Sunday, October 25, 2015

Post GIA Conference Thoughts

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

Coming off last week's GIA Conference I am left with several thoughts:

1.  My respect for, and empathy with, the funding community continues to grow.  These are smart, dedicated people who care deeply about the health of the fragile arts ecosystem, and are earnestly trying to figure out ways to address the big challenges the whole field faces.  They come up with intelligent, reasoned pilot projects, strategies, and approaches they hope will yield results that can help guide us all in making the difference we want to make.  They aren't risk averse and when attempts to get a handle on a problem don't work out, when well intended approaches fail, they simply go back to brainstorming and the drawing board and reaching out to stakeholders for more input.  It's easy to armchair quarterback every decision, but not particularly helpful.  Still, being on the front lines they are subject to public scrutiny and that's as it should be.

Their efforts are constrained by two realities beyond their control:  1) there simply aren't enough funds in the collective coffers of all the funders to address all the issues for all the community; and 2) they are program directors, not Board members -- and often times their advice and counsel is trumped by Board priorities with which they may not agree, but are powerless to avoid.  That is the reality of foundation and government funding processes.

2.  While strides have been made in ratcheting up the awareness and understanding of both the need for adequate capitalization of arts organizations, and the ways to go about moving in that direction, it is, and will likely remain slow going across the board.  There are two big issues with capitalization: 1) to change organizational behavior, it's necessary to first change organizational culture, and that isn't easy in many cases; and 2) the big obstacle to achieving even half the gold standard of six months operating / reserve capital, is that it is simply a money issue.  You need more money to build the reserves, and more money is axiomatically hard to come by.  You can increase awareness and knowledge, and arm people with the tools to go forward, but you can't wave a magic wand and increase their revenue streams so they can achieve capitalization.  We will continue to make some progress, but unless and until there is significant improvement in our finances, this will be, in many cases, two steps forward, two steps back.  

3.  The big issue of equity - and the specific of fairer allocation of scarce resources - faces another kind of culture that doesn't seem to be changing much at all - and that is the long, systemically established favoritism towards a small handful of large budget cultural institutions in cities across the country.  That the lion's share of arts funding goes to this small cohort of organizations is well born out by the research, and it is structurally part of the arts funding machine.  I don't see much, if any, real movement from that inequitable reality and I don't expect it will soon change.  Before there can be any wholesale change in that allocation system, we would have to change the culture of the Boards that run these organizations and which have sworn allegiance to the way its always been as the admission ticket to a Board seat.  Funding the "haves" that have always been "haves" is not, in itself, totally wrong - as these are valuable assets to any community, and they need every funding dollar they can get.  But on an equity basis it's largely indefensible.  I just don't think the change many call for is coming soon.  And frankly token efforts will not do us much good at all.  

4.  There are a number of areas where the news is nothing but positive, and where great strides are being made with results that promise to be of enormous benefit to us all - including in the arts and aging / healing field, in the research arena, in the policy area,  in placemaking - particularly as the same relates to working with cities, governments and business, and finally (though in pockets - more all the time) in arts education.

Too often people only have complaints against funders.   I would like to thank them.  I admire their tenacity, their positive attitudes and their creativity.

And now that I have thanked them, I would like to encourage them to push the envelope more; to have a sense of urgency about changing the dynamic and move us quicker in the area of equity.

It's frustrating not to move quicker where the need is great.  There is so much that might get done if society had the right priorities and we had the necessary tools and resources.  But things are getting a little bit better all the time.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Thursday, October 22, 2015


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


Two sessions today:

I.  Cultural Policy and Local Arts Agencies: At the Nexus of Cultural, Economic and Community Development - featuring the work of the Tucson Pima Arts Council (Roberto Bedoya - Director of Civic Engagement) - shifting policy from grant making to serving the community directly; the City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs (Kerry Adams Hapner - Director of Cultural Affairs, Deputy Director of Economic Development), - moving on the challenge of cities to develop talented workforce pools; and the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture (Randy Engstrom,  Director) - emphasizing arts education as a "Creative Advantage" program.

A lively audience discussion followed the presentations centering around the role of the LAA in policy formation, noting the difference between planning and policy, and exploring ways policy might be developed via programming and internal work within city hall.  What we want, of course, are formal policies that the decision makers subscribe to that clearly set forth the value and role of arts and culture in every aspect of the lives of our citizens.  Something that transcends the frequent changes in the political landscape and is lasting.  How we get there is the question.

  • Randy suggested an out-of-the-box idea:  fund a FTE in the city planning department paid for from the arts agency's budget.  The notion of having an arts perspective embedded full time in the city's overall planning mechanism that comes from our side of the fence, moves way beyond having the arts merely seated at a decision making table.  This is perhaps a bold kind of move for our future.
  • Laura Zucker suggested that what we need is to work for policies valuing the arts not from an exclusively top down, nor bottom up, effort in city government - but from both - and which will survive the politics of city hall, so that we don't have to continually fight the same fights over and over again when regimes change and new politicians are in office.  
  • Jonathan Glus noted that the Houston Cultural Plan includes policies valuing the arts with specific guidelines for other city departments (though the guidelines aren't mandates) it does go beyond the traditional cultural plan "wish list" of inter-departmental collaboration.
There was general consensus that while a national policy valuing the arts is problematic, the next step might be a concerted effort to begin to develop local valuation policies.

Good session.

