Sunday, March 11, 2018

Three Questions You Should Continuously Be Asking Yourself

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

Here are three questions you should be asking yourself every month - or even more often.  You probably already have them on your radar, but if not, perhaps you should.

1.  What else can we be doing to maximize our cash flow over the next six months.  Doubtless your annual budget includes projections as to cash flow on a monthly basis.  But, particularly for smaller and mid-sized organizations, we all know that these projections are often overly optimistic - and sometimes unrealistic.  There is a tendency to estimate income from performances and exhibitions, donors and other kinds of earned income on the high side. And too often, we include grants not yet awarded.  That's a problem.  And cash flow is a different animal than overall income, as many organizations find themselves in trouble at different points during the year when the cash flow isn't what was anticipated.   It's not unusual for organizations to fail to meet the estimates, and end up pushing deficits into the next year. So cash flow management ought to be an ongoing issue.

What, if anything, can you do to maximize cash flow - everything from increasing earned income, fundraising events, merchandising, ticket sales to increasing donor support.  Not easy I know, but simply avoiding continuous consideration of the challenge won't yield any results.  And it ought to be a concern of everyone in your organization.

2.  What else can we be doing to increase our positioning within our community.  How can you foster and facilitate collaborations, partnerships, garner media coverage, increase visibility and publicity and do all the other things to enhance public awareness of your organization, and take advantage of the intersections and relationships within your community.  In many respects, this impacts your fundraising activity.  The higher your community profile the more doors that may open to you.

3.  What else can we be doing to better equip and prepare our staff and people to be the very best they can be.  What are you doing in terms of professional development, training, education, as well as motivation and maximizing the way your staff communicates and works together.  We live in a fast paced business environment and the challenges are constantly changing. So should our levels of expertise and skills.

These three areas - money, and specifically cash flow; your positioning within your community; and the preparedness and capability of your staff - are the critical components of your success, and they need to be on your mind all the time - and not just when your make up an annual budget, revamp your strategic plan or hold some retreat. Too often, we are aware of the needs in these areas, but we put consideration of what might be done on the back burner for, at best, periodic consideration.  They ought to be a constant in your mind.

Brainstorm regularly and deal with them as ongoing necessities. And you ought to involve everyone on your staff in the process of generating ideas that might help you in these areas.  You never know where a great idea will come from, and inclusion of everyone is yet another way to build staff self-esteem and morale.  You will find it to your advantage to do so.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, March 5, 2018

Interview with Pam Breaux, President and CEO, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

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

Pam Breaux Bio:
Pam joined the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) in 2015 as president and CEO.  A native of Lafayette, Louisiana, Pam has held leadership positions at the local, state and national levels. While in Louisiana state government, she was secretary of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (CRT), assistant secretary of CRT (overseeing its cultural development portfolio), and executive director of its state arts agency (the Louisiana Division of the Arts). During her time at CRT, Pam developed and led Louisiana’s cultural economy initiative and spearheaded the successful UNESCO inscription of Poverty Point State Historic Site (an ancient Indian site) as a World Heritage site.

Before working in state government, Pam was executive director of the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana and managed southwest Louisiana’s Decentralized Arts Funding Program. She has served on the boards of the U.S. Travel Association, NASAA, South Arts and the Louisiana Board of International Commerce. Pam is currently a member of the U.S. National Commission on UNESCO. She graduated from McNeese State University with a B.A. in English and earned an M.A. in English and folklore from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Here is the interview:

Barry:  You’ve now been at the helm of NASAA over a year.  What is different about the job from what you expected?

Pam:  When I walked through the doors of NASAA’s offices in July 2015, I expected we’d chart a new course toward NASAA’s future and the future of state arts agencies.  I’m incredibly pleased that we’ve charted that course, and it’s now manifested in NASAA’s strategic plan; it was ratified by members in the fall.  What I didn’t expect was for the political tide to shift so abruptly (after the 2016 elections) that we’d soon be fighting a serious attempt to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.  We now know that last year’s work by many strong advocates, NASAA and members of Congress prevented the NEA’s elimination.  Congress demonstrated that it values the NEA and other federal cultural agencies, and their commitment to these important agencies will be the reason we survive the newest elimination attempt by the administration.  On a productive note, developing NASAA’s new strategic plan while facing an elimination attempt positioned us and our new plan to more effectively respond to new political realities.  Our plan and our advocacy work are stronger, and the climate demands it.

Barry:  Assess the current status of funding for state arts agencies, how the challenges of preventing cuts and increasing support are effectively being addressed and what can be done to make it a more reliable, steady and meaningful cash stream into the future across all states?

Pam:  Overall, state governments invest $357.5 million in state arts agencies; that represents about $1.08 per capita.  During fiscal year 2018, legislative appropriations to state arts agencies decreased by 2.4%; yet, there are distinctions among the states.  Twenty-two state arts agencies reported increases in 2018; fifteen reported flat funding, and nineteen reported decreases (50 states and 6 jurisdictions total).  The most significant revenue challenge faced by state arts agencies is that they’re inextricably linked to fluctuations in state tax coffers.  The Great Recession of 2007-09 hit state government budgets especially hard; it forced significant reductions in state spending and services.  Even as the broader economy is expanding and getting back on track, state government recovery has lagged.  As state governments struggle with revenue challenges, state arts agencies (and all state agencies) endure that same struggle.

Historically, state general fund dollars have provided the largest funding source for state arts agencies.  Legislatures also use a mix of strategies to provide public support for the arts and state arts agencies.  Those strategies include, but are not limited to, dedicated revenues, special taxes and fees, specialty arts license plates, income tax check-offs, and more.  Adding to those legislatively enabled strategies, state arts agencies have also developed partnerships with public and private collaborators that allow them to extend their reach, resources and services.  Arizona Commission on the Arts, for example, developed AZ Creative Aging with funding from Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, to enhance quality of life for older Arizonans.  With an eye toward addressing the needs of veterans, Oklahoma Arts Council developed a partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs to engage veterans through creative expression.  A longer-term strategy was developed in Minnesota, where a 25-year amendment to the state constitution provided resources to develop the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, dedicated to preserving the state’s historic and cultural heritage.

Individual state challenges and opportunities are unique to the assets and policy environments within each state.  Paving the road to steady and meaningful cash streams for state arts agencies can’t be undertaken in globo because no single strategy fits all.  State by state, mining the opportunities that fit can best pave the way to develop short-term and long-term revenue streams for state arts agencies.

Barry:  Apart from funding, what are the principal issues facing today’s state arts agencies?

Pam:  As demographic, political and economic changes reshape our country, they also reshape the landscape for state arts agencies.  Further, as artists and the arts move into the future, traditional assumptions about how administrators define, support and fund the arts must change to meet a new day.  Key issues facing today’s state arts agencies also include:

Supporting a meaningful role for the arts in the innovation economy
Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in providing resources and services
Diversifying revenue streams for state arts agencies
Creating new systems of support for the arts
Developing multi-sector partnerships
Navigating a changing national and state policy environment

Barry:  Not every state has a working, viable arts advocacy infrastructure.  What is being done to remedy that situation and what is the role of NASAA in that process?

Pam:  The State Arts Action Network, a part of Americans for the Arts, is currently made up of 42 states/jurisdictions.  As a support network for arts advocacy, they work toward effective advocacy infrastructure in every state.  Americans for the Arts is the best place to get information about their support of state arts advocacy.  NASAA also plays a role in in the state arts advocacy realm.  In service to state arts agencies, we create and distribute reliable research and data, case-making tools, state policy publications and advocacy guidance documents.  Further, we provide counsel and presentations to state arts agencies and advocates as requested.  During last year’s threats to the National Endowment for the Arts, our work expanded greatly, as we, in real time, provided guidance to help state arts agencies and advocates defend the value of public investments in the arts as well as debunk erroneous assertions about those investments.

Barry:  You recently raised the issue of SAA leaders being prepared in the area of crisis response, noting that state agencies are no strangers to having to confront controversy and criticism.  What are the fundamentals of being prepared to respond to crises?

Pam:  Not every controversy becomes a crisis, but being ready for both are important.  With respect to controversies, making smart readiness choices today can help an agency navigate a future controversy and even mitigate it.  Last year SAA leaders experienced crises and controversy, and that was NASAA’s cue to prepare them to manage both.  To prepare for controversies, an agency should:

Build its reputation as a trusted source—establishing media relationships and a track record of providing facts and expertise will pay dividends when controversy strikes.
Establish monitoring systems—keeping track of public conversations about the arts will reduce chances of being caught off guard.  Agencies should monitor mainstream media and social media through automated news alerts to stay on the pulse of arts discourse.
Establish a fact-based narrative about the impact of the arts—regularly shining a light on how people benefit from the arts helps agencies be transparent and accountable, as well as ready to provide the broader context and benefits of public arts funding when controversy happens.
Draft a crisis communications plan—having a playbook ready when controversy strikes ensures that actions are thorough and effective.

