"And the beat goes on..............."
As a year end wrap up, I asked the members of the Hessenius Group this:
What is the one issue you think the arts should pay more attention to next year?
Increasing opportunities for people to express their own creativity through arts participation
Developing synergistic ties with both the informal, unincorporated arts sector, as well as small commercial (e.g. music, book and art supply stores)
Listening to the next generation of arts leaders and give them encouragement and support to implement ideas (some of which my generation might be uncomfortable)
Benefit from the increased participation, income and new ideas from above to take the time to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor.
I hope we focus on customer- and technology-driven programming, marketing and operations. How can we use the way people actually communicate and make decisions to make them choose us for their inspiration and entertainment?
My brain is spinning with the implications of what I've taken to calling the I-Pod Syndrome, and this is where I believe we need to focus our energies. Because, for all of the new gadgets and frantic new ways consumers have to construct their own virtual life, there is still a need and desire to connect with people. In fact, I would argue that the need is greater than ever, because there's only so much "virtual living" we can do. One only has to look at the sports world to know that the appeal of live events is huge. But with sports, the live event is only part of it. It's the rest of it, the pre and post game analysis, the online and water-cooler discussions, etc, that get people excited. It is the ownership of the experience that hooks them - what's stopping the arts from generating the same excitement? That's the question I hope we consider in the future.
In the world of YouTube and open source social and cultural networking how are the artists going to be paid in the future?
Several indicators and bubbling conversations seem to suggest that 2007 will focus more attention on the amateur arts...the non-professional enthusiasts and creative individuals who are finding a greater voice on-line, and seeking a more hands-on involvement in creative experience. This renewed focus (which isn't new at all, but ebbs and flows) will lead many professional organizations to rethink their interaction with nonprofessionals (tighter connections between professional symphonies and community symphonies, for example). And those who don't reconsider these connections will find the amateur artists convening without them.
Cultural planning and cooperation that incorporates the full range of creative activity -- informal, community, and professional -- may make some traditional professional nonprofits cranky at their shuffled place in the food chain. But a more balanced and inclusive ecology may make every player more strong.
With all the focus on developing new audiences, increasing participation, and growing donors and patrons, we continue as a field to pay no attention to the marketing and promotional images we use. Take a look at most any arts program from an arts event and look at the images included? Are there a variety of people with different faces and backgrounds shown? How many piano's with a dozen roses and our "best wishes" from a law office are there? By the way, do you see images of anyone under 45 among the pages other than charming well dressed children with hands folded? Not to mention that gray haired conductor in tails with his baton in the air?
Truly all of the work we have done as a national arts community can be lost if we do not take a hard look at the collatorial materials we and our designers create. As a group of people that pride themselves on their visual abilities, we are lost in a sea of outdated images and trite clip art.
It seems simple, but take a minute and look for yourself. If you took these programs to your grocery store and said...Hey is there a place for you here? I wonder what folks would say. Even the latest commercial for a national dog show has expanded its images of dogs to include show dogs, street dogs, barnyard dogs, and pampered pooches. Maybe we in the arts community should invite all the dogs to our events too.
We need to ensure that our elected officials view the arts and culture as an essential societal need, one worthy of investment (certainly) but also as a "full partner" at the table of public discourse. We've been invited to that table, from time to time, but I can't help feeling like we're expected to sit at the "kid's table". The "grown-ups" are at the table with health and human services, economic development and education, transportation and housing. We get to sit at that table, on occasion, but we are just a visitor. Let's improve that situation, and a lot more can happen as a result
Although it seems like an overly-discussed and well-exhausted subject, a challenge I continue to hear from many local arts administrators is how to increase participation in the arts. Even when arts organizations are able to have sufficient funding for their programming, it's their constant challenge to get people in the seats of their performances, in the streets for their downtown festivals, in the exhibition halls of their galleries, or in their facilities for programming.
In the next year, I believe arts organizations should explore potential partners that exist across the non-profit/for-profit creative divide. By doing this, I believe we can strengthen and energize the field, expand our audiences to younger demographics and create a new group of arts advocates. I'm not advocating for a turn to a more commercial or entertainment-driven arts field, but with the incredible shift of how individuals access cultural experiences, I think the time is ripe to explore new ways of partnering with organizations or businesses that are outside of the groups that we traditionally seek out. If people aren't in your audience, how might we develop ways to provide artistic experiences in an unusual setting? Over the next year, what is one thing that your organization can do that is different and unexpected?
