Friday, June 3, 2005

June 3, 2005, Update #5

Table of Contents: 
I. Comment on what you read here.
II. Rand Report Revisited / The Supply - Demand Issue
III. Bits & Pieces

Hello everybody.
"And the beat goes on..............."

I apologize that I haven't "blogged" lately, but you know how it goes when you get busy, and so much stuff is happening, and you mean to get to something, but somehow it just stays on the TO DO list. I'll try to do better.

I got a lot of feedback on the idea of the arts owning their own printing plants. Some people thought it was a good idea, while others thought it had problems; some recommended specific printing companies, and some pointed out where cooperative ventures were working.

"You talk too much, you worry me to death......"

Starting this week, people can post comments right on this blog by clicking on the appropriate icon. If you want to post a comment to something in this blog, please try to be brief and concise in your remarks. WESTAF and I reserve the right to edit comments so they will fit, and we will do everything possible in that case to maintain the essence of what is being said. Comments can be read by anyone by going to the blog page from time to time and reading the comments that have been posted since your last visit. You can comment on comments made by others as well as what I say. We will probably try to limit comments to the current blog / update. So, if you have a reaction to something said - whether you agree or disagree - please take advantage of this opportunity for ongoing dialogue in our field. Please try not to personally attack anyone, keep the dialgoue professional, and know that there are many sides to any given issue, and that while the arts may not always be a bi-partisan issue everywhere - they should be. The worst thing we can do is make our cause one for polarization.

Have fun and go at it.

"So take it, to the limit, one more time.........."

Last week I participated in a panel hosted by the San Francisco chapter of Business Volunteers for the Arts as part of a multi-city presentation sponsored by Americans for the Arts as part of the merger between those two organizations. Moderated by John Kilacky of the San Francisco Foundation, other panelists included Bob Lynch, President of AFTA, Moy Eng of the Hewlett Foundation, Gary Steuer of BVA, and Naomi Sherida, the Executive Director of the San Francisco BVA did a great job and some 200 people showed up.

A focus of the discussion was on whether or not the arts might be better off trying to expand its audience rather than putting more resources into expanding the supply of the arts available to the public. While there is widespread agreement that the arts should not put all the eggs in one basket as it were and just do one or the other, I took the position that the arts might be overbuilt (meaning that we have, for too long, disproportionately directed funding to expanding and nurturing new arts organizations at the expense of building audiences and increasing public appreciation for, valuation of, and demand for the arts)with the result that we have largely failed in our attempt to do the two things that have been the goals of choice for the past decade: (a) increase "capacity", and (b) promote "sustainability".

What we've done is award grants (public and private) to as many organizations as possible in furtherance of these twin goals. But the reality has been that all we have done is buy a little time for most organizations. Those grantees have been glad to have funds to expand marketing, or fundraising activities, or outreach programs or whatever, and so they hired new people, launched new programs etc., and those were, by and large, very good programs, and the results were positive - for as long as the money was there, but when the money ran out, there was little way for them to continue whatever the project was. Five steps forward, four steps backwards. Yes, that did increase their capacity - for a brief period of time - but hardly any sustainability of that increased capacity. Moreover, by spreading funds too broadly we may have hampered real capacity building and it's sustainability by failing to: 1) direct enough support to mid-sized organizations capable of moving to a higher level, and 2) making sure that part of the grant and the policy behind it provided for the organization to address how the "increased capacity" would be sustained once the grant ran out. We might have been better off identifying organizations at a certain level and helping them to grow to that next level and to maintain that growth.

While the business community throughout the world has been engaged in consolidation and a certain downsizing so as to achieve increased efficiency, productivity and economy, we have been going in the opposite direction. The question is do we now have an industry weakened by too many entities, few of which have been able to advance their capacity over time, operating on shoe-string budgets compromising their efficiency, their reach and their competitiveness?

We have talked some about mergers and sharing of functions such as accounting, and about sharing space etc., but we haven't done much of this. The arts are, in some respects, like solo drivers on the freeway. Gridlock and bumper to bumper traffic results because the predominant reality is one person in one car.

Now, with dramatic reduction in available funding, we've lost ground in making the case, or at least, in winning increased public funding, or in getting the public to demand support for the arts, and I wonder if we have more or less capacity than we did, say five years ago.

Audiences have grown overall, but enough to support an increasingly growing supply? And have we increased the public demand for support for the existing supply? I'm not suggesting we consciously opt for less art - art will always be created. And the arts field, by and large, has focused not just on supporting the creation of art, but on the access to it.

I also took the position with respect to "making the case" for the arts, that reliance on making the case is a fool's paradise. We've made the case, arguably effectively, over and over again. The fact of our failure to win the political victories we need for public support on most levels is a result of the fact that we lack political power and muscle. The pie is only so big, and the demand exceeds the available funds. There are many causes every bit as worthy and wonderful as we are. 

We don't get our fair share because others out there offer the poltiical decision makers other reasons to give it to them, including political support. That's just the way it is. Yes we should make the case for the arts - and improve our arguments at every opportunity. But thinking that if we just make the case we will win the day is naive. We also need poltical clout.

These issues doubtless engender an almost endless debate, and I know that many people disagree with what I've said here. But I'm not taking a position so much as challenging the assumptions behind the policies. I hope that this issue is in the forefront of discussions about our future, because the questions of suppy and demand and where we focus, and the question of making the case without backup political power are both crucial to our success.

III. Bits & Pieces
* There is one way to increase the clout the Arts has, if only on the national level, and this is to join Americans for the Arts Action Fund - it only costs $20.00 (but once you join you can contribute to the affiliated PAC (political action committee), and I urge everyone to do that. The Fund has already had an impact nationally and it is a model of what we might all do on the state and local levels as well.
Click here to go to their page, and then click on Action Fund under the advocacy section for more info: www.

*Meant to include this in an earlier update. Check out the (supposedly) 100 Best Communities (School districts) for Music Education in America:

Have a great week. Don't Quit!