Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September 29, 2009

 

NEA FORUM - PANEL 3 - THE FUNDING COMMUNITY

Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on...... “


PANEL # 3 – FORUM ON THE NEA (Funders – Foundations and Government)
SCROLL DOWN FOR THE WEDNESDAY ENTRIES.

And please scroll down to the previous week’s blog(s) to review the remarks and comments of the previous Panels.

PARTICIPANTS:

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

BARRY: Given the crisis in funding for the arts (due to shrinking stock portfolios of private foundations and severe cuts to state and local government budgets), how can the funding community (foundations, states, cities & counties) work with the Endowment in a more strategic and collaborative holistic approach to the challenges facing the sector? Some cities and states fare better than do others. Are there any lessons to be learned from those that are successful in maintaining funding streams or is it primarily luck of the draw?

DANIEL: The opening question should resonate loud and clear, given the crises or absent the crises: how can we work effectively and efficiently? One answer might be to consider reframing the target of our joint efforts from overcoming challenges “facing the [arts] sector,” to overcoming challenges facing people in our communities, cities and the nation, challenges that preclude them from participating in a rich and diverse arts ecology. Funders and policymakers typically help to propel individuals and organizations on the supply side of the equation (that is, support for the performance or exhibition of works of art). But our commissioned research (Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy, RAND Corporation, 2008 -click here: www.wallacefoundation.org/KnowledgeCenter/KnowledgeTopics/CurrentAreasofFocus/ArtsParticipation/Pages/cultivating-demand-for-the-arts.aspx argues that a focus on the demand side, that is, cultivating the capacity of individuals to have engaging experiences with works of art, has received inadequate attention from policymakers and funders. An opportunity, therefore, exists for the Endowment to discover and pursue with members of the private funding community mutual interests and explore the design of inter-related and supportive strategies that lead more people to see, hear, and feel what works of art - in and across different cultural traditions - have to offer.

Certainly, funding for the arts has been the “go to” indicator of vitality. However, in our current work with 54 arts organizations in six cities (Wallace Excellence Awards), a systems strategy to try to improve practice in arts organizations, we have observed that efforts that prioritize participation building as a civic “good” and highlight the importance and value of engaging more people in the arts, can increase the visibility of the arts sector and attract local funders to work in partnership. Perhaps the lesson is the harder and more collaboratively we work, the luckier we will be.

LAURA: Starting with the last part of the question first, no, it’s not an accident that some local and state arts agencies fare better than others when it comes to funding and other mechanisms to support the arts. There are always larger economic forces at work and the overall political orientation of a community certainly plays a role. That being said, however, there are those who are more adept at figuring out which issues are more likely to get traction, which way the river is flowing, and can construct programs that go with the flow. You can have the greatest idea in the world but if you’re fighting the current you’re just a whole lot less likely to succeed.

You’ve got to identify the decision makers and find out what’s important to them-- I’m always amazed at how many rabid arts advocates don’t take the time to do this. We have to ask how we can address our priorities while fulfilling theirs. Not subjugating what the arts needs in the service of solving public and social service problems, but getting a two-fer.

An example is the arts internship program we created ten years ago as a sister initiative to the Getty Foundation’s stellar program. We both fund arts organizations to employ approximately 125 undergraduates to work for ten weeks each summer. It’s a win-win: the arts organizations get much needed assistance, not to mention a lot of reverse IT mentoring, and the program addresses the county’s goals for summer youth employment. This program was slated for elimination by our CEO this year due to the economic crisis, but I believe it will survive because cutting a program that creates job just doesn’t make sense in the face of the huge job creation initiatives underway in most communities.

NEA funding will always be a drop in the bucket compared to the mega-streams flowing through other federal agencies. This is just as true on the state and local level as well. The NEA can leverage its meager resources by making sure the arts are integrated into the agenda of every other federal agency.

Example: When Los Angeles County announced a major $80 million initiative to address homelessness, we surveyed our arts organizations and found that more than 20 were already doing important work in this field. But because there was no data to prove that the work helped move people into housing, our arts organizations were shut out of this funding stream. We received an NEA grant to make five pilot grants to arts organizations working in partnership with social service organizations serving the homeless, and used this as the basis for the first objective evaluation work in this area. The report that shows that these programs can be part of the solution will be released in a couple of weeks at the Grantmakers in the Arts conference. And hopefully, the decision makers’ thinking will change.

VICTORIA: Many voices, one message.

Strategic collaboration is the primary vehicle to manage the financial challenges that face the arts at the local level and certainly for the Endowment. To maintain funding streams, the first lesson to learn is that there are many ingredients to successful collaboration.

A colleague of mine, Hal Conklin, former Mayor of Santa Barbara, said that this process starts with a visioning process and that secret to success is, as he calls it, the three C’s:
  • Communication is critical and needs to be constant, this means put your vision out there and continue to communicate and revisit it often,
  • Commitment to your vision is a long term proposition, and
  • Collect stakeholders, seek feedback and input, even from the naysayers.
And from my own experience in the field, I would add three more C’s to Hal’s ingredients:
  • Choreography orchestrating the commitment and collection of stakeholders through community engagement opportunities such as candidate questionnaires and forums,
  • Charm others with enthusiasm, confidence and background materials that assist them in understanding the issues such as economic impact reports, and
  • Celebrate successes along the way. Celebrate the short term gains as well as the major achievements all of our partners need to feel involved and valued.
It is not luck of the draw.

There are three kinds of groups - those who make things happen; those who wait for things to happen; and those who wonder what happened.

FRANCES: As context, I need to say that the Walter and Elise Haas Fund does not have a 2010 budget, but, because we set our budgets based on a percentage of a three year rolling average of the value of the endowment, at present we are living on the average value of our endowment in 2006, 2007, and 2008—two good years and one bad one. I anticipate that that budget will be reduced in 2010 from its 2009 level and that 2011 will be cut further. In 2009, our program budgets were kept at their 2008 levels, but we achieved that “flat” state by not budgeting for capital grants or for some special cross-program initiatives. Decisions about our future budgets are in the hands of our trustees.

Looking around, many of my colleagues at other foundations and public agencies already know about their funding cuts and are in the midst of delivering bad news. Many very fine, very deserving organizations are learning that sources they have long depended upon are either going to be smaller in the coming year or are disappearing. Right now, working with my flat budget, I am in a lucky position, but it is extremely difficult to take on new grantees or re-introduce groups that received Walter and Elise Haas Fund support in the past. I have not yet had to interrupt expected three-year funding for a nonprofit (our Fund’s common behavior is to support something for up to three years) unless its work or management has declined. I expect that will change next year.

