Sunday, February 28, 2010


Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on................”


In the last two blogs I have recounted some of the complaints about the interpersonal relationships in the workplace in the nonprofit arts – which is, I think, emblematic of the far more serious and profound lack of professional development that we provide to all of our people. I have had several comments and emails echoing my lament that we spend precious little time or effort in training ourselves as managers in how to effectively deal with the personal relationships in the workplace and the consequent damage that does to the harmonious balance of generations working side by side and ultimately to our productivity, and our ability to attract, recruit and retain talent. And that reality is, in turn, symptomatic of the dearth of our efforts at Professional Development as a whole.

As I see it there are five fundamental problems with our attempts to provide real professional development business training:

We need more training in more areas; training that is deeper and broader and richer in content. Too few of us are getting the basic and advanced training that would help us to be better administrators and managers. We erroneously assume that in certain areas all we need is common sense and that training isn’t really necessary. It’s as though, as several people have told me: ‘We pretend that these skill sets come naturally to everyone.’ They don’t. The private sector understands that, and the necessity of on-going training to do one’s job better. Moreover, we lack any comprehensive offering of training opportunities. What we do offer is essentially confined to two or three areas – marketing, fundraising, and board development. Scores of areas are ignored entirely – from the aforesaid generational and interpersonal relationship management in the workplace to such specific tutorials as budget planning, report and memo drafting all the way to more technological training, time management and strategic planning. Even in the areas we do offer limited training, most of the offerings are only surface training with very little depth to any given subject. Often times they are but rehashing of old ideas with new, pretty sounding course titles – designed to get us to sign up, but end up unsatisfying. There are some basic courses that should always be available as fundamentals, but too many of our training workshops seem tired and old to me.

We need to offer a full range of management training across a wide variety of subjects, and we need to offer this kind of training at different levels. New hires need a whole different range of available learning modules than do seasoned veterans. We too often expect younger employees to somehow just intuitively know what it took us years to learn. We long ago adopted a one size fits all approach that really makes no sense to our needs. Long term leaders need much more technological training than the average Millennial generation member.

And while many trainings will work across a broad spectrum of end users (whether in the nonprofit or private sectors), arts administration is (as we really well know) a specialty. Our sector isn’t a carbon copy of every other sector, and we need to tailor and customize our training to our specific needs – across areas of responsibility and expertise, and across experiential and generational lines.

Those in major cities have far more available to them than do those in the suburbs or rural areas. But even in the metropolitan areas, what is offered is rarely accessible when the end user needs it – but rather on some schedule (and at locations) that is convenient to those offering the training. We need to figure out some sort of professional development plan that allows the end user access to the training s/he needs WHEN they need it – in ways (and places) convenient and workable for them. Talking head seminars and ill-prepared panels simply may not be the most effective way to teach. We need alternatives. That means a wholesale change in the way we offer training – from the occasional course offered by a management center or individual consultant (dependent on a minimum X number of attendees to justify the cost) to offerings virtually on-demand. Very likely the only way to do that is via some web online offering system – at least as one component in an overall approach. We’ve made some progress in this area of late, with webinars et. al. that remain available on-demand, but we are still barely scratching the surface. Meaningful training needs to be available to anyone, whenever they want it – as far as that is practically possible.

Along the same lines, that which we do offer is widely scattered about, and the end user is often faced with the daunting (and time consuming) task of tracking down what might be available, when, where and then making some “in the dark” determination whether or not what is offered is likely to meet their demands. We need to aggregate what we offer in centralized places and we need a way to offer reliably excellent training. We need some standards and benchmarks for trainers and their offerings.

Unfortunately, few of our organizations budget a line item to training. Too often expenditures in this area are regarded as a luxury and an afterthought. We don’t think we can afford to train ourselves on a continuing basis. We think it is something to budget for only in very good times. This is the opposite of what the private sector believes. It is also shortsighted, because: (i) It isn’t true. The success of our missions is dependent on our abilities as administrators and that is dependent on our level of skills; and (ii) It works as a disincentive to younger people looking for a career from entering our field. If we are to become better, and more competitive, as business people, we need to accept the reality that training is a life-long learning process. And not just for a few of us, but for all of us – from the Executive Director and Board member to the intern. Too often senior leadership doesn’t think it needs more training. What a ridiculous self-defeating notion. You may never forget how to ride a bike, but business management is very different in 2010 than it was in 1995 or 1980. On the other hand, we also suffer from the internalized belief that we can only afford training for the senior or middle management – not those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy. Another ridiculous self-defeating limitation. New people need training and mentoring to grow into being effective leaders. Empowering the younger generations to speak to, and for, themselves is laudable, but we are derelict if we don’t provide them with training and guidance. We have to change the culture of our business philosophy to recognize that arts administration is a profession, and treat it accordingly by embracing learning to improve ourselves as professionals at all stages of our careers.

