Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 20, 2009

 

NEA FORUM - PANEL 6 - WORKING ARTISTS


Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on.............”

Scroll down and click on the 'Continuation' for the Wednesday, October 21st entry.

Before we conclude the online Forum on the NEA with the last panel – Panel 6 – Working Artists, I would like to again convey my deepest appreciation to all of the participants in all the panels. This was, by any standard, an impressive gathering of some of our sector’s most prominent leaders and best thinkers, in what turned out to be both an ambitious undertaking to discuss a whole range of policy issues that we face as a field, and a very successful outcome to that undertaking. As I looked back this weekend on the previous panels I am impressed with the breadth, depth and range of ideas, thoughts and opinions offered here. While I don’t agree with all the ideas expressed in this Forum (agreement would be an impossibility given that some thoughts are diametrical to others), there is considerable food for thought in the discussion of the last six weeks. Once the Forum concludes at the end of this week, I will begin to undertake a summary and synthesis of the six panels for future publication. That won’t be for awhile, as this has been a somewhat exhausting enterprise for me as a staff of one.

PANEL SIX - WORKING ARTISTS

Note: One member of this panel is not definitionally a “working artist”. James Bewley is, rather, the program officer at the Warhol Foundation. But he works closely with artists, and I wanted some voice on this panel that could relate to both the needs of artists and the challenges they face, and the nonprofit infrastructure that purports to serve them. Along these same lines, Diem Jones is both a working artist and working arts administrator. All the other esteemed participants are working artists in America today.

Some of the entries are a little long, but I am reluctant to edit anyone's comments. The readers are free to do that for themselves.

PARTICIPANTS:

Lily Yeh
Claire Light
Lily Kharrazi
Homer Jackson
Eugenie Chan
Diem Jones
Ralph Helmick
James Bewley
Paul McLean


BARRY
: Many of the participants in this forum have commented on whether or not the NEA should attempt to reinstate direct grants to artists. Some feel the agency is vulnerable to partisan political attacks and that funding artists directly might open up a Pandora’s Box of problems. Others believe that funding for individual artists should be at the very core of the Endowment’s mission. What do you think the NEA should do on this issue?

EUGENIA: Fundamentally, the NEA should fund individual artists. Cut out the middleman. Let the creative be the CEO of her grant. John Killacky, in speaking about Trisha Brown, makes a good case for how an individual artist can leverage an NEA grant, because of its size and imprimatur of national legitimacy and excellence, beyond the scope of the grant itself. It will enable the artist to find and create pathways to other productions, collaborations, funding opportunities and new audiences.

Ideally, individual artist grants should cover a spectrum of artists -- be they long-standing practitioners, the creation of specific projects, the cultivation of so called “emerging” artists (admittedly an ambiguous category) or innovators. This of course necessitates a robust NEA budget. If the budget for individual grants is small, then I would advocate funding innovative emerging artists, people for whom a grant would make a huge difference – the difference, say, between realizing a work at a gallery or performance space, or not. While serving on a grants panel after we had finished adjudicating applications, we artists and administrators were talking about funding in general. San San Wong, the director of Cultural Equity Grants at the San Francisco Art Commission, reflected aloud, “Sometimes I ask myself, if we (funders) are funding enough failure?” This she believed was a way to move the arts forward, to nurture the discipline. Now that’s out of the box thinking. A funder willing to risk. I like that. I think the NEA needs to be willing to fund a risk, a potential “failure”; otherwise, individual artist grants will always go to the tried and true as a way to deflect the furor and hysteria of those who would use the NEA to promote a particular partisan agenda.

Remembering what happened to the NEA after the witch-hunt of the NEA Four in the early 90s, I do understand the fear of making the agency vulnerable. Here is where I believe creating a vibrant, meaningful mission for the NEA is critical. We need the NEA to reclaim a narrative for the arts in America; and I mean everyday fabric-of-life America where artists and public alike -- the Average Jane, students, seniors, newcomers, people-of-color, the employed, the underemployed –everyone, is engaged and/or has access to the arts and the creative process. Artists and citizens need to be a part of creating that narrative. And the NEA has the job of sounding the clarion call o’er the land so that we (including Congress) get and benefit from the arts and the creative process – the enrichment, the intellect, the questioning, the community, the collaboration, the innovation that creativity, well, creates.

To deal with the perceived insularity of an individual artist grant, perhaps there might be a “sharing” or dare I say, educational component of an individual artist grant where the artists shares/teaches her process or something about what is being created. As an artist I’d love to learn from others in the field. In the long term, this is a way for an artist to also pass down her legacy from one generation to another, as is done in traditional cultures.

LILY YEH: The NEA should support the best individual artists as selected by peer panels. Art holds a mirror to our society and sometimes it reveals areas we don’t like or are not aware of. Art reveals what is true and valuable, not just what makes us feel good. Art pushes the bounds of our comfort. The NEA needs to support individual artists who are visionaries and foreseers, so that they can lead our nation in creativity. An artists’ right to freedom of expression should not prevent them from receiving financial support when they have a body of work representing artistic excellence to share. Fear of political tension should not prevent the NEA from remaining committed to its mission. Supporting individual artists is an important strategy to realizing that mission.

CLAIRE: I'm less concerned about the partisan political attacks in this issue. Politics shouldn't be determining the NEA's programs; it's rather the NEA's marketing and outreach strategies that should be affected by politics. As many, or most, of the panelists on this blog have said (and said better than I), the NEA needs to shape a message about the value of the arts that speaks to the citizens of a consumer-driven society, without buying into consumer values or language, like I just did in this sentence.

But, I don't think the NEA should be funding individual artists directly, no, and for completely different reasons. The limited funding and national scope of an NEA individual artist program would necessarily bolster elitism and a certain amount of aesthetic homogeneity. Only artists who already have reputation and reach on a national scale would be likely to get such grants, and artists living in large art world centers would tend to get preference. These would also be the very artists that benefit indirectly from NEA grants to national institutions. If the concern is to develop a national arts culture by creating de facto artist laureates, I'd rather see disciplinary institutions (museums, theaters, etc.) do that job.

I'd prefer that funds for individual artists be regranted by state and local commissions, where funders can work more closely with artists to recruit and educate applicants, where panels can be formed from the artists' actual colleagues and community members, and where priorities can be set according to local/regional concerns and working conditions for artists. In such a program, I'd like to see loose quotas (guidelines maybe?) for artists living/working in urban vs. exurban and rural areas, and for artists working in diverse (and less nationally favored) disciplines and genres.

DIEM: I think the Endowment should consider replicating a version of the Literature Fellowships to other artistic disciplines and phase them in, by discipline over several years.

JAMES: I want to preface my answers by saying that a) I’m expecting a baby at any minute, so my attention to these questions has been hampered by that distracting near-event and b) while I’m honored to be identified as a working artist, the truth is that most of my time is devoted to my day job as a Program Officer at the Andy Warhol Foundation. The Foundation supports organizations, but as an artist’s foundation, we consider the needs and benefits of artists first and foremost in our decision making process. As a funder, we often work parallel to the efforts of the NEA, but as an artist I feel pretty disconnected from its activities. I’m optimistic that they can still play a significant role in the cultural life of this country, and glad this discussion is happening with so many good ideas already put forth.

As to this question, of course I think the direct artist grants should be reinstated. My fear would be not political backlash, but that the artists receiving these grants truly be those most in need. So often awards at this level, and certainly one with this much lightning rod potential, tend to go to safe choices, or artists for whom yet another award is fantastic and meaningful, but maybe slightly less so than for those who have not been recognized at all. I’d love to see the initiation of an artist grant program that is tailored to emerging or mid-career artists based on artistic merit and relative need.
These grants would not have to be large, and given that most of these artists have had little exposure, there’s less fodder for political attack. Or perhaps pairing artists under a mentor model, wherein established artists select an emerging artist to work with and they both get grants to pursue their independent work as well any collaborative projects that come from their pairing.

