Sunday, March 14, 2010

MULTICULTURAL ARTS AND THE DYNAMICS OF CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS: FAIR SHAKE OR SHORT SHIFT?

Good morning everyone.

“And the beat goes on............”

THE CHANGING FACE OF AMERICA:
Are the multicultural arts getting a fair shake or short shift as we begin the second decade of the century?

Have budget cuts hit those communities harder than the mainstream Anglo arts organizations? Are funding trends changing as demographics shift? Has technology changed arts creation and provision the same in multicultural communities as in the mainstream Anglo landscape? Are audience trends different (or the same) in the multicultural performing arts arena?

One thing is certain: the demographics clearly show dramatic population shifts already at play in America. The 2010 Census results will give us a lot more information on those shifts and changes. Too bad we can’t include some questions on arts & culture as part of the annual decade census.

BACKGROUND:
An Associated Press article last week noted 2010 may be the “tipping point” year (when the number of babies born to minorities outnumbers that of babies born to whites) as the population in America inexorably moves towards minorities becoming the majority. “Right now, roughly 1 in 10 of the nation's 3,142 counties already have minority populations greater than 50 percent. But 1 in 4 communities have more minority children than white children or are nearing that point, according to a study authored by Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire. That is because Hispanic women on average have three children, while other women on average have two. The numbers are 2.99 children for Hispanics, 1.87 for whites, 2.13 for blacks and 2.04 for Asians in the U.S. And the number of white women of prime childbearing age is on the decline, dropping 19 percent from 1990."

Minorities are projected to become the majority in America by 2050 according to that study. In California the aggregate of all minorities already are in the majority. Population statistics offered at the California Arts Advocates Visioning Retreat  (scroll down to the download: California’s Changing Demographics) earlier this year suggest the California population will grow 52% by 2050 with a drop in the white population from 46% to 26% and a corresponding rise in the Latino population from 37% to 52%. Latinos will likely comprise the largest group in the state by next year 2011. Indeed California is a special case: nearly 25% of all new immigrants to the U.S. between 1990 and 2000 were living in California in 2000. But California was not the only state to see dramatic rises in immigrant populations. Boston, Chicago, New York, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington D.C. Seattle, Minneapolis – St. Paul, Salt Lake City and Raleigh-Durham were all cited as gateway cities with increasing immigrant growth trends. Latinos are the largest population group in the country with population under the age of 30.

QUESTIONS AND MORE QUESTIONS:

What does this mean for the arts?

The obvious issue is how do the arts reflect this sea change in demographics:
• How do we nurture and support the development of growing cultural communities?
• How do we address the issue of access, and how do we empower more young multicultural artists?
• How do we allocate available funding (now when dollars are scarce, or later if they again become more available in a robust economy)?
• How do we recruit and train more multicultural emerging leaders?
• How do we involve more multicultural communities as our advocates and champions?
• How do we attract more multicultural private sector financial support?

When I assumed the Directorship of the California Arts Council there were already multicultural arts programs designed to address issues germane to those communities, including specific attempts to bulwark developing multicultural leadership and emerging multicultural artists. We added support for infrastructure groups representing multicultural arts communities. Budget cuts have eliminated those programs. All across America the current economic crisis has meant arts organizations of every description and category struggle to survive. Are multicultural arts organizations being harder hit than mainstream Anglo arts organizations, or, because most of those organizations are of smaller budget size and are experientially more adept at survival on modest income, are those organizations actually faring better? We don’t know.

There are political implications to shifting demographics. Historically multicultural communities have not voted in numbers reflective of their numerical strengths, yet we have seen some change in that legacy in recent elections where more minority members are voting and directly impacting election results. Will more minority representation mean changes in local, state and federal allocation of dollars. In any number of cities in California for example, Latinos, as a majority of the electorate, could constitute the majorities of local Boards of Supervisors or City Councils. Will they then vote to change the allocation of local dollars away from Anglo arts organizations to Latino organizations? Would that kind of shift be gradual or might it come precipitously? Would minority population dominance of local governments mean more or less support for arts funding as a whole? Would growing minority political activism portend the possibility of a whole new pool of arts advocates? Would we be able to recruit them or would our pleas to them fall on deaf ears? Again, we don’t really know.

