Sunday, December 27, 2009

December 27, 2009



Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on............”

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I usually end the year with a blog inviting a cross section of national arts leaders to focus on what they believe are the mega issues and trends that did, and will, impact the sector in the past and coming year.

As we move to the final year of the first decade of this century, I thought it might be interesting and instructive to look back at the past five years of these predictions and see how our intrepid observers and pundits did. (You can read all the predictions and observations by clicking on the December blog for each prior year under the Archives section on the right hand side).

Not surprisingly, there are several key core challenges facing our sector that repeatedly and consistently wind up on any list – be it of our challenges, priorities, or core issues – including:
  • audience development
  • expanded and changing public participation in the arts
  • funding and revenue generation
  • advocacy
  • arts education
Several other issues are now, and have been throughout the second half of this decade, also on our lists – including:
  • the transition to embracing new technologies,
  • leadership succession issues, incorporating the management of the different generations in our workplace,
  • the (arguably) outdated nonprofit organization model,
  • shifting emphasis to community based arts models
Looking back on 2004, the 2005 year panel recognized that revenue was an issue, and that there might be economic problems ahead, but that insight was based primarily on the fear that the costs of the Iraq war would ultimately negatively impact the arts by relegating them as a low priority for national public funding. We didn’t take the collapse as a harbinger of any greater economic collapse. Generally prognosticators were optimistic and confident new research and tools had put the sector right on the cusp of meaningful audience development progress and a fundamental change in the dynamics of how we would increase our audiences - an optimism that was not borne out by subsequent reality. Observers that year did note that advancing technologies were responsible for moving “passive audiences to (become) more active producers of the arts” and saw that trend as being significant. The panel also early on identified generational issues as being important in the future.

In 2006, even though there were the beginnings of the tectonic economic shift that we would see by decade’s end, we still didn’t see the collapse coming – nobody did. Panelists did correctly identify the early declines in demand for the arts and the corresponding increase in the ways the public could access the arts. We didn’t however, yet note the precipitous decline in audiences for performing arts events that was happening even while our optimism remained high. And we were still optimistic in 2006 – thinking less in terms of survival and more about the grander issues of expanding participation, advancing arts education and increasing appreciation for our value.

Participants did question the level of our marketing expertise and savvy and hinted at our lack of sophistication to compete in the private sector arena for the scarce time and dollars of a changing public. Panelists also begin to think in terms of the implications and possible impacts of changing technology and, in particular, of social networking online realities. While this panel re-echoed the importance of generational succession as a challenge facing the sector, we still did not yet fully appreciate that the issue was bigger than succession, and really involved the management of four different generations working side by side in the workplace.

In 2007, there continued optimism that we would be successful in making the case for the value of the arts to public (and private) decision makers. The importance of advocacy was recognized, yet despite the growing success of real political power as demonstrated by the Americans for the Arts PAC: The Arts Action Fund -- we continued to think advocacy was principally about making the case for our value and less about political clout. A tenet we stubbornly cling to still.

We had no real understanding of the fundamental changes in the global economic situation that was invisibly happening all around us. Nor did we see back then the extent to which our audiences were already shrinking. While we accurately saw that there had begun a shift in both the creation of, and the access to, art from the nonprofit arts organization ecosystem to outside that sphere, we didn’t yet have any handle on how to respond to the changing creation and consumption model that was underway. At the end of 2007, we did began to recognize that the way artists related to the nonprofit arts organization ecosystem had begun to change and that we were increasingly dispensable to a growing number of artists – especially younger ones.

At the end of 2008, we, like the rest of the world, were finally fully aware of the impact of the economic collapse. We knew firsthand the devastation the meltdown had wrought (and that would likely continue in our sector for the near term future). However, we weren’t terribly accurate in our thinking as to what our sector response would be to the new challenges. We thought there would likely be more mergers, consolidations and collaborative responses to the new economic reality. That largely has not happened. We did accurately predict the cutbacks in budgets and the downsizing of our organizations, and even that there would be a significant number of organizations to close their doors.

On the technology front, we were overly optimistic that we would embrace new technologies – to improve our marketing, catch up with shifting audiences and get a handle on expanding participation options. That has largely not happened. The one area we accurately predicted as a viable option to dealing with the new challenges was in a re-focus of our efforts to the local community level. We saw that as viable and we were right.

