Monday, February 16, 2015

Interview with Jonathan Katz - Part II

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………."

Here is the conclusion of the interview with Jonathan Katz:

Barry:  Some people think SAA’s should move away from grant making and focus more on providing other kinds of services and initiatives to their constituents.  Where do you come out on that debate and why?  Is there a balance that would be better than the current situation?

Jonathan:  This question always troubles me because it seems to be based on presumptions that strike me as wrong.  One is that “grant making” is a uniform term and not a basket term for many different purposes and methods of distributing money, so one can reasonably be for or against it.  Another is that this decision can reasonably be made in general terms, in the abstract, as if environmental factors – such as the density of arts organizations or patterns of arts participation or population demographics – that make one state different from another aren’t germane.  Grant making is a tool. It’s a means to an end. The question isn’t are you for it or against it; the question is whether there’s a variation of it you should use to affect the indicators you have identified, to achieve the goal, the outcome, you desire.

My general observation is that the most useful discussion of grant making takes place when the achievement of various goals is what drives discussion of what kind of grant making can (a) be most effective and (b) build sustaining public value.  Grants can be given to encourage or enable grantees to achieve outcomes that are the priorities of the grantor.  Grants can be given to support the goals of grantees.  General operating can be given and the grantees can be offered their choice of documenting whether it results in broadening their reach, improving their quality or strengthening their financial situation. Grants can be given to encourage activities done using a particular method, such as collective impact, or through a particular process, such as strategic planning. Sometimes you talk to someone who has been described as not giving grants and what they are doing is distributing funds through requests for proposals or within a relationship that, because it involves their recipients following through with some thank-you’s to authorizers and documentation, is called a partnership agreement. To me, these are all kinds of grant making.

Grants can be given to test a strategy as an experiment to see what happens, or to test a promising model of funding as a pilot, or to take a successfully tested program model to scale, or to document a program, or to evaluate a program, or to encourage a practice such as collecting certain kinds of information or using certain promotional methods. Grant making can take the form of formula funding, operational support, project support; can require no match, 1:1 matching or leveraged matching such as 3:1. NEA grant funding to states and regions is a mix of formula and categorical funding, Most public agencies, like state arts agencies, employ a mix of grant making strategies.

There are states where the size, number, distribution and influence of arts organizations makes an emphasis on general operating support and/or formula funding practical. In other states, where crafts, traditional, folk, ethnic and tribal artists are numerous and influential, RFPs, individual grants, and project support might be more practical. In some states, where state government is focused on economic development and job creation, grants that respond to what looks like a business plan and look themselves like investments and venture capital projects and job training might make the most sense.  My experience is that the broad question about grant making is more seriously and frequently a topic raised in the West than elsewhere.  During the 1990’s, state arts agency budgets doubled in the aggregate but not in that region, so it’s quite possible that that results in some difference in perception about how SAAs can distribute money and provide services to build public value.

Barry:   If the search committee for your successor is looking for a candidate who can “develop and diversify the financial resources necessary for NASAA to ensure future stability and sustainability”, and “Lead fund development efforts that secure dues revenue, garner government support, attract corporate and philanthropic contributions and generate earned income” - how do you think NASAA can succeed in each of those areas?  Do you think NASAA should partner more with foundation or other funders in launching new initiatives that benefit the states as a way to diversify its own funding, and do you have any specific ideas to suggest?  Is NASAA too dependent on member dues?  Is it too dependent on its share of NEA funds?  How might NASAA monetize more of what it does, and thus increase its earned income?

Jonathan:  NASAA represents the best vehicle for ensuring that a $300 - $400 million revenue stream from state and jurisdictional governments for arts participation continues.  SAAs use substantial portions of their grant funds to support local arts agencies, arts education leadership, and general operating funds to arts groups. Their partnership building for the arts, convening role, support of statewide arts service groups, public information, promotion of the public benefits of the arts, research, celebration of artistic achievements, and strategic planning function are vital activities that provide benefits throughout a state.  Foundations and other funders would be wise to invest in NASAA’s capacity to strengthen SAAs. They would be wise to consider how NASAA and the SAAs can be useful as allies in achieving their top priority program goals.  NASAA is in the process of reviewing all revenue sources with an eye towards diversification and, as you note, this will be a priority for the next CEO. I view knowledge and learning services, and leadership development, as areas of staff strength where more revenue can be realized, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see enterprise collaborations with regional arts organizations, other national organizations, or institutions of higher education.

Barry:  AFTA and NASAA together have focused their advocacy efforts at the Federal and State levels.  But where is the direct attempt to organize advocacy from the city (local) level upward?  Would that be a worthy goal for NASAA?  Why, or why not?  What is, and what ought to be, the relationship between SAAs and the major city arts agencies in each state and why?

Jonathan:  These relationships are very different from state to state. In a number of states, the major city agencies – especially those that operate united arts funds – have significantly larger budgets and staffs than the state arts agency.  In any case, the state and city arts agencies share local constituents and can only gain from regular conversation between their leaders about what they see as key issues, trends, goals and programs.   That naturally leads to exploring whether there are ways to complement each other’s work or collaborate.

