Thursday, September 24, 2009

September 24, 2009

 

CONTINUATION OF SECOND PANEL / NEA FORUM COMMENTS


WRAP UP OF SECOND PANEL COMMENTS:

Scroll down to the previous blog entry for the first part of the Second Panel discussion. And to the entry before that for the Panel 1 discussion.


THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24TH

BARRY: How do we best go about formulating an overarching national policy for arts & culture in America and what planks should that policy include?

JONATHAN: A national policy for arts and culture should guide federal agencies, including the NEA, to broaden and deepen public participation in the arts and cultural activities across sectors in ways that attract increased public and private investment at all levels. Several formulations already exist – with planks identified – and previous answers by others are examples. NASAA’s formulation, based on principles developed and considered over years by state arts agency leaders, is called Advancing America’s Creativity: An Agenda for Leadership in Support of the Arts and Cultural Activities. It guides NASAA policy recommendations for the president and Congress and its executive summary follows. Please note that it implies public planning and consultation processes to identify specific goals and program strategies in several places. Not everything needs to be done at once and opportunities – like gaining support for a couple of big initiatives by a new agency chair – should be taken advantage of, but, over time, one would hope to see a coherent arts and cultural vision integrated across agencies.

Purpose: To empower the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other federal agencies with the authority and resources to broaden and deepen participation in the arts throughout the United States.

I. Support a National Endowment for the Arts with the Capacity to Provide National Leadership

Reauthorize the NEA and enable its grant making to broaden and deepen participation in the arts throughout the United States by building the capacity of American arts organizations and artists to create and share their work, by initiating national programs, by partnering effectively with state arts agencies, and by helping to ensure that the basic education of every American includes learning in the arts.

II. Increase the NEA Appropriation to a Level that Enables it to Advance its Vision of “A Nation in which artistic excellence is celebrated, supported, and available to All”

Identify the public benefit outcome goals to be provided by NEA programs and increase NEA funds to provide the American people with those benefits. As a step in this process, increase the NEA appropriation to its l992 level ($176M) adjusted for inflation and population growth ($319.2M). As a major priority, fund the NEA to make flexible grants that employ American arts organizations and artists to create, distribute and explore with audiences the meaningful arts experiences that provide economic, educational and civic benefits.

III. Ensure a Strong Federal-State Arts Support Partnership

Continue the NEA-state arts agency Partnership Agreement program that enables federal funding to reach communities in every state and territory, and to leverage matching public and private funds in support of arts activities at the state and local levels. Continue the very constructive ongoing federal-state dialogue that leads to identification of shared priorities, to complementary activities, and to collaborations that maximize the impact and benefits of public dollars.

IV. Build on the Success of an Arts Education Program within the NEA that Includes a Strong Partnership with State Arts Agencies

Provide NEA the resources to lead federal efforts to ensure that all Americans receive the quality of arts education that develops their imaginative and innovative skills, and thereby prepares them to compete successfully in the 21st century workplace. Continue support for NEA to advance education in the arts (from pre-K through graduate school and lifelong) by providing grants and assistance to schools, educators, artists, arts organizations, and arts education groups. Sustain resources for the Arts Education Partnership, the nation’s arts education forum supported collaboratively with the U.S. Department of Education. Encourage the NEA to continue its investment in arts learning through the highly effective Partnership Agreements with state arts agencies that leverage state and local commitments to help make the arts basic in pre-K through 12 education in every state and territory. Affirm the NEA commitment to its annual Education Leadership Institute, intended to convene over time a leadership team from every state to advance arts education for all students.

V. Support NEA Leadership within the Federal Government and Support the Roles other Federal Agencies Play in Enhancing America’s Cultural Life

Encourage all agencies of the federal government to draw upon the resources of the arts to achieve their goals by building national and federal-state partnerships and by including eligibility for the arts field in their programs. Specifically, support the U.S. Department of Education role in ensuring a place for arts education in all of its programs, applaud its investment in the Arts Education Partnership, and recommend an appropriation for Model Development and Dissemination Grants consistent with the goals of that program. Identify desirable levels of cultural benefits to be provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Smithsonian Institution, and other federal agencies and give them the authority and level of funding necessary to provide those benefits.

