NEA FORUM - PANEL 4 - Arts Ed, Emerging Leaders, Consultants, Artists Services & Bloggers
“And the beat goes on................”
Jodi Beznoska -Vice President of Communications - Walton Arts Center
Ian David Moss - Blogger Createquity.com
Shannon Daut - Deputy Director, WESTAF
Neill Archer Roan - Independent Consultant
Marcy Hinand Cady - Principal Hellicon Collaborative
Doug McLennan - Founder / Publisher ARTS JOURNAL.com
Cora Mirikitani - Director Center for Cultural Innovation
Hollis Headrick - Arts, Education and Philanthropy Consultant; former Director New York State Arts Education
Dr. Scott Walters - Associate Professor of Drama - University of North Carolina at Asheville
Laurie Schell - Executive Director, California Alliance for Arts Education
NOTE: Scheduling problems arose for Steven Lavine and Andrew Taylor -both of whom were scheduled to participate, but, unfortunately, could not.
SCROLL DOWN for the WEDNESDAY ENTRIES, and for the previous panel discussions.:
BARRY: What will it take for the arts to finally move arts education to an equal level of support and respect with math and science – in the minds of educators, politicians, business & industry, parents, the media and / or the general public and what specifically do you think the NEA can do to help us reach the goal of K-12, sequential, curriculum based, arts education for all students?
DOUG: I actually really hate the premise of questions like this. They assume that there is some "right" or obvious "value" to some generalized, and usually ill-defined category of "arts education." Scientists I know lament that science education isn't given its due in schools. The plain and simple truth, I fear, is that for whatever reason, arts education as a category (and how do you even define such a thing, really?) has not made a good enough case for being essential to the constituencies that make decisions about education. Perhaps this is the problem right here - trying to make a case for a sector rather than for specific excellent things. Too much "arts education" is dull and uncreative. Too much comes out of a place of missionary zeal for something that's supposed to be good rather than something that truly is. We're WAY too uncritical of the ways we have tried to teach the arts, and maybe understandably so. Who wants to attack something for being insufficient when to do so might destroy the ability to have any instruction in the arts itself. But the result is that bad programs with poorly-defined goals get a pass, and, in my opinion, arts education as a cause suffers. There are some brilliant programs out there. We need to celebrate those, help them thrive, help them spread. But we also have to stop pretending that all arts education is great. That it cures cancer. That it is essential. Truth is - in the wider world, it isn't essential, in many people's experience. To keep saying it is essential without making a better - and specific - case for how, is counterproductive.
As for the NEA. The NEA? Absolutely they should have a role. But if that role is just to promote the general "goodness" of arts education, it's a failure. If the NEA is a government policy-setter for cultural policy (and I'm not so sure it is at all ready to play that role) then it ought to be knee-deep in helping to articulate standards for what excellent arts education looks like. It could play a leading role in this. But again, I'm not sure that it's interested in that kind of cultural policy role.
LAURIE: We should keep reminding ourselves that the primary responsibility for the provision of a quality education, which includes the arts, lies within the education agencies—local, state and federal. That said, we must also recognize that the Endowment, along with scores of public and private local and state arts agencies, have succeeded in keeping many arts programs alive in public schools during times of economic distress. In California, there are signs of a shift in public perception about the value of arts education, even as education funding plummets and a crisis mentality persists. The public, with parents in the forefront, has made it known that they want a quality education for their children, one that includes the visual and performing arts. We see evidence of this in California with the passage of the historic Arts and Music Block Grant funds of $105 - $109 million in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In the PSA announcements from the state’s largest teachers union, which decry the loss of arts programs in an attempt to gain more funding for education. In the stories from local advocates who have successfully lobbied to save their elementary music programs. The perception is out there—the arts are an essential part of a quality education.
Perception and reality are, unfortunately, two different things. The gains in public acceptance can be offset when an “either/or” argument is put forward, forcing choices between PE and the arts, between math textbooks and arts supplies, between reading at grade level and participation in theatre coursework. Repeat after me: A complete education, which includes the arts, is about “both/and” not “either/or.” Reading, music, math, dance, science, physical education, history, theatre, media arts, foreign language, visual arts. It’s all important.
We need to continue to address the issue on multiple fronts—through national, state and local policy, local community advocacy, partnerships between schools and arts organizations, better pre-service education for generalist teachers, leadership development for school administrators, relentless exposure in the media, deeper relationships with the business community, to name a few. Everyone has a role. No one sits this one out. As an “outsider” agency in terms of the education establishment, the Endowment can use that status to drive a conversation that addresses how we can create a system of shared responsibility, or reciprocal accountability. Reciprocal accountability not only holds schools and teachers responsible for student performance, but also federal, state, and local educational agencies for ensuring that schools have adequate capacity and resources to provide strong instruction to all students.
The Endowment, along with the other national public and private agencies—including the Department of Education, Americans for the Arts, Arts Education Partnership, the Kennedy Center, and others—can also model what it means to be a coalition of allied stakeholders, to clearly define, understand and support the roles of each coalition member. Take a leadership role when necessary and play a supporting role at the appropriate moment. The Endowment is in a position to use its prominence and visibility to convene stakeholders from the education, arts and business communities, to drive the dialogue about partnerships and shared responsibility, and to be a force for change.
MARCY: Arts education is definitely not our specialty here at Helicon but we do support it strongly. The direction I would take in thinking about arts education is beginning to move the public discourse around creativity and art making. In order to have broad public support for the arts, and arts education, we have to redefine what art is and begin to acknowledge the broader cultural universe – the non 501 © 3 activity, the web-based activity, the garage bands, and culturally specific work that takes place in church basements, the 20 somethings that have gallery shows of each other’s work. It is a broad and diverse universe and we need to effectively acknowledge and bring under the tent the diversity of expression that is out there. Participation in the arts is waning, yes, in our self-proclaimed arts institutions, but participation has never been higher as Alan brown in California’s Inland Empire and the folks at the Social Impact for the Arts project in Philadelphia. Now how to make the bridge to the education field? Wallace just gave Harvard University $10 M to provide a free ride PhD program to 25 promising students who want to reform the education system in America. Has anyone talked to the Harvard School or Education (or the people at Wallace) about how the arts will be infused into the curriculum, and/or this program?
