Thursday, October 8, 2009

October 08, 2009

 

CONTINUATION OF FOURTH PANEL - NEA DISCUSSION


Please scroll down for the Friday Wrap Up – and for the beginning of the Panel 4 Discussion. Earlier Panel entries can be accessed on the right had side under “recent entries” – scroll down.

BARRY: There is a growing class of recently retired arts leaders (including some who aren’t yet finished with their careers, but who have moved over to the consultant side of the fence as it were). What role should the Endowment play in maintaining the sector’s institutional memory and somehow capture the lessons learned from this class of leaders for the benefit of the sector’s future leadership? How might it accomplish that?

IAN: I would never presume to assert that emerging leaders have all of the answers. I’m only 29, but even in the last few years as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to understand just how much there is that I didn’t know at 26, and how much more I have left to learn. So I think our retired and semi-retired arts leaders have an important role to play in guiding the next generation forward and grounding our efforts in historical perspective. Every management team can benefit from having experienced voices as part of it, even if those voices are heard in an advisory rather than supervisory capacity.

What is the Endowment’s most appropriate role? I’m not sure it needs to get involved to too great a degree in this transition, but I think it can start by setting an example in its own hiring practices by putting people with the right combination of experience, skills, vision, creativity, and energy in leadership positions and ensuring that experience levels are appropriately distributed among the teams. The Endowment could also commission an oral history or other research project to record the rich historical perspectives of the retired and semi-retired arts leaders and preserve them for posterity. The next generation of leaders will also need the humility to seek out those perspectives and not get caught up too quickly in their own brilliance. But with that said, I suspect the perspective of elders is more likely to be valued properly when sought out voluntarily or incorporated into a common vision than when dictated from the top down.

SCOTT: Encourage them to write, and speak. This is the time of Web 2.0: teach them to blog, teach them to podcast, and pay them to tour the country speaking at colleges. Disseminate their wisdom.

BARRY: How do we effectively address the need for continuing education and training of the field, and what is the role of the Endowment in meeting this infrastructure need?

CORA: I think the need for professional development for arts administrators is urgent, especially given the impact of the recession on arts funding and organizational staffing and budget reductions. Perhaps the NEA could take the lead by convening Web 2.0 providers, private foundations, and nonprofit service organizations to develop a joint plan for web-based programs and infrastructure to meet that need.

HOLLIS: Building capacity in the non-profit arts and education fields has to take place, especially for mid-size and smaller organizations. The NEA already has excellent strategic planning documents online and these materials could be supplemented with new materials. The NEA should take advantage of the podcasts, webinars and other web-based media to reach out to the field. Organizing regional or arts administration seminars targeted to those individuals and organizations that need additional professional development would be another strategy. This issue would benefit from research and a needs assessment to determine the best use of limited resources.

LAURIE
: Trading on the theme of big picture thinking once again, the Endowment can create opportunities for cross sector education among constituents. The arts community must be willing to venture beyond the silos of specific artistic discipline and job function to experience a more holistic, more global world view of arts and culture. As a field, we must learn to stand together and not be pitted one discipline against another or one job function against another. The Endowment can model and exemplify that world view through fostering ongoing regional continuing education in administration, finance, programming, fundraising and marketing that is geared toward working across disciplines as well as across job function. Can’t you just imagine a workshop on the principles of nonprofit finance taught by a dancer or a session on fundraising techniques taught by a musician?

SCOTT: Technology. The NEA should create a portal for the gathering of the wisdom of the past, and the wisdom of the crowd. Allow people to share best practices, publish research, engage in on-line discussions and conference calls. Create a website, pay a moderator to aggregate information and facilitate communication, convene forums. It’s not that hard anymore.

BARRY: Do the programs and services the Endowment currently offers reflect the best use of its money? Do you think the NEA has (is) doing enough to promote and nurture smaller arts organizations and newer, more cutting edge art? What about its support for multicultural arts? What should the NEA do to ensure that it makes provision for these kinds of arts and arts organizations? Where should the proper balance lie between support for traditional Anglo America arts forms, arts expressions and legacies, and arts organizations, and both multicultural arts and newer, more avant garde artistic expressions of younger generations?