Everyone is asking questions about being strategic and collaborative right now. I admire that rhetoric but this is one of the most difficult times I can imagine for collaborations. Many organizations are facing sudden changes and must move quickly to adjust. Sharing resources, reducing overhead, and combining programs makes good sense, but making those deals requires attention to detail and periods of courtship. I manage a collaborative artmaking grant program for artists and nonprofits to work together, and again and again I beg applicants to remember that collaboration takes time. It is a rich process, a meaningful process, but it is not an efficient process. Mergers should not be rushed, shared services agreements should not be rushed, dissolutions should not be rushed. By rushing we create collateral damage–angry, mistrustful subscribers, abused employees, sullied reputations.

I would argue for grants that create the gift of slowness, of thought, of re-imagining for our nonprofits. The economic crisis is a healthy excuse for questioning old habits and assumptions, for finally tackling those deferred conversations. If resources are limited, rushing a half-finished piece to the stage is irresponsible, marketing in the same old ways is wasteful, and providing exposure to the arts when you could empower students to really learn about or master an art form is cavalier.

At the same time, someone needs to pick up the pace and likely it is we funders. As I say this, I feel like a charlatan: I know that I’ve been slowed by the workload that has grown in the context of greater demand for the same amount of money. The level of scrutiny rises when one has to say “no” to more people. But, if other pieces of the puzzle could fall in place, I could push myself to deliberate more quickly, and maybe our trustees would consider more frequent board meetings, shorter proposal analyses, more conversations, and less paper. The Endowment set a fine example when its staff managed the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. A bureaucratic agency’s moving with that speed was remarkable.

Two kinds of grantmaking seem to me to be the most vital and important right now: general operating support, which gives the grantee maximum flexibility to adapt; and innovation/transformation funding to help agencies change the ways they do business. The Doris Duke Foundation and James Irvine Foundation are working together on an innovation fund that, I believe, Duke devised. There’s a positive buzz around that effort. I can imagine something that would be a hybrid of the old NEA Advancement program and these new models—a program that would pressure nonprofits to innovate in the face of reality and that would not encourage growth as the only evidence of vitality. The Endowment’s research division could be a strong partner in sharing what was learned.

Why some cities and states fare better than others do when it comes to sustaining their support for the arts deserves deeper analysis than I can give it. Of course, some states (California among them) were hit particularly hard by the economic downturn based on the nature of their industries and real estate markets, and the sources of their tax revenues. And some states and cities seem to clearly embrace artistic leadership as a source of civic pride (Chicago’s Millennium Park and its recent celebration of Daniel Burnham’s contributions come to mind.) Some states and cities see the arts as vehicles for something else that they want to accomplish—be it a stronger creative sector or more tourism. And different regions have different personalities. Advocacy matters, good institutional behavior matters, and history matters. But, I don’t think there’s a magic formula that preserves or grows public resources for the arts. It takes the same effort that any kind of fundraising takes—cultivation, cultivation, cultivation.

BEN: In pondering the list of 5 questions as a whole, I wonder whether we aren’t being encouraged to think of a coordinated funding approach to the arts that emphasizes specific values or objectives—and wonder equally whether that is a good idea. It seems to me that the funding landscape is equally at its healthiest when it has a diverse set of objectives, approaches and values—that there is great value in a landscape that can support artists and arts organizations for gen op and projects like productions and exhibits, education programs, research and restoration, and that prizes artists and arts organizations who strive for social justice, those who are engaged in community formation, and those who are engaged in arts for arts sake, for example. Indeed, there has been much behind-doors exasperation over the years over funder ADD and the sense that priorities change too singularly and too quickly—a kind of flavor of the month approach that has prioritized diversity, for example, and then shifted to arts education and that now seems to be headed towards innovation. All of these issues (and others) are clearly important, but the degree to which one dominates the funding landscape at a given point in time can be disorienting and potentially destabilizing to organizations and artists.

The question about the NEA therefore may well be for the agency to ask the question about where the “holes” in the funding landscape are. In those earlier Endowment days, the value of seasonal support/gen op that was at the heart of the agency’s programs (and which was subsequently outlawed by Congress) was important precisely because it offered this complementary balance to local funders and corporate support, which tended to be project focused. The NEA was often about building infrastructure—remember Challenge and Advancement—more than about supporting discrete projects. Assuming for the moment that the agency cannot persuade Congress to release its restrictions on seasonal support/gen op, the question may be less about trying to pull people together around a set of objectives that the NEA defines than about the NEA declaring a clear set of priorities and goals, and then issuing the invitation to appropriate partners to see how working together might be of benefit to all.

Clearly, maintaining funding streams is about being able to position the arts as having value—whether economic, educational, social, aesthetic or emotional/intrinsic. Different funding bodies will respond differently to each of these, and there is no “magic bullet.” Clearly Congress has its eye on economic value these days, but we need to continue to establish the educational value of the arts for funding to be maintained at the Department of Education and at local schools, the social value to foundations engaged in community building and social justice, etc. The NEA’s research division has been critically important in helping quantify such value over time—a role that the agency will, I hope, continue to play.

LOIE: The NEA has a powerful infrastructure in place with the state arts agencies and regional arts organizations across our country and should use this partnership and trust the states. We are your voices in the trenches. I do think it important for the NEA to continue to focus on making sure each congressional district can show a direct benefit from NEA funding. In a recent conversation with Americans for the Arts State Captains, Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., said that has been extremely important in getting Congressional buy-in and support to increase NEA funding. Like it or not, that’s just a very basic political reality – and it’s one where the SAAs and RAAs can help the NEA make its case with Congress. It’s also true that NEA funding has become even more important to some of the states because of state budget cuts which is why it is all the more important that this funding be maintained and preferably increased.

