Monday, August 30, 2010


Good morning.

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

This year I again asked 60 leaders from all parts of our sector and all parts of the country – from large and small organizations – national, regional and local – and from every discipline and demographic to send me their nominations for the most powerful and influential leaders in our field. As was the case last year, one third of these nominators participated in last year’s process, while two-thirds were new invitee nominators. The process was anonymous and none of the nominators knew the identity of any of the other nominators. All were free to nominate anyone they thought qualified, including themselves the only caveat being that this was about arts administration and organizational leadership, and so I asked that we leave artists off this list (that’s a whole other ranking). I know some of you out there think this list is incomplete and inaccurate without the inclusion of artists, but this ranking is principally about arts administration and the business behind the scenes. As such, you are, of course, right – it is, at best, incomplete.

This is, I believe, important because these people largely determine how the debates in our sector are framed and what the agendas will be. They are the people who control much, if not most of the money, and decide where the funding goes (at least in broad swatches), what issues should be on the front burner, and what we talk about when we meet. They influence our goals and objectives, our priorities and the positions we take – and even the way we do things. In large part, they are our most experienced and knowledgeable people -- our trend-setters, taste-makers, best thinkers, and established power brokers.

Nominees could come from any area within our field. Their power and influence could come from their position, who they are, what they have done, how long they have been in the field, how highly they are respected, the fact that they control purse strings (or grants in our case) or whatever criteria the nominator choose.

Each nominee was expected to have the capacity to exert influence in, and on, our field (either as a whole or on some distinct section therein) – how we arrive at policy, what agendas are set, who is considered an expert or not, what research is important, where money is spent, how we fundraise and market etc. etc. etc. Some nominees may be universally highly respected, others may have more than their share of detractors – the criteria is power and influence – not popularity. This really wasn’t a beauty contest. Nominators might strongly disagree with someone but still recognize that the person is powerful and influential.

The rankings reflect an attempt at balancing the actions, power and influence of leaders over the course of the past year, and prospectively for the coming year. Some of those ranked in the higher numbers may be nearing the end of their tenure in the position they currently occupy, for others the activities that pushed them to the forefront may have passed and they may now be receding into a lower profile. The power and influence of others may be on the rise as they assume new posts, are thrust into the center of new projects or otherwise see their stars rising. Still others may be in transition.

This year 55 of those I asked for names responded and while this was by no means anything other than a subjective exercise, there was a fair representation of our sector in terms of who responded. Not really surprising, as in the past two years , there seems again to be a disproportionate number of people on the list whose sphere is national, and who, in one way or another, are connected with the control of pools of funds. While scores of names of local discipline based organization leaders were submitted, most were recognized primarily within their local venue or discipline and not nationally. As in the pst, those on the list nearer the bottom very likely are somewhat the product of who the nominators were this year.

This list is, of course, incomplete and flawed. It is just an attempt to identify those perceived as being powerful within our small world. No insult is meant to anyone whose name is not on the list, and I am sure there are many people whose names should be on the list. While I personally agree with most of the final selections, there are some I find very surprising. I am also confused by the omission of others that I would have thought would have been consensus inclusions. And while there are many repeats from last year, there are also many new names this year. Some climbed the list; others fell downward in their ranking. This is likely nothing more than a snapshot at one point in time.

Neither I nor any employee at WESTAF (which distributes this blog) was eligible for inclusion on this list.

Here then is this year’s Rankings:


1. Rocco Landesman - Chair, National Endowment for the Arts.
Visible and active, he’s begun to position the Endowment at the forefront in facilitating national conversations on critical issues in the arts – a role that has been absent from the agency’s agenda for some time, and which has begun to engage and excite the field. He has the agency making strides in reaching out to other federal agencies for arts support. His basic learning curve period over, he is beginning to show increased leadership and he not only has ideas as to what he wants to do, but he is clearly enjoying himself. As one nominator put it: “He gets #1 because he doesn't just HAVE power, he's actually USING it.”

2. Michael Kaiser – Executive Director, Kennedy Center for the Arts; author
Fresh off his 50 state tour, he continues to press the flesh more than any other national arts leader and is addressing issues and providing advice & counsel to individual arts organizations all across the country and winning friends and admirers in the process. Singlehandedly making professional development and training for arts administrators a major issue. One of my nominators put it this way: “No one is doling out more advice and technical assistance to nonprofit cultural organizations, and no one is listened to more by arts groups and funders. Even when his pronouncements are not particularly new, they are embraced by the field. I think he stands head and shoulders above anyone else when it comes to influence.”

