"And the beat goes on…………………"
Note: For bios on the Forum participants, please see last week's blog post (or, if you are on the blog site, scroll down).
Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #3
What is the ideal relationship between a state arts agency and its principal stakeholders and logical potential partners and collaborators - including state arts advocacy organizations, local city and county arts agencies, state arts education organizations, discipline based service provider organizations, other state agencies, private sector interests and the philanthropic community - and where does that ideal differ from the current reality? What needs to be done to move the reality closer to the ideal?
I wonder if SAAs need to be more attentive to relationships beyond the usual constituencies. Recruiting from other sectors for SAA council/commission vacancies and for grant panels. More coffee dates with people a little further away from our comfortably familiar constituent groups. I wonder if being on the agenda for the state conference of principals may be more important than attending a local arts agency’s annual meeting.
I wonder how we can provide data and messages that are useful to other constituencies: what arts education data will be most useful to principals? To economic development councils? To mayors?
I worry that too many arts meetings are too boring and totally void of anything creative or artistic. I worry that too many meetings have no agenda. I worry that arts advocacy is based too much on hyperbole and bad data. I worry that too few arts leaders participate in key community decisions about planning, design, education, tourism, or distribution of resources.
All of the players mentioned above are in a symbiotic relationship with each other. They are all important players in the arts ecology and dependent on each other. More and more, I’m pleased to say, I see these organizations recognizing that we’re all too small to effect change without working together. It was one of the key themes of the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference that convened recently in Los Angeles.
Southern California Grantmakers, which until now was made up exclusively of private foundation and corporate funders, has invited key government partners to join this year. I’m proud to say that Los Angeles County will be the first government funder to join. And I’m even prouder that the LA Arts Funders, a group that has been meeting monthly for almost two decades, co-founded by The James Irvine Foundation and the Arts Commission, led the way on showing how effective private and public arts funders can be working together.
But these have to be authentic partnerships, not excuses for public agencies to be propped up by private philanthropy. When the Getty Foundation created a paid internship program for undergraduates in visual arts organizations, we used the terrific research they had done on the outcomes of the program to leverage $500,000 in new funds from the county to fund the companion program for performing arts organizations. Together, these complementary programs make up the largest paid internship program for the arts in the United States. While the Getty graciously funds the educational opportunities for all interns—and this was an important carrot for the investment of the public dollars— Los Angeles County is equally committed both to the principals behind the program and its underwriting.
The Arts Commission is the backbone organization for the LA County regional plan for arts education, Arts for All. That means that we staff the initiative and manage a pooled fund made up of 25 private donors who coordinate efforts. Working together is a necessity. But make no mistake: we’re the largest donor and we should be. The point here is that the idea that state arts agencies should be, or can be, funded by private sources is misplaced. First of all, private funders don’t want to give money to others to give away; why would they when they are already doing this job themselves in a way that reflects their priorities? At its core, public investment in the arts needs to come from public dollars, because public funding brings a framework of public service with it. The distribution of taxpayers’ dollars is always going to address the issues of access and equity in some way, and should.
So now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, at the end of the day, the types of services a SAA offers needs to be tied to the strategic agenda of that state’s governor and legislature. In addition to access and equity, these may include economic development via cultural tourism, job creation through creative incubators, or a host of other priorities. What form these services take—whether grants or convenings, research or case making-- has to follow function. What are we trying to achieve? Then how will we achieve it? Too many agencies never answer the first question so have no idea how to answer the second.
Advances in technology have allowed for the rapid exchange of information, ensuring that the speed of change in our society is only going to accelerate in the future. Adapting to this reality requires our leaders and organizations to be both agile and creative—skills that our artistic backgrounds and working environments have given us.
As leadership institutions in the Arts sector, SAAs must unlock their creative horsepower to help their local and regional constituents and partners find their most impactful roles in supporting the creative economy. This may require SAAs to step out of their comfort zone and take a more active role in leading collaborative initiatives amongst public/private and local/region partners to ensure the Arts remain strong in our community.