Should they not get back into this, or have the resources to do so, I’d just point out that in this wilderness time since the NEA stopped direct artist grants, a few daring organizations have grown up to take its place and are smartly supporting artists directly. Creative Capital has one of the most acclaimed programs in the country, set up specifically to support artists, their process, and professional development. From traditional to the experimental vanguard they are helping to develop truly great work that would have difficulty finding support elsewhere. Thinking about how extensive and deeply Creative Capital engages with artists (and has done so for 10 years) I’d suggest that the NEA should be thinking again about the Regranting model that was so successful in the past. Identifying organizations that have been doing the work that a fully funded, fearless NEA would do if it could.

HOMER: First, I have to admit that everything I say is just conjecture. I have some information and some personal experiences, but I am no journalist or scholar. I am just sharing my thoughts, feelings and hunches. They usually steer me to the truth or at least in that neighborhood. And in these kinds of situations where the muck and mire are deep, it is really tough to clear your head to present something meaningful to the process and not just more vitriol. So bear with me. With that said, I think we all, including the NEA should stop with the myths and get to the truth. The NEA actually does give funds directly to artists. On the NEA's website at the head of the grants page, it states.... “.... In most areas, funding is limited to organizations. (Direct awards to individuals are made only through Literature Fellowships, NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships, NEA Opera Honors, and NEA National Heritage Fellowships in the Folk & Traditional Arts.) " Since the days of the so-called Culture Wars, I guess we all ran for cover and many of us never looked back to see what was left in the rubble. Well, obviously deals were made and what we get is that the only groups of artists who receive fellowships are those who are represented by the powerful Publishing & Music industries. [Except for the National Heritage Fellowships in the Folk & Traditional Arts] What's important here is that visual artists were excluded. Most of the drama behind the so-called Culture Wars was in response to the work of visual artists, particularly gay artists and artists of color. Although specific works were discussed, what was really being attacked was the movement toward a practice of multiculturalism. And this was also quietly being attacked by some institutions as well. For all of its issues this period of multiculturalism, did a few interesting things....
  • Placed specific target goals on audience participation, audience development and attendance.
  • Presented the notion that minorities were actually majorities in some communities and should be served in ways that met that reality. 
  • Dispersed funds and developed initiatives that supported Alternative Spaces, which tended to present and support many of these artists. 
  • Supported regionalism, decentralized & dispersed funds geographically throughout the country. 
  • Pushed the boundaries of quality just a little bit beyond the established tradition.
After the smoke cleared from the so-called Culture Wars, things went pretty much back to "normal." This "normal" didn't include the many, extremely fertile re-grant programs that supported artist projects and institutions. This "normal" didn't include the new wellspring of gay artists and artists of color, or other artists working in disciplines that were newly experimental or audience driven. This "normal" didn't include the alternative spaces that supported these artists and these forms of expression. Most important, this "normal" didn't include the audiences of color or the other audiences that these artists speak to, representing millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. Here we are 10 or so years later and within all of this change, the "no artist grants" myth has managed to be a very public "secret." So, although I feel that the NEA should not pursue direct funding to artists in the way it was done in the past, my instincts and perhaps my jealousy urge me to challenge the notion that some artists and art forms are more deserving than others. In addition, these grants have been quietly given to hundreds of artists for maybe the last 10 years. Yet, beyond supporting these deserving folks and their work, have the grants fertilized the environment that these artists work in or invigorated their community of artists? I think not and that is ultimately what the challenge is. Yes. The NEA should directly fund artists, but not with it's present or even its past's methods.

LILY KHARRAZI: In my work as a program manager at the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), the role of the individual artist is crucial but within the context of community. Innovation and excellence by an individual is created within cultural parameters and there is an amazing amount of innovation within tradition. The recognition of these individuals brings into sharp focus the cultural communities they belong to, highlighting communities’ values, aesthetics and histories. By the sweat and persistence of leaders in the folk and traditional arts field, namely Bess Lomax Hawes and under the able directorship of Barry Bergey, the NEA has an established a Folk & Traditional Arts category. The National Heritage Fellows, an award equivalent to the national treasures of other countries is one of the strongest statements of support that the field has for the traditional artist and validation for the contributions that hyphenated Americans bring to our national artistic palette.

If only the trickle down effect were more evident in statewide, regional and local funding streams.

The idea of awarding an individual is a culturally bound value. We in the United States prize the individual spirit—it’s the hallmark of the American character and this refrain is echoed in every aspect of our tax-paying lives. However, our work deals with a different emphasis which at its core supports the innate value of each cultural community and the individuals in it. Simply put, the idea of folk and traditional arts because of its emphasis on collective wisdom rather than a unique personal aesthetic challenges the ideas of INDIVIDUAL artist as prized. It may be a slightly different world view that deemphasizes the “celebrity” power that this country tends to produce and worship with such gusto because this lens solidly places the artist as an inextricable part of life. If the artist is seen as a part of our community we welcome them as we indispensable to our lives as the one who might heal us when we are sick, the one who grows food to sustain us, and the ones that we turn to for birth or burial.

Because the words “traditional” and “folk” evoke certain images, it may be useful for this discussion to understand that our funding spectrum here at ACTA is reflective of the demographic reality of New America. Included in this roster are Native Californians whose unique challenges may be limited access to the source materials needed for ceremonial objects, Cambodian-Americans whose refugee status in the U. S. has led to an extraordinary effort to revive the traditional dance and music both here and in Phenom Penh, to the shared cultural community of Queer America where the Los Angeles based house and ball community share many of the attributes of the communities mentioned previously.

Ideally, I would like to see an American arts policy that understands that art-making is both an individual drive as well as a one that can be rooted within a community without the undertow that drags this conversation into minority politics, racial divide and seeing hyphenated Americans only in terms of underserved communities. Sometimes these vectors can intersect but this is not always the case and a great disservice is done by perpetuating the myth that culturally specific work must be “code” for what will be politically charged conversations too complex to unpack.

RALPH: The NEA should not reinstate direct grants to artists. Our current art world is so fractured and multivalent that the prospect of using taxpayer money—with its political implications—for such a purpose isn’t worth the battle. This isn’t a First Amendment issue. Really, it’s not. Anyone receiving tax dollars should be accountable. (Public artists are de facto accountable to their commissioning agencies.) Most independent artists in our culture don’t need or want accountability.

PAUL: The conservative Christian anarchist Right started its long and destructive campaign to dominate American affairs with the attack on NEA in the 1980s. [The quote is from Peter Drucker (a self-analysis), but I would add “The corporatist” Right’s (and, lesser by degree, the Left’s) intimidation of public discourse may have started on the subject of art, but it now permeates American society. We can all look around us to gauge the effects.

The Delays, Armeys, Limbaughs, etc., have laid waste to the country. They also managed to alienate the great majority of Americans along the way. In the intervening 25 years (which span my generation’s cultural emergence) since the NEA “ and the American people“ capitulated to the bullying of the Right on the issue of direct artist grants, the Endowment has never had a better opportunity than it has now to reclaim its vital cultural leadership role.

Let the restoration of civility and respect for free speech in America’s public forum, especially for dissenting or divergent voices and visions, come full circle. And let the NEA lead the way. In short, yes, the NEA must once again administer the awarding of individual artist grants. The compelling reasons are several.
  • America has lost its post-War competitive edge in the contemporary arts arena; a glance at programming at the major exhibiting institutions should suffice to verify this statement. MoMA will not be producing a major solo show for an American artist (I don’t count filmmaker Tim Burton) through 2011, which is a travesty. The artists of Western Europe and elsewhere have enjoyed significant government patronage, and their work demonstrates the value of such direct support.
  • The near-total privatization of art in America has not produced great, or even reasonably good outcomes for the field, by nearly any measure, unless one considers enriching a very few people to be the goal of an art ecosystem.
  • By not establishing a standard for American artistic excellence and achievement through an individual artist award grant, NEA legitimizes pervasive anti-artist prejudices and industry practices. The undermining effects on the public discourse with respect to individual expressive freedom, and the collateral damage to artist lives and livings, cannot be overestimated. NEA should define itself as a ‘first responder’ when free speech is threatened in America, not as battered victim of oppression. With its former enemies weakened or otherwise disgraced/diminished, the Endowment must not miss this great opportunity to reassert itself in the broader cultural arena.
Then, the question is: How to implement an NEA direct artist award. I would suggest the Endowment combine several models that have proven sustainable in the private and quasi-governmental sectors. In essence, NEA must create a ‘public option’, a strong counterpoint to corporate entertainment industry-produced competitions that, to an unfortunate extent, currently define America’s artistic identity (e.g., America’s Top Model, American Idol, Project Runway or America’s Got Talent). We as a nation can and should do better than this.