II.The major afternoon sessions were three hour offsite.   I choose to attend the Digital Media for Arts Grantmakers focusing on the need for grantmakers to learn to deploy digital media to reach and engage audiences and to become fluent in digital capabilities and tools.  

  • Have an articulated game plan, informed by the organization's overall vision strategy.
  • Build capabilities, don't just do projects.  Technology is not a project but a process
  • Shake up the organization chart with an integration of digital competency positions, including training
  • Put audiences first and be prepared for constant change.
This is, of course, a big, complex area where many arts leaders feel lost and / or incompetent and there are numerous obstacles to embracing full digital knowledge.  But as the generational shifts become more urgent, so too is the necessity of overcoming reticence and fears to understand the basics of IT and appreciate the rapidity of change as a constant.  I think the message is to be bold and take risks in digital technology as it relates to our publics - and to do that you have to at least have a working knowledge of the possibilities.  It is incumbent on us all to seek out that training and knowledge understanding.  There are resources out there.

The day ended with a visit to the newly opened BROAD Museum, which is housed in a stunning new building situated across from LA's iconic Disney Hall, and the modern museum, MOCA, along the Grand Avenue corridor -- which must rival, or exceed, any cultural district in the country.  

The BROAD collection is eclectic and varied and the experience is a joy.  I loved it.  There are the expected name collections:  the Warhols, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelleys, Ruschas, Lichtensteins, Koons and Basquiets and more (and while not always the premier pieces in each collection, all are extraordinary).  And there are many more less known including media installations that are provocative and stunning.  As a lay person, I was thrilled.

Have a good day

Don't Quit

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


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


The first day of any of our art conferences seem to always be the longest.

Janet Brown opened the conference with the reminder that the three operating principles of GIA continue to be:  Inclusiveness, Collaboration, and Curiosity.

I.  Recent GIA Conferences have featured Idea Lab - short Ted like presentations by a trio of different working artists.  The first three were all excellent.  The one that caught my attention was Yuval Sharon, founder and artistic director of The Industry, an L.A. based experimental opera company that produces performances that can only be categorized as way outside the box.

He touted three:

  • A warehouse based production where the audience was invited to walk all around the actual production and view it from anywhere they choose - in front as an audience, backstage, from the wings.
  • An production of a full opera at L.A's downtown Union Station - a working railroad station with arrivals and departures and teeming with travelers.  
  • And most ambitious of all - an opera performed in 24 moving vehicles on L.A.'s freeway system called "Hopscotch".  Really, the opera is performed in chapters and people get in these cars / vans for ten minutes at a time.  And then can opt for another chapter.  Each moving vehicle travels to different parts of the city.  Moreover, the "chapters" are live streamed.  LA. has long had a car culture, and this project fits perfectly into the identity of the city. 

This is clearly not your father's opera company.  

II.  Capitalization sessions:
I wanted to focus the day on the sessions dealing with capitalization of arts organizations, so I went to two.  The first one (entitled Along the Capitalization Spectrum) was advertised as:  "an examination of the spectrum of capitalization activities that can be undertaken in order to more fully and equitably support organizational financial health - lessons learned from recent years of capitalization-focused grant making and new directions based on that learning" - featuring presentations from Kresge and Mellon foundations.

The two Mellon programs caught my attention:
1.  The Zero Loan Fund is a program is designed for organizations principally with temporary cash flow issues, delays in receivables etc. and the program is a form of bridge support, and isn't really aimed at organizations with high risk financial problems.  Loans are to be paid back in one year, and they have had a 96% pay back rate.  They have plans for expansion of the program with larger loans available, and consideration of higher risk organizations as grantees (though they haven't yet determined the exact criteria for the degree of risk.)

2.  The more ambitious program is a pilot initiative that deals with the comprehensive financial health of 70 grantees and is still in the operational stage only halfway through its process, and thus there are yet any firm conclusions about either the approach or efficacy.  They've done extensive diagnostics, and the educational component workshops are still in progress.

These two projects, plus the Kresge work with placemaking as incorporating support for capitalization, point out how slow the whole process of moving deliberately forward with programs that can both succeed in helping organizations become adequately capitalized for financial health, and which might also be replicated - in whole or in part for the benefit of the field.  

What I came away with, was that the realization that there are multiple layers of issues involved in even the attempt to craft programs that might help arts organizations achieve real capitalization, and change structural organizational forms so as to facilitate that achievement - including everything from organizational transparency and truth telling to both funders and to the organization itself, to the possible stigma of asking for even a bridge loan, to the timeline it takes to develop approaches in this area.  

The reality that some organizations living hand to mouth and literally on the precipice of survival might be of great value to the communities in which they operate further complicates the decision process of where to put dollars to help address the challenge of widespread inadequate capitalization among arts organizations.  Even the contingent in the field that supports the notion that some organizations are so far gone as to not be savable, and that some organizations should, frankly, be left to expire without prolonged and likely futile attempts to change their circumstances faces the challenge of which ones fall into that classification.

III.  The next session was entitled Building Cash Reserves in Arts Organizations -- featuring a California Community Foundation 18 month pilot project which sought to help arts organizations build cash reserves (as opposed to basic operating reserves designed to cover base expenses), and involving five small to mid-sized Los Angeles based arts organizations.   

