"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 #6
What is the ideal relationship for NASAA and its logical clients, stakeholders, potential partners and collaborators - including state and local arts advocate groups, local city and county agencies, the Regional Arts Organizations, arts educator and arts education groups, private sector groups, the philanthropic community and various arts discipline service providers and the NEA - and how far is that ideal from the reality? What needs to be done to make all of those relationships (and potential relationships with asymmetrical organizational partners) work for NASAA and each of those communities?
There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to reimagining the future of NASAA. For me, that elephant is NASAA’s relationship with Americans for the Arts.
When I started at Arts Alliance Illinois in 2007, there were whispers at the time that AFTA would absorb NASAA soon after the retirement of Jonathan Katz. You could chalk those rumors up to gossip-mongers and conspiracy theorists that had nothing better to do with their time. Or, you could look at the 2005 merger of operations between AFTA and the Arts & Business Council and say to yourself – “why not NASAA?”
The arts sector is incredibly fortunate to have two very powerful, well established national organizations that occupy a similar space. NASAA is the membership organization that unites, represents and serves America’s state arts agencies. They focus on advocacy, research and building community among SAA staff and council members. AFTA is the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. They focus on advocacy, research, professional development and network building.
Luckily, AFTA and NASAA have established a strong partnership and work arm-in-arm to advance the presence and importance of the arts in America. NASAA is a healthy association and a trusted champion and advocate for SAAs. It has a top-notch staff team, a strong governance structure; and its members are innovative, nimble and strategic leaders.
But in this era of limited resources and constant change, there remains a steady drumbeat to eliminate duplication of services and embrace innovation. Regardless of whether there was ever any truth to those rumors or not, NASAA should strive to create brand distinction and drive brand loyalty.
I think developing a new, unique, and compelling value proposition for NASAA is an important step to becoming a more powerful organization in the future. In doing so, NASAA will help the broader arts community better understand and appreciate the essential role it plays for state arts agencies and the communities and citizens they serve.
Several years ago I was working on a major fundraising campaign for the Arts in Charlotte. The campaign had reached a point where the campaign leadership had run out of ideas on how to close a $20 million gap.
While having dinner with Hugh McColl, former CEO of Bank of America and significant Arts supporter, he was recounting the key to his success in building a sleepy little bank in North Carolina into one of world’s largest and most profitable banks. Mr. McColl said that the key to his success was that he focused almost all of this time on understanding what motivates people, which often times is our heart, not our minds.
To make his point, he told me stories about the process of acquiring or merging banks and how most of his competitors focused on the numbers (hiring thousands of consultants to crunch the numbers to justify the purchase price). His competitors would often be shocked and confounded to learn that Mr. McColl had closed the deal before they even realized he was bidding on it.
Mr. McColl said while his competitors were focusing on the numbers, he was focusing on what were the leaders of the bank’s desires, fears and expectations. For some people it was all about their family’s name remaining the on the Bank after the merger, or that they got to sit on the Board of the new Bank, or that they wanted their employees to be protected from layoffs. Having that knowledge gave him the required insight to make the deal happen before his completion could even pose counter offers.
The light bulb went off for me. I left that meeting and began to immediately focus on the relationships that would make the final $20 million ‘deal’ happen for the Arts campaign. Focusing on the desires and needs of the key players allowed us to secure several gifts that ultimately closed the gap—all of which came from a understanding the key donor’s desires.
So what does this story have to do with the role of NASSA in the greater landscape of the arts sector?
It’s all about the need for our industry to have more “deal-makers” that can put together unique partnerships and launch new ideas that can transform our industry. NASSA needs to be one of these deal-makers—finding the right partners (private sector, government, SAAs, LAA, etc…), understanding the shared goals and values of the partners, and “closing the deal” for our sector.
That deal may be a new advocacy partnership that links all of the major arts service organizations under one banner, a $1 billion national campaign for Arts education in America, or launching a new SAA model that tests ideas in States where the old model is not producing the desired outcomes. Whatever the new partnerships or ideas are, I am convinced that we need to spend more time pursuing collaboration that will transform our industry.
Maybe one of us will be having dinner with a young arts leader 10 years from now and will recount the story of a sleepy little movement call the “Arts” and how it rose to be one of the most powerful forces in making America a global innovator—NASSA should be one of the key deal-makers that makes it happen.