Briefly, the NEA could sponsor a program to determine grant recipients that would include three (or more) voting components
  • An academy award: this panel (spanning all arts fields) would serve as a fine sample academy basing grants awards to individual artists on merit, arising from a transparent standards set; a relevant model to consider is the Turner Prize (1-2 year cycles)
  • A competition in the vein of America’s Got Talent, driven by an open/popular voting system (2-4 year cycles)*
  • A Chairman’s Award for outstanding achievement for a single American artist from a list of broad categories (the other components could have more specific categories) during a selection cycle of one or two years
*This component is especially important by virtue of its capacity to emphasize the democratization of the awards system and for its capacity to generate substantial support (and trust) from the American people.

BARRY: A growing number of artists work outside of the public and foundation grant systems. By doing so, they have detached themselves from the gatekeeper financing systems of the past and are engaging in new ways of supporting themselves through their art. How can the National Endowment for the Arts and other public art funders support rather than interfere with this approach to making a career in the arts?

DIEM: There is a movement to create more resources for individual artists, by several funders around the country, such as the pending resource tool being developed by CCI in the San Francisco Bay area. The development of online databases should continue and possibly be centralized by discipline on a national basis.

LILY YEH: First, the NEA should not hinder their efforts to work outside of the traditional funding streams. The NEA and other public art funders should recognize that these artists are expanding the role of art and learn from them. It is just wonderful that some artists are able to do this successfully and public funders should support them and publicly recognize their artistic accomplishments whenever possible.

CLAIRE: Artists need: 1) the ability to make work (time, space, skills, equipment, projects), 2) the opportunity to show that work, 3) status and reputation, 4) creative community. To get these, artists must be willing to shape their creative projects to suit the culture of whatever funding community they best fit in with. That is to say, artists will always behave like cockroaches: survive even a nuclear holocaust, and show up in droves where the food is.

The funding cultures (various arts and entertainment markets, national funding and institutions, and regional/local niche and community-based cultures), on the other hand, are more rigid. Trying to simultaneously satisfy opposing funding cultures is a nightmare; most artists tend -- per project, phase, or even per career -- to hover around one and only pick up crumbs from the others. On the upside, each culture has its ways of fulfilling all artist needs: funding, presenting or publishing opportunities, awards systems, and ways of promoting community. On the downside, when one funding culture fails, artists tend to find it difficult to jump to another, because these are not just different institutions and cultures, they are different communities, networks, and different sectors of the economy.

The question above seems to imply that the NEA would like to reach out to artists in all funding cultures, and I have to ask: why? The NEA is NOT the leading arts institution in the country. It is rather the leading institution in a particular funding culture. Why does the NEA want to support artists supported by another funding culture, unless it is to feel as if the NEA were in touch with all of the streams of artistic endeavor in the US? While I understand the implied anguish in the question (Why do we have to silo the different artistic fields and economic sectors? Why can't we all just get along?), to benefit artists working in a different funding culture the NEA would have to dismantle the creative economy from the ground up.

I think the NEA's attention is better directed at creating a mainstream national understanding of the value of art. Money put to an effective marketing strategy would be well spent. Bring in the tide, raise all boats.

JAMES: Those that developed alternative systems may be in for a rough time, as some of these things grew in tandem with an expanding commercial market. So unless that comes back full force, and that seems unlikely, they’re going to have to go back to the drawing board. But as far as the foundation or NEA side of it, the Warhol Foundation has been slowly building its own Regional Regranting program. We make a decent sized grant to an organization, or group of organizations, that we support and trust in a specific region. We choose the cities based on how much artistic activity is happening, specifically the kind of alternative initiatives hinted at in the question above: living room galleries, artist collectives, individual artist projects, etc – non incorporated entities which are ineligible for direct foundation support. The partner organizations develop the program in conversation with the Foundation, and then administers grants ranging from $1000-$4000 for various projects. It allows the Foundation to have a greater reach than we could by supporting only 501c3s in an area, it allows the partner orgs to become more deeply engaged with its constituents, and it most importantly gets money into the hands of those who need it to make good work, sustaining a vital grass-roots component of the arts ecology. After pilot programs in San Francisco and Houston, we’re now entering into two new cities, Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri.

I think the NEA could easily replicate this strategy, working with its own NEA stimulus supported organizations, and build a ton of goodwill in the process. It would be amazing to see NEA logos on tiny projects happening in living rooms and storefront galleries around the country. Still trying to get a handle on the NEA’s role, I certainly see the organization currently as a top-down kind of organization, whereas I think it could only gain from more bottom-up strategy.

HOMER: If the Arts are a business, then the artist must be considered a businessperson. Stop speaking for us unless you are our legal representative. And since most artists have neither agent, nor manager, publicist nor attorney, more of us need to learn to speak for ourselves. In terms of discussing artists, our lives and work, the words "Fertility" and "Urgency" haunt me. "Fertility" speaks to the amazing activity that dances around the work when it is happening and when it is seen, heard, touched, tasted or smelled by others. The work inspires new ideas and new works within the artists themselves and within others as well. "Urgency" is the force that propels this fertile activity. The time is always now. The present moment is critical. The meter is forever moving. And the hunger forever present. Many see these principals as potentially disruptive, disorganized and unprofessional. Ironically, fertility and urgency are key aspects of Capitalism. Although these terms are not directly used, they represent critical aspects of any business's survival instincts. This speaks to many struggles within the Art World. Let's face it; our world in the arts is a third party/middle man culture, where the best interests of the artist and the community are represented by another. It is a business in which the businessman or woman are not expected to represent themselves or their product. As part of the middle man culture, the "organization" of artists and what artists do is essential. In many cases, this impacts on both the fertility and urgency of the work and the community and in most cases, it is detrimental. As an example, in my state of Pennsylvania some years ago in the mid 1990s, the current Executive Director decided that artist projects using other non-profit organizations as fiscal conduits should be phased out. In a casual dinner conversation with him, I asked what would replace that support if it was removed and he mentioned that organizations would take up the slack. That's what they do: Curate. Unfortunately, that has not proven to be the case. As a recipient of these funds in the past, I not only developed, curated, produced, and created my own work, but I also collaborated with over 60 other artists in my various projects. However, after this kind of support was removed, I found it very tough to get work and even tougher to get funding support. Needless to say that since that period of the mid to late 1990s, not only have we seen decreases in arts funding and arts presentation/exhibition opportunities, but there has also been an amazing decrease in the number of open call/public opportunities in the arts. We are in world dominated by referrals, nominations and recommendations. This lack of accessibility eventually kills the vitality of an arts community. Yes. Work is still being created. But, folks know when "nothing is happening." Folks know when the environment is stale. Another example: Philadelphia has about 8 or 9 Grammy award winners in popular music in the last 15 years or so. Some of those folks include, Boyz II Men, Will Smith aka Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff, The Roots, Jill Scott and so on. As a result of this, Philadelphia became a hotbed of the international Neo-Soul and Progressive HipHop movements and a destination for dozens of aspiring young artists. As a cross-fertilization and expanded marketing possibility, I am amazed that none of these popular and financially successful artists have written large scale musical theater/opera works in conjunction with the prominent institutions in the city. There are obviously reasons for this. However, these reasons probably have little to do with getting people into the seats of those auditoriums or bridging gaps between audiences or art forms. Ultimately, these kinds of issues are what I mean when I talk about the lack of fertility and urgency in the arts.

