist Conference

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

The Second International Teaching Artist Conference

Organized by Eric Booth, the Second International Teaching Artist Conference sought to gather teaching artists from around the world for a three day meet (held July 1-3, 2014) in Australia to share thinking and discuss issues central to arts education and the role of teaching artists.  From the conference website:

"ITAC2 sets out to identify the productive conditions that give rise to the diverse ecologies of Teaching Artistry in various parts of the world. ITAC2 will advance the global movement by developing new flows of information and knowledge exchange about these productive conditions to advance Teaching Artistry internationally—designed to grow long beyond our time in Australia."
I think teaching artists are likely a key critical element in succeeding in our goal to promote arts education K-12 as a universal offering, and it is an area I hope to explore in greater depth on this blog in the future.    While I would have loved to have accepted Eric's invitation to attend this conference, that was not possible, so I asked Eric if he would connect me to someone who might file a report on this blog about the conference, and he put me in touch with Daniel Kelin, who graciously offered to post a report.  Here is that posting:

Conference Reporter:  Daniel A. Kelin, II

Daniel A. Kelin, II is an ardent and outspoken teaching artist. He is the long-serving Honolulu Theatre for Youth Director of Drama Education and has been a director, teaching artist and consultant with organizations in American Samoa, the Marshall Islands, Japan, India and the Federated States of Micronesia. He is on the teaching artist roster of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, has served as President of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education and was a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Scholar in South India. His newest book, The Reflexive Teaching Artist, will be published by Intellect in 2014.

"Welcome. Intention? Translate. Disrupt!

An aboriginal dance group rhythmically stepped toward the large gathering of teaching artists, arms outstretched in welcome.  With a carved stick and coconut husk, they kindled a fire that ignited both applause and a sense of purpose in the gathered group as the conference began.  Several welcomes by the conveners followed, which quickly became a kind of running joke.  In truth, however, reiterated vocabulary played a fundamental role in the conference as the conveners posed: What defines this teaching artist field and how do we collectively move it forward locally and globally? Right off, the phrase ‘Art Disrupts’ entered the conversation, a call to consider possibilities beyond comfortable patterns.

Oddly, then, our journey commenced with brief conference-style introductions to our own work.  However, it offered a grounding.  Who’s in the room? What’s labeled teaching artistry around the globe? What are the intentions and purposes of teaching artists in various settings? As I talked with folks, lots of questions about the terms teaching artist and artistry arose to an almost surprising degree. It became clear that many still struggled with fully embracing the term, whereas others fiercely dedicate themselves to advancing the field.  That mixed dynamic, I believe, contributed to keeping our conference conversation probing and introspective.

Keynotes followed, embodying the conference questions. Jun-Seok Roh of the Korea Arts and Culture Education Service outlined the Korean government’s impressive dedication to art and teaching artists. More than 4700 teaching artists trained and employed there to help bring happiness and harmony to society.  Russell Granet of Lincoln Center Education introduced the ‘Artist as Translator,’ noting that teaching artists open deeper understanding of art to the greater community. Scott Rankin of BighArt challenged us to remember that when you know someone’s story you don’t do them harm. And Amandina Lihamba of the University of Dar es Salaam succinctly demonstrated how theatre can rouse a challenged people to action.  Jade Lillie’s formal response that followed might have encapsulated best the conference saying we should ask, ‘Where are we failing?’

Here the work began.  The conveners laid out six topics identified by teaching artists in the first international gathering—Teaching Artist Training; Networks and Partnerships; Research and Advocacy; Support Structures; The Business of Teaching Artistry; Defining the Field; and, a seventh added during this conference, The Professional Needs of the Teaching Artist.  They engaged us in troubling out related questions and concerns to help better define the teaching artist field.  Those expanded topics then became gathering places for us to develop real life projects intended to define and advance the field. The stakes were high. The projects would be pitched at conference and voted on in order to rally support around a select number that would ideally bear fruit post-conference.  Convener Eric Booth pleaded, ‘Commit to the potential projects!’ He noted how the fire often fizzles after a conference. How could we avoid such a failing?

Out of the chaos of negotiated ideas rose seventeen projects that centered on two essential ideas: training/certification of teaching artists and modes to connect teaching artists on a global scale. Clickers in hand, the group identified five that, in the last moments of the conference, pulled together large groups of participants dedicated to keeping up the momentum.  The five included: 1) the TAG Exchange, a month-long global exchange program between organizations and institutions for teaching artists, 2) The Practice Lab, a site where teaching artists can profile projects, 3) Developing Your Teaching Artist Career:  An International Postgraduate Certificate in Global Practice, 4) the Teaching Artist Platform, a Facebook center for links to personal and organizational websites, and 5) Coming up for AIR, and Australian based endeavor to increase the presence of teaching artists in school settings.

Some participants disrupted the proceedings by sticking to their low vote projects.  And some on-the-spot private funding gave veracity to yet others.

Titled an ‘unconference’ from the first welcome, the experience launched into high gear from the start which, honestly, disrupted the expectations of not a few of the attendees. But the momentum swept the crowd to a sense of ownership over possibilities for the future of the field.  Which, it seems, was the intention."

Kudos to Eric for organizing this effort, and thanks to Daniel for sharing some of his impressions.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blog Forum on the Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #6

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

Note:  For bios on the Forum participants, please see last week's blog post (or, if you are on the blog site, scroll down).

Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #6

What is the ideal relationship for NASAA and its logical clients, stakeholders, potential partners and collaborators  - including state and local arts advocate groups, local city and county agencies, the Regional Arts Organizations, arts educator and arts education groups, private sector groups, the philanthropic community and various arts discipline service providers and the NEA - and how far is that ideal from the reality?  What needs to be done to make all of those relationships (and potential relationships with asymmetrical organizational partners) work for NASAA and each of those communities? 

Ra Joy:
There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to reimagining the future of NASAA. For me, that elephant is NASAA’s relationship with Americans for the Arts.

When I started at Arts Alliance Illinois in 2007, there were whispers at the time that AFTA would absorb NASAA soon after the retirement of Jonathan Katz. You could chalk those rumors up to gossip-mongers and conspiracy theorists that had nothing better to do with their time. Or, you could look at the 2005 merger of operations between AFTA and the Arts & Business Council and say to yourself – “why not NASAA?”

The arts sector is incredibly fortunate to have two very powerful, well established national organizations that occupy a similar space. NASAA is the membership organization that unites, represents and serves America’s state arts agencies. They focus on advocacy, research and building community among SAA staff and council members. AFTA is the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. They focus on advocacy, research, professional development and network building.

Luckily, AFTA and NASAA have established a strong partnership and work arm-in-arm to advance the presence and importance of the arts in America. NASAA is a healthy association and a trusted champion and advocate for SAAs. It has a top-notch staff team, a strong governance structure; and its members are innovative, nimble and strategic leaders.

But in this era of limited resources and constant change, there remains a steady drumbeat to eliminate duplication of services and embrace innovation. Regardless of whether there was ever any truth to those rumors or not, NASAA should strive to create brand distinction and drive brand loyalty.

I think developing a new, unique, and compelling value proposition for NASAA is an important step to becoming a more powerful organization in the future. In doing so, NASAA will help the broader arts community better understand and appreciate the essential role it plays for state arts agencies and the communities and citizens they serve.

Scott Provancher:
Several years ago I was working on a major fundraising campaign for the Arts in Charlotte.  The campaign had reached a point where the campaign leadership had run out of ideas on how to close a $20 million gap.

While having dinner with Hugh McColl, former CEO of Bank of America and significant Arts supporter, he was recounting the key to his success in building a sleepy little bank in North Carolina into one of world’s largest and most profitable banks.  Mr. McColl said that the key to his success was that he focused almost all of this time on understanding what motivates people, which often times is our heart, not our minds.

To make his point, he told me stories about the process of acquiring or merging banks and how most of his competitors focused on the numbers (hiring thousands of consultants to crunch the numbers to justify the purchase price).  His competitors would often be shocked and confounded to learn that Mr. McColl had closed the deal before they even realized he was bidding on it.

Mr. McColl said while his competitors were focusing on the numbers, he was focusing on what were the leaders of the bank’s desires, fears and expectations.  For some people it was all about their family’s name remaining the on the Bank after the merger, or that they got to sit on the Board of the new Bank, or that they wanted their employees to be protected from layoffs.  Having that knowledge gave him the required insight to make the deal happen before his completion could even pose counter offers.

The light bulb went off for me.  I left that meeting and began to immediately focus on the relationships that would make the final $20 million ‘deal’ happen for the Arts campaign.  Focusing on the desires and needs of the key players allowed us to secure several gifts that ultimately closed the gap—all of which came from a understanding the key donor’s desires.

So what does this story have to do with the role of NASSA in the greater landscape of the arts sector?

It’s all about the need for our industry to have more “deal-makers” that can put together unique partnerships and launch new ideas that can transform our industry.  NASSA needs to be one of these deal-makers—finding the right partners (private sector, government, SAAs, LAA, etc…), understanding the shared goals and values of the partners, and “closing the deal” for our sector.

That deal may be a new advocacy partnership that links all of the major arts service organizations under one banner, a $1 billion national campaign for Arts education in America, or launching a new SAA model that tests ideas in States where the old model is not producing the desired outcomes.   Whatever the new partnerships or ideas are, I am convinced that we need to spend more time pursuing collaboration that will transform our industry.

Maybe one of us will be having dinner with a young arts leader 10 years from now and will recount the story of a sleepy little movement call the “Arts” and how it rose to be one of the most powerful forces in making America a global innovator—NASSA should be one of the key deal-makers that makes it happen.

Arni Fishbaugh:
In an ideal world
The ideal relationships with all of the above-mentioned parties are those that address NASAA’s mission to “strengthen state arts agencies.”  Much good work is going on within NASAA toward this end with all groups, and there are other cases where further relationship building is ongoing.   

One of the most significant partnerships blog readers may not be aware of is the Cultural Advocacy Group, which is the group of lobbyists in Washington D.C. from all the national arts service organizations, such as NASAA, AFTA, TCG, AOL, Chorus America and Dance USA, etc.  They work to go forth to Congress in a united voice on arts issues important to us all and have done incredibly valuable work.

The most important relationship?  NASAA’s members and the NEA.

Because NASAA is member-driven, our first priority is the need of our members.  The next most important relationship, in my view, is with the National Endowment for the Arts.  Some readers of this blog may not be aware that 40% of the NEA’s program funding is allocated to state arts agencies and the regionals.  This is why it is so crucial that a true partnership relationship exist between the state arts agencies and the Endowment.

