Sunday, January 29, 2017

States Arts Advocacy Report - One Third of the States Have No Functioning Advocacy Organization

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

The Federal budgetary process is complex and takes time  (indeed, Congress spends up to 75% of its time on budgetary matters), the continuing resolution for government funding is good until April, and we don't yet truly know if, and to what extent, the arts and the NEA may be a target for funding cuts or even elimination.  What is clear is that the arts may be under attack and more vulnerable than in some time.

The prudent course of action is to prepare to lobby heavily for the value of the arts and the continued existence of the NEA in particular, and it is never too early to organize for that effort.  And as there will likely be a dozen or more federal issues that will impact the arts and in which we have a stake as to the outcome, organization of the advocacy infrastructure for our positions on all those issues cannot begin too soon either.

Last year I did a study / survey for WESTAF of the nation's State Arts Advocacy organizations in an attempt to identify which states had strong arts advocacy infrastructures in place, and which states were less than prepared to carry on advocacy activities from the state level.

The results were mixed and of some concern, in that a large number of states (roughly a third) either had no real functioning arts advocacy organization, or the existing organization was barely operational.  That finding is particularly distressing as the sector now gears up for actions that may come - both on the Federal and on the State levels - that will impact the sector.  While Americans for the Arts and the national service provider organizations may be able to pick up the slack in Federal matters - where state advocacy infrastructure is lacking, and state arts agencies and other groups within the states with the weakest advocacy preparedness may be able to cover for the lack of a viable advocacy presence, it would be beneficial if every state had, at least, the barest fundamentals of a working operation, if for no other reason than to address issues wholly within each state.


In preparation for its October 2016 Symposium on Arts Advocacy, WESTAF sought to survey the nation’s fifty states for an updated composite picture of arts advocacy in each state.

Using internal data, the Americans for the Arts State Arts Advocacy Network (SAAN) listing, online information, and information provided by State Arts Agency (SAA) leaders, telephone interviews were conducted directly with leadership at the state arts advocacy organizations or, where no state arts advocacy leadership could be identified or contacted, with State Arts Agency (SAA) and other leaders to identify current core information about each state advocacy group and effort.

Disclaimer: This scan sought to identify which states were organizationally active on the advocacy stage, the assets each state had to carry out its advocacy mission, which states were only minimally equipped to be effective advocates and which states currently had no real operational advocacy organization.  The study was not intended to be a ranking of state arts advocacy organizations, or any judgment of their success or failure on their state stages. Editorial commentary contained herein refers to and reflects the whole of the state arts advocacy ecosystem and not as to any single state organization.  Moreover, a number of states classified as barely operational may have efforts underway to correct those situations.  And, even in states without a formal functional arts advocacy organization, considerable advocacy may nonetheless be going on.

Here is that report:


Like every other special interest group, the nonprofit arts sector has a vested interest in having the will and capacity to advocate and lobby government officials, (elected, appointed and civil service), on various issues and policies that impact it, including funding support.

Federal:  Americans for the Arts is the primary organizer of arts advocacy at the federal level.  Their PAC - the Arts Action Fund - is the only really viable nonprofit arts PAC in the country, and their annual war chest to award to candidates at the federal level who are arts supportive is the largest and basically only financial clout the arts have.  Working with AFTA are the NASAA, the national service provider organizations representing the various segments and disciplines within the arts sector, which organizations also rally their memberships in support of federal arts issue positions, and provide them with advocacy tools, training, information and advice.

State:  The “state” of state arts advocacy organizations runs the gamut from well financed and supported, stable, successful organizations to non-existent efforts.  Some states are fully functional though they may lack one or more key assets that are thought to be essential to fully represent the arts interests in political situations.  Some states with no advocacy apparatus are in transitional periods; they may have previously had an advocacy organization, which, for a variety of reasons, may have declined to the point where it was no longer operational.  Finally, some states have virtually no advocacy presence nor activity with only limited and vague attempts to launch more active and viable organizations.

The political realities of each state are vastly different and tend to mirror the political control of the governor’s houses and the legislatures.  Yet even in states with supportive governors and legislatures, the arts do not always fare as well as they might hope, due to both economic considerations and a lack of actual competitive political clout among other variables.

One key variable in the success of state arts advocacy organizational function and preparedness seems to be leadership. Without an effective leader, paid or volunteer, for the advocacy sector, it is axiomatically more difficult to sustain an ongoing operation.  Certainly financial and other resource availability is also a major determinant of the success of state arts advocacy organizations.