Alas this project pointed up that even in this area of capitalization, there are so many variables and likely unanticipated complications that can undermine the effort that it impossible to consider each individual situation as anything other that completely unique and a standalone situation.  Lessons learned included:

  • An 18 month timeline is too short.  A three year timeline is suggested as it takes longer to cultivate existing or new donors (who would give to a reserve fund) and to build the culture of capitalization (and fundraising) within the organization.
  • There needs to be a consistency of leadership participation by the grantee and the Board president should be involved from the outset.
  • Consider the challenges of whole organizational change and be prepared for different outcomes across the spectrum.
  • Assure understanding of all roles and responsibilities of the various participating resources and consultants for the benefit of the cohort and the building cash reserves team.

When I asked about the reality that some arts organization's situations might suggest that scarce resources ought to be deployed where they might have a chance of succeeding, there was the suggestion that the value to a community might trump that consideration.  In subsequent conversations with other attendees, there seems an equally vocal group that rejects the idea that we can save everyone or that - with finite resources -  it is smart to try.  I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle - we need to both consider all kinds of criteria in determining where to invest scarce resources while at the same time accept the realities that things can and do go wrong, and that we cannot always control when that happens nor fix it after the fact.  Every decision funders make, results in a choice to invest here instead of investing somewhere else.  That reality will not change.

The challenges of trying to promote adequate capitalization for arts organizations is daunting and mired with the fact that each organizational situational circumstances are unique, and that each organization's level of financial sophistication varies widely.

IV. The day's last session for me was entitled People of Color and Arts Giving - a 360 Degree View. While "people of color maintain a deep interest in the arts, lead active cultural lives, and want to participate - particularly in art-making and art-learning" there is evidence that they don't yet give in support of arts organizations nearly to the level of their White counterparts.

39% of California's population is Latino/a, but they account for only 6% of arts giving .

The why is varied:

  • They do give philanthropically, but to other areas such as churches.
  • There are fewer high income members in the cohort.  
  • The culture of giving to nonprofits is still developing.
  • They have other investment priorities.
The question is how can arts funders promote the message that the arts strengthen communities of color and the answer to that questions will be tempered by:  1) a likely long (generational) timeline; 2) increased involvement of the community in perceived valuable arts activity; 3) arts education.  No answers - just challenges as this stage.

But this is an important challenge for funders.  As communities of color gain local political clout - and exercise that clout in the voting booth - more local government funding can go to arts organizations serving those communities.  That may help.

Have a good day.

More to follow.

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Grantmakers in the Arts Annual Conference Opening

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

Once again I am covering the GIA Annual convening of the nation's arts funding community as they gather in Los Angeles.  Completely SOLD OUT, this conference is apparently the largest conference in the umbrella organization's history.  Congratulations!

There is a long list of issues that challenge those funding the arts.  Two years ago I listed a Top Twenty of those issues, and having reread that post, I think all those issues are still on the table for public and private funders alike.

Today, there are two overarching areas that I believe are at the top of the collective agenda of arts funders - and that really dominate the national funder stage; two encompassing challenges that are inter-related.

1.  Survivability / Sustainability:  The issue here is what can funders do to help keep arts organizations not only alive and functioning, but move them to some point of sustainability over a longer period of time.  The GIA's own vaulted program of Capitalization (working towards helping arts organizations to achieve enough capital reserves to facilitate and make possible longer term viability and financial health) seeks to address this challenge.  As an issue it's not nearly as exciting as the role of arts in social justice, nor as poignant for the future as arts and aging, and arts in healing, nor as full of promising potential as placemaking and community engagement.  But it is the most critical issue we face.  Survival, and maybe even sustainability.  It's about money.

The guts issue is where to put limited arts funder money where it will do the most good (there isn't enough funding available to solve the problem, so the question is how to maximize the positive impact of the funds that are available).  The challenge to funders is how to move financially fragile arts organizations (and a wider fragile ecosystem) to one on more solid ground.  The subtext is who will survive under the approach and who will not, because there isn't enough money to save every organization, and because funders have different approaches and strategies.

Consider that since the early part of this century (say ten years ago -  back to 2005) -- because of the boom crash, the reprioritization of funding due to the terrorism concern, and the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting budget cuts due to decreased revenue -- the arts have lost somewhere over a billion dollars in funding.  While not an exact figure, it is likely in the range of the loss.  That's including the cuts to public funding (factoring in static federal funding, overall state decreases and cuts in some city and county programs, and increases in others), the cuts from private philanthropic foundations due to diminution in foundation stock portfolios and redirection of funds from the arts to other programs, and finally, decreases in overall individual donor giving due, in part, to increased competition from other worthy causes. And it's assuming the economy had remained stable, and that arts funding would have continued at the level it had been for both public funding and private philanthropic giving and funding. A lot of assumptions, I know - some even questionable - but the point is that the arts took a big hit in funding over the decade, and more critical, took a bigger hit in what it ought to have had.  And that loss has had profound impact on everything we do or wanted to do.

In California alone, for those ten years the CAC budget went from $32 million to $1 million.  A $31 million per year loss x 10 years is a $300 million shortfall in state funding alone - in one state.  While some California cities and counties may have picked up the slack early on, others were not in the same financial shape.  Foundations stock portfolios suffered hits as well and major foundation budgets for arts funding decreased; perhaps in the aggregate $25 to $75 million over the period. And losses in donor support might have arguably reached another $25 to $50 million.  That's $400+ million in California alone.