I know I speak for everyone around the country when I say that we are looking forward to the new vision and leadership that Dr. Jane Chu will bring to the Endowment as its chairman.  NASAA will be working diligently to foster a mutually beneficial partnership relationship with new Chair.  

Mark Huffland:
What is the ideal relationship between a state arts agency and its principal stakeholders and logical potential partners and collaborators - including state arts advocacy organizations, local city and county arts agencies,  state arts education organizations, discipline based service provider organizations, other state agencies, private sector interests and the philanthropic community, and where does that ideal differ from the current reality?  Needs more teamwork by, participation with, and service to these others.

What needs to be done to move the reality closer to the ideal?  Wisdom, passion, organization and activism.

Kris Tucker:
Kudos to NASAA for its work in recent years to convene a better coalition for national level advocacy, and for nurturing a good relationship with the NEA, especially the state/regional partnership office.  Over the years, NASAA has also navigated strong partnerships with State School Chiefs and the NGA, among others.

I hope the new NASAA leader will be broadly visible and proactive as she/he gets acquainted with the field, the job, the context – and develops relationships and connections. Then I hope a compelling new vision and approach are developed with some fairly immediate opportunities and longer term options. The Board and membership must be fully engaged – but must be open to uncertainty, and should expect our assumptions to be challenged. The decade ahead will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. 

Let’s hope State Arts Agencies have the courage, creativity, enthusiasm and intelligence that the arts deserve.  

Laura Zucker:
So now it’s my turn to pose some questions:

Beyond its members, NASAA’s most important relationship is with the NEA, as 40% of the NEA’s budget is distributed directly to the SAAs, and I understand that the relationship hasn’t been as collaborative as it could be. Can NASAA really “get” the chair of the NEA’s priorities and figure out how the state’s NEA allocations can support the broader agenda (there’s that fealty concept again)? 

Just as the NEA made a concerted effort under Rocco Landesman’s leadership to partner with other federal agencies, is there room for NASAA to explore this arena to enable its SAAs to benefit from new federal partnerships?

As the NEA rolls out new strategies around systemic change in arts education nationally, what role could NASAA play in helping statewide initiatives take root?

The NEA has also demonstrated through spearheading the creation of ArtPlace the caroling power that’s possible to bring a federal agency and private funders into alignment around a common approach to a funding priority, whatever it might be. Is that something NASAA could model for SAAs?

In other words, If NASAA decides it’s going to take on issues of field wide importance, the sky’s the limit on the partnerships it can form.

Randy Rosenbaum:
Several years ago I attended a NASAA conference in Chicago.  The "culture wars" were underway, and at this conference NASAA had assembled representatives from all of the arts service organizations.  Everyone was seated as one very long table on a ballroom stage, so literally two dozen or more organizations, representing thousands of artists and artsorganizations, were present, all with a single purpose: to put there name to a document that unified everyone in support of public funding for the arts.  I knew this meeting was happening "in the moment", and it didn't really represent a unified approach to anything at all.  But it really sparked my excitement and imagination.  That, to me, is the ideal relationship, taken from the moment and put into practice.  NASAA should be one of many in that relationship, and the contribution of state arts agencies should make sense within a unified approach to advancing the arts community.  I'm convinced we can, collectively, get behind a few basic issues and work them out collectively.  And if NASAA could contribute to that, just as it contributed to the development of the Cultural Arts Group (CAG - a collection of advocates from the major arts service organizations), well that would be a wonderful thing.

Anthony Radich:
NASAA’s efforts to prepare for the post Baby Boomer world of culture should be no different than those of all cultural entities.  The first step in such preparation is an assessment of what the role of the arts are in contemporary life and what state arts agencies and NASAA can do to enrich and extend that role.  Probably, both the mix of arts desired by the public and the role the arts play in life today are quite different than they were in the 1970s arguably the heyday for state arts agencies.  The agencies and NASAA need to be open to these changes and look forward not back.  The other key thing is to bring new and diverse young people into positions of responsibility and leadership.  Because the Baby Boomers have been around so long, they have hindered the upward mobility of may in the field.  Now that they are departing, now is the time to reach out and include these younger people.  Finally, the new people brought into the work of state arts agencies would, I hope b e unlike many of those who have served the field well over the years.  Let’s honor all of those people but recognize that different times require different skills and that young people who act and think like some of the fields most successful Baby Boomers, are likely to failures in the world we are evolving into.   

Thank you to all the participants.

Don't Quit

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Blog Forum on the Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #5

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

Note:  For bios on the Forum participants, please see last week's blog post (or, if you are on the blog site, scroll down).

Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #5

What are the innovations in association management that the leadership of NASAA and its incoming staff leader need to consider emulating and embracing, and why?  And what kinds of skills and vision ought NASAA be looking for in its new Chief Executive Officer? 

Randy Rosenbaum:
I think we need to find a new CEO for NASAA who can, first and foremost, build effective relationships designed to promote the growth and development of the field.  That person needs to be visionary and passionate about the arts, and the role that state arts agencies can play in advancing the arts in our country. I'm less concerned about new innovations in association management, but I would expect our new leader to be aware of these innovations and think critically about which might help move NASAA forward.

Anthony Radich:
When I think of organizations that NASAA could be, I think of two very different models.  One is the labor union model that spent so much effort fighting for rights and share of funds that they largely missed the movement toward collaborative work and joint interest in product and company success.

Ra Joy:
NASAA is a crucial and necessary organization for the arts sector and I see tremendous opportunities for its next leader to build on organization’s legacy of achievement. The new CEO should bring not only programmatic and policy experience to the position, but a proven track record of building cross-sector partnerships.

A few bits of additional unsolicited advice for the search team and NASAA’s new leader:

Go Global – In addition to learning from cultural leaders across the country, NASAA should consider going global by hosting conversations with the world’s foremost thinkers and visionaries on topics at the intersection of the arts and public policy.  In addition to showcasing how other countries are addressing shared challenges and opportunities, bringing in international leaders could also reinforce the exclusive benefits of NASAA membership.

CEO/Digital Director – To keep up with the breakneck pace of change in technology, new media and digital tools are critical to the success of all institutions. Recognizing that digital integration is a core aspect of every function, NASAA’s new leader should also serve as its “digital director.”

Diversity & Inclusion – Issues of equity, diversity and inclusion continue to challenge leaders in the arts sector.  In order to stay relevant and thrive, we need to get better at recruiting, retaining, and managing a diverse workforce at all levels. To foster an environment of inclusion within the organization and throughout the field, NASAA’s new CEO should have a clear and proven commitment to diversity.

That's my two cents and I'm sticking to it.

Arni Fishbaugh:
I’m not up on the innovations in association management, frankly.  I can’t wait to read what others have to say about this!

As to skills and vision NASAA ought to look for in its new executive director, the board of directors of NASAA has developed a list of attributes it would like to see, which will be included in the search announcement for the position later this month.  I’m not going to scoop that list here.  But here are skills most important to me:

  • Understands the whole arts industry culture and a vision for how to address the mission of NASAA, which is to strengthen state arts agencies
  • Understands the political challenges that face state and federal arts agencies
  • Knowledge of the arts and their benefits to the economy, education and community revitalization, as well as the importance of government funding and resources in advancing these benefits
  • Understands that NASAA is a member-driven organization and its central work is to meet the needs of its members
  • Successful public policy development and hands-on advocacy accomplishments
  • Understands that the key to almost everything is relationship-building
  • Fund and entrepreneurial development
  • Non-partisan approach to all NASAA’s political and advocacy work
  • Maintains a strong state arts agency voice in partnership development, including the partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts
  • Strong diplomatic skills and an effective negotiator 
  • Committed to diversity and inclusiveness
  • Ability to balance 50,000’ visionary thinking with the hands-on reality of our world in the trenches and provide meaningful leadership in both milieu
  • A good sense of humor and a glass half-full approach to life and work

Mark Huffland;

Would it help to consider a rotating leadership model, as opposed to trying to find it all at once in a single individual?  Might individuals emerge through rotation, visitation, sabbaticals from other positions in the field?  …the way publishers, diplomats, and other major heads circulate more frequently?

Kris Tucker:
NASAA’s CEO must be a national leader while making sure the home office is well managed. She/he must have (and deserve) the respect of other national players as well as SAA staff, as well as a deep and well articulated understanding of the context, challenges and frameworks of SAAs. And she/he must bring new perspectives to innovation in the SAA field. 

With this new leadership, I hope NASAA can more visibly and actively embrace innovation among SAAs; this requires a NASAA role that goes farther and deeper than showcasing and spotlighting efforts. Can NASAA broker partnerships across state lines, perhaps related to technology or communications – or for a no border initiative with “makers” or the DIY movement? Can NASAA build a coalition of academic partners in a handful of states to provide multi-year cultural policy analysis on behalf of the field? Can NASAA help a SAA develop a multi-year, iterative plan to experiment, explore, advance? Can NASAA secure Federal funding (not NEA) for a focused multi-state initiative connecting the arts perhaps to housing, Veterans affairs, or other issues?

It’s now been a decade since the Wallace Foundation invested in 13 SAAs – and the field as a whole – through the START initiative that introduced us to smarter conversations and better conceptual frameworks for understanding the public benefit of state arts agencies. What’s next? NASAA could set the table for the next decade. But they won’t get there if they are focused on troubleshooting SAA problems with grantmaking and strategic planning.  

Laura Zucker:
The NASAA board is going to have an interesting challenge in searching for a new executive director. First of all, they’re going to have to find someone who wants to live in Washington, D.C. and with that humidity-- not easy! Then there’s the question of a competitive salary. As reported in NASAA’s 2011 990, the CEO made $158,340 plus $16,076 in benefits. Many heads of large urban LAAs make more and the president and CEO of AFTA in 2012 made $544,178 plus $262,455 in other compensation and benefits. Five other staff members at AFTA made just about, or more, than the CEO of NASAA in that year.

What to look for in the new CEO at any price? Vision, passion, tenacity and experience in that order. I define vision as the ability to see what a future version of the world can or should be. Passion is the will to make that vision a reality over time—sometimes a long time. And the more experience you have the more quickly you can make it come to pass. But we’ve all seen people without a lot of experience learn along the way and get there all the same.  So it needs to be someone at their sweet spot— just enough experience to manage the politics and not enough to keep them from trying crazy wonderful things!