Regarding strategy, I think we, the arts community, need to do a better job in telling our story. We need to reclaim our place at the table as we have been marginalized for too long. The arts recovery funding (ARRA) is a tremendous opportunity and the importance of the $50 million for the NEA that Congress included in the recovery effort cannot be overlooked. And while this arts recovery effort was begun before Rocco Landesman came on board, it will come to fruition under his watch. So it is incumbent upon all of us who have gotten these funds to make sure the NEA has compelling arts recovery stories to tell. For example, in New Mexico we are requiring the recipients of our Arts Jobs funds to provide us with photographs and bios of each person benefitting from these arts recovery funds. We want to put a human face on our Arts Jobs program. As Rocco Landesman put it so well: “Artists are every bit as employed as people who work in auto plants.” We need to hammer this message home.

JOHN MCGUIRK: California and New York, and particularly the major metropolitan areas within these two states, historically have been very successful in obtaining NEA support. This is an opportunity for the new Chairman, however, to build upon the work of Ivey and Gioia to distribute NEA resources broadly, widely and equitably across the nation, including inland and rural regions so that everyone has access to arts and culture.

JOHN KILLACKY: Bay Area foundations and local governments generously contribute about $50 million annually to regional arts organizations. Because of this largess, cultural groups have been less reliant on individual donors than their peers nationally. With the dramatic loss of assets, approximately $15 million less will be contributed this year from foundations and local government agencies which is destabilizing our arts ecosystem, large to small. Almost everyone agrees funding problems will become more acute in the upcoming three years. The only growth area in the near future will be support from individuals, both from box office and contributions. Arts organizations that have dynamic, interactive, authentic relationships with their constituents, audiences, and neighbors are the ones that will come out of this maelstrom stronger.

MOY:
No, it is not primarily the luck of the draw. A combination of factors affect the ability of funders to “play together”:
  • Leadership
  • Donor/agency history on funding priorities
  • Distinctive role as grantmaker
  • Size and scale of arts grantmaking
  • History and approach in collaborations
  • Return on investment for private sector funders and budget constraints for public sector funders.
Collaboration requires a commitment, a commitment by participants in time and resources toward a common goal, at times significant commitment of both. For national private and public sectors funders such as the National Endowment for the Arts at the size and scale of ambitions/goals, number of grant awards, geographic breadth, the working assumption is the power of the NEA’s imprimatur and to leverage other non-federal government funding and the imprimatur of an NEA grant may not be enough on long-view issues which demand a coterie of committed, influential leaders working toward a collective bold vision. There is a prime opportunity to work together on selected ones such as arts education, arts participation and with over 120 languages/cultures in the San Francisco Bay Area region, the artistic/cultural expressions by artists/culture bearers working to preserve or mix it up. The first two are explicitly articulated in the NEA’s 2006-2011 strategic plan.

JANET: We start by talking to one another, not just at conferences and large convening’s, but by sharing strategic information, research and planning actions together. There are “big picture” issues that need to be tackled by the entire funding community, private and public. They include the “re-entry” into philanthropy by corporate America which has withdrawn for economic and perceptual reasons; the perception as elitist or unnecessary of the nonprofit arts community and artists by the American public; solutions to the undercapitalized nature of organizations and the challenge to increase philanthropy in the arts from individuals and foundations during a time when their resources are stretched. Enough to do?

The National Endowment for the Arts continues to be an organization with clout and power despite the fact their appropriation isn’t what we all believe it should be. Private foundations also have the influence to change the perception of the public and operational practices of grantees. Working together as grantmakers with the sole purpose of creating a country where artists are respected and the arts are cherished by individual citizens seems to a no-brainer. Working together…is the key word here and often times the arts community has been its own worst enemy. Connecting national, state and local public funders with private foundations, corporations and donor designated individual funds is the mission of GIA. The NEA plays a huge role in coming to the table to develop strategies that will benefit artists and arts organizations and in turn, support a more creative America.

Some cities do better than others in public funding because they have created a culture that integrates the arts into the lifeblood of the community. New York City is the “2000 pound gorilla in the room.” The economic indicators drive the support. Many other cities have found this to be true: cultural growth means economic growth. The cost of investment to create a culturally interesting city where people want to live and visit is minimal compared to other investments cities need to make. A strong infrastructure of organizations, a primary advocate in the local arts agency, leadership that “gets it” in the mayor’s office are all part of the formula. It’s not hit or miss. It’s strategic and developed. Those arts advocates at the local level in cities that support the arts stand today on the shoulders of their predecessors from forty and fifty years ago. Our job is to make the connections between the arts and the lives of ordinary citizens.

BARRY: From your vantage point, what are the greatest current needs of the arts organizations you serve and how might the Endowment play a greater role in addressing those needs?

DANIEL: It’s evident from our work that arts organizations are looking for effective ways to reach more people and are recognizing the need to better understand their audiences, both current and potential. There is also a newly noticed interest among some organizations to understand why people are not coming to their venues not only as a way to “capture” a greater share of audience, but as a way to better understand the relationship of the organization to its communities and so better serve those communities. Most often, they cite lack of funds for this kind of research. (Research was the #1 underfunded need identified by arts organization leaders we surveyed.) The NEA already tracks public participation in 7 major disciplines via the SPPA. Given that the arts faces competition from other activities, it might be helpful to understand how Americans make choices about the arts in the context of those other activities, and how they see barriers and opportunities to participation.

JOHN MCGUIRK: It would be interesting to reframe this question – what are the greatest current cultural needs of the public and how might the Endowment play a greater role in addressing those needs? Clearly access to, and engagement in, arts opportunities would be a high priority, as well as arts education and life long learning activities.

JANET: We need new thinking and new strategies. The National Endowment has always been a leader in requiring organizations to apply appropriate business practices like planning, professional development and adequate staffing. The role of the NEA influences the programs and criteria of state arts agencies. Recent studies by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the William Penn Foundation indicate that arts organizations are undercapitalized. This is no surprise to anyone involved in funding. So, after forty years of putting together a network of private and public funding, what hasn’t worked? In this day and age of rapidly changing technology, what’s the new direction? Are we training leaders for the organizations of tomorrow or ten years ago? Now is the time to evaluate the status of arts education, individual artist support, major institution stability and sustainability and the support of small and mid-sized organizations. These are big picture issues and the NEA can be a leader in driving both public and private funding discourse and focus.

FRANCES: The arts organizations I serve need basic operating support, courage, and the will to change themselves. If those of us who were funding them and asking them for outcomes and reports could devise some shared expectations and then get out of their way, they could achieve their best.