In the long run, we need to embrace professional development so that it can make financial sense. Training must be affordable (see # 5 below), but it must be used by sufficient numbers of people so that the income it generates is enough to make any such sector wide effort self-sustaining. Organizations should budget for it, but any such line item cannot be excessive. Creating systemic, sector wide provision of professional development will likely require funder support in the early days of a new model. But no model that depends on some kind of outside subsidy for its existence is likely workable long term. Whatever means we devise to provide professional development opportunities, after not too long, that system will have to be self-supportive to be viable. Economics of scale must be applicable in terms of both supply and demand.

Finally, because we allocate virtually no money to training as professionals, and because we are in a severe economic climate, most of what is offered is too expensive. Degree in Arts Administration programs have much to offer, but are relatively expensive - as is all higher learning today. Isolated, individual course offerings can likewise be prohibitively expensive for both the cash starved organization simply trying to stay afloat, as well as for individual managers who would like to improve their skills levels but have limited budgets. We need a system that has some economy of scale so as to provide substantive, high level training to everyone as and when they need it throughout their careers. Funding that provides trainers to individual organizations isn’t working, because too few people are served; it is not an effective use of limited funds. We need to figure out how to make widespread availability of first class training financially feasible for everyone. It is bad for the profession and the whole sector if only some organizations can afford training; if only some organizations and / or individuals are subsidized. We have to figure out a way for subsidies and support to enable a delivery system for professional development that makes economic sense for the providers and the users.

I know that others share my concern with the sad state of our professional development programs. We really need a unified effort by our funders, municipal and national agencies and all the employees of all our organizations to recognize that this is a fundamental, and very profound, need for our sector and begin to take a longer term, strategic and comprehensive approach to make training:

• a high priority embraced by all segments of our sector, and all levels of our organizations
• comprehensive and tailored to our specific needs as a field
• aggregated in a one-stop centralized manner
• widely available and accessible on-demand
• offered to everyone in our work force
• at affordable costs for everyone
• and self-sustaining in the long term

If we don’t do that, we will continue to marginalize our preparedness as capable business leaders and remain at a distinct disadvantage to others in the nonprofit world and the private sector, and there will be identifiable, and costly, consequences to our failure to act. I know one thing for sure – there is a thirst and desire and need out there for more training opportunities.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit


Sunday, February 21, 2010


Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on............................”

Last week I listed some of the complaints from employees towards their bosses – most of which were directed from one generation to the other (in this case younger to older).

Based on the focus groups from the Hewlett study I did on the generations in the workplace and some scouring around the web, here are five complaints of bosses (and the older generation) directed at younger employees: (again, don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger).

1. Unrealistic Expectations: Junior employees need to shed themselves of their sense of “entitlement”. They complain about the lack of promotion opportunities and seem dissatisfied if they aren’t promoted in the first six months. We’re in the middle of an economic meltdown, be realistic and be willing to pay your dues. We did. That’s how it works.

2. Lack of initiative: We’re all understaffed and overworked, ok? You say you want us to delegate more decision making authority to you, but often times when we do, you don’t run with the assignment. You seem to want someone to hold your hand and walk you through how to do it. If I had time to do that, I’d just do the job myself. This is the nonprofit world and sometimes we don’t have the luxury of not having to work overtime.

3. Skills level: You need more training. I know. We all do. You need to take some initiative and work on your weaknesses yourself. And most of you could use a lot of work on your written communications. Using text speak isn’t acceptable in the workplace.

4. Patience: You might have been the center of your parent’s universe as you grew up, but it is unreasonable for you to think you are the center of my universe. Be patient.

