Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Solutions Will Remain Elusive in 2013


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

Welcome back.  Let’s hope 2013 is a good year for all of us.

What Likely Won’t Happen
For several years I use to run an end of the year blog wherein I invited leaders from around the country to share their predictions for what might happen in our field in the coming year.  While that exercise yielded some interesting observations and hopeful fantasizing about what might be, the issues we face remain pretty much the same every year - and it is very difficult to precisely and accurately prognosticate as to what will happen to move on all those issues.

Recently Thomas Cott resurrected the idea and invited his readers to submit their predictions for 2013, and his contributors chimed in with some salient insights into next year.

I wish I knew what was going to happen.  But alas my magic ball has its limitations.  What I can offer though is what will likely not happen.

So let me take a stab at what are some of the general issues facing our sector from that perspective:

 Arts Education.  Every year we seem to move a little forward in this arena.  We gather more evidence, more data, make more inroads into academic research, marshall better arguments and get an incremental increase in support, if not funding.  We continue to gain momentum and the ranks of those actively involved in trying to move us forward continues to swell.  But as far as I can see, we are not yet anywhere near a tipping point.  I think GIA’s efforts to secure more federal funding availability has great potential, but we will need supporting legislation and budget language that is very specific and closes all the loopholes that would otherwise allow arts directed funding to be used locally for other purposes.  I think we will continue to gather relevant data and make ever more convincing arguments, and I think we will increasingly succeed in getting the issue to the forefront, but the issue will remain largely a local issue (and largely a budget matter) and the wealthy school districts will have arts education and the poorer districts will likely not.  We will see a little movement in the area (thanks to the yeoman work of literally thousands of people in the arts and education fields), and we will see some exemplary programs, but don’t expect any sea change yet.  Winning this battle is a process - a long process.

 Equity / Scale.  There will be increased sector wide discussion of who gets funded and who does not and whether or not the current practices are fair, or even make sense.  There will be increased pressure on all funders to spread the dollars wider - and specifically to insure that the overall percentage that goes to the very few organizations does not remain as high as it has been historically.  I think there will significant movement in the pressure on funders in this area including more pressure to fund smaller and newer arts initiatives, and more diverse organizations, but I think we will not see in 2013 any wholesale changes in who gets the money.  Moreover, while we will see more funding to sector wide initiatives that will ostensibly benefit us all, those efforts will continue to be a hard sell and nowhere near the level we need to move us forward as a field.  We will continue to see funding almost exclusively in terms of support for local organizations.

 Succession /  Baby Boomer Exit.  This issue is close to coming to a head.  Increasingly more and more people are arguing convincingly that we have to figure out a way to allow more younger leaders to take the reigns of power - least we lose them to other sectors, and squander one of our major assets.   But we have yet to devise any strategy that protects the Boomer involvement and still moves us towards greater succession.  Don’t expect any sea change movement of Boomers out of their jobs, but do expect that the issue itself will soon move to the front burner.  You will see some familiar names of long time leaders retire this year - some will be surprising (and the jockeying to replace them will be Machiavellian).

 Audience Development.  Of course the question of how to expand our audiences will - as it has for two decades or more - remain a hot button topic.  Expect even more research and even yet more theories about how to address the shrinking audience issue.  The real interesting part of the equation is how do we better capture the tools of technology to get art to the people, and I expect a lot more specific ideas to be generated in that arena.  That said, unfortunately I doubt we will move as quickly and as massively as I think we really ought to in embracing technology as an audience development strategy (we are already hopelessly behind the curve).  I suspect we will stay far too mired in our bricks and mortar mindset approach at the expense of our future.  Somewhere, of course, is the right balance.  To my mind, it isn’t what we are doing.  And I doubt 2013 will see us figure out how to really tackle this challenge.

 Funding - Public and Private.  Don’t expect to see across the board success in increasing government funding, nor in upping significantly our percentage of foundation / corporate or individual philanthropic money.  I think we will hold our own - but that clearly will not be enough to solve the myriad challenges all organizations face.  The level of our political clout will remain anemic at best.  Many organizations will continue to struggle financially, and many more will close their doors.