VI. Support the Participation of Americans in Global Cultural Experiences

Provide NEA resources to facilitate the ability of American artists to reach global audiences, as well as to provide all Americans access to the work of artists from throughout the world. Foster and fund collaboration between the NEA and the Department of State to incorporate cultural diplomacy as a powerful means to advance international understanding, people-to-people relationships, and our nation’s policy interests. Encourage the NEA and the Department of State to collaborate with and complement state-level international programs and cultural diplomacy.

VII. Identify and Charge Executive Branch and Congressional Mechanisms to Address Significant National Cultural Issues

In order to address significant national issues affecting the arts and culture that cut across the purview of federal agencies and congressional committees – such as intellectual property rights, use of digital technologies, charitable giving policy, immigration and visitor policy, and cultural commerce between nations, identify, charge and provide appropriate staff and funding to a mechanism in the executive branch that draws upon the leadership of the NEA and the NEH. Organize a joint congressional committee on cultural issues.

NASAA continuously works with other organizations and coalitions on how to implement policies we have in common.

PATRICK: Establish public policy for what arts value system? Fine arts? - celebrating the achievement of a quality of art that are known or understood by a few, celebrating the product that has been created or will be created and displayed, performed, museumed, or sold? Art as propaganda? - designed to present a message, a way of thinking, an intense political/social view of the world in an attempt to try and persuade people they should share those beliefs? Community arts? changing the arts paradigm from art as product and citizen as patron to art as process and citizen as participant, celebrating citizen access to the arts by providing opportunities for them to participate in and experience the arts on a personal basis? Art as individual express? - promoting the total, unfettered freedom of expression for artists (individual or groups) to create, unencumbered by anything except the artistic vision that haunts them, drives them, consumes them. Which one?

There are more value systems that merit public policy but these four encapsulate most of them. It doesn’t take long to realize they are not necessarily compatible. And it points to one of our ongoing, overarching problems for arts advocacy - those of us are not all advocating for the same thing and many times our efforts are cross-purposes. Or, as I would say, “cross-values.”

I believe any attempt to establish an authentic public policy on the arts has to take at least these four core value systems into account and find a way to engage them in an authentic public discourse together. What do we share, what is our common values/vision/mission for what it is we are trying to do? To do anything else is simply to continue to pursue establishment of public policy and public funding for a particular value system (regardless of which one although I think most of us know which one it will end up being) which will result in it having dominance over all the others. We need a cohesive public policy on the arts that is inclusive of all of our myriad, diverse forms and processes and structures and expressions. It is a conversation long overdue. Until we do that for ourselves, until we learn to talk with each other, we can’t expect anyone to understand what it is we are trying to accomplish with public policy.

ANNE: A national policy for arts and culture…what a concept.

I’d rather use the word “creativity” – the fuel of the 21st century – and a truly American policy for arts and creativity would contain these values and priorities:
  • Access to the arts for all Americans.
  • Unleashing and supporting the artistic and creative potential and diversity of all Americans.
  • Transforming the American economy and educational system for the Creative Age.
  • Creating and sustaining vibrant communities through investment in arts and creative assets.
The Obama campaign and administration arts policy work contained and contains many aspects of this policy, so right now it seems we’re moving in the right direction. The challenge is to turn those values into action – for that we need to use the policies to enact a national 21st century plan for the arts and creativity.

BOB: I think that the overarching national policy that we already have is one of nonprofit organizational self direction and self survival. Our American system unlike most other nations relies on a very broad multi source support structure (roughly 50% earned, 7% government (local, state, federal), 43% private (individual, foundation, business). This means that no source area actually has enough power or influence to do much more than help leverage other sources. Certainly with an individual organization one funder can have a lot of influence but not any one funding sector in general. Certainly the federal money as the smallest piece of this equation cannot dictate an overarching cultural policy as it can in France for example. Unlike many folks I have heard speak about this I think this diversity of support much like a diversified personal investment strategy is a great strength in our American system. I think that the only way to get anywhere close to some kind of national consensus in the arts then must be accomplished through collaboration. Funding sources however can exert influence through leverage. For example when the federal government held out promises of fairly small amounts of federal money to states and later to locals, the states and municipalities were coaxed into appropriating far more money. The same kind of leverage can and has been used for getting groups to pay more attention to key issues such as diversity, art education, international collaboration and others.