Last year’s election and the Obama Campaign model generated considerable excitement and optimism in the sector that real “change” was in the air, and certainly systemic, dynamic change seemed, if not inevitable, then, at least, possible. Early hope that we might somehow replicate the online success of aggregating huge numbers of small and individual supporters has fallen by the wayside as somehow we seemed content to wait for it to just happen of its own accord. It did not. If there was a window of opportunity to tap into that feeling across America, it was a very small window and we neither had the know how to even begin to capitalize on it, nor were we in any position to do so in terms of people or infrastructure. While we celebrated the inclusion of the arts in the stimulus package and believed that under Obama our fortunes would now change, campaign enthusiasm is axiomatically very difficult to sustain in the electorate post an election, and much of that energy has dissipated under the weight of the continuing economic plight, the seemingly never ending American foreign involvements and the threat of those that want to harm us, and, perhaps most of all, the now more pronounced than ever partisan divide that increasingly makes cooperation and working together virtually impossible. Again, the reality of our sector was survival mode and nobody was charged or empowered with the formal pursuit of any of these larger enterprises. The Administration, it seemed, has larger and more pressing matters on its plate.

So over the past five years we have accurately identified some of the larger societal changes, shifts, and trends that have impacted our sector. Faced with truly draconian alternatives in this new dessert, we expressed confidence that this was the time to really “think-out- of-the-box” and for us to get creative in our responses to ever greater challenges, but the wearisome task of day-to-day survival seems to have been so time consuming and daunting that our responses have really been relatively pedestrian and traditional and not particularly creative and ground breaking. We are busy trying to hold-on and our ideas on how to do that have not been game changers. We haven’t been able to craft a grand plan for arts and culture in America for the future as some on my panel would have hoped; indeed we haven’t really done more than talk about grand planning. Progress on moving arts education forward (in terms of universally available K-12, sequential & curriculum based, teaching) long recognized as critical to future audience development, and indeed to public support for the arts, continues to stall. Alas, as seems to have become the norm, while we early on recognize the potential importance of changing trends, we are slow to respond to those insights in concrete ways with specific strategies, and therein, lies, I think, one of our major problems: The track record of our ability to respond to that which challenges us – either offensively or defensively – in a specific, strategic way simply isn't very good. We are arguably too slow to respond to threats or opportunities; we don't have any mechanisms in place to react quickly and decisively - at least not on a sector wide basis, and we continue to pay the price for that reality.

While we have recognized for some time that there is a divide and disconnect between making and consuming art in the new technologically empowered private (or amateur) sector as compared to our nonprofit arts organization ecosystem, we have yet to get any kind of handle around how we can deal with that challenge and it continues to loom ominously out there like some dark star. At the same time, we now have verifiable studies that confirm that our audiences continue to shrink, yet our reseach hasn't provided us with real clues how to stem that downward spiral in the short term. And while we know our traditional funding and revenue streams – from philanthropic and public sources, earned income, audiences, and from individual donors -- are all undergoing sea changes, we still don’t yet know where all this is going or where we will end up, and we have only band-aid solutions so far. If the bleeding gets really worse, many of us may be in big trouble.

So, we had it right some of the time, and wrong some of the time.

Here is my take on some of the challenges facing us for the coming decade:

1. Audiences will continue to decline at least short term, though in the overall scheme of things they may actually increase if you factor in all the new ways the public can access art. The challenge for us is twofold: 1) how to maximize the exposure of all art to the widest audiences, and, 2) how to generate meaningful operational income revenue from audiences – however they may be categorized. Research that does not address these two objectives directly should give way to research that does - at least while audiences continue to decline.

2. Both public and private funding (apart from individual donors) will continue to fall short of the demand for it, and the sector needs to develop a general “policy” for the priority of the allocation of institutional funds. What is it we want to accomplish on the grand scale in both the short and long term? We also need an effort across all discipline and geographic lines to evaluate all existing revenue streams and develop real world strategies for all types and classifications of arts organizations and individual artists to be financially stable over time. We need the proverbial new model. Without a plan and some options, most organizations will flounder and struggle to keep afloat.

3. We need to move to specific training for the management of the generational divide within our workplaces and to make work in our sector more attractive by expanding the delegation of authority as we transition from one generation to the other. This is very important, but it isn’t rocket science; we have the answers. We don’t need to talk anymore, we need to act to make sure everyone fully understands the issues and is then trained to deal with them effectively.

4. We need to continue to identify and recognize the changing ways artists expand how they create art, and how their audiences consume that which is created. If we serve art then we must serve artists – and we must serve them, at least in part, on their terms in their worlds. Our survival as arts organizations likely depends on it.

5. We must finally recognize that advocacy is more than just making the case for our value, and that political clout is essential to influence decision making that impacts us. It is time to understand that without political power, decisions are more often than not likely to go against us – and that includes funding decisions and decisions about arts education in the schools.

6. I suspect there will be more research and data to refute some of our claims of the past decade – from the direct value of arts education to the impacts of Richard Florida’s “creative class”, and that this new research dispelling some of our arguments will force us to be more rigorous in the future in developing evidentiary support for what we claim. We will need, I think, to re-evaluate our positions and do better at how we defend ourselves against those who would question our arguments.