3. Janet Brown – Executive Director, Grantmakers in the Arts
Beginning to change the GIA culture and move the organization to the forefront in power and influence by redefining everything from its mission and approach, to its focus and priorities, to its processes and protocols. She is on everyone’s Top Ten list as one of the sector’s most influential leaders. Moving up fast, she was number one on a lot of lists. Smart, street savvy, diplomatic, tireless. Has a vision, knows what she hopes to do and is well on her way to doing it.

4. Ben Cameron – Program Director for the Arts, Doris Duke Foundation
He continues to be in great demand for his keen insight and oratory skills. If there is a preferred public face for the sector, he remains it. No one better expresses the field’s thoughts and ideas or fears and hopes better than he does. But it is also his strategic grant making at the Doris Duke Foundation that earns him a Top Ten spot.

5. Bob Lynch – President, Americans for the Arts.
While health reasons have forced him to cut back on an onerous travel schedule and his role in what has become the single most dominant national service organization in the entire sector (one created by his vision and strategic acumen), he nonetheless remains one of the most influential national leaders. Eyes will be on him as his vision guides the transition of this organization to its future.

6. Bill Ivey / Steven Tepper – (former Chair of the NEA under Clinton); author; Director of the Curb Center of Art, Enterprise & Public Policy / Associate Director – Curb Center
Still the single most influential duo when it comes to cultural policy considerations, Ivey & Tepper have kept alive and continue to move forward intelligent dialogue and consideration of national cultural policy, the intersections between non profit and for profit arts and artists, and the big issues that impact creativity in America – from both a scholarly and a practical perspective. Tepper’s influence on arts education issues continues to grow with his body of work in the area.

7. Alan Brown – Wolf / Brown consultants
Nobody in the field has more influence in audience development theory and approaches than Brown. His research is not only sought out and embraced, but continues to form the core of how the sector thinks about performing arts issues.

8. Adam Huttler - Executive Director, Fractured Atlas –
As one nominator put it: Fractured Atlas “delivers a fresh look at what it should mean to be a service organization, and has created a business model that is largely earned income in a field where this is very hard to do.” Huttler presides over one of the fastest growing, forward thinking service groups to emerge in the past two decades, and his challenge of the field’s past rhetoric on mission trumping business reality is resonating widely – particularly with emerging generations. His thinking on the critical importance of earned income and being a “business” is gaining traction in many corners of the sector. Definitely one to watch.

9. Doug McLennan – Publisher, The Arts Journal
Passionate, articulate and insightful publisher of Arts Journal -- which continues to grow in size, reach and influence. McLennan frames larger issues better than almost anyone. Increasingly sought after as a speaker and for his advice and opinion on a wide variety of issues, he has been everywhere in the past year.

10. Joan Shikegawa, Deputy Director, NEA
As one person noted:  “Already a major national arts leader from her years at the Rockefeller Foundation, Joan is in many ways the architect behind Rocco's vision.”

11. Jean Cook – Director of Programs, Future of Music Coalition
Gaining wide respect for ground breaking policy ideas on community engagement, diversity, advocacy and entrepreneurship, she just may be in the forefront of the model for the future -- bridging the nonprofit, academic, and even for profit sector policy makers.

Marion Godfrey - Senior Director, Cultural Initiatives, The Pew Foundation–
The Cultural Data Project continues to expand and engage, and Marion continues to hit the road to share the wealth of her experience and perspective.

John McGuirk – Program Director, Performing Arts, Hewlett Foundation
Having travelled all of California for the Irvine Foundation, now back at Hewlett, he is simply the most powerful and influential funder in a state that still ranks last in per capita state support, and where, as a consequence, foundation support is king. Just beginning to craft his own agenda. One to watch.

Daniel Windham – Director of Arts, The Wallace Foundation
Despite Wallace Foundation cutbacks and a reduced staff, he continues to criss-cross the country and the Wallace research and re-granting initiatives remain critically important in a large number of venues.

Olive Mosier - Director, Arts & Culture Program, The William Penn Foundation
Despite the Penn Foundation’s limitation of funding to Philadelphia, Mosier’s choices in the allocation of a quite large budget and her unassuming and quiet demeanor have won her admirers in many quarters.

Justin Laing, Program Officer, Arts and Culture, Heinz Endowments
As one nominator pointed out: “Justin has successfully led the Heinz Endowments into the difficult conversations about race and class in arts learning and generously shared that experience with many in the field. Under the title “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy”, support from the Heinz Endowments is testing theories in arts learning that will most likely find their way into the broader fields work in the coming years.”

13. Randy Cohen – Vice-President, Local Arts Advancement, Americans for the Arts
In many ways the architect of the “value of the arts” research movement, and pioneer of some of the creative indices / economic prosperity / arts vitality research projects. As one nominator observed: “Randy can keep pace with prize-winning economists, and clearly and effectively communicate the results of these studies to non-arts people throughout the nation." Now standing-in more for Bob Lynch as AFTA’s on-the-road ambassador, he ‘s added local arts agencies to his growing portfolio. Growing influence and perhaps a candidate for the top spot when Bob does finally decide to step down.