The Endowment’s role could be to place the needs of arts organizations and artists alongside other parts of the federal agenda—health insurance and health care reform, job development, re-aligning the United States’ relations with other nations, creating demand for quality U.S. products. The Endowment could shape policy advances in these arenas combined with thoughtful grantmaking that recognizes artists’ and organizations’ needs and vehicles with which they can be creative contributors to our society.

VICTORIA: My goal in participating in this blog was not to be parochial, but you asked the question!
From my point of view one the greatest needs of arts organizations in San Diego is funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. San Diego is the second largest city in California and the eight largest in the country with a population over 1.25 million. And, in spite of the fact that the 72 organizations funded by the Commission for Arts and Culture, under its Organizational Support Program, stimulate the local economy with $180 million in direct expenditures, employ a workforce of over 6,300 and reach over 5 million people, they continue to be over looked at the state and national level.

For example, though we were pleased to learn that about $4.5 million Endowment American Recovery and Reinvestment Act direct grants were awarded to 99 arts groups in California, only two of the 99 grants were awarded to arts organizations in San Diego. This compares to over 40% awarded in Los Angeles and 54% awarded in Northern California, predominantly in San Francisco.

Going forward, I would encourage Chairman Rocco Landesman to make site visits to communities throughout the country, consider geographic distribution in future grant cycles, advocate for an additional allocation of stimulus funds and increased funding to the Endowment and support a prescribed percent of Endowment funding to local arts agencies to regrant to the field.

LOIE: Survival is an issue for many arts organizations right now which is why the arts recovery money is so important. It would be great to see expansions in this area, as previous panelists have suggested, such as an Arts Corps program or an expanded arts recovery program that would employ individual artists similar to the WPA.

The decline and graying of audiences is another issue where the Endowment could help by expanding arts education programs, as well as by helping arts organizations invest and get grounded in the new technologies. Technological needs are huge right now and arts organizations need to find a way to capitalize on and use these new technologies, particularly to engage and capture younger audiences. Technology is an area where the NEA should invest and show leadership.

JOHN KILLACKY: As colleagues focus on helping organizations stabilize finances with an eye to sustainability, I wonder if funding interventions might be better directed by capitalizing toward mission delivery, helping to build supply and demand. Artists and arts organizations need money in order to develop great work. Lowering artistic ambition during these draconian times leads down a slippery slope as to audience appeal. Michael Kaiser from the Kennedy Center is adamant: "We mustn't be scared into thinking smaller. Small thinking begets smaller revenue that begets smaller institutions and reduces excitement and involvement." Even with less discretionary income, audiences are flocking to interesting and compelling work. Berkeley Rep’s musical adaptation of Green Day’s “American Idiot” sold out its entire run before it even opened. This punk musical became an intergenerational must-see.

The NEA’s funding has always had a catalytic impact, both as a seal of national excellence, but also in terms of its matching requirements. During this time, the Endowment must reinvest in America’s creativity by supporting the creation and presentation of works at an unprecedented scale and use its imprimatur to galvanize increased box-office and donations from individuals.

BEN: In a series of national conversations the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) supported in 2006, we heard a wide variety of needs articulated by participants. We divided those needs into three different categories: 1) idiosyncratic needs, i.e. needs particular to one field but not to other fields. Career transition for dancers is clearly a critical issue for the dance field, but simply did not resonate in the jazz field, where musicians often perform into their 60’s, 70’s and beyond, for example; 2) chronic needs, including undercapitalization of organizations and under-compensation of professionals, including artists, managers, administrators and technicians—critical needs to be sure but ones that we heard in similar meetings 10, 20, 30 years ago and more; and 3) issues that cut across our priority fields of jazz, dance, theatre and presenting, but that we did not hear with the same degree of urgency a decade ago, namely eroding audience levels in every field, the yet-to-be-understood impact of emerging technologies on the live performing arts field, and an impending generational transfer of leadership, as the founding generation in many arts organizations retires or moves on. Any of these areas warrants support, and a funder could build an entire strategy or funding portfolio around addressing any one of these issues; fortunately the arts philanthropic community when taken in whole is invested in addressing all of these problem areas.

We at DDCF believe that the economic crisis has exacerbated the financial challenges organizations face today but that the real crisis—the crisis reflected in changes in audiences and the power of technologies (whether as competition, as shapers of consumer expectations, or as redefiners of cultural economics) that predate the economic downturn—is a crisis of relevance. The issue organizations face today is: how do we find the clarity and discipline to nurture core activities and programs and discard no longer effective or ancillary ones, while finding the resources (intellectual and financial) to create and test new strategies, activities and programs that will position us more effectively for the long run in an ever- changing world?

I think the NEA can best serve the fields in two ways: 1) reanimating its powers of convening, listening through those abandoned but so important annual field policy panels, and taking an aggressive stance as a spokesperson for those field needs; and 2) choosing a strategy and framework that allows them to explore questions with depth—to forego, as Olive Mosier has already said, trying to do everything.

LAURA: Every organization will always say its primary need is money, but this masks the real needs: a stronger board (to raise the money), a more knowledgeable staff (to know where to look), greater connectivity to one’s community (to have a larger base of support), and most importantly, an exciting artistic vision (to compel support).

So how can these needs be addressed by a federal agency? By building capacity from the top down. The NEA should make having a strong state agency in every state one of its top priorities. Then the state agencies would do the same to foster strength at the local level and the locals can do the capacity building work on the ground. When the California Arts Council had a vibrant state-local partnership going, with “branch offices” it funded in all 58 counties in the state, it was a beautiful model of how this could work, with dissemination of services flowing down and information flowing up through the same pipeline.

MOY: Arts organizations quite simply want and need unrestricted support to make and present work, pay artists, the rent/mortgage and the light bills. Given the tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of arts organizations, the National Endowment for the Arts cannot meet the real need adequately or may not be able to provide such unrestricted support.

BARRY: Is there anything that can be done that would facilitate foundations working more closely with each other in a systemic approach to accomplishing specific goals that they might mutually share? And has the time come for foundations funding the arts to consider allocation of some grants to projects that serve the whole of the arts sector as distinct from specific geographical territories?

LOIE: I’m not sure it’s possible or feasible to tell private foundations what they ought to be doing but the NEA could help foster and develop partnerships and collaborations that include both the public and private sector. We obviously have a lot of common ground in terms of funding many of the same groups and wanting artists and arts organizations to succeed.