7. If we don’t figure out how to seriously organize the whole of our sector to massively mobilize (AND succeed in co-opting other sectors to join our effort) in support of K-12, sequential, standards & curriculum based classroom arts education, I think the movement will likely stall for the whole of the next decade. Despite official designations to the contrary, nowhere is art thought to be a core subject. We have to make it a core subject – legally as well as within people's consciousness – and in that order if we wish to succeed. This is a losing game without substantial political clout - which we do not have. Arts education that is not mandated will forever be subject to outside parental and community support to survive. At the core of the belief that the arts are just a frill is that arts education is not on a par in importance with math and science. This is more than an issue of educating the public. It’s highly political.

8. If we continue to drag our heels in facing the challenge of mastering new technologies and how those technologies impact the way art is created, distributed, accessed and marketed, we are likely to face a whole new (and far more profound and complex) round of even greater technological advancement. If we have no success on which to build, exploiting and managing whatever is coming next will be that much more difficult for us. We need an immediate national grand strategic plan to move forward in this arena, and part of that plan must include a huge provision for expertise and training to empower our communities and organizations to move forward.

9. Arts organizations will face ever greater competition -- within our sector and between our sector and the private arena. We need to dramatically improve our professional development and training programs so that our leaders - at all levels - can compete as effective managers. Basic, ad hoc, sporadic, occasional options simply will not cut it in the next decade. What we need is a veritable Marshall Plan for professional development – to address everything from recruitment of talent to basic and advanced skills preparation IF we are to have any chance to successfully compete (as business people) with far better trained private sector leadership. We remain inadequately trained as professionals, and we still have little provision for mechanisms to learn from our own past experiences and former leadership. Working in the arts remains much like the movie “Groundhog Day”.

10. Presenters will be faced with increasingly difficult perimeters in which they can turn enough of a profit to survive. Management of ‘bricks & mortar’ venues will increasingly be tested as viable when in competition with virtual options (especially with the Millennial generation). Presenters will need substantially more financial, research and marketing support if performance arts events are to remain a public option. And they will likely have to figure out new ways to take art to their audiences.

The biggest challenge of all, in my opinion, is will we find the means to tackle the big issues as a sector? Will we be able to fund real efforts to deal with these issues beyond just talking about them? At this point we have virtually no legacy of funding sector wide efforts to address sector wide issues. We fund arts organizations - locally - and principally for their programs and overhead. We do not fund sector wide efforts to deal with major issues. The only real exceptions have been convenings and research.

We face the following:
  • The continual decline of our audiences
  • The continuing decrease in our public and private funding revenues
  • The continuing migration of younger generational management talent to other sectors
  • The stagnation of arts education as a perceived luxury within curriculum priorities
  • The increase of political decision making against our needs and interests 
  • Falling increasingly behind in adapting to and exploiting technology
  • Fewer performances and exhibitions
Big challenges, but I absolutely believe we have the skills sets, talent, and knowledge storehouse to successfully deal with each of these issues.

But will we? If funders are not willing to put up the necessary funds to address these issues – including paying for the talent – from within and from without our field – to lead these efforts, all will likely fail. None of what needs to be done can be a volunteer effort or left to individual organizations – none really have the time, resources, skills or talent to do that. And none of the problems we face will solve themselves. It will not happen by magic. I would hope we would at least fund convenings that will deal with the question of how we might address these challenges. Not just more talk, but a concerted effort to arrive at an implementable action plan.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year, and that 2010 smiles on all of you.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 20, 2009



Happy Holidays everyone.

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

Moy Eng was the Program Officer for the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation for the past eight years. As she exits that post, she sat down with me for this interview.


BARRY: As you look back on your eight years as the head of the Performing Arts Program at the Hewlett Foundation, what stands out to you as the major challenges to the arts sector in America? What are the principal lessons you have learned about our sector over the past eight years? What are you pessimistic about ? What are you optimistic about ?

MOY: Over the past decade a number of important environmental factors have occurred that profoundly impact the ways in which art is created and how people engage with it: demographic trends, technological breakthroughs, and widespread interest and engagement in good design and in culture. Just as an additional note, my view is deeply affected by the place where I’ve lived and worked for almost a decade: San Francisco Bay Area, more specifically the heart of Silicon Valley.

A bellwether state on issues affecting the country, demographers suggest by 2050 California will be increasingly younger and older. Hispanics will become the majority with slightly over 50% of the population, followed by whites at 25%, Asians 15%, and African Americans and those in the US Census Other category the remaining 10%.

Over the past decade, 24/7 connectivity has become reality. Living in (Shifting between) real and virtual time/space is oxymoronically natural in our lives. Technological breakthroughs enable us to be connected to each other and to address our needs and desires immediately with often a device as large as your or my hand. Often most coveted devices such as an IPhone, Alessi household appliances, and HP minibooks designed by Vivienne Tam and Tord Boontje infuse high functionality with sleek visual design, making visible an individual’s desired identity. And, well-designed everyday objects have helped to increase public expectation of excellent design in what we buy and use.