A controversy becomes a crisis when communications about the issue become chaotic or people become politically polarized.  Artists, organizations and funders can be at risk and subject to harassment.  To prepare for communications crises, agencies should:

Establish a crisis advisors team—know who to call to help work through the problem.
Identify possible crisis scenarios—we can predict some potential crises; identifying them and gaming them out in advance is smart.
Rehearse the scenarios—since dealing with a crisis is never comfortable, developing model responses in advance (not under duress) will make life easier.  Assume that model responses would need to be adjusted to meet unique situations.
Train spokespeople—authorize spokespeople in advance and make sure they’re trained to be effective.
Compile key contacts—have critical information at the ready because crises are often rapid and chaotic with little time to spare.

Deeper guidance on this subject is available through NASAA’s Communicating about Arts Controversies, published on our website.

Barry:  There has been a slow, but steady turnover of state arts leaders over the past decade, with boomers retiring.  The field doesn’t look anything like it did a decade ago.  What, if anything, might NASAA do to help preserve the institutional memory of all those SAA leaders who have been, and currently are, retiring from the field?

Pam:  You’re right, Barry.  State arts agency executive directors have turned over significantly during the past decade and a great deal during the past five years.  Fortunately, NASAA’s reservoir of information and institutional knowledge is deep.  For example, every time a state arts agency staff or board members requests information or counsel from NASAA, the request and response are catalogued.  This information is used in many ways, including providing training and counsel to new members.  In addition, NASAA’s boot camp for new executive directors positions them to build a framework for leading state arts agencies.  Our most recent boot camp was held just last week, and there’s smart, new energy moving into SAA leadership posts.  NASAA will also soon release an online portal to share years of state arts agency best practices from across the country.  In everything we do we work to bring the experiences, lessons and successes of individual state arts agencies to benefit all 56 states and jurisdictions.  That blend of services is how NASAA approaches maintaining institutional memory for individual SAAs and the collective.

Barry:  How can the field better prepare state arts agency leaders to face the challenges they face today and be more effective leaders?   What are the most important skills that new state arts agency leaders need not just to survive, but to thrive?

Pam:  In addition to the strategies already mentioned, NASAA is focused on smartly designing Leadership Institutes for top state arts agency leaders, including executive directors, deputy directors, commissioners, chairs and council members. These conference agendas address high level policy and public arts management issues and trends.  For example, the Institute convened this past fall included sessions on building public will, government agency transformation, crisis leadership and effective case making in an era of political polarization.  As NASAA continues to improve professional development opportunities for leaders, we work to strike a balance between equipping them with skills to face today’s challenges as well as preparing them for a new tomorrow.

As you’ve suggested, there are important skills that new state arts agency leaders need to thrive.  Some of those skills include:

Political acumen—understanding and navigating the authorizing environment is key to being an effective champion for the arts and the state arts agency.
Focus on public benefits—recognizing that the primary stakeholders for state arts agencies are the people of the state is fundamental to leading any public agency.  Aligning the arts and agency resources to serve the needs of the entire state is critical.
Change management skills—initiating and responding to change is central to leadership.  As the demographic, political and economic environments around us change, state arts agency leaders must manage change strategically and with an eye toward expanding opportunities.
Innovation IQ—incorporating innovation and creativity in the design and delivery of programs and services is essential when navigating challenging times as well as times of great opportunity.

In addition to these skills, it’s helpful to possess government, communications and arts expertise, as well as financial and operational acumen.  Having been a state arts agency executive director (2001-2004), I can attest that these are tough jobs, and they’re deeply rewarding too.

Barry:  The RAO (Regional Arts Organizations - e.g., WESTAF) seem to all operate independently - not only of each other, but with only minimal intersections (either individually or as a group) with the NEA, NASAA or other national organizations.  Should NASAA take a more proactive role in building those intersections and in facilitating more communication and collaboration?  What might that kind of effort look like?

Pam:  I’m pleased to share that NASAA and the Regional Arts Organizations are meeting regularly to share information and explore opportunities to collaborate.  For example, we have committed to joining forces (NASAA and the appropriate RAO) when a state arts agency is facing a significant challenge.  Together we can bring all our resources to bear in being of service to a state arts agency in need.  Together we’re a stronger support system when states need us most.  Looking forward, NASAA is committed to ongoing communication and collaboration with the RAOs.

Barry:  A long time ago, the idea was floated that one way to make the NEA more appealing to Congress would be to increase the (then 15% - currently 40%) share allocated from the NEA budget to the states and the RAOs on a per capita basis under the theory that then more of the funds would be available to be distributed according to each state’s self-determined needs.  Is that theory worth pushing today, whether in response to new attempts to eliminate the Endowment entirely, or wholly apart from that challenge simply on its own merits?

Pam:  NASAA is committed to advocating on behalf of the NEA, keeping the agency whole and maintaining the federal-state partnership in its current form.  A strong NEA and strong state arts agencies are critical for the arts ecosystem.  Together, the NEA and states support 23,000 grants in 5,000 communities across the United States.  We support rural, urban and suburban communities that span every state and congressional district.

It’s also important to remember that a strong NEA should maintain a robust grantmaking portfolio and a strategic leadership role.  With respect to grantmaking, arts organizations and communities across the country benefit from receiving an NEA grant in two ways: (1) the money is needed and it fuels activity, and (2) the national/federal award leverages additional investments.  That currency shouldn’t be diminished.  With respect to its leadership role, the NEA can accomplish vital initiatives that no one state or local organization can accomplish independently.  For example, the NEA partnered with the US Department of Education over 20 years ago to develop the Arts Education Partnership.  Still serving the field, AEP continues to be pivotal for the arts education profession and policies surrounding it.  Creative Forces is a more recent example.  As a federal agency, the NEA shaped a partnership with the US Department of Defense.  That partnership piloted important models of arts healing for military personnel, and now that model is expanding to states.  There are many examples of initiatives created by the NEA that have shaped our field and advanced it (creative placemaking, Bureau of Economic Analysis partnership, et al).  For these reasons, diminishing the agency’s capacity just doesn’t make sense.

On a final note, many people don’t realize one of the most important aspects of the NEA’s federal-state partnership.  Many within our network already know that 40% of the NEA’s grants go to states and regions; that’s an important part of ensuring arts support all across the country.  What’s largely unknown about the partnership is that the dollars are designated for state needs, not federal mandates.  This is basically unprecedented within federal systems, where federal dollars usually go to meet federal goals.  The NEA’s enlightened approach to serving states ensures that federal dollars meet needs determined within states.  This is a strong model, and by extension, a strong partnership.

Barry:  NASAA has always had a solid relationship with both the NEA and AFTA.  Both of those organizations are now 50 years old and have changed over the years.  As each of those organizations may be getting near to their own re-invention and nearing their own 2.0 versions, what might be the relationship between each of them and a re-imagined NASAA 2.0?

Pam:  What a great question!  I won’t get out too far ahead of having those conversations directly with the NEA and AFTA.  In the spirit of offering a little inspiration for those discussions, I’ll make a couple of comments.   With respect to the NEA, it would be worthwhile to collaborate on several issues germane to advancing the arts field.  For example, as a community of public grant makers in the arts (federal and state), it would be interesting to explore how grantmaking structures can be modified or transformed to address the changing nature and needs of artmaking.  On a separate note, we could also explore how to improve or reinvent those structures to advance equity within our grantmaking portfolios.  Both issues are critical for the future.  NASAA also has a long history of collaborations with AFTA.  In fact, during ongoing discussions, our organizations have committed to exploring what collaborative efforts might come next.  Whether we deepen our joint work in advocacy or embark upon something else programmatic…you’ll have to stay tuned.

Barry:  Some people think research, data collection, the power of convening, making the case for public value, professional development and other functions are more important to the field than grant making and that the NEA ought to move in that direction away from grants to arts organizations.  What is NASAA’s position on that approach?  And if neutral or opposed, where might the field look for funding for more convenings, more public case making, more professional development, more advocacy training?

Pam:  I don’t think we have a zero-sum game here.  The NEA’s grantmaking portfolio is important and leveraging project funding across the country.  At the same time, the NEA and numerous national arts service organizations, including NASAA, are engaged in many of the worthwhile activities you’ve cited.  Let’s take research, for example.  The NEA’s research portfolio has blossomed during the last ten years, and it’s fueling dynamic partnerships and programs.  Biased I may be, I can also confirm that NASAA’s research portfolio has expanded and is stronger than ever, fueling smarter practices at state arts agencies.  At the same time, there’s more work to be done in these areas: research, convening, professional development and case-making.  I think it would be productive to conduct a gap analysis of the development and distribution of these services across the national and federal arts service community.  NASAA and the NEA aren’t the only entities working on these issues; many national arts service organizations do this work too.  If we get to the heart of which services are adequately provided and where the gaps in service may exist, we can also have a national arts service conversation about how to be efficient and effective in providing services and filling gaps.

Barry:  GIA has succeeded in recruiting and making a part of their framework the public arts agencies, including, principally the SAA’s.  How has NASAA moved to facilitate that expansion and what new crossroads and intersections has that expansion opened the door to for NASAA members?

Pam:  NASAA, too, is a member of GIA, and I’m delighted that so many state arts agencies have joined.  Our country needs public and private investors in the arts, and it’s important for this full field of arts funders to connect to each other.  Private and public arts funders are largely distinct in the benefits they provide.  Private-sector investments provide capital for major endeavors; they also nurture experimental work, and arts professionals are stronger because of their efforts.  Public investments serve the public interest, are driven by citizens and reach all states and districts; people all across the country benefit from public sector investments, and that enriches communities large and small.