So, let's say the difference in what we might have had and what we had (across the country) is in the neighborhood of one billion dollars over ten years.  That's a lot of money.  And that money would have made the difference in sustainability on so many levels.

And that lack of money is the fundamental issue we still face today.

Imagine what we could have done in terms of sustaining our field, and addressing inequities with that billion dollars, and think about what we have lost.  While the economy is improving, and so are our fortunes, moving forward to try to capitalize our organizations and insure the survivability of as many of them as possible and the ecosystem as a whole is currently a daunting challenge and we simply do not yet have the wherewithal to make it right again.

So what do funders do?  Where ought their priorities lie?

There is no one simple answer to that question.  There are all different kinds of funders in our field, with a full range of priorities and constraints and different circumstances.  Yet year by year funders are agreeing on some points and some approaches.  I think that is encouraging.  For example, for a long time arts funders focused on "projects" but did not include nor factor in the overhead costs of those projects.  Now, increasingly, funders have embraced the notion that unrestricted operating costs are not only a valid funding approach, but that the strategy ought to be the defacto norm.  Some may argue that it took too long to get to that realization, and that may well be true, but we're essentially there now.

2.  Equity / Racism:  The second big issue is equity in funding and resource allocation in the face of demographic shifts and growth in the arts field including communities of color, and the legacy of funding large (or larger) white Euro-Centric cultural organizations, arguably now at the expense of all the rest of the arts community.    Racism - or more specifically, the specter of structural racism and bias in favor of those that have for so long gotten the lion's share of the pie, (and not prejudice per se) is the challenge.  While there has been a measurable increase in programs trying to at least begin to address the disparity and inequality of funding and resource allocation, studies continue to confirm that the most money goes to the same small slice of established organizations that it has gone to for a long time.  This is not an easy issue to deal with, and a lot of funders are struggling to protect and sustain what has been of value, and to simultaneously nurture and support that which has value but has for far too long been neglected and gotten the short end of the stick.

Funders are trying all kinds of approaches, and it's too early yet to pass judgment on what might work and what won't.  But time is part of the problem, for delay in equity is denial of equity and the field must make some giant leaps to address the inequity issue.  That extra billion dollars might have made this issue at least party academic.

It will be interesting - to me - to try to get a handle on where the funding people's thinking is at this juncture on the financial picture and the equity equation.  Most of the other issues we face are arguably offshoots of these two elephants in the room.

Every funder has different priorities and ranks differently the challenges out there.  There are geographic territories where the equity issue isn't as front burner as it is elsewhere; there are communities where survivability is still manageable, relatively speaking, and communities where the available resources are increasingly obviously inadequate to do much of anything about those organizations that are living still on borrowed time.   No one segment of any field agrees on everything, including the nonprofit arts sector.  But over the last five years, there has been remarkable consensus on what is critical, and even on some of the nuts and bolts of how to approach these issues.

More over the next three days.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Unrelenting Audacity of Gender Bias and the Marginalization of the Arts

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

Reminder:  The Communications Survey - which seeks to compile preliminary data on the nonprofit arts field's communications habits, preferences, perceptions and behaviors will close this Friday, October 16th.    If you haven't yet taken the survey, please consider doing so today.  It's important that all sectors of our field are part of the sampling pool - including small organizations, multicultural organizations and leaders, all the disciplines - operas, orchestras, museums, theaters, dance companies, film groups, presenters, government agencies etc.  I very much appreciate your help in this effort.    

The survey is all check off questions with no narrative answers asked for.  It should take you about 15 minutes to complete, and you can enter your name in a random drawing for an Apple Watch, and/or a $500 cash payment to your organization.    
Click here to take the survey      

See this blog post describing the whole communications survey project.  Thank you.

And don't forget that the Arlene Goldbard originated project The United States Department of Arts and Culture's "Dare to Imagine" campaign has begun.  

After weeks of planning, Emissaries from the Future will start hosting Imagination Stations across the country as part of the USDAC’s latest National Action — #DareToImagine. Thank you for helping make this action a reality. 
Check out the newly launched site:
Whether or not your organization is hosting an Imagination Station this week, you’re invited to take part in this act of collective imagination by sharing your vision of a more just and vibrant world. 
Simply post on social media using the hashtag #DareToImagine and your post will automatically be pulled into a vibrant mosaic of images and texts from across the country. (Don’t worry, only your posts tagged #DareToImagine will be pulled in; the rest remain private.) We'll be adding new visions, partners, and dispatches throughout the week, so return often to watch the action unfold! We also ask that you share the invitation to your community. 
Democracy depends on a healthy civic imagination. Add yours.

The Unrelenting Audacity of Gender Bias:

Who is more creative - men or women?

Huh?  What idiocy lies behind such an inane rhetorical question that can't possibly be taken seriously?

Yet, research apparently shows that the widespread held perception is that men are more creative.  In an article in Pacific Standard by Tom Jacobs, the author notes that:

"The propensity to think creatively tends to be associated with independence and self-direction—qualities generally ascribed to men," Duke University researchers led by Devon Proudfoot argue in the journal Psychological Science. As a result, they write, "men are often perceived to be more creative than women."