Perhaps the most important impact is they make it possible for everyone to make art – mixing and remixing samples for new work to making business cards and CD cover images to documenting our lives with videos uploaded to YouTube (where 20 hours of new content is uploaded every minute) to composing, recording and mixing your own music on your laptop.

As a consumer the ability to satisfy your music fix has never been so easy or so affordable. For instance, you can purchase a track within a few clicks for less than a dollar or go to one of the P2P networks and download it for free. In fact, the industry estimates that for every track that sold 20 tracks are downloaded for free. For a musician, it has never been so easy to work on music with colleagues across time and geophysical place, share your music with your friends and colleagues, secure new fans exponentially, and attract investment and visibility from influentials (the local club owner to multi-media producers).

Technology has democratized the opportunity to learn and express one’s creativity, enabling a proliferation of DIY trend and creativity to an unimaginable degree and blurring the lines of who is an artist or not. And…most important, the democratization has eroded the market value of art, music and ideas in that they should be free; i.e., subsidized by an economic model which make the exchange/transaction appear free of cost or shared for free between individuals or through a social network. The impacts can be seen most dramatically in entertainment sector encompassing what used to be the recording industry, Hollywood and gaming and its unsuccessful scrambling to date to find a competitive edge or even an innovative economic model amidst a transformed and highly fluid sector.

BARRY: One of your major accomplishments was in creating an infrastructure for moving arts education forward in California. Yet despite having created that apparatus for advocacy and (involving arts educators, school superintendents, nonprofit arts leaders and others)the state’s arts education budget allocation has been left to each District to determine how to spend, and the result has been many (if not most) have chosen to spend the money on things other than arts education. What are the missing pieces that still need to be in place before we finally have a (stable and protected) pool of funds that will be spent directly on arts education? When we talk about the importance of arts education, more often than not, we reference its pivotal role in developing future audiences? Does its role in that regard trump other reasons for supporting the concept? What other lessons have you learned from your experience in this arena?

MOY: First, let me clarify that the Hewlett Foundation works in a variety of sectors from education to global development and depending on the program and its priorities, regionally, statewide, domestically, and internationally. The performing arts program focuses its support primarily on the San Francisco Bay Area. Since 2004, the performing arts program and the education program have collaborated on an effort to increase arts education for California’s more than 6 million public school children. More than $9 million has been awarded to support efforts in policy research, including the signature study by SRI, An Unfinished Canvas, a statewide survey of arts education in California, advocacy, and model programs and initiatives such as Music National Service and Alameda County’s Alliance for Arts Education. Efforts led by California Alliance for Arts Education in partnership with mainstream education leaders and groups, arts education, business and community leaders have resulted in over $800 million in the state education budget for arts education in a three-year period.

Looking ahead the question is do the state’s leaders have the political courage, will and determination to create a better system through which to provide a student centered, outcome oriented, comprehensive education (math, science, English, social studies, physical education and arts/media) to our children. An education that will produce critical and creative thinkers, compassionate, lifelong learners, and productive members for the 21st and 22nd century workforce. Since the enactment of Prop 13 and ESEA (No Child Left Behind) legislation, the curriculum has narrowed to the few subjects being tested. Numerous subjects including arts learning have fallen by the wayside, except where the strong convergence of educators, parents and funding revitalized arts education beyond one or two model schools such as in Los Angeles, Alameda, Santa Clara and Orange counties.

Recent developments with the high school graduation requirement and influx of education funds mentioned earlier have fueled some hope into California’s highly regulated, complex and stressed system. And, with the poor economy and California’s dysfunctional governance with regards to budgeting all issues are taking a beating, even education which comprises approximately 50 percent of the state’s budget! Recent gains made in increasing arts in the schools are eroding, such as in LAUSD, which plans to fire 50% of its arts teachers this year. While understandable given the size of the budget gap, it is demoralizing to the field. LAUSD’s 10-year old initiative (fact check), under Richard Burrows’ leadership, is a national model. Furthermore, the state funds allocated for arts education can now used for other purposes.