City / County:  In a number of the most populated states with major metropolitan areas, there exists, in addition to the state arts advocacy group, individual cities with strong arts advocacy organizations.  These agencies prioritize local issues, but also cooperate and collaborate with the state and federal advocacy efforts.  However, most cities and counties do not have any real, full time organized advocacy mechanisms, and any advocacy or lobbying done at this level is essentially ad hoc and more often than not reactive, rather than proactive.  These organizations and their efforts were not the subject of this scan.


In addition to the base criteria (staff size and whether full or part time, paid or volunteer;  years the leader has been involved with the organization; whether or not the organization engaged a paid lobbyist, and core information, (organization contact information, organization structure, budget, revenue sources), the survey sought to inquire: a). as to the sources of funding, b). whether or not the current budget was more, less or the same as the previous three years, and c). the communications platforms used by the organization to motivate grassroots arts support.

In addition, the survey sought to identify whether or not the organization:

1.  provided advocacy training
2.  had launched major initiatives in the last two years
3.  had support (financial or otherwise) from the foundation, corporate / business, media and community interest areas
4.  the current political climate of the state (supportive or non supportive governor, and the existence of an arts / cultural caucus in the legislature)

CLASSIFICATION:  Organizations fell into two principal categories: 1) General Arts Advocacy organizations that advocated for a wide range of arts positions, including state funding support, and 2) Arts Education Advocacy organizations that focused primarily, or in some cases, exclusively on arts education issues.  Some states had both kinds of organizations, some one or the other, and some neither.

Of all the responses obtained, state arts advocacy organizations were grouped into four general categories based on specific criteria, as follows:

Note:  Organizations (below) designated with an asterisk (*) are principally Arts Education focused, but also serve, for the most part, to advocate for the arts in general, and in many cases, the SAA.  Many of these organizations serve as Americans for the Arts SAAN representative for their state.

Group I - fully functional state arts advocacy organizations meeting the following criteria:
a).  Full time paid staffing leadership.
b).  Engagement of a lobbyist or lobbying firm to represent the group’s interest with the state legislature and governor.
c).  Consistent annual budget at minimally $10,000.
d).  Formalized structure - either a 501 (c) (3) and / or a 501 (c) (4) with a governing Board of Directors

Caveat:  Arts Education Advocacy organizations are included in this grouping so long as they also engaged in advocating for other arts issues, including increased state funding to the SAA.

In addition to the above criteria, the organizations that appeared to be the most stable over time, shared a number of common characteristics, including:  1) Longevity of leadership in the position; 2) substantial budget resources, including diversification of income sources; and 3) additional staffing beyond the executive leadership.

It should be noted, however, that the most recently successful organizations in securing increased state public funding for the arts (California, Texas), were not necessarily those that scored the highest on all of the arbitrary criteria.  It should also be noted that many state arts advocacy groups have, for a decade or longer, fought a frequent (and for some an annual) battle to keep from having public funding cuts to the SAA or the arts in general.   Their victories are not necessarily any less impressive than those states that were able to secure increased funding, but rather the political situations and circumstances in each state dictate the realities of what can and cannot be achieved through the kinds of advocacy normally available to the arts.

Group I States:

New Jersey
North Carolina
South Carolina
South Dakota

**note:  The Vermont SAA s not a public agency, but rather a nonprofit.  It does its own advocacy and its Executive Director is a registered lobbyist.

Group II - fully functional state arts advocacy organizations lacking one or more of the elements of those classified in Group I above.

Group II States:

New Hampshire

Group III - states with a form of an arts advocacy organization, but which organization was marginally dysfunctional, and which lacked several of the elements of the Group I state classification, including states with current active efforts to revitalize or relaunch essentially dormant arts advocacy organizations.  A number of organizations in this grouping do not have any staff personnel at all, and the voluntary leadership of the organization is principally from the Board of Directors or otherwise outsourced.  None of these organizations have paid lobbyists.

Group III States:

New York*

Group IV - states with no real functioning arts advocacy organization.  Many of the SAAs in these states fill the void by spending time and resources to educate and inform state legislators and other decision makers as to the value of the arts and arts education.  Other ad hoc efforts may also be going on sporadically.