CORA: I think CCI’s recent work with the City of San Jose and Kerry Adams-Hapner in the Office of Cultural Affairs was instructive in showing how artists, and arts education, can be directly linked to the economic goals of a city. San Jose initiated a program called the Creative Entrepreneur Project led by a civic leadership committee coming from government, high tech, higher education and the arts. The basic assignment was to find out how artists and “creative entrepreneurs” could be attracted and retained as part of the creative workforce for Silicon Valley.
Over the course of a year, we produced good baseline survey research, initiated entrepreneurial training for artists in cooperation with the City’s Work2Future program, organized a citywide convening of artists to inform and help mobilize them, and developed a menu of program and policy options for the City to consider covering housing, live/work, zoning, transportation, tourism, education and other potential strategies that could better support the arts workforce. If the NEA could help to position arts education as a key strategy to improve the business and economic health of cities, because it produces the creative entrepreneurs that will drive the future workforce, I think arts education priorities might shift and the whole tenor of the debate could change.
JODI: Before I begin, I’d like to say what a delight it is to be able to contribute to this dialogue. I am humbled by the ideas and expertise shared so far.
Back to the question. This is by no means a comprehensive solution, but I continue to be fascinated by an idea advanced at an American Assembly convening in 2004 entitled “The Creative Campus: The Training, Sustaining, and Presenting of the Performing Arts in American Higher Education”. I am paraphrasing, but the general idea is that if institutions of higher education required “arts” (define as you will) as an admissions requirement, elementary, secondary and high schools would need to develop structures that ensure arts education and participation. Obviously there are many details to be discussed here, but the idea of driving arts education from the top down is interesting.
As for what the NEA could do, many of the previous contributors mention the NEA’s potential power as a convener. It would certainly be interesting to convene the leaders of higher education in America to discuss their role in arts education. My apologies if this already occurs and I’m unaware of it.
SCOTT: Peter Hero said it nicely in Week 1 of this discussion: we “should focus on CREATIVITY, the currency of the 21st Century…the link between science and the arts is creativity… both artists and scientists teach us to see the world in new ways.” This means teaching young people to develop their own independent sense of innovative problem solving, teaching them to be aware of techniques for tapping into their own creativity, and not simply teaching them to be compliant to the vision of their arts teacher. Too much of our arts education is focused primarily on creating a product (a musical, a concert), and not enough on sparking young peoples’ imaginations and encouraging them to take charge of their own creativity. Yes, that’s dangerous – who knows what young people will come up with? But if you want the public to value the arts enough to insist that arts education be part of the curriculum, then the centrality of creativity and innovation must be emphasized over compliance.
SHANNON: I am by no means an expert in the arts education slice of our field; however, I am the product of a childhood steeped in the arts—through both formal arts education as well as informal artistic training (piano lessons, church choir and the like).
Honestly, I don’t know if arts education will ever be perceived as equal to math and science training, due to the fact that our culture places such a pre-eminent value on the “hard sciences.” That said, I do think there are strategies that can be employed to merge the significance of arts education with the goals of creating a competitive U.S. scientific workforce. At a recent WESTAF symposium on the Creative Economy and Economic Development, Kwang-Wu Kim, Dean of the ASU Herberger College of Arts, commented that the United States will never be able to compete with the sheer volume of scientists and researchers in China and India, but we can compete by developing higher quality science professionals, and that this competitive advantage can be realized through integration of arts education and stressing the importance of building up this field to provide creative solutions to the scientific issues that our country—and the world—faces. As “innovation” seems to be becoming the new buzzword in our national conversation, the arts education field needs to be out-front with the message that innovation can best be developed through a strong artistic and creative educational framework.
The NEA can play an important role by establishing a formal partnership with the Department of Education in order to develop a national policy on arts education. Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, appears to understand the significance of arts ed, and could be a strong partner to develop new standards that will help this country realize its goals of innovation through a strong educational policy that includes arts and creativity as a core component.
NEILL: I doubt that there is anything the arts can do to foster respect and support for arts education that equals that for math and science, especially among such a broad array of stakeholders. While many of us might believe that this is a noble goal, we may be better served to work towards more feasible goals.
The NEA is an infinitesimal agency in the overall scheme of governments. It can research publish, and convene to help move arts education forward, but as a small federal agency it is unlikely that city, county, and state governments - let alone local school boards - will welcome anything perceived as more Federal educational policy mandates.