The fragility of these gains reminds me of the ebb and flow of prosperity. However, the crux of the issue is not solely what could we do to figure a stable and protected stream of (designated) funding but…ask ourselves why and what in arts learning is essential for every child and how those elements uniquely contribute to the development of a young person. And then, to really make arts and creativity learning a core part of a schoolchild’s day (and not just inspirational rhetoric) will take:
  • Significant, steady and reliable money including general education funds, designated money, and private sector contributions-smallest percentage, I hope of this last element)
  • Additional policy(ies) and regulations such as a nuanced assessment of arts learning focused on student outcomes not solely outputs at the federal and state level that are linked smartly to an overall vision and suite of outcomes for our schoolchildren
  • Performance incentives for educators focused on outcomes, not just inputs and/or outputs
  • Research at the federal and state level that tracks/monitors/disseminates outcomes to the people who need to know in order to continue to make the education of our children even better
  • Professional development for educators and teaching artists
  • Again, money – lots of steady money.
Teaching any subject takes a serious commitment of resources (financial, human and time) and doing it on the cheap is not possible for any subject, ask any teacher whether s/he is a math, science or social studies teacher. In 2006, California Governor Schwarzenegger, his staff and legislators made a courageous and excellent first step with $100 million commitment which is $15-20 per student. Perhaps we should consider what it optimally would take to support such a vision: $500 per student starting in FY 2012/13?

BARRY: Given that foundation portfolios have lost value, resulting in less available funds to support arts organizations in 2009 (and predicted to drop further in 2010), what do you think will be the major impacts to the arts ecosystem? What should arts organizations do now to adjust and adapt to likely declining revenue streams (at least from funders)? And how long do you think it will take to recover from those impacts?

MOY: The nonprofit arts sector will continue to be significantly impacted by the poor economy. As with other businesses (for profit and nonprofit), companies will need, if they have not already done so, to focus on their core business whether it’s arts learning, development and production of new work or preservation of a traditional art form. For the Hewlett Foundation, staff was asked to reduced its grant-making budgets from its 2008 base by approximately 40% by 2010. We asked the same question of ourselves at the performing arts program. What is most essential to which we should devote our reduced budget?

As with past recessions, arts companies in the nonprofit sector hunker down to survive. While there is an increased sense of the need to share resources, to collaborate, there is little appetite for deeper collaboration or mergers. There surely will be companies that will not survive the declined revenue streams and audiences.

You ask how long I think will take to recover from those impacts. It’s hard to say. The easy answer is when the economy improves. I think that the hypercompetitive environment for discretionary time and funds will continue for the near term and with the significant environmental pressures, there will be entrepreneurial and resourceful individuals who will find innovative ways to make and share artwork.
The Hewlett Foundation budgets using a 3-year average and is committed to supporting the performing arts in the Bay Area. So…watch this space in calendar year in 2012 and 2013. For other colleagues, it’s much more difficult to say. You see some have reneged on their grant commitments and are moving forward with much grantmaking in this area. For other foundations, they’ve used this time to examine what is most important and no longer fund in the arts. For other colleagues, they’re committed to the arts and when the endowment returns improve, it’s probable the arts will benefit from the improved economy.

BARRY: I wrote in a blog last month that I think GIA (Grantmakers in the Arts) has the potential to marshal the resources necessary to facilitate real collaboration in address the big issues that face the entire arts sector – issues that often have gone unaddressed. Do you think the foundation and wider funding community will finally pony up the resources to tackle those big issues, and what would be your advice as to how to make that a reality? Where are the best potential intersections of funders and others in the arts field to engage in real, productive collaborations in the future?

MOY: Among funders, collaboration is a deeply held value and promoted practice especially in times of economic scarcity and where there is a singular opportunity(ies). However a successful collaboration requires:
  • Leaders who identify and share common goal which requires a partnership/collaboration to achieve it
  • Sense of urgency; i.e., a time sensitive opportunity
  • Favorable political, economic and/or social environment
  • Excellent communication (internal and external)
  • Commitment to allocate the resources (human, financial, time) to fuel the collaboration.
If it’s short-term, the singularity of the opportunity must be even greater than usual, given the challenging financial resources at this time, such as the educators and arts learning professionals working on ARRA funding opportunities (Race to the Top and I-3) and reauthorization of the ESEA (No Child Left Behind).

For the long-term, large scale issues which would very much benefit from a national cross-sectoral collaboration coalescing the sharing value of public (and private) sector support for:
  • Arts and creativity learning in and out of school
  • Laboratory for the development and creation of contemporary art and art forms
  • Preservation, promotion and stewardship of traditional and indigenous art.
This last bullet is a particularly challenging one. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area is populated by more than 7 million people representing over 120 languages and cultures. If we as culture policymakers and funders aspire to support artistic expression representative of the aesthetic and cultural breadth in the region and opportunities for relevant and meaningful cultural experiences for Bay Area residents and visitors, the questions are what (cultures) count, why, and attract investment. For a country that will grow increasingly diverse ethnically, culturally, racially, how do we collectively think, discuss, and act on this rich challenge.

BARRY: How can the funding community best promote cultural diversity and support the multicultural arts community? Do you think the balance between foundation support for the larger, established cultural institutions and the smaller multicultural arts organizations is fair and equitable?