At GIA, public and private grant makers have the opportunity to communicate and learn from each other.  Public and private grantmaking practices are strengthened as a result.  Public and private funders are also collaborating on shared goals.  Earlier I referenced the Arizona Creative Aging program, serving the needs of older Arizonans through a public-private partnership.  It’s a productive collaboration for both funders.  Based on my own post-Katrina experiences in Louisiana, I can personally attest to the power of public-private grant maker collaborations after a disaster.  Our team facilitated and assisted a number of private arts grant makers make a critical difference for artists who needed assistance after the storm.  Public and private grant maker goals were achieved, but most important, many artists and organizations were provided resources that helped them get back to business.  

NASAA is supportive of state arts agency involvement in the broader arts grantmaking community.  We’re also proud of our past and current work with GIA, which includes contributing expertise and information to arts research initiatives.  As GIA moves forward with new leadership and energy, we at NASAA look forward to remaining connected and exploring new ideas to advance arts grantmaking.

Barry:  One of the most visible of NASAA’s research reports is the annual survey of state arts agency funding.  The results invariably show a wide divergence between the top tier states and those nearer the bottom.  Moreover, there is constant fluctuation and movement within the 50 states.  Should there be a campaign for a baseline minimal funding level for every state as the goal - say a minimum of one dollar per capita - and how might that kind of campaign be launched and pursued?

Pam:  NASAA’s new report on state arts agency appropriations was just published, and your readers are encouraged to check it out.   It’s important to remember that states are not monolithic entities.  Their policy and budget challenges and opportunities are unique to each state.  As I referenced earlier, state government revenues were hit hard by the recession and their recoveries are lagging.  In fact, the recession is the reason states experienced their worst fiscal conditions since World War II.

Since state revenue health is a large factor in determining state arts agency appropriations, and state budgets are enduring unique challenges, there’s not a single strategy or campaign that would work for all states.  A campaign that’s successful in one state might completely backfire in another.  Challenges aside, and state by state, I certainly believe that national service providers can equip state advocates with the tools they need to champion an arts funding goal that’s customized for their state.  Smart timing and a customized approach for each state would be essential.

Barry:  Where do you see the SAA’s and NASAA in ten years?   What will be different?

Pam:  In ten years I believe that state arts agencies will have transformed their programs and services to respond to a greatly changed arts field.  As the arts and communities move forward, so must the structures that support them.  I also believe that in ten years SAA work with arts organizations and citizens will have significantly heightened community engagement in the arts.  I’m also confident that state arts agencies will have meaningfully advanced diversity, equity and inclusion within their grantmaking portfolios and across all services and programs.  Having helped SAAs achieve these successes within ten years, NASAA will be charting the course for SAA success for the following ten years.

Barry:  What has been (and is) the role of SAA’s (and NASAA’s support) in the area of equity and addressing systemic racism in our field?  Assess progress so far.

Pam:  NASAA has made addressing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) central to its work.  As you’ll see in our policy statement, we have committed to advancing DEI in policies, programs and practices at NASAA and at SAAs; this includes advancing equity in SAA grantmaking portfolios.  Our commitment calls for our ongoing reflection and action, and we track our related activities publicly for SAAs to access easily.  

Our DEI policy charges us to “empower SAAs to uphold diversity, equity and inclusion in their policies, practices and programs, including, but not limited to, equitable funding practices.” Here are three of the ways NASAA is meeting this goal in 2018:
» The “Visualizing Grant Diversity: The Demographics of SAA Grants” project is off to a great start, with more than twenty SAAs that have already participated a customized demographics-in-grant-making consultation.  These consultations and tools help SAAs see their grants activities and populations served in alignment with state demographics by county that include household income, poverty rates, populations of color and populations with disabilities.  SAAs can also observe populations benefitted by race/ethnicity, age, individuals with disabilities, individuals in institutions, individuals below the poverty line, individuals with limited English proficiency, military veterans and active duty personnel and youth at risk.  Understanding grants distribution in alignment with populations served is a fundamental step in addressing equity, and we look forward to continuing these consultations with SAAs.
» Later this fiscal year, we’ll develop and distribute a new self-assessment tool to help SAAs diagnose equity and bias in grant-making practices.
» NASAA Treasurer and South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May and I are participating in a national steering committee dedicated to exploring and disseminating best practices in advancing equity in the work of arts grants panels.  We look forward to sharing what we learn with SAAs.
Admittedly, there is much work to be done to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in our field.  NASAA is committed to empowering state arts agencies to significantly move the needle.  Inspiring, informing and equipping SAAs to advance their practices in DEI can and will have a tremendous impact across the country, and that’s why we’re dedicated to this work.

Barry:  NASAA’s funding sources have been historically limited to its share of NEA funds and what it can raise from its member organizations or individual supporters (and that last part is a relatively new and successful component of the whole approach).  Are there any plans afoot for NASAA to seek (and get) foundation support - if not for general overhead and operations, then for specific projects or programs? Or do you have any other ideas to diversify income?  Can you share information on that front?

Pam:  NASAA is experiencing success in seeking and receiving foundation support, and we will continue to expand that part of our revenue portfolio.  In addition, this fiscal year we’re developing a plan to generate new earned income.  It’s too soon to know what our earned income venture will be.  Placing one foot in front of the other, this fiscal year is about exploring our potential and determining our most strategic opportunities.  Then we’ll select a course and move it forward.  Stay tuned!

Barry:  Along the same lines, what kinds of partnerships is NASAA developing with either other governmental agencies, or with the private sector?

Pam:  NASAA is focused on sustaining current partnerships in the arts field, while reinvigorating and developing new cross-sector partnerships.  Both public and private, as well as national and state in scale, we’re advancing conversations and partnerships within the following sectors: policy, rural development, education, innovation and community development.

Barry:  What do you consider to be NASAA’s greatest assets and strengths, and what are its greatest limitations?

Pam:  NASAA’s cup runneth over with strengths!  Citing top assets, I’d include:
A highly engaged and energized board of directors is in leadership.  We’ll also soon be joined by new, at-large board members who are not affiliated with SAAs.   A recent change in our bylaws now positions NASAA to benefit from board experience and expertise from outside the SAA field, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
 A top-notch staff surrounds me.  Excellence is standard at NASAA, and our team continues to produce an expanding portfolio of services that’s second to none.
A visionary new strategic plan that pushes our association forward.
Dedicated supporters of NASAA’s mission (both in cash and in kind).

With respect to limitations, our ambition and drive exceed our comfortable reach!  Our 2018 action plan alone contains 118 distinct activities to be undertaken by a small team.  We’ll add to that by responding to hundreds of information requests (large and small) this year.  Info requests may sound dreary, but we’re actually jazzed when our members call!  Their calls aren’t a distraction; in fact, helping SAAs navigate opportunities and challenges is who we are, so they’re the reason we’re jazzed with the phone rings.  Practically speaking, continually expanding our portfolio of services isn’t possible without budget growth.  This is the reason I commented earlier about developing a new earned income strategy.  Diversifying and expanding our revenue streams will empower NASAA to more deeply strengthen SAAs.

Barry:  Where do you go for advice and counsel, and where do you look for inspiration?

Pam:  I have no one-stop shop for advice and counsel.  I have the great fortune of being able to seek counsel from several sources, depending upon the issue.  For example, the NASAA staff is a wonderful source of information and experience.  I maintain that Kelly Barsdate has one of the best arts policy IQ’s around, and I’m grateful she’s just down the hall from me.  In addition, the state arts agency field is populated with some of the smartest people I know, and I call on colleagues individually to brainstorm challenges and opportunities.  Sometimes I need wisdom from well outside the arts administration field, and the District of Columbia comes through!  This is a place thoughtful and idealistic people often move to, determined to improve the country in some way.  I’ve found some of my most brilliant friends in the neighborhoods of D.C., and I call on them as I navigate the professional and social environment here.

Washington D.C. is also a great place to find art-ventures, one neighborhood at a time, and regularly experiencing arts and creativity is my kind of inspiration.  On the Louisiana home front, familial inspiration is always important.  I celebrate Mardi Gras, even in DC, and I’ll continue to do so, bringing along new fans each year.  I’m also lucky to have amazing young nieces who keep the inspiration flowing!  It’s not uncommon to hear brilliance from them: “It’s okay if you mess up; you can just do something else.”  Or, “I’m an artist today, and I will be an artist when I grow up.”  They always inspire! (Here are the young artists preparing for career day at school.)

Thank you Pam.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 26, 2018


Good morning.

In yesterday's post I incorrectly stated that Elizabeth Alexander is becoming the head of the Wallace Foundation, when, in fact, she assumes the post of the Presidency of the MELLON Foundation on July 1st.  My deepest apologies to Ms. Alexander and to both the Mellon and Wallace Foundations for this error.  Mea Culpa.


