Saturday, February 28, 2009

February 28, 2009


HELLO everybody.

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

 I am in Thailand. It is my 13th visit in a dozen years. I first came at the behest of a close friend who was a frequent visitor and is now an ex-pat resident 11 months a year. I came to get away from the trials and tribulations of home. And I fell in love with the place. On past visits I have used the opportunity to explore the country and the wider region - Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, China). What kept me coming back was first and foremost, the weather. The older I get the less I like the Northern California winters. I don't mind the rain so much, but it's the endless months of gray skies that wear me down. (I know - for east coast readers northern California winters must seem like Springtime, but for a California boy born and raised, the relentless gray gets old.) In Southeast Asia November through March is the high season - glorious, endless sunshine, balmy evenings and no rain (the rains come here in late April, and September is the real monsoon season). The other attraction for me was that it was (and to a lesser degree, but still is) relatively cheap. The dollar goes further here than elsewhere. I can stay here for a month for the same cost as a week in Hawaii. (It helps that I abhor large chain luxury hotels and much prefer local boutique guest houses and that I also prefer almost all things local to those that cater to western tourists).

Beyond the climate, the people and the culture keep me enamored with the country. It is good for my perspective I think to find myself a minority. And though on the island of Phuket there are plenty of western tourists, I am quite obviously a foreigner (colloquially termed a "farang" in local parlance). Being an "outsider" lets me get out of myself to a degree, to remind myself that all things in the world are not centered around America, nor me. It alters my perspective. At home I have my "Safeway Parking Lot" theory. I try to remember every time I enter the local supermarket parking lot, that all those other cars were driven by people with problems just like me. Each of them is trying hard to deal with the ups and downs of their lives, trying to cope with daily and grander challenges, and that, as my favorite bumper sticker of all time proclaimed: "Life on Planet Earth is only one sixth billionth about YOU (me)". I try to remember that they are all human beings deserving of respect and that I am but one more in an ocean of humanity.

Alas it doesn't work often enough -- I am so wrapped up in myself, in my life, in what daily errands I need to attend to, what long range hopes and dreams I must push, what the sorry state of the world means to me, that as often as not I don't even see the people who drove all those other cars. I am oblivious to their existence; isolated and concerned principally with myself and my little life. So it helps me to come here every year where I can leave some of that life at home, and where I am the outsider in a culture vastly different from what I am use to. And the Thai culture - though remarkably Western and familiar - is decidedly and pointedly hugely different from American / California culture. It helps me to remember to be kinder to people back home.

It is hard to visit other places and peoples and get any real sense of the nuances of the differences in cultures if you only stay a week or two in a place. That I have been coming back here now for a dozen years has allowed me the luxury and privilege to begin to truly understand how another people cope with life in our surprisingly similar and surprisingly different world. It has thus allowed me to actually see and recognize the differences in Burmese vs. Cambodian Buddahs, to be able to tell someone from Issan and someone from Malaysia, to glimpse some insights into how other peoples (at least those in Southeast Asia) deal with life. As tourists we are often so intent on seeing the highlights of a country in the couple of days we might be there, that there is no time to begin to really see the people. As we move towards homogeneous global culture, I celebrate the differences and pray inwardly that those differences -- that great asset - does not disappear someday-- though all evidence seems to contradict that yearning. I have traveled in Southeast Asia enough now, that I can identify and appreciate the differences between regions and sub-cultures. Here in Thailand there are, like in America, different customs and ways of doing things in various geographic areas of the country - from the Burmese and Issan influences in the north to the Malaysian character of the south. Much like the differences between the East Coast and New England vs. the South or California approaches and lifestyles at home. After awhile, time allows one to more fully see those differences - in everything from attitudes towards family, work, friends, love, war, politics and life itself. And I find it good for my soul to be reminded how countless "tribes" across the planet are so very different in the approaches to life. One isn't necessarily better or worse than another - just different. Human beings trying to cope - to laugh, cry, worry, hope and dream. To be part of something more than themselves yet at the same time traveling down their paths alone.

And on the island of Phuket, as at home, there exists numerous small communities. I know enough full time residents here - both ex-pat and Thai - to participate in local gossip and spend endless hours over dinners debating the wisdom and folly of what goes on here. I while away and waste time here much as I do at home - the difference is the focus and the cultural differences in the way those things are done. Yet I remain an outsider and that gives me perspective that helps me to shed some (though only a little) of my selfishness on my return home.