Margy Waller, Vice President, Fine Arts Fund
Cincinnati's Fine Arts Fund recently published an important study on arts advocacy strategies, "The Arts Ripple Effect," and Waller has been its chief spokesperson. As one admirer noted: “Waller is a canny communications strategist; she knows how to pick a winning frame and sell it. She's helping to give the Fine Arts Fund a national presence and in the process is setting numerous examples for her peer organizations.”

Anne Markusen - Ph.D., Humphrey Institute for Public Policy, Univ. of Minnesota –
Here’s how one of the nominators described her: “although not an "arts person" per se, Professor Markusen is hands-down the most esteemed and influential researcher to increase the public value and profile of artists in the United States. She's responsible for establishing the "artistic dividend" concept in business, academic and urban planning circles - her voice is making a difference!”

15. Richard Kessler – Executive Director, The Center for Arts Education
No one is more outspoken, and right on the money, in his no-nonsense observations and comments about the state of arts education in America than Kessler is. Those who follow his blog regard his insights as invaluable. As one person commented: “He is an experienced, knowledgeable, dynamic thinker who pushes the envelope.”

16. Andrew Taylor – Director - Bolz Center for Arts Administration / University of Wisconsin, Madison School of Business
Still the major domo of the university based arts administration programs field, and one of the most widely read, and respected bloggers in the whole sector. Cuts to the chase and brings a different, fresh perspective to old issues and ways of thinking. If there was a national nonprofit arts brain trust, he would be on the team.

17. Sandra Gibson – Executive Director, Association for Performing Arts Presenters
You can’t consider performing arts in America and not consider the role and power of the Presenting Community. Despite this field’s wide disparity and sometimes internal disagreements, she remains their national spokesperson and champion.

18. Adrian Ellis, President and CEO, Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Described as “Just all round really smart”, Ellis is a provocative writer and speaker who can tame complex issues and bring clarity and context to their discussion.

19. Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director, Los Angeles Philharmonic
The new conductor of the LA Phil “has the enthusiasm and passion to elevate symphonic music and arts education to a national level. “ A member of the President’s Committee he is an artist / activist for the new century.

Alex Aldrich, Executive Director, Vermont Arts Council.
As one person said: “If you want to look for really creative examples of an arts agency engaging its community, look no further than Vermont”

Bob Booker - Executive Director Arizona State Arts Commission
One of the now senior state arts agency leaders, Booker continues to develop new strategies and tools to survive the bad times and keep Arizona’s arts field alive. People seek his advice and want him on their panels.

Philip Horn – Executive Director, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts
Another state leader with long term experience, Horn is one of the go-to people in the NASAA membership. As one contributor noted: “He is kind of quiet. But man, does he know his stuff and always is there to help others.”

David Fraher - Executive Director – Arts Midwest.
Power broker within the Regional Arts Organization network, he is also a major player in developing international arts organization partnerships. He knows how to serve his nine state client base and understands how to apply the value arguments to local needs.

Alan Cooper – Executive Director - Mid-Atlantic Arts:
Excellent nuts & bolts programs in support of touring & presenting, Cooper, like Fraher, is also involved in the international arts scene.

Marc Vogl – Program Officer – Performing Arts, The Hewlett Foundation.
THE single most influential driving force behind the traction of the last couple of years in the Emerging Leaders arena. One of the “brains” and the one with the passion behind the major joint effort of the Irvine and Hewlett Foundations in California to support the professional development and growth of Emerging Leader networks up and down the state. Before he got involved, Emerging Leaders were a once a year meeting at a couple of conferences. He put the “there” there.

Ian Moss – Research Director – Fractured Atlas.
Unquestionably one of the most widely followed and respected new bloggers, Moss is an increasingly frequent panelist and speaker – highly sought after and generally regarded as a “comer”. Yale graduate, relentlessly inquisitive, very bright. Lots of eyes on him.

Edward Clapp – Author.
The Harvard doctoral candidate author and tireless self-promoter of the soon to be published book: “Twenty Under Forty” – a collection of essays by younger generations on issues for the sector, Clapp has been touring the country talking about real issues for Millennials. Growing influence with bright ideas and genuine respect for the next generation. Another one to watch.

22. Municipal Leaders:
Gary Steuer – Chief Cultural Officer, City of Philadelphia
Gary has moved to fill the very difficult leadership void with Peggy Amsterdam’s passing, and is now the city’s principal arts executive. Increasingly thought of as a regional and national arts leader, he is helping bring stability and vision to the greater Philadelphia cultural landscape. He writes an increasingly popular blog.