Getting to Equity - Step by Step

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

The field prioritized diversity, equity, and social justice goals five years ago, spurred on by a report from Holly Sidford noting the inequity in funding in the arts.  Many of us were disappointed in last year's follow up to the original report, showing no progress in that area, and, in fact, a slight decline in the equity of arts funding.

As part of the commitment the sector has made to addressing the goals of changing this dynamic, and promoting real equity, was / is the recognition of structural and systemic racism, white privilege, unequal playing fields and the need to inform, educate and engage everyone in arriving at solutions.  That awareness in calling attention to the challenge was Step One.

But because much of the challenge involved / involves deeply rooted attitudes, protocols, mechanisms and processes, and has for a very long time, things are not going to change overnight.  We need to approach the challenges methodically, build on an ever more substantial foundation, and embrace both the demand for speed, and the understanding of patience.

But we also need to acknowledge we are on the right track.  We are moving.  And things are changing.

So far, as Step Two, we have done a lot of introspection and self analysis to try to better understand the dynamics of the inequity.  Part of that process was to conduct trainings and education to increase our awareness of all the nuances of how inequity and the sins of bias and prejudice manifest themselves and to question our own role, perhaps unwittingly, in perpetuation of the conditions facilitating the systemic and structural racism underpinning all forms of inequity.  We've begun to do that - and continue to do it.  And its important to remember that each step we take in this effort will likely need to be an ongoing, continuing effort, even as we move to the next step.  Thus, we will need to continue our introspection and self analysis.  And the work in each of the succeeding steps.  But we're beyond the initial step.  We've followed it up with the next step -- serious trainings and ways to frame the challenge, solicit widespread involvement and recruit help.  From GIA to AFTA to NASAA to WESTAF, to national service organizations to foundations - to hundreds, if not thousands, of individual arts organizations - we have begun to try to address inequity by first doing concrete things to deal with diversity.

Change is always too slow for some, too quick for others.  We need to recognize that.

The essential step in moving towards equity and all the changes that implies and entails, is to diversify the decision making processes within our sphere.  We need not just a representative proportion of leaders to be diverse in terms of ethnicity, race, color, and all the rest, we need to move diverse people into positions of real power.  That includes organizational leadership, board leadership, philanthropic leadership, government leadership and even private sector leadership - at the top.

Because of the public and private structure of society favoring the dominant male white majority, moving people of color into positions of power has been a slow process, often met with purposeful opposition.  In our own world, we have long cultivated and encouraged diversity in the ranks, but until very recently the captains of our ships remained decidedly white.  The qualified and capable people of color from diverse backgrounds remained the crew -- many in high positions, with some authority; respected and valued -- but not yet in command.  That is changing.

Starting with big appointments of arts friendly supporters like Darren Walker at the Ford Foundation, Fred Blackwell at the San Francisco Foundation, and the recent appointment of Elizabeth Alexander to head the Mellon Foundation, - all leaders committed to social justice, equity and the arts - and with people in the arts like Pam Breaux at NASA, Eddie Torres at GIA, Javier Torres at the Surdna Foundation. Emika Ono at the Hewlett Foundation, Angie Kim at CCI among many, many others, we are now seeing more diverse people in decision making positions of authority.   This is a fundamental and critically important milestone.  It's not that diversity was wholly absent before.  We've had people of color in key positions - but now it seems like it's moving faster to cover a wider ground at the very top of our organizational structures.

Leaders of key organizations are usually a bundle of qualifications.  They bring with them to their new posts experience, knowledge, networks, vision, ideas and perspectives.  No one is the sum of just one perspective - leaders are an aggregate of what brought them to the point in their career trajectories where they are assuming the reins of power.  And that includes their own personal histories and backgrounds based on ethnicity, race, color, religion, education and more.  That sensibility and sensitivity informed perspective is essential if we are to succeed in creating equity in the arts.  It is very difficult for someone who has never experienced, at least indirectly, the sting of bias and prejudice, to fully understand the nuances and ramifications of what that means.  No matter how sympathetic, how schooled, how wise a white person is, they simply cannot bring the same understanding and perspective, the same sensibility and intuition that a person of color can bring to the issue of racism, of equity, of where and how fundamental fairness may be lacking.  If we want to address inequity, racism, bias, and prejudice, we need people at the decision making tables who are members of the groups who have been at the receiving end of the denial of equity.  We need that perspective - not as an adjunct but as the core viewpoint.

And having those perspectives at the helm of key organizations - funders in particular at this early stage - is very important to moving the field towards equity and helping to dismantle the structural racism, biases and prejudices that exist first in our own world, and then in the larger society.  Having more diversity will help us to move more deliberately, with more sure footing and quicker.  And you can see already in early moves by these leaders in setting agendas and positioning their organization's policy stances, movement towards the next steps in the battle.

To be sure we need more.  We need to see the movement these few appointments signify increased by  exponentially more similar appointments.  We need more diversity at the top.  And the middle too. And, as the next step, we need to see the trend expanded to include boards of directors. That will be the next step.  But it is an encouraging start.

And, of course, we're all in this together, and there is not only room for all of us, there is a place for all of us in working together to move forward.  Nobody ought to be excluded, even as we transition power to those who formerly had little.

A cautionary note:  On the shoulders of those at the forefront of transitions rests a great deal of pressure for performance.  While the pioneer leaders in the diverse cohort of new leadership in our field are very gifted, talented and smart - they are human beings, and not magicians.    The leaders at the forefront of this change are well known to us. We have been involved with them for quite a while.    They are friends and colleagues.  Their role is crucial as we move forward, but their success is wholly conditioned on how much support they receive from all of us. This kind of change is a process, more often than not, a long process, not without setbacks and failures.  It will require sacrifices from all of us of different kinds, and the best of whom we are.  It won't be easy.  But it will be worth it.  And we've begun to make some meaningful steps towards our shared goal - to make the arts equitable and just on all levels; to codify a system the hallmark of which is a fundamental fairness and an equal playing field.

I'm encouraged by the growth in diversity of our leadership at the top.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Declining Cost of Distance and How That May Impact the Arts

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

One trend being watched in the business / corporate world is that of the Declining Cost of Distance.  In the past, the cost of distance has been the dominant driver of where businesses locate, where they produce, sell and do business, and where people decide to live, shop, play and work.  The cost of distance is measured as the cost of moving things - information, goods, people.  And for a long time that cost determined physical location of both work and workers.

According to a study entitled Spatial Economics: The Declining Cost of Distance
February 10, 2016 by Bain and Company, and authored by Karen Harris, Andrew Schwedel and Austin Kilson:

"For centuries, the cost of distance has determined where businesses produce and sell, where employers locate jobs and where families choose to live, work, shop and play. What if this cost fell dramatically, thanks to new technologies? How would the global economy change if manufacturers could produce locally in small batches, without incurring excess cost? Would existing business models and supply chains, for instance, suddenly become uncompetitive? If people could work from anywhere, would crowded neighborhoods start to thin out?   
That change already has begun in the world’s advanced economies and is gathering momentum. Over the next two decades, the cost of distance will decline sharply, according to Bain research, altering the way we live and work—faster than most people expect and more broadly than many imagine." 

Technology has changed the fixed reality of where you live and work, by making it possible to live a great distance from your job.  And technology has changed the fixed reality of where businesses decide to locate as well - no longer necessarily tethered to close proximity to a client base, office locations, its employees, the means of distribution or of supplies.  

Indeed telecommuting may likely greatly expand.  As the report noted:

"As millennials become a dominant share of the workforce this decade, physical freedom and increased online skills will add to the momentum for telecommuting. Already 37% of US workers say they telecommute or have done so in the past (on average, two days per month), up from 30% in 2008 and 9% in 1995."

Urban centers - cities and regional markets - were created in part by the need to centralize operations and cut the cost of distance.  But that imperative is disappearing as robotics, autonomous delivery options, 3 D printing and other technological advances make it less necessary to locate in major metro areas.  Indeed, the trend for many companies moving many of their functions out of expensive cities and either relocating to suburbs or even offshore, started even before the current technological revolution.

Amazon is one case in point, and that model has already dramatically changed how people shop, eliminating the necessity to go to stores.  It hasn't replaced stores completely, but its now established as an alternative - one that seems increasingly attractive to shoppers.  Of course, Amazon isn't completely free from cost of distance considerations, as its warehouses still need to be planned and located strategically near delivery systems, but even that may be changing with the advent of automated delivery options like drones.  And while it needs the physical presence of a percentage of its employees as specific locations, that may be changing too with "at home" work options, automation and even artificial intelligence.

We may be on the cusp of an exurban world.  What are the societal implications for a shift resulting from a decline in the cost of distance?  And what are the implications for the nonprofit arts.

Specifically - and this is by no means an exhaustive list of things we ought to be thinking about:

  • If there is a population shift away from cities towards less developed suburban and rural areas, there may need to be a shift in audience development strategies.  Fewer people who can easily commute to a performance or exhibition, will necessitate the need for finding new ways to attract and entice both those possibly smaller subsets remaining in a defined area, and those growing cohorts no longer in the area.  We have already witnessed the negative effects of intolerable commute situation on the willingness of some consumers to brave the traffic to attend events even relatively near their homes or workplaces.  If a percentage of the urban population relocates, how will we attract them to our offerings?  
  • On the other hand, as the report points out:

"Cities and suburbs will have to contend not only with more attractive exurban and rural developments outside the traditional commuter belts, but also with other cities offering better quality of living. Some urban features are fixed, like climate and natural geography. But other features can be shaped by development initiatives and policy, including civic arts and culture, universities and centers of intellectual capital development, and government regulations and tax policy. These features may become the basis on which cities compete."  