JODI: This may be an unpopular position, but I don’t see a role for the Endowment in making value choices about what art is worthy and what isn’t. I am becoming a broken record about this, but I see the Endowment becoming the champion for creativity and the arts in schools; in helping young people of all ages and races have the arts in their lives, so THEY can make the choices about what art is valuable, and what isn’t.

SCOTT
: The avant garde is a misnomer. The original meaning of the avant garde was a group of soldiers that were sent ahead (avant) into unknown territory to scout around and the report back to the main regiment. The contemporary avant garde misses that second part – they don’t report back the results of their experiment beyond blowing a raspberry in the general direction, because they aren’t actually trying to discover anything new, they’re just trying to “provoke” people (i.e., get up their noses). The NEA needs to fund people who are truly trying to advance the field. And that means trying new things, yes, but also it also means reflecting on what is discovered and reporting back to the field. I’ve said it before, but artists need to write and speak about the art, not just do it. As far as “support for traditional Anglo American arts forms,” we have quite enough CDs and videotapes of the works of the past, and a long line of foundations willing to support tradition; the NEA needs to fund the present and the new. If they had a ton of money (the fantasy billion mentioned in past conversations), then sure, be balanced; but when you’ve got a few measly bucks, spend it on the arts of today, and make sure something remains from our society other than reruns of Friends.

DOUG: I think the NEA is largely trapped in a model built for a different time. Ask any of these questions individually above and the answer is probably no. Ask them together, and it's clear that answering no is an impossibility. Too much. Too complex. Too difficult. I'm not sure you can balance it all. I'm not sure that you can have effective impact while trying to do it all. But it's not clear how you do less than all and make hard choices. By the current NEA definition, it will always be inadequate. It will always be chasing and be behind. There needs to be a better overall strategy for a federal agency for the arts. It can't just be Santa Claus to really make an impact.

IAN: As I mentioned before, I think the Endowment could do a better job distributing its resources to organizations of all sizes. There is really no reason for the NEA to be giving $50,000 grants to organizations with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars. It’s just another check off the list for those development departments. On the other hand, even a $5,000 grant could have a transformative impact on an organization with a smaller budget, and the vast majority of arts organizations fall into that category. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that the current discipline-specific structure really makes the most sense for the field, particularly as more multidisciplinary work and organizations appear and as genre boundaries between what has historically been considered “art” and multicultural, commercial, and vernacular forms of creativity become ever more blurred. I keep coming back to this point, but as the national funder for the arts in America, I really think the Endowment should focus most of all on maintaining and building the infrastructure that makes cultural production and consumption possible, leaving the specifics of what art gets produced when by whom to others who are in a better position to judge. The decentralized support to state and regional arts agencies is a good example of this infrastructure-oriented funding in practice. Specific programs to subsidize presenters of various sizes, competitions, record labels, distribution networks, technology platforms, community cultural planning efforts, research, and service organizations would help as well. But the Endowment should be vigilant in ensuring that an appropriate portion of these funds ends up ultimately helping artists, rather than arts administrators and for-profit consulting firms. Even though I am generally in support of unrestricted funding, then, there may be instances in which the NEA’s project-based support is more appropriate; and I would also advocate for the establishment of a robust evaluation department to assess program effectiveness using tools from the NEA’s 21st-century peers in the philanthropy community.

MARCY: I have always felt, as a public funder and working for private foundations, that public agencies need to support the work that represents the multiplicity of people we are trying to serve. Here in California no arts funder can claim their audience reach mirrors the demographics of our state. Is that a good goal? We don’t have all the voices at the table. We’ve been working on that one since I was born in 1964. And something that was significant in the conversations around the planning table at the Department of Cultural Affairs in Los Angeles last year rings even more true in this downturn. The dollars for the arts are limited, yet the potential role of the arts is ever expanding. How can we work with our sister public agencies – education, health and human services, senior services, HUD, community development to meet mutual goals?