JANET: I believe two things: (1) some foundations have been working together for years supporting research and joint projects that have vastly improved cultural climates in many areas; and (2) the economic downturn has prodded some foundations to collaborate in ways they haven’t done in the past. There are great success stories like the Cultural Data Project, which started with regional foundations in Pennsylvania, expanded to public agencies and is now a national movement to collect data with numerous states participating. Grantmakers in the Arts is a catalyst to bring members together (both private and public) and to highlight the tremendous outcomes that are the result of collaborative work. We’re doing that in Brooklyn in October at our annual conference and through Thought Leader Forums next year.

Having said that, we must always remember that private foundations are “private” foundations. Their mandate is not that of public agencies that receive and grant tax-dollars. These are private dollars with legal requirements in order to maintain a tax-exemption. It is still their money to do with what they like while adhering to government regulations. Whether it is a small family fund or a large institutionalized independent foundation, these are philanthropists who have choices and make decisions based on their own mission and vision, not a public mandate. There is no entitlement to their money within sectors of the larger nonprofit world. Given this, I am amazed daily by our members who are dedicated, passionate arts program managers from the private sector. They advocate for the arts within their organizations and to the outside world. They care deeply about the artists, arts organizations and communities they serve. And they care deeply about each other and the work of their colleagues.

Most national private foundations and corporations already support projects that serve the whole of the arts sector. Projects that started regionally are duplicated in other regions. Research and studies on the economic downturn and its effects are an example of this. Again, the Cultural Data Project is an example of something that started in one geographic location and has expanded nationally. Private funders, like public funders, don’t operate in a vacuum. They are continually looking for successful programs that can be duplicated and expanded upon.

MOY: 3a. Foundations in the San Francisco Bay Area have had a long running and successful history of working together to address problems. Examples include:
  • 28 year old Arts Loan Fund, which provides low interest loans to address cash flow problems for small and mid-sized cultural companies and has made 1200 loans totaling $14.8 million.
  • 2 year old California Cultural Data Project, funded by private and public sector funders, including Hewlett and Irvine Foundations, with 30 participating funders and more than 1100 arts and culture organizations, which will provide first-ever comprehensive data on the nonprofit arts sector in the state. Part of the now national Cultural Data Project, the CDP plans to be in operation in as many as 22 states by the end of 2014, engaging up to 70 percent of all cultural organizations throughout the country that apply for public and/or private funding.
  • Efforts to increase arts education have been multi-faceted from the internal Hewlett Foundation arts and education collaborative initiative in this arena to external efforts including joint funding by California foundations on arts education policy advocacy and model projects and a meeting of Hewlett/Ford/Wallace and Heinz Foundations working in arts learning.
3b. Yes, there are foundations which already do this. For those who have not yet, the appetite and capacity will surely depend on the balance of the foundation priorities and financial ability to support initiatives that potentially could impact the whole arts sector.

FRANCES: Geographic focus is a key defining characteristic of most foundations and it is certainly not the kind of thing that a program officer or foundation president has the power to change over night. It is deep in the bones and the bylaws. I believe the Foundation Center’s data notes that 70% of foundations focus their grantmaking in the communities in which they are based.

And while some may think that a regional or state focus leads to provincial attitudes and narrow concerns, I don’t think that localness is a bad thing. For those of us doing locally-focused program work, we have opportunities to really know our grantees. Most of the out-of-touch, wasteful grants I have observed have been awarded by national foundations that are far from the regions in which their money is being spent. (I also have observed some outstanding grantmaking by national funders.)

A down side of locally-focused foundations is that they are unevenly distributed throughout the states and country, but that is largely because the industries that have created wealth over decades and centuries have been clustered. When funders of the arts are found clustered together, they become one of several factors that leads to a gathering of artists and arts institutions. (Strong higher education programs are another factor.) And when that happens, you are more likely to get creative foment, exchanges of ideas, controversy, and dynamism.

Another side of this question is whether foundations should work together and share knowledge. Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons I’m so committed to Grantmakers in the Arts and for its efforts to expand the conversation to include representatives of public and private resources.

JOHN KILLACKY: Bay Area philanthropy is very collaborative. For decades, foundations and local government agencies contributed to a pooled Arts Loan Fund that addresses short-term cash flow issues. Here at The San Francisco Foundation, we benefit from many funding partnerships, including the East Bay Community Foundation, Irvine, Hewlett, LINC, Wallace, Surdna, Wattis, Grants for the Arts/Hotel Tax Fund of San Francisco, and support from our Donor Advisors.

More and more we see the benefit of working regionally. Our funding partnerships helped establish the East Bay Cultural Corridor, whereby Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, and Richmond created a “510Arts” marketing initiative highlighting the myriad offerings of the region. The “Big List” is another example. With support from Wallace, 112 arts organizations in nine counties merge and share audience lists to better facilitate targeted marketing and increasing returns.

In the coming years, foundations must continue to work collaboratively to help arts organizations become more adaptable through strategic partnerships, joint ventures, and back office collaborations. Mergers, consolidation, and even sunsetting should be supported, allowing an organization to celebrate its legacy and end with dignity if necessary. The Endowment may wish to consider supporting regional efforts in these adaptive measures.

BEN: The upcoming Grantmakers in the Arts Conference may be a step forward in this direction. Many of us understandably work in a relative vacuum, understanding the needs of a set of grantees and applicants, but not always understanding fully the actions other grantmakers are taking or the progress that other communities beyond those we fund are making. GIA is trying to foster a dialogue to help us all understand the aggregate impact of our individual actions and is dedicating significant time to this goal in the October conference agenda.

Clearly the depth vs. breadth question is a critical determinant in defining the reach of a foundation or funder: with limited resources, do we want to be open to organizations across the country? (A question which has real implications for staff size, infrastructure support and—potentially—for grant size as well.) Do we want to invest more meaningfully in a smaller geographic area? (Which can often mean more immediate relationships with applicants and grantees, more site visits, etc.) The decision a foundation makes is more than a philosophical one: it has very real financial, structural and logistic consequences.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation considers itself a national funder, and we consciously ask ourselves “What should we do that we would not do if we defined ourselves as a local or regional funder?” All of our initiatives are open to organizations across the country, and we have specific initiatives to fund national projects (e.g. national research, national convenings, etc.) and to strengthen national arts service organizations. We do, however, depend on peer panels to adjudicate our grants—our way of keeping our own infrastructure lean while responding to potentially thousands of applications—and therefore have less personal contact with many groups who apply or are funded, a situation which can be frustrating for many grantseekers.