In that Psychological Science article, the authors point to several studies which confirm this bias:

"In two experiments, we found that “outside the box” creativity is more strongly associated with stereotypically masculine characteristics (e.g., daring and self-reliance) than with stereotypically feminine characteristics (e.g., cooperativeness and supportiveness; Study 1) and that a man is ascribed more creativity than a woman when they produce identical output (Study 2). Analyzing archival data, we found that men’s ideas are evaluated as more ingenious than women’s ideas (Study 3) and that female executives are stereotyped as less innovative than their male counterparts when evaluated by their supervisors (Study 4). Finally, we observed that stereotypically masculine behavior enhances a man’s perceived creativity, whereas identical behavior does not enhance a woman’s perceived creativity (Study 5)." 

One might argue that the arts contribute to this perception as the dearth of women painters or sculptors represented in museum collections, the limited number of women conductors, or soloists, directors or in other of our discipline areas.   And while there are increasing numbers of women artists in theater, dance, film and other areas, and substantial numbers of women leaders in the arts administration field, still, we must confront the ongoing, and apparently widespread, societal perception that men are more creative.

The question is how does this perception impact us?  And what ought we be doing to counter it, and replace it with the idea that creativity knows no gender.  For a long time, the culture told little girls that certain work wasn't for them - that science and math, and medicine and even business was best left to the males who could excel in the field.  Did we somewhere along the line also send the message that men are more creative than women so little girls shouldn't get involved in that either?  OMG.

At the same time, one can make the argument that we may have sent little boys the opposite message - that the arts are fluff, and not the work for "real" men; that somehow being an artist isn't real work, and rather that it's -- horrors - effeminate.  We may have created another perception in the collective consciousness - that being an artist isn't a preferred vocation.

Doubt that this erroneous perception is perpetuated by the mainstream media?  Consider a recent ad campaign by Direct TV - featuring prominent athletes in two incarnations.  For example, the one featuring Superbowl Winner and future Hall of Fame quarterback Payton Manning:  In the television commercial there are two Payton Mannings - the normal looking one, living a good life, speaking with a normal voice, and the Direct TV subscriber. Then there is the other Peyton Manning - the one with a high voice (must not be a man I guess), who - are you ready - sings in a Barbershop Quartet.  This is the Peyton Manning you don't want to be - an artist of sorts (and a "Cable" subscriber).  That's the message.  Click on the link above and watch for yourself.  Offensive?  It was to me -- and I like football and Peyton Manning.  There are a couple of other athletes including Eli Manning - quarterback for the N.Y. Giants and Peyton's brother, as part of this ill considered campaign.

So it may be little wonder that the value of art and culture remains so marginalized in American society, as we continue to send out messages that we have little value for either of the sexes.

Two years ago, I wrote a blog suggesting the arts create an Anti-Defamation League to counter exactly these kinds of messages.  Virtually every marginalized and threatened community has done this - gays, jews, blacks etc.  And it has a positive effect. The arts need to seriously consider doing the same.  A high profile organization with tens of thousands of members (no dues, just sign up) that sends a letter to Direct TV pointing out how their ad campaign hurts the arts, and demands it be removed would have, I'll bet, an effect.  No company wants to piss off a huge bloc of the public.  And by stopping these kinds of negative images from constantly seeping into the public consciousness, we can eventually help to raise our own efforts for the value and contributions we know the arts make.  And, my guess is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of these messages in ad campaigns, television shows, movies, etc. every year. Think about it.

So I again call for the creation of an Arts Anti-Defamation League.  NEA, AFTA, NASAA, GIA - somebody please - you ought to get on this.  If you don't protect us, who will?

And I will debate anybody, any time, who doesn't think that all these messages add up over time and keep the arts marginalized and are, in part, at the root of our problems in increasing the public value for us.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Interview with Kerry Adams Hapner

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

NOTE:  The response to the Communications Survey invitation has been tremendous, and I want to thank all of those national service organizations, fellow bloggers and others who helped spread the word and promoted the invitation to take the survey.  And, of course, to each of you who have already taken the time to complete it.  I am confident we will end up with a credible, representative sampling pool and that the data will help inform the field about our communications habits, preferences, perceptions and behaviors. That information can begin a dialogue in the field about how we manage communications.  It's important that all sectors of our field are part of the sampling pool - including small organizations, multicultural organizations and leaders, all the disciplines - operas, orchestras, museums, theaters, dance companies, film groups, presenters, government agencies etc,  So -- If you haven't yet taken the survey, please consider doing so today.  Click here:      See last week's blog post describing the whole communications survey project.

Thank you again.

Kerry Adams Hapner Bio:  
Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Jose.  Adams Hapner oversees services and programs in the areas of public art and creative placemaking, special events, cultural funding, cultural facilities, creative entrepreneurship and the creative economy.

She has led the development of significant cultural policy and programs including: Cultural Connection: San Jose’s Cultural Plan for 2011-2020; cultural development goals for Envision San Jose 2040, the general plan update; and the Cultural Funding Portfolio: Investments in Art, Creativity, and Culture.

She regularly writes on and speaks at national conferences on a wide range of topics including creative placemaking and cultural development. In 2014, Kerry presented on San Jose’s art and technology work at the National Arts Policy Roundtable in Sundance, UT, co-convened by the Sundance Institute and Americans for the Arts.  Since 2013, she has served as the Chair of the United States Urban Arts Federation, comprised of the local art agency executive directors of the 60 largest U.S. cities. She has served on the board of Californians for the Arts and California Arts Advocates for the past eight years, and has landed on this post's Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders.


