Wednesday, June 22, 2005

June 23, 2005 Update #7

Table of Contents:
I. A few thoughts on whether the Arts are overbuilt
II. The PBS Crisis
III. Bits & Pieces

Hello everybody.

"And the beat goes on..............."

"Changes in attitudes, changes in latitudes, nothing remains quite the same.............."

I am no longer a funder. I no longer have to make the hard choices as to who and what to fund, and as a consequence, who and what not to fund. When I was a funder, and the situation changed and we no longer had even the illusion of an adequate funding pool of available funds, my own hard choice was to try to make sure every sector of the arts had some voice (by funding discipline and multicultural and underserved community service groups); to keep alive, to the extent possible, at least some of the growing mid-sized organizations that might survive and maintain a place for various arts constituent groups (e.g., Latino, Gay, African American, Native arts dance, theater, music etc.); and to maintain some kind of arts education in the schools.

The question of whether or not the arts field is overbuilt, of whether there are too many arts organizations in competition with each other isn't an academic question given the current funding crisis - at least not in California. Three years ago the Arts Council had $30 million to use to support the arts - today it has $1 million. Three years ago the Packard Foundation had $15 million - today $3 million. Three years ago there was $6 million in the California Department of Education budget for arts education - today nothing. Municipal cuts, reductions in hotel tax funds that support the arts due to a decrease in tourism income, and tight school district budgets account for (conservatively) another drop of $15 million or so in the aggregate across the state. That's a total of $60+ million LESS in support to the arts today. That just can't be replaced so easily and has resulted in cancelled programs, struggling organizations, and more closures than people care to acknowledge. Hundreds of people have been laid off or forced to find employment elsewhere.

So at least in this state, the arts field is being thinned out despite what any of us may want to happen. My question regarding the issue of whether the arts is overbuilt (at least right now) is simply "what is going to happen to all those small and mid-sized arts organizations that were making great progress, growing responsibly, serving their communities and the public well, but are now moving backwards trying simply to stay alive?" These organizations run the spectrum of all disciplines - dance, theater, music, film, education, visual arts - and across all sectors - multicultural, gay, seniors, people with disabilities etc. All of us wish they could all survive, but can they? And what is our collective responsibility, if any, to work to insure that at least some of them do survive? And can we, and if so, how do we do that?

The current funding crisis - more acute in some areas of the country than others, but certainly felt virtually everywhere and by everybody - threatens the very existence of arts provision in our country. Oh, the arts will survive. People will always make art, and others will always be there as its audience, but that is like saying Indonesia will survive the tsunami. Of course it will, but at what cost? How long will it take just to get back to where it was, let alone beyond that point? In 2000 we were making real progress in getting the arts back in the schools. We were making real progress in recognizing, nurturing and supporting the growth of the arts of all of our diverse populations. We were making real progress in expanding our audience base. We were making real progress in educating the public about the importance art plays in every aspect of our lives, our communities. Does anybody doubt that progress has at the very least been brought to a virtual stand still?

Take arts education. The loss of what the CAC was supporting ($10 million in arts education programs), the $6 million arts education support in the state Department of Education budget, and the money local government, foundations and other CAC grants (the funds of which were indirectly used by arts organizations for arts education programs,) and the net result has been that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of students who entered high school in 2002, are now in their third year of having less arts, or more likely, no arts at all (for some) as part of their high school experience. When they graduate next year, it will be too late for them. What cost will that have for the arts and for everyone in the future?

Is it not the responsbile thing for us to do to consider what we might try to salvage during this crisis, so that, as we work to re-establish funding streams at meaningful levels, we take steps to protect the fragile ecosystem that is now being undone? And an ecosystem is, is it not, composed of varying, disparate parts that, interdependent on each of its composition members, exist in a synergistic dynamic?

In many ways I am selfishly glad that I no longer have to make the hard choices of how to allocate scarce funds when the result will be extreme harm to some group, some organization, some sector. But still the decisions need to be made, and everyone needs to weigh in with what is the best thing we can and should do given the realities. And in that process, questions like whether or not the field is overbuilt will come up, and should be considered.