• Laura Zucker – Executive Director, Los Angeles County Commission on Arts & Culture
She continues to keep the LA Arts Commission at the top of its game despite increasing budget and political challenges. Has added the Directorship of the School of Arts & Humanities / Drucker School of Arts Management at Claremont Graduate University to her already crowded portfolio.

Victoria Hamilton – Executive Director, San Diego Office of Arts & Culture
As host of next year’s AFTA 51st Conference, and having survived assaults on the San Diego arts scene, she continues to play a national leadership role.

Michael Spring – Director Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs
Highly regarded as a national leader and innovative thinker, he continues to grow the Miami arts community. As one observer noted: “His recent Knight-funded program to create an arts review wire service as a vehicle for solving the problem of declining media coverage of the arts, is an example of his innovative thinking.”

23. Jonathan Katz – Executive Director – National Association of State Arts Agencies
NASAA fortunes continue to slide as state agencies continue to struggle, but Katz remains indefatigable as he travels tirelessly across the country sharing insights, lessons learned and keen observations about what has happened, is happening, and will happen. Those who actually listen to him benefit enormously - he knows what he is talking about.

24. Claudine Brown –Director of Education, Smithsonian Institution (former Nathan Cummings Arts Program OfficerShe continues a sphere of influence particularly (as one nominator noted) for her “thoughtful, deep work on social justice and the arts.” Plugged in with PCAH and Obama administration.

25. The Mom & Pop Multicultural Arts Executive Director and Staff – the unheralded, unsung, and far too often still ignored multi-cultural arts leaders of the small arts organizations across the country are the future of the field. While they remain sometimes invisible and without clout, they are out there and the reality of changing demographics will perhaps as soon as five years, but not longer than a decade, empower them in ways wholly unimagined today. It is unfortunate, and regrettable, that not more multicultural leaders were part of this Top 25. But time is on their side.

Jim Canales – President, The James Irvine Foundation
While it is unusual to include a major foundation president in the ranking of arts leaders, Canales has for years taken a more direct and involved role in support for the arts than any other senior foundation CEO in the country. As a nominator noted: “This might be an unconventional nomination, but he has consistently exerted leadership on behalf of the arts in the philanthropic sector, and in cities across California, on issues of arts funding, arts policy and engagement, and next generation leadership. A mighty pulpit and clearly a friend of the (arts) court.”

Mara Walker – COO, Americans for the Arts
Mara ‘s no-nonsense business approach (not to mention her organization skills) is what has enabled Bob Lynch to grow his empire over the past five years. As one person told me: “She is one hell of a business woman.”

Ra Joy – Executive Director, Illinois Arts Alliance
One of the most experienced and smartest arts advocates in the country.

Russel Willis Taylor – President & CEO, National Arts Strategies
Insightful thinker and provider of excellent services in the capacity building arena, she can see the big picture and make sense of it.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Good Morning.

“And the beat goes on………………………………….”

The Launch of a New Advocacy Effort in California:
Several months ago I became convinced that the November California Gubernatorial contest was likely to be an important one for the future of public support for the arts. I called Anthony Radich at WESTAF and asked him if he might be interested in supporting some effort here that might replicate what Americans for the Arts did in New Hampshire in the 2008 Presidential election with their ARTS VOTE project – namely a nonpartisan effort to insert the arts and arts education, to the extent possible, into the candidate's agendas; to educate and inform them as to the value of the arts and arts education, and to urge them to develop pro arts and arts education policy positions. The message was that there are a lot of arts voters, and that embracing support for the arts was good policy and good politics.

I worked with Anthony to convene a small group of a dozen or so arts leaders across the state – people from municipal agencies, foundations, arts education, artist centric organizations and others with an eye towards geographic and multicultural diversity. It took off, an 18 member Steering Committee came together (and it is the effort of these organizers that is making this whole thing possible), we raised money from that committee, WESTAF and Americans for the Arts, hired someone to manage the on-the-ground effort over the next two plus months, and the long and short of this effort is the launch next week of ARTS IN THE GOVERNOR’S RACE 2010.

Project Description:
THE ARTS IN THE CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S RACE project is a nonpartisan effort to ensure that issues related to the arts, arts education and the creative economy are successfully inserted into the California Governor's race. The project was organized by a consortium of nonprofit arts leaders, organizations, arts support groups, artists and concerned individual supporters of the arts. The consortium participants believe strongly in the need for meaningful public support for the arts and arts education.

The project does not endorse any candidate, nor does it support any specific legislation. Rather, it seeks to educate and inform the candidates in the California governor's race, their staffs and key supporters to the value of the arts, arts education, and the creative economy to the state of California. The project will work to convince the candidates for the office of Governor in California to take public positions in favor of the principle of public support for the arts and arts education, and public support for the development of California's creative economy.