LILY KHARRAZI: One of the main arguments we hear in the folk and traditional arts field is a “hands off” attitude as if to say that those arts that are intrinsic to the lives of people would be disturbed if given more resources! This “leave- it- alone; it-will-grow-anyway approach” is just another way to avoid encountering the multiplicity of expression that live at the core of our cultural communities. Yes, it is messy work to encounter what you do not feel comfortable with and to run back to the safety net of primarily funding those arts that reflect the mirror of mainstream America. Artists are resourceful, but to a point.

Traditional artists are dealing with issues like the inability to access source material like native plants needed for basket making, or reviving the language of one’s people which is the repository for shared history. One example that is particularly illustrative of this point is the Garifuna community residing in Los Angeles and what they have been able to do with a small amount of money to create sea change. UNESCO has recognized the Garifuna culture as one of humanity’s endangered treasures of humanity. This is worth 10 minutes of your time: www.actaonline.org/content/apprenticeship-garifuna-wanaragua) With the language endangered, so goes the storytelling, the singing, and the drumming traditions of this African- based people who were brought to Central America as slaves. The Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United hold language and culture classes on Saturday mornings with one computer, the assistance of a web based radio station in New York, a hand-held microphone that moves around the classroom and a simple power-point presentation. They garnered over 30,000 listeners tuning in just a few weeks time. With additional leveraged resources, they are now broadcasting with live images not only language class, but drumming and dance class. Tune in www.gahfu.org on a Saturday when they are in session to see first hand the work of cultural creation and continuity. This is extraordinary given that we lose more than 6,000 languages yearly according to UNESCO. Our cultural ecosystem is fragile and we see over and over again that this “micro” grant making has impact.

EUGENIA: Don’t interfere. Learn from what these artists are doing. Disseminate their lessons and new models of support, perhaps through the web, or by providing the means by which local organizations can convene these meetings (time, space, money, expertise). Creative Capital is a terrific example of one way artists are teaching other artists how to support their work within and outside traditional grant systems.

PAUL: Before measures are taken to address the needs of artists, a clear acknowledgment from the arts field must verify that the need for reform exists, so that appropriate action can commence. We must decide to take care of our own, or it simply will not happen.

At present there is no American social, political or economic mechanism for nurturing artists and supporting our work throughout our lives. It should be noted this is true for nearly all Americans, except those of inherited wealth. I would specifically reference a section in The Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture, ["Artists' Careers and Their Labor Markets" (Alper and Wassall)], entitled "US artists' careers: 1979-1998," as a supporting document. That analysis serves as a good preface for the attached letter.

A friend (herself an artist, a former collaborator and a patron of my work) sent the following note to me a few weeks ago. She was unaware of this panel at the time, and gave me permission to share it within the context of the forum. I think this letter, and the American artist experience it communicates, a tragic one, clearly demonstrates that the impetus for change is real.

The problem is bigger than art. I would suggest that the social Darwinism that inflicts wanton, wasteful damage - on the dreams of American artists like my friend and many others like her - is prevalent in every sector of our society. Artists may not be special in this regard, but we do possess special skills for advocating for societal improvement. I believe we must endeavor to apply artistic skills tactically and strategically for the welfare of the communities we inhabit, small to large, and not just in our own interests. Good examples of Americans who are doing so are Michael Moore and the Yes Men.

The disdain of the artist for a structurally neglectful or hurtful society is well represented in my friend’s letter. The converse (the pervasive social prejudice against the artist) while more complex and dimensional, is in part due to our collective failure as artists to align with the commonwealth, instead of the wealthy and their interests; conflated by the destructive ambition for stardom and its fleeting promise.

Dear Paul:

Here's my annual income, 1974 - 1993

1974 - $2400 working in the office of WT Grants in highschool
1975 - $2100 working in the office of WT Grants in highschool
1976 - $1251 singing in bars. Yes this is ANNUAL.
1977 - $2496 singing in bars
1978 - $0, must have bought equipment and so got to write income off
1979 - $4119 as a waitress at pizza hut and singing some, this is my biggest year yet
1980 - $2219 musician singing in bars
1981 - $2336 musician singing in bars
1982 - $0 musician, must have bought some gear
1983 - $3651 musician in band that was getting popular regionally
1984 - $6165 musician, our band was really popular
1985 - $470 the band broke up
1986 - $1039 playing covers in a terrible band and about to get divorced
1987 - $8290 receptionist by day at a printing company while sneaking into a recording studio at night - this was my biggest income, and I'm 30 this year.
1988 - $8871 lookout, I'm working at an advertising agency, another big year
1989 - $640 this is the year I got a record deal with Elektra, look how that sneaking into the recording studio paid off
1990 - $0 - this is the year I and my band made a record for Elektra (our manager gave us money to live on, and when it fell apart, the manager filed for bankruptcy and lost his house)
1991 - $9,612 - my share of the $130,000+ publishing advance, after the lawyer presented a $100,000+ bill... lost the record deal this year
1992 - $662 - now I am a former major label artist
1993 - $17,023 - I got a job as an assistant in the music business and never looked back... I was 36 and just sick of starving and hurting...

I'm thinking of turning those numbers into some kind of artwork or song or maybe both. When I look at those numbers, it breaks my heart. When I look back on my life's path, I sometimes weep for the young woman I was. Oh man, I was born so fabulously talented, nobody ever knew what to do with me, I didn't know what to do with myself for years and years, and all of that confusion and pain fueled the alcoholism...and did nothing to advance or develop my talents...
 

These days I drive past mall parking lots and think, look at all the cattle. They're inside grazing, fattening themselves up for the kill, literally. And that on which they "feed" has no meaning, no value, it goes through their system and comes out the other end as the shit it was to begin with, gets flushed away into the sewers with everything else that stinks and that we put far, far away from us or it will make us sick... .... they waste the money they have on shit: just diversions, illusions...and judge others on what meaningless diversions and illusions they do or do not display... they divide themselves into smaller herds defined by an agreement to see and share a common illusion ... "do you see what I see" is the secret password

In 1999, when I was without a piano for the first time since I had started composing on it.... I was living in Minnesota where I had gone to get my master's degree, I would drive down the streets in expensive neighborhoods in St. Paul, and just KNOW that there were gorgeous baby grands and full grands inside them, that were being used for nothing more than table tops for family photos, and it would literally make me cry. My body ached. They had pianos in their houses, and didn't know what to do with them, I knew what to do with them, and couldn't get next to one....anytime I ran across a piano in a church or building somewhere, it was a magnet, I had to touch it even if I wasn't permitted to play it... the St. Paul Quakers were gracious enough to give me a key to their more-or-less unheated church, and I would go in there one day a week, wearing my winter coat and hat and gloves with the fingertips cut-off so I could feel the keys, and play the piano....I was desperate, I still am desperate. I wouldn't mind a little less desperation. Before, the desperation came from "Where will I get my food? How will I pay my electric? Do I have to stay with a man who doesn't love me just to have food and shelter?" and now it is "How will I find time and energy to make the art and the music?" because a fulltime job is exhausting and takes up alot of a person's day... but after 12 years in this field I finally have a 4-day a week job, so there is about to be time to make art and music, more and more of it now that I'm settling in and actually have a piano again... so I have started performing out again (2 times in the last two weeks, and the response has been excellent, I have gotten very good by singing at home alone) - next week I am beginning a course in discipline, and that is, I will be getting up at 5 AM to play music BEFORE I go to work, one must put one's priorities at the top of the day when energy is the issue...

By the way... the year I got the record deal with Elektra, I lived in a two-room "converted" garage, slept in a coat and hat under an electric blanket, and if I forgot and left any water in a glass or dish, it was frozen solid the next morning - I had a kerosene heater (the one I gave you for your artspace in Nashville, remember?) but of course I couldn't run it at night... the local convenience store was papered in bad checks, a dozen or so of them were mine... I was lucky to have $20 to my name, and people who are not artists think I'm joking when I say I lived on the 3Ps : pasta, potatoes and peanut butter.