Too often, the tough work of organizing new initiatives or major funding efforts for the Arts are left to the private sector or local non-profit arts organizations to initiate or lead. In this scenario, the SAA is often excluded from the conversation or only approached as a potential funder of the initiative. SAA have and should use their experience, access to power, and resources to take an active leadership role in solving some of the industry’s most pressing needs.
Why shouldn’t an SAA be the organizer of a campaign to raise dollars for an arts education initiative or help build an endowment for a regional collaborative of arts organizations?
I am encouraged by the emergence of this type of leadership in several prominent SAAs. Take for example, the A+ Schools initiative led by the North Carolina Arts Council. NCAC saw the need to develop and scale this program throughout the State and took on the responsible of raising the private fundraising necessary to do it.
There is certainly not a one size fits all formula to define the role that an SAA should play in the partnership with other State, regional and local agencies, but I do think the default filter for evaluating their role should be that of a leader vs a follower. This mind set will help the Arts sector better manage the ever increasing pace of change in our communities.
I spoke to the relationships among the state arts agency, local cultural councils and private funders in the first question. But we are very interested in exploring ways to leverage the work of others concerned with the cultural landscape. We fund a number of media organizations and three years ago we called upon them to collaborate on a media campaign to support the work of all of our cultural non-profits. The campaign is now in its third year and is an unusual collaboration of competitors. We will soon be convening the service organizations that we fund to see if there is a way to capitalize on their collective work to the benefit of the field.
I've often thought that every state arts agency should have someone on staff called, for lack of a better term, "Director of Collaborations". Most of the work that we do now, aside from direct grantmaking, depends on our ability to build and maintain partnerships. We do this well, because we can bring people to the table and we have the expertise in policy-making and programs. But we are hamstrung by the amount of time and energy these collaborations require. Our Education Director works well with counterparts at our state's Department of Education, with teachers and administrators and the like. But boy could we use someone who could work on maintaining the momentum of those relationships, to keep them moving forward and ensure that this work fits within the strategic framework we've set for ourselves and our field. These things happen, but they involve fewer partners and players than they could, and they are under-resourced because (1) who has money, and (2) who has the energy to go after money.
State arts agencies create and maintain strategic alliances both within the arts and across multiple sectors by highlighting the importance of partnership. By collaborating with other agencies, businesses, nonprofit groups, arts and culture stakeholders, and the public, SAAs open the doors to new ideas, resources and connections.
In thinking about the ideal relationship between a state arts agency and its principal stakeholders, three key themes come to mind:
Power to the People - While much of the work of SAAs happens behind the scenes, it’s important to keep the people center stage. A core function of SAAs is to increase public access to the arts and work to ensure that people of all ages and all walks of life have meaningful opportunities to experience and participate in the arts. This work is deeply rooted in service to the citizens. In an ideal world, SAAs should ask themselves every day, how are they using the arts to make a real difference in people’s lives. Through strong partnership with artists and arts organizations, SAAs raise citizen awareness about the benefits of culture and position the arts as a public good.
Backbone Organizations – There’s been a lot of focus in recent years on collective impact efforts and the work of backbone organizations. I think there are many similarities between strong SAAs and effective backbone organizations. Within the arts sector, SAAs work collaboratively to connect networks of individuals and organizations including state arts advocacy groups, arts education associations, arts funders, local arts agencies, artists, creative enterprises, arts service organizations, unions and other cultural umbrella organizations. As leaders and conveners of the field, SAAs help guide vision and strategy for the sector, establish shared measurement systems, provide professional development and networking opportunities, advance policy solutions, and play an active role in building political will and public demand for the arts.
Planning Culturally -- SAAs should work across state government and with other sectors of civic life to promote a pro-culture agenda. The idea here being the arts are more likely to thrive when they are embedded into the goals of multiple public agencies and partner organizations. Rocco Landesman referred to this all-hands-on-deck approach as the “insertion of the arts into the everyday business of sister agencies.” Here in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Commissioner Michelle Boone of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, refer to this holistic strategy as “Planning Culturally.” This comprehensive approach values culture for its transformative power and for its strength to inspire, express, and unite. SAAs should partner with other state agencies and regional planning organizations to achieve shared goals and incorporate the arts as an essential ingredient in economic development, education, public safety, public health, and strong communities.