Phuket has become too popular - the building boom continues unabated despite the slowdown in tourism. Where the island was almost "sleepy" a decade ago, now there are morning and afternoon traffic jams as there are at home. For years I stayed on the busy west coast of the island with its broad beaches and the hustle and bustle of its nightlife - but now I stay on the other side of the island, once forgotten, but it too is feeling the negatives of excessive commercialization. I suppose it is axiomatic that the older you get, the less you want your world to change, and as I cling to my memory of what once was, not wanting that to morph into something ugly, I can see the day where Phuket will become so much a shadow of its former self that it will lose much of its charm for me. But not yet.


Like everywhere else in the world, Thailand and little Phuket have their fair share of problems - some economic, some political, some social. In the region there are disputes, conflicts, tensions and turmoil - the same all over the globe. While 99% of the people in the world seem to me to simply want to live their lives, we somehow allow the wrong people to have the power to compromise that simple truth. What is refreshing to me here is that these problems are largely local. You don't hear all that much
about America when you are over here. Oh to be sure you can watch CNN or the BBC, or go online - but even those newscasts are slanted not to America, but to Asia. While at home it is hard to not hear the word "Obama" or "Iraq" countless times during the course of a day, here I can go for several days and not hear anything about America. It is a national conceit (not just us, but every country's) to think the whole world is wrapped up in what 'we' do. Frankly, in many, many ways Asia could care less about America. Not Anti-American - more indifference. That reality alone jolts my thinking. The true beauty of diversity is that it allows (or makes) you confront your own culture, your own thinking.

And then there are the individual stories of the few people one actually knows personally -- no different here than at home. Economic realities, the challenges of family, work and friends; hopes and dreams, fears and concerns. Thoughts about, and ways to deal with those common everyday emotions are different here because the culture is different, and so the thinking is different (subtle perhaps, but profoundly so). Still, in the end, things are largely (as they say here) "same-same" the world over and we share as much as we differ.

All in all spending time in Paradise is, of course, an illusion. Ex-pats in countries the world over run from a variety of things, telling themselves (as Jimmy Buffet noted in his song 'Banana Republic') "the same lies that they told themselves back home". All of one's baggage travel with one. But Buffet was also dead-on when he noted that: "Changes in Latitudes" make for profound "Changes in Attitudes", and though I know when I get home I will lazily fall back into comfortable patterns, and soon be again self-absorbed , at least for a few brief days I will be so much more aware of all those different people in the Safeway Parking Lot, and perhaps for those few days I will be more understanding, kinder, a little more empathetic and even sympathetic to the differences at home. The remarkable beauty of, and exposure to, cultural differences in another part of the world give me this small gift each year, and I am grateful for whatever brief level of greater understanding I can get. Alonzo King taught me that Life is really about oneself as a "work in progress" (an insight I wish I had acknowledged sooner). Everything you do - your job, your friends, your family life - your thoughts and thinking - your experiences -- it's all about how it molds and shapes you as a "work". Alas it is hard sometimes to think that one's own work in this regard remains so unfinished. And so one toils on, and that's why I love to travel and why diversity makes me feel so good -- it helps in the progress and process of ME as a work. That in the long run, I remain so shallow that I must return each year to satisfy this addiction to thinking differently seems a bonus. There are more places on my "bucket list", here and around the world, for me to explore than I have time to see. I should have started sooner, but you know how that goes. Youth truly is "wasted on the young" - but it's not their fault after all.

It is too bad we fail to appreciate, and more often than not remain so isolated from, our own Cultural differences at home - that we ALL remain so inside our own insular worlds. Too often we see those cultural differences (and there is no place on the planet with more diverse cultures than in California) as a problem and not an asset. Oh sure, we pay lip service to our multiculturalism, and even try to celebrate it, but we fail to fully internalize how wonderful it is those differences exist; how they complement, not crush, each other. Then again there is a lot on our minds when we drive into the Safeway parking lot.

I hope you all have a great week. I have one more week here half way across the world - then I must come home. But I know too that I will come back here again.

Don't Quit


Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 21, 2009


Hello everyone.