Scott Provancher:
A few thoughts for the search committee for the CEO of NASAA:

If the search committee believes that the SAA sector is changing and the role of NASAA will require new ideas and strategies to support its members and strengthen the Arts in America, then they should hire someone who has proven experience in developing, designing, executing and realizing new ideas, organizational change and social innovations.

However, if NASAA, believes that the model is not broken and only needs someone to “sell” the existing value proposition of NASAA harder, the worst thing that they could do is to hire a proven innovator or change agent.

I recall a personal experience of mine when I was hired as the CEO of an orchestra.  The Board’s selling points during the search process was the need for a “new model” and someone who could “revolutionize” the role of the orchestra in the community.  Drawn to the opportunity to design a new path forward for an art form that I loved, I eagerly accepted the charge to be the leader of this exciting transformation.

From almost day one, it became clear to me that the organization envisioned ‘change’ as revenue going up and expense going down, but programmatically, culturally and structurally everything else remaining exactly the same.  A disconnect between the Board and me on the definition of change and, more importantly, the cause and effect of changes to the organization, was a recipe for disaster.

Expectations and honesty are key in making any relationship successful, whether it’s a marriage or the Board /CEO partnership.  The Board needs to be honest about what success looks like and make these expectations clear during its search process.  The candidate needs to be honest about their leadership style and proven strengths and communicate those clearly to the search committee.

If the relationship between the Board and the CEO begins with mutually agreed upon expectations and a shared vision for the success of the organization, this partnership can provide a meaningful opportunity for both the organization and the leader to grow and prosper.  For NASAA, choosing the right person for the CEO role and setting he/she up for success is the most important determinate of the future success of this organization.  

Forum continues tomorrow………………..

Don't Quit

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blog Forum on the Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #4

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

Note:  For bios on the Forum participants, please see last week's blog post (or, if you are on the blog site, scroll down).

Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #4

If the SAAs are in a period of re-invention and evolution to a different model, what kind of reinvention and evolution of thinking ought NASAA embrace?  Please consider: 
  • Should NASAA's role be that of a change agent, or a provider of services to an established practice?   
  • What are the key services that are the most needed by, and valuable to, SAAs, and to what extent does NASAA need to rethink how it can provide those services?
  • What needs to change in the NASAA business model, and what steps can NASAA take to diversify or expand its income in order to increase the resources available to it to pursue its mission and insure its financial sustainability and capacity to serve its membership?   
  • On the other side of the coin, what new kinds of approaches might NASAA take to support state legislative budget increases to state arts agencies?  

Laura Zucker:
Under Jonathan Katz’ leadership, NASAA has done a stellar job educating its targeted constituency: the state arts councils and their staff. Its research is awesome, its knowledge base expansive, and its responsiveness to help on the ground have all made a profound difference. But it’s definitely Switzerland (and maybe needs to be) on how SAAs should operate. After all, it services both politically appointed leadership and civil servants.

I’ll leave it up to the many representatives of SAAs to articulate what the key service areas have been for them and should be, but from the point of view of a head of a LAA, the most valuable service to me coming into my job was access to a knowledge and experience base. You literally don’t know what you don’t know when you come into being the head of a SAA from outside the agency—and this seems to almost always be the case. So you’re dealing with a continual group of folks who have a steep learning curve in almost everything. They need a SWAT team knowledge support group approach from both NASAA and peers.

But beyond being a repository of best practices, since I’ve been on the board of Grantmakers in the Arts during the past year, it’s been wonderful to observe close up the way in which Janet Brown, the executive director of GIA, has moved the organization beyond a neutral service organization to one that has taken positions on key issues for the field such as racial equity and capitalization.  So it can be done. The question is whether the board wants to go there or whether the new head of the organization will have the skill set to get the board there.

The business model of a service organization is what it is unless one of two things change the paradigm: the organization gets left a lot of money in someone’s will, as was the case with AFTA, or the organization develops products that create a source of ongoing revenue, the road WESTAF has been going down. If neither of these paths develops for NASAA, it will continue to be what it’s been: a roughly $2 million/year organization that gets the bulk of its revenue from member fees and grants and spends a little more than half its budget on salaries. And that may be a good model to get the job done. For NASAA it has been a stable model.

While NASAA has provided an impressive set of advocacy tools for its members, it isn’t equipped to go into each state as an advocate. That’s something that can only be done well by the people who live there. Interestingly, all SAAs, as well as the state advocacy organizations, are members of AFTA, which is providing the leadership on the advocacy front nationally.

And while it’s probably not beneficial for NASAA and AFTA to merge, is it necessary for them both to maintain separate duplicative departments such as research? Even if there’s no economy of scale that’s achieved, would more robust research for the field be a potential outcome? And would tying some key services together in that way create an even more symbiotic relationship?

Scott Provancher:
During periods of uncertainty and change, there is great opportunity and need for NASAA to be a leader, partner and advocate for its members and stakeholders.  But, in order to effectively accomplish this, NASAA must first identify the key factors that are driving change in the sector, understand its own core competency and deploy those competencies in a way that will benefit the sector.  Not an easy feat for any organization.

Should the primary role of the NASAA be advocating for more state funding through the current or past SAA model? Or would resources be better spent on working with key SAAs and State governments to incubate a new model for the future?

My advice would be to build the plane while you fly it.  Because there are so many variables that could be driving the changes we are seeing in the SAA landscape, NASAA should not stop doing anything abruptly without first understanding the effects of these changes to its members and stakeholders.

One of the key tenants for successful experimentation is to ensure that you have a control group—a set of variables that does not change that can be compared to the results of your experiment.  Changing the strategy for an organization should follow the same rule.  One must carefully understand and test its assumptions against its existing model before making wholesale changes.

With that said, you don’t come up with new ideas without experimentation and taking risks.

NASAA must approach the changes in the sector as a once in a lifetime opportunity to test new ideas and to lead its members into uncharted territory.  Helping the sector to find resources for R&D, developing a national platform for experimentation and new strategy development are paramount to ensure that the sector continues to grow its impact and resources.

NASAA identifying this need and putting resources behind it, would be a bold first step on a path to innovation.

Anita Walker:
The biggest challenge for NASAA is that it is an association of a very small group of members.  The biggest benefit for NASAA is that it is an association of a very small group of members.  The 50 states plus territories members provide a very focused point of advocacy.  But this small group of members does not in and of itself have the capacity to provide the level of financial support NASAA needs to provide the robust services we all want and need.  Nevertheless, I think NASAA excels at research and case-making which is essential to the work all of us do.

NASAA's collaboration with government-related groups like the National Governor's Association is a great example of collaboration at its best.  The big question for me is whether and where the line gets blurred between NASAA and AFTA.  It is essential that NASAA focus on what is essential about state arts agencies (see question 1) and tailor its case making to underscore that.

Randy Rosenbaum:
NASAA operates in a world of relationships.  Maintaining and advancing those relationships is mission critical.  It's essential, for example, for NASAA to have a strong and productive relationship with the state arts agencies and regional organizations.  So services are key.  I've participated in conversations with the state arts agencies where the quality and availability of service is an important factor in the
field's impression of NASAA and its effectiveness.  In this I believe that NASAA's role is as a provider of services.  

But change happens in different ways, and as an organization NASAA can also play a role as a change agent.  For example, the field expects NASAA to have a relationship with the NEA where NASAA is respected as a colleague and collaborator on behalf of the states and regions.  The states, through their partnership with the NEA, help to distribute over 40% of federal funds at the local level.  We should expect to play a part in the way that policy is developed at the federal level, in the same way the NEA expects states to make policy and plan with the full engagement of their principal partners at the local level.  If we accept that changes happens through collective efforts, and not unilaterally, then a respectful partnership between NASAA and the NEA, with regular consultations and coordinated planning, will result in change.  With the change in leadership about to happen at NASAA, that change could be significant.  

What are the key services that are the most needed by, and valuable to, SAAs, and to what extent does NASAA need to rethink how it can provide those services?

We need to know what works.  What are our colleagues doing that we can emulate and gain inspiration from?  What are the "great ideas" that are constantly being explored and tested in the different states (I almost wrote, in the "laboratories of democracy").  NASAA is the best mechanism for sharing that information, and they have progressed from written reports to webinars and other kinds of distant learning.  NASAA should take more advantage of new technologies and means of communications,
from Twitter and Pinterest (which it doesn't use) to video conferencing and small group learning experiences organized around regional gatherings.  I personally take great value from NASAA's amazing Research department.  The quality of information we receive - at request or as part of the regular distribution of data - is first rate and very important.  And NASAA staff has been going directly into states to provide help on everything from advocacy to grants management.  All very valuable.  I'm not sure how much we need to rethink what NASAA provides as much as the ways in which it is provided.  I think these services will always be important to state arts agencies. 

What needs to change in the NASAA business model, and what steps can NASAA take to diversify or expand its income in order to increase the resources available to it to pursue its mission and insure its financial sustainability and capacity to serve its membership?  

I think NASAA's business model is basically sound.  As an association we represent the interests of our field, and advance the role of the arts - and the role that state arts agencies play in supporting the arts -
locally, nationally and perhaps internationally.  NASAA represents a community of agencies that have deep roots in every state and locality.  In that I believe NASAA is in a better position than AFTA to speak about economic impact and vitality of the arts at the state level.  AFTA has monetized there data collection and manipulation, and this may be something for NASAA to look at.  We may also be able to seek foundation support for the kinds of projects and initiatives where having network of state and regional arts agencies is an advantage.

On the other side of the coin, what new kinds of approaches might NASAA take to support state legislative budget increases to state arts agencies?  

I admire the work that AFTA has done in developing a network of state arts advocates, with state "captains" and the like.  Aside from the occasional meeting between NASAA members and these state "captains" there really hasn't been any great exchanges in this area, and I think NASAA, in collaboration with AFTA or on its own, could do more direct training and support for advocacy.  There are a lot of good "tips", but this effort needs to be revitalized.

Anthony Radich:
I think of state arts agencies as the manifestation of a successful movement--the movement to involve states in a meaningful way in cultural development.  As with most movements, over time, energies change and areas of emphasis are altered.  For many years now, NASAA has been the leader of a defensive strategy designed to ensure the the preservation of state arts agencies. While such defense is understandable considering the huge pressures the agencies are under, I would argue that the time for defensive posture by the agency is over and it should once again take its rightful place as head of a movement--a movement to expand the power and influence of state arts agencies.

Ra Joy:
First and foremost a tip of the hat is due Jonathan Katz for his trailblazing leadership and his fierce and effective advocacy for the arts. In November, Jonathan will retire after 29 years of distinguished service at the helm of NASAA. His professionalism, wisdom and willingness to go that extra step helped take NASAA to unparalleled heights. Everyone who cares about culture in America owes Jonathan a tremendous debt of gratitude for all that he’s done to elevate the arts as an essential public benefit.

