Barry's Blog - April 3, 2007"And the beat goes on......................"
This blog is about organizations that try to serve in some direct way the needs of the nation's artists.
The National Association of Artists' Organizations [NAAO] is a nonprofit dedicated to serving and strengthening artist-driven groups and organizations. NAAO addresses the field's ongoing struggle with issues relating to artists' rights, organizational stability, working conditions, and professional isolation across all disciplines and communities.
NAAO had been in existence previously, but had struggled to stay alive. The current incarnation is the result of a group of dedicated people across the couuntry who believe that there needs to be a national umbrella service provider organization for all of those arts organizations in America that have as their primary mission serving artists. Of course, virtually all arts organizations in America serve artists in one way or another, directly or indirectly - some providing technical assistance, others funding, still others performance and exhibition training, opportunities and more. There are groups like Lawyers for the Arts that provide educational services directly to artists via workshops, seminars and publications; there are local arts agencies that serve artists in communites wide and far, and presenting groups and multicultural organizations that are trying to address various needs of the nation's artists - and all of these organizations might benefit from belonging to a national umbrella group that could provide networking and other opportunities to share and exchange information and serve as an organizer of various aspects of doing business as an organization that primarily serves our artists.
NAAO is trying to fill that role. All of us in the arts sector have too many demands on our limited time, too many things on our plates, too little money, and so it is difficult to try to grow a national effort to unite any segment of our wider community. But I have seen efforts like what Sam Miller is doing with LINK or Cora Mirikitani is doing with The Center for Cultural Innovation grow in the recent past, and I think perhaps the time is right to again try to nurture a national umbrella group to serve all of these diverse efforts. That is the primary reason I joined NAAO's Board of Directors when invited to do so several months ago.
NAAO is hosting a national conference in Los Angeles, California April 26-29. Entitled VITALSIGNs: the conference will address the needs of both those organizations serving artists and the artists themselves.
The conference will address the internal and external challenges organizations dealing with artists face and to forge and mobilize collective responses to these challenges by providing convening, communications, visibility, and voice. Issues covered will range from health insurance for individual artists, to advocacy; there will be workshops on such diverse subjects as marketing for artists to creating and using websites, from recording and selling music to earned income strategies for artists.
Click here for Details on the conference: www.naao.net
This conference represents a ground floor opportunity to build a new national organization that can help the specific segment of our community that deals primarily with serving artists directly. If NAAO's effort succeeds, years from now people will look back on this gathering as the beginning of putting a face on the entire artist driven wing of our community - including the first real attempt in a long, long time to begin to organize artists. That is what I find really exciting.
I have long thought that we were missing the boat by not attempting to organize the artist community in some way to harness that incredible talent, intelligence and power of the sheer number of our artists. Imagine what a political advocacy and lobbying force might be created if our artists, at some point, decided that they wanted to be such a force and take more control of their futures. Imagine what influence even a semi-organized effort might exert -- on schools and young people, on the media, on politicans.
Moreover, if artists ever do decide to really organize themselves in some way - they will find many issues of great importance to them can then be more easily addressed. If just one million of the nation's ten, twenty million member artist / creative class were to loosely organize, as a group, they could easily negotiate health care at a reasonable price for all their members - something artist's don't have right now. The mind reels with what might be accomplished.
I know the "organizing" might be anathema to artists - contrary to what an artist, by temperment, is thought to be - like herding cats, one can't organize "free spirits" - but that's not really true in my experience -- artists are also practical, smart business-savvy people (they have to be to survive in a culture that so little values artists and teachers and the like)and we won't change America's failure to exhalt artistic accomplishment instead of celebrity nonsense without some organizing.
So, I hope at least people in southern California - and hopefully from across the country, will come to this NAAO gathering in Los Angeles - April 26 - 29.
NEXT MONTH PREVIEW: Next month's blogs will feature an interview with Nancy Glaze - retired after 20+ years in the arts and her involvement with the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, and the release of the Youth Involvement in the Arts Report - findings and recommendations of the study conducted for the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation on generational succession issues in the arts.
Have a great week.