Barry:  What are the negatives and what are the positives in the relationship between SAA and staffs and their governing Councils, and how might that relationship be changed for the benefit of the state agencies?

Jonathan:  This is difficult to generalize about because in one state the ED might be a governor’s appointee and the Council’s role entirely advisory while in another state the chair of the Council might have the key political relationship, the Council operate like a board and have hiring and firing authority over the ED. In any case, much about the health of the relationship between the SAA staff and the Council members hinges on the partnership between the executive director and the chair of the Council. The ideal situation is where the chair and ED agree on priorities, communicate regularly, and take responsibility, respectively, for aligning the work of Council members with the work of staff members. One key element is the degree of input either the chair or the ED can have with the authority responsible for appointing Council members. This varies from state to state and administration to administration.  When agency leadership can make recommendations that are seriously considered, it can make an enormous difference in the quality of contribution the Council can make to the agency’s decision making, resource development and representation.

Barry:  What can be done to more fully integrate the planning and programming by and between NASAA and the Regional Arts Organizations?

Jonathan:  The RAOs interested in national advocacy do work collaboratively with NASAA. RAOs also work on information collection collaboratively with NASAA in various ways. A couple of times, when I felt the need to meet with all SAA leadership in person, the RAO ED’s were enormously helpful in providing opportunities in and around their own meetings for that to happen.  From time to time, when they meet as a group in Washington, they have invited me to join them. For many years, a seat on NASAA’s board has been reserved for RAO representation in order to ensure regular communication.  NASAA board members are encouraged to report on NASAA activities at their regional meetings. If a payoff for the investment of more time and attention to collaboration were readily apparent, it would have happened. Obviously, we all value our autonomy and the RAOs have developed a variety of national programs without needing assistance from NASAA. The structure remains one of great potential for various kinds of collaboration. NASAA’s development of earned revenue strategies or program ideas that a new CEO might pursue could catalyze that collaboration.

Barry:  What is your stand on the equity in funding debate?  Some argue that an unfair disproportionate amount of available funding continues to go to large, urban based Eurocentric legacy arts organizations.  Should more state money go to multicultural and smaller arts organizations in a manner more reflective of current demographic trends?  What is the role, if any, of the SAAs in changing the funding allocation paradigm?

Jonathan:  There are many kinds of equity that merit policy analysis.  Race, age, gender, geography, income, education, and language are all factors to be considered. As part of their public planning processes all SAAs identify underserved constituencies and the actions they are taking to address concerns. Grant making is one measure of attention to equity, but, for SAAs, the make-up of councils, staffs and panels; provision of staff services; the availability of leadership and professional development opportunities; encouragement of networking; and inclusion in promotional and information systems are also important. From the data SAAs collect it’s not easy to gauge all dimensions of equity in grant making, but one can observe the success of the job SAA community development staff have done over decades of traveling their states in the percentage and number of SAA grants to rural America. The role SAAs play in mapping the availability of arts education, the quality of arts education, and grade-level arts learning proficiency is important in bringing visibility to widespread inequities and making the case for resources to correct them.  Another model of what SAAs can do is Poetry Out Loud, whose 365,000 annual participants represent broad racial and ethnic diversity, most obviously among the state champions.

Barry:  There may be some agreement on how the arts should move forward in any number of areas, but why are there not more codified (and official), consensus national policies that would guide our collective action on such things as arts education, research, funding allocation, and more?  What is necessary for the field to develop and establish national policies in these and other areas?

Jonathan:  This is a very complex question. One book I’m writing is focused on the observation that American public policy – in general – tends to emphasize the protection of individual, local and private sector prerogatives. So we have the most decentralized education system, some of the lowest tax rates, some of the free-est speech in the developed world, as well as a strong resistance to explicit federal educational and cultural policies. Hence the absence of official national curricula and need for the state-based Common Core, our extraordinary reliance on individual (tax-deductible) giving to provide social, health and cultural services, etc.  We provide for arts education policy interpretation and a clearinghouse for research in that area through the Arts Education Partnership, driven by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education.  The Cultural Advocacy Group of national arts service organizations who employ lobbyists does guide collective action, collaborates on writing the policy briefs for Advocacy Day, and there is a sub-group that organizes collective action on education issues.  A sense of national identity - and threat to it from globalization - and the need to protect our language, music and film industries is not what drives centralized cultural policy in the U.S. as they do in other countries. If it did, we’d have a ministry or cultural policies driven by a coalition of federal agencies or federal legislation designed by the Congressional arts caucuses. We assume our dominance and identify with our popular culture, which does dominate the world market place. So the most general answer here is that national consensus is not likely to be articulated by an “official” source, but developed in all these areas through the facilitation, coalition-building, will-building, collective impact, these are variations on the theme, of a group of leaders who share the vision of a common outcome, and whose networks, together, can influence what will be national policy, whether adopted officially or not.  Lack of consensus, as well as absence of infrastructure, we should note, is also, de facto, a policy.  For the reasons I’ve noted, de facto policy is not uncommon for cultural issues in the United States.