MOY: How do we address decades of historic power, influence and money going to big western European organizations? I think the question is a more nuanced one, not driven by a dated and destructive dichotomy driven by us (non-white artists and groups) and them (mainly white, Western European arts groups) debate. With the California and the country becoming increasingly diverse, ethnically, racially, gender, physically, the deeper challenge is how individual and institutional funders can honor and build on their values and histories, examine larger trends such as demography and potential impacts in this area, and determine a way individually and collectively that forges and fosters a richer, more dynamic sector of contemporary and traditional art and seductive incentives for making art and creativity part of our lives.

BARRY: Is there a role for the funding community to play in brokering meaningful alliances with business & industry, and what is that role? Why, in your opinion, have we had such a difficult time developing partnerships with business & industry and in capturing more support from that field?

: Right now, the issue for business leaders is how to focus the schools to educate students with “21st century workforce skills”: creativity, innovation, critical thinkers, collaboration. For those of us who see the world through an arts “lens”, gawd, how obvious is this that arts learning would be a critical inclusion in the school day! But…alas, it’s not. Business leaders do not see the connection between arts learning with acquiring skills in problem solving in a creative way or seeing the world in new ways in order to re-imagine and solve a long-standing problem in a new way, or in fostering respect and collaborative skills to work effectively and collaboratively in a team of strong, diverse individuals. With solid research that suggests such outcomes as a result of arts learning and possibly the institution of nuanced outcome-driven assessments of student learning in arts and creativity, this area might be a gateway to a strategic engagement with industry leaders.

BARRY: Advocacy continues to be on everybody’s list of important priorities. What do you think is the role of funders in enabling and empowering the arts to gain more effective political clout?

MOY: For you, Barry, it definitely is. More broadly, advocacy is an important priority for some, not for everyone. You have to believe in the political system and the potential to change it and the value of public support for nonprofit arts. The challenge is never before (I feel) has there been so much access to engage in art as a result of technology. People including political leaders and policymakers make their decisions about getting their “fix” based on their own interests and quite simply what grabs them viscerally and intellectually. They do not place a greater weight on purchasing art made by a nonprofit sector artist versus a commercial artist. There may been a strong case to be made in attracting public support if the nonprofit sector will continue to focus as an:
  • Research and development department or laboratory for the development and production of new work such as Angels in America and the building of a distinctly American canon and arts forms (jazz, modern dance, spoken word) (INNOVATION)
  • Space to preserve, pass on and promote traditional arts (Kathak dance, Western European classical music, Mexican mariachi) (TRADITION)
  •  Place to foster lifelong learning in the arts and creativity (CREATIVITY)
BARRY: For years we have talked about redefining and reinventing the nonprofit business model and structure. What do you think might replace it and how would that new model look and work?

MOY: It’s already happening. Fractured Atlas’s for-profit software development company provides services and support for the nonprofit arm, San Francisco Symphony’s collaboration with Google and its own media company, artists pooling funds to purchase property which some of which is rented out (which may subsidize) the remaining space for use by the artist investors, increased need by artists for fiscal sponsor agencies to attract funds and provide basic infrastructure needs without establishing a standalone nonprofit organization. The obvious path for a 501©3 for an artist to attract support is over. Companies are usually started by a vision of an artist(s) and are led at least in the early years. For some a founder has stayed on for much longer (Randall Kline at SF Jazz and Jim Nadel at Stanford Jazz Workshop). For the large majority of artists who have chosen to artmaking as the primary focus of their lives, grant money is typically too modest, requires a lot of paperwork, and is not enough to survive on. And, more importantly seed funding for start ups, even those with dynamic founder/leaders and a fantastic idea, is not only rare but arts foundations are best equipped to fund organizations well-past proof of concept with an established, successful history (funding, established audiences, etc.). And, venture capital kind of expertise is needed to actively seek, find and invest in such new ideas, knowing there is a fairly high ratio of failure to success when doing so.

BARRY: If you had one million dollars to spend tomorrow to advance the arts, what would you spend it on?

MOY: Right now, ummm…it’s a tossup:
$1,000,000 to support efforts to increase arts learning in school:
  • By strengthening policy incentives as part of the reauthorization of ESEA (No Child Left Behind)
  • By developing and testing more widely nuanced assessment(s) in arts learning in California
  • By building advocacy of California and national education policymakers and parents/community leaders
$1,000,000 to test cool ideas in music, digital media and arts participation by individuals under 25 and over 50.

"And I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 13, 2009


Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on..............”


Delaine Eastin, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction, use to tell a story about how she would ask an audience how many of those who were present were artists. In a typical audience of 100 people, five or six hands might go up. Then she would tell that audience that when she asked the same question in a kindergarten class every single hand would go up – every single time.

Little kids instinctively think of themselves as creative, as artists. Somewhere along the line that becomes uncool, and by the sixth grade far fewer hands go up. I wonder how much of that thinking is the result of the relentless barrage of messages that the arts are just a frill, a luxury, an elective subject – not really important; in the overall pantheon of priorities, the arts don’t really matter - not like math & science, not like fame and fortune, not like gossip and celebrity, not like sports and business, not like war and discord.

I get so tired of that message – frequently hidden in other messages, but as often directly said. Witness the moronic Congressmen whose response, when the arts were included (in a very minor way) in the jobs stimulus package earlier this year, was that ‘the money should be used for people with “real” jobs.’ Duh?

I am getting to the point of being beyond angry, because, frankly there is no outrage against this myopic, erroneous, fallacious and dangerous thinking – certainly not in the public, and honestly, not enough from ourselves. We’re so use to it that it hardly even surprises us anymore. As the Vietnam experience taught my generation, after awhile you become numb to body counts, and news of events and circumstances otherwise shocking and unacceptable, become mundane and all too common if repeated frequently enough. So it is with the ever continuing message that the arts are simply not that important.

We continue to counter that message as we must, but lord, how long will it take us to put it to rest? All I want for Christmas, Santa Claus, is for the world to celebrate and embrace the joy of the arts. Or maybe just that the brain dead idiots who simply don’t get it, would just shut up for awhile. Please.
A few days ago I came across a copy of the old (1897) New York Post editorial (click for the original)in response to eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon’s plaintive inquiry as to whether or not Santa Claus was real. It struck me that the question wasn’t much different than if a child today were to ask if the arts are real or important. I found that the Post editorial, with really just a few changes, could answer that question as well as the one about Santa Claus.

With apologies to the Post, here then is my rewording of that famous editorial, as it might apply to the innocent question: “Do the arts really matter? “

"DEAR BLOGGER: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say the arts aren’t important; that they are just a frill, and that they don’t matter anyway.”
"Papa says, 'If you see it in BARRY’S BLOG it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; Do the arts matter?”

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they have been conditioned to believe. They think that nothing can be important which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, the arts do matter. They matter as certainly as imagination, wonder, joy, curiosity and creativity matter, and you know that those things abound and give to your life its highest beauty and meaning. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no arts. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no dreaming, no spark, no reflection of beauty, no romance, no color to make tolerable this sometimes gray existence. We should have no enjoyment, except that prescribed by those who see everything in black and white and never question anything. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe that the arts matter! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to make a list of everything that is quantifiable, everything that can be neatly assigned some place in the order of our world. And the arts might not make that list, but that doesn’t make them less valuable, less important. The most important and valuable things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. But it is the job of the artist to try.

And that Virginia is why the arts exist – to give form and voice to all that inspires awe in us; to allow what abides in our hearts an expression we can share with those about us; to frame the loftiest of our aspirations, question our assumptions and challenge our complacency, and to remind us of both our frailties and our decency. The arts are as real as the sun on the horizon every morning, as important as the dew on the meadow in early winter and matter as much as the blooms of the flowers each spring – as real as love and joy and hope. Do not be deceived by those who think the only things that matter can be categorized as only utilitarian. They don’t even know what true utility is Virginia.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, music, dance, poetry, beauty, love, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Only the arts do that for us Virginia. Is it all real? Do they matter? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding; and not much else that really matters in the end.

The arts are what we leave for those who come after us Virginia. Like ideas themselves, the arts are a gift that transcends time; a gift first to ourselves, then to our legacies. They are what separate us from all the other life forms we share this orb with. It is who we are Virginia. Long, long after all the rest is gone – the politics and wars, the technology and advances of the moment, the changing beliefs and concerns, the celebrities and gossip of our age, the ups and downs of history – long after all of that Virginia, the arts will still be here – standing alone to give pause and testimony to the majesty and grace of humanity – a reminder of what we did right, of the promise of our future and all that is good within us; a testament to our hopes and dreams Virginia.

No arts! Thank God! the arts live, and they live forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, the arts will continue to make glad the heart of childhood and of all of us all throughout life.

And nothing Virginia is more important or more meaningful than that.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy Kwanza to all.

Don’t Quit!

Monday, December 7, 2009

December 6, 2009


Hello everyone.

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


Christmas is the retail holy grail. Manufacturers and retailers gear up for a hefty percentage of their annual sales during the post Thanksgiving through Christmas sell-a-thon. No matter what you are selling in America – cars or clothes, electronics or candy, movies or books – the Holiday period is critical to your annual sales projections. Everybody is in the game. For some, like the toy industry, the November / December sales account for over half the total annual volume. Why then don’t the arts have more of a holiday strategy? I don't get it. Why have the arts essentially abdicated even vying for what might be its rightful piece of this lucrative marketplace?

Except for maybe ballet companies with their Nutcracker performances (which may, in fact, account for a sizable percentage of their annual performance revenues), and perhaps some symphonies or other music groups that do count on holiday performances, for most of the arts, Christmas is just another time of the year. More emphasis is likely put on trying to solicit end of the year philanthropic gifts than trying to market goods and services as part of the holiday crush.

Shouldn’t we be thinking more outside the box on this and perhaps consider positioning the arts (visual or performance based) as more of a “gift” item and a thus a perfect holiday product? We talk so much about collaboration, why then aren’t there slick catalogs (sponsored and paid for by a consortium of local arts groups) sent direct mail that attractively tantalize gift givers with a menu of local based dance, theater, music and other arts performances (single or ‘series’) as well as museum and other exhibition options? Why isn't there a local Holiday Arts Website offering arts gifts online?

Why isn’t there a “sampler” arts gift card that would give the purchaser a choice of one or more performance across discipline lines during the winter and spring period – perhaps one dance, one theater and one music performance? Or a Dance Gift Card Sampler - with a choice of one ballet, one modern / jazz and one ethnic dance company performance? Why don’t we do more to position the arts as a very good children's gift option for the holidays? Why don't we package different and varied arts performances into appealing bundles? Why aren’t there cross promotions between the arts and say the credit cards (American Express, Visa etc.) or even certain large retailers (Macy’s Walmart)? Why don’t the arts rent some cheap available space during the holidays (much as retailers now do for Halloween) and aggregate local arts organizations and artists for one stop Holiday shopping? We see more “green choices”, more social justice donating options – all kinds of sectors getting into the holiday competition. Why then do we remain so on the sidelines during this key retail period?

There is yet another new online retailing website that is seemingly doing well this year – This site employs local based social networking with retailing, and takes the discount “coupon” idea a step further (hence the name). The idea is simple, it offers local “deals” with substantial discounts and if a threshold floor number of site visitors (it has a huge email list and site visits already) accept the offer then the deal is a go. Actually a site called has been doing a version of this kind of retailing for awhile. So a Symphony might offer 250 tickets at a 30% discount, and if 250 purchasers accept -- then the deal is done. I assume the site gets a percentage or fee. The customer gets a deep discount. The Symphony sells tickets it might otherwise not (and not just for current performances – but perhaps for performances scheduled in the near term future), and perhaps gets new first time audience members. Win – win. The arts should not only be jumping on this opportunity, we should be exploring what other kinds of social networking retailing opportunities we might create for ourselves - including such things as corporate sponsored subsidy of free or discounted admissions - e.g., Target Stores' Free Tuesday Museum Days.

Last year I asked why there was no arts “gift” card available in my local supermarket along with the now scores of other cards – from restaurants and movie theaters to department and specialty stores. A couple of you pointed out that there are, at least, versions of such cards in some of our markets. I still don’t see any individual (or consortium type) symphony, opera, theater or dance company gift card in my area. And again this year, if there were one I would certainly give it as a Christmas gift.

So why don’t we do more of this? Why haven’t we positioned the arts as a key Holiday retail product and built on that premise each year? The only reason I can think of is that no one organization thinks it has the time or other resources to develop effective entry and participation into this highly competitive market, and there are no national organizations or funders that see it as their role to either take this on or help facilitate local efforts. Will no one even try? Do we really need huge investment research studies about how consumers perceive arts experiences to take a gamble on basic level entry into this market? If we will not even take a shot here, that is a shame, because I think we have a highly competitive product, and that if we just spent more of an effort to position that product and market it effectively as part of the Holiday retail game, we could make this retail period work for us. Consumers are looking for other gifting options – and we are actually relatively affordable. “Give the gift of the experience of art” could be a very marketable strategy if we just worked on it in groups. We already have networks (mailing and email lists, newsletters and blogs, and point of purchase audiences) that we could effectively exploit to build a retail customer base target group. We have the product. I think we have the market too.

Too late this year of course, but come February it would be a very good idea for local area marketing people across all the arts disciplines to sit down for a meeting and talk and brainstorm about how they might work together to position their products for the 2010 Holiday Season. Perhaps local arts agencies could help facilitate that kind of gathering. What do we have to lose – other than huge sales?

NOTE: In mid-January Westaf is switching this blog to a new platform that we hope will allow greater options in the layout and look as well as tracking of the number of people who read the blog.

Because of spamming regulations, when we switch over, all current subscribers will be asked to re-subscribe. You will be sent a notification with an easy click button so that re-subscribing to the blog platform switchover will be very simple and easy.

I hope all of you will do that. I want to keep you as subscribers. In blogs coming before the end of the year, I will also put on a link so that you might subscribe to the new site before January. Thank you. I appreciate your support very much.

Have a nice week.

Don’t Quit!