If the growth we sustained over the past two decades wasn't in danger then the overbuilt issue would be less relevant. 'But for' marketplace considerations, arguably there can't be too much arts. To paraphrase an observation made by Linus Pauling who said: "The best way to have a good idea, is to have lots of ideas" - the best way to have truly thrilling art may be to have lots of art. But the marketplace is a factor and we are in danger - and so, like it or not, all funders are making a decision about whether we are overbuilt or not by allocating their scarce resources based on whatever criteria they have developed.

The twin facts that there isn't enough money to go around, and that we need to do whatever we can to come out of the funding crisis as whole as we can, demand that we think about how and what we fund so as to maximize the chance for renewal and rebirth when that time comes. There are doubtless many more layers of issues involved in the question of whether the arts are overbuilt and what, if anything, to do about it - complex layers rich with nuances, controversy, implications and consequences - that demand careful thought and cautious approaches, but in the short term, the dismantling of the house we had built is underway, and if we want to save any of it, we need to deal with it. If your house is on fire, and you only have one hose, you ought to point it where it will do the most good to save at least something of your house. You can't fill a bunch of small cups and run around tossing them at all parts of the burning building and expect that to do any good.

"All lies in jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest..............."

Once again the internet has been abuzz with action and outrage about the latest Congressional attempt to eliminate crucial funding for Public Broadcasting. Hopefully, our collective voice will be heard and current amendments restoring funding will pass the floor today or tomorrow.
If we succeed in once again maintaining public funding for PBS, I hope, in that aftermath, we don't again complacently cry victory too loudly, because repeatedly having to defend ourselves is no victory. Victory would be growth in public spending support. We need to move from defense to offense - from being reactive to being proactive - from political impotency to political power. We simply can't continue ad infinitum to expend so much time and energy running in place - and we should understand what being really victorious means.

Maybe this is a good time for more of us to join the Americans for the Arts Action Fund - a small $20 investment in mounting the machinery that might, someday, move us closer to political power.

Click here for a related? article on what is going on at PBS:

Have a great week.
Don't Quit!

Monday, June 13, 2005

June 13, 2005 Update #6

Table of Contents:
I. Capacity / Sustainability Considered
II. Poltical Muscle - more thoughts
III. Bits & Pieces

Hello everyone.
And the beat goes on................

NOTE ON POSTING A COMMENT: If you want to post a comment to this Update or any other update / blog, click on the top line ("Update #6, date, Main Page)in your email message and you will go to the Westaf Blog site. Then scroll to the end of the paragraph to the line "comments" - click on that and scroll to the last comment and you can then type your own comment in the box. Clicking on "Preview" allows you to read your comment, then re-edit if you'd like. Clicking on "Post" publishes your comment to the site.) You can comment on what I say, or any of the comments previously made. To see comments added recently, you have to go to the site and see if there are any new comments (the number in the parenthesis is the total number of comments). If you want to read or re-read the whole update / blog or any part - you can click on the line "Continue reading...........". Thanks.

I. Capacity / Sustainability Considered
"I said, over and over and over again............."

There are six definitions in the Miriam Webster online dictionary for capacity. The one the seems to apply to what we are talking about is: "the facility or power to produce, perform, or deploy". So when we talk about capacity building, we are talking, I assume, about increasing arts organization's facility or power to do something. Thus, a grant made to increase the capacity of an arts organization in the marketing field, would have, as its outcome, that the organization would have greater facility or power to market itself in some way more effectively. Lord knows there are enough marketing programs, foundation studies, approaches, trainings, research, conferences etc. etc. that ostensibly try to do just that. And I have no doubt that most of them do, in some way, add to an organization's facility and power to market more effectively. The question is how much? Is the increase meaningful? Does it make a measurable difference? In audience size? In visibility? In fund raising? In program recognition? And then the bigger question is for how long does that increased facility and power last, really last?