IAN: This is surely not going to make me the most popular guy in the room, but I think that it’s really, really important that we have an industry-wide conversation about the long-term implications of increased arts education before we just assume that more arts education is a good thing. Before you call me out as the Grinch who stole music classes, let me explain. I think that the conversation about arts education is inseparable from the conversation about the professional arts infrastructure in America. The reason is simple: the kids who fall in love with learning to play the tuba or do a pirouette today are the adults who are going to be competing with each other for gigs and grant money tomorrow. If we are successful in our efforts and ensure that every child has the opportunity to experience all the arts they want to during their formative years, what happens to them once they get to college? The arts are a powerful drug, as addictive as nicotine for some. The arts encourage people to dream big, and we’ve developed a post-Baby Boomer culture in America that tells children to follow their dreams no matter what obstacles they encounter. That’s fine so far as it goes, but there needs to be a pot of gold on the other side of that rainbow. When music conservatories, playwriting programs, schools of art—institutions whose ranks and capital budgets have been swelling apace in recent years—blithely charge marginal students tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and fail to offer them even the pretense of “real life” entrepreneurship skills, that’s as close to third-sector malpractice as it gets in my opinion. A recent poll of Harvard graduates from the class of 2009 revealed that 16%—more than any other industry—considered the arts their “dream field” that they would pursue absent other considerations (6% actually are pursuing careers in the arts). If we’re trying to hook 55 million children on the arts in a system that pours 3.2 million new high school graduates into the market every year, even if only 10% of them decide to pursue professional careers, what happens to them when, by the NEA’s own figures, only 2 million artists can coexist in that market at any given time?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have arts education or that students across the socioeconomic spectrum don’t deserve access to it. But I do worry that focusing our efforts on arts education is an example of putting the cart before the horse. Much of the literature that advocates arts education as a strategy for cultivating demand for the arts assumes that students who have invested thousands of hours of their lives in perfecting a craft during their formative years will happily set all of that aside as soon as they turn 18 and 21, become productive members of society with skills that they somehow picked up while practicing piano for four hours a day, and donate all of their expendable income to their local arts organizations. Really? Don’t you think that some of them might be a little bitter about having to leave their dream behind? Don’t you think some of them might continue on and spend their parents’ life savings on three graduate degrees in a quixotic quest for fame and glory that never materializes? Is this the best use of our collective human capital? Before we lean too hard on a strategy that, if successful, is virtually guaranteed to pour legions of new aspiring professional artists into the system, we need first to resolve the chronic under capacity issues that plague that system, starting with significantly increasing the supply of philanthropic capital (whether government or private) available to the arts field.
HOLLIS: This is a two-part question; the first is about advocacy and public engagement and the second is about program design. It’s useful to make a distinction about the term “arts education” because very few arts organizations funded by the Endowment provide arts education, which typically means sequential arts instruction taught by certified visual art, music, dance and theater teachers. The NEA supports a broad range of arts groups to collaborate with schools using many different program designs depending on the context of the community, the organization and its school partner(s). My preference would be to change arts education to “arts learning,” which provides for a much wider interpretation of learning in and through the arts, from arts instruction to arts integration.
The NEA can improve its collaboration with US Department of Education (USDOE) so that Endowment programs reinforce the key messages and policies from the USDOE that support arts learning. Arts learning, imagination and creativity should be linked when communicating to the wider public, the Congress, and administrators. In general, the public and Congress view arts education/learning too narrowly, usually referring to school-based programs with an arts specialist. However, through research about the brain and arts learning and we know much more now about how young people and adults learn and the vital role that the arts play in fostering cognitive and affective skills and attitudes. While the arts benefit students intrinsically by learning an arts discipline, they also learn other valuable skills such as persistence, discipline, using materials, collaboration, and of course exercising their imagination. Imagination and creativity are two values that are vital to a healthy and inquisitive student and for a creative and flexible employee in the business or non-profit world.
As other panelists have noted, the NEA must shape its priorities and funding strategically, selecting initiatives and programs that can leverage the greatest benefit. The Endowment alone cannot mount an effective campaign to support arts learning because it does not have sufficient resources and because it is trapped inside the beltway, even though is has dedicated staff and a network of arts education projects it funds. As your readers should know, all education in the US is local. There is no national arts curriculum, although there are voluntary national standards and benchmarks in the arts that have been developed by the music, dance, theater and visual arts national organizations. Many of these comprehensive standards provide the framework for state standards in the arts.
The most difficult issue for advocacy is that the arts education field is composed of many players who have different agendas, so it is very difficult to create a strategic communications plan and action steps to promote the importance of arts learning. Arts education is driven by state policy, schools, cultural organizations, and funders. Frequently these sectors are not aligned, leaving the most important beneficiary, the student, with inadequate school arts programs or projects with cultural organizations that sometimes articulate with the school curriculum, but often serve as enrichment. Here is quick list of arts education/arts learning action steps for the NEA.
- Expand current effective interagency collaborations with the White House, USDOE and seek like-minded administrators in other government agencies to address student achievement. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently sent a letter to the arts education community voicing his support for arts education. Whether that support yields tangible results in the climate of high stakes testing remains to be seen.
- Develop strategic public/private partnerships with organizations to align key messages about the value of arts learning for a well-rounded education. This includes groups that bridge the various sectors of arts education like the Arts Education Partnership, as well as state arts agencies, state alliances for arts education, and professional organizations.
- Continue the NEA Arts Education Leadership Initiatives that bring together state arts agencies, key arts organizations to push for congruence of goals, programs and standards at the state level.
- Support programs that put students at the center of quality teaching and learning. Demand that schools make a financial commitment to partner with an arts organization. If a school or district does not have “skin in the game,” they are unlikely to invest in the program over a multi-year period. Offer multi-year support for the best programs. It is unlikely that learning will stick with students and teachers without two or three years of funding.
- Internally, align the NEA arts education program initiatives more productively with other programs to reinforce the link between well-educated young people as vital to the health of communities large and small, and as potential audience members and supporters. Research shows that if students learn an art form and are comfortable in cultural organizations in their communities they are much more likely to become future arts consumers.
- Support research that demonstrates the value of arts learning as a means of helping to close the achievement gap and as a vital part of the core curriculum. Collaborate and with NASAA, foundations, and others to evaluate effective partnership programs among schools and cultural organizations.
SHANNON: We know that the last thing the Obama administration wants to do is reignite the Culture Wars. During the campaign Obama seemed—almost magically—to be able to stay above the fray of culture war-style attacks. However, governing has stripped away what seemed like Teflon coating, and culture war issues have once again begun to emerge and “stick.” During Gioia’s tenure at the NEA, he worked diligently to implement high-profile NEA initiatives that centered on what I would describe as safe, palatable art. While this was effective in re-directing the conversation about public sector support of the arts, it did not address or negate the core issues that ignited the culture wars of the mid-90s. And perhaps doing so would be virtually impossible, especially given the recent rightward tilt of the Republican Party.