In thinking about the next chapter for NASAA, I am reminded of the Brazilian proverb that says “When we dream alone it remains just a dream, when you dream together it is the beginning of a new reality.” NASAA should continue to create space for SAAs to dream together and to create a new reality and agenda for the arts.  

Since 1968, NASAA has maintained a commitment to providing useful tools, timely information and strategic support to cultural leaders at the state and regional levels. When considering the reinvention and evolution of NASAA, three key roles come to mind;  
Policy Development - Right now, many of the policy areas that impact the creative economy and arts stakeholders exist in counterproductively separate "silos.”  NASAA should continue to work with partners to identify and advance crosscutting policy initiatives that strengthen the economy and our communities.  

Positioning/Message Development - NASAA should build public value for the arts by creating compelling messages that highlight the ways that the arts impact community. By developing and testing messages that matter, NASAA can empower SAAs and the citizens they serve to better communicate why the arts are an important public asset. 

Data Informed Decision-Making - As a sector, we’ve done a good job of establishing clear goal posts for federal appropriations to the NEA and state legislative appropriations to SAAs. Based on this time-tested framework, we consistently monitor progress and keep stakeholders informed. NASAA should work with partners to create an evaluation and accountability framework for assessing the impacts of state and regional creative economies. To make this happen, NASAA should collaborate with stakeholders to research existing strategies for developing and using benchmarks and metrics; select appropriate models; and conduct ongoing monitoring, assessment, and identification of improvement opportunities. 

In order to seize these opportunities, NASAA should play a more active role as a change agent for the field in addition to a professional association for SAAs. 

Arni Fishbaugh:
NASAA is a membership-driven organization, and the role it should play should be determined by its membership.  In my experience on the board of directors and as the recent president of NASAA, I have observed that NASAA is both a change agent and a provider of services to established practices in response to these needs.  NASAA has a strategic planning process that deeply involves its membership, and this helps identify current priorities that can provide the kind of service agencies find of greatest value.

There is no one-size-fits-all role
The most fascinating thing I’ve learned on the job is how different each state arts agency is.  There is not a one-size-fit-all solution for any of us.  That is why all the work NASAA has done to be on top of current issues for its membership has been invaluable.  I can’t say enough wonderful things about the entire staff, and how incredibly smart and helpful they are to state arts agencies.

Working as both a change agent and assisting in established practice
The largest agent-of-change work I’ve seen done over the last decade is the institutionalization of the “public value” concepts brought forth by Harvard professor Mark Moore as part of the Wallace Foundation’s START initiative.  NASAA saw the transformational change that this work brought about in state arts agencies participating in that program, and the enormous benefits it provided to them, and was a catalyst for expanding this work in other states and institutionalizing “public value” as a best practice.

The research NASAA has done with state arts agency work in arts education, cultural tourism, cultural districts, agency structures, among so many other topics, has allowed state arts agencies to move forward with their own advancement in these arenas.  

A Godsend:  NASAA’s crisis assistance
I can’t underscore enough how valuable the NASAA staff is for all state arts agencies when we face the next “brilliant” idea that will, in our view, maim or cripple our efforts and our impact.  NASAA staff has a compendium of information on every possible threat state arts agencies face, and they respond in SOS-fashion to whatever crisis looms next.  And they respond immediately.  OMG, I can’t tell you how many times they have helped us with threats of elimination, consolidation, privatization, among so many other trials and tribulations. 

Let’s not reinvent the wheel
Because NASAA has such a tremendous clearinghouse of examples from states around the country on such a variety of topics, its resources are immensely helpful to us all as directors and councils/commissions investigate what else is out there, what others are doing, not to mention sharing their own great new ideas.  

What are the key services that are the most needed by, and valuable to, SAAs, and to what extent does NASAA need to rethink how it can provide those services?

Each year, as part of the nominations process for the Board of Directors of NASAA, the nominating committee interviews every single executive director and chairman of all 56 state and territorial arts agencies (or tries to!)  Two of the questions asked of these individuals are what are the most valuable services that NASAA provides, and do you have any suggestions for ways to improve those services?

What do we hear?
In speaking to both people who are and who are not on the board, regardless of whether or not they are chairs or executive directors, there are some services that always rise to the top as most valuable:
  • Research
  • Advocacy and representation of the state arts agencies as having a powerful voice with partners and the NEA
  • Convener (at the national conferences held once a year)
  • Providing a clearinghouse of information
  • An incredibly fabulous staff that helps us with anything we need and does so immediately
There is no hue and cry from the field about re-thinking how NASAA provides these services, at least through the interviews and conversations of which I’ve been part.  But I would envision that technology will undoubtedly play a larger role in many ways.  

What needs to change in the NASAA business model, and what steps can NASAA take to diversify or expand its income in order to increase the resources available to it to pursue its mission and insure its financial sustainability and capacity to serve its membership?   

NASAA’s agenda for the future includes the need to develop more earned income as part of diversification of its revenues. The key will be to establish product lines or program offerings that augment the core services already provided.  The need for revenue diversification will be a key charge for the new executive director.

On the other side of the coin, what new kinds of approaches might NASAA take to support state legislative budget increases to state arts agencies?  

The right people saying the right things to the right people
From my perspective as an executive director in a state with significant political challenges, I have found that the largest help in garnering legislative budget support has to do with having the right people have the right relationship with the right legislators in leadership positions and/or their staffs, and the right people delivering the right message that is compelling, relevant and meaningful.  

On the NASAA front, we have a treasure in NASAA’s lobbyist Isaac Brown, who has done a most capable job of stepping into the huge shoes worn by NASAA’s long-time and highly beloved lobbyist, Tom Birch.  We have an enormously valuable group of state arts agency executive directors and council/commission members who have been essential in maximizing support for state and federal arts budgets.  

Rubbing the genie bottle:  “Arts Champions”
If I were to rub my genie bottle, out would come a cadre of “Arts Champions,” for lack of a better term, consisting of private-sector leaders in business and innovation industries that include science and technology, as well as education.   These “Arts Champions” would carry the advocacy message about the value of the arts and the importance of public funding for the arts to colleagues in their own fields.  It would be important to have a mix of political parties as champions.  We need the presidents of major corporations talking to other corporate heads about this; we need keynotes about the importance of arts and its public funding made by non-arts people in non-arts settings.  

One of the most critical messages that needs to be conveyed, in my mind, is that arts=creativity=innovative thinking.  

This idea certainly isn’t new.  It does ride on the back of the invaluable work done by the National Governor’s Association, through help with NASAA, about the importance of the arts in economic development and education.  Those “Best Practices Reports” have been the single-most effective case-making tools in our conversations with Governors here in the past.  

Caveat emptor
The most important aspect of this is the understanding that what works in one state may not work in another, and it can be extremely destructive to try to force one standard approach everywhere.  NASAA does not do this, but there are others that try, with highly problematic outcomes.

Mark Hofflund:
Should NASAA's role be that of a change agent, or a provider of services to an established practice?  Depends on time, circumstances, and needs in the field.  NASAA might better reflect its identify as a nonprofit; and cultivate a national influence representative of all Americans (and specifically artists, orgs, unions, schools, service orgs, philanthropies, etc.) … while maintaining its historic role as a D.C. watchdog and national trade association.
What are the key services that are the most needed by, and valuable to, SAAs, and to what extent does NASAA need to rethink how it can provide those services?  Connections for SAAs to the greater world and opportunities of the nation, through an infusion of and connection to women and men beyond SAAs own internal auspices.
What needs to change in the NASAA business model, and what steps can NASAA take to diversify or expand its income in order to increase the resources available to it to pursue its mission and insure its financial sustainability and capacity to serve its membership?   The membership probably needs to release some of its control, in order to benefit from the greater support of other interests.  Release control and gain more leverage from other spheres and other sources of influence.
On the other side of the coin, what new kinds of approaches might NASAA take to support state legislative budget increases to state arts agencies?  Help model statewide, grassroots, populist support networks … whose primary goal is increased participation to gain matching legislative interest.  Use the NEA model of matching state appropriations (with federal dollars from above) by creating a similar grassroots effort (incentivizing the state from below).

Kris Tucker:
Assuming NASAA continues to be a membership organization, NASAA must be responsive to member needs. Some of this will look like crisis support and hand-holding. But how about raising the stakes for more effective SAAs? How about seeding and sustaining a national conversation about where the field might be in a decade? 

NASAA doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room. But they can leverage their unique vantage point to pull, prod and propel the field forward. . . .and remind us that “forward” means different things to all of us. 

NASAA must provide a national level voice for SAAs, including with the NEA, other national arts service organizations, and key leadership groups such as NGA. NASAA also has been a leader in national level lobbying for NEA funding, arts education policy, and other policy issues directly impacting SAAs. 

NASAA membership is primarily under-resourced public sector arts agencies, and relying on their dues gives little potential for NASAA’s budget growth. NASAA has had some recent success with private sector fundraising from members and other contributors. Is there potential for earned income – such as a focused fee-for-service or a technology resource? A huge paradigm shift would be possible if NASAA could establish a revenue approach that does not rely on SAA dues: this would enable NASAA to disconnect from some of the more time-consuming member-management roles and step up to other potentials – cross-sector convenings, longer-term leadership development approaches, higher-stake advocacy work. 

Forum continues tomorrow……………….

Don't Quit

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Blog Forum on the Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #3

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

Note:  For bios on the Forum participants, please see last week's blog post (or, if you are on the blog site, scroll down).

Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #3

What is the ideal relationship between a state arts agency and its principal stakeholders and logical potential partners and collaborators - including state arts advocacy organizations, local city and county arts agencies,  state arts education organizations, discipline based service provider organizations, other state agencies, private sector interests and the philanthropic community - and where does that ideal differ from the current reality?  What needs to be done to move the reality closer to the ideal?

Kris Tucker:
I wonder if SAAs need to be more attentive to relationships beyond the usual constituencies. Recruiting from other sectors for SAA council/commission vacancies and for grant panels. More coffee dates with people a little further away from our comfortably familiar constituent groups. I wonder if being on the agenda for the state conference of principals may be more important than attending a local arts agency’s annual meeting.

I wonder how we can provide data and messages that are useful to other constituencies: what arts education data will be most useful to principals? To economic development councils? To mayors?