Group IV States:

New Mexico
North Dakota
Rhode Island*
Virginia (note no response from this state, but indications are that it does not currently have a functioning organization)
West Virginia

Regionally (using the RAO designations: WESTAF, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Arts Midwest, South Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts and Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation), the state arts advocacy organizations were relatively evenly split as to which (above) designated groups they fell into, with each region having states that were designated in each of the groupings.


State arts advocacy organization budgets ran the gamut from two plus million dollars down to virtually nothing.  The average of the Group I and II organizations was between +/- $10,000 to $150,000.  Most state arts advocacy organization budgets in this grouping have been stable over the past three years; a few reported gains.

State arts advocacy organizations have a number of sources of financial support.  The single largest number of advocacy organizations report that membership dues (organization members primarily, but in many cases individual dues - or contributions - as well) are the largest single source of revenue.  Grants, state agency support - some for operations, some for projects - some corporate and some earned income (principally from hosting a Governor’s Awards for the Arts event) are also part of the mix of funding.

Organizational Structure / Governance:
The vast majority of the states have 501 (c) (3) structures.  Some have 501 (c) (4) structures.  And some have both structures in place, often sharing a Board.  The majority of state advocacy organizations recruit their Board membership principally from the arts sector, but a number also have representation from other segments of the wider community.  Boards range in size from 5 to over 50, with an average near 20.

Organizations in Group I all had full time, paid executive leaders, and most had additional staffing, though the most common additional staff member was a bookkeeper.

Two organizations contract out the management of the organization to private sector companies.

All the states in Group I and many in Group II retain a paid lobbyist on a contract basis to represent the interests of the nonprofit arts with the governor, legislature, elected officials and other decision making bodies.  For some states, their lobbying effort is a complement to their grassroots effort to mobilize public opinion in favor of their positions.  For others, the lobbyist is part of an “insider game” strategy played in the political arena.

Note, beyond the scope of this survey is the question of how and to what extent arts advocacy organizations manage, or are involved with, the strategy to build public will for the arts.

SAA Relationship:
In the past, a number of state advocacy organizations had, at best, arms length relationships with their SAA; some might even have been characterized as territorial or hostile.  Today, that seems to no longer be the case except in very isolated situations.  When asked to characterize the relationship with their SAA, virtually all of the arts advocacy organizations described it as cooperative and collaborative, and many indicated the relationship was particularly strong.  Only in a few cases was the relationship characterized as strained or less than ideal.

Initiatives and Focus Work Sampling of the States:

Arts Convenings:  A large number of states host Arts Advocacy Days at their state capitols.  Many also convene periodic regional meetings around the state.

Research:  A number of organizations are at least tangentially involved with research and data collection that support making a case for the value of the arts.  The principal focus is on economic development and impact.  Several states are trying to play a larger role in this arena.  The role and place of the arts in the creative economy is a focus for many advocacy campaigns.

Community Development:  Several states are actually reframing their focus to complement the work of state and local Community Development efforts.

Arts Education:  Several states are working jointly with either the Kennedy Center or AFTA on arts education issue advocacy.

Political Climate:  States are divided as to political support (governor / legislature) dependent on politics, though absolute red state / blue state designations and conclusions based thereon are fraught with the potential to over simplify situations, and which conclusions do not really accurately reflect the more complex realities on the ground.  Many, but not a majority of states, have legislative arts caucuses.  Several states are in the midst of stepped up attempts in candidate education efforts.

While the survey did not include a question on whether or not the advocacy organization had a Political Action Committee (PAC), anecdotal responses suggest that virtually no state arts advocacy organization had, or was affiliated with, a local arts PAC.  One or two states indicated they are attempting to launch an Arts PAC. And, at the time of writing, Texas just announced the plan to form of an arts PAC.

Placemaking:  A couple of states are involved with benchmarking positive impacts of placemaking efforts.

Funding:  Several states are spending major energies on increased state funding for the arts campaigns, including investigation / consideration of possible taxes in support of the arts.

IT:  Several states are involved with facilitating increased use of IT, social networking and other tech communications modals.

In terms of which communications platforms state arts advocacy organizations use, most use email, their websites, Facebook and Twitter.  Many communicate via meetings and gatherings.  And many use Americans for the Arts Voter Voice for rallying grassroots support for positions.  A few continue to produce a newsletter (now electronic).  While some issue regular communications, others only reach out when action of some sort is needed.