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


Ben Cameron is one of our sector's most popular public speakers - both for his oratory skills and for his keen insight. In a recent speech to the Chamber Music America Membership Meeting National Conference on January 16,2009, he identified four areas that challenge the arts even more than the financial crisis that currently vexes us all. While all four issues have been with us for awhile, I think it important to pass on his analysis. Rather than try to paraphrase his remarks, I include those four points in his own words.

"First, concern about the increasing dysfunctionality of the 501(c)(3) model as organization leaders, increasingly overwhelmed by the demands of fundraising, of advocacy, of arts education policy formation, of board recruitment and donor cultivation—an expansion of a portfolio that often resulted in days and weeks passing without setting foot inside rehearsal halls, of engaging artists they never met and more, asked: “Isn’t there another way to finance and support the work we are called to do?”

Second, we heard about an impending generational transfer of leadership. A study supported by the Meyers Foundation in Oregon revealed that 75% of leaders in the nonprofit sector—including but not limited to the arts—will leave their jobs by 2012. And while many of us for years have wondered where we would find those individuals willing to work the long hours, accept the paltry compensation, in essence to embrace the social and financial masochism that were the accepted standards for leaders of my own generation, these conversations brought a new perspective to this issue. “There are more than enough of us ready to lead,” the young people in the room said. “But we are not interested in being the mere custodians of those institutions you have created. Unless we have the same degree of responsibility and autonomy to remake and refashion these organizations as you yourselves were given, we’re not interested”—a position that now places the issue more squarely on organizational flexibility, openness and capacity for change than on the identity of the heir apparent per se.

Third, we heard about the erosion of audiences in every field—declining subscription renewal, difficulties in attracting single ticket buyers, increased “churn”—a term reflecting the high percentage—typically 70–75%--of audience members who attend a single event in a season and do not return—the collapse in the window of social planning post 9’11, when seemingly overnight audiences shifted from committing, not two to four weeks in advance, but more typically purchasing on the day of or, if you’re lucky, 24-48 hours in advance—a disorienting shift that continues to plague box office and marketing departments who struggle to understand the implications on a Tuesday for a sparsely sold Saturday performance. Moreover, the ever accelerating pace of our lives is producing a populace characterized by over-scheduling and exhaustion—a time in which (according to a Yankelovich poll) more than half of consumers in every income level say lack of time is a bigger problem than lack of money, where 42% of men and 55% of women say they are too tired to do the things they truly want to do, and where the #1 answer to the question of most eagerly anticipated use of a free evening is no longer dinner with friends or a movie or a performing arts event, but is instead “a good night’s sleep.” Not surprisingly we heard in ever field that, after decades of growth, our audiences are shrinking and that our own financial needs, driven in many cases by escalating fixed costs of facilities, insurance, health care and more, in tandem with negative shifts in funding mean escalating ticket prices that threaten to place attendance beyond so many in our communities we wish to reach and serve.

Finally, and certainly related, we heard the struggle to understand more fully the impact of technology on the live performing arts. The potential of technology as a marketing device is, if anything, too effective: in trying to attract the attention of potential ticket buyers, we now compete with (depending on who you read) between 3,000 and 5,000 different marketing messages a typical American sees every single day. In fact, technology has emerged as our biggest competitor for leisure time: Gen Xers spend 20.7 hours of leisure time every week on TV and online combined, the majority TC; Gen Yers spend even more—22.8 hours, the majority on line—and last year, in 2007, computer games outsold movie and music recordings combined. Most profoundly, technology is altering the very assumptions of consumption: thanks to the internet, we believe we can get anything we want, whenever we want it, customized to our own personal specifications. We can shop at three in the morning or ten o’clock at night, expectations of convenience and personalization that live performing arts organizations—organizations who depend on set curtain times, specific geographic venues, attendant inconveniences of parking, travel and the like—simply cannot meet. And in an age where young people especially access culture on demand through YouTube and iTunes any time they want it and for little or no apparent cost, what will it mean in the future when we ask a potential audience member to pay $40, $50 or $60 for a chamber music when that consumer has been accustomed to downloading on the Internet for .99 a song or for free?"


