Sunday, June 4, 2017

Arts Think Tank Follow Up

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

In wondering aloud where the Arts Think Tank is, in last week's blog, several points need to be made as follow up - and I thank several of the readers for raising them with me.

First, there actually was a foundation funded Think Tank created in the 1990's - The Center for Arts and Culture, and it existed for a decade or so, but closed due to lack of continuing funding in 2005. It was affiliated with a number of researchers at major universities - including Princeton, John Hopkins, the University of Texas - Austin, Carnegie Mellon, Rutgers and Ohio State, with financial support over the years from the Ford, Rockefeller, Packard, Pew, Nathan Cummings, Andy Warhol, and Robert Sterling Clark foundations.

It's Board included Alberta Arthurs, Frank Hodsoll, Ben Wattenberg and Harold Williams among others, with Gigi Bradford as its Executive Director.

Out of sight, out of mind - I had completely forgotten about its existence.  During its existence, it published a number of papers, including several under the banner Art, Culture and the National Agenda.  One such paper, published in 2001 entitled America's Cultural Capital - Recommendations for Structuring the Federal Role called for various cultural structures within the federal government.

The Center's publications are now archived at Americans for the Arts' National Arts Administration and Policy Publications Database.

So why did the entity cease operations?  The stated reason was that they reached a point where their funding wasn't continued.  Think Tanks have to either have broad public support, wealthy angels and / or philanthropists committed to their ongoing existence, or earned income.  The Center apparently was unable to sustain any of those funding sources over time.  And it would appear that while their work was of high quality, by people with impeccable credentials, they operated more as a research arm, than an active "Think Tank"; one which sought to have direct active impact on policy decision making.  It was, it would seem, more of an academic approach, than an ongoing place for people to brainstorm and which sought to garner media and public attention from that brainstorming (supported by research).   And perhaps its biggest Achilles Heel was its lack of public involvement.

But it was a real Think Tank.

Publishing authoritative research isn't enough to affect public policy creation.  The organization that is the Think Tank has to be more activist - politically and media wise.  It must have a higher profile and seek attention.

Second, the absence of a formalized, structured Arts and Culture Think Tank (in the traditional sense of that concept), does not mean that meaningful thinking, research and brainstorming is not going on.  In fact, there may be more quality research being done by an ever wider array of qualified researchers now than at any time in the brief history of the nonprofit arts.  Moreover, there are an increasing number of publications - both academic and otherwise - with authoritative content - some affiliated with Universities, that examines a wide and diverse landscape of arts and culture policy issues.  And finally, there are more one time and ongoing forums and opportunities for cogent, disciplined conversations, dialogue and discussion of critical issues to the sector than ever before as well.

From the Kennedy Center Arts Summits to what Arlene Goldbard is doing with the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, and its' platform and Policy on Belonging, to the clearinghouse research archives of Createquity, to the NEA's vastly expanded research activity - to the literally countless meetings, conferences and other ways to exchange ideas and brainstorm.  From The Rand Corporation to Holly Sidford - provocative and far reaching studies have been done in the past decade.  All together there is ample evidence of Think Tank activity going on within our sector.

But it is so diffuse, so de-centralized, so without form and without singularity of purpose in impacting policy, that some of its energy and value are lost.  And that's a waste and a shame.

The challenge with all that activity is to centralize access to its fruits, and to find a way to aggregate it, then convey it, in ways that it helps to influence policy decision making at all levels, and which helps to support the value of the sector to the media and to the public.  That is where a modern version of an Arts and Culture Think Tank would be of value.

I would hope that another version of The Center for Arts and Cultue might be resurrected Phoenix like for the future.  While a University affiliated Think Tank, with research fellows and a management staff, has to have income and a budget, it may be possible with today's technology to run a tighter ship with more volunteer input.  It may not be necessary for a bricks and mortar home base, but rather operate as a virtual entity, and it may not have to re-invent the wheel of all the activity already going on.  Whereas the model for an Arts Think Tank has changed, so too has the model for its funding.  Think 2017, or even 2020.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful follow-up, Barry. I have to admit there’s an allure to the idea of consolidating and focusing the sector’s intelligence.

    Yet despite all the think-tanking you describe here, audiences for “the arts” have been diminishing steadily for decades. What good is a policy-oriented think tank when the people on whose behalf we claim to be thinking are ignoring us in such alarming numbers?

    Having spent my career engaging with and advocating on behalf of new audiences, I can’t help bristling at the idea of a bunch of elite arts insiders holing themselves up in a tank to think, when the inability of industry leadership to connect with future audiences is our most pressing problem. The very name suggests inactivity and isolation.

    If a think tank can better connect this industry’s policy makers with the people they claim to serve, I’m all for it. But if its just another excuse for cultural sector elites to sit in paneled conference rooms “brainstorming,” I can think of many more productive ways for these folks to spend their time.

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