That said, we recognize that there is enormous value in local and regional, and prefer to think of our work as adding to the funding landscape rather than as being a proscriptive solution. The NEA potentially can leverage this same value—as a complement to local and state arts agencies as a form of government support but one that can uniquely tackle issues and funding solutions that a local or regional funder cannot do. What is the “value added” of the national purview the NEA has?

JOHN MCGUIRK: There are recent examples in California and other states implementing the Cultural Data Project where government arts funding agencies at the state, county and city levels have joined in collaboration with private foundations, corporations, community foundations, and local arts councils to work towards common goals. Similarly, we currently partner to support a variety of arts service organizations and regranting intermediaries. I believe there are opportunities to strengthen this collaborative funding approach -- to stabilize the arts sector during this economic recession, and position it for increased public value and support in the near future.

LAURA: Maybe because we have fewer foundations based in LA than other major metropolitan areas (and fewer corporate headquarters, too), we’ve had to learn to work more collaboratively. It’s usual for foundations in LA to collaborate on areas of mutual interest, whether to support a service organization for individual artists or sustain an arts loan fund. And we work easily across the public/private divide as well, on initiatives like arts education for which we actually have a pooled fund to address regional infrastructure needs.

There’s a different between a public entity competing with its constituents for funds from the private sector and partnering to accomplish mutual goals that can’t be achieved alone. We haven’t seen these kind of collaborative ventures happening on the federal level, but we should.

DANIEL: In my brief tenure at The Wallace Foundation, it is common-place to discuss shared interests and opportunities with colleagues at other foundations. We recently joined with the Ford Foundation, The Grable Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundations to convene representatives of city and county based arts learning collaboratives in Seattle. The appropriateness of the idea emerged during our participation in a forum of the Arts Education Partnership. Since many of our grant recipients are working on similar issues, we felt a joint meeting could not only be helpful to them but cost-effective, as well. Embedding those meetings in the annual conference of Americans for the Arts added valuable content and much appreciated logistical support. So, perhaps the problem is historical; Carpe diem!

Our systems approach to identifying promising ideas and sharing useful lessons with the sector is the reason I came to Wallace. Our city-based approach to strategy development is possibly akin to a regional or otherwise geographic focus. Is the problem, therefore, how we allocate our funds or how funders and practitioners collect and analyze data that might have broad applicability for the sector? It may be that not being an expert in the history of arts philanthropy leaves me at a slight disadvantage with the question. That said, I look forward to more opportunities to peruse commissioned research from other foundations and sit with them to explore how our field experience and research can be used to increase our effectiveness.

More questions and responses tomorrow.


WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30TH:

BARRY: What should be the role of individual foundations, cities and states, and the Endowment in terms of “empowering and enabling” the advocacy (and lobbying capacity) for increased government support and for specific goals such as expanded arts education? How about in the area of soliciting public support for the arts?

DANIEL: Working together to better educate people (including elected officials) about the benefits that can be derived from sustained participation in the arts is an appropriate and perhaps under-developed role for foundations and government agencies. We did a great deal of work with state arts agencies (the conduit for the bulk of public monies distributed from the NEA into local communities) that “yeasted” some significant lessons (click here: www.wallacefoundation.org/KnowledgeCenter/KnowledgeTopics/CurrentAreasofFocus/ArtsParticipation/Pages/state-arts-policy-trends-and-future-prospects.aspx ) about how those agencies applied the idea of “public value” to their work. In fact, some SAA’s even began to think of their mission differently. It became less about “serving arts organizations and artists” and more focused on “serving the citizens of the state with access to engaging arts experiences.”

LOIE: As I said earlier, we need to do a better job of telling our story and of demonstrating our relevance to society. I think part of the problem is people have trouble relating to the word “art.” For example, I was stunned to learn that a childhood friend of mine who is a regular theater and concert-goer, who raised her children to be arts participants, to dance and to play musical instruments, does not see herself as an arts supporter, even though that is what she has been her entire life. She connects with the activities; she just doesn’t connect with the word “art.”

JOHN KILLACKY: The existence of future art audiences is contingent upon providing arts education to children. Sports teams know that the first sport we play is the one we follow -- that's why little leagues are integral to professional sports marketing. Arts researcher Alan Brown found 74% of orchestra subscribers sing or play an instrument. Similar correlations exist in dance, visual art, and theater. His conclusion: "Supporting personal practice is audience development."

My funding colleagues on this week’s blog all work to support quality arts education on the ground, as well as advocate for policy change to ensure arts are in every school, every day, for every child. The NEA could play an instrumental role by bridging with the Department of Education, making access to arts education a fundamental concern of all educators, as we seek to engender creativity in every child.

JANET: Anyone who has known me for more than minute knows how I feel about this. It is all our responsibility to advocate for the arts in all their forms, from all funding sources, all the time. Lobbying for independent foundations is limited. Nonprofits have the ability to directly lobby but it’s limited as to how much of their resources can be spent on it. However, foundations can support organizations that lobby but can’t support direct lobbying activity. But both advocacy (education) and lobbying is a strategic science that needs planning and direction. As individuals, all of us can speak up and encourage decision-makers to support the arts. All of us can help non-arts people understand the value of artists to our communications, arts education to our children and cultural institutions to the quality of life and economic stability of our cities and states. From boards of trustees to staff to grantees, we are all arts advocates.

The understanding that the arts are somehow outside the realm of government funding becomes absurd when compared with any other sector: agriculture, healthcare, energy, environment, education, housing or commerce. These are all sectors where foundations and state and local governments are heavily involved and invested. Are the arts and culture of this nation somehow different? If we believe that citizens should have access to the arts, that children are better off having been exposed and experienced in the arts and that our major institutions that hold the performing and visual arts treasures of our culture and others are critical to a democracy, why wouldn’t we advocate for government support? Our members at GIA are becoming more focused on this issue. We hope, as their association, we can answer their questions and help direct their efforts.

LAURA: Public agencies can help make this happen. We played a major role in the creation of a sustainable revenue model and stable staffing structure for our regional arts advocacy agency, Arts for LA, by contracting with it to provide advocacy services to support our Board-approved plan for arts education. Their services include tracking school board elections, surveying school board members on arts education issues when they’re running for office, and eventually, creating an arts advocacy team in every one of our 80 school districts. While we can’t contract with them to advocate for us, fortunately they have other funding streams that make that possible!