Let's take a narrow slice of the overall marketing area - increasing audience size. Most funding that seeks to help arts organizations increase their audience size through marketing efforts is spent in three primary areas: 1) to hire marketing people - staff (full or part time) or consultants, that can help to manage the marketing function for the typical arts organization that doesn't have a big staff, deep pockets, real expertise or substantial resources; 2) to develop and/or execute some strategy or plan to target specific sectors or communities as part of a way to build a relationship with potential audiences - some kind of community outreach; or 3) to spend on actual advertising, or printed brochures or the like to reach the public and inform and educate them about whatever it is that they might be an audience for. There may be many other areas - research, press/visibility, mailings etc. etc. that might be the purpose of the funding.

So most organizations that spend the grant money they might get in one or more of these areas, do so until the grant is over and the money runs out. Do they achieve their goals? Undoubtedly, they are better off than they were before - but have they increased their audience substantiallly? And can that increase be maintained over time? And have their increased their facility or power to effectively expand their audience, over time, through marketing efforts? The missing piece seems to be in the grantee being able to establish a consistent new revenue stream that will provide the ongoing funds to keep whatever effort the original grant paid for (e.g., staff, outreach programs, and / or advertising, printed materials, mailings etc.) It is this provision for future revenue to "sustain" the projected increased capacity that is often marginalized.

Major arts organizations (big city symphonies, operas, museums, ballets etc.) usually have the biggest audiences - in part because they enjoy something akin to a monopoly within their territory. They are the big fish in the pond, have the most money, civic support, often times legacy and history on their sides, name recognition, media coverage, and they spend the most on advertising and courting audiences. I suspect that most other arts organizations may see a bump in attendance from grants supporting audience development, but, because the grant is usually of such a limited duration [and advertising and marketing usually take either a massive effort (read money) or a sustained period of time to really impact audience size], and because there is usually no provision for how to keep the person they hired, or continue the outreach they started, or sustain the advertising they made - the bump is usually small and often only short term. I can't help but thinking that despite our very good intentions, and a great deal of serious thought and work and effort by very talented people - funders and recipients alike - that we haven't gotten the result we wanted. To be sure, there are very complex and difficult challenges facing us, and it's much easier to criticize than come up with solutions. I seek not to criticize, but to ask us all to look deeper and to be honest with ourselves.

Now I might be completely wrong, and I would appreciate hearing about success stories - organizations that build meaningful capacity and sustained it, and how they did it.

But, in our attempts to increase capacity, shouldn't part of that effort be focused on how to we increase the revenue stream to the grantee organization so that they can "sustain" (which is our twin goal) whatever progress they make? But do we do that? And how do we do that? Or, even can we do that with the resources we have? And if we can, and decide to commit resources to try to do that, are we not forced to make a decision about who we can fund? (because the demand exceeds the supply of funds to address that objective). So, if we give more money, for longer periods of time, with some of that money meant to help the grantee build long term revenue streams, to fewer organizations, we might be helping to really increase capacity (and sustainability of that increased capacity), but only for specific (and increasingly fewer) organizations - arguably at the expense of the "capacity" of the whole field.

Don't get mad at me folks, I'm just trying to ask questions about whether or not we are spinning our wheels by not thinking our goals and protocols and assumptions through.

If you want bigger audiences, the way Hollywood or Major League Sports or even our own larger fine arts institutions do it is by increasing their advertising expenditures. Most arts groups don't have enough money to play that game - so we approach the issue and problem from other points, and, yes, that has succeeded to some degree, but it is highly questionable if we have really increased capacity, and even more doubtful that any such increase has been sustained.

Now it easier, say for a sports team to establish a "relationship" with the public - one that says that taking in a "game" is enjoyable and a pleasant way to spend time; easier for them to create going to a game as a habit, and that's because, for the most part, they enjoy an even bigger municipal monopoly than do the big symphonies, operas, museums etc. (There aren't twenty basketball teams in a given city - but there may be twenty dance companies. Yes, I know there may be twenty movie theaters just like twenty legit theaters in one area, but Hollywood only releases a few movies at a time, and they spend way more than we will ever be able to on advertising. They also have better "hype" machinery).