BARRY:  You serve as the Chair of the United States Urban Arts Federation (Local Arts Agency execs of the 60 largest US cities). What are the biggest challenges and trends you and your LAA colleagues are facing? What are the implications of these challenges and trends for the future of big city LAAs and the arts in those cities?

KERRY:  I have served as Chair of USUAF for the past two years. It has been an honor. It’s a peer to peer knowledge exchange in which we meet in person twice a year to discuss challenges and trends. Our work lies in this wonderful sweet spot at the nexus of cultural, community and economic development. Local Art Agencies (LAAs) straddle the spheres of public policy and practice – typically through a portfolio combining grantmaking, special events cultural facility management, art education, public art commissions, marketing, artist workforce investment and/or film. When I think about LAAs across the US, a favorite quote from NEA Director for Local Art Agencies Michael Killoren comes to mind, “Local art agencies are like snowflakes, each one is slightly different.” Each has adapted to its local environment.

The “A” in LAA, or agency, is a key word. LAAs have agency to harness the power of the arts and connect it to broader civic and urban issues.  The arts are viewed as essential community building blocks and part of solutions as we advance urban cities and urban agendas.  Placemaking is a perfect example.  Another key trend right now is cultural planning – which is on the rise. Big cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, San Jose and Houston have/are tackling ambitious cultural plans. These plans will further shape the role and value of LAAs in urban environments. The implications of these trends are that we increasingly need to take an integrated approach to issues while focusing our priorities and resources where the greatest impact will be.

BARRY:  You’ve been San Jose’s Director of Cultural Affairs for over 7 years now. What is changing / has changed in running a major city LAA and in San Jose specifically?

KERRY:  There is an increased understanding of the arts’ role in urbanism and fostering a vibrant community. Increasingly, we are seeing that LAAs are at the table discussing civic and community issues. It is all adding up to advancing the arts as an exciting and dynamic part of this city.

I came into my position in 2008, and we immediately experienced the economic crisis.  Thankfully, our budget has rebounded and our primary funding source, the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) also known as the hotel tax, is performing really well.  Progress is being made in implementing our cultural plan, Cultural Connection. San Jose’s art organizations are delivering great work to this community.  A positive change is the momentum in the art community. It is taking an increased interest in activating the public realm, whether through public art or other programming.  This is a shift from local government being the primary delivery mechanism to partners providing the service. The San Jose artist community is burgeoning, and I’m excited to see new projects, interventions, and faces.

BARRY:  Assess the state of funding for big city LAAs across the country. Are things better or worse than they were a few years ago, and why? What are the odds funding for LAAs will increase for the future. Besides government support, is there any other source?

KERRY:   Generally, LAA budgets are coming back in a very healthy way.  More and more, there are other public funding sources being eligible for arts uses or increasingly used for arts purposes in community development efforts. A good example is funding for Community Development Block Grants.  California cities did experience a set back with the loss of redevelopment agencies, which funded a lot of cultural infrastructure. Whether or not LAA funding increases really depends on the funding source, economics and political will in their communities. If the economic benefits of the arts continue to gain recognition, then there will be greater support at the local level. New philanthropic support over the past several years from organizations like ArtPlace America have helped make the case around the role of the arts in community development and serves as an incentive to leverage local funds.

BARRY:  Placemaking has become a core strategy for the arts, and LAAs are arguably at the center of those efforts - directly or indirectly. What -- in the current strategy of placemaking efforts for downtown San Jose -- is different from previous efforts? What lessons have been learned?

KERRY:   Placemaking is a long tradition in the arts and obviously that means different things in different communities. San Jose’s placemaking history tells the story of its evolution from agricultural community to suburbia to urban center of Silicon Valley. At one time, downtown San Jose had the largest redevelopment agency in the state. It financed significant infrastructure including theaters and museums. Our downtown was driven by civic, business and cultural activities. The downtown core didn’t have a significant residential population, which is changing now. Now our urban placemaking strategies also focus on the activation that happens between that infrastructure and providing spaces and events where people can gather formally or informally and engage in their city.

Place is dynamic and belongs to many people. More and more in San Jose, we are enjoying activation and art interventions by community members - whether whimsical yarn bombing or San Jose Taiko rehearsing in a plaza.  The arts are part of a range of tools to transform spaces that may be of larger revitalization efforts – alongside activities like yoga in the park - all placemaking. For an LAA, enabling placemaking and vibrancy in our city also means refining municipal codes and policies to enable activation – reducing the barriers for the arts to happen.

A key placemaking strategy in San Jose is at the intersection of art and technology, an opportunity to visually reflect the spirit of innovation and aspiration of San Jose. The San Jose International Airport, a gateway to Silicon Valley, includes a series of dynamic art installations around the theme of art and technology.  This fall, we are launching Illuminating Downtown - an initiative aimed at lighting up downtown through interactive and technology-based light installations at building tops, gateways and pedestrian pathways.

Although downtown, as a central gathering place and urban core, is a natural focus. We asked ourselves, how do we best serve our entire community? We've learned it's important to decentralize and cultivate placemaking efforts city-wide as well.  The OCA is launching a city-wide program called San Jose Creates & Connects, a multi-prong placemaking and participatory arts initiative.  It will bring together our artists and arts organizations of all cultures and disciplines to celebrate residents’ creative self-expression and artist-driven projects - as part of a community-wide effort to provide opportunities for people to create and connect with themselves and others.