THE ARTS IN THE CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S RACE project is building a statewide army of citizen activists who will help send the message to the gubernatorial candidates that the arts are important to California’s future, and urge the candidates to support arts-friendly public policies such as:

• Increased public funding for nonprofit arts organizations in order to better serve their communities
• Ensure that every child has the opportunity for a comprehensive, high quality arts education in grades K-12
• Nurture an environment to allow individuals and families affordable access to all forms of the arts.

The project will prepare and disseminate information as to the value of the creative sector to the state and hopes to interface with the campaigns of the candidates for Governor to make the case for the contributions of the arts and the creative sector to California’s economy, job creation, the education of our children, to the civic life of communities across our great state and the quality of life of all its citizens. It is our intention to engage the candidates for the office of Governor at Town Hall and other public meetings, and by way of written questions as to their position on the arts, culture and the creative economy, with the hope that they will take public pro-arts positions. We will seek to get news coverage and editorial commentaries calling for the next Governor to address arts issues and we will work to form a broad coalition of individuals and organizations in support of the project’s mission statement. We hope that the millions of Californians who are supportive of the arts and the creative sector will then have more information on which to make their individual decisions as to their votes in the November election.

California has long had a global reputation as a citadel of creativity, and our economic vitality is based, in large part, on the creative sector. Yet we remain 50th out of all 50 states in per capita funding for the arts. As we move into the future, we want to make sure all publicly elected officials know how valuable the arts are to the state.

You Can Help:
In order to do this, we need your help to engage the services of consultants and people to organize and manage this effort, and to mobilize the entire nonprofit arts field and those in the private sector who support us. We need your help in spreading the word about this campaign and to help us to pay the costs of mounting such an effort.

Supporting the Arts in the California Governor's Race effort is easy, and you can support the cause by:

• Liking our Facebook page! Click here to go there, log in, and click the "like" button at the top of the page. Then, click "Suggest to Friends" on the left side of the page to spread the word.

• Following us on Twitter! Go to,  - click here, and click "follow" to follow us.

• Visiting our website at! Please consider a $5 donation to help support this effort, and join your colleagues all over the state in demonstrating that there is a huge bloc of arts voters. Click on the donate button on the home page.
And then please go to the Endorser’s page to add your name to the list of people supporting this effort and to sign up for our email list, learn about the next event you can attend, and read the latest news about this effort.

• Starting a discussion! Visit the forum at to start or engage in a conversation about the arts in California. Whether you are a supporter of arts education for kids, cultural heritage, music, public art, or whether you are a musician, arts administrator, arts appreciator, painter, actor, parent, or anyone else who cares about arts and culture, your voice is important! The more people we have talking about the issues, the stronger our collective voice becomes.

• And please forward this announcement to everyone on your email list and advise your staff, board, volunteers, constituents, and supporter about this effort.

Go to the website: 

I will blog on this effort as it develops over the next month or two.

This is an opportunity for the Arts sector in California to again build a sense of community and to revitalize its collective capacity to act together for mutual common good by reinventing its advocacy efforts -- and hopefully to have an impact on the thinking of the candidates for Governor and thus public support for the arts over the next decade. I hope you will become part of this effort and help to shape it as it moves forward. Ideally, it will be a true grassroots bottom up effort.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Feet of Clay and the Three Fool Rule

Good morning

“And the beat goes on………………………..”

Some practical advice:

I have some advice for you. You know how you beat yourself up sometimes because of the lingering little things you continue to do that impede your success and productivity. I’m talking about the little things – the way you procrastinate and put things off; the time you waste for seemingly no reason at all; your inability to manage your time really productively – to focus on the important stuff; the seemingly incomprehensible inability to say “no” and the consequence of repeatedly getting sucked into some meeting or conversation, into doing something that you know up front is a waste of your time – that you really don’t want to do – and there you are, once again, bogged down in something that you promised yourself you wouldn’t ever be doing again. Sometimes you just can’t believe you are still stuck with some of these bad little habits, and you wonder “What is wrong with me, anyway. Why do I keep doing this?” You resolve to change, and try, but predictably fall back into the same patterns. You look around and other people don’t seem to have this same problem; other people seem to be able to get their act together; other people seem to be able to get more out of themselves each day. And here you are, stuck with the same negative attitudes you’ve been stuck with for years.

Here’s a little secret: Everybody is the same as you are. Everybody mismanages their time and gets frustrated with themselves because they don’t seem to be able to change. Oh yes, there might be some stellar individuals somewhere out there who are paragons of virtue in this regard – people who aren’t hampered by these little human frailties; productive, focused, really together people. But I’ve met a lot of people in my life – many highly successful, at the top of their game, the seemingly “best” and “brightest” of the lot, but I’ve never met one who didn’t have the same problem of putting off things, who didn’t waste precious time, who avoided the same trap of not being able to manage their time more effectively. We’re all the same. Everyone of us.