It is a painful path, that of the artist, no matter where the survival money comes from. We feel more deeply.... I have done alot of reading of the research on gifted and talented persons, and when I share it with people who are gifted and talented, they sometimes cry... anyway, I made a vow never to be dependent on anyone for money ever again (including record companies and publishing companies), so that I could make my own art and my own music as I saw fit, not have to put up with ugliness or tantrums from husbands (I've had two, and am done with that manner of living)... this meant, and I knew it when I started down this path, that I would have to give up my art and music for a long time, and it's been more than a dozen years, really. I stopped thinking about it because it only made me angry, and I had made my choice.

Now it is changing. I've been through menopause, have been sleepless and nauseous and covered up in sweats day and night for about 6 years.... but have started sleeping again in the last 5 months so I feel art and music energy welling up, and I actually now have a place for them to come out and play. And now that I have my space and a job that doesn't kill me (as the others in this field have nearly done), I am letting the Beast back out of its cage. It has been resting well and long, taking in without comment, and has been doing pushups in its little cell.
 

Love
JetGirl"


RALPH: First, I don’t really understand how the NEA et al are interfering with independent artists charting their own courses. We should salute them and let them be. (Governments and foundations are gatekeepers in the sense that they have an obligation to set standards and be selective.)

BARRY
: Arguably, this country has more artists than patrons and audiences to support them. Why should the public sector support and extend this oversupply?

LILY YEH: It is not possible for the public sector to support and extend the oversupply of artists. That is why the NEA must hold to a high selection standard and a commitment to supporting excellence. It is not the NEA’s purpose to support every artist - the NEA must target its resources to support the best of art across the nation. Art is like the soul of the country. The NEA should not support an artist for merely being an artist, the artist must demonstrate a level of accomplishment that is consistent with national standards for excellence. When a significant artists’ work does not have public appeal, the NEA must step in with support to ensure the continued development of that artists work. An example of where this would have been helpful is in the case of Vincent Van Goh.

JAMES: Where the NEA could be helpful is somehow retooling the message that art is a luxury, and that the arts exist for the elite. They can do this by getting involved on a local level, expanding its presence (online and physically), and by supporting work at the source. Through this effort, you’d begin to see a shift in how the NEA is perceived and how meaningful the arts could be to a community. For instance, if every museum in the country had FREE NEA THURSDAYS rather than FREE TARGET THURSDAYS the audience would probably have a better association with the NEA than it now currently has with Target. That is such a simple and ridiculously easy thing to do. It supports worthy organizations for all their activities while also making an impact locally and increasing access to the art of our times.

I do think audiences still outnumber artists, and that there is an ever-expanding group of potential patrons out there. I would think that the commonplace examples of people paying for premium interactions with culture (HDTV, iPhone App Store, HBO, Sony gaming stations, those Opera cinema broadcasts) hold some form of the key to this approach. We’ve grown familiar with compelling content devices, and are hungry for compelling content. If artists were producing that and using these familiar outlets, there’s an endless potential there. The Obama campaign model (which was the PBS model but with actual stakes) is also one which proved that value can be assigned and incrementally obtained from a willing engaged audience.

CLAIRE: I disagree that the US has more artists than patrons and audiences. Just look at the huge and complex production and consumption of video, television, film, pop music, comic books, popular fiction, anime, and the hip-hop multimedia world. I'm not interested in jumping on the old high vs. low, sublime vs. entertaining seesaw. But while we were worrying about whither the visual narrative?, TV drama got better than movies. While we were sweating the downfall of reading, a new golden age of Young Adult fiction was paving the streets. Teens and twenty somethings who can't read music, identify internal monologue, or recognize a plié if it happened on their faces, are talking way over all of our heads about an astonishing array of unfunded and DIY visual, musical, dance, and spoken performance styles that consistently draw enormous viewership. And no, it's not all online.

But these are arts that support themselves through youth culture and/or for-profit creative industries. So the real question isn't "Why should the public sector support and extend this oversupply of artists?" but rather "Why should the public sector support and extend artists making work that doesn't seem very popular?" There are two answers that aren't mutually exclusive. The first answer is that the profitable creative industries, and youth culture itself, are enabled, supported, and fed by the more sophisticated and rarified arts culture that exists in the so-called "high arts" (if you want to make art hierarchical.) This abundance of publicly-supported creative professionals provides delightful and challenging content for all of the public's senses, moods, and concerns, which fans out into the mainstream via more popular artists. All artists need community, conversation, a public dialogue to be a part of. Publicly-funded art makes popular art good, interesting, and possible.

The other answer is: it shouldn't. I don't believe "the market" should determine what is artistically valuable to us, but there does come a time when we have to acknowledge that relevance makes controversy, that art is discussion. Where there is no controversy, there is no more art. Where there are no patrons perhaps the NEA should bestow no money. Or, even better, where there are no patrons, perhaps the NEA should drum some up. Instead of using partisan politics as a compass directing the NEA away from a program, perhaps the NEA should be using it to home in on a program. If the message is that art is debate, the NEA could potentially revitalize mainstream national discussions spurred on by controversial arts ... but on its own terms. Take the initiative, pick the most outrageous art, and present it in a context in which the most hysterical right-wing partisans will share a stage with the artists afterwards ... and the whole succeeding debate will be broadcast on national TV. Or something. That would get an audience, and put to bed both the question of relevance, and this passivity in the face of partisan control.

DIEM: There will always be a wealth of artists who by their nature are seeking to further their professional engagements and as creators of cultural bridges, which become the fabric of our society, therefore their role in the pursuit of a healthy ecosystem is significant and needs support from the public sector.

HOMER: In 1997, I wrote a paper for the Pew Charitable Trusts entitled "Developing Technical Support For Individual Artists." In the paper I stated, " .... I would like to offer a recommendation to the field of educational institutions, educators, publishers, as well as manufacturers and retailers of arts related supplies, equipment, software, hardware and other materials. My suggestion is that these parties join together and discuss the development of national, regional and local arts scholarship programs for high school students. This effort must be joined with a vigorous national public relations campaign. These activities, should include TV, radio and Internet commercials and print advertising in all major media to challenge and combat the negative public image that artists and the career of art making have received during the last six years of political culture wars. This bad publicity is simply bad for business all the way around. The impact of these negative views of artists and our contribution to American culture will have, or already have made an impact in student enrollment, therefore potential sales of books, arts supplies and equipment."

During the current, international economic crisis, we have been taught something critical to our existence that was hidden from us: "any spending is good spending." There is no hierarchical order in terms of cash and its flow. There is no class. There is no race. There is no politics. Money is money. As artists, we buy supplies. We buy tickets. We buy equipment. We buy food. Although many of us struggle to buy these things, we do buy them. The greatest supporters of the arts are actually the artists themselves. Dancers fill the seats in auditoriums of recitals and performances. Writers buy the books, magazine and journals of their mentors, students and other writers.

Finally, I'm not sure most artists are even asking for support. Although, I think they wouldn't mind the support, I feel that it is the Arts World, the middle man culture that publicly seeks and needs the support most, not the artists.

RALPH: There are too many artists and not enough good artists. The public sector has no obligation to grow the pool.