BEN: Clearly advocacy work is under-funded in the arts world as a whole, and this priority may grow with time. This is, however, a question that is likely to be a contentious one for funding organizations and government entities to undertake. Already we have seen a backlash when the NEA is perceived as becoming engaged in advocacy work, and many foundation boards may be deeply divided about the appropriateness of charitable funds being used for advocacy purposes: in my time at TCG, I encountered many theatre trustees, for example, who thought that the government had no business in funding the arts. Love of the arts is not necessarily synonymous with support for government funding.

I wonder whether the more interesting question isn’t in a deeper understanding of the priority nonprofits place on advocacy. Many arts communities are quite effective and lobby/advocate powerfully and well—witness Denver, for example, around its arts initiative, or Minnesota more recently in the work of the arts community there, both examples of effectively mobilized communities that moved forward when they perceived there was a significant return at stake. I think that federal advocacy lost steam when seasonal support/gen op went off the NEA’s agenda: with so many pressures just to keep the doors open, it’s hard for many to justify the time, expense and effort involved in lobbying for the NEA when the potential return is so unpredictable and so nominal. The intensity with which many fought for the NEA may have been related to the value of NEA support as a predictable means of support, whatever the size. What would it take for the NEA today to rouse similar enthusiasm for its goals and to animate the arts community to work more fervently on its behalf?

FRANCES: Foundations are severely limited in the amount of direct lobbying they can do, but they can support the research needed to inform the arguments and justifications, and they can provide general support to policy and advocacy organizations. Investing in advocacy isn’t meaningful unless one is in a position to stick with it over a long haul. Otherwise, grantees are pressured to come up with short-term achievements that may represent compromises of purpose or even diversions from the true path.

Years ago I was told that the Endowment matching grant requirement was dreamed up by the wealthy individuals who helped to design it because it was a way for them to maintain control over who received support. (They retained a kind of veto power if they were not willing to match Endowment grants.) Perhaps that was just a paranoid rebel hippy rant (my friends were paranoid, rebel hippies), but there are cons to public agencies feeling beholden to foundations for their well-being.

I DO want public arts agencies to be robust, I DO absolutely want to see more money go to arts education in public schools, but I think a private funder’s role is to be part of a broad-based coalition rallying for public support, not to lead such a coalition.

VICTORIA: “…nor is it possible to devote oneself to culture and declare that one is ‘not interested’ in politics.” Thomas Mann

I have been encouraged over the past few years as foundations have embraced their public sector arts partners. That was not always the case, especially at the local level. There has been much progress on that front and at the annual Grantmakers in the Arts conference. Through research and special initiatives, foundations have been a powerful force in making the case for the value of the arts. I believe the next step is to strategically engage foundation board members in the political process and ask them to be advocates for increased public funding.

MOY: Supporting policy research is a powerful tool; it can provide the rigorous analysis that policy makers, influentials and the general public need/want on an particular issue. Foundations can support advocacy efforts within what is allowed by federal and state laws; lobbying as articulated in your question isn’t allowable.

JOHN MCGUIRK: Funders can work together to produce public policy research that demonstrates the impact and public value of the arts and advocates for increased participation and support (within legal limits obviously).

BARRY: What would you like to see the Endowment accomplish? What policies should govern its actions? What should be its priorities? If you were to advise Rocco Landesman on what the agenda for the NEA should be --what would you tell him?

DANIEL: We are not in a position to advise the new chairman on how he and his staff should run the Endowment. However we share the NEA’s goals of increasing access to and participation in the arts by all Americans. As we know, the arts convey a wide range of benefits that enrich individuals, change our lives as citizens, and strengthen the public sphere. All those benefits rest on the quality of an individual’s encounter with a work of art. There are troubling signs that demand for the arts is becoming less and less widely shared. Rates of participation in the art forms tracked by the Endowment are falling, especially among the young, suggesting a failure of these art forms to renew their audiences. And a likely explanation is that arts learning opportunities have been dwindling over the last 30 years, both in school and outside. Wallace has concluded in √ćncreasing Arts Demand through Better Arts Learning (click here: www.wallacefoundation.org/KnowledgeCenter/KnowledgeTopics/CurrentAreasofFocus/ArtsParticipation/Pages/increasing-arts-demand-through-better-arts-learning.aspx )that unless we pay more attention to building appreciation and demand for the arts, we will not have the strong healthy cultural life that our communities and their residents deserve, and that arts organizations need to flourish. Policymakers, schools, community leaders, arts organizations and state and local arts agencies, all have important roles to play.

LAURA: Rocco’s already gotten more advice than any one person could handle, and I’ve helped pile it on, but I’d suggest he look for the macro issues that no entity but the NEA can do. I’d stay away from duplicative services like making direct grants to arts organizations, as wildly unpopular as that might be, and disseminate those funds to those already running grant programs on the ground. I’d look for the really big fish— influencing policy shifts that would have a lasting impact on the field by changing the paradigm.

One thing the NEA could do in this arena that no other agency can would be developing meaningful cultural relations with other countries. The world is scared of the globalization of culture because the culture that’s becoming ubiquitous is the for-profit American culture. A real cultural ambassador could help show the world that our culture is made up of all of their cultures. And that their cultures are important to us.

So in summary, as an agency the NEA can see where it is on the org chart and work the three possible directions: develop capacity downward toward the states, develop relationships upward toward other nationalities, and develop cross-sector collaborations with other federal agencies.

JANET: Recommendations for Rocco?? Hmmm.. Here they are:

1. Lean on your program directors for advice. They are experienced, smart and connected to the field.
2. Protect them from the witch hunt that is occurring and will continue as those opposed to President Obama attack whatever they think Obama thinks is good. The arts would be on that list at the moment.
3. Fight back..don’t be wishy, washy but be smart and strategic.
4. Think of national initiatives that complement the nonprofit arts world, not that brings “art” to the uncultured. We are all cultured in our own way no matter where we live. There are wonderful artists everywhere and people who devote themselves to keeping the arts alive in the towns and schools across this country; add to their lives, don’t diminish their work.
5. Support state and local arts agencies.
6. Bring back the advancement program and fellowships for individual artists.
7. Don’t shy away from programs that echo the needs and emotions of the country. (For some reason, those critical of artists being involved in healthcare or service projects, didn’t complain when the NEA got involved in recording stories of war veterans.) We needed that and we need artists involved in healthcare and service projects too.
8. Help your staff to get out into the field so they’re not making “beltway” decisions.
9. Raise more money and be nice to politicians, even the ones you don’t like.
10. Be a team player with an extraordinary passion that is infectious. Don’t, however, be an idealogue. Politics is an art, most of it theatre..apply your knowledge accordingly.
11. Finally, think about the big issues and not projects that are more public relations than substantive. What are we doing about heathcare for artists? How do we raise the perception of artists in our communities? How do we create more philanthropists in the arts? In the ecology of the artistic community, how do we connect the “entertainment” for profit world with the nonprofit sector in the eyes of the public?
12. “Always trust your cape.” That’s a great song by Guy Clark. Check it out.