The NEA’s policy of providing direct grants for projects in lieu of to individuals, serves to (usually) safeguard the agency from vulnerabilities. If the NEA were to fund artists once again, I think it must be for specific projects. An effective way for the NEA to award grants to individual artists would be for proposed projects whereby the artist would work with another entity—be it an arts organization, homeless shelter, nursing home, health care facility, etc. An innovative approach—which may be outside of the purview of the agency—would be for the NEA to serve as a “matchmaker” for artists with specific project proposals to be paired with appropriate entities in their communities. This could be accomplished through a technology component and may help artists leverage NEA support (be it through money or a “stamp of approval”) for other non-traditional funding support—I’m thinking of something like a public-sector version of www.kickstarter.com.
JODI: I think the reason to be cautious about the NEA’s funding of individual artists should have less to do with political concerns and more to do with impact. It’s my contention that a National Endowment for the Arts should serve the nation in as broad a capacity as possible, and the way to do that is through arts education. However, in my experience in the presenting world, working with individual artists is a highly successful way to foster arts education in our schools. So I think the intersection between independent working artists and nonprofit arts administrators is through arts education. If the NEA can develop a strategy to support non-profit organizations in their work with arts education, we will accomplish the goals of supporting individual artists, connecting them to their community in deeper and more meaningful ways, and providing the tools for our schools to have robust and successful arts education programs.
MARCY: I am afraid, when we are afraid of the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Artists need support now more than ever. Talk about a beleaguered population getting undercut even further by the economy. The Study Helicon is doing for LINC on how artists are faring in the recession is going to be a wake-up call. And I think artists are who are going to lead us as administrators into new ways of thinking about how we get product to market. I was very heartened by a blog I read after the Yosi Sergent situation at the NEA (and to learn about Anasa) Click here AnasaTroutman.com She reminded us all that there will be a lot of fights along the path to a more just and equitable society, and to keep our eyes on the prize. The quote I liked best was “as artists, it our responsibility to shift this debate and get people focused on our larger goals; to get back into the imaginative space of what this country will be and how we will all be able to live and thrive once we are able to align our policies and our practice with our values. Continue to do the work of helping people see what’s possible.” I think that goes for us in administrative, funding and other leadership roles as well.
HOLLIS: Artists should be funded through the NEA, but that will come with risks. Reallocating funds from current programs will not be easy, unless additional funding is secured from the Congress, which is highly unlikely. As other panelists have remarked, with a 24-hour news cycle and right wing activists on the prowl, it will only take one incident to pull the NEA back into the contentious topic of artistic freedom and public funding. Many of us have been through that struggle and I’m not sure it can be won in the current political environment with such extreme polarization. However, the NEA might allocate funding to state arts agencies or other local arts organizations earmarked for artist fellowships. Another tactic might be to resurrect direct artists funding as long as grant recipients are required to perform some public service related to their project. One successful example of artist public service is Music National Service, a musical peace corps. This still leaves open the attacks from Congress and citizens about artistic freedom and the use of public funds. This is the third rail!
DOUG: Artists are already being funded by the NEA through the institutions that get NEA money. The NEA provides the money, but granting institutionally provides a wee bit of insulation from the quagmires of faux "controversies" that political forces have used for political attack. But funding institutions rather than artists is problematic. In some ways it's like funding the tool makers instead of the people who use the tools. The notion of institutions being efficient ways of doing things is increasingly problematic in our social-networked digital world. Funding institutions only is an unbalanced way of supporting the arts - great for the institutions, but increasingly not so much for the artists. Sure direct funding makes the NEA more vulnerable. Anything the NEA does makes it more vulnerable, these days, and as one side of the political spectrum gets more and more desperate to find ways of rallying its base, it's a certainty the NEA will be a political target again. Whatever it does, in my opinion. But I think the direct-funding-to-artists issue is just a small piece of a larger failure. Many see the NEA as primarily an institution that provides funding. Indeed, the NEA often acts like that is its primary function. But it ought not to be. Sure the funding is important. Sure the bestowal of the NEA stamp on a project is valuable. But the NEA is vulnerable, in my opinion, because it hasn't taken a more expansive role in the government's cultural policy. Where was the NEA while corporate interests got new copyright laws passed that disadvantage artists and the public? Where was the NEA when the media barons were lobbying for deregulation? Where is the NEA in shaping how the government deals with culture? I think it's increasingly difficult for the NEA to be primarily just a "promoter" of culture without articulating more effective and coherent positions on issues that affect the arts. Direct funding of artists is important I think, but unless it's part of a larger rethinking about what the NEA ought to be, it's not in the cards.
LAURIE: Speaking again from the perspective of arts education, artists who work in the schools bring unique gifts to the education community. The role of the artist in education is about motivation and inspiration, about viewing the world through a different lens, about enriching the educational experience. While I don’t believe that the political attacks regarding funding of artists pertain to artists who work in a school setting, tension does exist between the arts and education communities as to the use and value of teaching artists. Educators are wary of artists stealing their jobs; artists are impatient with having to focus their artistic energies on standards and assessment. Both have a point. In the very best of scenarios, the creative collaboration that can exist between artist and teacher is a positive and powerful thing. The Endowment can nurture that collaboration by supporting programs that are not prescriptive, but rather foster a sense of shared ownership and responsibility.
NEILL: As a former individual artist, I’m torn. In principle, I believe that directly funding artists would be good for artists and the country. Experience tells me, however, that doing so is politically perilous and that such a program might very well produce public outrage that ends up reducing support for artists and the arts sector.