Advocacy Training:
A large percentage of the organizations hold / host Arts Advocacy Days at the Capitol events to bring arts supporters together with legislators.  These events are also the single biggest opportunity for arts advocacy organizations to hold advocacy trainings for supporters, though most such training consists primarily of providing talking points for the supporters in their meetings with legislators or media, and some simple guidelines for such encounters.  Far fewer states do year round advocacy training, and of those that do, many provide online support, together with trainings at periodic “in the field “ events.

We asked if the state advocacy organization received consistent support (financial or otherwise, including endorsements) in any of the following areas:

Foundations -  Most organizations had only negligible foundation support.

Corporate - But for participation by corporate entities for Governor’s Awards events, most states had only marginal corporate support.

Media - While some arts advocacy organizations report having some media support for their efforts, more often than not, such support, if there at all, is tepid at best.  More common is the situation where the media has little to no interest in the nonprofit arts issues. Some states continue to have, at least, moderate coverage of the arts.  Many no longer do.

Community groups - (e.g., Chambers of Commerce, the Tourism industry, the Economic and Community Development sector, civic groups, business arts councils) et. al.

Over half the advocacy organizations report that they have relationships with segments of their communities and from which they get some support.  Those segments include: 1) the tourism industry; 2) community economic development interests; 3) local Chambers of Commerce; 4) civic groups; 5) the statewide nonprofit umbrella group; and 6) arts service provider organizations.

TRENDS IN ARTS ADVOCACY:   new community support with new possibilities.

An increasing number of the Group I and II Arts Advocacy organizations are moving towards a kind of rebranding of what it is they do, to include a wider portfolio of projects and an agenda that goes beyond traditional advocacy goals and objectives.  These organizations are moving towards a wider vision of promoting the arts, and advocating and lobbying for support of various kinds from various and diverse communities, while at the same time, expanding to projects that complement the enhanced vision.  Thus more organizations are moving into research, more are working closely with economic development agencies, more are embracing the wider creative industries concept, more are positioning themselves to include a wider constituent community beyond their core of nonprofit arts organizations, to include segments of the community that share an interest in the creative economy and community, and more are partnering with economic and community development forces.  This expansion of both purpose and operations has yielded some early impressive victories and resulted in new resource revenue streams, allowing for expanded staffing.


In assessing the current state arts advocacy situation, it is instructive that the Groups I and IV above are nearly equal - that is, there are as many states with non-functioning arts advocacy organizations as there are with fully functioning entities.  Given Tip O’Neil’s admonition that “all politics are local “ it bodes ill for the arts that there is such a large gap.  Not only does the lack of any advocacy mechanism in so many states negatively impact the ability of the arts to influence policy on the state level, it makes cooperation on federal advocacy even harder as well.

Every state should have a fully functioning arts advocacy apparatus - with full time, paid and adequate staffing, reasonable budgets and diverse revenue streams, paid lobbyists and a solid structure.  Despite the impressive and encouraging work of the top tier advocacy organizations, the absence of any viable organization in nearly a third of the states (13), and organizations that are somewhat handicapped in another 6 states leads to the inescapable conclusion that arts advocacy at the state level in America needs serious attention to bring it up to even a minimal national level of competency and readiness.  Given the repeated attacks at all governmental levels on arts funding resulting in continuous cutbacks in numerous jurisdictions, the fragile nature of the state arts advocacy is an enigma.  It may be that the arts continue to erroneously believe that advocacy (and lobbying) isn’t permitted and is ill advised for nonprofits — a belief to which many funders, unfortunately, still subscribe.  Or it may be an absence of leadership or of adequate financial resources.  While it may be a great deal of work to successfully solicit funding for arts advocacy and lobbying, and to reinvent what an arts advocacy organization is, or can be, (let alone to organize effective PACs,)  the stakes are so high, the payoff so potentially meaningful, and the negative impact so potentially damaging, that the arts are not further along in the development of a first rate advocacy system at the state level across the county is a damning indictment of a failure of leadership at some level.

What we have is a two tier advocacy reality - with nearly a third of the states functioning at a positive level, and a third not functioning at all.  We have had remarkable success on some levels given that reality, and that success is due to the extraordinary work of a few champions with superior leadership skills and other segments of our sector that pick up the slack when necessary.  While that reality is better than nothing, given what is needed and required, particularly to be competitive today, the reality is, frankly, in the author’s opinion, wholly inadequate.

We can, and must, do better.   And we can learn from those in the field who are doing the best work.