All the people that go to museums, theaters, symphonies, dance performances and the like is, in the aggregate, often a larger number than go to the sports events in a given period of time. And we have succeeded in establishing in some quarters that going to arts performances / exhibitions is a good way to spend one's leisure time and money. How do we expand that sector - both in terms of the number of people who feel that way, and the number of organizations who directly benefit from people who feel that way? The problem for us in the marketing arena is that not enough people feel that, and only a percentage of all arts organizations are the real direct beneficiaries of that feeling. Can we change that without providing for the long term sustainability of our successful efforts? Isn't that sustainability mostly a matter of funding?

So, what to do? Who knows? There are good arguments to keep doing what we've been doing, and good arguments to stop doing that and do something different (and many proposals for what "different" thing we should do). But one thing is clear to me at least, and that is that we need to question the objective - capacity - how we are trying to accomplish it, and particularly, and most importantly, how will whatever gains we make be sustainable over time.

II. Political Muscle
"If you want him to, only think of you,..........."

No foundation, no corporation, no aggregate of individual giving can equal the financial resources of government. If we are always going to be dependent on some kind of financial support beyond "earned income", government support ought to figure prominently in the mix (and government support is, in my mind, directly related to the issue of the sustainability of increased capacity efforts). I would again offer the opinion that making our case is not enough. We need to make our case, but we also need political power. And political power comes from lobbying and lobbying effectiveness comes from being involved in individual office seeker campaigns. We can't do that as 501 c (3) organizations, but we can do that if we form 501 c (4)corporations, and they, in turn, create PACs and other mechanisms. Until, we raise funds to support and staff those organizations and they, in turn, offer financial support to candidates that support us, we will be at a competitive disadvantage in the political situation where the demand for support exceeds the supply. Period. I hope people will start talking about this reality. Otherwise, emphasizing ONLY the "making of our case" is ridiculous, and will continue to yield marginal results. There are both policy and practical issues in a political approach that need widespread consideration.

III. Bits & Pieces:
*Here's a good website for when you're travelling:
 *And here's an irreverant NYC based take on the day's Hot Topics:

Have a great week.
And remember, Don't Quit.

Friday, June 3, 2005

June 3, 2005, Update #5

Table of Contents: 
I. Comment on what you read here.
II. Rand Report Revisited / The Supply - Demand Issue
III. Bits & Pieces

Hello everybody.
"And the beat goes on..............."

I apologize that I haven't "blogged" lately, but you know how it goes when you get busy, and so much stuff is happening, and you mean to get to something, but somehow it just stays on the TO DO list. I'll try to do better.

I got a lot of feedback on the idea of the arts owning their own printing plants. Some people thought it was a good idea, while others thought it had problems; some recommended specific printing companies, and some pointed out where cooperative ventures were working.

"You talk too much, you worry me to death......"

Starting this week, people can post comments right on this blog by clicking on the appropriate icon. If you want to post a comment to something in this blog, please try to be brief and concise in your remarks. WESTAF and I reserve the right to edit comments so they will fit, and we will do everything possible in that case to maintain the essence of what is being said. Comments can be read by anyone by going to the blog page from time to time and reading the comments that have been posted since your last visit. You can comment on comments made by others as well as what I say. We will probably try to limit comments to the current blog / update. So, if you have a reaction to something said - whether you agree or disagree - please take advantage of this opportunity for ongoing dialogue in our field. Please try not to personally attack anyone, keep the dialgoue professional, and know that there are many sides to any given issue, and that while the arts may not always be a bi-partisan issue everywhere - they should be. The worst thing we can do is make our cause one for polarization.

Have fun and go at it.

"So take it, to the limit, one more time.........."

Last week I participated in a panel hosted by the San Francisco chapter of Business Volunteers for the Arts as part of a multi-city presentation sponsored by Americans for the Arts as part of the merger between those two organizations. Moderated by John Kilacky of the San Francisco Foundation, other panelists included Bob Lynch, President of AFTA, Moy Eng of the Hewlett Foundation, Gary Steuer of BVA, and Naomi Sherida, the Executive Director of the San Francisco BVA did a great job and some 200 people showed up.

A focus of the discussion was on whether or not the arts might be better off trying to expand its audience rather than putting more resources into expanding the supply of the arts available to the public. While there is widespread agreement that the arts should not put all the eggs in one basket as it were and just do one or the other, I took the position that the arts might be overbuilt (meaning that we have, for too long, disproportionately directed funding to expanding and nurturing new arts organizations at the expense of building audiences and increasing public appreciation for, valuation of, and demand for the arts)with the result that we have largely failed in our attempt to do the two things that have been the goals of choice for the past decade: (a) increase "capacity", and (b) promote "sustainability".

What we've done is award grants (public and private) to as many organizations as possible in furtherance of these twin goals. But the reality has been that all we have done is buy a little time for most organizations. Those grantees have been glad to have funds to expand marketing, or fundraising activities, or outreach programs or whatever, and so they hired new people, launched new programs etc., and those were, by and large, very good programs, and the results were positive - for as long as the money was there, but when the money ran out, there was little way for them to continue whatever the project was. Five steps forward, four steps backwards. Yes, that did increase their capacity - for a brief period of time - but hardly any sustainability of that increased capacity. Moreover, by spreading funds too broadly we may have hampered real capacity building and it's sustainability by failing to: 1) direct enough support to mid-sized organizations capable of moving to a higher level, and 2) making sure that part of the grant and the policy behind it provided for the organization to address how the "increased capacity" would be sustained once the grant ran out. We might have been better off identifying organizations at a certain level and helping them to grow to that next level and to maintain that growth.

While the business community throughout the world has been engaged in consolidation and a certain downsizing so as to achieve increased efficiency, productivity and economy, we have been going in the opposite direction. The question is do we now have an industry weakened by too many entities, few of which have been able to advance their capacity over time, operating on shoe-string budgets compromising their efficiency, their reach and their competitiveness?

We have talked some about mergers and sharing of functions such as accounting, and about sharing space etc., but we haven't done much of this. The arts are, in some respects, like solo drivers on the freeway. Gridlock and bumper to bumper traffic results because the predominant reality is one person in one car.

Now, with dramatic reduction in available funding, we've lost ground in making the case, or at least, in winning increased public funding, or in getting the public to demand support for the arts, and I wonder if we have more or less capacity than we did, say five years ago.

Audiences have grown overall, but enough to support an increasingly growing supply? And have we increased the public demand for support for the existing supply? I'm not suggesting we consciously opt for less art - art will always be created. And the arts field, by and large, has focused not just on supporting the creation of art, but on the access to it.

I also took the position with respect to "making the case" for the arts, that reliance on making the case is a fool's paradise. We've made the case, arguably effectively, over and over again. The fact of our failure to win the political victories we need for public support on most levels is a result of the fact that we lack political power and muscle. The pie is only so big, and the demand exceeds the available funds. There are many causes every bit as worthy and wonderful as we are. 

We don't get our fair share because others out there offer the poltiical decision makers other reasons to give it to them, including political support. That's just the way it is. Yes we should make the case for the arts - and improve our arguments at every opportunity. But thinking that if we just make the case we will win the day is naive. We also need poltical clout.

These issues doubtless engender an almost endless debate, and I know that many people disagree with what I've said here. But I'm not taking a position so much as challenging the assumptions behind the policies. I hope that this issue is in the forefront of discussions about our future, because the questions of suppy and demand and where we focus, and the question of making the case without backup political power are both crucial to our success.

III. Bits & Pieces
* There is one way to increase the clout the Arts has, if only on the national level, and this is to join Americans for the Arts Action Fund - it only costs $20.00 (but once you join you can contribute to the affiliated PAC (political action committee), and I urge everyone to do that. The Fund has already had an impact nationally and it is a model of what we might all do on the state and local levels as well.
Click here to go to their page, and then click on Action Fund under the advocacy section for more info: www.

*Meant to include this in an earlier update. Check out the (supposedly) 100 Best Communities (School districts) for Music Education in America:

Have a great week. Don't Quit!