Tuesday, December 18, 2007

December 18, 2007


Hello everybody.

Happy Holidays to you all.

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


For the last two years, I have included as the last blog of the calendar year, a year end wrap-up of predicitions, review and thoughts from members of my little group of arts leaders about where our sector has been in the past year, and where we are headed in the coming year. I have asked my group members if they would share their sense of what we face in the upcoming year, what might be priorities on our agendas, what issues might dominate our thinking and demand our responses, and what we might hope to accomplish.

I again asked my group members (some twenty strong) to particiapate in this exercise. This year I got only eight responses (which I include later in this blog). I must admit that I was both surprised and disappointed, but quickly came to the conclusion that this light response really was an observation in itself - at least pointing up one issue that I personally think will grow in 2008 - and that is the continuing fact that most of those of you actively involved in running organizations in the nonprofit arts & culture sector simply have more to do and less time to do it in than ever before. The economy continues to make it difficult to expand staffing to levels adequate to deal with the increase in all the things we need to do. That fact, of course, echoes what is going on in the private sector --businesses are finding it difficult to expand, and are, rather, contracting, downsizing and having to find ways to become more efficient, remain competitive, and perhaps even increase productivity (certainly there remain pressures on them to increase shareholder value) - all on less, not more money.

One difference between certain segments of the private sector and the arts universe, is that the private sector seem to have more tools available to them (and perhaps the willingness to spend money and time developing tools)to help them to effectively manage that downsizing, that cutting back, that contraction of their business enterprises. They seem to be further along than we are in terms of figuring out how to accomplish a re-prioritization of their goals, of arriving at ways their leadership and staffs can handle the increased workloads with greater efficiency. They seem to approach the challenge in a much more organized way than we do.

I wonder if there isn't something that can be done to develop tools(perhaps borrow where we can from the private sector - assuming they would share that knowledge with us)that would enhance our capacity to remain equally competitive during the current financial change in the forces that govern our paradign. Are there not lessons we can impart to our organizations about "organizational dynamics" that will help our people deal with the challenges of more to do and less time to do it.

Obviously it is folly to try to put round pegs in square holes. But that's not the challenge. The challenge is how to fill the square holes with the pegs we have and there must be knowledge, tools, strategies, best practices and lessons learned that we can identify, appropriate, or develop that will make the task easier for our people.

I think the issue of time management and the consequences of not prioritizing will be an increasingly important issue for our sector in 2008. And the ability of our field to systemically deal with this kind of a problem, to somehow mimic the private sector in their approach to tackling these kinds of challenges head-on, will likewise be an issue for the future. We are a field, but too often we don't act like an unified field -- we remain a vivisected, isolated, fractionated amalgam of organizations that fail to think systemically and work together. I believe that really hurts us in many ways - some obvious, some hidden. We have to begin to think out-of-the-box as it were in terms of ways we can collaborate and share. I hope the challenge of how we function and operate as a "field" becomes an issue in 2008 that we can begin to try to address.

I usually don't spend much time in these year end blogs with my own thoughts on the future -- primarily because most of the issues I would likely identify, are already explored by the people in my group in their thoughts and ideas, but, for whatever it may be worth, let me share a few thoughts this year, with the hope that as "left field" as they might be, they will stimulate debate and dialgoue -- which continues to be my real puprose in this blog.

First, I think as Americans, we perceive this year as important an election year as we have had in decades. Of course every election cycle begins with candidates saying that this is a crucial and critical time in our history, and I suppose there is truth every time they say it. But after the past eight years, when America has come as close as it ever has in our lifetimes, to beginning to lose its status as a world leader and player, I would argue that there is a palatable sense within the public that there is a lot at stake this time. For many of us, we see that the intangibles that have held us together for so long are beginning to crumble -- that we are in danger of losing whatever it was that bound us together with a common destiny as "Americans" and that if we keep down the road of red states vs. blue states, of true believes and not, of this group and that - we might just lose our identity as a people. Despite what we may do, that may or may not happen anyway - who knows. But it certainly ups the stakes this year. Some are excited by the choices in leadership they have. Partisans are quick to point out their heroes.

All I know is that there is a growing consensus that there is a lot at stake. I believe that feeling will spark a creative boon. By creative boon I mean that at certain times, in certain cycles, there is an upsurge in creativity - in art. I have no idea if artists will be optimistic or pessimistic, enthusiastic and hopeful, or defeated and depressed and - or if - any of that will be manifested in the work. I just think there will be more art created, more interest in it, than has been the norm - beginning in 2008. I don't know what that necessarily means for artists, arts organizations or any of us in the field. It may mean an easier time to raise money, or not; it may mean arts education will finally take hold in the general population as a core value, or it may not; it may mean a rise in the valuation of the artist in society, or not.