  • It may be that as urban density and traffic lessens, coupled with advances in driverless cars, trekking into the urban center for cultural offerings may become more attractive, and less onerous.  We just don't know how all of this may play out. 

  • At the same time, populations of newer areas - as they develop and grow - may have a need and demand for localized options - including arts and culture.  And some of our arts organizations may find it advantageous to move to meet those new local demands.  Or new ones may spring up.  If that happens and meets some of the demand for our offerings, then those left in the city centers will have a smaller audience pool from which to attract customers and a more difficult task in wooing people outside the city centers to their shops.  

  • Artists have already begun that flight due in the main to the high cost of city housing and work space. Their exodus is rightly decried as negatively changing the culture of major metro areas and any number of cities are trying to figure out how to address the rising costs of living in their centers.    On the other hand, if there is a flight from cities, that may ultimately bring down the cost of housing and doing business in the urban area, and so we may have a situation conducive to the reintroduction of arts and artists in the urban settings.  But if artists are moving already, and increasingly relocating to those exact areas that stand to grow because of the declining cost of distance for business, then perhaps the attraction of being at ground zero of the development of new communities will work against them being lured back to the city which priced them out of housing in the first place. The point here is we don't know how it will play out.  Cities may well become a luxury obtainable only by the wealthy, and were that the reality, that too would have an impact on the current arts ecosystem and which organizations might survive a major upheaval in location logistics.   Moreover, if urban populations continue to move to higher percentages of the wealthy - that may, arguably, help the funding of the arts, or at least a portion thereof.  It maybe that funding goes to a small subset of the arts within a city that are favored by, or in which ownership is perceived, to the exclusion of other kinds of art.  In short, the current funding inequity could grow worse.

  • Then too, as more diverse populations may center in certain of the new areas, more multicultural arts organizations may also move where they may find a more receptive population of both audiences and supporters, as denizens of these areas have more leisure and discretionary spending funds as their costs of living go down.  Theoretically it may be possible that both city centers and the newer growth areas may each reflect an increasingly limited diversity, and ghettoization of space may take on new meanings.  

  • While the cost of distance may decline for business, it may rise for fixed location arts organizations as employees relocate to more affordable and more convenient non urban areas.  Already, in many areas arts organization workers cannot afford to live in close proximity to the physical location of their job.  If they can telecommute, that won't be a problem.  But not all of out people will be able to telecommute, even if they wanted to, as their physical presence is demanded by the nature of performances and exhibitions.  Organizations may find it essential to pay part of the costs of those commutes in order to attract the best talent, thus increasing their costs.  While businesses can possibly afford to run smaller scale operations, that isn't likely to work for us.  Taking the arts to where the people are is fraught with logistical and artistic challenges, as well as prohibitive expenses.  We've tried.    

Titanic shifts that have profound potential impacts, frequently present conflicting dynamic scenarios as possibilities.  Changes in the cost of distance may affect everyone in society and may result in major population shifts.  Or it may not.  It is difficult at this stage to know what the impacts will be, let alone how we can best respond to those impacts, but as the possibility looms, we really ought to start thinking about this kind of stuff.  The best arts and cultural strategic plans that do not take into consideration these kinds of changes may very likely end up irrelevant.

Nobody really knows for sure what it all may mean.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 12, 2018

Clarifying STEAM as Complementary to STEM

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

In the Washington Post, an article by Cathy N. Davidson, founding director of the Futures Initiative and a professor in the doctoral program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY sets forth a new study by Google that suggests STEM skills are not necessarily the keys to success at the company.

"All across America, students are anxiously finishing their “What I Want To Be …” college application essays, advised to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) by pundits and parents who insist that’s the only way to become workforce ready.  But two recent studies of workplace success contradict the conventional wisdom about “hard skills.” Surprisingly, this research comes from the company most identified with the STEM-only approach: Google.
In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas."

Ms. Davidson goes on to cite another Google study, Project Aristotle, suggesting that the most successful teams at Google:

"exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard."

Does this mean STEM skills aren't necessary, or that tech companies will now look to liberal arts majors in their hiring?  Of course not.  STEM skills are the lifeblood of technology.  But it does open the door for consideration of skills other than STEM skills as also being important in the hiring and promotion process.  It is the beginning of the recognition that STEM skills are not the only skills that are critically important.

The comments to the article are as telling as the hypothesis that communications and soft people skills are critical.  Dispensing with the obvious politically motivated comments by those to whom even the term liberal arts education, is anathema and merely the ramblings of fuzzy thinking leftists -i.e. the Trumpets - two or three valid points are made.  First, STEM skills, while technical at heart, are not completely devoid of the soft skills of empathy, team problem solving, effective communications and thinking in the larger context or outside-the-box.   Indeed, development of STEM skills involves team problem solving, empathy, communication and the generation of new ideas.  While we may argue that the arts and humanities bring an additional value to education and training, we ought not to adopt the false narrative that only the arts and humanities can do that.

Second, there is a difference between coders and technicians and those who manage the efforts of that category of workers.  The workplace needs all kinds of skills.  Steve Jobs was an innovator.  He was a designer, not a coder.  Apple would not be the company it is if he had not had those skills.  For technology companies, coders are essential. But so are managers, marketers, sales people, designers, innovators and thinkers of all stripes.  The greater development of all skills in every employee, the greater the chance the company will thrive.

But the most rational point in the comments is made by both STEM trained coders, scientists and mathematicians and those who rely on soft skills emphasized in the Oxygen study, and that is that the balance of skills is what is most desirable.  Even for those who labor almost exclusively on technical projects relying on STEM skills, having additional grounding in critical thinking, people skills and the ability to effectively communicate is of great value -- even for a company like Google which prides itself on the high level attainment of its technical people, hiring only the very top percent of those graduates who performed well in STEM courses.

While those of us who argue for STEAM would apply its value to a university education, if we just limit the discussion to inclusion of the arts and humanities in the K-12 curriculum, the idea of giving students exposure to, and development of,  knowledge in the arts and humanities, is to improve their performance of their STEM skills, and increase the likelihood that they will succeed as STEM majors in college and on the job, allowing companies like Google to reap the benefits.

This has never been an either / or choice.  The question isn't whether STEAM is better at teaching the soft skills, nor whether or not STEM teaches those skills too.  The question is how to maximize all the skills that are advantageous in the workplace for all workers.  And so the comments that suggest liberal arts majors would benefit from exposure to, and development of knowledge of, STEM skills, is valid, as is the converse, that STEM students benefit from a STEAM approach.  Indeed, STEM skills are often used by artists - ranging from painters, to the theater, to dance, to musicians, composers, choreographers, film makers and more.  The notion that STEM and the "A" in STEAM are mutually exclusive has no basis in fact, and is harmful to all the people involved - students of all stripes, technicians, managers and all employees, companies and to society in general.  Somehow we have got to figure out how to get past that bias and prejudice.

It may well be that only a STEM background is necessary for the purest technical applications, but work today isn't now, and will be even less so in the future, about only those kinds of skills.  Creativity, imagination, design, and new ideas are the life blood of enterprise and that requires multiple skills.  Eventually Artificial Intelligence will reach the point where pure coders can be replaced by robots, and then coders will have effectively coded their way out of employment.  But it will be a longer stretch before AI reaches the point where human ingenuity and thought involved in the generation of new ideas will happen.  Eventually perhaps, but not yet.

Clearly, Google has prospered by consciously recruiting the elite of STEM employees.  It has also prospered, perhaps unconsciously, by the evolution and growth of STEAM employees.

We need a country that has vision, and can equip students who will eventually populate our companies and our society with multiple skill sets and, at the least, develop an understanding of different kinds of skills and how they are integrated with each other.  Decrying STEM or STEAM is shortsighted. Making the argument that one, or the other, is unnecessary is counter intuitive and counter productive.

STEAM embodies the bigger picture.  A vivisectionist argument against STEAM illustrates a myopic approach.  There are many ways to give genesis to the big ideas that will help us both prosper and meet the challenges we face.  We need that bigger picture.  And so we need our people - all of them if possible - to be able to communicate, create, imagine, and collaborate.  STEM can do that - in part.  STEAM likely can do it across a wider, deeper spectrum.  Arrogance in insisting that STEM or STEAM is the only answer serves no one.

Very likely the resistance to STEAM comes from an irrational bias against anything that is not STEM.  That bias may have actually served a purpose for the tech industry in its infancy.  But it is no longer in its infancy, and that bias will ill serve it for the future.  I suspect that studies that show the value of skills other than STEM will not yet put the resistance to bed.  But its a start, and we need to push through that slightly open door to make the argument that STEAM enhances STEM.  It complements it, not weakens it.