So I have two pieces of advice to help you. First, don’t beat yourself up. It’s a waste of time. Instead fix one small thing. Say “no” instead of yes the next time you are asked to get involved with something you have absolutely zero interest in doing. Resolve not to procrastinate on just one of the items on your daily “to do list”. Don’t try to reform the totality of yourself all at once. It won’t work.

The Three Fool Rule:

And here’s the second piece of advice: Every day each of us end up talking to people we don’t want to talk to. People who waste our time and have nothing to say -- needy people who want something from us and offer nothing in return; people who push our buttons; people who sort of suck the life out of you in meandering conversation just to hear themselves pontificate; people who are negative and always tell you why something won’t work. People who waste your time. You know who I am talking about.

I don’t think anyone is required to talk to more than three of these fools in any given day. Really. That’s plenty. So The Three Fool Rule simply states that after you have talked to the third fool on any given day, you have done your duty and from that point on – you don’t have to talk to any more fools – at least not today. Don’t take their calls, don’t have a meeting with them, just ignore them – or at least put them off until tomorrow. Don't worry - as sure as the sun rises in the morning, they will be back.  As you well know, they are not easily discouraged.  Not surprisingly, often times you can get the third fool out of the way by mid-morning, and then you can have the rest of the day free from the burden of having to squander your most precious asset – your time.  Not to mention your psyche self-esteem.

Now I know lots of people will read this and think: “What a stupid thing to say. How pretentious, even patronizing. How elitist.”  But try it, and I promise you, you will feel better.  And please note that I fully understand that for many people, I am one of the fools to get by.  We all are.

And here’s something else to ponder. Once again Brain Pickings offers some food for thought. This one on the very nature of “happiness” itself.

Anyway, Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Good Morning.
“And the beat goes on……………………………………”

“Oh We’re Movin’ On Up”

Lately I see a lot of attention (more anyway) being focused on the arts by the ‘for profit’ media and entertainment sectors – everything on television from Glee and So You Think You Can Dance to Work of Art; from Newsweek’s cover story on Creativity to arts participation in the Pepsi and American Express “you vote” for your favorite philanthropic project. These portrayals and this coverage is, I think, more sophisticated than what we’ve seen in the recent past.

This is good, right? I mean we want more mainstream coverage of the arts and creativity. We want more popular programming that celebrates all that the arts have to offer. And we want more people to both access and participate in the creative process and we want ways that young people can engage in the arts that they perceive as attractive.

For a long time we lamented the fact that we were not prominently featured in the media – at least not prominently enough, nor in the ways we want. The Arts have, of course, been featured in the media as long as the media has been around. Music, dance, theater, visual art and every other form of creative expression has long been the staple of movies, television, radio, print and the internet. Art is featured, reviewed, criticized, explained and talked about. Perhaps only politics and business is arguably more a staple of media, and that only in the “news” media.

What we really want is to have the media (news and otherwise) champion the value of the arts and to focus on our needs. What we really want is for programming to celebrate all that is good about the arts and that encourages participation and support – while creating more awareness of our role in all this. And while what we are getting isn’t exactly what we want or need, it is indirectly beneficial and is, at least, a beginning offering of deeper levels of creativity – both as creator and consumer.

It isn’t surprising that there are critics among us who find each of the ways the media is currently handling the arts (and I purposely use the quasi pejorative term “handling”) to be lacking. And I think some of the criticism is legitimate into itself. Much of current television’s (or even the movies') version of the arts panders to people who are less self-identified as artists and more wrapped up in being celebrities. Popularity philanthropy does, to a degree, debase artistic expression that doesn’t clothe itself in appeal to the masses. And unquestionably print critiques of the whole creative process invariably succumb to pre-conceived bias and prejudice and, at least in part, wholly fail to understand the process itself, and the implications inherent in it, let alone adequately explain the nuances of that process to those for whom the subject is outside the boundaries of familiarity.   Popular media we must remember is all about the bottom line of profit and shareholder value and so its limitations are hardly surprising. 

But I think too much criticism begs the issue, and that one can make an argument that the current level of media exposure of the increased interest by the public of the “arts” is to our great benefit. The media largely reflects what is happening in the larger society, and only to a small degree does it ever take any lead position too far out in front of what is going on already. And that is good news for us. There does seem to be an increase in the interest level of people in the arts – as creators and consumers.