BARRY:  Several years ago there sprung up a movement for more direct collaborative efforts by/and between LAAs and foundations to promote and expand community engagement efforts. Did those efforts materialize? How might LAAs and foundations scale up their collaborative efforts?

KERRY:   Community engagement is a broad term that is often proxy for the terms “participation” and “connection.” I see bright spots out there. For example, I respect and value what the Kresge Foundation is doing. Their collaboration with the Tucson Pima Arts Council in its PLACE Initiative is a national model. I appreciate the conceptual underpinnings of engagement that the Irvine Foundation is shaping.  Arts organizations are key to this equation too and how they can be sustainably supported in providing opportunities for people to meaningfully engage in the arts. Trends in consumption and digital culture/technology  are driving change in the way that people are engaging in the arts and culture. Those areas offer an important opportunity for collaboration between LAAs and foundations.

BARRY:  The issues of Equity and Racial Relations are at the top of virtually the entire field’s agendas. What is your assessment of the Equity challenge and how we can meet that challenge? San Jose is very diverse. Has that diversity made it easier or more difficult for you to address the equity and race relations issues? Why?

KERRY:   Equity and racial relations are complex, critical issues we are all facing today.   In addition to ensuring that there is access to the arts and culture by all members of our communities, there are issues of relevant programming.  A question I ask myself is, “What is the opportunity to optimize the role of the arts in fostering equity, access, and equal opportunity?”

San Jose is a large, diverse city without a majority population.  It's one-third Asian, one-third Latino and one-third Caucasian.  Each of these groups, and the sub-groups within them, has a long tradition of rich arts and culture that deserves support.  And there are communities including African Americans, Native Americans, LGBT and others that have a rich cultural history.  In San Jose, one strategy that we have used successfully in our goal towards equity has been targeted capacity building programs.  Many of the culturally-rooted arts organizations groups that were part of our multicultural arts incubation program a decade ago are thriving today with strong leadership that now serve as respected mentors for the next generation.   As stewards of public funds, access to funding opportunities is a guiding principle. Effective outreach is key priority for us and includes high-touch methods as well as advertising grant opportunities in communities where English is not the dominant language.  One thing's for sure:  having a diverse community is certainly an asset in that we have many resources to draw from -- and we have a critical mass of people that helps keep us accountable on issues that we may overlook.  Our diverse arts and cultural sector has also played a significant role in building connections within and across our many communities.

BARRY:   There have been countless high profile closures of arts organizations across the country, including the San Jose Rep. What (if anything) could have been done to prevent these organizations from getting to the point of bankruptcy? What lessons can be learned from these closures?

KERRY:   Wow, where do I begin? Let’s start with a basic premise that art organizations need to be well capitalized. Fostering a culture of philanthropy is vital.  Once an organization beings to experience financial loss, they can slip to experience death by a 1,000 cuts. Organizations try to curb costs and cut programming, marketing, and outreach. It can become a downward spiral in which they are reaching fewer and fewer people. The cost of building operations and maintenance can compound the strain for any organization without sufficient capitalization.

Adaptation, relevancy and a deep connection to audiences are also essential to sustainable operating models.  In San Jose, our demographic shifts over the past 30 years have been enormous. San Jose is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the nation due to the iconic success of Silicon Valley.

There are life cycles to arts organizations, yet their closures are a significant loss to a community and those that dedicated themselves to keeping them going. A new model does not naturally reappear and, if one does, it takes years to cultivate.  The reuse of the 540-seat Hammer Theatre where the SJ Rep performed will involve a new performing arts model in partnership with San Jose State University, which will take several years to incubate and refine.

BARRY:  San Jose is a major city, more populous than San Francisco, yet remains in the shadow of San Francisco in the greater Bay Area. How have you been able to deal with that reality?

KERRY:   Yes, with a population of a million, San Jose is the largest city in the Northern California and the 10th largest in the US. I don’t engage in the SJ/SF comparison or succumb to the “in the shadow” comparisons. Both are great cities. San Jose is the urban and cultural center of Silicon Valley with global recognition.  I embrace and love what is unique and authentic about San Jose. Our history and identity are our own.  San Jose’s culture is DIY. People are participatory, creative, global, educated and innovative. They are actively engaging in the arts in a personal way. San Jose’s arts community is multi-faceted, diverse, multicultural, and adaptive.

BARRY:   How can you positively impact whatever it is that attracts artists? How might LAAs better directly service working artists in their areas?

KERRY:   Artists are the backbones of any cultural community. While each artist community is unique, there are common ways in which they need support: economic opportunity, access to resources to advance their small businesses, housing, and the perennial need for rehearsal, production, and exhibition space. There is also the need for networking, a sense of belonging and of being valued.

Fostering an environment in which artists have opportunities is a core goal of our office. One of San Jose’s successful programs is the Creative Entrepreneur Program, developed in partnership with the Center for Cultural Innovation.  We seek to support the business side of artists’ practice through professional development, grants, and convenings. We are also aiming to move the needle on the crucial issue of affordable housing for artists.

Artists are resourceful and work across sectors – nonprofit, commercial and individual practice. Three years ago, we launched the Creative Industries Incentive Fund, which awards funds to grow or stabilize commercial arts-based businesses. 501c3s are not eligible. In the case of all of the grantees, arts are at the heart of these businesses and they are making a contribution to San Jose’s cultural life. I’m really proud of this program – its modest, but businesses and leaders (who are all artists) are growing.  We are also seeing a “stickiness” and commitment to San Jose as a result.  It is a talent retention strategy - a wonderful hybrid of cultural and economic development.

