Monday, October 10, 2011

GIA - DAY 1 Report

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on............................."

GIA in San Francisco, Day 1:
As I live in Marin just across the bay from San Francisco, I got up early and in very San Francisco style made my way over to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill via first the Larkspur Ferry and then, on arrival, hopped onto the California Street Cable Car and very easily and quickly (and I might add comfortably) arrived at the hotel in time to work the lobby a bit and then file into the breakfast plenary session.

First news:  The conference is sold out and this is officially the biggest turnout for a GIA conference in its history.  Probably partly because its in San Francisco - which has an enormous appeal to people, and because so many California based arts people come to conferences IN the state, but very likely mostly due to the fact that Janet and Tommer and the GIA people are enjoying incredible success in their hard work to re-invent and re-brand the organization for the new century as dynamic and relevant.  Kudos and congratulations to them. 

Note:  The Velocity of Change theme of the conference is further broken down into three primary areas of expansion:  1)  Equity and Social Justice - from funding to program focus; 2) Changing Technology; and 3) Changing Demographics.  As Janet put it in her opening:  We're trying to get some sense of the space between what we "know of the past" and "fear of the future". 

Opening Keynoter / Performance - Mark Bamuthi Joseph (a very articulate and poised young voice in performance, arts education and artistic curation.  He is an artist, a performer, and a lecturer in the arts.) - spoke of the role of philanthropists in the sustainability of creativity in America.  His essential point was that 'art' must be more than an 'object' or an 'outcome', but also a "process and opportunity" for the development of real communities - and so philanthropy ought too to be more than about funding 'objects' or 'outcomes' but about 'process'.   His point was that the inter-relationship of the arts within a community is the "hidden metric" of the health of that community, and that funding for just art outcomes or finished art objects is too much an 'egosystem', and too little of an ecosystem.

To buy into his conclusion you have to accept the proposition that art needs to be more than its finished product, and while he made a cogent and convincing case, I think the conclusion remains open.  While I would certainly agree with the premise that art can certainly be about (and perhaps even the notion that ideally it "should" be about) its relationship to wider community, I'm not certain I can subscribe to the argument that it absolutely has to be about community.  Art is art and defining it is personal and - when trying to define it for others - a risky enterprise.  Still I found him to be compelling, passionate, very smart, and his comment on the velocity of change, that "at best all you can do is anticipate its direction" to be spot on.

The Breakout Sessions:
NoteWith dozens of sessions being offered in different time slots over the course of a day, picking which ones to attend is a bit like Russian Roulette in that you don't know up front which ones are likely to be great and which ones not as satisfying as the written description led you to hope.   Often times there are several that are excellent - but all scheduled at the same time and you cannot be at all of them.

Session on Arts Journalism - Five Action Plans for the Future of Arts Journalism:
This turned out to be my favorite session of the day -- a home run.
Joan Shigekawa, Senior Deputy Chairman of the NEA recounted the Endowment's review of their Arts Journalism Institutes program in association with Columbia, Duke and USC - a program which recruited new and current reporters and provided training in the arts coverage -- the goal of which has been to try to improve the quality (and I would suppose the 'quantity' too) of Arts journalism.

Joan noted that there are five designated areas of arts journalism the program recognized:
1.  Simple Factual coverage - e.g., coverage of the scheduled dates, times and places of performances.
2.  Casual coverage of artists, gallery openings, comings and goings, etc.
3.  Arts News - including investigative reporting - .e.g, the New York City Opera funding crisis.
4.  Criticism - reviews and the like.
5.  Academic and scholarly treatises on the arts or some facet thereof.

In the case of factual coverage, social networking and the internet itself have allowed organizations to do that for themselves.  The same is largely true for the casual coverage as well.  And they found that academic and scholarly coverage was soaring and on the rise.  Thus, the agency came to the conclusion that the real problems were with numbers 3 and 4 above; that is where the quantity and quality of the coverage was lacking and its absence most felt.