As the arts community gears up to defend the sector against attacks, it would behoove us to immediately shore up our state advocacy apparatus.  Organization is key to successful lobbying.  Not only is the community facing imminent and near term possible White House and Congressional challenges on a number of issues, including funding, in addition to current efforts, it will be absolutely critical for the field to begin now to organize for the 2018 midterm elections as the next battleground to secure political support.

Have a good week, and please begin to organize at the grassroots level now.

Don't Quit

Monday, January 23, 2017

Blog Milestone: One Million Page Hits

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

Not much to celebrate of late - for anyone really.

But I hit a small milestone last week, recording the blog's one millionth page hit - over the ten year plus life of the posts.  That's in addition to the five million plus times the blog has been in subscriber's mailboxes.  Of course, that doesn't mean that many people read all these blogs or even a goodly amount of them.  And I am sure many people ended up on the site unintentionally and by mistake.

But the fact of the numbers brought a smile to my face, and a certain humility in that I never envisioned that doing something like this would have that kind of ultimate reach.  Quite astounding to me.

Blogging is a bit of an arrogant conceit, thinking you have something important and meaningful enough to say that justifies invading people's time and space, and I have no illusions that in trying to provide relevant, useful information or insights, that I likely miss the mark far more often than I am on target. And that's ok with me.  If now and then I get it right, to even just a few people, that makes it worthwhile for me.

So I am enormously grateful to the readership for continuing to check in from time to time.

I don't know how much longer my health will allow me to keep posting, but I enjoy doing it, and intend to keep at it as long as able.

Thank you all again.

And I hope somehow things start to look a little brighter for everyone.

Don't Quit

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trump to Eliminate NEA?

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

Several reports today that the Trump Administration is considering elimination of funding to the NEA and the NEH.  This is line with the recommendations of budget cuts by the Koch Brothers funded Heritage Foundation, which, the reports indicate, is a blueprint for Trump's first budget.

Now this is hardly yet a done deal.  Budgets take time to craft and changes are frequent.  Moreover, virtually every Presidential budget is merely a starting point for consideration by Congress.  And Trump (who wanted Sly Stallone to Chair the agency) may not go for it.  But this is a threatening possibility - the sum of all fears for the nonprofit Arts sector.

There is no question that there are forces within Trump's team and within Congress that would like to see funding pulled from the Endowments.  The ostensible public reason is to further deficit reduction (though the pittance amount of funding for the Endowments will hardly have any effect at all in reducing the deficit), but the Endowments have long been a symbolic target for a sector of the conservative right.  Whether or not elimination of all funding will end up in a Trump budget isn't yet clear.  We will simply have to wait.

A herculean effort to flood the new Administration with public outcry is probably a required step to try to protect the agencies.  And it probably should start immediately.

And if elimination is in his budget, then the arts can try to muster a massive public outcry with tens of thousands of letters, phone calls, emails, petitions, editorial support and more to try to support the bi-partisan Arts Caucus in Congress that has been supportive of the arts (at least marginally so).  Will that kind of rallying of support be enough to protect at least some part of the Endowments budgets?  Who knows.

The arts, of course, have little political clout or power to leverage a victory, but we are not without support - if we can muster a big enough response.  We will have to forcefully make the arguments as to the value of the arts - economically, to jobs, to community development and otherwise - with data, stories and local impact reminders.  And we have to hold Congress' feet to the fire if they move to eliminate the agency.

Elimination of the Endowment would mean the agency's grants would disappear, as would their first rate research efforts, their convening apparatus, and the imprimatur of the federal agency's stamp of approval, which helps to leverage local support.  Elimination might also embolden state efforts to eviscerate local funding as there are many who want all funding, at every level, to the arts gone.

And elimination of the 40% share of the NEA's budget that is allocated directly to the states and the regional arts organizations, may put any number of smaller, more rural state agencies (the GOP states) at risk of, if not outright closure, then severely curtailing programming, as many depend heavily on that federal money to keep their doors open.

It also sends a global message that America doesn't value arts or culture.

But all of that may not matter to those that want us gone.

We have no idea yet if other federal monies in other agency's budgets that support arts programs might also be at risk.

And so now it begins..............

I hope Americans for the Arts, the other national service providers, the state and city agencies and all the arts discipline organizations can mobilize massive efforts to lobby Trump and Congress not to defund the Endowments - the total funding of which is a minuscule less than one half of one percent of the total federal budget.  I hope the nation's press rallies to our defense along with a public that has some appreciation for art and culture as part of the nation's fabric.  I hope other groups as far flung as the Federal Reserve and the PTA will join our cause.