As to his first point about the dysfunctionality of the 501 c 3 structure, there is has been much talk about this point over the past three years. Yet this is a very elusive concept, and more often than not, that discussion remains vague. I agree with the analysis, yet wish there were more specificity about what exactly isn't working with the nonprofit structure, how those shortcomings directly impact our work, and what options there might be for change. The questions loom large: does the nonprofit model need to be replaced or merely repaired? What could it be replaced with - a "for profit" model or something else? What else would there be? Is the core of the problem simply that the model doesn't work any longer for funding what we do, or is that merely a symptom of one or more larger problems? Is the model dysfunctional because we are in hard economic times, or are WE in hard economic times in part because the model no longer works? We need to explore this charge -- as I said, now on the table for some time - and delve much deeper into what people mean when they say this. Alas, while I don't dispute it, I confess I don't completely understand what is meant when we conclude the model is broken. And, I think perhaps, different people might mean different things when they make this observation. We need to arrive at a consensus as to what it all means.

As to his second point about the problem of leadership transition - the recruitment, and more importantly, retention of the next generation of arts leaders, this is a subject on which I can claim some expertise - having completed two phases of a study on exactly this issue for the Hewlett Foundation over a three year period (the most recent a Focus Group based exhaustive examination of the attitudes of Generation X and Millennials within our sector - soon to be published and released). I have some suspicions about the Meyer Foundation conclusion that 75% of the current arts leadership intends to step down within the next five years. My own work suggests the recent economic crisis, including the huge rise in job layoffs, the devaluation in retirement accounts, poor future planning by the baby boomer generation, and the continuing need to remain gainfully employed are all contributing to a wholesale re-evaluation by our leadership as to when, and if, they will exit our field anytime soon.

But I take no exception to the conclusion that unless our arts leadership soon understands and appreciates the critical need to alter its organizational approach to granting its younger recruits more meaningful decision making power, and affords them more authority and power as to the operations and the future of how our sector moves forward - by delegating to them more responsibility - a potential crisis looms that, at the least, will seriously harm our chances to retain the leaders we are likely to be able to recruit. I think this point is "spot on" and of major import to our future. I will have much more to offer you on this point, once the most recent YOUTH IN THE ARTS Phase II Focus Group Study is published.

As to Ben's third point - the changing attitudes of our audiences with the resultant drop in their numbers and our income - this is assuredly a very complex issue. Our costs are going up, our ticket sales are not rising correspondingly, and something has to give. There are numerous levels to this issue - ranging from content to audience convenience and beyond. Relevant to any discussion about audiences are issues as far ranging as the extent to which our field is overbuilt (too many organizations, with too much the same product, competing for too few dollars) and the way we have for a long time (perhaps too long) attempted to both support new audience development measures and the overbuilding of the sector -- two perhaps polar opposite objectives that have trumped each other -- to more cerebral areas of examination that attempt to map how the very "meaning" of attending arts events and how those "experiences" are at the center of what approach we must adopt. During these tough economic times, Hollywood and the Movie Industry is doing very well -- is that because of their comparative price competitive advantage -- $8 for a ticket vs. the $30, $40 or higher price for our tickets? Or is it because there happen to be a bunch of good movies out right now? Or are there other reasons? Are our audiences "graying"? Or are only some of our audiences stuck in an age group tier? Is our content meeting market demand? Do we care? When we defend artistic integrity, are we being snobs? Are our marketing efforts in sync with empirical data about who are audiences really are - or are the two on separate and disparate tracks? Does it matter?

I, for one, am confused by the rhetoric, and feel lost as to what avenues should be at the top of our priority lists as we stumble around and try to come up with an answer as to how to, if not increase, then safeguard, our current audience numbers and the income they generate. I think our attempts at audience development / protection are (to a degree anyway) intertwined with Ben's fourth point about how we use technology to develop new ways to deliver our product to audiences (and this reality, whether we like it or not). Yet there are more fundamental questions involved as well - and we will need to ask ourselves probing (and perhaps sometimes painful) questions about what we do, how we do it, and what results we can realistically expect. I believe we continue to live in a kind of fantasy world in our expectations as to our performing arts audience options -- though I certainly have no definitive answers. Were the performing arts like the private sector film industry, it is certain the trends would be thought critically disturbing, demanding some kind of wholesale attention. But we aren't the same as the private sector and should we attempt to emulate them anyway?

Finally, I would certainly agree that we continue to flounder as we search for how the arts should embrace new technologies - particularly the implications of how those technologies are going to change both the access people have to our product, and the delivery systems we employ to grant that access. My studies with younger generation arts leaders strongly suggest our thinking about technology and all its facets and ramifications remains hopelessly, and I might add, dangerously, limited AND outdated.