We must adhere to the argument that STEAM improves STEM, not attacks it.  We must make it crystal clear that adding the "A" - the arts and humanities - is not a threat to the value of STEM, but a way to expand it and insure STEM works at an optimum level.  Perhaps we haven't emphasized enough the point that STEAM is an added, complementary value.

Increasing studies that show the value - not just to managers, but to all employees - that STEAM brings, will help us to break down the irrational barriers that once existed to keep us from making STEAM the standard.  First in K-12, but eventually on the university level as well.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, January 29, 2018

Exit Interview with Janet Brown

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

Janet Brown Bio:
Janet Brown was an adjunct faculty member at Goucher College, Baltimore, MD teaching a graduate course in Arts and Public Policy. She is founder of the Prairie Arts Management Institute, a multi-state professional training program for arts administrators and served on the South Dakota Arts Council. Janet has a BFA in Theatre and a Masters in Public Administration.

Janet was Chair of the Performing and Visual Arts Department at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Executive Director of South Dakotans for the Arts. Prior to that position, she worked as Assistant to the General Manager of Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival in New York City, was a fund-raiser for the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and assistant membership director of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts.

Janet received the national Selena Roberts Ottum Award from Americans for the Arts, and the Robert Gard Award from the University of Massachusetts Arts Extension Service (AES) for her work as an arts advocate.

She was appointed by Senator Tom Daschle to serve on the Library of Congress Folk Life Center Board of Trustees. A registered lobbyist for 15 years, Janet served on the Board of Directors of Americans for the Arts, and is a founding member of the National Community Arts Network (now the State Arts Advocacy Network.

She was appointed Executive Director of Grantmakers in the Arts in December of 2008 and retired from that post in December of last year.   Click here for the interview I did with her in 2009.

 Note:  For further insights into Janet's tenure at GIA, click here for an excellent conversation between Janet and Arts Journal's Doug McLennan done last fall.

Interview with Janet Brown:

Barry:  What’s different about arts philanthropy now compared to when you first started at GIA?

Janet:  I think with Grantmakers in the Arts members, at least, there is a greater sense of the need to think collectively rather than just about one organization’s impact.  Cities like LA and NYC and San Francisco have demonstrated the value of regular meetings of arts funders to develop relationships, learn together and be able to understand the eco-system of philanthropy in their region. National funders also have more communication with local funders in order to better determine how their funding impacts the local community. In addition, I think GIA’s capitalization work has changed many funders viewpoint on cash reserves, funding administrative overhead, permanently restricted endowments and general operating support. There is also a new dialogue about the need for more racial equity in arts philanthropy.  

Barry:  You made equity and racial relations a priority at GIA, and thus for the arts public and private philanthropic community.  Assess the progress the initiative has made, and the biggest challenges the sector still faces in light of the Helicon follow up report indicating that there is actually less money going to the smaller, communities of color, LGBTQ and people with disabilities?  How do we address those challenges and change that reality?

Janet:  Our racial equity work is an on-going educational initiative. The systemic issues of inequities in arts funding will not be changed in a few years, just like racism won’t be solved in American society in the near future. But there is hope because the dialogue is different. GIA has taken a large step in using direct language and serving as a role model for our members regarding the systemic practices facing arts funding. The GIA website lists our statement of purpose and recommendations for action. We also make a distinction between equity, diversity and inclusion and address why GIA is focused on racial equity and not other inequities.

What I discovered is that most of our members are very interested in making some change and addressing this issue, but that change will take time, courage and often times, people will put their jobs on the line. This is a complicated issue for the arts, as the Helicon studies reflect.  Arts philanthropy has traditionally, at least in major cities, provided sizeable funding over decades for major institutions, many founded by the individuals over a hundred years ago whose foundations continue that support today. Unlike other goal areas of philanthropy, like poverty, housing, social justice issues, arts philanthropy does not focus on those with the greatest need. There are political challenges that make changing this pattern very difficult.

Fifty years ago, arts patrons and advocates set out to develop major arts institutions in cities that could compete with the great institutions of Europe. I believe in our major cities that we have accomplished that. The western canon based on European art forms is well established. This initial “arts grants” began with the Ford Foundation’s work in the 50s and 60s, which required matching local dollars. The matching grant became the model for National Endowment for the Arts grantmaking practices begun in the late 60s and that trickled down to states and local arts agencies.  Consequently, over the past 50 years, arts organizations that did not have access to wealth, to match grants, build capacity, etc., have been neglected and relegated to small incremental funding. Art forms outside of the western canon and communities without access to wealth, primarily Asian, Latinx, African, Arab and Native American (ALAANA) have never been able to build the foundations needed to adequately compete for funding. These organizations and artists were relegated to the “other,” supported by under-funded programs like the NEA’s Local Arts Agency and Intermediate Arts.

Intentional programs to make up for past neglect need to be created. I’m not sure this is possible in the arts world, based on the white power systems today that govern both foundations and government agencies. But I know it’s the right thing to do and I know there are brave people making it happen. Institutional philanthropy and governments should be, as in other sectors, supporting the organizations and artists with the most need to help stabilize them so that one day, they can be successful enough to not need institutional dollars. This is where we are with major arts institutions today, but changing continual institutional funding based on legacy and political pressure is not simple and will take time.

There are disclaimers in this conversation, particularly in rural states and small and mid-sized communities that also don’t have access to a great deal of wealth or institutional funders.

Barry:  You also made capitalization (or should I say undercapitalization) of arts organizations an issue. How far along are we on that front?  Is the reality always going to be basically one of “haves” and “have-nots”?

Janet:  Good capitalization principles don’t have to do with “haves” and “have-nots” but rather on how nonprofit organizations are managing the money they have and how funders need to change their behaviors to encourage healthier financial practices. Practices like funding on a twelve month basis and forcing organizations to zero-base budget have kept the nonprofit sector undercapitalized with the exception of organizations that have worked around these issues. We are an industry that is cash poor. Even the largest organizations have little or no cash reserves even though many have large endowments. This became an emergency during the great recession.

For the past seven years, we preached better understanding of capitalization principles to funders and their grantees through our workshops around the country through webinars, articles, and our annual conference. Both funders and organizations need to encourage budgets that include surpluses, which build cash reserves, encourage board controlled endowments instead of permanently restricted endowments, (except for the larges of organizations, mostly museums), support administrative and overhead costs for projects and provide on-going financial training for grantees. Even the smallest of organizations can build a cash reserve, which takes courage and some tough decision-making. It also means grantees need to be realistic about their business model, based on the economy and resources of their own communities.

Barry:  Increasingly, arts organization Executive Directors spend more and more time in fundraising and less time leading their organizations in other ways?  What is the impact of that reality?

Janet:  Maybe I’m old school, but I believe it’s through the fundraising process that an executive director truly understands how programs are functioning and how the community perceives the relevancy of the organization. In fact, I believe that the successful executive director is able to integrate the business model (fundraising is a part of that), mission and programs. When executive directors don’t focus on the money, where it comes from and how it’s earned, organizations can potentially be in trouble.

Barry:  What does the average grantee not know about the average grantor that they should?

Janet:  Maybe people do know this, but I was continually struck, during my time at GIA, at the dedication and passion of folks working in the philanthropic and government grantmaking worlds. Most were artists and administrators working in the nonprofit art sector prior to entering the philanthropic or governmental sector. All are strong advocates for increased funding for arts groups and artists inside their organization and with the general public.

Barry:  What area are arts grantmakers not funding that you hope to see them fund?

Janet:  Obviously, funding ALAANA organizations and artists in ways that will help them develop sustainable management and artistic products. This means working with communities who have not been at the table, understanding them and giving them agency to be self-determining. It could also mean philanthropic affirmative action funding programs.  Again, tough stuff but that’s what we need.

Secondly, there is a need to fund more research in the arts. There is also a need to fund more infrastructure…something I’ve talked about for decades. Every state and major city should have a strong arts advocacy organization, which would also advocate for arts in schools and a nonprofit technical assistance provider focusing on best practices for financial and organizational stability. Most arts funders don’t or can’t look beyond individual organizations to support the collective needs of the sector.

Barry:  You and I have discussed Think Tanks before.  What role might arts grantmakers play in resurrecting the idea of an arts think tank that might influence national policy?

Janet:  Within the membership of Grantmakers in the Arts, we used forums to examine issues of racial equity, financial health, arts and healthcare, aging, education, environment, community service and social justice. These were small gatherings that informed GIA’s next steps and led to research, articles, conference sessions and collaborations between funders. The bigger ideas of where philanthropy is going, how can it change and what does the nonprofit art sector need for future decades is, unfortunately, not something that we focused on. Maybe that’s the next step for GIA. But think tanks alone don’t do much. They need to the seeds that feed practical implementation and change. Really, this is how our capitalization and racial equity work began…as think tanks of funders, moving to recommendations and then moving to action. To do this for the field, in terms of national policy, has potential but is pretty over whelming when one considers how it moves from talk to action. If this were to happen, I’d hope I could be a part of it.

Barry:  Assess the current status of the arts placemaking effort?  What do you see as the major milestones on that front in the next few years?

Janet:  This takes me back to my early days as a community arts developer. I’m not sure what arts placemaking means or is. I believe people make art where ever they live and arts advocates, community members and funders sustain that work if it is authentic and inspires the people who live in that place.  I know one can’t fabricate authenticity and if it doesn’t work for the community, without outside funding, it won’t be sustained.