CELESTE: The development of an overarching national policy for arts and culture would obviously need to have active participation from a broad spectrum of agencies, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and the National Science Foundation, in addition to the NEA and the administration. The concept of having national agencies work together to achieve shared goals is very appealing to me, since the museum field is broader than the visual arts and is active with other national funding agencies. Our field also includes history museums and historical societies, science centers, natural history museums, zoo and aquariums, and children’s museums. Too often, people view disciplines as dividing lines – that they can’t possibly collaborate because the content of their exhibits, performances, or programs is different. I think we have a lot more in common than we think—not the least of which is to serve the public. At a local level, there are some stellar examples of individual arts and cultural organizations (from symphonies and art museums to zoos and libraries) leveraging their resources and collaborating to serve new audiences. We could learn from how these local collaboratives are functioning to inform policy development for arts and culture at both state and national levels.

BRAD: Setting an overarching national policy for arts and culture seems to go beyond the purview of any one agency. This feels like an opportunity for the President to name a special commission that could convene a broad spectrum of arts and culture leaders to collaborate on drafting a policy paper that could guide federal efforts to support and leverage the arts. The President’s election campaign holds a model for how such a group could be gathered and engaged. Any national policy statement on the arts should construct a frame articulating the value of the arts to the American people and to American society. A national policy would help give ongoing strategic direction to the National Endowments as well as the Department of Education and other federal agencies that impact the arena of arts and culture. And a national policy would provide the President and other officials with an intellectual platform for discussing arts and culture with the American public.

BARRY: Why doesn’t the arts sector develop more political clout? Why is it so resistant to digging into its own pocket to fund real advocacy and lobbying efforts at all levels – local, regional and national? How do we effectively lobby on behalf of the Endowment (so that its funds are someday increased to comparable levels with Europe for example) unless and until we become more politically engaged in the same way any other interest group in America is engaged – from teacher unions to the pharmaceutical industry.

PATRICK: For decades, the arts producers and arts presenters and individual artists and arts consumers have been outraged at how little support for the arts there is in this country. While justified to a degree, some of this outrage is based on an increasingly out-dated and, to be honest, increasingly self-serving “sense of entitlement” that has made many in our field believe they are owed public funding. Many in the world of arts believed the NEA was simply another form of arts patronage, following the model of the Italian patron families during the Renaissance. I suspect their thought was, they deserved it and needed to do nothing to justify it. They were entitled to it and they had no responsibility to be accountable with what they were given. I believe the community of art in the United States grossly misunderstood the politics of public funding of the arts in this country. They certainly underestimated the core, historic religious value system that was used to found the beginnings of this country and have never fully recovered from the onslaught that occurred because of this values collision.

When you add to this “sense of entitlement” a growing sense of lack of responsibility or accountability, combine it with diametrically opposed values within the arts (internal values) as well as conflicted external values (mostly, but not all, religious) it becomes even harder to move forward effectively with developing sustainable political clout of any kind. When you add those two together, you end up with where we are today – with a National Endowment that is so under funded it is ridiculous, an embarrassment to ourselves and the world. People put their money where their values are and, obviously, the arts are not valued in this country. We have to ask ourselves why. Really, with all that we have at our disposal, the intelligence, the creative capacity, the tenacity, persistence, and sheer determinism to get it done – why haven’t we been successful.

We spend our time advocating for what we in the arts need, deserve and hardly ever spend any time communicating effectively to the world outside the arts as to who we are, what we do, and why we do it. We are getting better at describing what it is we actually contribute to their lives as individuals or communities or the entire culture but we still aren’t invited to the tables at which we need to be sitting. We do what we have to do to survive so we can do our art but we live in a growing vacuum. We are often viewed as self-serving and mercenary when it comes to sharing the limited wealth that exists within the community of art in the world in which we live.