Yes perhaps lots of those folks’ interest may be for what some would consider the wrong reasons, but that really is somewhat elitist. And to me, I don’t care. The more interest people have in the arts, the more they want to create and to participate, the more the media reflects that interest and translates it into the value of participation, creativity and the arts – the better for us I think.  We need to temper the instinct to be the purist - to always be intractable.  And we need to bear in mind that we don't need to win everything all at once.  A little bit here and a little bit there gets us where we want to go eventually, and every little victory is good for our collective psyche and motivation for us to keep at it. 

On one of the Sunday morning shows today there was a feature story about kids and Performing Arts Summer Camps. A nice, poignant – if predictable – piece on how these camps positively impact kids (even if those kids are portrayed as kind of nerdy). What caught my attention was the statistic that in the 1970’s there were only twelve of these camps in the country and today there are over eight hundred of them.

I am encouraged by this growth of interest in the arts – whatever the motivations behind it, however it manifests itself. And I think the media portrayal and coverage – flawed though it might surely be – nonetheless helps us in the long run. What we need to do is figure out how to leverage this increased interest and the media reflection of that interest to our own advantage so that we can translate it into ways to help us in our jobs, with our missions, to move forward. Merely observing what might be a mini-phenomenon in passing isn’t a valuable response, and doing nothing to exploit such a development to our purposes would be squandering a valuable gift. We need to figure out how to push awareness of this increased interest all across the society, to drive home the fact of it; to get more; to use it to educate and inform decision makers; and even to marshal the growing numbers to support for our needs – to leverage it to our purposes.

And we should also celebrate it.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How Do We Accommodate New Forms of Creativity and Creators and Protect Our Past

Good morning.
“And the beat goes on………………………..”

Just back from an outstanding Southwest Arts Conference in Phoenix where I had the pleasure to deliver a keynote on rethinking our models. Hot and muggy (yes, muggy) in Phoenix.  My thanks to Bob Booker and Jaime Dempsey. 


This from Marcus Westbury, an observer from Australia talking about the need to redefine their approach to a national cultural policy:

“We need an agency with a contemporary brief, to ensure that we are a nation that is a creator and not merely a consumer of culture, and that Australians are active and enabled participants in the increasingly globalised cultural pool.

This is not an argument about throwing culture on the mercy of the free market. It's the reverse. It's recognition that right now the market decides everything by default. We need an agency with a brief that is primarily cultural, not economic, but that recognizes that culture has an economic and social component. Culture is ethereal and beautiful but it's also constantly subject to market forces, and can bring great economic benefits.

Australia needs an agency that understands and can effect the market regulations for the cultural industries. The design of cultural markets, the rules and regulations that govern them and the incentives that they provide are often created by government. They have profound cultural consequences that no agency is currently charged with addressing. It's not about public subsidy for commercial markets or protectionism, but a belated recognition that the market fails to support many art forms beyond just orchestras and arts centres. Right now less than 2 per cent of Australia Council music funding and little policy expertise goes to jazz, rock and other forms of contemporary music while we spend vast sums on orchestras and opera companies.

It's time to think beyond the funding paradigm, to ensure the tax system, intellectual property laws, social security regulations, compliance costs in the built environment and other policy areas take into account the realities of contemporary cultural production. Australia needs to ensure that contemporary Australian culture is prioritized, funded and resourced at least as well as heritage arts, and that its policy priorities are elevated to at least the same level.”

These are the some of the same issues that Bill Ivey and Steven Tepper and a host of others have been talking about. How do we expand our definition of culture and the involvement of our field beyond what the author above refers to a “heritage arts” – the old Eurocentric fine arts of the past – to one that embraces a wider sphere of creativity; one that promotes a balance inherent in a more inclusive platform?

Here in America, just like in Australia, those organizations that comprise what we have often referred to as our “major cultural institutions” (Westbury’s ‘heritage arts’) – the large (and even smaller) opera, symphony, ballet and fine arts museums, of course have a logical invested interest in the legacy apparatus of the nonprofit arts sector that supports them and keeps them systemically at the center of our universe.

There has been a certain uneasiness in this subsector that understandably might feel threatened about any attempt to move in a direction that might dilute their funding stream sources, and, at their expense, expand the definition of what might constitute culture more broadly – and thus more entities eligible for, and deserving of, time, attention, money and otherwise. And, there has been a degree of territoriality based on this uneasiness. This isn’t often a sentiment expressed prominently, but rather lies just below the surface. I understand that fully and were I running one of these organizations would likely feel the same.