I worry that too many arts meetings are too boring and totally void of anything creative or artistic. I worry that too many meetings have no agenda.  I worry that arts advocacy is based too much on hyperbole and bad data. I worry that too few arts leaders participate in key community decisions about planning, design, education, tourism, or distribution of resources.

Laura Zucker:
All of the players mentioned above are in a symbiotic relationship with each other. They are all important players in the arts ecology and dependent on each other. More and more, I’m pleased to say, I see these organizations recognizing that we’re all too small to effect change without working together. It was one of the key themes of the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference that convened recently in Los Angeles.

Southern California Grantmakers, which until now was made up exclusively of private foundation and corporate funders, has invited key government partners to join this year. I’m proud to say that Los Angeles County will be the first government funder to join. And I’m even prouder that the LA Arts Funders, a group that has been meeting monthly for almost two decades, co-founded by The James Irvine Foundation and the Arts Commission, led the way on showing how effective private and public arts funders can be working together.

But these have to be authentic partnerships, not excuses for public agencies to be propped up by private philanthropy. When the Getty Foundation created a paid internship program for undergraduates in visual arts organizations, we used the terrific research they had done on the outcomes of the program to leverage $500,000 in new funds from the county to fund the companion program for performing arts organizations. Together, these complementary programs make up the largest paid internship program for the arts in the United States. While the Getty graciously funds the educational opportunities for all interns—and this was an important carrot for the investment of the public dollars— Los Angeles County is equally committed both to the principals behind the program and its underwriting.

The Arts Commission is the backbone organization for the LA County regional plan for arts education, Arts for All. That means that we staff the initiative and manage a pooled fund made up of 25 private donors who coordinate efforts. Working together is a necessity. But make no mistake: we’re the largest donor and we should be. The point here is that the idea that state arts agencies should be, or can be, funded by private sources is misplaced. First of all, private funders don’t want to give money to others to give away; why would they when they are already doing this job themselves in a way that reflects their priorities? At its core, public investment in the arts needs to come from public dollars, because public funding brings a framework of public service with it.  The distribution of taxpayers’ dollars is always going to address the issues of access and equity in some way, and should.

So now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, at the end of the day, the types of services a SAA offers needs to be tied to the strategic agenda of that state’s governor and legislature. In addition to access and equity, these may include economic development via cultural tourism, job creation through creative incubators, or a host of other priorities. What form these services take—whether grants or convenings, research or case making-- has to follow function. What are we trying to achieve? Then how will we achieve it? Too many agencies never answer the first question so have no idea how to answer the second.

Scott Provancher:
Advances in technology have allowed for the rapid exchange of information, ensuring that the speed of change in our society is only going to accelerate in the future.  Adapting to this reality requires our leaders and organizations to be both agile and creative—skills that our artistic backgrounds and working environments have given us.

As leadership institutions in the Arts sector, SAAs must unlock their creative horsepower to help their local and regional constituents and partners find their most impactful roles in supporting the creative economy.  This may require SAAs to step out of their comfort zone and take a more active role in leading collaborative initiatives amongst public/private and local/region partners to ensure the Arts remain strong in our community.

Too often, the tough work of organizing new initiatives or major funding efforts for the Arts are left to the private sector or local non-profit arts organizations to initiate or lead.  In this scenario, the SAA is often excluded from the conversation or only approached as a potential funder of the initiative.   SAA have and should use their experience, access to power, and resources to take an active leadership role in solving some of the industry’s most pressing needs.

Why shouldn’t an SAA be the organizer of a campaign to raise dollars for an arts education initiative or help build an endowment for a regional collaborative of arts organizations?

I am encouraged by the emergence of this type of leadership in several prominent SAAs.  Take for example, the A+ Schools initiative led by the North Carolina Arts Council.  NCAC saw the need to develop and scale this program throughout the State and took on the responsible of raising the private fundraising necessary to do it.

There is certainly not a one size fits all formula to define the role that an SAA should play in the partnership with other State, regional and local agencies, but I do think the default filter for evaluating their role should be that of a leader vs a follower.  This mind set will help the Arts sector better manage the ever increasing pace of change in our communities.

Anita Walker:
I spoke to the relationships among the state arts agency, local cultural councils and private funders in the first question.  But we are very interested in exploring ways to leverage the work of others concerned with the cultural landscape.  We fund a number of media organizations and three years ago we called upon them to collaborate on a media campaign to support the work of all of our cultural non-profits.  The campaign is now in its third year and is an unusual collaboration of competitors.  We will soon be convening the service organizations that we fund to see if there is a way to capitalize on their collective work to the benefit of the field.

Randy Rosenbaum:
I've often thought that every state arts agency should have someone on staff called, for lack of a better term, "Director of Collaborations".  Most of the work that we do now, aside from direct grantmaking, depends on our ability to build and maintain partnerships.  We do this well, because we can bring people to the table and we have the expertise in policy-making and programs.  But we are hamstrung by the amount of time and energy these collaborations require.  Our Education Director works well with counterparts at our state's Department of Education, with teachers and administrators and the like.  But boy could we use someone who could work on maintaining the momentum of those relationships, to keep them moving forward and ensure that this work fits within the strategic framework we've set for ourselves and our field.  These things happen, but they involve fewer partners and players than they could, and they are under-resourced because (1) who has money, and (2) who has the energy to go after money.

Ra Joy:
State arts agencies create and maintain strategic alliances both within the arts and across multiple sectors by highlighting the importance of partnership. By collaborating with other agencies, businesses, nonprofit groups, arts and culture stakeholders, and the public, SAAs open the doors to new ideas, resources and connections.

In thinking about the ideal relationship between a state arts agency and its principal stakeholders, three key themes come to mind:

Power to the People - While much of the work of SAAs happens behind the scenes, it’s important to keep the people center stage.  A core function of SAAs is to increase public access to the arts and work to ensure that people of all ages and all walks of life have meaningful opportunities to experience and participate in the arts. This work is deeply rooted in service to the citizens. In an ideal world, SAAs should ask themselves every day, how are they using the arts to make a real difference in people’s lives. Through strong partnership with artists and arts organizations, SAAs raise citizen awareness about the benefits of culture and position the arts as a public good.

Backbone Organizations – There’s been a lot of focus in recent years on collective impact efforts and the work of backbone organizations. I think there are many similarities between strong SAAs and effective backbone organizations. Within the arts sector, SAAs work collaboratively to connect networks of individuals and organizations including state arts advocacy groups, arts education associations, arts funders, local arts agencies, artists, creative enterprises, arts service organizations, unions and other cultural umbrella organizations. As leaders and conveners of the field, SAAs help guide vision and strategy for the sector, establish shared measurement systems, provide professional development and networking opportunities, advance policy solutions, and play an active role in building political will and public demand for the arts.

Planning Culturally -- SAAs should work across state government and with other sectors of civic life to promote a pro-culture agenda. The idea here being the arts are more likely to thrive when they are embedded into the goals of multiple public agencies and partner organizations. Rocco Landesman referred to this all-hands-on-deck approach as the “insertion of the arts into the everyday business of sister agencies.” Here in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Commissioner Michelle Boone of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, refer to this holistic strategy as “Planning Culturally.”  This comprehensive approach values culture for its transformative power and for its strength to inspire, express, and unite. SAAs should partner with other state agencies and regional planning organizations to achieve shared goals and incorporate the arts as an essential ingredient in economic development, education, public safety, public health, and strong communities.

Unfortunately many SAAs are woefully underfunded relative to the demand for services.  More funding and bandwidth would be needed to help close the gap that exists for some SAAs between the current state and the desired future state described above.

Arni Fishbaugh:
One big town
With just more than a million people, Montanans think of our state as one big town.  Despite its immense geography, which west-to-east is comparable in distance as Chicago is to Washington, D.C., there is frequently only one or two degrees of separation between knowing others from anywhere in the state.  I think this is a critical factor in how we relate to our public.  In rural America, people help each other.  It’s wise to never be really mean to your neighbor because you don’t know when they may be the one to save your life.

Nimble-ness and bureaucracies
When I first read Barry’s memo about this blog, one of the things he asked us to think about was how state agencies remain nimble and refrain from bureaucracy, which I think relates to the question above a bit.  To address the nimble and bureaucracy elements, I asked my staff how they would speak to this.  They are models of being  nimble and a far cry from being bureaucrats.  They all are working artists or arts managers or educators, or they have been doing their jobs long enough and well enough to truly empathize with the needs of our constituents.

From KarenDe Herman, Administrative Specialist 
I think the key to our nimbleness is our relationship with the arts organizations and artists across the state. When they recognize us as fellow artists and trust us to look out for their best interests, they make allowances for and work with us to overcome the constraints of governmental bureaucracy. This gives us the opportunity to innovate in a “safe space” as viewed by our constituents.

From Cindy Kittredge, Folk Arts and Market Development Specialist
Although nimbleness, innovation and risk-taking can be endangered by government bureaucracy, thoughtful and deliberate action based on the points that follow can help to achieve balance so that it doesn’t become an either-or issue.  By thoughtful, I mean actions that have been carefully considered in terms of end actions and which are responsive to the public.  By deliberate, I mean actions that aren’t taken “flying by the seat of the pants” but which look to strategic goals and a strong vision that doesn’t demand changes that occur overnight. Incidentally, I don’t see strategic plans as carved in stone, but as guideposts in a world where reality can quickly change.

Keeping the expressed needs and wishes of the artists at the forefront provides the wind at the back to make the “right” decisions.  Although there are those who feel that approach may be based too much in the “whims” of the masses, I believe that there is a strength in the collective knowledge of the public.  If this forms the core of a strategic plan, then that plan will be strengthened, and decisions can be made that will carry the group forward in a cohesive way.

Maintaining awareness of and respect for the members of the public will provide the mindset to be open to the creative and innovative ideas that come your way.  I always try to hold to Myles Horton’s advice in teaching, “Start with where the people are.”  It really isn’t about those of us in the bureaucracy, although we may be pressed and stressed, but it is about the people we serve.  Sometimes, collaborative work can be extremely difficult or suggestions may not initially seem to be a positive.  However, in the end, this kind perspective allows for the open space that new ideas need to grow.  It also may require nimbleness and creativity in how such difficult situations are handled, and that can lead to great innovations.

From Cinda Holt, Business Development Specialist
The nimbleness we have comes from the philosophy of the agency to hire senior staff based on their expertise more so than on how well they fit a previously set “job description.”  By taking advantage of that staffer’s real-world experience, they act as an actual professional development/technical resource to the field.  It is much easier to learn on the job the bureaucratic functions that are required to fill out the position than it is to gain the range of experience needed in order to provide true technical assistance.
In our strategic planning work we look to specific non-arts folks in growth industries to provide us with broader POVs about how the arts and creativity link to their lives and successes -- including scientists and technology experts.