1. Generational leadership succession;
2. Development (and sharing) of new and effective marketing strategies and audience development approaches and basic assumptions;
3. Governmemnt funding;
4. Arts education as a core priority; and
5. Integration of the artist and the arts administration communities

will all be issues I think we will need to face head on in 2008. Obviously, there will be others.
I will offer one specific prediction: I do think that because this is a landmark election year, and because it's been growing as an issue in our community, 2008 will mark a turning point in the arts sector finally understanding and appreciating that it must, and can successfully, become more politically active and powerful in its own interest and defense and that we will, at least, approach a "tipping-point" on political involvement as part of our daily nonprofit arts lives. I look at the success of Americans for the Arts PAC and the fact that Huckabee and Richardson have both specifically mentioned the arts in debates (unheard of in the last presidential election), and I am encouraged that we've begun to change. It won't all happen at once, but I belive it will happen in a manifest and significant way. I, for one, hope so.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Here are what my group members shared with me:

I hope that we will look back at 2008 as a turning point because:
- A new president is elected who restores our national integrity and global leadership;
- Arts funders find a critical mass, and the will, to finally figure out what to do about the growing number of fragile small and midsized arts organizations;
- Artists in California get their collective voices heard, and state legislation is passed that guarantees quality, affordable health care for them and other self-employed individuals;
- Everyone I know stays healthy, and feels happy and productive in their work, throughout the year

I expect that participation in the arts will grow in the public-benefit sector (which we unfortunately refer to as “non-profit”), grow in the commercial sector, and grow in the unincorporated and amateur sectors. The public benefit arts sector will continue to grow in maturity and political sophistication, increasingly connected through such events as the National Performing Arts Conference and Arts Advocacy Day, such networks as the Cultural Advocacy Group and the Arts Education Partnership, and the themes of “public value” and “creative economy.” I expect, however, that participation in the commercial, unincorporated and amateur sectors will outpace growth in the public benefit sector, and that will make the relationships that both public- and private-sector funders have with their current grantees increasingly a subject of re-evaluation and negotiation. Furthermore, the arts participation habits of young people will become increasingly powerful drivers in the commercial, unincorporated and amateur realms, and the orientation of public benefit groups and their service organizations towards adaptation will tip from observation and research to embrace and investment.

One of the most powerful factors influencing the breadth and quality of participation in the arts, arts education, remains a huge question mark. In the coming year, results of Wallace, Ford and Dana foundation investments will add to the evidence and tactical knowledge available to advocates. But education decision makers—and the public they serve—continue to withdraw resources as evidence of the value of arts learning becomes more and more compelling, and the public school drop-out rate continues at catastrophic levels.

Meanwhile, all groups in the public benefit arts world will jockey for influence in the next federal administration. In the ideal world, a new administration would offer a special opportunity for collaborative orientation, shared analysis of the environment, and development of a national agenda. May we approach a little closer to the ideal world in 2008.

I do not have much to contribute Barry. I see the arts a little adrift. The arts profile right now politically is pretty slight, which may be a good thing. I think the agenda of the 80s and 90s and into early years of this decade to expand the arts to disinclined or uninclined populations is at a standstill. A lot of artists and organizations I know are concentrating on dealing with changes in their artform and on better customer service and not looking at public policy. On the other hand availability of product is pretty good. I am not sure what it means. I think the public thinks they are engaged in arts every day and do not resonate with clarion calls for increased spending for non-profits. At the same time, I don't see the arts slipping much either. I think the trend of increased interest in visual and media arts and softer interest in traditional forms such as classical music will continue.

I do not see the arts having a strong profile among presidential candidates. Consequently I have a wait and see attitude toward the arts in the next year or so.

Have a good holiday.

Hey, Barry. Rhode Island is under a foot of snow, and we're handling it really, really well. So, as I look ahead to 2008, my thoughts are that the arts sector should insist on what other sectors take for granted: the ability to be taken seriously as a valued and contributing member of our state's (and country's) business community. No one would think of not inviting the financial services sector "to the table" for discussions of substance. The same should be a given for the arts sector. As long as we are an afterthought or an amenity in the minds of our political and business leaders we are subject to the kinds of reductions and eliminations that other sectors wouldn't tolerate for a minute. The Rhode Island budget is in terrible shape, and I need to make the old arguments all over again.

Boy, I'm in a good mood. Happy holidays to all.

2008, pragmatically, will be about the election. What will it do to the power of our marketing dollars, to the focus of our customers, to the government support for our efforts? How will the political machine's focus on new media change the way the arts use these fascinating and challenging tools? I don't know, but it's sure going to be interesting to launch a Broadway show on election night.