I think we continue to ignore all four of these challenges on many levels. Our conversations about and around them continue to be short and too infrequent, and on too many levels, vague and even simplistic. Doubtless, all four of these issues are inter-related and connect to each other, and to other of our pressing concerns as well. We need national conferences, Summit meetings and think tanks to take these issues on in earnest -- and most importantly to take them on in depth - with specificity as to the analysis of the problems and the options for solutions. I honestly don't see that happening and it concerns me.

I wish I had more specific thoughts and answers to provide people to move us forward. I'm sure Ben Cameron and others wish they did too. I pass this on in the hope more of you will get involved in figuring out how we can deal with these challenges more concretely. I do know one thing: we simply cannot afford to continue to throw out these really extraordinarily important issues, and then let them lie out there without doing something to address them. Perhaps the NEA might take just a few of the Stimulus Bill dollars and try to put these issues on the front burner. The future of the whole of the sector depends on us moving quickly to address each one of them. What entity, but the NEA is positioned to help us do that?

I salute Ben Cameron and the many others who are raising the bar for our thinking. The clock is ticking.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 14, 2009


Hello Everybody.

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


Like all of you, I was delighted that our sector - led by Americans for the Arts and widely supported by arts advocacy organizations across the country, and by all of you - was successful in keeping the $50 million Stimulus bill money for the NEA. Congratulations to everyone who doubtless worked tirelessly behind the scenes.

I hope all of you will now follow up with thank you letters, emails or phone calls to those key elected officials who helped us - chief among them Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Please take the time to express your gratitude. A massive thank you effort will go along way to help with future fights - and there will be many.



One of my favorite programs is the OPEN STUDIOS that are held across the country. I like it because it is so 'community' based -- local visual artists open their studios in neighborhoods, and people get the opportunity to see quite extraordinary art, talk to the artists directly and purchase art they like at reasonable prices. I like it because it puts artist and citizen in direct contact and because it provides much needed venues for artists to sell what they create. Visual artists have relatively few avenues to offer their work for public sale. It is difficult for most artists to exhibit in a gallery (too few galleries, too much demand). There aren't enough arts fairs to meet the demand either. So the typical artist has trouble finding ways for the public to see their work, and sell their product. Websites can be effective - but they lack the "in-person" contact that I like about The OPEN STUDIOS - which, at least for a brief time period each year, offer a venue that serves the artist, AND provides the public a unique, and richly rewarding experience. The more contact the public has with artists the better for everyone.

The problem with the program is that it is limited in time and the number who can participate. I've been thinking for some time that we need some kind of program that allows our visual artists to exhibit their work during the holiday season. Much of retail sales occur during the November / December period (I know, I know this was a lousy holiday retail season, but times will change) and we need to figure out a way to tap into that market for our artists. OPEN STUDIOS usually occur in the Spring or Summer when the weather is conducive to people taking advantage of visiting local artists, and thus winter weather is often not a viable time for such a program.

I wish there was some way we could convince higher end chain department stores to set aside some space for a kind of mega Open Studio for the Christmas season - wherein local artists could exhibit one or more works to tempt the publics' interest. One work per artist could be accompanied by a catalog of available works for purchase. Of course, store space is jealously held by the stores who have deals with brand name manufacturers and they aren't likely to give it up for such an experiment - never mind that it might actually help them to garner publicity and increase foot traffic thereby positioning their whole store in the competitive holiday marketplace. Operations people don't generally think in terms of the bigger picture.

One solution would be a program (which would need to be underwritten as a pilot project) would be to lease temporary space for exhibition of local artist work (much like those retailers who open Halloween Stores a month before Halloween and then close down after the holiday). There always seems to be temporary space available to them. This would be a kind of centralized "Open Studio". The bigger the space the better. And then - like the Open Studios programs - we could recruit quality (juried) local artists to exhibit (and perhaps many of them could even be present some of the time to meet and greet the public -- on some rotating basis). This would give artists another venue to sell their work and thus help them to make money, as well as give the public another opportunity to interact with local artists and learn more about art and its value in the process. It wouldn't be that hard for whole arts communities to work together to publicize and market such a venue - and even performing arts organizations could get involved by selling tickets to holiday performances at the site.