The fact of territoriality within our sector is hardly confined to any one sub-sector. All across the spectrum there has long been a mindset of “what’s in it for Me”. That has been one of the major obstacles to our pursuit of working together for the common good. Too often, in too many places, the seemingly innate need for us to consider everything from our mailing lists to our programs as proprietary, we are still reluctant to give up too much to the common good. There is still the mindset in many quarters that wants to know exactly what is in it for “me” (for my organization or cohort) before taking those first steps to working together. Whether information, advice, money or expertise we don’t always make the time to share or join together for efforts that are bigger than our own self interests.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting we are in any way anti-collaboration, nor that any interest area within our universe fails to understand and appreciate the changing scope of what constitutes the arts, culture or creativity. We’ve come a long way in expelling our insecurities in sharing and adopting an open arms attitude towards a wider universe of creativity, and even in sharing information and expertise formerly considered proprietary with each other, but I think we still have a long way to go – to get past the fear that sharing too much compromises our strengths somehow, that the other guy needs to be the lead in taking that first step in support of some collaborative effort, that expansion of policy to make the “big tent” bigger is not ultimately both inevitable and desirable. It is difficult to share even such mundane proprietary interests as mailing lists, let alone come to consensus on where cultural policy should ideally head and how new directions in shaping the mechanisms that comprise implementation of policy might both positively and adversely affect any of us, let alone the whole of us. Part of not wanting to be too far out in front of anything, is of course, that we don’t have a lot of time to expend on ideas and new efforts that might not go anywhere. We want to be sure something is actually ‘real’ before we sign on, and there is nothing wrong with that. And of course those long the beneficiaries of priority funding have, if not an actual sense of entitlement, at least a sense that what they get is both reasonable and fair. Then too there is the perception - not entirely without basis - that we are in direct competition with each other.  But too much trepidation and reservation in moving to accommodation of the needs of others (and working to address those "other" needs) is not necessarily the best approach – at least not for the whole of us.

Creating a collective, sector wide psyche of what is good for the whole of us seems to me anyway to be a huge issue. The lack of that sense of community continues to compromise everything from our advocacy to fundraising efforts to the formation of new cultural policies. Our natural inclination is to think first and foremost about our own survival – the survival of our sub-sector, our organization, and, indirectly, of ourselves. To the extent we can tame our instincts to always think in terms of what is in it for “me” (and my organization, its mission and its values), and think rather how does something advance and move forward the whole of us is a pre-condition for us being able to really act in concert and improve the very way we collaborate. In a very real sense, that posturing holds us back from leveraging the strength of our numbers on several fronts from meaningful funding and advocacy to audience development and how we collaborate.

I don’t criticize any organization or any of us, for reacting in ways to protect their turf – including all that which they have worked hard to amass and create – whether that is an idea, a funding stream, a program idea, a mailing list, or even just an approach to doing something. But, sometimes that gets in the way. I know not everybody shares the belief that all boats rise with the high tide. Not all of us honestly think that a major victory in this or that area ultimately benefits everyone else, and it’s doubtless true that working for this or that goal, no matter how laudable or beneficial on its face, does not benefit everyone – certainly not directly, and arguable in many cases not even indirectly. And in terms of policy formulation, changing priorities to allow for the expansion of the core constituency that defines us all can legitimately be threatening.

But even a de facto vivisectionist mentality is one of the reasons I think that there are huge groups of artists and arts supporters out there who are detached from the nonprofit arts sector, who see no meaningful relationship because they do not perceive any reason for having that relationship. We don’t fund them, we don’t really serve them, we seemingly have little to no connection to them or them to us, and so they remain outside of our universe. I honestly believe we must somehow figure out a way to reach out to all of those who comprise that creative sector and, at the very least, build bridges to them. That’s of course a lot of work, will take a lot of time, money, resources and thinking and planning, and it probably isn’t a priority because the payoff is likely way down the line. But even before we can do that, I think we have to learn to reach out more to each other, and find ways to alleviate any suspicion that moving in one direction to welcome a new sub-sector does not come at the direct expense of any other – whether that movement is on a macro or micro level.

This remains a lingering challenge, and there is a legacy out there that keeps us to one degree or another from reaping the rewards of a “culture of willingness” to cultivate more collaboration and deeper relationships with each other, and, most importantly, the development of new bridges. And we must figure out how to expand the ecosystem of creativity to be more widely inclusive, while at the same time, protecting those that perceive it may not always be in their best interest to embrace that logic – both in little ways and large ways. If we are to figure out how to develop cultural policies that embraces the growing dimension of creativity that is outside our realm, while simultaneously addressing the needs and concerns of those that must move over to make room for that new constituency, we will have to work more assiduously on advancing the sense among all of us that we are in this together, that we a true community and that we will act in concert more often than not if it benefits the whole of us, even if it doesn’t benefit each of us singularly at the moment.  And that needs to start with the sharing of some of the little things we have long held too close to the vest as it were.

Here's another wonderful story about the arts from my favorite eclectic newsletter BrainPickings

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.