Stepping back to a less pragmatic view point, Andrew Taylor's Artful Manager blog recently featured an entry on how "local" isn't necessarily local anymore. In this case, it was DJs recording a show on one side of the country and audiences hearing it on the other side, complete with local customization. In Andrew's words: "...when local isn't local anymore, it's worth a moment's pause." It sure is, but I see it as another sign of what could happen in 2008 and beyond.

Everything is about virtual life these days. I-Pod's, Facebook, you name it - we are in control of our virtual life. Consumers are demanding more choice and more information and making decisions based on the opinions of trusted amateurs rather than "experts" or retail managers. It's a whole new world out there, and retailers and businesses of all types are scrambling to keep up.

But it's my strong belief that as this virtual and consumer-driven world evolves, there is a vital and desired place for live performance. After all, the more we exist online, the more we will eventually crave real experiences. As the market is continually flooded with more niche products and customized consumer experiences, we offer the beauty and meaning of coming together in a community. Churches figured this out a long time ago. Now it's our turn.

Thanks, Barry, for the opportunity to participate in this great forum of leaders and thinkers. Happy New Year everyone, and I wish you all a very inspiring and successful 2008!

Much of what I believe is important to pay attention to in the coming year is included in the Americans for the Arts Monograph "The Arts in Transition: Preparing for a Sustainable Future" that I co-authored with Bill Moskin. In it, we highlight a number of topics that may dictate the health and nature of the sector in the very near future. One obvious area to pay attention to is the generational shift that is underway as the baby boomers retire. This will bring a variety of challenges as the sensibilities and experience of each generation differ. Another hot topic is the impact of the digital world and its effect how art is produced, delivered and experienced. This and other factors will influence the delivery system for the arts. Those organizations that have developed over the past 30 years should be prepared to adapt to these changes and funders must be quick to recognize innovative organizations and projects if we are to keep pace and keep the arts sector healthy.

I am (cautiously) optimistic about 2008--I believe we will see a continuation of the positive shift in our political and cultural landscape. In the past year, arts organizations and artists have embraced new technologies in innovative ways. The coming year will continue this trend, with arts organizations increasing engagement with audiences and constituents through the use of highly interactive technology. Additionally, my hope is that the arts field will begin to explore new avenues for offering audiences participatory experiences on the web. As people's leisure habits shift, the arts must be poised to take the lead in developing creative ways to provide cultural experiences to a community whose inclination to enter the symphony hall or museum may be waning. By using our greatest asset--creativity!--we can take a proactive role in providing the arts to audiences, in new, fun and unique ways.

Here are some thoughts from me on what the arts sector faces in 2008:

1) I think the growing interest in consumption of artistic product by consumers outside of the vehicle of the traditional nonprofit 501c3 organizations will continue to drive a more expansive view of "the field" that includes informal arts, music clubs and concert venues, record labels, craft artists and organizations, faith-based arts, architecture and design, etc. It is still unclear how this will affect existing nonprofit arts organizations, service organizations and funders, most of which do not yet embrace this broader definition.

2) Related to number one, the shift in how many Americans "consume" their arts and culture will continue to have a major impact on certain demographic segments, especially young people and immigrant communities. As some "traditional art" struggles with how to sustain audiences and relevance today, many of these market segments are in fact actively consuming art, just not through the “supply chain” the nonprofit arts industry has developed. This issue will only grow in importance in 2008.

3) Related to both 1 and 2, I am optimistic that, spurred by the Metropolitan Opera and other innovators, arts groups around the country will begin to get much more creative about how they use new technology and creative strategies to better reach new audiences and create a revitalized sense of relevance.

4) After essentially declining for several years up until 2005, and then rebounding a bit in 2006 (the last year for which data is available), I believe corporate support for the arts will continue to rebound – albeit slowly – both in dollars and in market share, as arts organization and advocates make a more powerful case for the relevance of the arts in fostering healthy communities and the personal qualities and behaviors that make better workers and better citizens.

5) I believe the much-touted "crisis" of a growing leadership gap in the nonprofit arts will recede as an issue in 2008, as it becomes clear we have an extraordinary cohort of smart, dedicated young leaders eager to contribute to the field. Demographically, there may be fewer Gen Xers than Boomers and Gen Yers, but the challenge may be solved by more openness on the part of Boards and senior leadership to give leadership opportunities at younger ages, something that has frankly already happened in business where 20-somethings are running multi-billion dollar corporations. It will also be a challenge for the field to adjust to a new generation of leaders who will lead in different ways, and will radically reshape the field and the organizations they are leading.

I would love to know what you think. Please share your thoughts on what issues our sector will face in 2008. What will challenge us? What will impact our decision making and best efforts? What issues ought to top our agendas? What surprises lurk out there that will affect our operations? What should be our priorities?

Please scroll down and enter your comment.

I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday season, and that the New Year brings you great 
success, prosperity and satisfaction.

Thank you for all that you do.

Don't Quit!