5. Manners: Try to remember that basic manners go a long way in any personal relationship. Too many of you seem to forget that.

And here are some complaints that seem common to all generations in the workplace – ten things that drive all co-workers crazy:

1. Putting PDAs Before People:
Christine Pearson, co-author of "The Cost of Bad Behavior", says that gadget-induced absorption is the No. 1 complaint she hears from office workers around the globe. "Most people find texting and e-mailing in meetings really offensive. The irony is, most of these same people admit that they do it," she says.

2. Eating Smelly Food:
Why should anyone mind if you have a little microwave Indian curry chicken in the afternoon? “Oh, no reason except the place stinks all afternoon.”

3. Hygiene:
Too much perfume, too little grooming. We all have to share the same space and nobody should have to remind anyone else that personal hygiene is an absolute must.

4. Failing to give credit to co-workers:
You help a colleague out and then they absently-mindedly forget to acknowledge your contribution – that is if they don’t claim all the credit outright. And sometimes, when there is blame to be assigned, it’s often somebody else’s “bad”.

5. The Rumor spreader:
Few things are as annoying as the office rumor spreader - especially since most of the time the rumors are false, and even misleading and damaging to innocent people. Just stop it.

6. Cover for me:
The person who constantly asks you to cover for them one way or the other. Even once is over the line. Don’t ask me that.

7. The Know it all:
Every office has one – the Cliff Claven (the character on the old Cheers television sitcom for those of you too young to remember) – the expert on everything, the person who knows the answers to every question – even those no one asked them. They have no idea how little they really do know, and after awhile their sense of superiority is annoying.

8. The Greedy One:
The person who invariably eats all the good cookies and leaves the ones nobody wants for everyone else.

9. The Borrower:
The one who eats your food in the refrigerator and asks innocently: “Oh was that yours” – if they own up to it at all. ‘Hey I put my name on it. Can’t you read?” And don’t forget the one who uses your coffee cup then leaves it in the sink for you to wash.

10. The Bathroom Splashers:
How hard is it to just clean up the sink area for the next person anyway?

A lot of complaints are minor, but over time mushroom into something larger because they go unchecked. Every workplace needs a protocol of some kind to keep that from happening. We live together all day long, we need some basic understanding of the ground rules. The wise manager will remember that. This is a professional development issue – yet another one we continue to ignore – important because it impacts and affects what we do, how well we do it, and ultimately our success as businesses.

Next week I want to talk about the critical deficit of professional development opportunities in the nonprofit arts world – from mastery of mundane business skills to the management of interpersonal dynamics in the workplace. I believe our lack of attention to training ourselves to be better and more competitive managers is a critical problem that impedes our best performance – in both good and bad times.

Have a great week.
Don't Quit!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Hello everyone.

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


I see lots of courses on marketing, fundraising, board development, and even strategic planning and how to adjust and adapt to the changing economic times. But I see virtually nothing about that whole other side of being an effective leader – how to manage people and the whole workplace environment. The focus group project I did for the Hewlett Foundation on Youth Involvement in the Arts brought to light a litany of complaints from Millennial and even Generation X employees about the lack of skills level of their “bosses” in the nonprofit arts sector in just relating to the ‘perceived’ needs of their younger employees.

Here is a list of common complaints of younger employees across the whole of American business as set forth by Jeff Schmitt in a January 26, 2010 Yahoo online article entitled “BAD BOSSES, WHAT KIND ARE YOU?” as provided by Business Week magazine (included are a some additional thoughts of mine based on my experience in our field and from the focus groups in the Hewlett study).


1. You Don’t Know Your Job:

“You’re out of touch with how the organization really works on a day to day basis. You can’t run the whole organization until you have more of an understanding as to how each of the parts of the organization function, and you seem to have little interest in learning that”. You don’t keep up with cutting edge changes and your own training is years old.

2. You Don’t Listen:

“You interrupt constantly to make your points. And you roll your eyes and grow impatient—unless you're talking. No matter, you disregard our input anyway. So we've given up; we don't come to you anymore. And we both suffer for it. If you want to succeed, rebuild that goodwill. It'll require time and toil, but the best relationships always do.” Saying you have an open door policy isn’t the same thing as actually having one.