BARRY:   I recently did a blogathon on Arts and Science Intersections. Has your agency become involved in this  growing effort, and if so, how?

KERRY:   The nexus of art and environmental science is an area of interest for San Jose’s OCA. In partnership with San Jose’s Environmental Services Department, the public art program is commissioning a series of artist interventions aimed at promoting environmental stewardship. The projects seek to instill a better understanding about individual roles in influencing the environment – such as how our actions affect creeks, watersheds and the ocean. This is an area of tremendous opportunity going forward - using the arts and the vocabulary of the arts to help protect the environment.

BARRY:   San Jose was the pilot community representing the state of CA in the national - Arts Midwest created - initiative, Building Public Will for the Arts and Culture. (See  Tell me about it.

KERRY:   How do we advance the arts as an expected part of people’s lives in San Jose? To answer this, the OCA partnered with the California Arts Council and Arts Midwest to collaborate on a project called Building Public Will for the Arts and Culture.  The project aims to connect the arts to existing, closely held values - resulting new and lasting community expectations that shape the way people act, think and behave. San Jose is the pilot community representing the state of California for this growing national initiative, also including the states of Minnesota, Oregon, and Michigan.

Through qualitative and quantitative research, we learned that people care about family and relationships, health and well-being, and learning and self-improvement. Core to these values is the idea of connection through creative expression. Sharing creative experiences - and expressing our own creativity - helps us connect with others and ourselves.  By aligning the arts with what people care about, arts providers will not only reposition how they converse with others or speak about their work, but also deliver on that promise to provide opportunities for connection and creative self-expression.
A research report for Phase 1 has been completed and can be found at  The results of this pilot will inform the phase two implementation plan at the national, state and local levels.  The OCA is working with the Metropolitan Group and other funders to outline a Phase 2 implementation strategy that involves a cohort of San Jose art organizations as well as our own city-wide placemaking strategy, San Jose Create & Connects.

BARRY:   You serve on the Californians for the Arts board (the state’s advocacy organization). Congratulations to CFTA and California for finally getting increased funding for the California Arts Council. While that significant increase is being described as “permanent”, what efforts are underway to insure that it continues, and perhaps is even expanded?

KERRY:   Thanks, Barry. That was long overdue! CFTA is a 501c3 organization that has a “sister organization,” California Arts Advocates, which is a 501c4 that provides advocacy services for the state’s arts communities. Through CAA, a lobbyist is under contract.  The CFTA board works in partnership with the California Arts Council. We help generate grass roots support for the arts and state funding – and keep our eye on proposed policy that may impact the sector.

Our board is evolving and is increasingly more diverse in the areas of geography, ethnicity, and discipline. Each board member brings a strong network to the table. There is no complacency on that board. We meet regularly to discuss the legislative environment and strategy. But we can’t go it alone. We need sector support. People are encouraged to get involved.

BARRY:   My first job in the arts was as the head of the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies - funded principally by the CAC and individual member dues and support. As an umbrella service provider organization for the states 250 local arts agencies, CALAA was able to take a lead position in the successful statewide effort to increase the CAC’s budget from $12 million to $20 million under then Republican Governor Pete Wilson (which amount was subsequently increased under Democratic Governor Gray Davis to $32 million). CALAA was in the unique position to coordinate the efforts of the state’s 58 county LAAs to act as hubs in organizing that advocacy / lobbying effort. Now that the funding for the CAC has increased, do you see any need for, and possibility of, resurrecting CALAA or some form thereof to help serve the LAAs - including as organizing hubs - for the benefit of the California arts field?

KERRY:   CALAA was a great organization. It served as an important convener, service provider and voice to the LAA field in California.  Americans for the Arts plays a primary convening role of LAAs nationally and they do it well – and they provide immense resources and services. CFTA is stepping into the convening role for our state. This past year, in partnership with the CAC, CFTA organized state-wide convening in Sacramento called Confluence, which was very well attended. It included legislative visits and briefings. We have a long way to go to bring the budget back. I’d like to see us strengthen and build on these efforts. California LAAs can and should part of this work as their collective budgets and impact are far reaching; their voices are important.  Their involvement is welcomed.

BARRY:   San Jose will be a host city for Americans for the Arts' New Community Visions initiative. What is this about?

KERRY:   Yes, I’m excited that Americans for the Arts (AFTA) will hold a New Community Visions Initiative (NCVI) convening in San Jose in November. NCVI is an ambitious two-year effort to explore the future of local arts in America with cross-sector input. Incorporating feedback from 12 forums, NCVI will propose a blueprint for 21st century local arts development. The goal is that this will inform local-level capacity building, public policy and change in order to create healthier communities. A key theme is “The Arts and…”  It will be interesting to see the results of the process and the introduction of a new framework.

BARRY:   Rumor has it you’re going back to school at Stanford. What’s that about?

KERRY:  I am pursuing a Master in Liberal Arts at Stanford, an interdisciplinary course of study that involves the humanities, arts, social science and natural science - cultivating connections among different areas of human thought. I firmly believe that interdisciplinary collaborations and approaches to issues will drive the future. It is intellectually stimulating and will advance my work in the creative economy and place.

Thank you Kerry

Have a great week.

Don't Quit