So the Endowment (represented by Bill O'Brien - Senior Advisor / Program Innovation at the NEA) sought a partnership with Dennis Scholl at the Knight Foundation to address that challenge, and the resultant program was a contest as it were inviting participation in bold, new brainstorming sessions in the eight Knight centered cities across the country leading to submission of ideas for funding.  Knight's own research had shown that journalism schools were training students for "jobs that weren't going to be there" and so they were quick to support a search for the best, big ideas for the future of arts journalism.

After hundreds of submissions, the quality of which were impressive, they settled on Five Ideas and - working with the local arts agency in each territory as the fiscal sponsor - awarded each $20,000 to bring the ideas to working plans, and based on those plans there will be another $80,000 available to each to implement the ideas.  Here are those ideas:

1.  Charlotte North Carolina:  "Arts News Alliance" - a collaboration between media outlets (including the daily newspaper The Charlotte Observer and the local NBC Affiliate) and the University of Charlotte to recruit and train a collective of citizen arts journalists - from high school students to adults - who will then be invited to publish (and be paid) across media platforms.  The Charlotte Observer has already committed to a two page weekly spread ("Arts Alive").

2.  Detroit Michigan:  (This one is my favorite).  The interactive " iCritic" - a mobile prototype video booth where audience members can record their video reviews of cultural events. Those reviews will be posted on local websites and shared on social media channels. Attending the performances of both established and emerging groups, iCritic Detroit will crisscross the city and weave together diverse geographic and ethnographic communities, creating a video tapestry of the city’s cultural life. iCritic Detroit also will provide a much-needed platform for residents to talk about the vibrant art scene growing in their city, provide an App. for residents to track the location of the booth, follow popular "reviewers" over time, and integrate social media with the postings.  The project managers envision being "hyper local" in their focus and want to get the smaller arts stories told as well as the major ones.

3.  Miami, Florida:  ArtSpotMiami will be an online arts journalism marketplace where citizen journalists pitch news stories about the local arts scene to the public and the public pays for the ideas they like to be produced. ArtSpotMiami will use the software created by the Knight-funded site – a crowd-funded news site (ala Kickstarter) for citizens, professional journalists, and news publishers – to create the site’s platform.

Once the financial goal for a story idea is reached, the citizen journalist will team up with local news organizations such as WLRN and The Miami Herald to produce the story. Academic institutions including the University of Miami’s Motion Picture Program at the School of Communication and mentoring programs such as those provided by Creative ED., will provide digital media training to the new journalists. In addition to media training, the citizen journalist will be paired with a member of the media to learn how to produce for major market audiences.

4.  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  Combining Forces to Increase Cultural Coverage.  Drexel University faculty, students and other contributors from the university's respected online arts and culture journals will produce stories for the Philadelphia Daily News. The paper has agreed to expand its pages to accommodate the additional coverage. will also use the material.  This project envisions training for quality journalism contributors wherein writing, style and content are all held to the highest journalistic standards.  The envision that they will be training future arts journalists.

5.  San Jose, California:  The Silicon Valley Arts Technica is a three-part endeavor lead by The Bay Citizen that features a mapping component that visually highlights arts events, a mobile app that will allow people to add reviews, images, and comments, and a series of investigative reports probing the divide in arts funding between San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

The mapping initiative will aim to address one of the biggest challenges facing the arts in Silicon Valley/ San Jose: the lack of a flourishing culture district. The Bay Citizen will work with Civic Center to develop maps that by highlighting arts events and venues throughout the city will indicate what areas have potential as arts hubs. In conjunction with mapping existing cultural assets, Civic Center will solicit feedback from San Jose residents about what kinds of art projects and venues they’d like to see in their region. 

Runner up ideas included a Yelp for the Arts site; and use of a Comic Book for coverage of the arts (which prompted me to think that somebody must have an animation idea out there that would work).  This NEA / Knight Foundation was a very cool project.

 The Plenary Lunch Keynote - Dr. Manuel Pastor - Professor of Geography and American Studies and Ethnicity at USC spoke on demographic trends and transitions - particularly the black, white, Latinor and Asian / Pacific Islander changes in the demographic composition of California and the United States.