EUGENIA: For me, this is really a question of access and exposure. I’d love to have a dialogue about how we as different communities of artists or presenters can make it easier for people to access the arts. In my case as a playwright, how do presenters make tickets affordable? And can we do things – or get help doing things, like providing childcare at performance spaces, so that people with families can see a show without breaking the bank? Can there be, as Steven J. Tepper has suggested, public vouchers for the arts? Do we need to change how or where we present work? I wrote an interview-based play, commissioned by the San Francisco Foundation, about the artistic desires of different generations of Chinese in the Bay Area (who are not artists), in response to the Wallace Foundation’s question of changing demographics. To get my interviewees’ feedback in a way that was culturally sensitive, so that I could create an approved draft that the SF Foundation could publish on its website, I presented a lunchtime reading of the play at the social service agency where many of the interviewees gathered and worked. Many of the attendees remarked about how satisfied they were to be able see a play with real actors speaking English and Cantonese, at a time and location that made it possible for them to do so, given their work and family commitments, and how far they lived from the city center. Access is especially critical for immigrant, of color, working class, young and senior communities, and more. Do we also need to change how we define art so that we can enlarge what the vision of art in America is? Yes, we do. As others have blogged about garage bands, DIY happenings, and knitting sessions, I’m thinking of communities where the arts are already integrated into everyday life, like the barrio dances of Pilipino communities, the Cantonese opera performances of Chinese benevolent societies, or ballroom dance gatherings in the new Chinatowns.

PAUL: I have reviewed the relevant data that superficially sustains this argument, an argument that arises from a corporatist/Rightist/free market anarchist-schema. I would suggest, by way of reframing the question’s perspective, that America should be proud of the numbers of citizens who have committed their futures to collective cultural and artistic improvement and excellence.

The premise for any utilitarian application of the referred-to talent pool for the benefit of the commonwealth requires a pervasive re-envisioning of American social identity, and the concurrent application of the nation’s political will to promote general quality of life over the wealth of a few individuals. This is the case in many facets (if not all) of the country’s current problem set.

In the comments section earlier in the forum panel I included a plan for a New Art in Action (NAIA) program for the country. I submit that a neo-New Deal approach could be tremendously beneficial to the US and the arts field. It should be remembered that the several public art programs instituted during the last great Depression had the direct result of catapulting America’s artists to the forefront of the art world in a remarkably short period of time. Arguably, these programs collectively constitute the greatest public arts movement in history, yielding hundreds of thousands of artworks, many of which remain among the United States’ undisputed cultural treasures.

Today’s NEA-administered NAIA program would have a very different focus, even if the impact would be the same: to visibly inspire, provide hope, for a nation rocked on its heals by economic devastation at the hands of the usual suspects. This time, the labor of artists could be focused on improving virtual/digital infrastructure, as well as actual architecture/infrastructure, throughout the nation. A generation of young artists, working with established masters, could devote themselves to a range of necessary public works projects, from upgrading municipal websites to installing public art in blighted neighborhoods. The NEA and arts orgs can contribute leadership and management towards implementation of a New Art in Action initiative.

The potential benefits are practically incalculable, not least among them the restoring of civic pride to many towns and cities struggling to survive the decimation that has enriched some of Wall St. and impoverished almost all of Main St. The program would also provide logistical experience, not to mention usefulness and fair wages, to legions of artists who will never, under the current system, experience their real value to the community otherwise.

Artists must not be the organ grinder’s monkeys for the rich any longer. We must re-integrate in the lives of our fellow Americans and align with them for a commonwealth, rather than continue our participation and therefore support of a destructive arts economy shaped like a hybrid of the NBA and a Las Vegas casino. Currently, except for a few stars, the “house”, the Super Class, always wins. This must change, and a New Art in Action program can change it.

The alternatives are: an even more extreme consolidation of cultural wealth over the next several decades to the detriment of the nation and democracy; a slow march for the US towards artistic and cultural irrelevance; and the wasting of tens of thousands artists’ dreams and visions. This last is probably the worst loss to a free society.

America will (absent real change at depth) continue its trend towards a cultural diet consisting of the artistic equivalent of ‘fast food’. I refer to the consumer portable art industry, in which multinational corporations distribute cultural ‘McNuggets’ for $1-20, for the majority poor. The rich, absent reformation, will continue to feast on weird luxury art that is best at mocking the lack of others. The few of aristocratic means will continue to horde the best of the best art for their own indulgences, only shared with the rest of us as noblesse oblige. This is not the America our Founders envisioned, nor the one Americans have fought to defend for centuries.

More of the Panel 6 discussion tomorrow.

Click below for the Wednesday, October 21st entry.

Wednesday, October 20th

BARRY: Do you feel that working artists are adequately represented at the decision making tables of the nonprofit arts sector, including the NEA?

DIEM: Most don’t have the time, interest, professional acumen or invitations to participate.

LILY KHARRAZI: As soon as we are able to move beyond the myopia of our current definitions of who makes artwork that counts and who are considered to be the power brokers, I would advocated for as many stakeholders as possible to be at the table in the spirit of listening. I think many of our funding resources are well intentioned but it is harder to work towards consensus when key players are missing. There may be a lot to learn about group consensus and task follow through from a Hawaiian halau (school) for example. For starters imagine this: How lovely to greet one’s elder with the designation of “aunty” or “uncle”—how immediately disarming to welcome a stranger with a designation of “family”.

HOMER: No.

LILY YEH: No. While working artists are invited to participate in peer review panels, the selection process for this participation is not always representative of the tremendous diversity of artistic genres and the arts community. I wonder if the selection process itself limits the participation of the full spectrum of artists as it is often a process of who you know or who knows of you. I cannot speak to the representation of working artists earlier in the process when the eligibility criteria and program guidelines for arts funding are developed. Participation in these key decision making process are as important as the roles artists play on the peer panels. Additionally, most working artists do not have the deep pockets needed to be invited to serve on boards of important cultural organizations. Thus, their views are not represented during policy making meetings.

CLAIRE: I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the NEA's practices and policies involving working artists in their decision-making processes. I also don't know any working artists who have been involved in NEA decisions. That may or may not answer the question.

EUGENIA
: My experience in the Bay Area lends me to think that local arts agencies, as well as the NEA, do a good job of bringing diverse artists to the table when it comes to grant panels. However, artists need to be an integral part of the conversation when it comes to policy, implementation and vision, as well, especially a breadth of artists from different disciplines, generations, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and geographical regions. I think there especially needs to be representation from artists in smaller cities, towns, and rural areas.

RALPH: I don’t know.

JAMES: I doubt it. When I was at the Hammer Museum, they initiated an Artist’s Advisory Committee with the support of an Irvine Foundation grant. It was one of the most amazing things to sit in on, as the goal was to have a rotating group of artists, with a wide array of diverse experiences, fully engage with all aspects of the museum, understanding at a fundamental level how the museum functions. That first group of artists helped define a leading process-oriented artist residency program, and helped find ways in which all of the organizations activities to better serve artists. The Hammer did a pretty good job of serving artists prior to this committee, but it now does an extraordinary job. In turn those artists are ambassadors for the Museum. There is no real downside in involving those you serve in the decision making process. It’s essential.

PAUL
: Representation and accountabilities are the central issues. Since NEA sets the standard, the question should be how does NEA represent the priorities of artists in its decision-making? Several people (not artists) asked me, “Why is the Chairman position an appointment, rather than an elected position? and Why are the President’s recent picks for White House art the end of a design process, as opposed to resulting from popular participation, at least in part?” If lack of trust at the leadership level is the problem, whether it is trust in the American people’s capacity for discernment or artist’s capacity for playing well with others at the administrative level, then the answer is not to minimize involvement, but to improve it. The system requires revising not only in the furtherance of artist’s issues, but also with regards the mission of providing people with quality programming that they care about.

The NP art sector is a big place, and many NPs do a fine job representing artists. Artists are frequently NP arts org founders. I don’t know of a compendium of stats that surveys the percentages/ratios of artists to other professions on Boards, in staff and admin positions at NPs, but that would be interesting to know. What experts and experienced NPs generally agree on is that maintaining an effective Board with good staff relations is a persistent and sometimes messy affair for all orgs, not just arts orgs. Artists are often not particularly well suited to Board work and are more functional at the staff level, or as advisors. What does this tell us about the mandates of the NP as an organizational model, and the NPs capacity to serve artist’s needs?