In the midst of creative industies data, the expanded breadth and capacity of the commercial arts, the quality of electronic delivery systems, and the massive growth of unincorporated arts activity (choral arts, folks arts being just two examples), I think that the key issue that the 'arts' need to pay attention to is one of identity. What do we mean when we say the 'arts', the whole gamut? When we look at particiation in the 'arts' do we look at the almost 100% participation in the full spectrum or the latest % in the NEA study of nonprofit arts participation. And at the core what is it that we are actually for accomplishing as an industry or a set of concerned citizens who love the arts. Do we want to fight for more money for more non profit arts activity. Do we want to fight for more support for quality for art whether non profit or for profit. Do we want something else entirely.
I believe a key issue for 2007 is Advocacy. Specifically, we need to focus on developing new resources for the arts industry in collaboration with elected officials. This could include the following:
Legislation to stimulate new revenue
I think there are two very important questions actually. The first is the changing nature of financial resources for the arts. As a funder I am concerned that the dollars that come to us continually have more strings attached, forcing our constituents to change themselves in order to chase the dollars. This is happening at all levels, federal initiatives, return on investment requirements for hotel/occupancy (tourism) dollars, the wishes of private sector donors, etc.
The second is succession planning.
My mantra remains increasing general public awareness, relevance and access to what the arts have to offer.
This is the year for arts administrators engaged in work across the field to cease being in denial about their need to take a leadership role in the advancement of arts education. Whether arts education will occur in the schools in the future or not, we must take the steps necessary to ensure all young people, K-12, have access to a quality, sequential arts education. The young people of today need access to aesthetic tools and also to know the language of the arts in order to create tomorrowâ€™s art.
The use of technology has really democratized the arts in that more people have more access to more art than ever before. However, with that access comes issues of content, standards, complexity and depth. On the one hand there seems to be a willingness on the part of audiences to dabble in installation art, digital art, film and video. Often the new forms of art are flashy and visually stunning. The average person is more willing to allow cutting edge art into their life. "The arts" however seem not to take the digital means or modes seriously with respect to funding, policy development, marketing etc. often relegating them to "entertainment media." So at the same time more people spend more time on-line and using the new transmission devices of the future, I-Pods, mobile devices of all sorts, the arts infrastructure seems not to be incorporating these forms into their offerings.
So the issue is: Are we missing a huge opportunity here? Is digital transmission the mode of the future or do we expect to re-capture the attention of audiences back to more traditional forms of art? Is it okay that much of the art making and patronage will occur in the commercial venues of on-line transmission? Maybe it is. Maybe the new access is through a personal choice made in the privacy of one's study or sitting at a coffee house. If the arts want to embrace digital transmission ought we start taking steps to do more broadcasting, web-casts, satellite radio or pod-casting? Shouldn't we get more involved in debates on what is (are) the new esthetic(s)?
Well, that depends where you are in "the arts." If you are an artist or arts organization, I'd recommend paying attention to how the experience you offer connects with, complements and competes with all the other alternative ways people could spend their time--especially how your experience connects meaningfully with what people consider the most important ways they spend their time. If you are a participant or advocate, I'd recommend paying attention to how you can share the arts experience you value with at least one person, hopefully two or three, who can do something to sustain or increase the resources available to the arts. Sharing the experience with a valued companion and an understanding of what your role in making it available should be is more powerful than a stack of arguments, however well phrased and documented.
How do artists make their living now? What are the areas of enormous opportunity and what are the greatest challenges? (To identify ways in which philanthropy can be more helpful and strategic)
The biggest issue I see for 2007 in the arts is the growing focus on the role of the arts in workforce readiness, and worker attraction and retention. This knits together arts education with arts and business with lifelong learning into one seamless cradle-to-grave value proposition for the arts that directly links the arts to global competitiveness and the 21st century workforce.
For me, the issue is how to involve more young people in the arts -- beyond the generational succession issue, (really across the broad spectrum of governance - i.e., more young people on our boards, on our staffs, as volunteers, and as advocates and boosters on our behalf, as financial supporters and contributors, and finally as members of our audiences. How do we attract and retain the involvement of more young people now(and how will we fare in that effort over the next decade as the pool of young people to recruit from gets smaller and the demand for those people grows and becomes much more competitive?)
If YOU have a thought on what issue the arts should be focusing on next year, please enter it as a comment below and I will integrate your thoughts onto the main blog page each day.
Thank you to all the members of the HESSENIUS Group, for their participation this past year, and to all of you for following along and for what you all do every day to keep the arts alive and well in America.
Have a great week,
CLICK ON THE COMMENTS LINE BELOW TO READ THE VIEWER'S THOUGHTS ON WHICH ISSUES THE ARTS OUGHT TO SPEND MORE TIME ON NEXT YEAR.