Because we aggressively go after private funding for certain initiatives, we are able to test pilot programs in ways we couldn’t if we didn’t have private funding.

From Emily Kohring, Arts Education Director
I don’t really feel “constrained” here, first of all.  I worked for an arts organization for nine years with a tiny budget, and I never had enough resources.  I was under constant pressure to bring in enough earned income in my programs so we wouldn’t be in the red.  I was constantly understaffed and overworked.  I then worked in a start-up charter school with literally no budget for my theatre program.  We begged and borrowed to do everything, and relied on the kindness of the friends we made who wanted to help.  You learn to be creative and resourceful with what you’ve got in that kind of environment.

When you’ve never had “abundance,” you don’t really feel constrained.  You just figure out ways to get the job done.  It’s amazing how much you can get done with few resources when you are careful with them, and you have strong relationships with people.

I think we do a good job of not thinking of ourselves as a governmental bureaucracy, and that is key.  It’s a mindset that I feel like everyone on this staff shares. You are only as bureaucratic as you think you are!  I don’t think of myself as a bureaucrat who is here to push papers around and enforce policy and rules.  Blech!  I think in my position I am here to listen to what teachers, teaching artists and arts organizations in Montana need to provide the best quality arts education, and then figure out ways to help them do it.  And, if you don’t have the resources, you need to build relationships.  Find out who else is interested in what you are interested in, introduce yourself, make friends with them, share information, and then ask.  It seems to have worked with the Office of Public Instruction (OPI).  Also, assume good intentions of everybody and see them as allies.  I hear a lot of people say disparaging things about OPI.  I don’t listen to that or engage in it.  Their staff is there to do the best they can for the students of Montana.  I can’t think of them as bureaucrats either, or we won’t get anything done!
My observation is as an organization, we can be nimble, innovative and risk-taking because the staff has done a great job of making friends, even with people who aren’t natural “friends” of art or government funding for the arts.  I keep thinking about the Tea Party gentleman who spoke at the Council meeting.  I disagreed with everything he said, I cringed on the inside when he said certain things, but I was amazed at his support for the Arts Council.  Too many people in the arts world cannot stomach people who don’t think like them.   We have to take responsibility for creating an environment where people who aren’t inclined to love everything we do will at least be ok with things we do because they trust us, right?

From Kristin Han Burgoyne, Grants and Database Director, and author of Kristin’s Blog

Ask forgiveness, not permission.
And have upper management that will support you in this philosophy.  Balance this philosophy with the wisdom to know when to not test the limits.

Play the small agency card.
A lot of the bureaucracy can be avoided if you know the rules and know when they don’t apply to you.  Sometimes this means learning about things that are not very interesting to you.  Find someone who is interested and have them teach you the cliff-notes version.  Very few agencies have so much broad knowledge concentrated into so few people, and I’m proud of all the things I know… but my knowledge is of the “mile wide and inch deep” variety… so it is important to have friends who know more than you know.  Also remember…. having 25 or fewer staff will get you out of a lot of meetings.

Request exceptions and embrace change.
To quote Jimmy Buffet, “We are the people our parents warned us about.”  We are creative.... or so we say.  Prove it by figuring out a better way.  Eliminate the bureaucracy and get around the challenges.  This means taking time to reflect and figure out what will work and letting go of old ways of doing things.

Never, ever stop trying to simplify and streamline processes and workflow.
Remember when we used to print mailing labels?  And contracts?

Use technology wisely.
I love webinars and listening to meetings on my computer.  Saves me a ton of time but keeps me informed.  I also adore two computer monitors, scanners and online grants management software.  I’m still afraid of (but trying to embrace) smart phones.  I spend a lot of time worrying I’m not using new technology to the maximum of its potential because I don’t understand it or I haven’t bothered to learn it.

Become a trusted face and personality.
This works for both authorizers and grantees.  All of my grantees know I will go the extra mile to make something easier for them.  They also know if something is going wrong they can talk to me, and I will do my best to be helpful and find a solution… and never be “mad” at them or “punish” them for making a mistake.  If something is wrong we need to get it fixed in the short term and figure out how to avoid it in the long term.  No judgment.  No excuses.  (You think I’m talking about a grantee not turning in a report here, don’t you?  I’m not.  I’m thinking of the colossal ways I just screwed up some things I was working on and how I had to regroup, fix it, and then figure out how to do it next time so I’m not just repeating my past mistakes.)

Can you see why I just love this staff?!
Don’t anyone be thinking about trying to hire them away!

Mark Hofflund:
What is the ideal relationship between a state arts agency and its principal stakeholders and logical potential partners and collaborators - including state arts advocacy organizations, local city and county arts agencies,  state arts education organizations, discipline based service provider organizations, other state agencies, private sector interests and the philanthropic community, and where does that ideal differ from the current reality?

Needs more teamwork by, participation with, and service to these others.

What needs to be done to move the reality closer to the ideal?  Wisdom, passion, organization and activism.

Forum continues tomorrow with questions re: NASAA…….

Don't Quit

Monday, July 14, 2014

Blog Forum on the Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #2

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

Note:  For bios on the Forum participants, please see last week's blog post (or, if you are on the blog site, scroll down).

Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #2

Some of you on this panel, as well as others throughout the sector, have called for a re-envisioning of the SAAs away from grant making so as to cut the umbilical cord-like connection of their work to unpredictable state funding. Some argue that there are all kinds of initiatives and programs, including case making, convening, research, professional development, and other efforts that would be as, or more, valuable to the arts sector than the provision of direct grants. Others argue that it is the grant making that has been of the greatest value in growing the arts at the state level. Some have argued quite forcefully that our field is overbuilt and that we simply cannot continue the fantasy that this isn't a problem. What are your thoughts?  Please consider the following:
Were SAAs to move away from grant making as their central role, what would the new structure of an agency look like?  What is the role of the state arts agency in supporting or working to reduce in size overbuilt arts ecosystems?  What other ways might a SAA re-envision its way of doing business?
What are the state arts ecosystem political constraints (both within the sector and outside of it) that bear on any kind of re-envisioning and re-organizing of SAA's missions and priorities, and how can they be dealt with?
What is the role of State Arts Agencies, if any, in supporting or working to reduce an overbuilt arts ecosystem, and to what extent should SAAs use their grant making powers to address the increased supply / diminishing demand challenge?   Specifically what ought they do differently, if anything, than they are doing now? 
Is there a better way to balance the provision of grants and the provision of other kinds of services? 

Scott Provancher:
This may sound trite, but any successful organization must innovate or it will die.  Eventually, if new vision(s) and operating model(s) are not sought, the power and impact of SAAs will diminish.

I believe that exploring new models for raising and investing resources is a natural and critical process that should be encouraged.  However, developing the right process for making the decision is, in some ways, more important than opining on what the end answer or solution may be.

The first step in developing any new strategy or idea is to have a thorough understanding of the problem you are trying to solve.  Sometimes during this process of understanding you realize that you are trying to fix one problem (reduction in funding) by creating another (effect of changing a funding strategy).

On the topic of grant making, an important question that I would ask before shifting strategy is, “What outcome am I not getting now that a shift in strategy will achieve?” and “If I had more resources (or the same resources you once had, if you have seen a drop in funding), would I still be considering a shift in funding strategy.”  These two questions, and others like it, can help to define what you are hoping to achieve.

Once you have a clear definition of the goal, you can than begin to develop ideas and test them in the marketplace.  I like to think of this stage of the process as the prototype phase. Not unlike a start-up company testing a new product with its customers, testing your assumptions with small scale experiments can provide invaluable information that can help you to refine your approach.  So often I see organizations go “all in” on a new strategy without ever testing their assumptions, only to watch the organization experience huge negative repercussions that they did not anticipate.

Innovation and new strategy design is too important to leave to chance.  Having a thoughtful process that allows for stakeholder feedback is key to developing the right path forward.

Ra Joy:
There’s increasing chatter these days about how the arts ecosystem is “overbuilt” and the need to "thin out the field” of arts organizations. Taking the view that there are just too many mouths to feed and too few resources, some people are urging arts funders to apply “survival of the fittest” principles to how grant dollars are awarded. Frustrated with the survival crisis in the arts, some of our most prominent and influential leaders are proclaiming: “Let the Hunger Games begin!” Their theory of change hinges on a belief that the supply/demand equation can be brought into balance by forcing weaker, smaller arts organizations to fold or merge with other groups.

I resist the argument that we have “an overbuilt arts ecosystem” for a few reasons. First, my job is to promote the value of the arts to all residents of our state.  I believe our communities are at their best when cultural activities are abundant, so the idea that we can have an oversupply of art simply doesn’t jive with me.  The second reason I have reservations about this argument is because it assumes that you can decrease the supply side of the equation.  In an era where technology is making it easier than ever before to create and share content, you cannot simply cut off the spigot of artistic experiences and outlets.  The third reason I have trouble with this argument is because I believe in the core American value of equal opportunity for all. There are parts of my city (and yours) where the arts ecosystem is astonishingly underdeveloped. Applying a strict “only the strong should survive” frame to arts grant-making can sharply limit diversity, diminish access, and make it more difficult for fresh voices and emerging talent.

Speaking from the perspective of a statewide arts advocacy organization, a better way to right-size the arts ecosystem is to “grow the pie” of arts support from all sources – public dollars, foundations, corporations, and individual donors. Instead of brainstorming about the next new hospice program for arts groups, we should be strategizing about how the sector can collectively think bigger, act faster, and advocate smarter.

According to recent data from NASAA, legislative appropriations to state arts agencies are expected to grow by approximately 20% entering FY15, a projected increase of $61.1 million. We should be fighting hard to protect and grow this important public funding. And, we should be working smarter to win the hearts, minds, and money of decision makers beyond state government. Effective advocacy for culture and the arts is urgently needed in our city halls, in corporate and foundation board rooms, and at kitchen tables across the country.  That’s the only way we can grow resources, expand audiences, and maximize the sector’s potential.

So, that’s my view on the “overbuilt” arts ecosystem question. Instead of thinking small about how the arts sector can continue to do more with less (less money, less ambition, and fewer staff resources), we should be having a conversation that challenges us to think bigger.

I am not naive and I don't have my head in the sand when it comes to the struggle for scarce resources, the need for effective organizations, or the difficult decisions facing arts funders. I simply think it’s misguided to cede the moral high ground on this issue to people who are focused on how more arts groups can “die with dignity.”  Let’s grow the pie so everybody can get a bigger slice.