3. You’re Close Minded:

“You're gifted and accomplished, the best and brightest. And that has made you susceptible to pride. Now, you're quick to reach conclusions. Everything is one-sided, with no room for discussion, differences, or dissent. You may view yourself as all-knowing, but conditions change. And talent doesn't stand for "my way or the highway.” We don’t want to be exclusively the instrumental pawns in your grand scheme of things. We want to have a voice and contribute. You tell us to think outside the box, but all the decisions are made inside the box, and we aren't allowed access to that place.

4. Poor Preparation:

"Another emergency meeting. Drop what you're doing, they need it now. We're changing direction and working late again. It's always last minute, make it up as you go along. Maybe it fosters teamwork and creativity sometimes, but you can only cry wolf so many times. In reality, the unexpected drama reflects your inability to set expectations, plan ahead, and think it through. And it's just wearing us down."

5. You Don’t Help Us Build Our Skills:

"People are our most important asset." Well, it's empty rhetoric here. Maybe you want to be hands-off or encourage self-reliance. Whatever the intent, you're not helping us grow. And that's your real job as a manager: to broaden our outlook, push us beyond our comfort zones, exemplify the (organization’s) values, and focus us on learning, serving, persevering, leading, and advancing. Don't take that responsibility lightly.” If we can’t expand our skills level, and become better managers ourselves, you’ve just removed one of the big incentives to being here at all.

6. You’re Overzealous:

“History remembers the tyrants but rarely the subjects who did the heavy lifting. It's no different here. You've created a divide-and-conquer atmosphere, all stick and no carrot, where everyone should be the same workaholic reflection of you. Eventually, your bullying and rah-rah intensity produces one question: "Why?" You may think we should be in "for life," but what are you giving back in return for that blind loyalty?” Maybe you don’t have (or want) a life outside this job, but we do, and we want to live it now, not when we retire.

7. You Don’t Maintain Discipline:

“All the workers come and go as they please, living according to their own rules. No one knows who is where or doing what, and the result is chaos. Maybe you want to be our buddy—or experience how a sweat shop atmosphere fosters only resentment. Either way, coddling does no favors to anyone. Like it or not, you need to set rules and hold people accountable.” And while we’re at it, having your own favorites breeds contempt and suspicion among those of us who aren’t in the ‘club’.

8. You’re Tactless:

“Your talent and tenure shields you from scrutiny. Sadly, your lack of self-awareness results in everyone—superiors and reports—maligning or marginalizing you. Brains take you only so far; eventually, you'll need to build and nurture relationships. And that requires people skills: listening, charming, understanding, and compromising”. It would go a long way, if you could at least try to remember what it was like down here in the trenches.

9. You Lack Influence and Credibility:

“It's funny how we're usually last to get face time and resources. Look at your variables: appearance, body language, and speaking and writing styles. Do you always convey the image of a polished professional who can work in a team and get the job done? If you can't, you'll never get anyone's ear.” Actions speak louder than words.

10. You Blindside Us:

“Ah, there's nothing like a surprise. Whether you're singling us out in public or ambushing us in private, you're not afraid to render judgments and deliver lectures. Despite our qualifications and track records, you still treat us as servants. Instead of dropping the news all at once, give us fair warning when our performance doesn't meet expectations. Always take action immediately—and discreetly.”

Since the publication of the Hewlett study, there has been a groundswell of activity in directing resources and energies at providing services, infrastructure, guidance and counsel to the next generation of arts leadership – all across the country. But I don’t yet see much energy, resources and thinking directed at educating the current leadership as to how they might better and more effectively manage the generational divide in the workplace of the average arts organization. I applaud the direction foundations and others are taking in supporting the efforts of the next generations to organize and mobilize themselves as a smart way to insure we pay attention to the issues that will determine how well we provide access to future leadership within our structure. But I caution that for us to make real progress on a faster track it will also be necessary to provide some resources and energy directed at informing, educating and training those who are now the “bosses” as to how to be better bosses and in so doing help to make sure we are fostering the best environment we can to attract, recruit, train and keep the next generation of arts leaders.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit!


Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on…………………………….”


BARRY: What do you hope to accomplish in the next year; what will you use as the criteria to measure your agency’s success?

ROCCO: Since I arrived at the NEA, you have heard me saying two words over and over again: “art works.”