But we're in a new world here, and we just really don't know what will happen, and whether or not we can stand up against the forces that may align against us.  One big problem for us is that there will likely be funding cuts and program eliminations across a wide specter of government spending and thus we will find ourselves in a long line of interests that will be fighting for their own survival.  Allies and friends will have their own battles to fight and we may find it difficult to justify our existence against many worthy programs, and to recruit partners in our defense.

So we wait.  Organize and wait.  Much the same as the entire nation will have to wait to see how all of this plays out.   We hope that Trump will not want it as part of his legacy that arts and culture become a victim and are wiped from the federal support map under his administration.

The only comfort I can offer is to remind all sides - theirs and ours - that American politics always has been, and remains, a pendulum.  And as the pendulum makes dramatic swings in one direction, inevitably it swings back the other way. The more wide the arc, the quicker and more forcefully it swings the other way.

And this much is pretty clear:  the boomers are dying out, and that exodus will accelerate.  All the older angry white voters that caused the pendulum to swing so violently, will see their numbers shrink over time.  And the Millennials numbers will then proportionately get larger.  Moreover, the voting blocs of people of color will also grow as the white population declines.  And finally, the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas will continue and even grow.  And in the last election, the Millennials, people of color and those in the cities (even in red states) all went heavily democratic - not Republican.

Now this demographic shift will take some time, there will be impediments thrown up to thwart the voting, as Millennials age they are likely to shift some of their political beliefs, and there will still likely be anger out there (especially since Trump, like all presidents, will not be able to deliver on all his promises, thus disappointing many of his backers) but it is inevitable that the bloc that elected Trump will eventually no longer hold sway.  The pendulum swings this way, then the other way.

That will be of little consolation to those who will suffer under new policies and priorities - and Trump is only half the equation, as the various agendas on the Republican side of Congress fight among themselves to gain victory, but it must be remembered that time is likely on our side.  There may be considerable damage wrought before the pendulum begins to move the other way.  Those horrified by the Trump presidency and the Republican Congress will inevitably lose many of the coming battles.  Then again, the pendulum may move much faster than people think.  The distrust and negative feelings towards the new administration are historically high.  And Trump may still surprise.

What to do?  Every single person and every single arts organization must actively rally to the defense of the NEA funding.  No one can afford to sit on the sidelines.  No excuse is acceptable.

We're all in for a rough ride on myriad fronts.  Remember we are the majority, not the minority.  You will need to steel yourself with courage for the fight of your lifetime.  And please, don't sit this one out.

And remember too that no matter what happens, actors will act, dancers will dance, painters will paint and sculptors will sculpt, film makers will make films, musicians will play, songs, and plays, and scripts and books and poems will be written, performances and concerts given, operas staged, and millions of people will see, hear and read it all, and the arts will forever be omnipresent.  Creativity is part of the human makeup.  Nothing will stop that.

As Obama said: "It's going to be ok."  Believe in what you do and who you are.  And fight for that.

Don't Quit.

Monday, January 9, 2017

An Interview with YOU

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

I have done scores of interviews over the years.  There are easily another fifty people in the field that I know I would like to interview. And there are probably several hundred beyond that who would make for a great interview.

In crafting questions for these interviews, I try to highlight big issues that, while the interviewee may have specific personal thoughts, hopefully are questions the answers to which, a larger audience might find informative and relevant to their own situations.  Hopefully the person being interviewed, and those reading the responses each learn something.  As the interviewer, I almost always learn something new from the process.

So, here's an experiment.  Let me do a brief interview with you.  Right now.  Here are my interview questions for your consideration.  In answering them, I hope the process may help you to develop and clarify your thinking about some issues, and by so doing, even suggest new thinking for yourself.

If anyone out there would like to answer these questions (or any of them), please send them to me (in writing, together with your brief bio) via email and if there are any responses, I will consider publishing some of them.  But even if not, I hope, as an exercise, that this gives you something to think about.

So - get comfortable.  Your answers can be as long or brief as you think appropriate.

1.  What is your assessment of how the recent election (at the local, state and federal levels) will (or won't) impact your work (if at all), short and long term?