JOHN MCGUIRK: I would encourage an aggressive approach to work with other government agencies—a joint program for arts education in collaboration with the Dept of Education, a joint program for armed serves families and vets with the Dept of Defense, a joint program with Health and Human Services. Use the arts as a creative tool for the public good and demonstrate its impact in highly tangible ways.

BEN: Rocco is one of the great minds out there, and certainly doesn’t need me telling him what to do! My advice to him would be largely in those answers already given—be specific and strategic, don’t try to solve everything for everyone, and reanimate the NEA’s powers to convene. That said, I think he already knows those things and will reach his own decisions about their value.

I might, however, also urge Rocco to think about this moment as a moment of potential fundamental change. Beginning in the 1960’s, the NEA clearly called an arts era into being and did it powerfully and forcefully: the explosion in the number of arts organizations and artists---many of whom were supported at early points by the NEA—speaks powerfully to all the agency has done and to the NEA’s original impulse to create a new landscape, to animate and enliven arts participation in fundamentally new ways. We should celebrate—and celebrate often—what the NEA has contributed to our larger society.

I wonder whether this isn’t a moment of comparable opportunity, as we now face an arts future that will, of necessity, look different from that of the last 50 years. For most artists and organizations, NEA support is now fairly incidental to larger operations (as painful as this is for me to admit). With the death of artist fellowships and of annual general operating/seasonal support in favor of a project-support orientation, most organizations I know do not rely on NEA income in drawing up their annual budgets. They see it as immensely valuable when it comes, but not as predictable nor as significant enough in size to make a critical difference. Does this free the NEA in some ways? Can the NEA work towards a new future rather than trying to sustain the present? Can it help organizations reorient themselves to the changes in demographics, technology, globalization, etc., that will define the world in the years to come?

FRANCES: I know this is a big order and I have the cheery outlook of someone who has not worked in Washington, but I would like to see the Endowment step beyond partisan politics and form alliances to the right and the left. Given the divisions on other debates currently raging in Washington, this may be my interior Pollyanna speaking. I don’t think that arts support is an inherently partisan subject. Why is it perceived to be?

I would like to see the Endowment sustain—or further build—a robust research arm. I would like to see it re-establish U.S. pride in U.S. art and culture (beyond a few, large commercial ventures) as something exportable, something we are proud to share with the world, and something with vitality in all of the states and regions.

I would like to see continued efforts to study and inform policy that affects the arts in other agencies and divisions—labor, health, economic growth, trade, public education, etc. Media and communications policies deserve the Endowment’s full investigation (and translation for the rest of us).

And I miss the days when the Endowment awarded artists’ fellowships. I do not think it is feasible to bring them back immediately, but may they gently and gracefully return. I’m leaving the light on.

MOY: The NEA has a singular opportunity to build on its illustrious history to examine and more deeply invest in the following:

1) arts education by working with the Department of Education in the areas of increasing incentives to include/increase arts learning as part of the school day, increase funding for arts learning in and out of the school day, and conducting and commissioning research on critical questions;
2) arts participation by creating new ways in which individuals can participate more fully in the arts such as vouchers which can be “cashed in” at movies, for music lessons and tickets at a theater performance;
3) in artists, culture bearers and cultural groups spanning art and cultural forms representative of the hundreds of cultures found thriving across the country, supporting those who aim preserve an art form and those who aim to instill with a traditional art form with new or unexpected elements.

JOHN KILLACKY: Last week I was at Dartmouth College, speaking onstage with choreographer Trisha Brown about her collaborations with the late visual artist Robert Rauschenberg. In the early ‘80s, a $25,000 grant from NEA’s Inter-Arts Program helped her create “Set and Reset” considered by many to be a masterpiece of postmodern dance. Dance touring support put her company on the road performing all across this country. She also received choreographer fellowships from the Dance Program, jumpstarting her career.

These Endowment dollars were leveraged multiple times over and helped develop a recognized master in her art form. Sadly, today her company is supported primarily through European commissions and touring. One of America’s cultural treasures is barely seen in her own country.

It is time for the NEA to recommit to individual artists once more. Bring back fellowships and touring subsidies. Put American artists back to work in their own country. Send American artists abroad through the USIA again. Challenge and Advancement grants also need to be reinstated, so that organizations can be properly capitalized. The Endowment must recommit to supporting the next generation of artists and arts organizations, so that 20 years from now, another crop of masterpieces can be shared broadly.

LOIE: It is vital that the arts continue to be part of the national economic recovery and I would think that a Broadway producer would have some creative thoughts about bringing this message home to Congress and to the American people. I do think artistic excellence matters, as does arts education. We also need to realize that there is a sea change going on, and we need leadership from the NEA to help all of us embrace, integrate and use the new technologies that have so captured our young people. I think we may have some out-dated arts delivery systems and we need to find ways to adapt and grow.
Otherwise, these new technologies are going to pass us by and we will be irrelevant. Also, given Rocco Landesman’s background, the NEA now has a unique opportunity to pursue some partnerships with the for-profit arts sector and to foster arts entrepreneurship in some new and different and exciting ways.

The discussion continues tomorrow..........

Thursday, September 24, 2009

September 24, 2009

 

CONTINUATION OF SECOND PANEL / NEA FORUM COMMENTS


WRAP UP OF SECOND PANEL COMMENTS:

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


THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24TH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Ensure a Strong Federal-State Arts Support Partnership

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

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

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

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

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

VI. Support the Participation of Americans in Global Cultural Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you all very much.

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

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dear Colleagues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you all for following along.

Have a good weekend.

Don’t Quit
Barry