Unfortunately many SAAs are woefully underfunded relative to the demand for services. More funding and bandwidth would be needed to help close the gap that exists for some SAAs between the current state and the desired future state described above.
One big town
With just more than a million people, Montanans think of our state as one big town. Despite its immense geography, which west-to-east is comparable in distance as Chicago is to Washington, D.C., there is frequently only one or two degrees of separation between knowing others from anywhere in the state. I think this is a critical factor in how we relate to our public. In rural America, people help each other. It’s wise to never be really mean to your neighbor because you don’t know when they may be the one to save your life.
Nimble-ness and bureaucracies
When I first read Barry’s memo about this blog, one of the things he asked us to think about was how state agencies remain nimble and refrain from bureaucracy, which I think relates to the question above a bit. To address the nimble and bureaucracy elements, I asked my staff how they would speak to this. They are models of being nimble and a far cry from being bureaucrats. They all are working artists or arts managers or educators, or they have been doing their jobs long enough and well enough to truly empathize with the needs of our constituents.
From KarenDe Herman, Administrative Specialist
I think the key to our nimbleness is our relationship with the arts organizations and artists across the state. When they recognize us as fellow artists and trust us to look out for their best interests, they make allowances for and work with us to overcome the constraints of governmental bureaucracy. This gives us the opportunity to innovate in a “safe space” as viewed by our constituents.
From Cindy Kittredge, Folk Arts and Market Development Specialist
Although nimbleness, innovation and risk-taking can be endangered by government bureaucracy, thoughtful and deliberate action based on the points that follow can help to achieve balance so that it doesn’t become an either-or issue. By thoughtful, I mean actions that have been carefully considered in terms of end actions and which are responsive to the public. By deliberate, I mean actions that aren’t taken “flying by the seat of the pants” but which look to strategic goals and a strong vision that doesn’t demand changes that occur overnight. Incidentally, I don’t see strategic plans as carved in stone, but as guideposts in a world where reality can quickly change.
Keeping the expressed needs and wishes of the artists at the forefront provides the wind at the back to make the “right” decisions. Although there are those who feel that approach may be based too much in the “whims” of the masses, I believe that there is a strength in the collective knowledge of the public. If this forms the core of a strategic plan, then that plan will be strengthened, and decisions can be made that will carry the group forward in a cohesive way.
Maintaining awareness of and respect for the members of the public will provide the mindset to be open to the creative and innovative ideas that come your way. I always try to hold to Myles Horton’s advice in teaching, “Start with where the people are.” It really isn’t about those of us in the bureaucracy, although we may be pressed and stressed, but it is about the people we serve. Sometimes, collaborative work can be extremely difficult or suggestions may not initially seem to be a positive. However, in the end, this kind perspective allows for the open space that new ideas need to grow. It also may require nimbleness and creativity in how such difficult situations are handled, and that can lead to great innovations.
From Cinda Holt, Business Development Specialist
The nimbleness we have comes from the philosophy of the agency to hire senior staff based on their expertise more so than on how well they fit a previously set “job description.” By taking advantage of that staffer’s real-world experience, they act as an actual professional development/technical resource to the field. It is much easier to learn on the job the bureaucratic functions that are required to fill out the position than it is to gain the range of experience needed in order to provide true technical assistance.
In our strategic planning work we look to specific non-arts folks in growth industries to provide us with broader POVs about how the arts and creativity link to their lives and successes -- including scientists and technology experts.
Because we aggressively go after private funding for certain initiatives, we are able to test pilot programs in ways we couldn’t if we didn’t have private funding.
From Emily Kohring, Arts Education Director
I don’t really feel “constrained” here, first of all. I worked for an arts organization for nine years with a tiny budget, and I never had enough resources. I was under constant pressure to bring in enough earned income in my programs so we wouldn’t be in the red. I was constantly understaffed and overworked. I then worked in a start-up charter school with literally no budget for my theatre program. We begged and borrowed to do everything, and relied on the kindness of the friends we made who wanted to help. You learn to be creative and resourceful with what you’ve got in that kind of environment.
When you’ve never had “abundance,” you don’t really feel constrained. You just figure out ways to get the job done. It’s amazing how much you can get done with few resources when you are careful with them, and you have strong relationships with people.
I think we do a good job of not thinking of ourselves as a governmental bureaucracy, and that is key. It’s a mindset that I feel like everyone on this staff shares. You are only as bureaucratic as you think you are! I don’t think of myself as a bureaucrat who is here to push papers around and enforce policy and rules. Blech! I think in my position I am here to listen to what teachers, teaching artists and arts organizations in Montana need to provide the best quality arts education, and then figure out ways to help them do it. And, if you don’t have the resources, you need to build relationships. Find out who else is interested in what you are interested in, introduce yourself, make friends with them, share information, and then ask. It seems to have worked with the Office of Public Instruction (OPI). Also, assume good intentions of everybody and see them as allies. I hear a lot of people say disparaging things about OPI. I don’t listen to that or engage in it. Their staff is there to do the best they can for the students of Montana. I can’t think of them as bureaucrats either, or we won’t get anything done!
My observation is as an organization, we can be nimble, innovative and risk-taking because the staff has done a great job of making friends, even with people who aren’t natural “friends” of art or government funding for the arts. I keep thinking about the Tea Party gentleman who spoke at the Council meeting. I disagreed with everything he said, I cringed on the inside when he said certain things, but I was amazed at his support for the Arts Council. Too many people in the arts world cannot stomach people who don’t think like them. We have to take responsibility for creating an environment where people who aren’t inclined to love everything we do will at least be ok with things we do because they trust us, right?
From Kristin Han Burgoyne, Grants and Database Director, and author of Kristin’s Blog
Ask forgiveness, not permission.
And have upper management that will support you in this philosophy. Balance this philosophy with the wisdom to know when to not test the limits.
Play the small agency card.
A lot of the bureaucracy can be avoided if you know the rules and know when they don’t apply to you. Sometimes this means learning about things that are not very interesting to you. Find someone who is interested and have them teach you the cliff-notes version. Very few agencies have so much broad knowledge concentrated into so few people, and I’m proud of all the things I know… but my knowledge is of the “mile wide and inch deep” variety… so it is important to have friends who know more than you know. Also remember…. having 25 or fewer staff will get you out of a lot of meetings.
Request exceptions and embrace change.
To quote Jimmy Buffet, “We are the people our parents warned us about.” We are creative.... or so we say. Prove it by figuring out a better way. Eliminate the bureaucracy and get around the challenges. This means taking time to reflect and figure out what will work and letting go of old ways of doing things.
Never, ever stop trying to simplify and streamline processes and workflow.
Remember when we used to print mailing labels? And contracts?
Use technology wisely.
I love webinars and listening to meetings on my computer. Saves me a ton of time but keeps me informed. I also adore two computer monitors, scanners and online grants management software. I’m still afraid of (but trying to embrace) smart phones. I spend a lot of time worrying I’m not using new technology to the maximum of its potential because I don’t understand it or I haven’t bothered to learn it.
Become a trusted face and personality.
This works for both authorizers and grantees. All of my grantees know I will go the extra mile to make something easier for them. They also know if something is going wrong they can talk to me, and I will do my best to be helpful and find a solution… and never be “mad” at them or “punish” them for making a mistake. If something is wrong we need to get it fixed in the short term and figure out how to avoid it in the long term. No judgment. No excuses. (You think I’m talking about a grantee not turning in a report here, don’t you? I’m not. I’m thinking of the colossal ways I just screwed up some things I was working on and how I had to regroup, fix it, and then figure out how to do it next time so I’m not just repeating my past mistakes.)
Can you see why I just love this staff?!
Don’t anyone be thinking about trying to hire them away!
What is the ideal relationship between a state arts agency and its principal stakeholders and logical potential partners and collaborators - including state arts advocacy organizations, local city and county arts agencies, state arts education organizations, discipline based service provider organizations, other state agencies, private sector interests and the philanthropic community, and where does that ideal differ from the current reality?
Needs more teamwork by, participation with, and service to these others.
What needs to be done to move the reality closer to the ideal? Wisdom, passion, organization and activism.
Forum continues tomorrow with questions re: NASAA…….