Until the field is democratized, though, the NEA and arts orgs will continue to disenfranchise individual artists and fail to garner the artist support they need to thrive. In many cases, setting aside good intentions, the NP culture, procedures, structure and motivations (and legal parameters) diverge so fundamentally from artist’s that there is little commonality of purpose ultimately. And I wouldn’t, as an artist, pine for some time in the future when NP institutions will start to recruit artists as industry practice corporatizing the NP will push artists further to the margins.

BARRY: What, if anything, would you like to see the Endowment do to help artists to achieve a ‘living wage’ (i.e., one that would allow them to pursue their artistic career full time without having to work a supplemental job)? Should the Endowment or the field pay more attention to bread & butter issues for artists, such as health care, training, business management etc.?

PAUL: I would suggest that NEA establish an American artist online network, using Charles Saatchi’s website as the model. The mission should be to offer a “public option" to the US arts marketplace, where NEA’s dedication to artistic excellence can be showcased. Although Etsy, Ebay and other for-profit alternatives have proven the demand and supply-side technology exists for the praxis, the economics are the driver, and not other concerns, such as legacy. The goal should be that NEA provide American artists the best website in the world. This is almost all upside. Such a site can serve as an aggregator, a comprehensive listing, a social network, a revenue generator (for artists and NEA), a driver of healthy competition (economically speaking and with respect to innovation), a platform for critical response and discourse, a subtle way to promote quality from the bottom-up and top-down, and a means by which the NEA can reclaim its rightful position in the field as a determinant, as a field leader and arts service simultaneously. The production costs would relatively minimal, the timeline/turnaround sufficiently brief. The necessary technology for implementation does not need to be invented, it exists. Workers could be hired as an arts stimulus plan, which the industry sorely needs. Plus, the NEA could peg standout US designers and web companies to compete for the privilege of designing, building and maintaining the site. A popular/voting/polling component could be included to democratize the project. The symbolic effect would be to redirect the field’s cultural focus to America’s artistic commonwealth and away from short-term gains, which has in large measure undermined the value of art for the American people. The NEA individual artist grant awards could easily and effectively be integrated into the functions of this site. If public voting is a part of the awards procedure, Americans will support it.

As for the question’s second part, the issues raised apply to all Americans, not just artists. The NEA was recently attacked for promoting arts industry advocacy for political activism meant to improve general conditions for all on these very points. NEA must stand up to such attacks. Speaking for myself, I believe artists are uniquely capable of articulating the need for reckoning or change (‘Guernica’ comes to mind) and mobilizing, inspiring people to fight on their own behalf and for the common good. Where possible, NEA must come to the defense of artists who do so. For instance, what public position has NEA taken on Shepard Fairey versus AP versus the originating photographer. The field needs NEA to involve itself in messy problems like this one, if nothing else then as a concerned and reasonable third party, leaning always to the side of arts advocacy and excellence.

DIEM: There should be a clean broker of health care insurance for individual artists…the Endowment and other funders could investigate this and perhaps provide seed funding for the creation of this entity. Premium subsides might be offered to artists who make measurable contributions to their respective communities.

LILY YEH: I would like to see the NEA put priority on supporting the best artists in the way they need, not just supporting the production of art but their way of life in totality.

JAMES: Oh, but what would we artists be without the valuable and hilarious source material provided by full time jobs? I personally think the field has done a good job of setting up artist services. I recall an earlier post on this blog about the NEA being more locally active/present as it relates to local arts councils. I agree that participating in or establishing and supporting local arts councils in as many places as possible would be a great step forward. And then let those agencies respond/provide for the needs of that specific community. I guess I keep coming back to the idea of the NEA being a hub, with an extensive local network of arts councils and regranting organizations doing the field work. Annual in-person convenings could then be combined with a robust online network to get the word out and provide services and visibility for supported projects.

CLAIRE
: Artists with preexisting conditions or disabilities cannot support themselves as artists because they can't get health insurance, period. Others can't afford private insurance, even if they can get approved for it, and must keep a day job not merely for income, but for health benefits. A number of the health reform options currently on the table still leave freelancers with preexisting conditions out, and still encourage people to get their health insurance through the workplace. If the NEA were to sponsor an affordable, nonprofit health insurance concern for artists, they would be doing far more to promote the arts in this country than possibly any other program. And yes, it should be open to anyone who makes any income at all from arts, not just elite artists selected by some juried process. This would free up artists to work freelance, a situation many artists prefer because they can work around their creative schedules, and select paying projects that might feed into their practice in terms of skills-building and contacts made. Yes, I realize this suggestion may be obsolete in a week. Let's hope so.

HOMER: I believe there must be many solutions to these layered problems. For instance, I would like to see regional entrepreneurial project incubators, particularly in light of the banking industry's historically poor relationship with artists. Although we are taxed like businesses, on the most part, we are not considered businesses. Similar to project grants, these incubators could leverage private/public funding to support projects that stand at the crossroads of business, art, social service, health, tourism and so on. Engaging and provocative artistic projects that are both challenging and profit making. Creative Capital does some of this now, but I'm thinking of a much larger model.

LILY KHARRAZI: The Endowment as a national body must work in close cohort with other federal agencies to advocate that artists are part of multiple constituencies. Affordable everything can only create a better safety net for creativity to flourish.

EUGENIA: Advocate. Lobby for affordable housing and loans. (Maybe health care too; I hope we’ll get a better national health care system soon.) Work with other public agencies to build the arts into everyday life: This means public education, health and human services; this means using culture as a way to understand this nation, this world. A greater involvement in the arts as audience, practitioner, whether amateur or professional, means a greater valuation of the profession.

RALPH: Health care for artists—and anyone else involved in independent practice--would be huge. As for the other issues, we should be able to negotiate general life issues as well as the general public. In general, artists are a pretty creative and energetic group.

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 the new Chair of the NEA - Rocco Landesman - on what the agenda for the NEA should be --what would you tell him?

CLAIRE: I've tended to hover around local/regional funding cultures; I'm not terribly familiar with the ins and outs of the NEA's programs and procedures. So, although I know that much of the funding I've been involved with has been regranted from funds originally from the NEA, I feel somewhat distanced, alienated from that organization. That is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it does mean that I don't see the agency as part of my community, nor even as a thought leader.

So what I'd like to see most particularly is real leadership in thinking and discussion about the arts. I'd like to see the NEA take the arts community out of its comfort zone in discussion, and thrust into a more mainstream spotlight, forced to shape shorter and more accessible messages; forced to deal with the arts as they are in the mainstream, and not as the arts elites would have them.

LILY YEH: I would like the NEA to hold on to three important priorities: quality art, art for all Americans, and arts programming in the schools. Policies that keep this focus should govern its actions. The NEA should advocate for the importance of art with Congress to reinstate NEA funding to the level it once was. The NEA has a budget similar to public arts in Canada but serves a population that is ten times that of Canada.

DIEM: The acknowledgment of accomplishment and creation of appropriate granting vehicles, which may be via the Local Arts Agency program. I would ask Mr. Rocco to consider allowing LAA’s to apply for regranting to individual artists.

RALPH: Emphasize the arts in education. This will benefit the entire society. We recognize the value of mathematics and science, even though most of our students won’t be accountants or engineers. Creative thinking and expression are vital to our country’s future.

Also, we should also broadcast the economic benefits of Culture. Right now a large portion of the populace views high culture—particularly cutting-edge culture—as fraudulent. We can counter with solid arguments about the positive economic effects of both “high” and “low” culture on a community.

JAMES: Lose that weird person/hands emerging from a flower logo. Also – NEA iPhone app. What’s happening locally and nationally that I may interested in.