SHANNON: I do not believe that increases in NEA allocations should automatically be directed to specific programmatic regranting dollars for states and regionals. At WESTAF we are always looking for ways to assist the field by experimenting with new models to respond to the rapid changes in arts participation. Yet, regranting funds often come with strings that preclude us from exploring new avenues. I would love to see a pot of money that required us to try something new and think big. How about some type of venture-capital approach whereby we competitively fund organizations that want to experiment with developing new streams of earned income? Or a program to provide seed money to organizations that want to initiate some type of "on demand" web-based presence for their performances or exhibitions? What would a grant program look like that supported new participatory models, such as garage bands, knitting circles or "spontaneous" DIY arts programs?

On another note, I think that the NEA should expend significant resources to develop a new, contemporary cultural policy for our nation, one that responds to new technologies, evolving ways in which people participate in the arts and the shift in audience behaviors. Also, I would recommend that the NEA devote resources to working with state arts agencies and state legislatures to explore the next generation of arts policy, including creative-economy based economic development principles, cultural tourism opportunities and other ways in which the arts can help provide solutions for the pressing issues of the day.

BARRY: Has the Endowment done enough to nurture, protect and foster greater development of multicultural arts, and what might it do to support those legacies and create greater access to those cultural heritages?

DOUG: Of course not. Culture is fragmenting in all sorts of interesting niches. The NEA has admirably worked to expand its multicultural focus. Doing that without expanding funding means that there's less for legacy arts. This is problematic for that sector. Even so, there is such an explosion of cultural niches - and not just split in terms of ethnic culture, but online culture and cultural which we now have access to because of technology - that the NEA influence grows dimmer with each year. Has the NEA kept up with new ways culture is produced, delivered, and consumed? Nope. But who has?

My question is: has the NEA pondered the implications of the profound cultural shifts going on right now and what that will mean for how we fund and support culture? The line between non-profit/for-profit is awfully blurry these days and the implications in these changing business models for culture will have large cultural implications. I think the NEA in its current form is too diluted.

JODI: This is an interesting question, and one that I am going to frame in my background in international studies. Cultural exchange isn’t high on many people’s priorities in today’s day and age, but the argument could be made that we have a greater need than ever before to understand our world and the cultures that make it function. Taking it all the way back to arts education; while creativity is going to become increasingly important for the future American workforce, multi-cultural understanding is at least, if not more, important. I see a possible role for the endowment in partnerships with other federal and international agencies to leverage arts that promote cultural understanding and dialogue.

CORA: The creation of the Endowment’s Expansion Arts program, as Frances Phillips said earlier, was arguably one of the most significant funding programs ever created to lift up multicultural issues and community arts organizations nationwide. So we know that the NEA can have a profound impact on changing the arts landscape in this country. But changing demographics and the reality that many culturally-specific arts organizations founded in the 1970’s are now struggling with leadership transitions, audience shrinkage and inadequate working capital have upped the ante – the question of how to build something new is now looking at how to fix something broken.

Here are a few starter suggestions:
  • Support a research agenda that provides trend data on organizational, audience and artistic impacts from changing demographics.
  • Convene multicultural arts leaders nationally to start a dialogue about the best ways to preserve the work of their organizations, and preserve institutional legacies, which may also entail the planned shuttering of some organizations.
  • Create a national challenge grant program to help jump-start and revitalize local support for multicultural arts organizations.
HOLLIS: I do not know the proportions of funding among the NEA programs and the spread of funding among types of organizations. However, the Endowment can play a crucial role in supporting organizations of color, which in some communities are now or will be the dominant cultural expression. Often the greatest challenge for these organizations is receiving the first recognition from the NEA or state arts agency, which in turn serves as leverage for private fundraising. As I wrote earlier in the week, the question for the NEA is where it can have the greatest impact with its limited dollars. Governments lean toward the peanut butter funding policy – that is spread funding as evenly across the constituency to reach per capita allocation requirements to place funding in every legislative district. That functions fine with non-discretionary funding based on population or demographics, but not for a discretionary grant making process with matching requirements.