We become incensed at the evangelical religious right for all the horrible things they do to those of us in the arts and in the process, spew out the same vile, angry, hostile political venom because we end up feeling the same level of marginalization and victimization they feel. I have said on many occasions, the individuals who are part of the evangelical religious right aren’t our enemy, they are a large part of our audience (certainly in our rural/small communities). The problem is, we don’t always like our audience and we won’t take the time to get to know them. We want their support but we aren’t nearly as interested in listening to them. Therefore, as a result, we spend our time advocating to ourselves and wonder why nothing meaningful has changed in public arts funding in this country for the past fifty-sixty years.

BRAD: One of the reasons that arts leaders have cited is the very low return on investment such “digging” would provide their own organizations—at least in the immediate future. Is this attitude shortsighted? Perhaps. It’s also reflective of the kind of pragmatism that drives most arts organizations, almost all of which are chronically, and often severely, under-resourced. Why should an arts organization spend a $1,000, say, on funding advocacy if those efforts are likely to produce $1,000 or less in grants from a given public agency? There is a cart/horse issue here of course—if no money is spent we can pretty much assume we’ll see mighty limited success. But arts leaders cannot be faulted for expecting dollars spent on advocacy and lobbying to result in dollars back to their own organizations—at a point in some foreseeable future. Certainly the teacher’s union and the pharmaceutical industry expects tangible results for the monies they spend to influence public policy. So do arts leaders.

Individual artists that I know see even less of a correlation between advocacy efforts and betterment to their own personal situations, vis a vis acquiring more arts-making work, earning better pay, and finding access to affordable health care. Until we can convincingly make a line between advocacy for the arts and bettering the working and personal lives of individual artists, we’re going to have mighty hard time bringing artists on as troops for our cause.

BOB: I think the same organizational self survival mentality I mentioned before means that many arts organizations are so focused on getting support for their own organizational needs that it is difficult for them to get enthused about giving money and effort out for a result that has wide benefit rather than specific benefit to them right away. I think it takes constant communication, education and clarity about successes. Even then this is a business where most sub sectors are fiercely independent and like to go their own way. DeToqueville noticed this as an American trait in general and arts organizations and artists are even more proudly entrepreneurial and independent than many other parts of our society.

ANNE: Let’s not be so negative. $50 million in stimulus funding for the Endowment IS political clout. Achieving that funding this spring shows what can happen when political leadership meets a compelling message and strategy and dedicated grassroots action. (By the way, here’s another opportunity for me to give a shout-out and thank-you to Rep. Dave Obey of Wisconsin as one of the political leaders who pushed through the NEA’s stimulus package!)

This growing political movement has been led and coordinated in large part by Americans for the Arts and partners at the national level and by the extensive network of statewide organizations like Arts Wisconsin at the state level, with countless foot soldiers on the ground at the grassroots level. We’ve seen significant gains in the past few years, including the stimulus money and steady increases in the Endowment’s budget. It’s not a lot, but it’s an important start.

Instead of beating ourselves up about what we haven’t accomplished, let’s be pro-active and positive. The efforts to change the hearts and minds of America to truly support and invest in the arts is a creative “movement” similar to the civil rights movement or environmental movement. Those political movements took years to build up and achieve goals, with stops, starts and tragedies along the way.
I’m the most impatient person in the world, but I know that this kind of change happens slowly and on a haphazard course. Consider that this political involvement by the arts is, in relative terms, a very new effort. It’s been nurtured by 50 years of the local arts movement, but has really only been awakened to true political involvement since the beginning of the 21st century. I was a member of the Obama National Arts Policy Committee, and would even say that the election of Barack Obama, and the cultural policy work done around his campaign and new administration, is a “call to arms” with opportunities that we haven’t seen in a long time.

As for how to effectively lobby – there’s no mystery about that, folks. Success depends on a unified message, purpose, strategy and plan, not to mention relentless optimism and persistence. True, effective advocacy is everyone’s responsibility and a daily activity, not just the job of the advocacy organization or the civic leader.

We in the arts need to reach out to develop relationships and make the message relevant to those beyond our institutions and our sector. We need to stop arguing about who is an “artist” and an “arts leader” and who is not. People have been expressing themselves creatively since the beginning of time and everyone has the capacity to be creative. Business, education, political and civic leaders are all involved in the arts and creativity in some way, and are ready partners in the effort to achieve more support for the arts in schools, in civic spaces, in our lives.