And in a world where every city has the same shops selling the same mass produced stuff, it is often art that is the only unique gift one can really give. WE know that, but we need to take more opportunities to educate the public about that option.

Anyway - this is just another random thought. If we want to support local artists at this critical economically challenging crossroads, we have to figure out more ways to help them to sell their work directly to the public. As in the blog last week, my thinking is that for dancers to succeed, they need a place to perform. For visual artists to succeed, they need a place to exhibit. There are lots of ways to support artists.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

February 08, 2009


Hello everyone.

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


The San Francisco Dance community - with some 200 separate dance organizations, ranging from the SF Ballet all the way down to mom & pop avant garde dance troupes - needs its own dance venue.

Dance requires certain minimal stage specifications - including size and flooring. Unfortunately, there are really only a few venues that provide what is needed - the Opera House, Yerba Buena, and the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason chief among them. The problem is that these venues are so much in demand, the competition for using the spaces is so intense - both from local arts groups and from those from out of town who include SF on their touring schedule - that far and away most dance organizations are frozen out of any access to them. So they are forced to play at inadequate facilities - inadequate for both their needs and for the needs of their audiences.

What SF (and I suppose many cities) really need is a venue specifically designed with dance and dance audiences in mind; one that is entirely dedicated to the dance discipline and available only to them.

Can SF support that option? Certainly there are enough companies - SF is second only to New York in resident companies. And arguably the audiences are, at least in part, already there. One might argue that "if you build it they will come" as well, and with some justification. And the really good new venues end up as attractions in and of themselves. One shouldn't underestimate the importance of style, comfort and convenience to audiences.

I have thought for some time that one of the old movie theater spaces still left on Market street would be an ideal venue. Close to public transit, could be converted to the right size (+ or - 750 seats), and could be transformed into anything from an art deco revival to new modernism. It could include rehearsal space (also much needed), limited office facilities for the smaller companies as well as a Bay Area wide dance arts service organization. Done right it could be a tourist destination, pump up the local economy, and it could be the savior for scores of local companies. And it would, forever, change the dance community here - and that community is an extraordinary asset. Alas, it is in danger here as well as elsewhere.

Ah, but in this economy, this kind of capital improvement seems impossible you rightly cry out. Yes, perhaps. But with the crash of real estate markets, this might be an excellent time to acquire such a property at bargain basement rates. And while it is obviously difficult right now for arts organizations to even survive, nonetheless there is money out there and this is precisely the kind of enterprise that might appeal to a potential broad based funding coalition of private, foundation and corporate interest. It would, of course, take time, but this might be the time to begin to make such an effort. Conceivably you could tap into the support and the audiences of a hundred plus organizations.

I think the concept should, at least, be explored, and perhaps the dance community might hold its own Summit Meeting, and bring together the leadership of all the city's companies to investigate this idea, and, at the same time, provide a forum for discussion of a wide range of issues facing local dance companies. It doesn't cost anything to talk and often times bold plans - ones that seem "pie-in-the-sky" - emerge and even succeed.

In SF the dance community has long needed its own venue. That's a fact.


I was profoundly saddened, but hardly surprised, at Americans for the Arts email last Friday noting that the arts funding had been cut from the Senate version of Obama's Stimulus Package. Once again, it is clear that we have yet to establish the simple principle that arts jobs are real jobs, the arts sector is a viable and important economic engine, and that the arts field is as needful and deserving of support as any other sector. Let's face it - a majority of elected officials at all levels, much of the media, most of the business community and an awful lot of Americans just don't get it. Still. After well over a decade of Herculean efforts on all our parts (and particularly Americans for the Arts, without whom we would have made little advance) we haven't yet effectively made our case.

Those who know me, know that my mantra is that it isn't all about making the case, some of it is about raw political power, lobbying, AND involvement in the campaigns of those we elect to office. While that kind of involvement is no guarantee of getting what you want (especially in times like these), it does usually insure you get a much better hearing than I think we are getting. The crushing news is that so many of our "so-called" supporters bailed on us. Why is that? Our jobs don't count? Our jobs are just "pretend"? The Senate's capitulation to the minority demands is myopic, stupid and frankly, it's insulting. We should be outraged. We should, finally, make this moment in time the one where we commit to becoming a political powerhouse by forming PACs, raising funds to support AND defeat those who support and oppose us. At least, we should ramp up our lobbying (not advocacy folks, but our lobbying) efforts by digging into our own pockets and raising the funds to support the effort.