HOMER: The difficulty of this question is that I know the NEA was not created and sustained to suit my needs or interests. It appears as if the NEA has done a great job of doing that for which it was designed. However, if we are talking about what artists need and want, that is something quite different from the organization's general direction. First, I want the NEA and other institutions and individuals that consider themselves as in service to or as supporters of the arts, to be as creative as artists, as thrifty as artists, as risk-taking as artists, as forward-thinking as artists and as inventive as artists in terms of navigating the structural, financial and political storms. For this is indeed your role. We need leaders to lead, and to have vision. When the times get tough, we need tough people to lead. These current times with serious economic challenges, we need to look to our leaders to do what they are supposed to do. Lead. Be inventive. Think outside of the box. Even develop new boxes. With all of the costly and time consuming data that has been gathered, studied and processed on the arts and artists over the past 20 years, some of our solutions have been right in front of our faces for a long time. And mind you, artists rarely if ever have access to this data. So, I urge arts administrators and other arts professionals to use those kinds of external resources and the internal resources that make them special and unique and ultimately qualified to sit in the seat that they occupy. Otherwise, why are they in their positions? Why do they receive the income and resources that they receive? Finally, I think the NEA should continue to support the states, although they aren't necessarily the best at what they do either.

EUGENIA
: -- Create and claim a robust and meaningful narrative for the role of the arts in America. Then PR it in a big way, so that we get it, Congress gets it! I’d like to see it as place that can report on the state of the arts in America, that can create a position for the arts in America, that can advocate for the arts (and, ahem, more funding).
  •  Promote and fund arts education and access as an essential part of public education -- the inclusion of the arts in required curricula, and more. As a kid in the California public schools I went to the American Conservatory Theatre on a regular basis, a concrete reason why I write plays now. (I also experienced what happened when our property taxes were frozen and the arts were cut.) Arts education does not simply mean a dogged allegiance to what your drawing teaching [?] demands. It means the integration of the arts and creative processes across the curriculum. This means in Calculus class working with a teacher who shows you how to use algorithmic principles to draw, or the making of short documentary videos in history to research and explore the lives of farm workers in your area to teach content, skills, collaboration, and build community. This means working with educational agencies and schools. This means artists working in residence at schools.
  • Increase and investigate ways for people to access the arts. Learn from what artists and organizations are doing. Investigate how different communities keep the participatory arts alive, active, and growing. Disseminate that information.
  • Make sure the agency’s staff gets out of D.C. and visits the different regions of the country, small towns and rural communities as well as cities. Make sure the staff knows what’s going on in the grass roots, especially in smaller organizations, non-institutional sites, in diverse neighborhoods and communities by finding and listening to artists or attendees from these communities. Pay attention to participatory arts.
  • Fund individual artists, especially “emerging” (young or old) and under the radar, who may not be connected to larger organizations. Help partner individual artists with organizations.
  • Fund organizations with small budgets, not just the big guns.
  • Fund failure, here and there.
  • Supplement funding with technical or administrative support, guidance, or training (i.e. how to use Web 2.0 to build audience, marketing, etc.)
  • Allocate a greater percentage of funding to go to local arts agencies to re-grant. They will know more about what’s going on in the region than an office in D.C
LILY KHARRAZI: The NEA is the symbolic jewel in the crown of funding. Its moniker is an endorsement, a validation and a leveraging point for further funding. The idea of a national arts and culture policy is an important declaration for our country and for the world. I would like to see a statement much like what happens when non-profits go through their strategic plans that results in a statement of holding our creative capital as high on the national agenda as every other issue. Here is my list for Mr. Landesman.

1) Declaration of the value of our creative capital as the forefront of a national arts and culture policy.

2) A fall- in- love campaign to reignite the value of live performance and encounters with art in one’s communities. It is a radical idea to present performances to the public for free in these times but what an anecdote to hard times by opening up the doors of major venues, smaller venues, parks and small halls with free performances, all of this funded by private business (perhaps the banks that the voters have generously propped up?). I do not mean just a token day of this but a planned campaign to remind us of how much we do value our creative worlds. There are many unemployed people right now; many disaffected. This campaign of reigniting our national imagination towards creativity through the arts is a gift for all. Give us Shakespeare, Balinese shadow plays, Peal Jam and rhythm tap, mural making, Gullah storytelling, tango, you name it.

3) Encourage the folk and traditional arts sector in every state. There are people who are both practitioners and academics who can assist the state and local agencies with this endeavor. There is a strong cadre of leaders who can provide the expertise needed for sub-granting opportunities to these communities.

4) Work with the state department to bring the world to the citizens of this country and vice versa. Open door policies are artists’ answer to diplomacy.

5) Start each session of congress with a performance. For every dollar spent on defense, can we bargain for 1% of that dollar towards “creation” (art making)?

6) Convene, convene, and convene. We have mentors in this field who have wisdom and young people whose ability to think creatively and without boundaries due to technology who can shake up the paradigm.

PAUL: I will start at the last question and work backwards, because the mission, goals and values of NEA will determine the quality of the Endowment’s accomplishments. First, NEA should require all NEA grant beneficiaries to register voters as an integrated function during any NEA-facilitated event. NEA, rightly or wrongly, must re-establish the broad support and trust of the American people. This gesture would set the proper alignment for the Endowment in relation to the stakeholders and the governmental process that encompasses all. Representation and accountability are the key principles.
As for advising Mr. Landesman, I would suggest that NEA must embrace its leadership role. The Endowment must be willing to define artistic greatness and reward it. Some of the panelists have suggested that it is not appropriate for the NEA to adjudicate questions, such as “What is art?”and “Who is an artist?", I would argue on the contrary that there is no agency in the United States with a clearer mandate to offer value judgments on these questions, provided the agency propose to answer specifically:
  • What is American art? And what is the best/great American art?
  • Who is an American artist? And who are the best/great American artists?
The answers to these questions will serve to propel the agency to act with focus and effectiveness. The NEA does not have to answer these questions for the world. The Endowment only must answer these questions for the nation. Further, the Endowment does not have to invent the answers from the top-down. The Endowment can choose to trust the American people and integrate evaluation of America’s art from the bottom-up. I would argue this is the only way that NEA can rebuild the trust of the country and garner the people’s steadfast support.

The NEA must evaluate with discernment, in order to encourage individuals to do so for themselves. The evaluation of quality must be treated as the beginning of an exchange process, not as something to be avoided. Otherwise, the public forum is privatized and, as has been demonstrated, the field is relegated precipitously to those driven by profit-centric or other, non-representational motives.
NEA must embark on this mission as publically as possible. I would recommend that the Chairman should be pre-empting negative strikes against himself and the agency by actively engaging in activities that reinforce the Endowment’s leadership role and promote a strong public profile for the figurehead at the top.

To this end I would suggest four programs:
  • A weekly radio broadcast on NPR, during which the Chairman discusses art with an accomplished American artist
  • The establishment of an online/brick and mortar American arts/artist archive, built on a Hall of Fame model, which contains and promotes documentation of artist lives, words, portraits and studio practices, the National Archive for the Arts (or something similar); aside from strengthening the national cultural memory and establishing an important new arts destination/resource, this project would immediately provide stimulus for the field, including many arts jobs for emerging artists who could be commissioned to gather content
  • A US/NEA-hosted international contemporary art fair (like the Venice Biennale), in which American arts are placed in the global context in a spirit of healthy competition. The US/NEA Art Fair would prove (or disprove) NEA’s success in incubating quality US artists and art. Ultimately, the work of US artists must be considered in a global context, not just a global market context, as verification. A ‘People’s Choice’component would democratize the fair, differentiating it from all others. The US/NEA art fair could in part function as a ‘public option’ to events such as Miami/Basel and the Armory Show, which are market-centric in focus, and do not necessarily reflect well on American artists or concerns.
  • An Olympics for young (amateur) artists, hosted by NEA to begin with, though ultimately a better outcome would be the formation of an international committee to govern the event, which would take place every four years. This program would remind the world that the US/Democracy has contributed historic innovations in arts practice and continues to be committed to the export of object-based cultural goodwill (Think MoMA’s “50 Years of American Art” in 1955). To use marketing vernacular, a broad consensus suggests that America needs to improve its global brand, and the US/NEA art ‘Olympics’ presents a great opportunity to do so.
More of the Panel 6 discussion tomorrow.

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