Here is some data to consider:
  • From 2000 to 2010, there was a 43% growth in Latinos; an 11% growth in Blacks and a1% growth in whites.
  • In the cohort group of those under 18 years of age - almost all the growth was in the Latino community.
  • Surprisingly (to many) is the relative stability of immigration - one explanation being that the fertility rate in Mexico has declined, and the economy has improved leading to fewer immigrants from Mexico to the US. 
  • By 2042, the US will be a minority nation (with no ethnic group being a majority of the population).
  • The immigrant gap is increasingly suburban centered as more immigrants locate in the suburbs than in the urban areas.
  • The median age of whites in America is 41 years.  The median age of Latinos is 27 years. 
As the ethnic populations have grown and the white population growth has declined, it would have been very interesting if there had been corresponding charts over the same periods of time showing how much the grants to the various ethnic communities had grown, declined or stayed the same.  While the ethnic demographic data is interesting and has ramifications for what we do, I think the comparison of that data to the patterns of what we fund would be very telling.

Session on Support for Artists and Small Arts Organizations:
The James Irvine Foundation had a program from 2004 to 2009 that aggregated nine community foundation partners to leverage matching grant funds to small arts organizations and individual artists which grew that support by $44 million in new money.  90 new donors were recruited from community foundation donor directed funds the resulted in a 28% growth in donor advised giving (and resulted in existing donors giving more) -- all during the height of the recession and economic downturn.

The experience of the East Bay and San Francisco Foundations was representative of the whole program.  Their goal was to put more money in the pockets of artists by encouraging arts organizations to seek funds to match grants to them by the project.  The amount of the grant to be matched varied but was relatively small (+/- $2500 to $5000 or so).  Each organization participant had 90 days to get the match.  Key to the success of the project was providing 'coaching' in how to make those "asks" and in working with those organizations so they became more comfortable in making the ask in the first place and in making them better at making the ask.  The program was later expanded so that individual artists could apply directly with a 4 month period to make the match. 

In the aggregate the project had these positive results:
  • $700,000 raised in matching funds.
  • 159 projects commissioned.
  • 249 artists supported.
  • 4600 individual donors participated
  • donations ranged from $2 to $10,000.
  • the median gift was $100.  The average gift was $233.
One participant grantee was Shotgun Players - a small theater company which grew its operating budget during its participation in the project from $550,000 to $850,000 from 2004 to 2011.  They learned how to ask more of their donor base, move that base to higher donations and expand the size of the base itself. 

Laura Zucker of the Los Angeles Arts Commission unabashedly appropriated the idea (and she argues we don't really "steal" from each other nearly often enough).  She pointed out that individual donors to nonprofit organizations in general far exceed the amount individuals proportionately donate to arts organizations.  While the Irvine Foundation provided the initial grant money to be matched in the case above, that option wasn't open to Laura, nor was the option to appropriate money from her general grants fund, so she applied for and got an NEA grant for $60,000 and got that grant matched locally to yield a final pool of $120,000.  She lengthened the period of time to make the match for applicants under her program to four months, provided coaching and technical assistance to grantees and focused on changing the 'culture' of organizations in fundraising - and in particular the latent "fear of asking for money" so rampant with arts organizations (requiring applicant staffs and boards to participate in learning sessions).  The program is half way thru the four month match period.

My overall impression of this first (long day) was that despite the bad news of the last year - all the cuts to state arts agencies, all the organizations struggling to stay alive, all the money that is no longer available, the drop in audience attendance, the competition for ever scarce individual donations - there is ample evidence of just how resilient the arts sector is, and there are a lot of success stories too.  Take the above Irving program.  Jonathan Katz relayed that while several state agencies were threatened with elimination, and while the overall funding to state arts agencies has dropped over the decade precipitously from $460 million to $268 million - nonetheless 14 state agencies saw increases in their budgets for next year.  There was a certain positive energy in the room today, and one comes away cautiously optimistic that there is earnest work going on to try to make things better.  New ideas are being sought, risks are being taken, and collaboration at a new level is the new norm.

Hope remains alive in the arts then.

Don't Quit.

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