I believe that one of the NEA’s goals should be to shore up and support “multicultural organizations” - an outdated term. This whole country is a crazy quilt of cultural backgrounds and heritages. The sooner we realize and embrace that the more effectively the NEA can allocate limited resources. If the NEA strives to improve those organizations that have less access to private fundraising dollars and may be located in under resourced communities, it can improve the quality of life and also showcase art forms representative of that community. There are many tactics to address this need, through direct funding or earmarked allocations to state or local arts agencies that can be re-granted at a local level. There are creative examples of partnerships have been forged between established and emerging arts organizations that could be mined for promising practices. The Endowment should pilot community development projects centered around arts organizations, work/live space for artists, education programs for students and adults, and links with local businesses. A holistic approach with multiple partners places the arts and culture in the real world rather than being isolated.

LAURIE: Schools are hungry for authentic multicultural artistic experiences. Educators can readily see the value of using multicultural arts to bridge differences in culture and language. What better way for students to understand how the human experience transcends culture when presented through a multicultural artistic lens? The Endowment, through its vision for quality and equity for all students, can provide access to these cultural heritages.

SHANNON: I do not see a lot of explicit support for multicultural arts coming from the NEA; however, these communities are most likely served through their folk life programs and abstractly through their regranting awards to partners such as Regional Arts Organizations and State Arts Agencies, under the aegis of “underserved” communities. Now, that definition is quite broad, so the support of multicultural communities is left to the discretion of the regranting agency. I also take a bit of exception to the verbiage of "underserved," in that it places multicultural communities and arts practitioners in a victimage stance. Rather than celebrating the tremendous offerings of our nation's multiplicity of cultures, they are defined as underserved, implying that their artistic needs or practices are somehow "other."

One of the things that I have observed in some multicultural communities (and I am not intending to generalize), is that artistic practices are often ingrained into their culture in ways that would make the "traditional" arts administrator blush. Storytelling, dance and craft can be a way of life for many multicultural communities--and the thought of receiving federal support for those activities might be anathema--but yet, that is where a lot of the vibrant activity lies. What might the NEA's role be in promoting these multicultural activities? I don't know. The NEA must be sensitive to the appearance of co-opting these practices. Further, one could anticipate a loud cry from the anti-Affirmative Action crowd if the NEA were to be explicit in its support of multicultural arts. (Not that they should cow-tow to the screamers, but--as I mentioned before--the last thing the NEA needs at this moment is a rehash of the Culture Wars.) As a federal agency, the NEA's constituents are the citizens of our country--including the wealth and breadth of our multicultural communities. As such, these constituencies should be served by the NEA--how such a program might be shaped is certainly open for healthy debate.

MARCY: I think this about the broader cultural universe as well. Past, present and future, there is a diversity of expression that exists wholly outside of our 501© 3 arts universe. How can that work be supported, what do those artists need and want, how can we hold this up as an equally American art to the work we support in 100 year old institutions. There are a myriad of mechanisms. In my view the first step is a shifting in our frame of reference.

SCOTT: There are many cultural heritages in America that are being ignored, but we tend to define multiculturalism almost exclusively in terms of race. Where are our great rural works of art? Our arts are dominated by urban themes and images. Where are our working class works of art? Our arts are dominated by educated, middle-class elites. I could go on, but you get the picture: if you promote diversity of all kinds, it benefits the arts. Yes, Rocco, that means geographical diversity too.
Thank you all very much for another lively discussion.

Wrap-up tomorrow.