2.  What are your plans and strategies to increase staff morale, commitment and ultimately productivity this year?

3.  What is the single biggest issue your organization faces?

4.  Diversity and equity dominated last year's issues for arts organizations.  How big are those issues to your organization in reality?

5.  From time to time, there is talk about mega issues that may (or may not) impact the arts in the future.  An example is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the problem of job displacement and a rearrangement of disposable income.  Are these kinds of big topics the kind of thing you spend any time at all thinking about?

6.  What does your community still not know, and still not "get"  about your organization, and what are you planning to do about that?

7.  What trends are you watching closely, and why?

8.  What are the things you believe are important to you and your organization that you simply don't have the time or resources to pursue, and what does that mean for your organization?

9.  Where do you see yourself in five years (not your organization, but you personally).

10.  If you could change one single aspect of fundraising - what would that be?

I think your answers to these questions, might surprise you, and they certainly ought to give you some information about your job.   I am almost sure those answers can lead you down new avenues of thinking.  I hope so anyway.

Perhaps some of you might even consider trying to interview others in your organization and share the results.  Ask pointed questions that are specific to your organizations and situations.  There really are never any right or wrong answers.

I hope you have a good week.

Don't Quit.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall - Truth, the Press and the Arts in 2017

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

2016 is over - finally.  A horrible year for me personally (health and finance nosedives), and I think a not so good year globally.  Of course, many people and perhaps any number of organizations, interest groups and entities may have had banner years.  The fates always smile on some and rain on others.  Indeed, on the other side of those who decry the election and the current power center in Washington D.C. are those for whom the change is one long coming and a boon.  We are a divided people.

The wider world didn't seem to come to its senses last year.  2016 continued the collapse of global civility and diplomacy - and even rationality if you consider climate deniers and religious dogma. The world moved to the right in fear people had of the loss of any control over their lives.  Brexit and Trump.  War raged on across the planet:  Syria, Iraq and the Middle East tensions; ISIS and terrorism; increased authoritarian regimes and military dictatorships; Putin and the rise of Russian aggression; China's bullying in the South China Sea; huffing and puffing by the megalomaniac in North Korea; and rampaging violence by the megalomaniac in the Philippines.  Everywhere you turned you were met head on with intolerance.  The economy improved, but the rich got richer, the poor got poorer and the gap between them widened.  Scandals and corruption were commonplace.  For many, everything held sacred and critical was under attack.

A rash of iconic celebrity deaths saddened people and reminded everyone of the fragility of life, and the aging of the population.  Health threats loomed in the background, but fortunately the doomsday scenarios that might one day come true, were not yet armageddon for humanity.

Year end is when we trot forth lists of the past year:  accomplishments and failures; stories with impacts and consequences - often in order of importance; predictions for the future - the isolated issues and the big picture.  It's a new year and anything is possible.  Alas, the evidence suggests the new year will likely be a continuation of last year - and for many, that's not good news.

And while all the stories that dominated the news have importance - for Americans, the top ten issues were arguably the same:  Donald Trump, for changes are coming which will alter the very fabric of the country.

This is a hard time.  And the hard rains are coming fast.  People are dispirited, frightened, unsure and uneasy.  We are in uncharted territory, navigating without a map.  For many, the frightening thing about a Trump presidency is the unknown factor.  We simply don't yet know for sure what will happen, yet alone how to react.  But we have a good idea, and we can already see an upending of the way we existed up to now.  The Trump factor has countless offshoots - from the GOP Congressional agenda that threatens to upend five decades of American foreign and domestic policy - to the profound change that has already arguably rendered virtually useless the fourth estate.  

And it is the failure of the press that should concern us.  Have we already witnessed the death of real journalism - and any vestige of impartial, unbiased analysis and understanding?

In the process of the abdication by the news medias of performing their jobs (for they clearly eschewed digging into the issues in the past campaign in favor of the circus) - facts, evidence and truth itself have fallen victim to fundamental changes in how we gather, analyze, verify and report news of our world.  To be sure this change began sometime ago - at least back to the manipulations of a dishonest Nixon - who, despite denying he was a crook, turned out to be a crook of epic proportions; back to when television became the principal source of news , replacing print, and, post Edward R. Murrow, became a profit center for entertainment conglomerates whose chief concern was bottom line ratings and thus profits.  Talking heads replaced investigative journalists; in-depth investigation was replaced with shallowness of the 20 second story, and the sound bite; the positions and opinions of those that govern us corrupted by the "spin doctors" who sought to explain what things meant - in direct contravention of what was actually said.

And today, truth has taken a further backseat.  It probably started before Dick Cheney popularized the strategy of simply denying everything, and of making stuff up out of whole cloth (Iraq's WMD the most obvious example), but it's now taken full flower as anyone can say anything and then - even in the face of irrefutable video and sound recording - deny their on the record pronouncements completely.  And now it not uncommon for public officials to say one thing to one audience and another to a different audience - then deny any conflict between the two, or that they said either one.  Truth.  Who can possibly know anymore.  Truth has morphed from an absolute to a relative.  We may have crossed over the singularity line for truth, where lies and fake news have merged with truth and real news to blur it all (note: "singularity" is a concept that refers to the merging of human intelligence with artificial intelligence.  I am borrowing it here).

How can a society exist if facts and truth are relative, with myriad groups able to fashion their own truth and their own facts based on nothing more than what they want the truth to be?

Compounding this potentially fatal attack on a working press that provides the citizenry with news based on fact, is that the delivery systems for news have radically changed.  No longer does news come from a few, centralized hubs that are universally shared by everyone, and which are at least somewhat accountable; now news, or what purports to be news, enabled by the technology of the internet and smart phones, comes from ten thousand unverifiable sources via social network platforms and independent sources that masquerade as legitimate news gathering agencies.  Anyone can, and does, say anything as though it were the gospel, as truth.  Lies now pass for truth, and we are increasingly unwilling or unable to even call a lie what it is.  Truth is now - like beauty - in the mind of the beholder - passed on from one like minded person to the next with the same results as in the child's game of telephone.  And the mainstream press seemingly has no interest in calling out lies or even trying to determine what the truth is - nor apparently does the public.  The story is that people believe this or that, and the story is the important thing - not the truth, because people like stories that reinforce what they want to believe.

And does the source of information even matter anymore?  The establishment press - the broadcast channels, the daily newspapers, the researchers - are increasingly listened to, heard and considered by a smaller and smaller segment of the populace (chiefly on the left), with whole swaths of demographic groups and political leaning groups, oblivious to that part of what today constitutes the "press".  Perhaps a majority get their news from highly questionable sources, if they get any news at all.

We've now gone way beyond the Paul Simon lyric that: "A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest."  Updating that chilling observation, as people are no longer concerned with actually "hearing" anything, and so have nothing pesky and troublesome to disregard, people believe what they want, and once having come to their positions, believe anything that validates those beliefs as true.  Truth, facts, evidence are irrelevant.  And the news apparatus and organizations are irrelevant.  The right rejects mainstream press as biased and inaccurate.  The left rejects them as ineffective and complicit in creating the problem.  Journalism is both irrelevant and dead.  No one cares.  I know what I want, and who my guys are.  Everybody else is the enemy - telling lies.  I don't need any other news.

And that portends results and problems that I am not sure anyone can possibly predict with any accuracy.  But it threatens the very idea of democracy.  That ought to worry us all.

And what does any of it possibly have to do with the arts, with us?

Two things I think:
1).  Artists and art has always had a role to play in getting to the truth, and I suspect that as truth falls victim to the manipulation of those in power across the planet, pandering to their base of support that is often in their camp because of successful campaigns to deceive them into thinking the liars are their defenders, art will, and should, play a part in continually questioning the inappropriate nakedness of the Emperor.

2).  As a field, and as individuals, each of us have to ask what can we do, what should we do in the face of a broken world?  What do we do about truth?  An open discussion and debate among us might be helpful to all of us in determining how to act.  On the one hand, we can try to fly under the radar and not alienate our new masters.  On the other, we can sacrifice to bring the cogs of the machine to a halt.  Or neither, or something in between.  We have moral decisions to make that go beyond what we do, no matter how precious and important what we do is.

Everyone will have to come to their own conclusions and decisions about the future, and the future is exactly what 2017 will be about.   But while people are depressed and in some ways paralyzed, we can ill afford to be defeated.  We must steel our resolve and fight for the world we want. There simply isn't any other choice.

As Toni Morrison observed (as quoted in Brain Pickings):

"This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art."

I think Bob Dylan had a tenable suggestion in A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall:

"And I'll tell and speak it and think it and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it
And I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin'
But I'll know my song well before I start singing
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard

It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall."

Happy New Year to each of you.  I hope 2017 is a better year than 2016.

Don't Quit