"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
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?
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?
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.
- 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