Barry:  If you were back at the beginning of your arts career, what is the one skill you would absolutely want to have?

Janet:  I would have taken more classes in financial management, understanding balance sheets and audits. Took me way longer than it should have to truly understand financial information. Too many CEO’s leave this to their CFOs or accountants. That’s a mistake.

Barry:  A common complaint of grantees is that they have to jump through too many hoops and that the requirements of a grant are often so onerous as to make it not worth the effort.  Comment?

Janet:  This is one of my pet peeves that I didn’t address too much at GIA. As philanthropy and government grantmaking became more institutionalized so did the mechanisms developed for grant applications and reporting. Some of it is archaic and prohibitive, especially as we look to bring more under-funded organizations into the funding pipeline. We can’t expect organizations without development teams to be able to deliver the same kind of applications or reports as those who have been in the system for the past 40 years and have built up that institutional knowledge.  Small private funders are working on this in the best ways, I think. But all funders, especially large national funders and governmental funders, need to take a long look at how their processes are prohibitive.

Barry:  If you’ve learned one lesson in your entire arts career, what is it?

Janet:  I learned this as a lobbyist and arts advocate, running a statewide organization. No one wants to follow a leader who isn’t committed one hundred percent to principles and values. With membership organizations, there is always the temptation to sit on the fence, to be middle of the road, to not do something that might push some members away. That’s safe but it’s also not productive nor does it excite involvement by new people or make a difference in changing the world. By taking a strong stand on issues like supporting individual artists, improving philanthropic practice and making our world more equitable, you might lose a few folks along the way but more will join because of your clear conviction of purpose. Take a stand and others will stand with you.

Barry:  With your departure, the GIA transition to new leadership is a major change for the organization.  Transitions can be complex and tricky.  Can you comment on that transition?

Janet:  Transitions Take Planning, Foresight and Money
Someone asked me what the single most important issue was for a smooth transition and my immediate response was “a strong cash reserve.” GIA’s cash reserve enabled us to have a transition that has been extraordinary.

In the fall of 2015, I decided I would step down as CEO on December 31, 2017. I began by putting together three transition scenarios with budgets for each. In early 2016, I reached out to a “leadership circle” of my three past chairs and current chair and reviewed these scenarios with them as a group, in confidence. The scenarios ran from simple and inexpensive to less simple, moderately expensive, to complicated and most expensive. They suggested that I propose the first two only.  So I honed those two proposals.

In October, 2016 at the GIA conference in Saint Paul, current chair Bob Booker and I met with chair-designee, Angelique Power, to inform her of my decision and outlined the two scenarios and timelines. We also gave Angelique the opportunity to not continue as chair-designee since she didn’t sign up for a leadership transition when she accepted the position. Angelique is an amazing woman and although she was disappointed that we wouldn’t be working together for her full two-year term as chair, which would begin January 2017, she accepted the new responsibility to oversee GIA’s leadership transition and to be chair of the board.

She began by rejecting scenario one and moving to scenario two. Scenario two included a national search and hiring a professional search firm. In November, we announced my resignation date to the board of directors at their regular meeting. Angelique laid out a timeline for the process, which would begin in January 2017. In December 2016, I developed a request for proposals for search firms, improved on by Angelique, and we sent it to ten prominent search firms with experience in the arts. The one interesting emphasis in the proposal asked that firm tell us their experience in finding ALAANA (Asian, Latinx, African, Arab and Native American) candidates. Angelique and I asked eight current and past board member to serve as the GIA leadership selection committee, called the Alchemy Alliance (AA). The committee reviewed and interviewed search companies and selected a firm. At this point, I left the process, which was totally led by Angelique.

GIA made an announcement in January that I would be stepping down in December 2017 and the search firm began its work. There were monthly updates on the process given to the board and the staff by Angelique. The process of interview selection took longer than anticipated and were finalized in June. We were grateful we had started the process early without dallying by the chair, the committee or the board. Final candidates had two separate interviews with the Alchemy Alliance over a period of two-three months.  Our goal was to have a candidate selected by the committee for an announcement and discussion at the July board of directors meeting.

At the March board meeting, the executive committee led by chair Angelique Power presented a retirement package for me to the board of directors. It was approved at that meeting, which removed it from the decisions to be made about the new CEO. When that person was hired, the retirement agreement was in place. This avoided any awkward negotiations or discussions of financial commitments between the new CEO and me.

At the July board meeting, the Alchemy Alliance (search committee) announced that Eddie Torres was their top candidate. The GIA executive committee, which meets monthly, made a recommendation that the transition include moving the offices from Seattle to New York City. Prior to the meeting, the treasurer, with some support from me, had put together a budget for this transition and a comparison of salaries, rent and general administrative costs.  The board voted to move the office and to hire Eddie Torres as their new CEO. I agreed with this decision since there was no real strategic reason for the offices to be in Seattle except that GIA’s first CEO lived there.

Immediately after the board’s decisions, our priority became the current GIA staff and how best to assure the smooth implementation of the organization’s on-going programs through 2017 and, in particular, our annual conference to be held in October in Detroit. I put together relocation and extended retention offers for GIA’s seven staff members in early August. Because of GIA’s strong cash reserve, we were able to offer reasonable moving packages and retention packages. If the employee declined to move to New York, we asked them to sign the extended retention agreement which provided them with a bonus payment in January 2018 if they agreed to stay with the organization until December 31, 2017, write a scope of work for their successor and travel to New York City for a maximum of a week to train new staff in 2018. All employees chose to accept the retention agreement, which meant GIA would have continuity in services to members and a well-managed conference, our largest program, through the end of 2017. Ultimately, one employee will remain on staff working remotely from Seattle and one remains part-time as an advisor. Eddie also made arrangements with individual employees to work contractually or hourly in January as needed.

Eddie came to the Seattle office twice between August and October for a total of ten days. We worked together on the 2018 budget, current and future programs, organizational operations and the strategies and timeline for hiring new staff. We agreed that my job was to close out the year and the Seattle office and his was to open the NYC office and hire staff. He hired a deputy director in September who was able to attend the conference and the November board meeting. Eddie and I attended the annual conference in Detroit where he was introduced to the membership as the new CEO. We presented a united front for the membership and hopefully instilled in them confidence that the transition would be a smooth one and would enable the organization to continue to have impact for members with the minimum amount of downtime in programs and services.

We kept two staff members in Seattle working on important projects in January and February.  Our director of finance and operations is doing the 2017 audit with our Seattle auditors and the deputy director remained on contract to edit and publish the 2018 Winter Reader, a major publication for the arts philanthropy field. It was our intention to provide as much support for on-going communication programs with Seattle experienced staff while the New York office became fully staffed, and knowledge transfer among old and new staff began to flow. Great credit needs to be given to Seattle staff members who maintained their extraordinary commitment to the organization throughout a five-month period of knowing they would be losing their jobs. This also speaks to the culture of the office, where loyalty and teamwork were values held be the entire staff.

By January 1, 2018, six new staff members had been hired, an office was procured in the South Bronx, the office in Seattle was packed up and furniture, equipment and records shipped to NYC. At its November meeting, the board approved a 2018 budget which included use of cash reserves for transition costs including payment of retention and retirement agreements, the actual move, Seattle staff travel to train new staff and other costs.

When someone asked me the most important element to a smooth transition, my answer was “a strong cash reserve.”  Successful transitions are planned, thoughtful of all individual stakeholders and of the on-going mission of the organization. They can also be expensive, but having cash reserves designated for “leadership transition" make the difference between leaving an organization set up for success or leaving a board and new leadership wondering what the future will bring. In this transition, they have an idea about the future even though, in reality, it will be a new organization that will build on the past to shape a new, even more impactful association for the arts grantmaking community of practice.

Barry:  What’s next for you?

Janet:  I’ve moved back to South Dakota, my home state and where “everybody knows my name.”  It’s nice to be home. I’d like to consult with regional and national foundations, and state and local government agencies. I also want to write and teach - focusing on leadership, racial equity and organizational finances and management. I am anxious to work again with nonprofit arts groups.  I’m also looking forward to reading several books, going to lots of movies, watching lots of tennis, traveling to see kids and friends, and, of course, continuing to be a better boxer. Boxing life lessons: keep moving, hit hard and don’t forget to duck.

Thank you Janet.

Have a great week everybody.

Don't Quit

Monday, January 22, 2018

Quick Exit Interview with John McGuirk

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

Note on last week's post on the Boy Scouts Merit Badge program: I had fully intended to research the Girl Scouts comparative program, and to include a recommendation that any effort on the arts part to reach out to the Boy Scouts, be matched by a similar outreach to the Girl Scouts.  But I completely spaced it out and neglected to do either.  Oh dear. While the Girl Scouts badge program doesn't seem as comprehensive, rigorous and demanding as the Boy Scout program [and why is that?], there is included in their program opportunities to delve into the arts.  And, of course, they must be included in our efforts.  Thanks to Lisa Robb for reminding me of that oversight.  