Barry:  There is a lot of emphasis today on innovation in the strategies and actions arts organizations adopt to stay healthy.  SAAs operate in the climate of state government which, as a bureaucracy and in its obligation to the public, arguably limits to a degree innovation, flexibility, and creative risk taking.  How do the SAAs address that challenge?

Jonathan:  It might also be said that the bureaucratic requirement of a public planning process, the prospect of a peer application review upon which the federal partnership agreement is contingent, the need to align with changing state government priorities, and the reality that its programs must please constituents in order to motivate advocacy for its resources combine to ensure that SAAs must continually demonstrate a degree of innovation, flexibility and creative risk taking.  Constant consultation with artists and arts organizations as well as other agencies of state government, leaders in other fields, and other state arts agencies is key to effectively adapting to a changing environment. So is monitoring trends in arts participation, other leisure time use, education, the economy, politics, technology and equity. Networking, perspective and information make effective leadership possible.  In my response to another question, I mentioned that SAA innovation in programs, partnerships and operations is documented regularly in the “State to State” column in NASAA’s monthly online newsletter. SAA adaptive ingenuity can be gauged by viewing the last 75 columns that feature three innovations a month over the past six years, more than 200 examples selected from among many more. I’d also observe that in the climate SAA leaders have had to work in during the last decade of multiple recessions innovation, flexibility and creative risk taking combined would not have been sufficient for individuals to resist burn-out and for agencies to survive. Passionate commitment to both the value of the arts and to public service, energy and resilience were also necessary.

Barry:  Some argue that arts leaders across the spectrum are now faced with an ‘information overload’ that is negatively affecting their productivity, ability to focus on the big challenges and even in job satisfaction.  What can be done to manage this overload of information?

Jonathan:  Everyone is faced with information overload. Managing it starts with individual discipline because there is so much distracting data constantly being delivered, so many emails and texts, and social media updates.  I have a couple of screening methods I’m trying to make into habits. One is to sort stuff as it appears into data (isolated), information (facts related to issues and decisions), knowledge (what has been learned from various uses of information) and wisdom (what guidance knowledge suggests for the future) – and spend as much time on the wisdom end of that continuum as possible. Another screen is “Can I use this to teach others something?” If the answer is yes, it crowds out other stuff.  The information function of a service organization like NASAA used to be the gathering and sorting of comprehensive and encyclopedic collections of information.  But as the digital revolution progresses, it is more and more the distillation of data and customization of its delivery, so a user is enabled to select the examples or lessons that are precisely pertinent to an issue or decision. What this means is that your decisions on what websites to check regularly and what associations to join will be big factors in the efficiency of your information management.

Barry:  You have long championed the ability of the arts to tell effective stories about their contributions to our civic life as a way to effectively make our case to decision makers.  But that approach has had great success sometimes, and very little success in other situations. What other approaches might complement our storytelling as a means to succeed in our goals?

Jonathan:  Storytelling is most likely to be transformational -- to affect perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and actions -- when it takes place within a relationship of openness and trust. So a storyteller, let’s say an arts advocate, needs to build that relationship before expecting the information delivered or action requested to get the desired response.  There are also times and occasions when listeners are more prone to empathize with a story.  One might observe that right around budget time, when decision makers are under pressure and receiving requests in volume, is a time for a reminder of a story delivered earlier under more comfortable conditions. There is also a complementary relationship between stories and evidence. Both are necessary to initiate the affective response that triggers change or action and to reinforce the conviction to continue along that path. The selection of storyteller is also key. More attention can be expected for a story coming from a teller relevant to the listener’s power and influence, self-esteem, or affection. A powerful persuasive formula is what I call “the advocacy trifecta” -- shared sensory experience combined with story to interpret the experience and evidence to reinforce a rational commitment. So, for example, the legislator observes a dynamic arts education class, hears how someone’s nephew on the way to dropping out was turned around by his music class, and is presented with the hard data about how arts education is linked to test performance, college enrollment and job preparation.

Barry:  What are your future plans?

Jonathan:  Thanks for asking. I didn't decide to retire from NASAA and then plan an agenda. I developed an agenda that necessitated a big change in how I use my time. So my own reinvention will be through writing and consulting. In the past couple of months I’ve completed a book of poems and sent the manuscript to a few publishers. Now my most immediate subjects for publication and presentation are Explaining America: Values and Consequences, Gain Theory: Why Movements Win and Lose, Problem-Solving in Professional and Personal Life, and The Seven Calculations of Winning Poker Players. I have hopes the new dimensions of my writing will lead to new dimensions of speaking and consulting. I would love to continue, on a selective basis, keynote speaking and consulting on cultural trends and policies, strategic planning, and leadership development. Along those lines, I will be doing some work for Americans for the Arts, for the Sarasota County Arts Council, and on a coalition interested in connecting arts, science and humanities education. Right now, I'm testing for professional e-mails the address

Thank you Jonathan.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

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