In terms of this question about grant-making vs. other kinds of services, I think SAAs need to take a both/and, not an either/or approach.

SAAs should maintain the traditional state policy lever of grants and financial support to artists and arts groups. “Don’t quit,” as Barry Hessenius often says.  Direct grants, even when award levels are modest, continue to be one most important ways SAAs can contribute to a vibrant arts scene.

Even within the universe of cultural leaders who publicly champion the importance of grants, there are subtle tensions and debates over how the current pie is being divided. Several arts funders are moving toward larger grant awards to fewer organizations, so they can have a bigger bang for their buck. Some leaders of arts organizations feel they are competing directly with their public arts agencies because the agency dedicates significant resources toward producing and presenting cultural activities at the perceived expense of support for artists and arts groups. Many arts agency leaders are concerned about mounting pressure to use grant dollars to tackle societal problems that go above and well beyond their public missions.  It’s unfair and unrealistic, they say, to ask the arts sector to help reduce gun violence or eradicate poverty when there’s not enough money to help groups stage the next performance or mount the next exhibition. Where possible, SAAs should provide opportunities for multi-year, general operating grants. Funding for general operations remains the “World Cup” of grants because it helps keep access to culture affordable and provides organizations with much needed flexibility to take risks, plan ahead, and adapt to change.

In my view, the most impactful tool public arts agencies have at their disposal, in addition to grant dollars, is the power to convene the field. By leveraging the bully pulpit of state government, forward-leaning SAAs are engaging, supporting and empowering the full spectrum of the creative workforce – from curators and performers to chefs, filmmakers and architects. This “everybody in, nobody out” approach to our arts ecosystem includes for-profit creative businesses, nonprofit arts groups, informal arts activities, and individual artists and makers.

I believe the strongest SAAs will be the ones that successfully coordinate activities between these interrelated sectors and bridge the boundaries between nonprofit and for-profit creative enterprises. There are many benefits to effectively pulling this off. It allows us to make more meaningful connections to a broad spectrum of public policy issues. It significantly expands the social and economic impacts of culture. From a network and coalition building perspective, this “big tent” approach also allows SAAs to engage a much wider range of people and organizations across generation, geography, ethnicity, and artistic interest.

While the nonprofit and commercial arts sectors may work best when they work together, unifying the two can be messy, difficult, and complex work. From a policy perspective, gains for the commercial arts sector in many states seem to occur at the expense of the nonprofit arts sector. (In Maryland $2.5M in arts funding for nonprofits was recently diverted to support film incentives for Netflix’s “House of Cards.”) From an organizing perspective, it takes time and focused energy to build the bonds of connection between nonprofit theaters, symphonies, dance companies and museums with commercial record labels, architecture firms, and advertising agencies. Building a common agenda and a shared vision for the future doesn’t happen overnight. The SAAs that can get the nonprofit and commercial sectors on the same page and rowing in the same direction will be well positioned for the future.

Anthony Radich:
State arts agencies can become over fixated on grantmaking.  However, the agencies can also use the argument that they can do things other than grantmaking as an excuse to live with stagnating budgets.  Probably the answer to this question is that the agencies need to do both.  However, to do both, they need enough resource to be meaningful either as grant makers or as drivers of non-grant-based initiatives.  With largely stagnant budgets  many are faced with dong neither well.

What is the role of the state arts agency in supporting or working to reduce in size overbuilt arts ecosystems?

Public sector funders of cultural activities have a special responsibility to reduce or eliminate funding to cultural organizations that are no longer audience-viable.  Unless the public clearly indicates it wants its money to be allocated to cultural organizations that are museum pieces, public sector funders need to find the courage--and the bureaucratic skill--to lead in the defunding of nonprofit arts organizations that have outlived their audience base.

The re-envisioning of state arts agencies faces many challenges.  Chief among them are:

1)   Fear of failure within the agency staff and the among agency governing board members.  Arts agency staff usually work for a living and stirring the waters of change always has the potential to cost them their jobs.  In addition, most arts agency governing board members don’t usually sign on to be change leaders tend to be fearful that major change on their watch could blow up the agency and part of their reputations with it.

2)  The lack of a big enough idea has challenged many agencies seeking to re-envision.  A big idea around re-envisioning is not simply more money for a state--unless it is a great deal more money to do some really exciting things!  Even though state governments continue to be somewhat stressed, the leaders in state government still seek out innovative ways to approach challenges.  Especially in times of budget stress, new creative ideas usually get a hearing--provided they are big enough ideas.

3)   For a field of hard working people who fund creative activities, the state arts agency field is actually very administratively and policy conservative.  New ideas do not easily take root in the field and the occasional arts agency director who steps forward with something new is often greeted with blank stares.  The national culture of state arts agency administration will need to change before any kind of field-wide re-envisioning of the agencies can occur.

Randy Rosenbaum:
I don't think we should move totally away from grantmaking.  These grants, and the process by which they are awarded, continues to be important for our field.  Even if the amount is insignificant, the
connotation that this is an organization judged by the state (and their peers) as worthy of support is consequential.  And, to sound just a tiny bit crass, it it important for us to have a mechanism to reward or influence the direction of arts organizations.  A tweet referenced acomment made by Peter Brosius of the Children's Theatre Company at the recent TCG conference:  "We receive public funds, we have public responsibilities."  And that is ultimately good for the arts and for its role in our states and communities.  

If I were to imagine a new kind of state arts agency, I might move away from operating support or even responsive grants.  I would concentrate on funding projects and collaborations that emerged from a collaborative planning environment.  We all come to the table with certain things - some with connections, others with expertise, others with money.  We actually come to the table with all three, but usually the money is the weakest part for us.  It should be as strong as our ability to connect with people and organizations throughout our state, and the knowledge we can bring to important issues.  We should be able to invest in ways to diversify audiences, not just talk about its importance when reviewing grant applications.  We should be able to invest in new works, and the performances and exhibits by major institutions who wouldn't talk the time or risk to present this work on their own.  We should be able to invest in increasing the visibility of the arts, help with professional
development of artists, use the arts to make a difference in economic development strategy in our state.  The state arts agency of the future would be more overtly investment oriented than it is now.

Obviously, we depend on the good will of our elected officials, who determine the budget we have to work with and, to some extent, the conditions under which we operate.  Their good will depends on our doing our job well -- no damaging headlines, no scandalous art funded with the taxpayer's money.  It also depends on the good will of the people in their districts who vote for them.  If we eliminate funding for those people without their concurrence then our lives are in jeopardy.  The challenge, therefore, is to build a new system of funding the arts with their support.  I've found this requires their participation in the construction process.  They may not all think they'll do well (or better) under the new system, but they may agree with it if they respect the nature of the construction process and the need for change.  I haven't quite decided whether the best time to do this is when you have less or little money, or when you've had an infusion of new money.

In Rhode Island I'm thinking about something I'm calling "The Grand Reboot".  I have the general impression that we have locked everyone into a grant amount that no longer has any relationship to reality.  It's not based on the size of the organization or its relative ranking as compared to its peers in our state.  If anything, it's based on what they may have received 10 or 15 years ago, increased or decreased over time as our budget has ebbed and flowed.  The largest organizations do very well.  The small and medium sized organizations, not so much.  Our budget has not increased in a way that we can address this through the age-old remedy of throwing more money at the problem.  So we will have
to start from scratch, a form of zero-based budgeting.  It will be difficult, and traumatic for some, but absolutely necessary.  I'm not sure I agree we have "an overbuilt arts ecosystem" in Rhode Island, but
if we do our little part of the solution might involve the redirection of funding.

Is there a better way to balance the provision of grants and the provision of other kinds of services?

It all depends on what you want to accomplish.  If you can use grants to achieve programmatic needs, that's great.  If we need to get into the direct provision of services, so be it.  But I worry about state arts agencies playing too much of a role a a provider of services.  This is something I think we can only do in limited ways, since other organizations are better suited to running programs.

Anita Walker:
Grant making is the philosophical heart of what we do.  We are the stewards of our states' most precious treasures, our art and our history.  Only an investment of state tax dollars gives ownership of this common wealth to the people of the Commonwealth.  Consider the alternative...cultural nonprofits reliant of the generosity of wealth patrons or corporations.  Then the only art and history we have would be decided by the wealthy few.  Alternatively, art and history funded entirely by the government would deprive us of the risk, experimentation and truth that the wealthy can afford.  Our system is really the best of both worlds.

But our work of beyond grant making is not only something we imagine, it is something we practice.  Our financial investments are core; they give ownership to the citizens in the best we have to offer; they give confidence to private donors and leverage private investment; they connect the field to us and allow us to connect members of the field to each other; and they connect the field to elected leadership and to important policy issues affecting every community.

But our shrinking budget has forced us to consider the levers we can push to enhance the field in the absence of money.  Creativity before capital is our motto.
Case in point:  our cultural district program.  We established the program two years ago with no funding whatsoever.  With no money or grant of any kind at the end of a rigorous application process more than 100 communities have applied for state designation as a cultural district.  Twenty-five have been designated so far. These communities have build strong partnerships, established cultural planning as an integral part of city and town planning, and created a cultural brand that is real, special and authentic.  We are now being approached by legislators looking for ways to provide funding for this program.

By re-designing our grant-making we have uncovered ways to harness the collective capacity of the field and put it to work to raise all boats.  Our operating support program is no longer a competitive grant program.  We provide formula funding to 400 non-profits and require all recipients to participate in building the sector.  All must advocate.  They must participate in site visits to colleague organizations and they are called upon to mentor others.  By eliminating the competition, we are building a true partnership relationship that is honest and supportive.  And this partnership is delivering more innovation and intellectual capital to the field at large than the largest grant could buy.

Is the field overbuilt?  I don't even know what that means.  The field is an ecology.  There are large, mature organizations with deep roots and big endowments; medium sized organizations that struggle to make ends meet with fixed labor and facilities most middle class families; and there are young agile organizations that may flame out or may become rooted.  All contribute to our cultural landscape.  I haven't the slightest idea how to decide who should live and who should die; who is redundant; who is sustainable.  The "merge or die" message has been sent loud and clear from other funding leaders in Massachusetts.  But the truth is, successful mergers are expensive and rare.  A better message might be "two turkeys do not an eagle make."