JONATHAN: The “why” the not-for-profit arts community does not exercise significantly more political clout than it does is easy to answer in one way: not-for-profit arts organizations do not devote sufficient time and energy to the following:

1. put “advocacy” in the job description of every board member
2. identify a point person for advocacy (preferably a board member)
3. invest in and participate in an advocacy network
4. identify specific advocacy objectives and the decision makers who can make them happen
5. systematically cultivate relationships with the people who can achieve advocacy objectives
6. cultivate stakeholders and spokespersons from other fields
7. devote regular staff and board time to what needs to be done and who will do it
8. report on advocacy progress as a regular board agenda item
9. MAKE EVERY ARTS EVENT AN ADVOCACY EVENT

There are many notions of what public benefits the not-for-profit arts community offers and plenty of ideas what values the not-for-profit arts community SHOULD offer, some of them expressed by this group of commentators, but none of them is likely to attract a jump of two or three times the current levels of public support at any level of government without taking these advocacy behaviors to scale.

Why hasn’t the not-for-profit arts community made the necessary commitment? People think (very wrongly) that their service organizations or their government agencies can and should do this work?
The current levels of public funding make it seem that time and energy developing financial resources are better invested elsewhere? It’s easier to complain about decision makers than to take the responsibility for correcting their understandings and behaviors, for making one’s wishes known in person?

It may be that stepped up advocacy alone could maintain or grow funding for the not-for-profit arts community as it does for other industries. Maybe. Here are a few questions back that I think are becoming more and more salient for both the not-for-profit community and public agencies to consider:

1. Which changes in purpose and public benefits for arts groups can actually produce new, active, more effective advocates (gaining or losing existing ones?)? What evidence do we have or why would we think so?

2. What are the characteristics of not-for-profit arts groups that are maintaining or increasing participation and financial viability? Would seeking funding to increase the ability of organizations to achieve these characteristics increase the effectiveness of advocacy?

3. Are public agencies that expand their services and/or funding to include the for-profit and amateur arts sectors better positioned to maintain or increase funding?

BARRY: We seem to have at least some grasp on the composition of the arts “organization” field, and even some success in gathering that field to mutual purposeful action. How do we incorporate the “artist” community within that structure? And what should the Endowment do to nurture, protect and promote multicultural arts – legacies, artistic expressions and access to?

ANNE: Yes, we do have a grasp on the composition of the established arts sector, although now that we do, it’s changing as we speak. There are many things about the nonprofit model that don’t work, although I have no idea what the future legal and organizational configurations for arts engagement might really look like. A positive sign is that individual artists are becoming more entrepreneurial, and those that realize that they have to think that way are becoming more involved in advocacy for the arts in general. As our world changes to a more entrepreneurial mindset, the younger generations (!) is more willing to speak up for their causes. They’re doing it through FaceBook and YouTube, but they’re doing it.

I’d like to stop putting “multi-cultural arts” into a separate category. The U.S. has always been a multi-cultural society, and the 21st century is already being defined and shaped by our glorious mosaic of people and heritages. The old system says that “multi-cultural” means only the culture of people from certain ethnic groups or parts of the world, and that somehow we need to keep those traditions separate from other traditions. As I have said in previous answers, the Endowment should lead the way to examine, acknowledge and support the whole of our multi-cultural society through the arts.

BOB: The artist community and artists are not as nurtured and supported by our system as they ought to be. Every level of government needs creation or growth of artist support mechanisms. But more can be done by the private sector as well. Since most artists seem to or at least feel that they are making their own way without much help it is difficult to mobilize the broad artist community. Sharing success stories is a start but working hard to create more actual shared benefits for artists is the longer term necessary strategy. I think the need to address the nurturing and support of multicultural organizations is an even bigger area of necessary focus at every level of support public and private. So a dialogue is a beginning, then a push for more resources targeted to the multicultural arts community is essential.

PATRICK: Do we have a grasp on the “arts organization field?” Really? I am not sure I agree. We have such a variety of organizations, structures, and individuals who make that organization work. And, even if I did, I would challenge the effectiveness of what it is on which we have a grasp. I’m not sure our current cultural infra-structure is working. And it certainly at risk due to the economic conditions we are facing.

To be honest, I’m not sure I know what the “arts organization” field really is. Is it organizations or the people who make those organizations work? And I am very clear that at least in my field, community arts, almost all of our identity is wrapped up in the organizations we serve. If you are not part of an arts organization or structure, person has no standing in the field of community arts, you have little professional identity and quickly drop off the radar screen. Our identity and, often, our sense of worth, is tied up in the organization(s) with which we work and the work we are doing. In that sense, many of us who are outside the normal arts/cultural infra-structure feel the same separation, isolation, and lack of support many of individual artists feel.

Regarding individual artists directly, the ones who (by themselves or in collaboration with others) create the works of art we are always talking about – they are hardly ever at the table for funding, public policy discussions, and/or general strategic planning. And what a loss that is because they are certainly the most likely to be thinking outside the box, beyond the status-quo. That goes back to the core value systems in the arts that have hardly ever been recognized, understood. We need a more robust and diverse set of voices working together to try and get things where we believe they should. After almost fifty years of public funding in this country, we should at least be willing to say that whatever it is we have tried to do just hasn’t worked. It’s time to go back to the drawing boards – or perhaps, better said, the creating boards.

The NEA can be the catalyst to bring all of this together. I’m not sure it is interested in doing it but it could if it wanted to. Special Federal Initiatives, research, convenings, regional and state conversations – all can be utilized to get a serious discourse begun in the community of arts that can then focus on how to expand that beyond to the general population. Individual artists are essential to this process and must be part of it.

BRAD: I can’t see the Endowment as a broker, per se. I can see the NEA continuing to encourage collaboration and joint application for funds. Potential grant dollars are a pretty strong motivator for encouraging partnerships and collaborations.

BARRY: What role should the Endowment play in brokering meaningful collaboration and partnership opportunities by and between the arts and other sectors?

BOB: The Endowment along with other support leaders has a wonderful opportunity to convene large and small groups or to help others do such convening. There is an effort right now in the conservative press to attack arts organizations for discussing the role of the arts and involving the arts in societal issues such as health, education, race, job creation etc. Yet these kinds of issues are the content that art has been made about and around for thousands of years. More connection between the art makers and producers and funders and the sectors that focus on these broad societal issues is healthy for the future of the arts but also for the futures of communities and nation.

PATRICK: Everything, everything, everything! We need the political savvy and creative thinking of the NEA staff, and the political clout of the National Council. The vision of the guiding enabling legislation of the NEA should help shape public support for the arts in this country. Mind you, I didn’t say financial support – public support. If we get the public to support us we will be funded. We need to be at the table in the smallest unincorporated communities, the rural areas, the neighborhoods in the large urban communities. We need to be at the table in educational reform, farm public, rural development, economic development and, dare I be so bold as to say, the health care debate. If we had the kinds of collaborations and public/private partnerships we are capable of – the arts could serve as a model for a divided and conflicted nation.

Convening us, getting those of us from different persuasions, value orientations economic, social, and cultural systems together – from public sector to the private sector – together, as one, talking about the same subject, listening to each other, working through the differences and difficulties to reach consensus about what it is that matters to each and every one of us. That is what the NEA should be doing, could be doing, if we set our minds on thinking less about “how we survive” and more on “how we help our country survive.”

BARRY: According to the most recent study released by the NEA last June: "Audiences for the arts in the U.S. continue to decline and age at significant rates.” What, if anything, should the Endowment do to address this startling fact?

BOB: The overall arts community needs to look at the broad arts sector to really understand data. Audience participation is interesting in that looking broadly some art forms might be experiencing a decline but others are growing. Some venues of presentation might be experiencing a decline but others are growing. Looking at the increasingly blurred lines between non profit, for profit, and unincorporated arts sectors might provide some fresh perspective on audience change. And collecting broader data sets for the many ways that audiences engage culture today could be very useful as various subsets of the arts try to plan for the future.

BRAD: Helping to connect the arts with the American people is a core goal of the Endowment, so assisting arts organizations with reaching new audiences and deeply engaging audiences in their work should be a clear priority for the NEA. The Endowment could fund research with actionable implications and collaborative efforts to attract, retain and develop audiences now and for the future.

PATRICK: There is an audience for the arts. Oh, it may not be the arts that our culture has come to know and consider “our national arts.” But there is an audience out there, waiting for something to help them break out of their numbness and feel something besides discouragement and despair. And there are artists out there who are creating now with no public funding and no articulated audience but they are creating non-the-less. . .without any public support and he national community of arts, are not quite as indispensable as we have come to think we are. . .and until we start opening our eyes and realize there is a “cultural re-revolution” going on all around us, the parade is going to pass us by. We are spinning our wheels, talking to ourselves (and not doing that very well) and we allowing one of the most incredible opportunities we have had in fifty years to make our case and show our worth and value.

The arts will survive, they always have, always will. Maybe not the arts organizations and institutions we elevate high on our cultural pantheon, but the arts – the voice of the people, of determined, persistent, driven, impassioned individuals will continue to be expressed and heard. The arts are the remnant that remember the future – the arts are the dance that make the circle whole. They can not be stopped or silenced.

As long as there is a voice crying out for hope or out of despair, reaching out from the depths or to heights of human existence, struggling with the confusion and chaos or longing the confidence of creating consistency – there will be an audience. That is what people want, that is what people need. Fine arts, propaganda arts, community arts, or art as pure expression. That is what the arts deliver, every time to anyone who is open to the experience. Now, we have to be about the business of helping everyone understand this and we should start with figuring out how those of us in the arts can finally learn how to work together.

ANNE: I would amend that sentence to read, “Audiences for the established arts sector in the U.S. continue to decline and age at significant rates.” Judging from my teenage son and his friends’ devotion to their music, dance and art, the level of interest in the arts and creative expression in this country remains as strong as ever. What’s changed – and is changing daily, or by the minute - are the mechanisms by which creative endeavors take place. Again, they’re doing it through FaceBook and YouTube, but they’re doing it.

Now the institutions must take a long hard look at themselves and figure out ways to deal with these changes. . Of course there’s a fine line between keeping the best of the old ways and throwing away too much in order to embrace the future, and we all have to walk that line continuously. The Endowment has a great opportunity to lead the conversation by bringing together the different constituencies and audiences, again, to find common language and common ground.

CELESTE: I think the definition of “audience” needs to be examined if we are calculating the size of it– or we need to measure participation in the arts in different ways. I think the arts are an integral part to every American’s daily experience and it seems unlikely that participation has declined “at significant rates” at the same time we are experiencing a rapid expansion of social networking and other forms of expression. The arts and other cultural fields need to both embrace new strategies for tapping into these shifts in how Americans experience the arts as well as our corresponding measures. This is not to say that an online experience will replace a visit to an art exhibit or attendance at a symphony performance. Some experiences will be more impactful than others and we should strive to emphasize those that will have a lasting impression.

Thank you all very much.

Some quick wrap up thoughts tomorrow then Panel 3 (The FUNDING COMMUNITY) beginning next Tuesday, September 29th.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dear Colleagues:

We’re now done with Week #2 of the National Forum on the NEA, and we have already had a wealth of information and ideas presented.

I know this can seem overwhelming – information overload even. But a deep and rich exchange of a wide range of ideas is precisely the kind of engagement I think we need if we are to do any meaningful rethinking of our national goals and objectives and any re-envisioning of the priorities of the Endowment. I hope you will make the time – over a period of time – to read and think about the points this current dialogue (not only the two panels thus far, but the coming panels over the next four weeks) may suggest to you. It is my hope that this can promote an on-going national conversation not just on the role and future of the Endowment, but on the wider subject of art provision in America and all such a broad topic implies. This is only a beginning.

A few thoughts on some of the remarks by the second panel:

Several panelists called for more Endowment involvement in, and support for, organizational capacity building – the strengthening of our organizations to survive – in securing funding, in arts administrators becoming better trained managers, in the arts field becoming better advocates and more. The Endowment has actually done remarkably little of this kind of thing in the past. Indeed most of those goals were initiated by foundation funding initiatives. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the Endowment to revisit what it might accomplish in helping our arts organizations to fare better, and might even explore ways it could cooperate and collaborate with foundations in this area.

Several other panelists remind us that the Endowment’s funding is wholly inadequate, and that somehow, we as a field, have got to figure out how to get that funding up to a truly meaningful level ( half a billion to a billion dollars?). But it was also pointed out in the question on advocacy, that the field simply lacks the tools, motivation, expertise and willingness to pay for effective political clout. And more than one panelist implied that the reason we as a field don’t move towards more effective advocacy is that as individuals – individual artists and individual arts organizations – we simply don’t see the direct advantage and concrete benefit in making the necessary time, energy, and financial commitment to acquiring more political clout. For all our talk, it really isn’t a major priority.

The panelists call for a variety of initiatives to strengthen the arts in America – everything from increased strategic planning to more arts education, from helping art organizations and artists with more secure funding sources to improving networking and communications by and between those in the arts - but we remain painfully vague on specifics. How do we accomplish all our lofty goals? What specifically do we do? At some point the discussion must move from the conceptual to the practical and we will need to develop specific, action steps to address specific challenges.

While we clearly haven’t been able to articulate a comprehensive national arts & cultural policy yet, perhaps this is an opportune time to begin to conduct an overall review of programs, grant making and priorities of the Endowment, and really, of the sector. Some panelists argue that we should develop an overall framework and context for arts in America that local communities and organizations could buy into and operate under as a first step in moving forward.

Some argue that artistic excellence lies beyond the agency’s purview; that what we should strive for is a policy that promotes the relationship of the arts to the value (not yet fully defined) that art offers the public. Some say that value is centered on “access” to the arts – access as both audience and creator. Some question the utility of the local arts agency – as community arts hub – as a viable model for today, and others argue there is no conflict between the promotion of excellence in the arts and access and other public goods.

We seemed to have talked around the issue of whether taxpayer funds should support the organizations that employ artists, or should support the artists themselves in some more direct way. Some implied it might be politically inopportune at this juncture. Of course, such a question involves distinguishing between individual visual or performance artists and those that work in a group setting and thus through organizations - such as symphony orchestra musicians, dance troupe performers, or actors in the theater.

In no particular order, our panelists so far have also identified the following areas that they would like to see the Endowment play some role, take some leadership position for, or collaborate with others in the addressing of the challenges facing the sector -- the basic A & E goals:
  • Allignment by and between the nonprofit and for profit arts – for the benefit of the public and artists.
  • Arts education
  • Audience development
  • Articulating a vision
  • Access to more art and creation of art
  • Advocacy 
  • Artist support -- Helping artists to earn a decent living being artists.
  • Expanding creativity for the benefit of all of America’s growth
  • Expanding – research
  • Educating the public
  • Enabling administrators to be better managers.
We lament the absence of more artists at the decision making tables, but don’t seem to have any specific plans to address that imbalance – perhaps a good place for the agency to do some convening – another area people suggested the agency could be more involved.

And our panelists noted that while audiences for more traditional arts may be on the decline, newer forms of artistic expression and newer ways to access all art as an audience may be growing. The questions looms: what are the implications of this new reality? If access is a goal, then all kinds of audience building is important. Another convening opportunity for the Endowment perhaps.

Of course, no summary of our panelists thoughts and ideas can incorporate all of the questions raised by their analysis. Doubtless you, as the readers, will have many more that I hope you will raise in the coming months as the dialogue continues and expands.

Next week Panel # 3 (funders – public and private) takes the stage. Beginning Tuesday, September 29th.

PARTICIPANTS:
Ben Cameron - Program Director for the Arts, Doris Duke Foundation
Daniel Windham - Director of Arts, The Wallace Foundation
Janet Brown – Executive Director, Grantmakers in the Arts
Moy Eng – Program Director, Performing Arts, Hewlett Foundation
John McGuirk – Program Director – Arts, Irvine Foundation
Frances Phillips - Program Director, Arts & The Creative Work Fund, Haas Foundation
John Killacky – Program Officer, Arts, The San Francisco Foundation
Victoria Hamilton - Executive Director, San Diego Office of Arts & Culture
Laura Zucker - Executive Director, Los Angeles County Arts Commission; Director of the Masters in Arts Administration program at Claremont Graduate University
Loie Fecteau – Executive Director, New Mexico Arts

Thank you all for following along.

Have a good weekend.

Don’t Quit
Barry

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