SCOTT: No, I don’t think the government should directly fund individual artists, at least not the way they’ve done it in the past. Throughout history, artists were often supported by a powerful patron, and today artists often point to that as a precedent for government funding of individual artists. But there was a very important difference: in the past, the patron supported the artist himself, and the relationship was ongoing. Furthermore, with the patronage came certain expectations – Leonardo served as a military architect and engineer, for instance, he wasn’t just doing stuff with his tempura day in and day out. But today, the NEA doesn’t want to risk offering permanent support for a mid-career artist who has already shown glimpses of genius, and contemporary artists get bent out of shape if anyone suggests they have a responsibility to anything other than their “personal vision.” It’s totally dysfunctional.
However, such an ongoing relationship might be undertaken between artists and nonprofit arts administrators, for instance if a resident theatre committed to producing all of the work of a specific playwright, and if that playwright committed to producing quality work on a consistent basis. But the key word in that sentence is “commitment,” a concept that seems almost totally lacking in our contemporary free-agent-nation arts scene. Alas.
CORA: My current mission and work is focused on supporting individual artists, so of course I think that the NEA should fund them! But seriously, it’s always struck me as a little strange, and sad really, that the United States is one of the few industrialized nations on the planet that does not adequately honor its most significant artists as “living national treasures” who are the exemplars of a democratic society and our diverse American culture. I think the NEA is on the right track with its Jazz Masters program, Heritage Fellowships, and even the National Medal of Arts – all of which recognize and even fund individual artists - but these special initiatives don’t go far enough. I would love to see 50 artists – one from each State - recognized and given a cash award from the NEA each year. Perhaps the NEA could work with state arts agencies or expert funders (like US Artists), in the selection process, or partner with private funders to make this happen. There are so many possibilities - all that’s lacking is leadership and the political will.
IAN: Again, my position is rather iconoclastic on this one. I don’t think that direct funding of individual artists is a particularly good use of the Endowment’s resources. My objection is less political than operational. Let’s say the NEA is right that there are two million artists in the United States. No agency is equipped to properly evaluate the talents of two million artists—or even a tenth of that number. Hell, top colleges only receive twenty to thirty thousand applications a year. Individual artist fellowships might have made sense back when the NEA was first formed and the arts infrastructure was significantly underdeveloped compared to now. In 2009, though, it’s a horribly inefficient way of distributing money, unless artistic merit (quite a subjective bugaboo to begin with) is just thrown out the window and anyone who claims to be an artist can apply for an automatic $20 grant. But somehow, I don’t think that’s what the individual artist fellowship advocates have in mind.
Far better, in my opinion, for the NEA to support the infrastructure that makes funding for artists possible. There are established procedures in place to pay most individual artists for the activity that they generate. Composers can be commissioned by the ensembles they write for. Dancers can be paid by the companies they dance for. Playwrights can get royalties from the plays they write. The problem is not that artists can’t get money for their work, it’s that too many artists can’t get enough money from their work to make a living. Rather than circumvent the curatorial system that already exists and add another, very expensive layer on top, the NEA should work to subsidize the payments that are already made through the system—especially at the smaller organization level—and thereby support the curatorial activity that already takes place. There is one thing on which the individual fellowship advocates and I will agree: artists don’t receive nearly enough of the funding that goes to support the arts. According to Americans for the Art’s research study Arts & Economic Prosperity III, artists themselves receive only 11% of total arts organizational expenditures—a figure far too low.
The Panel 4 discussion continues tomorrow.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 7TH:
BARRY: We talk a lot about next generation succession and emerging leadership issues. What role do you think the Endowment should have in helping to train, prepare, develop and support the next generation of arts leaders and how might it go about that?
MARCY: As an alum of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellows program, I can attest to the broadening of vision and perspective, and the invaluable hands-on training I was given on the national arts system by working at the NEA for a semester in 1991. In 1993 when I moved to San Francisco at least 15 women my age, working in the arts in the Bay Area and Sacramento, who had all been at the NEA in this program and others early in our careers, met monthly to network, discuss policy and advocacy issues, and just share information. There are numerous opportunities to engage to next generation of arts leaders. And, I applaud the Hewlett Foundation’s support for the emerging arts leaders of the Bay Area group. This NEA program, however, or some version of it, is inexpensive, comprehensive, national, and nurtured many of the leaders working in our field today.
SCOTT: First of all, their role doesn’t need to be monetary – colleges and universities have already shouldered that burden of training, and they’re already getting money from other sources. The NEA contribution comes from using their bully pulpit to change the narrative away from the pathetic Cinderella story that forms the basis for most arts education (if you work and work and have a good soul, someday you may be lucky enough that Prince Harold [or Harold Prince] will recognize your beauty and poof! he’ll make you a star) into something more mature, responsible, and responsive. They need to support artists who are also arts leaders, by which I mean artists who make speeches, write articles, think about the field as a whole, and facilitate the creativity of others. Arts leaders are reflective, articulate, educated, and inspirational. To accomplish this, the NEA should only give money to artists and organizations who are willing to undertake this heavy lifting, and who are able to do it really well. If young people knew that the institutions who employed them were going to hire them based not only on their ability to belt out “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” but also on their ability to speak and write and reflect, then they might be more inclined to pay more attention in their English 101 and Western Civilization classes and learn how to put words and ideas together in ways that make sense. Tony Kushner said as much in his article, published to resounding silence in American Theatre Magazine, called “A Modest Proposal,” in which he called for an abolishment of all arts majors and a focus on getting a damn good liberal education. Hear hear!
JODI: Can I be honest about this? I’m not sure. I am having a hard time seeing an effective way for the NEA to influence the training of the next generation in a formal way. I do see an issue with the different genres and national associations each developing their own “emerging leader” programs, duplicating efforts in a lot of ways. Perhaps there is a role for the NEA in this vein; establishing a national dialogue among these efforts? That seems pretty thin, but I will admit this one stumped me. I see the need for arts organizations, universities and funders to take up this charge, not necessarily our National Endowment.
IAN: I believe that our field too often privileges experience at the expense of talent, learning ability, and entrepreneurial spirit. The wisdom of experience is not the same thing as the functional skills required to get things done. After all, how many arts organizations across the country are now redesigning staff job descriptions around maintaining a presence on Facebook, created by Mark Zuckerberg from his college dorm room?
What the field needs most in this area is a clear leadership pipeline for arts managers. The private sector has formed many fruitful partnerships with top colleges, professional schools, and so forth, establishing rotational leadership development or project management programs, 360-degree evaluation practices, and a clear “track” for professional advancement in many industries such as consulting and banking. While not all of these innovations may be the best choice for the arts, clearly our field has a lot to learn from our for-profit cousins.
While the burden of involving next-generation leadership in organizational decision-making will ultimately fall to arts organizations themselves, the advantage of getting the NEA involved in this discussion is its national and cross-disciplinary scope. For example, the League of American Orchestras has developed an exemplary orchestra management training program, but it will never be open to non-orchestra professionals because that would be outside of the League’s mission. A couple of participants in previous weeks of this blog drew attention to the untapped potential of the Endowment as a convener, particularly of national service organizations. I think this would be an excellent topic to bring up at such a convening—and please, NEA, if you do so, include emerging leader voices in your planning process.
The truth is, though, we don’t need the Endowment’s help to start taking better advantage of the contributions of emerging leaders. Most of the bright younger and newer arts professionals I know are not hard to find; it’s just that their entry-level or junior management positions don’t afford them the kind of platform that others in the field have to make their intelligence and insight obvious to everyone. If your organization doesn’t already involve the entire staff in strategic conversations about the future, there’s nothing preventing you from changing that tomorrow. If your organization’s board doesn’t already include voices from people younger than in their forties, that’s an easy change to make. If you don’t have any idea of what your direct reports think about how the organization could do what it does more effectively, ask them. You might be pleasantly surprised by what they come up with.
SHANNON: Besides offering convening opportunities for arts professionals (including emerging leaders), as others have mentioned, I’m not sure what direct role the NEA could play in fostering the next generation of arts leaders. I don’t see that as being a necessary part of NEA’s core work. Americans for the Arts has done a great job of fostering emerging leaders networks through direct professional development, but more significantly (in my view) by providing an impetus for local emerging leaders to create their own networks to connect and develop professionally. The NEA certainly does not need to recreate that wheel!
I think the NEA could do great service to emerging leaders indirectly by offering programs that focus on innovation and non-traditional artistic and creative programming. I have been noticing a trend where many of my younger peers (I will still be an emerging leader for 250 days and counting, thank you very much!) do not necessarily consider themselves arts administrators; they see themselves as creatives fulfilling their vision for artistic programming, often in unconventional ways. That they are often outside of the NEA’s radar might ultimately negatively affect the NEA’s ability to reach new creative communities that operate outside of public sector support of the arts.
I have two concerns about the future of the public sector arts field:
1. Many in my generation, in addition to the Gen Y’ers (or Millennials), do not see a lot of opportunities to lead public sector arts agencies. You know that toy where you have a square grid that comprises an image, with one space left open, and you need to move the tiles around to complete the image? That’s what I see happening in public sector hiring practices—a “boomer” Executive Director will move from one organization to another, rarely allowing for emerging leaders to enter into the grid and become Directors of public (or nonprofit) arts organizations. This causes a downward spiral whereby emerging leaders are not seen as qualified because they have not held an ED position. Concomitant to that dynamic is that younger generations are increasingly turned off to the tightly structured and bureaucratic nature that goes along with working in the public sector. These two factors make we worry that we will soon be left with a chasm of leadership in the public sector arts field in the very near future.
2. Many emerging leaders, frustrated with the lack of leadership opportunities in the field, have started their own organizations in order to fulfill their visions. Often these new organizations are highly innovative and entrepreneurial, which is wonderful for the field and creative communities across the country. However, my concern is that we are recreating the boom in new arts organizations that occurred in the 70s, and will face another wave of “founder’s syndrome” when my cohort begins to retire.
CORA: The Endowment could support more Internship programs within the agency, which would not only train and mentor next generation leaders from around the country, but also make a statement about their importance to the future of the arts field. The NEA might also consider reinstating direct funding to service organizations and other intermediaries who have the existing expertise to train, prepare and develop our next generation of arts leaders.
DOUG: Sure the NEA should encourage better leadership. Of course. I'm not sure what role that ought to be, other than helping organizations that are doing good work under excellent leadership. Reward good leadership where you see it. develop the capacity to better understand what good leadership is.
LAURIE: Being successful in the exercise of leadership means having the vision, personal commitment and ability to enlist others to the cause. It means being able to hold multiple viewpoints while not losing sight of the ultimate goal. It means knowing a little about a lot of things, but mostly about knowing what moves and motivates others. In observing the leadership style of those whom I admire, I notice they enter a conversation with a healthy respect for strategy (big ideas) as opposed to tactics (short term actions). The Endowment can foster that big picture thinking by encouraging cross sector leadership development, bringing artists, arts administrators, educators, community and business leaders together to learn from one another. I was fortunate to attend the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program this past summer. As one of only two people from the arts sector out of a class of 70, a powerful moment for me was in affirming my own core values as well as experiencing the growing sense of community among an intentionally diverse group-- diversity in cultural background, race, ethnicity, age, gender, geography, sexual identity, and political agenda. Hearing what moves and motivates city councilors, fire chiefs, state legislators, union negotiators, city officials, and others offered a great opportunity to practice hearing and seeing the world through the eyes of another. Which is ultimately what the practice of leadership is all about.
NEILL: If those who have a moral and fiduciary duty to addressing human resources and workforce preparedness issues in America’s arts organizations - namely their Boards of Directors and staff leadership - have not attended themselves to these issues, there is little the Endowment can or should do. My experience is that many organizations are working through these issues in an orderly way. If the Endowment leadership believes that more is needed, they should work with the States, Regionals, and Discipline Service Organizations to craft a programmatic approach. Personally, I am impressed by and have a lot of faith in the quality of the young arts leaders with whom I work. I believe that they are far better prepared than many of their elders were and that they are readier to assume the mantle of leadership than perhaps many are prepared to admit.
HOLLIS: Building capacity in the arts community is an important issue, but assistance in this area should be targeted to communities and populations that need it most. There are arts administration degrees offered at many colleges and universities across the country, most of them blending classes with internships. I would recommend focusing on communities of color and small to mid-size organizations that need this type of infrastructure support. In general, larger organizations do not have problems finding qualified employees. Striking the right balance between direct funding for arts disciplines and arts learning programs, and building capacity in the arts community will be a challenge for the NEA. Such an effort might be best handled through state arts agencies that are in close touch with the needs of their constituents.
BARRY: What would you like to see the Endowment accomplish? What policies should govern its actions? What should be its priorities? If you were to advise Rocco Landesman on what the agenda for the NEA should be --what would you tell him?
IAN: As I mentioned in a comment the other week, it strikes me that the NEA and most of its followers have focused quite narrowly on the concerns of nonprofit arts organizations in the United States. In a perfect world, I would like to see the arts field work much more collaboratively and proactively with other fields. There are a myriad of ways in which the arts intersect with broader federal and societal priorities. As Chairman Landesman has recognized, the arts potentially have a gigantic role to play in the economic revitalization of neighborhoods and downtowns, particularly outside of major metropolitan areas where small investments can make a big difference. So why isn’t there more interaction with Housing and Urban Development? The arts are widely regarded as the linchpin of a broader creative economy, due to the space they provide for innovation for its own sake. So why are the arts so rarely a part of the discussion of the White House’s new Office of Social Innovation? Our world is rapidly becoming more integrated even as it becomes more complex. If the recent political brouhahas involving the NEA teach us anything, it should be that we can’t afford to stay in our silos for much longer.
Beyond that, I would encourage the Chairman to focus on the infrastructure of arts production in the way that I mentioned earlier. While the Endowment already does a decent job of spreading funds around both geographically and to organizations of different budget sizes, the fact remains that the vast majority of arts organizations have no hope of receiving an NEA grant because they are too small. Arts organizations receive far more from the federal government in the form of Congressional earmarks than they do through the Endowment’s competitive process. Given that large, established institutions have by far the most tools at their disposal (prestige, connections, large customer base, individual donors) with which to ensure their own survival and artistic success, I believe that the Endowment’s resources would be best directed toward the identification and support of exemplary “under the radar” arts programs, including innovative models for cultural production and distribution.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, the Endowment’s value in centralizing attention on issues of field wide interest has yet to be fully realized. By convening discussions relevant to the field and by commissioning high-quality research that enhances our understanding of what the arts do and how they do it (not just how many artists and patrons there are), the Endowment could provide an extremely valuable service that not many others would be in a position to duplicate.
DOUG: I kind of covered this in an earlier answer. But culture has changed dramatically since when the NEA was founded in the 60s. The needs are very different now. Very different than they were even five years ago. It's probably time for a rethink of what the NEA really is, what's needed from a federal agency for the arts. Is it funding? Maybe. But maybe there's a greater need than funding right now (not that funding isn't important). Funding is difficult right now. I'm not saying funding isn't important. But I wonder if funding should be the NEA's most important role right now. What funding there is ought to be used more strategically, I think. What do artists want the NEA to be? What do they need most? Have they been asked lately?
LAURIE: I return to the theme of big picture thinking. The Endowment has an opportunity to advance arts and culture by thinking expansively, by painting a vision of an arts-rich country that is irresistible to the public and policymakers alike. Using one of the favorite images from my Harvard experience, it’s time to get off the crowded dance floor, where one can see only the sweaty gyrations of those immediately adjacent, and move into the balcony, where a greater perspective awaits. I would challenge the new leadership at the Endowment to move to the balcony, to look and think more broadly than programmatically, particularly in the arts education arena. Programs alone are ultimately not going to enable us to achieve a vibrant cultural conversation. Programs may be politically safe and easy to justify, but they are essentially tactical and prescriptive by nature. BE BOLD is the motto of the day.
CORA: There have been so many great suggestions already posted on this blog – I guess I would encourage the Chairman to draw upon his producing and entrepreneurial experience to work in innovative ways across the nonprofit and commercial arts divide, across traditional discipline silos, cross-culturally and internationally, and fearlessly, with artists. And finally, to quote you Barry, “Don’t Quit!”
SCOTT: First, I think the NEA should completely stop giving money to mega-institutions like Steppenwolf and Lincoln Center – those institutions that previous responders have noted currently have captured the NEA. Why? Because those organizations don’t need it. That little splash of NEA money disappears in the ocean of their multi-million dollar annual budgets without a trace. Instead, use the money where it will have a serious impact: small and midsize institutions in out-of-the-way places. New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles are rolling in dough; but hand out a decent grant in Paducah KY or Amery WI and watch things happen. It’s a big country, and most of it isn’t comprised of places with a million people. They deserve the arts, too.
Second, the NEA should make it clear that its focus isn’t on the artists, isn’t on the institutions, but is on its constituency, which is the American public. The focus should be on inspiring creativity in the public (see my comment on arts education), and that might, of course, involve “providing” works of art, but it also might involve facilitating creativity in the Average Joe. If they want public money, artists should be servants to the greater good, not special, privileged people whose only commitment is to their inner muse. If you take public money, you are a public servant. It is time that artists recognize that.
Finally, the NEA needs to swallow hard and recognize that its main contribution should be in promoting the arts of today, not the constant reinterpretation of works from the past. Antonin Artaud said it: no more masterpieces. We need to tell our own stories in a language that speaks to today’s audience about today’s life. There are plenty of foundations out there who will fund Shakespeare and Mozart, but the NEA needs to be funding institutions that are committed to finding and developing our own artistic worldview. Prior to the 20th century, the focus was on new work, not old – and as a result, we got Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, Michelangelo and Leonardo. In the 21t century, what does America have? Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, Michelangelo and Leonardo. We are an echo culture, not an originating one. That has to change.
MARCY: I guess it boils down to four things for me –
1) Reach and include the broader universe of cultural enterprise -- everyone from the for-profit musicians, to the volunteer choruses, the mariachi bands, and the stitch-n-bitch circles, everyone who is creative and creating.
2) Encourage the dynamic adaptability of the sector. We are not going back to the old days. How do we evolve and move forward?
3) Fund to transform the systems of deliver of art to market, in all its permutations, locally, nationally, virtually.
4) Facilitate the creation of vibrant communities (as Doug McLennan calls them) around the arts and creative people, instead of “sustainable” institutions.
SHANNON: I believe that the NEA should continue its work to bring artistic and creative experiences to every nook and cranny of this country. That approach obviously serves the agency (and all of us) in terms of advocacy, but I think as a foundational principle, federal agencies should consider their constituencies as all of the peoples of this country.
I also believe that the NEA should focus on developing a national framework of cultural policy in the United States. It should be broad enough to be relevant to the wildly diverse communities that exist in our nation, and serve as guiding principles for agencies across the country to activate their communities through the arts. Of course, the arts as an economic driver for our nation—through the creative economy—should be an important component of such cultural policy principles.
Lastly, I think the NEA should work to establish partnerships with other federal agencies, so that the arts can contribute to offering solutions to the challenges we face as a nation. For example, the arts are a valuable component of the beautification of our nation’s transit systems. Many of these projects occur with percent for art legislation at the local or state level, but the DOT would be a natural partner to expand this successful program to the federal level. And then there’s health care. Of course, the arts community should not be rallied to help pass the Obama administration’s reform efforts (a lesson learned just a bit too late!), but the NEA should not shy away from working in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services to incorporate the arts in ways that can improve health care services and provide programs that can help HHS increase the quality of health care for patients.
JODI: It’s all about arts education. I have two areas of focus for the NEA
1) Work to develop deep, strong relationships with related federal organizations to leverage a national focus on creativity and the arts in education.
2) Refocus efforts to arts education programs, focusing on programs that engage artists and organizations in efforts to bring the arts into schools.
HOLLIS: Stress the value of the importance of the arts in our lives. This means working the Congress to articulate how the arts play a vital role in the health of our communities and in the lives of young people in schools. Acknowledge that in some communities the arts are not something to be consumed, but a cultural dimension that reflects heritage.
Analyze NEA funding and review the balance of allocations to NEA programs, state arts agencies, and other initiatives. Develop a strategy that provides the most leverage for the Endowment’s grants budget. The NEA cannot be all things to all people. Its imprimatur is a stamp of approval and serves as a catalyst for local fundraising. However, limited resources need to be focused. Well funded organizations that do not need NEA funds for core programs and survival should be less of a priority than supporting small and mid-size organizations that are closer to the community and are usually on the cutting edge artistically. I am not advocating for lower quality standards or lax management practices but a triage process to allocate where NEA funds can have the most impact.
Continue to highlight the importance of the arts as a vital economic sector in a healthy community. Arts organizations hire people, pay employment taxes, enrich community life and offer a range of programs for every interest. I am aware of those who say that the economic impact has never been proven; it’s not a silver bullet. But is one or several case making arguments that most people understand. Point out that the arts and creative industries include what goes on in the front of the house, but also the back of the house – stage hands, arts handlers, accountants, web designers, administrators, teaching artists, etc.
In sum, exert leadership to take a hard look at strengths and weaknesses of the NEA. In current parlance, reset the NEA’s mission and strike the balance between support for arts disciplines, arts learning, and building capacity in the field. In the process, reach out to potential new partners in a grand public/private initiative.
NEILL: The near- and mid-term future are almost certainly going to be tumultuous. Our times have been described as an “era of permanent white water.” I predict increasing instability for that part of the sector that is institutionally based, especially with those organizations that have failed to do serious planning work that involves re-thinking mission, business model, and delivery systems. I also predict a simultaneous bloom of creativity and art among the part of the sector that is not institutionally based. We are likely to see one of the most creative and expressive periods of our lifetimes occurring at the same time that there are significant numbers of organizational dissolutions at all sizes and across disciplines.
I can’t help but think that these tectonic changes are likely to be extremely disruptive for Mr. Landesman and the Endowment. Because the Endowment has been politically coerced to make its primary relationships and delivery systems institutional, if it continues to frame its constituencies in the same way, it will find itself in an unrecognizable landscape.
The last thirty years have been the era of the organization. We are moving into the era of the individual where the arts are concerned. To remain relevant, the Endowment will have to devise strategies to relate to individuals, collectives, and collaboratives where advocracy is a key organizing principle.
There are staggering social and political implications that accompany such a future, chief of which is less involvement by those who have typically served on Boards of Directors. Ad hoc organizations (project-based) don’t institutionalize. These changes have significant implications with respect to fundraising, advocacy, community relations, and audience development.
If Mr. Landesman is able to just hold things together while we (the broader arts community) figure things out - and preserve or hopefully strengthen the Endowment’s ability to add value to the sector - it will be an important accomplishment.
I would urge him to consider moving back to a discipline-based organizing principle where the agency is better able to strengthen its relationships with the disciplines. I would also urge him to work to strengthen State and Regional arts agencies. Any strategy that strengthens the Endowment’s ability to add value locally is pivotally important. Mr. Landesman has to find ways to make the Endowment meaningful. It is not enough to just look or act important - not in these emerging times when so many convenient distinctions - professional, amateur, institutional, ad hoc, etc. - are blurring together.
Still more Q & A with the Panel 4 Participants tomorrow.