TOO BIG TO FAIL v. TOO SMALL TO SAVE?

How will these changes in demographics affect foundation and private sector funding? What will foundations do as the population shifts?

Some foundations have already moved to try to address the needs of multicultural arts organizations and the implications for the growth of multicultural communities, and to grapple with the larger questions of arts creation, provision and access. In California the Irvine Foundation moved some of its priorities to multicultural arts in heretofore underserved areas of the state. Other foundations have continued to allocate a sometimes disporportionate share of funds to big budget, mainstream, urban cultural institutions. For a long time, foundations have been one of the bulwarks of funding to major metropolitan area large cultural institutions (operas, symphonies, ballets, theater companies, art museums). Will those foundations – largely endowed by Anglos who made their wealth in the past - with board members with strong ties to those larger urban cultural institutions – stay the course with past priorities in their funding, or will some of that funding move to multicultural arts provision? And as that debate continues behind closed doors, and the economy continues to struggle, there will doubtless be more pressure from all sides for scarce private sector money. Indeed, those same major big city cultural institutions continue to need (and are largely successful, comparatively speaking) huge influxes of private sector dollars. Does that take away from private sector dollars flowing to multicultural needs, or is there no correlation?

In an interesting blog post on the not for profit arts structure by James Undercofler, Professor of Arts Administration in Drexel University's Westphal College of Media Arts and Design (a wonderful relatively new blog on the scene), he argues that: “While at the start-up level the NFP structure presents a visceral challenge, as organizations grow larger, the effects of the structure are more subtle, more insidious. In larger NFP's, because of the need to raise larger budget percentages of contributed revenue, boards of directors become exceedingly large, as does the administration needed to service them. These boards rarely universally possess knowledge of or passion for the mission itself. At the very least they may understand a small portion of the mission's program activity. With these large organizational entities, flexibility is lost, and mature organizations quickly move into decline, as they cannot address the changes presented to them in their communities, from their audiences, and external factors. These organizations become "too big to succeed."

But what if the reverse is true for the largest big city cultural stalwarts? Perhaps those institutions, so much a part of those city cultural landscapes (much as are large sports franchises), so intertwined with civic identity, thought to be so critical to tourism (rightly or wrongly), are actually – like the banks and major financial institutions – now too big to fail. Will that mean more resources will be necessary to save some of them, and will those resources come at the expense of growing multicultural communities and their needs? What do local people do faced with that conundrum? Are then some arts organizations (including multicultural ones) “ to small to save?” How will changing demographics alter that thinking, or will it?

And as multicultural communities grow their own wealthy barons, will new foundations come into existence that prefer funding allocated to the communities from which they came?

In some sense, discussing multicultural arts v. mainstream Anglo arts is a false dichotomy. After all, isn’t art in the final analysis – art? There are many Latinos who love traditional opera, and many Anglos who love Flamenco music, many artists in all disciplines popular across all ethnic lines. And excellence is excellence – though doubtless somewhat of a subjective determination influenced by biases and prejudices. Still, there are fundamental questions as to the nurturing, preservation, protection and expanding the access of all the arts; questions of fairness and equity, balance and scarce resources – all of which will be impacted by new realities born out of shifting demographics.

This is hardly a definitive discussion of shifting demographics and multicultural arts. Many of the answers and approaches to the questions and challenges that will arise from demographic shifts will unfold slowly over time. Many though are here right now. This is yet another issue on our plates that we need to continue to take a long hard look at, ask tough questions about, and begin to craft some responses to – and now, not later. I think it’s time to put this issue back on the front burner. I would love to see the National Endowment for the Arts or even the President’s Committee convene regional gatherings across the country to talk about (and shine a spotlight on) multicultural arts support issues and the inevitability of the dynamics of changing population demographics. Or even Americans for the Arts or some other national arts service provider have as its central theme an upcoming convention on the topic.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Barry

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