John McGuirk Bio:
John E. McGuirk is the recently retired director of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program, where he also assisted the foundation president with local grantmaking projects and served as Hewlett’s liaison to the Community Leadership Project. Prior to Hewlett, John was director of the Arts Program of the James Irvine Foundation and director of grant programs for Arts Council Silicon Valley. He sat on the GIA Board of Directors.  Before that, he worked at the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, CA and held positions at both the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Opera. John earned his M.A. in public management, with a concentration in arts management, from Carnegie Mellon University.


Barry:  You have been at the center of foundation arts philanthropy in Northern California for almost two decades as a performing arts program officer for the Hewlett Foundation, the arts program director of the Irvine Foundation, and then back as the director of the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts program.  What has changed during that long tenure?  What’s different about arts philanthropy today from the past, and where is it headed?

John:  I believe the most significant change in arts philanthropy I’ve seen over the past two decades is the growing importance of cultural equity in grantmaking. This has its roots as far back as “multi-culturalism” in the 1980s when I first entered the field. Racial equity is a more recent priority at the national level as articulated by Grantmakers in the Arts.

As an example, we can look at cultural equity and the diversification of the Performing Arts Program’s grantee portfolio. Since its founding, Hewlett Foundation invested deeply in Western classical performing arts organizations (orchestras, theaters, operas, and dance companies) and these art forms merit continued support. But our region’s demographics have changed rapidly, and cultural tastes and consumer behaviors have also evolved. This meant that the art forms and aesthetics represented in the grantee portfolio needed to broaden and adapt to reflect the composition of our region. It has been my personal goal, no matter where you live in the greater Bay Area, that you have access to arts and cultural experiences that are both relevant and affordable. With an annual grants budget exceeding $20 million, the Performing Arts Program now directly funds more than 225 diverse organizations, and reaches another 600 organizations through our regranting partnerships with local arts councils, service organizations, and funding colleagues. Community-based organizations working in a wide variety of disciplines, aesthetics and cultural traditions are now an integral part of the grantee portfolio. One of my favorite projects during the past 18 months was working with author and consultant Laurie MacDougall to write A Fifty Year History of the Performing Arts Program . It documents the evolution of Hewlett’s philanthropic strategies in the arts over the past five decades, deeply rooted in multi-year general operating support and responsive to the ever-evolving cultural landscape.

Barry:  Given Helicon’s recent follow up report showing that in the past five years there has been an actual decrease in equity funding, what needs be done to change that reality?

John:  Helicon Collaborative’s report, Not Just Money: Equity Issues in Cultural Philanthropy.  found that since its initial study in 2011, “funding overall has gotten less equitable, not more.” However, San Francisco is singled out as an exception to this national trend, and the report notes that sustained and systemic efforts have “produced funding distribution patterns that more closely reflect the city’s demographic profile and the diversity of the local cultural sector.” The report specifically mentions the work of the Irvine, Haas, and Hewlett Foundations, as well as the Alliance for CA Traditional Arts, Theatre Bay Area CA$H, Dancers Group CA$H, and the Creative Work Fund. “As a result of this multi-faceted and sustained work,” the report states, “not only does San Francisco have more diverse nonprofit cultural groups per capita than other cities, those groups also receive a significantly larger share of arts foundation funding than their counterparts in the other urban areas studied.”

The Bay Area has long valued cultural equity. Diversification of grants portfolios takes sustained efforts to achieve, but it is producing results over time. Grantmakers need to be cognizant of historical funding patterns and structural racism that have led to current disparities in arts funding, and persistently address these as individuals, organizations, and communities. We need to continue to adapt our funding priorities, application processes and selection criteria to ensure a broad and diverse applicant pool and grantee portfolio.

Barry:  Foundations have territorial imperatives, legacy commitments, vastly different funding priorities and local concerns.  Yet there are national issues than impact arts organizations everywhere.  How do we promote more collaborations and working relationships between foundations across the country to address the big issues than affect everyone?

John:  This is a huge question without a simple answer. It requires grantmakers to incorporate their institutional and geographic priorities into larger movements to achieve greater collective impact. There are some instances of success in regional and national efforts around key issues, such as arts education advocacy and policy, data collection, leadership, and capitalization. Often these efforts are successful because many funders put a little discretionary money into a collective pot to achieve a stated goal that aligned with local priorities and concerns. Some funders have the capacity to do this based on their charters and missions; others do not. An interesting example of funders working together is the creation of DataArts -- trying to streamline processes through a standardized database that ultimately becomes a tool for arts managers, funders, researchers, advocates and policymakers.

Barry:  Data collection, research and evaluation have dramatically increased in the past decade.  How has that influenced arts philanthropy and what will be important in the future?  Is there any downside to relying (too much) on research and data in the decision-making process?

John:  Collection of arts data, research, and evaluation have dramatically increased and improved in the past decade. I sincerely hope these tools are benefiting artists, arts managers, and board members -- not just funders who use this information in their decision making. DataArts, Arts Education Data Project, Audience Research Collaborative, Sustain Arts, Bay Area Performing Arts Spaces, Guide Star and others now provide critical information and tools to enable arts organizations to be more effective and sustainable. It also provides funders with the ability to look at the arts system with a broad lens – understanding an individual organization’s role within the larger context, identifying gaps, informing priorities. The downside is that these databases are not comprehensive – they only can help to paint a fuzzy picture based on available information. Efforts to keep information accurate and timely are essential, even though time consuming and expensive.

Barry:  First, we had capacity building, and sustainability efforts.  Then we had operational support emphasis.  Now we have equity / diversity and capitalization focus.  What will the next major shift likely be?

John:  Hewlett has long been interested in the capacity and sustainability of arts organizations. It is part of the rationale for multi-year general operating support -- providing arts organizations the greatest flexibility to meet the needs of artists and audiences alike. This intersected with a body of work initiated by national service organization, Grantmakers in the Arts, during the time I served on the Board of Directors from 2010 to 2016. It resulted in more funders taking the strategic approach of multi-year general support, or in the case of project support, providing adequately for overhead expenses. Similarly, prudent grantees have taken advantage of the robust economy to build their balance sheets by developing assets and reducing debt. The resiliency and sustainability of the arts sector remains dependent on organizations’ strong financial health.

The next shift is difficult to predict. Recently I have seen more arts organizations collaborating across the non-profit sector on key issues, such as the environment and climate change, displacement and homelessness, education, and others. When the economy slows down and resources are more constricted, we usually see more collaboration and consolidation among arts organizations.

Barry:  Which programs or initiatives launched by Hewlett and / or Irvine during your tenures do you think have had the greatest impact on the field?  What is that impact in brief?

John:  Arts Education – recent policy gains at the federal, state, county, and local district levels are making arts programs integral to a well-rounded education. Now is the opportunity to close the disparity gap for those students who do not have access to arts and culture in their classrooms during the school day (and after school and out-of-school programs). I continue to believe arts education provides students with a “creative toolkit” that is essential for their success in the long term – engaging in self-expression; connecting to their cultural identity and to others; developing a creative and innovative workforce; nurturing the next generation of artists; and building audiences for the future.

Commissioning New Works – in celebration of the Foundation’s 50th anniversary, we launched an $8 million initiative, Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions. Over the next five years, it will commission fifty works of performing arts of exceptional quality and enduring value that will premiere in the Bay Area. I was thrilled with the exceptionally strong projects that were proposed. It was the most competitive set of proposals that I have reviewed in my two decades of grantmaking. The ideas were outstanding, and it was extremely difficult to choose from more than 125 submissions. This major commissioning initiative complements our ongoing financial support and commissioning partnerships with Creative Work Fund and Gerbode Special Awards in the Arts to create new works in the Bay Area.

Effective Leadership —Hewlett and Irvine invested significantly in leadership development. The recently completed $20 million initiative, Community Leadership Project  produced significant results for low income communities and people of color in three regions of California. Similarly, we invested in a suite of research and supports for networks of emerging arts leaders across the state. This work gives me great hope for the next generation of arts managers’ smooth transition to full organizational leadership, the potential for shared responsibility, and transfer of immense knowledge by the generation of leaders preparing to retire.

Barry:  What’s next for you?

John:  I got married last fall-- my husband, Richard, and I have a small beautiful farm near the Russian River in Sonoma County. We are so lucky that the wildfires did not harm our home and property last year. I am looking forward to a long sabbatical to relax on the farm this winter and spring and to recharge my creative practices – a self-administered “rehab for workaholics!” I’ll dust off my old piano music, dig out my parched watercolors, find that pottery wheel buried somewhere in the garage, fire up the glass kiln, and get my hands dirty in the gardens.

In addition, I am volunteering to raise funds for artists and arts organizations impacted by the North Bay wildfires -- to help our neighbors recover and our community rebuild. Please join me in supporting the Creative Sonoma Recovery Fund!

Finally, it is my intention to continue to cultivate creativity and propagate generosity – likely consulting on projects where I can add value, and returning to teaching arts administration and strategic planning at Claremont Graduate University next fall.

I will remain forever grateful to the team at Hewlett, to my funding colleagues across the nation, and to the amazing artists, creators and leaders in our vibrant cultural sector. I offer my sincerest thanks and deepest appreciation to you all for your ongoing work!

Thank you John.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit