Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blog Forum on the Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #4

Good morning
"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 #4
PART II - NASAA

Question:
If the SAAs are in a period of re-invention and evolution to a different model, what kind of reinvention and evolution of thinking ought NASAA embrace?  Please consider: 
  • Should NASAA's role be that of a change agent, or a provider of services to an established practice?   
  • What are the key services that are the most needed by, and valuable to, SAAs, and to what extent does NASAA need to rethink how it can provide those services?
  • What needs to change in the NASAA business model, and what steps can NASAA take to diversify or expand its income in order to increase the resources available to it to pursue its mission and insure its financial sustainability and capacity to serve its membership?   
  • On the other side of the coin, what new kinds of approaches might NASAA take to support state legislative budget increases to state arts agencies?  

Laura Zucker:
Under Jonathan Katz’ leadership, NASAA has done a stellar job educating its targeted constituency: the state arts councils and their staff. Its research is awesome, its knowledge base expansive, and its responsiveness to help on the ground have all made a profound difference. But it’s definitely Switzerland (and maybe needs to be) on how SAAs should operate. After all, it services both politically appointed leadership and civil servants.

I’ll leave it up to the many representatives of SAAs to articulate what the key service areas have been for them and should be, but from the point of view of a head of a LAA, the most valuable service to me coming into my job was access to a knowledge and experience base. You literally don’t know what you don’t know when you come into being the head of a SAA from outside the agency—and this seems to almost always be the case. So you’re dealing with a continual group of folks who have a steep learning curve in almost everything. They need a SWAT team knowledge support group approach from both NASAA and peers.

But beyond being a repository of best practices, since I’ve been on the board of Grantmakers in the Arts during the past year, it’s been wonderful to observe close up the way in which Janet Brown, the executive director of GIA, has moved the organization beyond a neutral service organization to one that has taken positions on key issues for the field such as racial equity and capitalization.  So it can be done. The question is whether the board wants to go there or whether the new head of the organization will have the skill set to get the board there.

The business model of a service organization is what it is unless one of two things change the paradigm: the organization gets left a lot of money in someone’s will, as was the case with AFTA, or the organization develops products that create a source of ongoing revenue, the road WESTAF has been going down. If neither of these paths develops for NASAA, it will continue to be what it’s been: a roughly $2 million/year organization that gets the bulk of its revenue from member fees and grants and spends a little more than half its budget on salaries. And that may be a good model to get the job done. For NASAA it has been a stable model.

While NASAA has provided an impressive set of advocacy tools for its members, it isn’t equipped to go into each state as an advocate. That’s something that can only be done well by the people who live there. Interestingly, all SAAs, as well as the state advocacy organizations, are members of AFTA, which is providing the leadership on the advocacy front nationally.

And while it’s probably not beneficial for NASAA and AFTA to merge, is it necessary for them both to maintain separate duplicative departments such as research? Even if there’s no economy of scale that’s achieved, would more robust research for the field be a potential outcome? And would tying some key services together in that way create an even more symbiotic relationship?


Scott Provancher:
During periods of uncertainty and change, there is great opportunity and need for NASAA to be a leader, partner and advocate for its members and stakeholders.  But, in order to effectively accomplish this, NASAA must first identify the key factors that are driving change in the sector, understand its own core competency and deploy those competencies in a way that will benefit the sector.  Not an easy feat for any organization.

Should the primary role of the NASAA be advocating for more state funding through the current or past SAA model? Or would resources be better spent on working with key SAAs and State governments to incubate a new model for the future?

My advice would be to build the plane while you fly it.  Because there are so many variables that could be driving the changes we are seeing in the SAA landscape, NASAA should not stop doing anything abruptly without first understanding the effects of these changes to its members and stakeholders.

One of the key tenants for successful experimentation is to ensure that you have a control group—a set of variables that does not change that can be compared to the results of your experiment.  Changing the strategy for an organization should follow the same rule.  One must carefully understand and test its assumptions against its existing model before making wholesale changes.

With that said, you don’t come up with new ideas without experimentation and taking risks.

NASAA must approach the changes in the sector as a once in a lifetime opportunity to test new ideas and to lead its members into uncharted territory.  Helping the sector to find resources for R&D, developing a national platform for experimentation and new strategy development are paramount to ensure that the sector continues to grow its impact and resources.

NASAA identifying this need and putting resources behind it, would be a bold first step on a path to innovation.


Anita Walker:
The biggest challenge for NASAA is that it is an association of a very small group of members.  The biggest benefit for NASAA is that it is an association of a very small group of members.  The 50 states plus territories members provide a very focused point of advocacy.  But this small group of members does not in and of itself have the capacity to provide the level of financial support NASAA needs to provide the robust services we all want and need.  Nevertheless, I think NASAA excels at research and case-making which is essential to the work all of us do.

NASAA's collaboration with government-related groups like the National Governor's Association is a great example of collaboration at its best.  The big question for me is whether and where the line gets blurred between NASAA and AFTA.  It is essential that NASAA focus on what is essential about state arts agencies (see question 1) and tailor its case making to underscore that.


Randy Rosenbaum:
NASAA operates in a world of relationships.  Maintaining and advancing those relationships is mission critical.  It's essential, for example, for NASAA to have a strong and productive relationship with the state arts agencies and regional organizations.  So services are key.  I've participated in conversations with the state arts agencies where the quality and availability of service is an important factor in the
field's impression of NASAA and its effectiveness.  In this I believe that NASAA's role is as a provider of services.  

But change happens in different ways, and as an organization NASAA can also play a role as a change agent.  For example, the field expects NASAA to have a relationship with the NEA where NASAA is respected as a colleague and collaborator on behalf of the states and regions.  The states, through their partnership with the NEA, help to distribute over 40% of federal funds at the local level.  We should expect to play a part in the way that policy is developed at the federal level, in the same way the NEA expects states to make policy and plan with the full engagement of their principal partners at the local level.  If we accept that changes happens through collective efforts, and not unilaterally, then a respectful partnership between NASAA and the NEA, with regular consultations and coordinated planning, will result in change.  With the change in leadership about to happen at NASAA, that change could be significant.  

What are the key services that are the most needed by, and valuable to, SAAs, and to what extent does NASAA need to rethink how it can provide those services?

We need to know what works.  What are our colleagues doing that we can emulate and gain inspiration from?  What are the "great ideas" that are constantly being explored and tested in the different states (I almost wrote, in the "laboratories of democracy").  NASAA is the best mechanism for sharing that information, and they have progressed from written reports to webinars and other kinds of distant learning.  NASAA should take more advantage of new technologies and means of communications,
from Twitter and Pinterest (which it doesn't use) to video conferencing and small group learning experiences organized around regional gatherings.  I personally take great value from NASAA's amazing Research department.  The quality of information we receive - at request or as part of the regular distribution of data - is first rate and very important.  And NASAA staff has been going directly into states to provide help on everything from advocacy to grants management.  All very valuable.  I'm not sure how much we need to rethink what NASAA provides as much as the ways in which it is provided.  I think these services will always be important to state arts agencies. 

What needs to change in the NASAA business model, and what steps can NASAA take to diversify or expand its income in order to increase the resources available to it to pursue its mission and insure its financial sustainability and capacity to serve its membership?  

I think NASAA's business model is basically sound.  As an association we represent the interests of our field, and advance the role of the arts - and the role that state arts agencies play in supporting the arts -
locally, nationally and perhaps internationally.  NASAA represents a community of agencies that have deep roots in every state and locality.  In that I believe NASAA is in a better position than AFTA to speak about economic impact and vitality of the arts at the state level.  AFTA has monetized there data collection and manipulation, and this may be something for NASAA to look at.  We may also be able to seek foundation support for the kinds of projects and initiatives where having network of state and regional arts agencies is an advantage.

On the other side of the coin, what new kinds of approaches might NASAA take to support state legislative budget increases to state arts agencies?  

I admire the work that AFTA has done in developing a network of state arts advocates, with state "captains" and the like.  Aside from the occasional meeting between NASAA members and these state "captains" there really hasn't been any great exchanges in this area, and I think NASAA, in collaboration with AFTA or on its own, could do more direct training and support for advocacy.  There are a lot of good "tips", but this effort needs to be revitalized.


Anthony Radich:
I think of state arts agencies as the manifestation of a successful movement--the movement to involve states in a meaningful way in cultural development.  As with most movements, over time, energies change and areas of emphasis are altered.  For many years now, NASAA has been the leader of a defensive strategy designed to ensure the the preservation of state arts agencies. While such defense is understandable considering the huge pressures the agencies are under, I would argue that the time for defensive posture by the agency is over and it should once again take its rightful place as head of a movement--a movement to expand the power and influence of state arts agencies.


Ra Joy:
First and foremost a tip of the hat is due Jonathan Katz for his trailblazing leadership and his fierce and effective advocacy for the arts. In November, Jonathan will retire after 29 years of distinguished service at the helm of NASAA. His professionalism, wisdom and willingness to go that extra step helped take NASAA to unparalleled heights. Everyone who cares about culture in America owes Jonathan a tremendous debt of gratitude for all that he’s done to elevate the arts as an essential public benefit.

In thinking about the next chapter for NASAA, I am reminded of the Brazilian proverb that says “When we dream alone it remains just a dream, when you dream together it is the beginning of a new reality.” NASAA should continue to create space for SAAs to dream together and to create a new reality and agenda for the arts.  

Since 1968, NASAA has maintained a commitment to providing useful tools, timely information and strategic support to cultural leaders at the state and regional levels. When considering the reinvention and evolution of NASAA, three key roles come to mind;  
  
Policy Development - Right now, many of the policy areas that impact the creative economy and arts stakeholders exist in counterproductively separate "silos.”  NASAA should continue to work with partners to identify and advance crosscutting policy initiatives that strengthen the economy and our communities.  

Positioning/Message Development - NASAA should build public value for the arts by creating compelling messages that highlight the ways that the arts impact community. By developing and testing messages that matter, NASAA can empower SAAs and the citizens they serve to better communicate why the arts are an important public asset. 

Data Informed Decision-Making - As a sector, we’ve done a good job of establishing clear goal posts for federal appropriations to the NEA and state legislative appropriations to SAAs. Based on this time-tested framework, we consistently monitor progress and keep stakeholders informed. NASAA should work with partners to create an evaluation and accountability framework for assessing the impacts of state and regional creative economies. To make this happen, NASAA should collaborate with stakeholders to research existing strategies for developing and using benchmarks and metrics; select appropriate models; and conduct ongoing monitoring, assessment, and identification of improvement opportunities. 

In order to seize these opportunities, NASAA should play a more active role as a change agent for the field in addition to a professional association for SAAs. 


Arni Fishbaugh:
NASAA is a membership-driven organization, and the role it should play should be determined by its membership.  In my experience on the board of directors and as the recent president of NASAA, I have observed that NASAA is both a change agent and a provider of services to established practices in response to these needs.  NASAA has a strategic planning process that deeply involves its membership, and this helps identify current priorities that can provide the kind of service agencies find of greatest value.

There is no one-size-fits-all role
The most fascinating thing I’ve learned on the job is how different each state arts agency is.  There is not a one-size-fit-all solution for any of us.  That is why all the work NASAA has done to be on top of current issues for its membership has been invaluable.  I can’t say enough wonderful things about the entire staff, and how incredibly smart and helpful they are to state arts agencies.

Working as both a change agent and assisting in established practice
The largest agent-of-change work I’ve seen done over the last decade is the institutionalization of the “public value” concepts brought forth by Harvard professor Mark Moore as part of the Wallace Foundation’s START initiative.  NASAA saw the transformational change that this work brought about in state arts agencies participating in that program, and the enormous benefits it provided to them, and was a catalyst for expanding this work in other states and institutionalizing “public value” as a best practice.

The research NASAA has done with state arts agency work in arts education, cultural tourism, cultural districts, agency structures, among so many other topics, has allowed state arts agencies to move forward with their own advancement in these arenas.  

A Godsend:  NASAA’s crisis assistance
I can’t underscore enough how valuable the NASAA staff is for all state arts agencies when we face the next “brilliant” idea that will, in our view, maim or cripple our efforts and our impact.  NASAA staff has a compendium of information on every possible threat state arts agencies face, and they respond in SOS-fashion to whatever crisis looms next.  And they respond immediately.  OMG, I can’t tell you how many times they have helped us with threats of elimination, consolidation, privatization, among so many other trials and tribulations. 

Let’s not reinvent the wheel
Because NASAA has such a tremendous clearinghouse of examples from states around the country on such a variety of topics, its resources are immensely helpful to us all as directors and councils/commissions investigate what else is out there, what others are doing, not to mention sharing their own great new ideas.  

What are the key services that are the most needed by, and valuable to, SAAs, and to what extent does NASAA need to rethink how it can provide those services?

Each year, as part of the nominations process for the Board of Directors of NASAA, the nominating committee interviews every single executive director and chairman of all 56 state and territorial arts agencies (or tries to!)  Two of the questions asked of these individuals are what are the most valuable services that NASAA provides, and do you have any suggestions for ways to improve those services?

What do we hear?
In speaking to both people who are and who are not on the board, regardless of whether or not they are chairs or executive directors, there are some services that always rise to the top as most valuable:
  • Research
  • Advocacy and representation of the state arts agencies as having a powerful voice with partners and the NEA
  • Convener (at the national conferences held once a year)
  • Providing a clearinghouse of information
  • An incredibly fabulous staff that helps us with anything we need and does so immediately
There is no hue and cry from the field about re-thinking how NASAA provides these services, at least through the interviews and conversations of which I’ve been part.  But I would envision that technology will undoubtedly play a larger role in many ways.  


What needs to change in the NASAA business model, and what steps can NASAA take to diversify or expand its income in order to increase the resources available to it to pursue its mission and insure its financial sustainability and capacity to serve its membership?   

NASAA’s agenda for the future includes the need to develop more earned income as part of diversification of its revenues. The key will be to establish product lines or program offerings that augment the core services already provided.  The need for revenue diversification will be a key charge for the new executive director.

On the other side of the coin, what new kinds of approaches might NASAA take to support state legislative budget increases to state arts agencies?  

The right people saying the right things to the right people
From my perspective as an executive director in a state with significant political challenges, I have found that the largest help in garnering legislative budget support has to do with having the right people have the right relationship with the right legislators in leadership positions and/or their staffs, and the right people delivering the right message that is compelling, relevant and meaningful.  

On the NASAA front, we have a treasure in NASAA’s lobbyist Isaac Brown, who has done a most capable job of stepping into the huge shoes worn by NASAA’s long-time and highly beloved lobbyist, Tom Birch.  We have an enormously valuable group of state arts agency executive directors and council/commission members who have been essential in maximizing support for state and federal arts budgets.  

Rubbing the genie bottle:  “Arts Champions”
If I were to rub my genie bottle, out would come a cadre of “Arts Champions,” for lack of a better term, consisting of private-sector leaders in business and innovation industries that include science and technology, as well as education.   These “Arts Champions” would carry the advocacy message about the value of the arts and the importance of public funding for the arts to colleagues in their own fields.  It would be important to have a mix of political parties as champions.  We need the presidents of major corporations talking to other corporate heads about this; we need keynotes about the importance of arts and its public funding made by non-arts people in non-arts settings.  

One of the most critical messages that needs to be conveyed, in my mind, is that arts=creativity=innovative thinking.  

This idea certainly isn’t new.  It does ride on the back of the invaluable work done by the National Governor’s Association, through help with NASAA, about the importance of the arts in economic development and education.  Those “Best Practices Reports” have been the single-most effective case-making tools in our conversations with Governors here in the past.  

Caveat emptor
The most important aspect of this is the understanding that what works in one state may not work in another, and it can be extremely destructive to try to force one standard approach everywhere.  NASAA does not do this, but there are others that try, with highly problematic outcomes.


Mark Hofflund:
Should NASAA's role be that of a change agent, or a provider of services to an established practice?  Depends on time, circumstances, and needs in the field.  NASAA might better reflect its identify as a nonprofit; and cultivate a national influence representative of all Americans (and specifically artists, orgs, unions, schools, service orgs, philanthropies, etc.) … while maintaining its historic role as a D.C. watchdog and national trade association.
What are the key services that are the most needed by, and valuable to, SAAs, and to what extent does NASAA need to rethink how it can provide those services?  Connections for SAAs to the greater world and opportunities of the nation, through an infusion of and connection to women and men beyond SAAs own internal auspices.
What needs to change in the NASAA business model, and what steps can NASAA take to diversify or expand its income in order to increase the resources available to it to pursue its mission and insure its financial sustainability and capacity to serve its membership?   The membership probably needs to release some of its control, in order to benefit from the greater support of other interests.  Release control and gain more leverage from other spheres and other sources of influence.
On the other side of the coin, what new kinds of approaches might NASAA take to support state legislative budget increases to state arts agencies?  Help model statewide, grassroots, populist support networks … whose primary goal is increased participation to gain matching legislative interest.  Use the NEA model of matching state appropriations (with federal dollars from above) by creating a similar grassroots effort (incentivizing the state from below).


Kris Tucker:
Assuming NASAA continues to be a membership organization, NASAA must be responsive to member needs. Some of this will look like crisis support and hand-holding. But how about raising the stakes for more effective SAAs? How about seeding and sustaining a national conversation about where the field might be in a decade? 

NASAA doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room. But they can leverage their unique vantage point to pull, prod and propel the field forward. . . .and remind us that “forward” means different things to all of us. 

NASAA must provide a national level voice for SAAs, including with the NEA, other national arts service organizations, and key leadership groups such as NGA. NASAA also has been a leader in national level lobbying for NEA funding, arts education policy, and other policy issues directly impacting SAAs. 

NASAA membership is primarily under-resourced public sector arts agencies, and relying on their dues gives little potential for NASAA’s budget growth. NASAA has had some recent success with private sector fundraising from members and other contributors. Is there potential for earned income – such as a focused fee-for-service or a technology resource? A huge paradigm shift would be possible if NASAA could establish a revenue approach that does not rely on SAA dues: this would enable NASAA to disconnect from some of the more time-consuming member-management roles and step up to other potentials – cross-sector convenings, longer-term leadership development approaches, higher-stake advocacy work. 


Forum continues tomorrow……………….

Don't Quit
Barry






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