Wednesday, January 24, 2007

January 24, 2007

Hello and a belated Happy New Year to you all.

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

I'm making a few changes to the Blog that I hope will make it both more interesting and of greater use to you.

First, the HESSENIUS Group - the McLaughlin style roundtable discussion with five to six of the group members (now numbering some 25+ of the country's foremost leaders in the nonprofit arts sector)addressing major issues in the arts over a two day blog dialogue - will now run six times a year or approximately every other month. First up will be a discussion of why America so values "celebrity", and so undervalues the artist. I hope to have the group consider this question in February (subject to some international travelling I am doing).

In the alternate months, when the HESSENIUS Group isn't featured, I will present a series of one-on-one in-depth interviews with leaders in the arts field. First up, is an interview with JOHN KREIDLER - recently retired Executive Director of Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley, and formerly the Senior Program Director for the Arts & Humanities Program of the San Francisco Foundation (see bio below). Cultural Initiatives is itself an interesting organization in that it was designed to work with the Silicon Valley community to promote and facilitate arts education in the county's schools, and had a built-in "sunset" provision that mandated that it would cease doing business after a specified period of time. It thought it could accomplish its stated mission objectives within that time period, and it did, and true to its charter, it wound up its business and has ceased official operations.

Third, I am going to try to attend four or five of the major arts conferences this year (Americans for the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts, Association of Performing Arts Presenters - next January, and a couple of others)and be your roving reporter at these conferences - reporting back to you each day via this blog on the buzz I overhear, conversations I might have with delegates to these conventions, information gleaned from keynote speakers and select breakout sessions, news about new research, developments, funding or whatever else I can pick up that I think might be of use, or interest, to at least some of you. My purpose is to give you a sense of what went on at some of our major covenings that you might have liked to attend, but for whatever reasons were not able to get to.

Other blogs during the course of the year will be my usual take on issues that I think are of importance to the field, along with my thoughts, opinions and analyses. And I will try to offer these blogs every month.

And finally, I will soon be announcing the launch of a brand new version of barry's blog, this new one directed and targeted at working artists - focusing on issues that are relevant and important to artists (whereas the current blog is directed towards arts administrators).

So, here is John Kreidler's bio:

Until December 31, 2006, John Kreidler served as Executive Director of Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley: an organization focused on improvements in public school arts education, advancements in avocational arts, and development of business and civic leadership supportive of the arts. As planned, Cultural Initiatives closed on the tenth anniversary of Silicon Valley's regional cultural plan, so John is currently involved in several projects, including a new cultural policy simulation entitled, Creative Drive. He is the principal designer of a 2001 cultural policy simulation entitled, Great Cities, and co-author of The Creative Community Index, an analysis of cultural activities and aspirations in Silicon Valley. For the two decades prior to Cultural Initiatives, Mr. Kreidler worked for The San Francisco Foundation in the post of Senior Program Executive for the Arts and Humanities. While in this post, he began to design computer simulations of cultural policy and wrote a widely published article, Leverage Lost, about the systemic history of the American nonprofit arts environment. Early in his career, he worked in Washington for the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, where he served as a policy and budget analyst specializing in Federal government labor programs. Mr. Kreidler currently teaches a class on the art, politics and culture of medieval Sienna, Italy for the U.C. Santa Cruz Extension, and has been a frequent lecturer at the Stanford University School of Business, University of San Francisco Public Management Institute, University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business, and University of Wisconsin Arts Administration Program. He holds an undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Masters Degree in Public Administration, also from Berkeley.

And here is the interview with John:

BARRY: You've been involved in trying to establish (or perhaps re-establish is a better way to put it) arts education in the schools in Silicon Valley for the past ten years or so. What are the principal lessons you've learned from that experience?

JOHN: The first thing that struck me when I began at Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley was that everybody wanted arts education. . A survey was done in 1997 in Santa Clara as part of a master county wide cultural planning process and 90% of all the people surveyed and it cut across race, income and education levels, geography it was really a representative sample of the whole county almost everyone wanted more arts education. Teachers, parents, administrators, everybody. I think there is an almost universal feeling, in California anyway, that the schools have failed in providing creative education, and people want more of it. So for me it was almost as though there was a mandate to do this, and I think that reservoir of good will is important to recognize.

BARRY: Why did we lose arts education in the schools in the first place then?

JOHN: It started in 1970 with the Ryan Act which eliminated any requirement for California classroom teachers to have any training in the arts which insidiously created a lack of sympathy to the value of the arts. Over time it had the effect of eliminating any active advocacy for the arts and negating any real understanding of the arts or the value of arts education. It some ways, people turned on the arts as a reaction against permissive education. It harkens back to Superintendent of Public Instruction (the California statewide elected chief of education) Max Rafferty days when the sentiment was that education was becoming too liberal - not necessarily in the political sense, but education was viewed as too permissive. There was a back to fundamentals movement, and art was not considered a fundamental; it was the beginning of the math / reading push and relegation of the arts as not an academic subject. And, of course, budget deficits and economic downturns only solidified removal of the arts from the core curriculum. The trend line seems to have begun to change in the mid 90's perhaps with the Getty Foundation pushing for state standards in arts education which were, I think, adopted in 1999 / 2000 somewhere in that period. And ultimately, all the efforts of arts supporters began to lead to a groundswell of demand for more arts education. Then the Ryan Act was repealed in 2002 and we've made strides in the push for a reintroduction of the arts. But, I think, now it will still be a generation or even two before we can fully put the arts back into the schools because we have to get teachers and administrators back into the system who understand and care about arts education and that doesn't happen with just a change in appropriation or standards.

BARRY: So of the $105 million for arts education that the Governor put in this year's budget as an ongoing line item, which is to be allocated on a per pupil county by county basis, do you know how the money is likely to be spent in each school district?

JOHN: Out of 58 counties and however many school districts there are, the majority are probably not prepared yet to spend the money. There are five or six counties in California. I can think of (Santa Clara, LA, SF, Alameda Santa Cruz)) that are prepared out of the box to move forward. There is an effort through the statewide association of county superintendents offices to deal with appropriation of these funds this year, but it's all on a district by district basis, and while my understanding is that there was some effort to include language governing allocation of the money to standards based arts education, however the individual counties wanted to proceed, I'm not sure that language made it into the statute. It's common where money for any project is first put out that local bodies aren't necessarily ready to spend the money, and I'm not ready to say that all the money will be spent wisely this year, but that doesn't mean that next year appropriation language (mandating spending the money on sequential, standards based arts education) won't be required. The good news is that there is an effort underway to study all of this as it's happening. The Hewlett Foundation is putting up the money to do a study as to how this is all implemented so we will have some sort of baseline to build on.

BARRY: What are the next steps?

JOHN: Well, I know there are school administrators that feel that what the governor owes them (given the money taken from their allocation in the past) is now unrestricted money not money restricted to arts education or physical education, and so this doesn't necessarily make them happy. I know district administrators who are pro arts who are not happy that the money is coming back this way. So that is the context in which we are operating.

Looking at those districts in the state that have been actively trying to reinstate the arts as universally available to their student populations, I think there are several lessons: First of all, one of the reasons I went to work in Silicon Valley in the first place is that I loved the fact that a plan had been set forth to bring arts education back and that the plan recognized that every district, even every classroom is different, so that if you're going to make a difference you have to give up very early the idea that one size fits all. No outside intervenor including nonprofit arts organizations can say ok every class has to have this or that. Trying to impose a model top down will result in failing really badly.

The ultimate goal is that kids get exposure to aesthetics, to actually making art, to be able to criticize, to think freely and creatively and have some sense of tradition and history and those are the elements that we want kids to experience by the time they get out of school and that's not going to happen in five years. It's probably going to take a generation or two. I think in Silicon Valley its going to take another 25 years to get us all to a point where we would agree would be the point we want to get to, and we've been laying the groundwork here for eight years so in some ways we are ahead of the curve.

So here are the building blocks then: First, it takes sitting down with schools that are willing to change. I don't think outsider intervenors or just money coming in is necessarily going to change attitudes and so in Silicon Valley we have only gone into the school districts that have wanted us. We've used money as the lure, but what we've said to school districts is: Here's what we want to do with you, (not to you) and this money is available to you if you will begin a plan, and do a needs assessment, to provide arts education to all kids based on the statewide adopted standards. We'll assess together, plan together, and then we'll give you money and you can do whatever you want with it hire teachers, spend it on programs as long as you're building towards the ideal of universal arts education based on standards it's up to you. So the first lesson is that every district is unique.

Just putting the money on the table doesn't mean the job is going to get done. If I was going to be appropriating the $105 million and I wanted to get the most bang for the buck, I wouldn't go about it on a per capita basis, but that's what the politics favor and we all know how that works. Still, in the end, even though several leading county offices of education are being set up to provide technical assistance in the allocation of the funding, it still comes down to whether or not those individuals in charge are going to be open and sympathetic to the arts and knowledgeable about the issues involved. And inevitably, the situation is going to be different in each district. And that's the second lesson the local district administrators, teachers, educators have got to come to know the issues attendant with arts education, and many don't yet.

Now in Silicon Valley, I'm encouraged. Over the last eight years we got our program going in three fourths of the elementary school districts.. They had assessed, developed and formally adopted plans that met the state standards for arts education including curriculum. Their plans were different some started from weak positions, some were already strong, and our money helped them all to do planning, teacher training, and move forward, but it took us eight years. And we still didn't get a quarter of them  primarily those schools in lower performing districts where they felt significant pressure from the Federal government due to the No child left behind Act. But by the time we finished after eight years, that last quarter of schools all wanted in but by then we were shutting down. Now our program (and our staff and funding) has moved over to the country office of education and they are beginning to work with that last one quarter of schools.

BARRY: What are the dangers facing the arts?

JOHN: I don't have any worry about the future of art itself.. I feel confident that art will survive. The question is more one of will people have access to the arts. To me the great, great danger in the United States is that we all just become consumers of art, and that we're no longer activist ourselves at making art; that we simply turn on the television or go to our favorite opera when we think about art. I don't care if art is created by a for profit or nonprofit, by amateurs or professionals my point is that for the arts to really survive Americans need to be involved as creators not just customers.

BARRY: You spent a large portion of your career in the foundation world. What is the biggest mistake foundations continue to make with respect to their funding of the arts? (or put another way what opportunity to make a real impact is the foundation community perhaps inadvertently squandering?)

JOHN: First, I believe that a variety of American arts funders, and foundations in particular, rescued the arts from the doldrums of the 1950s. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations led this movement, which was then picked up by the NEA when it was founded in 1965, and later by a host of other funders, mostly operating at the state and local levels. The main objective of this movement was to stabilize venerable arts institutions and to start new ones. In large part, the mantra of this movement was to improve the quality of American arts, mostly in response to a shared belief that U.S. arts were inferior to Soviet and European arts. Although I've never subscribed to the notion of national cultural inferiority, I would say that much good came from the early emphasis on institutional stability and development. In California, one has only to look at the remarkable variety of nonprofit cultural institutions that now exists, in comparison to the landscape of the 1950s. The mistake, as I now view this landscape, is that many funders are continuing to follow the institutional stabilization and development approaches of the past irrespective of shifts in taste, demographics (age, race, education, income, etc) and developments in the commercial culture. In my view, we need to look at the entire ecology of the arts in California, including the state of arts education, participatory forms of cultural expression, and the professional sector of artistic goods and services, and then make investments that serve the interests of the broadest number of people, and that move toward a condition of cultural health.

BARRY: What will be the most obvious differences in the way the typical nonprofit arts organization looks ten years from now?

JOHN: I would guess that there will be fewer professional nonprofit arts organizations in the future because the clientele that they serve is becoming smaller and because the commercial arts sector continues to expand. Increasingly, I expect the nonprofit arts sector to serve relatively narrow niche markets.

BARRY: If you had ten million dollars to invest to improve the lot of nonprofit arts organizations how would you spend it?

JOHN: With $10 million, I would found 10 regional centers throughout California based on the model of San Francisco's South of Market Cultural Center. The Center is a large old industrial building bulging with trucks and equipment that are used to support all manner of parades, festivals and neighborhood arts activities throughout the City. The staff of the Center is a brilliant group of community arts activists, including Jack Davis and Ernie Rivera, that has been at work for more than 35 years in the service of community cultural expression. I believe that much of San Francisco's cultural vitality, especially its rich menu of parades and festivals, can be traced to the South of Market Cultural Center, and it's not a massively expensive enterprise to duplicate in other places.

BARRY: What is the one area you always meant to work on but never had time to get to?

JOHN: Banjo. Ten years ago, I purchased a banjo with the intention of learning basic bluegrass music. Given that I'm left-handed, my expectations of achieving a high level of performance were never high, but the truth is, that banjo has hardly been touched in the past decade.

More to the point of this blog, I've wanted to develop a computer-based simulation of the dynamics of the arts in a regional environment. Until arts leaders have a better understanding of the key dynamic factors driving our sector, the sector will be in a weak position to articulate cogent policy. If the arts and culture are ever to be taken seriously as a policy field, on a par, let's say, with the economy, health care and the environment, we will need to use some of the same modeling and simulation tools that these fields have adopted over the past half century. In 2000, Cultural Initiatives released the first-ever model of a regional arts ecosystem, a simulation-game entitled Great Cities. At present, I'm at work on a more ambitious user-defined simulation entitled Creative Drive, which attempts to move toward the level of sophistication found in leading econometric, health care and environmental models. By mid-2007, I expect that Creative Drive will be ready for release as an Internet-based simulation, though a lot more effort will be needed to achieve the level of models in use by other policy fields.

BARRY: What are the three most important skills the successful nonprofit Executive Director should possess?

JOHN: Avoid all aphorisms regarding the most important skills the successful nonprofit Executive Director should possess.

BARRY: What do you think the arts can (should) do to insure that the field will successfully recruit new young people to lead its organizations, comprise its audiences, support it financially and advocate for its needs in the future?

JOHN: Echoing a previous point, I am concerned about young people becoming passive consumers of culture, and not having the capacity to actively engage in active forms of cultural expression. Cultural Initiatives view has been that the foundation of culturally healthy individuals and communities is literacy in the fundamentals of arts and culture: Fluency in arts practice (e.g. singing, drawing), cultural traditions, aesthetics and criticism. Better formal arts education is an important driver of literacy in culture, but there are many other drivers as well, including families, communities, commercial media, and religious institutions.

Thank you John.

Everybody have a great week, and
Don't Quit.