And as I have often explained, I use these two words to mean three things: 1) “art works” are the output of artists; the paintings, plays, dance, songs, operas, and books that artists create; 2) “art works” on audiences; the stuff that artists create has an effect on audiences – it transports us, inspires us, provokes us, and ultimately changes us, and 3) “art works” reminds us that arts workers are real workers with real jobs who are part of the real economy.

I announced last fall in Brooklyn, New York, that I would be going on an art works tour to see how art works in different communities across our country, and I have now been to Peoria, Illinois; Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; right here in Washington, DC, and soon I will be heading off to Miami, Florida, and Detroit, Michigan.

On each visit, I have seen the same thing: when you bring the arts, artists, and arts organizations into the center of town, you change the ethos of that town. You certainly improve the quality of life, as people like living near cultural activity. But recently, I have been reading the work of Mark Stern, Susan Seifert, and Jeremy Nowak; and I learned that there are at least three other things that we can prove happen when the arts move – literally and figuratively – to the center of town:

          1. The arts are a force for social cohesion and civic engagement. In communities with a strong cultural presence, people are much more likely to engage in civic activities beyond the arts. Community participation increases measurably results in more stable neighborhoods.

           2. The arts make a major difference in child welfare. To quote Stern, et al., "Low income block groups with high cultural participation were more than twice as likely to have very low truancy and delinquency rates."

           3. Art is a poverty fighter. Artists form clusters; cultural institutions are built; people gravitate to them; businesses follow; businesses hire; and the virtuous cycle continues with arts jobs leveraging other jobs. When you buy a ticket to see a play, you are supporting the actors on stage. But behind those actors are administrators, designers, ushers, stagehands, costume makers, and just outside the building are parking lot attendants, cooks, and waiters.

These lessons, combined with the past two-and-a-half decades of work by the Mayors Institute on City Design (, led us to create and announce “MICD25,” a grant initiative that makes up to $250,000 available to cities that are using the arts at the center of a plan to create and sustain a livable community.

Over the next year – and over the balance of President Obama’s presidency – you will see us focus on the themes that are part of this initiative: artists as entrepreneurs; artists as placemakers; and the arts as central to public spaces in cities and towns.

We will continue to work with mayors on this because they are our natural allies. They see every day the myriad ways that art works in their towns and cities. But I will also continue meeting with other agencies to see where we can work together and how existing programs and funding in those agencies can be used to support the arts.

In short, over the next 3 (and hopefully 7) years, you will see the NEA working to make sure that the arts are at the center of our country’s cities and towns, that the arts are included in domestic policy discussions, and that the arts are throughout our public schools. If we can do even one of those things, I think I will count my tenure a success. Hopefully, we will do all three.

BARRY: Do you plan to restore direct funding to individual artists?

ROCCO: In many ways, this is the question for any Chairman of the NEA. My answer is relatively straight forward and short: we are the National Endowment for the Arts, and one of the best ways to support the arts is to support artists. I know this in a personal way through my friend Michael Eastman, a photographer who received a grant from the NEA early in his career, and he still points to the importance of that support to his career.

And there are endless other stories from artists who received individual grants. But at the moment, the NEA is prevented from providing direct funding to artists in most circumstances. We do give literature fellowships to writers and poets, and we have annual honors through which we give support directly to folk and heritage, opera, and jazz artists. But that’s it.

Taking up this issue isn’t at the top of my list for the next year, and it is not anything that I can change unilaterally, but it is certainly something I hope to take up before I am done with this job.

BARRY : How is public investment in the arts different than private support?

ROCCO: On a certain level, it doesn’t differ at all. Foundations and corporations are grantmakers, and we at the NEA are grantmakers. In fact, we are the largest, national grantmaker in the arts and reach almost every community across the country.

But an NEA grant has an impact beyond its actual dollars. Because our grants are awarded through a process that uses nationally seated peer panels, when an organization receives NEA support, it is taken as a sort of good housekeeping seal of approval. You can be assured that an NEA supported project is of “national, regional, and/or field significance,” and you can be assured that our panels are charged with making their decisions based on two simple criteria: excellence and merit.

An NEA grant can act as a spotlight for an organization and leverage other support – not just because of the matching requirements around our grants, but because other funders often feel more comfortable investing their dollars alongside public support.