Laura Zucker:
First of all, I take issue with the notion that the field is “overbuilt.” As my nephew pointed out when I expressed my fear that as a step grandmother I might be an un-needed extra grandma, you can’t have too many grandmothers!  Grandmothers are a good thing and so are arts organizations! The only people I ever hear complain about there being too many nonprofits are foundation program officers who don’t want to deal with so many applicants. But the reality is that the greater market place, made up largely of individual donors and ticket buyers/attendees, determines if an individual arts organization fulfills a need in the universe, not government agencies or private funders.

I often think there’s a direct line to public funders from the medieval feudal system. From Wikipedia: “An oath of fealty, from the Latin fidelitas (faithfulness), is a pledge of allegiance of one person to another. In medieval Europe, this took the form of an oath from a vassal, or subordinate, to the lord. It also referred to the duties incumbent upon a vassal that were owed to the lord, which consisted of service and aid…Usually, the lord also promised to provide for the vassal in some form, either through the granting of a fief or by some other manner of support.” So the relationship was a two-way street in which both parties gained. 

The California Arts Council (CAC) pioneered what was a groundbreaking program, the State-Local Partnership, back in the 1980s that was fundamentally based on the feudal system. The CAC distributed funds to every one of the 58 county local arts agencies in the state; for many rural agencies it was the lifeline that enabled them to be staffed. In return, the California LAA’s were both a method to disseminate information for the CAC across the state and a way to collect information and send it back up the chain of command. Even though the amount of money was not large for an urban LAA like the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, we knew what was expected of us in return for the grant and it reinforced our fealty. When the CAC convened all the LAAs annually, we were there. Unfortunately this program is a vestige of its former self due to the lack of funding; the current allocation doesn’t provide enough money to insure staffing for every LAA in the state, making the CAC’s job harder by not having boots on the ground everywhere.

Grant programs not only provide necessary sustenance to the field, they create a binding force that enables the arts agency, whether local or statewide, to literally hold things together. It is the role of being a grantmaker that gives the agency the ability to convene all stakeholders, assuring that all summoned will attend, to address field wide issues. Of course, the grant making process must be carried out in an exemplary manner, in a transparent, fair and explicable way.  When the grant making process devolves into political cronyism all credibility, not to mention political capital, is lost and the agency can be irreparably compromised by its grantmaking role.

But without the grantmaking role, the agency is just another service provider-- and we all know what a hard row that is to hoe! Oh wait, that’s one of the questions to come.

Kris Tucker:
Every advocacy message for SAA funding makes me wish we were asking for ten times as much. Why aren’t we asking for $5 million, not $500,000? And if we did get $5 million. . . .what then?
Sad to say, the reality is that our discussions are more often about how to cut another 10% of our budget, not what to do with a new $5 million. Even so, we are afraid to end grants programs. We are afraid our colleagues and constituents would quit caring about us if we don’t provide the same mix of grant funding that we’ve tweaked endlessly over the years. And SAAs fear they don’t have the expertise or resources for a different mix of programs and services. 

If all that you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” So goes the old adage. SAAs have for too long seen grants as our only hammer – ie the primary tool in our toolbox. Surely we need to see that with limited dollars, general operating support is a much lower priority: GOS disproportionately supports urban organizations that have the best access to other support – and fails to incentivize anything but what has worked on the past. 

Grants can be part of SAA strategy – as incentives, not entitlements. Power2Give and Art Place are two innovations in grantmaking – more should come. 

Every SAA is different, but it’s timely for SAAs to become far more different to meet the specific and unique needs of a particular state with its geography and demographics, authorizing environment, and operating capacity. Bold budgeting may be required so that funds are set aside for initiatives. Contractors may be needed to serve as “experts-for-hire” that expand the skill set and capacity beyond SAA staff. And SAA leaders may need to rethink processes if they are going to take on different roles within state rules and requirements such as for purchasing, contracting, convenings, and product sales. 
Here are a few SAA roles that I see have huge potential and should be priorities in SAA budgeting whether funds are growing or shrinking:

  • We can more clearly focus WHAT we do. In some states, that might mean arts education is the primary function, with strategic partnerships, incentives, leadership development.  In some states, it should mean no more grants to organizations, not necessarily because of shrinking resources but because SAA resources are more effective elsewhere. 
  • We can rethink HOW we do what we do. Instead of project support grants, use dollars and staff expertise to incubate and nurture local efforts by providing customized support and a well-crafted mix of services. Helping local leaders include the arts in city comprehensive plans is one such opportunity: with a relatively small investment, a SAA could provide professional development such as training sessions, online resources, webinars, white papers, expert consultations, etc; networking of participating communities to encourage self-organized learning and support; research and/or messaging; financial support as a grant to support related project/s or for reimbursement of related expenses. 
  • We can expand WHO we work with, far beyond our focus of the nonprofit arts community. How about developing policy partners with colleges and universities, with professional organizations, with economic development offices? 

Mark Hofflund:
Were SAAs to move away from grant making as their central role, what would the new structure of an agency look like?  Perhaps a research institute?  An educational org?  A census bureau?  A marketing and promotional entity?  A visitors’ center?  An immigration office?  What is the role of the state arts agency in supporting or working to reduce in size overbuilt arts ecosystems?  I don’t think it needs a regulatory component; but it could provide information and data that might be useful to businesses, foundations and private interests – in measuring the effective use of civic resources.  What other ways might a SAA re-envision its way of doing business?  Decentralize decisions and funding to occur in as many local areas as possible, while maintaining statewide standards.
What are the state arts ecosystem political constraints (both within the sector and outside of it) that bear on any kind of re-envisioning and re-organizing of SAA's missions and priorities, and how can they be dealt with?  Populist sentiment, recognition, and demand are needed, along with greater and more numerous sources of private support.
What is the role of State Arts Agencies, if any, in supporting or working to reduce an overbuilt arts ecosystem, and to what extent should SAAs use their grant making powers to address the increased supply / diminishing demand challenge?   Specifically what ought they do differently, if anything, than they are doing now?  Create challenging ways to measure (and thereby incentivize) the ecosystem’s contribution to public value.

Arni Fishbaugh:
I think it’s always interesting to envision new realities.  It’s also critical that we have a real bead on the needs of the part of the world in which we work.  At the same time, if we’re working as a state agency, we have to remember that we’re investing state resources, so whatever we do has to benefit the whole state – not one group or another, not one area of the state and not another.  Not just rural organizations, but major organizations, too.  Not organizations alone, but individual artists, as well.  And at all times, we need to ensure that we are sensitive to the diversity in our state and creating a climate of inclusion and equity.  

In our case, our agency aligns all its programs to our strategic plan.  We had over 3,000 people involved in input into this plan (3% of the population of our state.)  I believe it’s critical to utilize public input to shape what we do.

Were the sky to fall and the legislature was to say you’re going to be able to do only one thing with one staff person, I’d seriously consider recommending we turn everything into arts education grants or professional development, based on what we’ve heard from our people in Montana.

What are the state arts ecosystem political constraints (both within the sector and outside of it) that bear on any kind of re-envisioning and re-organizing of SAA's missions and priorities, and how can they be dealt with?

“It’s” never what “it’s” about
Gawd, we could all write a book about this question.  The biggest challenge we have is what it means to work in a political environment. Frequently, decisions are not based on the merit of something in front of the political body, but because someone has an agenda or some legislator or constituent needs to be punished or rewarded.  “It’s” never about what “it’s” about.  The only remedy I’ve found is to carry on, do the best one can, be resilient and remember tomorrow is a new day with a potential new way.  As Barry Hessenius says, “Never give up.”  

I’m just like an old steer…
One of my favorite past council members is a Tea Party member Rick Halmes of Billings, who, when appointed, thought his job was to eliminate this “wacky arts funding.”  Within a year he became our biggest supporter, and we still call on him to help us on many occasions.  He’s a big cowboy, and one of his best commentaries on how he approaches this advocacy work:  “I’m just like an old steer…I just keep trying.”  (For those of you unfamiliar with cattle lingo, a steer is a castrated bull.)

What is the role of State Arts Agencies, if any, in supporting or working to reduce an overbuilt arts ecosystem, and to what extent should SAAs use their grant making power is to address the increased supply / diminishing demand challenge?   Specifically what ought they do differently, if anything, than they are doing now? 

Treating grants like contracted work
This is such a big challenge.  The approach we’ve used in Montana is to treat our operating support grants more like contracts with advocacy deliverables we want, rather than just outright operating support grants.  We contract with organizations to help deliver the public value message.  They have to address how they are using the two of The Three Rs (Relationships and Relevance) to build audience participation and local support.  We then ask them to meet with their legislators one-on-one (not write a letter), as well as their Congressional staffs, to talk about the public value of the work their organization does.  We ask them to report on this meeting, when it was and what transpired.  We also ask them to address in their annual reporting, “If a legislator was to ask you what the return on investment (the third “R”)  is for this public funding, how would you answer that question?”  We ask them to give this to us in the form of a story, not a series of generic facts.  Here is a sampling of answers from the prior year’s Public Value Partnership grantees.

We all struggle with what levels of funding should be allocated, and I don’t have  suggestions to issue as a best practice for everyone.  What we are going to do in our case is determine who did the best job in addressing The Three R answers and our requests to meet with legislators, and make funding decisions based on that.  

Each state is different in how they allocate operating support, but here we copy the Pennsylvania (and other states) model wherein we allocate a set percentage of operating expenses from the prior year’s 1099 at the time of the initial application.  It’s a four-year grant with the same amount allocated each year.  We have a cutoff below which we won’t fund.

Is there a better way to balance the provision of grants and the provision of other kinds of services?  

Connections to the Operating Framework
The way we approach this is to look at everything we’re doing and ensure that each part of our strategic plan has some kind of program or funding component connected to it so that we ensure we are making an impact in that area.  For instance, we have an Innovation frame in the Public Value framework within our Operating Plan.  We weren’t doing any funding or programming in this area, and it seemed a perfect vehicle for Artists Awards, so Artist Innovation Awards were created.  

One of the most valuable tools we learned about in gauging ways to balance grants and services is to test each one on a Capacity/Impact scale.  When looking at our programs and services overall, we weigh them as to how much work they take or how much money they cost (Capacity) vs. how many people or how deeply people are impacted by them (Impact).  Then we are brutal.  If something is a lot of work or costs a lot and it benefits few people, there has to be a very good reason why it stays on our agenda.  

We also use the gauge as we develop our annual work plan, and there are times when we have to say, “This is just too much.  We can’t do all this.”  We have to leave time to address the inevitable unplanned interruptions, challenges and opportunities that arise.

Forum continues tomorrow……………...

Don't Quit