 Easing the process of getting grants.  As a subset of the funding issue, there will be increased pressure on funders to deregulate the process so that recipients do not have to jump through so many hoops to qualify for the money.  Given the increase in funder required accountability and evaluative reporting, the pressure to make things easier - while appreciated by the funders - simply will not yield any substantial further change in protocols.

 Earned Income.  And so the pressure will continue for all organizations to increase their own earned income, and to be more “entrepreneurial” in their business approach.  In the main this is easy to support, but it clearly will be easier and more appropriate for some organizations, and very difficult and wrong for others.  We can’t take some “cookie cutter” approach and say everybody needs to become successful entrepreneurs.  We will continue to grapple with this in 2013, and I think we will see more discussion, but not necessarily any practical answers.  It will remain one of the hot "buzzwords" of the year.

New Model to replace the 501 c 3.  We have been talking about this seemingly forever.  What we need is for the government to revisit the whole “public benefit corporation’ concept and figure out how nonprofits can be permitted to make a profit - whether from their direct efforts or from investments.  The rationale behind barring profit making (at least from indirect and non related secondary business efforts) is that if we don’t pay taxes, we will have an unfair competitive advantage vs. those in the private sector that do pay taxes.  But that is a ‘straw dog’ in many ways, as the private sector has all kinds of other advantages.  This challenge is bigger than the arts sector.  Nothing will come of this in 2013.

 Research and Data.  This is one area that I expect we will see major growth in the next year with expanded areas into which we conduct research and continuing efforts to make that research sound and viable.  While we won’t fully successfully address the criticism that we use data that correlates with desired outcomes in ways to prove causality, we will increasingly take on that challenge.

 Leadership.  We will continue to talk about what kind of leadership we need, where it will come from and how we will get it, but we will remain long on talk and short on strategies.  What we need are programs that will invest in people - not just in the organizations where they work - but in specific people themselves.  Along this line we need to finally move forward with a comprehensive, national program to provide professional development training opportunities that are organized, widely available, affordable, and which address the demands of the marketplace.  There are lots of options out there, but they are not centralized, are too often inconveniently offered, too expensive, and not always tailored to the needs of our sector.  I hope we finally recognize this area as critical to our future and that we move beyond the piecemeal approach we have thus far taken.  I am cautiously hopeful.

 Artist / Administrator Divide.  We will continue to speculate about the divide between artists and administrators in ways that are not helpful, that widen the gap (if there really is one) and compound, not address, the problem.  I suppose expansion of the discussion is of value in itself.

 Community involvement.  I think it likely that arts organizations across the board will make some major inroads into becoming more meaningfully involved in their local communities, though we will continue to grapple with how this best works, and how we can evaluate our efforts.  Going against conventional wisdom, I think one of the major challenges will be in successfully convincing potential community partners that they ought to work more closely with us.  I am not sure we will be as widely and eagerly embraced as we think.

I hope that viable solutions arise in each of these areas and that my reservations turn out to be unfounded and outright wrong.  But realistically, I think change will come slowly and that there will continue to be more talk than action.  Yet, I remain buoyed by all the assets on the plus side of our ledger, not the least of which are the tens of thousands of you who work hard every day to make the arts the beacon they are.

Have a great week.  And thank you all for making 2012 this blog's most successful yet with greatly expanded page hits and subscriber base.  I appreciate it very much.

Don’t Quit
Barry

1 comment:

  1. These are great observations, Barry, but I'd like to see audience development, research & data, community involvement and to some extent earned revenue grouped together as they are integral parts of the marketing process. And I think there are great things happening in each area that, taken together, bode well for the industry. Young, tech-savvy arts marketers are casting off outdated traditions, research is becoming increasingly important as the value of data becomes more evident, community engagement is a now major movement and arts organizations are embracing sales as a revenue-generating tool like never before. Personally, I think if we stop focusing on the tiresome, circular, decades-long conversations you mention and start looking at some encouraging macro trends, we may see a clearer path forward.


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