BARRY: Do you think that the formula that allocates forty percent of the NEA’s budget to the states on a per capita basis should remain in place?

ROCCO: Absolutely.

To keep sports strong in this country, we need fathers (and mothers) to play catch with their kids in the backyard. We need gym classes. We need Little League teams. We need community and parks district leagues; we need farm teams; and we need Major League Baseball.

This food chain holds true for the arts as well. We need young people in this country to be able to experience the arts with the families, learn about the arts in school, get involved with local and community arts organizations, and eventually be able to participate in well known and highly professionalized arts institutions. Sometimes as artists, and sometimes as audience members.

As I mentioned earlier, the NEA invests in projects that have national and field significance. But in order to have a healthy arts community in this country, we need support for every part of the ecology it takes to support it. Our state arts agencies are able to be more closely connected with the local arts scene, and they can best make this investment. Partnering with the states is one of the most important ways the NEA helps to ensure that every American has access to the arts.

BARRY: I recently hosted a forum on my blog about the vision for and future of the NEA. Forum participants suggested that the agency move to address the needs of the arts infrastructure, and they suggested initiatives ranging from assistance in the improvement of basic and business organizational skills to the provision of technology, research, and professional development opportunities. How do you envision the NEA becoming involved; do you see a role for the NEA in this work? Perhaps the single most common suggestion from the forum was for the Endowment to expand its role as convener.

ROCCO: I want to thank you, Barry, for hosting those. We are actually using them as a jumping off point to inspire and provoke conversation within the NEA. One of our colleagues at the NEA read through the screens (and screens and screens…) of discussion and summarized each of the sessions. We have posted these summaries on the agency’s intranet and are encouraging colleagues to post comments, thoughts, and other response on an internal blog. We are also going to be doing some informal lunchtime discussions around the summaries of your forum because online technology is great, but it can never entirely replace actually being in a room with people.

As you know, I recruited Joan Shigekawa from The Rockefeller Foundation to be my senior deputy. One of her signatures as a grantmaker has always been to encourage conversation and shared thinking about innovation and the future. This impulse of Joan’s was readily apparent at this fall’s release of the NEA’s most recent Study of Public Participation in the Arts. Joan convened some 40 national service organizations and had them sit around a table with the NEA’s discipline directors to talk about the report, what it means for the arts, and how it should inform all of our work going forward. We webcast that session so that people from across the country could listen in to the conversation, and some 1,100 people across the country logged on to watch.

We will do everything we can to make sure Americans know that the doors, phones, and emails in the Old Post Office are wide open. We are encouraging everyone to engage with us in discussions about the future of the NEA and the directions of our grantmaking. Perhaps we might even be able to partner with you and WESTAF on a future forum about the NEA in which the actual NEA also participates.

BARRY: What do you view as the agency’s role in further promoting and facilitating advances for arts education in this country?

ROCCO: Arts education is one of the most important investments that this country can make to support the arts. Sometimes a young Belle Silverman sitting in her public school classroom in Brooklyn will grown up to be a Beverly Sills. Sometimes not. But even when that doesn’t happen, little Belle may grow up to be an arts teacher, a stage manager, an usher, a fundraiser, and hopefully, an audience member. To keep the arts going, we need all of those people and many more besides. Arts education helps ensure we will have them.

The first trip I took as NEA Chairman was to New Orleans. When I was there, we went to visit the Lusher School. Every day there begins with an assembly on the playground with an electric guitar and the kids singing and dancing to Fats Domino songs. From that point forward, the arts infuse every aspect of this magnet school. Yet despite that, Lusher isn’t really known as an arts school per se. It is known for its rigorous academics and the high achievement of its students.

This is where we should be headed as a country: the arts should be a fundamental part of any quality education. Americans for the Arts had a campaign some years back where they called for our schools to provide the four R’s: Reading, (w)Riting, (a)Rithmetic, and (a)Rt. I think that’s pretty much right.

BARRY: As part of such an effort and with your Broadway background and network of entertainment industry decision makers, would you consider brokering a meeting between leaders in the entertainment and nonprofit arts industries? …Such a change could mean moving toward project-based creativity and away from funding institutionally controlled creative processes.