What will take before we act in our own self-interest? Our total collapse and demise?

I hope somehow the pittance of $50 million for the support of arts jobs makes it into the final Stimulus
Bill, but I won't hold my breath.

I hope you all have a good week.

Sometimes it's almost impossible, but......Don' Quit. Just don't.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

February 01, 2009


Hello Everybody.

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

I really do not want this blog to become a one-trick pony as it were, and always focus on advocacy / lobbying and our position viz a vis government, but right now we are in the thick of it with the Stimulus Bill inclusion of $50 million for the NEA - and not only is the money important (though it isn't much), but the precedent is even more important as will be the effect of our reaction to supporting it on our momentum going into the year. But this is, I promise, for awhile anyway, my last rant on the subject.


The House version of President Obama's Rescue Stimulus Bill contains $50 million additional funding to the NEA - presumptively to protect existing / create new jobs in the cultural sector. Neo-Con Republicans continue to paint that money as an "earmark" - as pork for far left liberals. Unfortunately, the news media continues to lack any interest in journalistic discovery, and remains talking heads who simply read the teleprompters in front of them, and thus they all simply report the litany of funds the Republicans believe are frill and fluff, continuing the impression with the public of: "here we go again" more government waste of taxpayer money going to the frivilous "arts" and the NEA (which, despite all our good efforts, still remains in much of the public's mind as a waste of money at best and godless Maplethorpe pornography at worst). You all know this to be true.

Now Americans for the Arts and scores of national, regional and local arts organizations are doing the best they can to try to NOT let the Republicans get away with this false characterization, and even the NEA itself is pointing out that this money is EXACTLY designed to do what the Republicans SAY they want - to protect / create jobs. Somehow the Republicans just refuse to accept that a job in the nonprofit sector or the arts is a "real" job. And we - YOU and me, continue to let them get away with it. Yeah, we do.

An example: On the local CBS San Francisco affiliate newcast, they dutifully reported the Republican list of so called "pork" - including, of course, the NEA money. SF is not a bastion of the right wing - but even here the so called 'journalists' basically just copy press releases and they become "news". I was so infuriated I sent them an email pointing out that for them to just automatically parrot the Republican position was both inaccurate and irresponsible journalism - or more accurately a pathetic, false attempt at real journalism. I pointed out (using data from Americans for the Arts) that this funding would help protect jobs in the cultural sector, that the sector was a viable economic engine (more viable than a lot of other sectors)and that museums & performing organizations are inexorably tied to the local tourism / restaurant industries, both of which are critical to the local economy. I don't know if this will help, but I hope they will now not so cavalierly report the NEA funding as a wasteful earmark. I believe that if they got five such emails they might take notice.

The point is this: We can no longer afford to let Americans for the arts and other organizations carry the whole load. We - you, me - every single one of us - has to be vigilant and pay attention to how we are characterized in the media / and to the public, and when we see those who will never "get it" sprewing mischaracterizations and mistruths about funding to the NEA or otherwise, we -- each of us -- need to take the time to call them on it, to call them on the telephone, to send them an email or letter, to provide facts to counter the philosophical babble the other side spreads. It isn't enough to just communicate with our elected officials and urge them to vote in our favor - when we are asked to do so. We need to be more involved than that - we need to monitor the media and work to educate it. If we - each of us - don't do this for at least the next week or two - the Senate may well be persuaded to drop the $50 million from their version of the bill as a compromise measure - and if that happens it will be extremely difficult to re-insert it and we will lose that money at a time we desperately need it. More than that we will have squandered an opportunity to estalish an importnt precedent in our favor, and we will have lost a much needed victory to spur on support for us in the wider public. We will have let momentum die. If you and me wait for somebody else to do it -- you know as well as I do - it won't happen.

And then we can, without any trouble, know exacly who is to blame - all we will have to do is look in the mirror.

So please - just take note of the way television, newspapers, radio and websites characterize the NEA inclusion in the Stimulus Bill, and when you see it characterized falsely as pork for the left wing liberals kooks, I hope you will all become active sentries out there to protect us. Don't let them get away with it. Get angry for once. At least for a week or two.

Have a great week

Don't Quit.