Friday, October 9th - Panel 4 wrap up

BARRY: Another insightful Panel with much to think about. Here are a few of the points made by panelists that struck me as needing more thought. Doubtless there are many more that will resonate with me (and you) on a second or even third reading:
  • I don’t agree nor disagree with Doug McLennan’s belief that Arts Education really isn’t as essential to an overall education as we have made it out to be. I find that assertion disturbing, but challenging and the question looms out there and ought to be addressed. Can the NEA help to improve that shortcoming by helping to establish standards for teaching the arts – I think they could. But should they, will they – I don’t know.
  • Ian thought we should consider the problem of offering too much arts education given that the American economy does not now support but a fraction of the number of the artists we have.
  • Hollis suggested changing the nomenclature to drop ‘arts education’ in favor of ‘arts learning’, and added that all education is local and that is where the battles are really waged. Other panelists similarly suggested we talk about ‘creativity’ in the wider sense when we discuss arts education. And I think they have a very valid point.
  • Another panelist opined that the NEA needs to help to better align various factions and forces within the arts education community and might do so by promoting interagency collaborations and public / private partnerships. We are not of one mind when it comes to arts education.
  • A common theme was that NEA might convene arts and education people in a national forum, and should be proactive in establishing a relationship with the Dept. of Education to more actively involve that agency of the federal government.
  • A split remains as to direct funding of artists. Some decry the absence of the NEA in the more public arena of arts policy as it relates to artists – including intellectual property, media company policies and regulation formation and argue that the direct funding of artists can’t happen without a wholesale rethinking of the role of the Endowment vis a viz artists in the broader context.
  • Some talked about the relationship of artists to arts education and offered that funding support for that intersection is a way to avoid controversy and still accomplish the twin goals of supporting artists and arts education.
  • Another lamented the absence of any Endowment program to recognize the contributions specific artists make and in so doing honor the role of the artist in our society.
  • Others thought the current system of funding organizations - which in turn fund artists - still works best on multiple levels – operationally, practically and politically.
  • While there is some agreement that we need to do something to train, mentor and educate emerging leaders so as to cultivate some business acumen and management skills sets of the coming generations of leaders, there is no unanimity on how that might be accomplished. Some panelists thought we might build on current successful field attempts to support emerging leaders, others thought the Endowment might again play its convenor role.
  • It was noted that the field’s failure to make room for next generation leaders with vacant slots that they might graduate into is creating a problem and that it threatens to push younger leaders to other fields, or to start their own organizations within the arts sector.
  • Shannon noted that if the next generation opts for starting their own organizations as an alternative to limited spots in the current infrastructure, we are likely to repeat the current problem of founders overstaying their tenure and we will then end up with yet another situation in which the next generation down the line again has no positions open to them.
  • Some thought the development of the next generation of arts leaders was a job best left to the Board of individual arts organizations. Others thought the NEA could reward exemplary leadership training where it found it.
  • No one thought the arts are really doing enough to protect and nurture the various multicultural artistic communities in America – though no one was criticizing the Endowment’s efforts in this area. I liked Scott’s point that we need to think beyond ethnicity in thinking of serving the diversity of cultural heritages – which should include underserved heritages such as the rural arts tradition.
  • Schools might be a ripe opportunity for the Endowment to promote diversity in cultural heritage thought one panelist.
  • Cora thought the Endowment’s research on audience trends, coupled with convening the field to think about the multicultural support challenges and instituting challenge grants would all help in this area.
As to advice for the Chairman – there were some common themes, including:
  • Develop better, deeper working relationships and collaborations with other federal agencies, and with other sectors.
  • Address the needs of the arts infrastructure – the organizations that make up the arts ecosystem – including the full breadth of the smaller organizations.
  • Be a convenor
  • Think in terms of the big picture, and perhaps rethink the agency’s involvement with artists and how, as an agency, it can really best serve artists. Another says don’t focus on the artists or arts organizations at all – but focus on the public and its relationship to art – and that would include newer artistic expressions
  • Focus on creativity.
  • Develop a real cultural policy
  • Recognize the meta trend towards individual control of art via high tech options and develop a strategy for the endowment to play a role in that tectonic change of moving towards project based creativity and away from institutional controlled creative processes.
  • Strengthen the state and regional infrastructure system that already exists – it is the backbone of the future of NEA support
  • Use the web to help better train arts administrators.
  • Several thought funding ought to be directed less exclusively to major established cultural organizations and more to newer artistic expressions, or at least a wider representative sampling of current American communities. Others thought less funding should go to specific arts programs or projects and more to the infrastructure itself and let that system make the granting decisions.
Thank you Panel. And thank you all for following along.

PANEL 5 – Private sector entertainment industry representatives set to begin Tuesday, October 13th.

PARTICIPANTS
:

Kristen Madsen – Senior Vice-President – The Grammy Foundation
Terri Clark – Executive Director, The Television Academy of Arts & Sciences Foundation
Cary Sherman - President RIAA (Record Industry Association of America)
Mary Luehrsen - Director of Public Affairs & Government Relations, NAMM (National Association of Music Manufacturers)

Have a good weekend.

Don’t Quit.

Barry

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