ROCCO: I know of two major occasions when this has happened in the theatre – the First Annual Congress of Theatre met at Princeton in 1974 and convened the entire American theatre, from Broadway houses, to off- and off-off-Broadway companies, regional theatres, small collectives, etc., etc. As it happens, I covered that conference for The New York Times. And then almost three decades later, in 2000, ACT II (the second congress of theatres) met at Harvard. Ben Cameron (now at Doris Duke) and I have both written about ACT II (again in the Times), and it is interesting to look back on that, as neither of us was a grantmaker at the time.

There are lots of issues that come up around that intersection, but as the head of a public agency, I think specifically about the ways that the government has to support the commercial and the nonprofit. In general, the government supports commercial endeavors through tax incentives. Since nonprofits do not pay taxes, the same mechanisms do not work, and so we use subsidy. On a certain level, the NEA simply isn’t set up to work with the commercial sector.

However, that is too simple an answer. The average audience member doesn’t care about the mechanisms of support; s/he cares about the art being presented. It doesn’t matter if you are seeing Jimmy Scott at Jazz at Lincoln Center or at the Blue Note; it matters that you are seeing Jimmy Scott.

And audiences are increasingly able to curate their own arts experiences – from buying single songs on iTunes, to watching a single scene or even a shorter clip on a DVD, to running over to an art gallery when a friend tweets them about an opening that is especially worth attending.

If audiences are agnostic about the non/profit division, and if they are the ones in control of their own arts experiences, each discipline could only benefit from discussions with colleagues on both sides of the profit divide.

BARRY: Another oft made suggestion was that the NEA ought to develop better, deeper working relationships and collaborations with other federal agencies, and with other sectors. Where does this rank on your overall priority list?

ROCCO: This is absolutely at the top of my list, as collaborating with our sister agencies is central to ensuring that the arts have a role on the domestic policy agenda. When I spoke recently to the US Conference of Mayors, I said that I was a recovering Broadway producer, and know firsthand that theater is by far the most collaborative of the art forms.

I am happy to report that that same spirit of collaboration is a hallmark of this president’s administration. If there is a single, identifiable theme in this administration's domestic policy, it is that we need to do everything we can to promote complete, diverse, sustainable, livable communities. The federal agencies can only meet this challenge by working together.

I am meeting with Cabinet Secretaries and other colleagues, and we are discovering great potential for collaboration. Affordable artists housing might involve HUD. A city that wants to expand a limited tourist streetcar line into a real mode of public transportation connecting the arts district to the rest of the city might get a hearing at the Department of Transportation. The Small Business Administration might support the entrepreneurs known as artists. And so on. And so on.

It is my firm conviction that there is a current or incipient arts resource in every federal agency and that a focused, collaborative effort will produce meaningful results for our arts organizations.

BARRY: A policy debate is now underway regarding the degree to which certain art forms should be preserved whether or not there is a sufficient audience for them. What position should the NEA take regarding the funding of such “under-participated in” art forms?

ROCCO: I hate non-answers, and I promised myself that I would not rely on them when I came to Washington. However in this case, I think the real answer is that we need to perform a balancing act.

We have a responsibility to protect, preserve, and promote under-appreciated art forms. Both jazz and opera are showing declining audiences, for instance. Should we pull our support for them? Absolutely not. We should – and we do – work to make sure that Americans have access and exposure to great art works and great companies.

At the same time, we also have to support not just the traditional art forms that people often associate with the NEA. This agency funds jazz and opera, yes. But we also fund the blues, folk music, country, electronic music, hip hop, and musicals.

The same is true for all of the disciplines. We need to protect and preserve tradition, but not at the expense of shutting out innovation.

MoMA’s Alfred Barr described the ideal museum collection as being a torpedo evolving through time, with its nose in the present and its tail in the ever receding past. Yes, the art fields need to expand and evolve, but that doesn’t have to mean jettisoning everything that came earlier.

Thank you very much.

I am grateful to the Chairman for taking the time to answer these questions and share his thoughts with the field. I had a couple of other follow up questions to include, but his schedule and the recent east coast snow storms didn't allow inclusion of those questions at this time, and I didn't want to postpone publication. I am hopeful he will allow me to revisit some of these areas and share with me his further thoughts in the near term.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit!