Tuesday, February 14, 2006

HESSENIUS GROUP on the lack of the arts in the President's State of the Union Address

Hello Everybody.

"And the beat goes on................"

Welcome to the February HESSENIUS GROUP on the arts. This month's panel:
Cora Mirikitani
Anthony Radich
Diane Matarazza
Jonathan Katz
Moy Eng

The dialogue between the panel members will continue until Friday, February 17th - so check back daily for new entries.

Feel free to enter you own comments at any time. Scroll to the end. We are screening comments to eliminate commercial and bad taste entries from unknown sources that seem to plague blogs now. But all comments will be posted as of the day they are entered - subject to editing for space reasons.


And Happy Valentine's Day.

ISSUE ONE:The President's State of the Union Address
In the State of the Union address two weeks ago, the President made a point of the importance of "creativity" to our economic future. He spoke of a Competitive Initiative that would focus a priority on math and science. Yet again there was no recognition whatsoever of the role the arts play in fostering and nurturing creativity; no mention of what role the arts ought to, and might play to insure America's creativity; no acknowledgment that the arts of value in teaching math and science, no appreciation of the fact that the mere teaching of math and science does not insure that those so trained will necessarily use their acquired knowledge or skills in a creative way; no understanding that human creativity is a force that might be honed, nurtured, expanded etc.

Despite our efforts to educate government of the role the arts might have in developing America's creative power, despite the burgeoning recognition by corporate America of the value of the arts in fostering creativity within the workforce, despite minor increased support for the NEA, despite the progress with groups such as the Governor's Conference as to an appreciation of the arts, we still face this ignorance, this barrier.

What do we do?

There is a math and science lobby -- one that obviously far outstrips any arts lobby. It makes headlines and gets results. Does this lobby appreciate the arts and its potential to complement their objectives? Have we made any attempt to educate this lobby?

What do we do? I ask you Anthony Radich

There are many things we can do. Following are some ideas:

* We need to recognize that the Richard Florida creative class conversation has created a buzz in state and local government. Though in my opinion Florida overreaches, we need to systematically take advantage of the fact that he has prompted many non-arts people in this country to think and talk about creativity and its value to the economy for the first time.

* We need to stop being so desperate in depending on inadequately researched and even false claims about the contribution the arts make to education. I believe the arts do make a difference in the educational process; however, the proof the field has used to argue this point has been unconvincing to those genuinely seeking more robust evidence.

* We need to recognize that a far more sophisticated education and lobbying effort needs to be put into place for the arts than exists today. I appreciate the efforts that are underway today in this regard. However, compared to the sophisticated approaches employed by other interests--and for many years now--the work of the arts field as a whole remains poorly grounded, unfocused and inconsistent.

* We need to recognize that this country has a deep-seated strain of ambivalence if not hostility toward the arts. We need to understand that this situation will not change overnight. Perhaps we are talking about a 100 year effort to fundamentally change the perception of Americans about the value of the arts. Are we ready to develop the 100 year plan?

If the President thought a conversation about the value of the arts and creativity would resonate with a public he is desperate to reconnect with, I am certain we would have heard him address the arts in his State of the Union speech. But we did not. He has chosen not to lead the way on this one. Our task must be to create a thirst for the arts among the followers and to fashion that desire with an insightful, creative and disciplined strategy that is well executed. Then we will hear a president ask the nation to support the arts.

Diane, Anthony echoes a 'mantra' near and dear to my heart - to wit: the Arts lobbying effort is still anemic at best. What's your take on that claim?

Given this administration, I think we need to continue to keep the arts message as strong and as visible as we can on the national level, while pushing for funding policy gains at the local and state levels.
Americans for the Arts has come a long, long way in successfully promoting the arts message nationally. For the time being, it's probably the smartest use of our resources. Some have criticized the content of the 'Arts, Ask for more Campaign,' but for the first time, the arts message is consistent and visible, and that's in our favor.

Though advocacy success closer to home at the local and state levels has been hard earned, we've made great gains accessing education, transportation, tourism, community development, job training, youth development, and other kinds of funding for the arts. Local and state policy makers are more accessible, relationship building is easier, strategies are more manageable and local and state level governments are more transparent. Our field has learned to navigate those waters well - in some communities and states - very well. Sharing successful strategies from communities of all sizes is something we should continue to do.

(But) I think current federal priorities and the kind of lobby machine needed to affect policy within the DC beltway far, far exceeds our means. I googled the American Competitiveness Initiative in the President's State of the Union to learn more. The majority of funding looks like its for the 'continued and new programs' of three standing federal agencies over the next 10 years: the National Science Foundation, Dept of Energy's Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology within the Dept of Commerce. The combined budgets of those three ACI named agencies is in excess of $30 billion. Even with the combined federal arts, museum and humanities purse ($500 million), trying to leverage support and build alliances at those bigger agency tables would be no more than tilting at windmills. Curiously, the President's American Competitiveness Initiative also recommends $5.9 billion in FY 2007 for the Dept of Defense and its DARPA Program [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency].

So what about those math and science initiatives? At about page 16 of 23 in the American Competitiveness Initiative document are the details. $400+ million is recommended for spending in the next 10 years: $122 million is earmarked over five years to bolster International Baccalaureate teacher training programs in underserved areas; $250 million is for "Math Now," tools, training and research for elementary and middle school students and $25 million is proposed for an adjunct teacher corps. Between now and 2015 there's supposed to be 30,000 new souls from outside the public education system recruited to shore up the ranks of math and science teachers. ($25 million has to be matched by the States and private sector.) Yes, there is money for math and science education initiatives - but it would be curious to hear what math and science education leaders think.

Cora, if Diane is right, and we can't yet "lobby" our way to greater success, will further educating government people be enough?

I wasn't surprised that there was no mention of the arts in the State of the Union address. Nor that the generous use of the word "creativity" was not linked in any way to the arts. And here's the really sad thing - I don't think further "educating" our current political leaders is the issue here, because their disregard (and even distain) for the arts comes more from an opposing ideology on content-related issues, or a lack of political will, than from a lack of information.

So what can we do about this? First, we need to find our voice. I've been involved most recently with an organization called the Center for Cultural Innovation that is developing a broad range of knowledge, networking and financial tools for individual artists. Our experience has shown that there's a huge need for more functional artist services out there, but one thing is particularly striking - that artists in LA, and everywhere across the country, I think - want a place to belong, to be connected, and to have a voice that can speak to their issues. In politics, a collective voice, especially a BIG one when you add up all the artists and creative entrepreneurs across the country, means clout. So getting organized and finding our voice - that's the first thing we could do.

Second, we need to find our heroes. By this, I mean that we have been focusing mostly on top legislative leaders at the federal and state levels to advocate our cause. This is good, but what I'm talking about is finding and advancing a broader range of leaders in the arts who have been making a difference - trustees of nonprofit organizations, painters, musicians, community arts activists, art school teachers - there are so many unsung heroes who are making a big difference every day. We need to find out who they are and help them to tell their stories to a broader audience of influentials.

And third, I think that the arts field (who is this exactly? I'm not sure) needs to figure out how to better collaborate. This word has been used so often that I'm almost sick of hearing it. But there is something about the arts that are very insular, and therefore not well understood by other fields and domains that would have a natural affinity - in math, the sciences, technology, you name it. We need to change that and to encourage our cultural policy leaders to reach out beyond their current power bases and comfort zones to see how the arts can support other fields, and to ask for help.

Decision makers who control resources can be persuaded the arts are worthy of investment by different means. Some will respond to evidence of (a) the value of arts learning and arts experience, (b) the public benefits they provide, and (c) the necessity of an investment at their specific level of government. Others will respond to (a) maintain and build influence, (b) enjoy the affection and esteem of valued people, and (c) make a beneficial difference in the world. These investment decisions are personal. Therefore, key elements in advocacy must be personal relationships and personal experience. When arts advocates organize their efforts effectively around these elements, they have the kind of success we have seen in New Jersey when a governor recommended zeroing cultural agency budgets and now NJSCA has higher funding than at that time, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County when county board members who recommended cutting the arts fund appropriation because of their disapproval of a theatre grant were removed the next election amid increases in private contributions to the fund, in Sarasota when it was necessary to pass a tax increase in order to build the arts education program, and in Maryland when a campaign to invite legislators into arts classrooms preceded increased state arts support. For efforts such as these to become the rule rather than the exception, the cultural community has to organize at the level of the policy or resource to be affected; artists and arts groups must spend time in targeting decision makers, establishing personal relationships with them, and sharing the experience of the arts; arts groups must engage their board members. When we all make every arts event an advocacy event, sharing and documenting arts experiences in a purposeful, personally rewarding way with decision makers, the people who become governors, legislators and presidents will be better prepared to foster creativity as they should.

OK - so where do we start to make this happen? How do we "find" the collective voice you refer to Cora? How do we launch collaboration that will insure that "every event is an advocacy event", as Jonathan says. Hell, Bob Lynch started the Arts Action Fund PAC several years ago; why don't more people send in $20 so we can organize ourselves. The problem, is it not, is that this kind of effort takes time - people hours - tens of thousands of people hours - and staffing, and the arts are basically small organizations that don't have the time to do that themselves. We know that do we not? Why then can't we contribute to a common cause that will do the work for us -- professionally, competently, comprehensively -- instead of thinking we are still in some damn Mickey Rooney movie where we're all going to get together and hold a big dance and save the school? Virtually every other sector has done this, but in the arts efforts such as Bob's grow very, very slowly. How do we change that mind set?

I ask you all.

The design of an effective national advocacy effort is a huge challenge. I agree that AFTA has made large and impressive steps toward the shaping of an effective national effort.
Perhaps the kernel of the problem is that the tent for national-level advocacy is very broad and diverse, yet the barely-disguised more narrow purpose of the effort is the support of the nonprofit arts, individual artists, public sector arts funders and the arts education "establishment." The arts advocacy tent welcomes the money and influence of interests from this country's for-profit arts sector, but really doesn't seem to care much about their issues. In addition, the effort generally disdains the advocational artist [I can't think of one avocational artist in arts advocacy leadership today--at least one who is known for that quality and who speaks for that huge community.] In our efforts, we need to conceptualize the nonprofit arts and those in close nexus with it as an important--but actually very small part of the overall arts ecosystem. We also need to ask ourselves if we have--and if we have wanted the leadership from the other parts of this ecosystem genuinely on board our national-level advocacy engine.

It's true that getting a truly effective national advocacy effort for the arts started is like getting a giant boulder to roll it'll take a lot of hands-on pushing by many people to get it to go. My particular interest is in seeing how artists can be mobilized to advance this agenda, and this has to begin by having a new mindset about who artists are. There are so many creative people who "get it" who we have excluded from our conversation because they earn their living commercially in the arts, or because they practice art for the love of it, or are art students, or take part in culturally-based traditions. Somehow, when we talk about "artists" in the nonprofit sector, a lot of these people disappear off our radar. So my first point is that we have to allow more people to define themselves into our discussion as artists.

The other thing we need to do is to create the appropriate platforms so that artists can have a larger, connected discussion that can begin to harness their collective political (and financial) voice. We've seen an inkling of what might be possible in MoveOn.org, and should work on developing both the technology and in-person networking platforms to get more of these discussions going.

I think you've hit on an important point to me Cora: the creation of platforms, or access points, so that there are "ways in" - entry points - for the huge mass of nonprofit arts workers, artists and those that support the arts. Somehow we have to make it easier for people to get involved, to participate - at whatever level they are able - and then market those entry points and platforms. We haven't yet exploited the potential for increasing the "demand" for arts, in part, because we haven't yet made it easy for people to get involved. Any suggestions on how to do that?

Am I surprised that our president did not mention the arts when advocating creativity and job development? No! Arts and culture have been low priorities in the public policy arena, except when used as a political tool during the cold war years and in the early 1990s attacks on individual artists. This is so for many reasons, a few of which were succinctly articulated by Mr. Radich. If we continue to presume that it is important, if not essential, to engage our policymakers and political leaders in funding the arts, then we need to identify elements that have real saliency for them and the general public, outline a plan of action, build our collective voice (as Cora wrote) and go for the long term until we win the war. Or using a singular event/issue as a catalyst, develop a coordinated, comprehensive effort to engage leaders from education, business, policy, arts, science as well as the general public in support of increased funding.

Perhaps a question to consider is what if we turn our focus to significantly increase individual funding of arts and culture? Given the projected intergenerational transfer of trillions in the years to come and community foundations' role as the "to go" to resource on community issues and building community support on those same issues, should we turn our attention away from the government?

A few observations about strategy in the long term. There's no more strategic investment for our time and money than advocating for arts education. Arts experience makes arts supporters and after childhood it's all remedial work--uphill, expensive and labor intensive. There is lots of documentation of organized citizens groups influencing school boards, superintendents and principals. Absent rewards and penalties for directing resources to arts education, educators will respond to other pressures. A great resource, bloggers, is the Arts Education Partnership, the national forum for advancing arts education directly supported by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts, aep-arts.org.

I like the points that have been made about the need to enlist avocational artists as advocates, to engage for-profit and not-for-profit stakeholders in common cause, and to devote more attention to individual giving. Coalition advocacy holds promise and needs strengthening at every level--federal, state and local. And while we're lamenting the distance between what we think our appropriations should be and what they are, we should recognize what coalition advocacy already accomplishes on a regular basis. At the national level, for instance, the Cultural Advocacy Group, which consists of arts, humanities and cultural interest groups who lobby Congress on behalf of the federal cultural agencies, unites the voices that Congress currently hears around a common agenda and organized activities.

Congress has sustained the NEA and grown the budgets of NEH and IMLS in recent years--in this awful budget environment. Each year when the president zeros out the $30+ million the Dept. of Ed. invests in arts education and the House goes along with that, the Senate restores that money and the Senate prevails. Interestingly, many, if not most, of the individuals who lead the associations whose members accomplish this are avocational artists. Those I know best are serious singers, musicians, dancers and creative writers. And they represent amateur constituencies, too--Chorus America, VSA Arts, and others. At the state level, where overall budgets have been devastated in recent years, we're seeing support build around "new economy" coalitions with names like "creative economy," "cultural economy," "creative class," "cool cities," "21st Century Communities" and others. Their hallmark is bringing together the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

When I suggested in an earlier comment that every arts activity should be an advocacy event, what I had in my mind's eye was a meeting where board members, management and artists decide on a few influential individuals they will cultivate that year by establishing a relationship with them, inviting them to share an arts experience, and rewarding them in a way they would find meaningful. Then they plan exactly how they will do that, and they do it. If 50 organizations or creative industry businesses did that for a few years in any state or city, I believe it would broaden support for community cultural life enormously.

I'm taking a moment to reflect on the diversity of thoughts and ideas offered by my colleagues - there is so much to do! I think Moy's suggestion that we consider the role of individual giving to the arts really resonates with the idea that we need to make ownership of culture and arts in this country more widespread. Choosing the right tools and strategies may be the easy part. Getting people engaged - that's our challenge!

I think we're all saying the next iteration of arts advocacy must significantly expand the ranks of those who care.

So what are a few more advocacy ideas to expand the reach and relevance of the arts?

Of all the creative industries, let's identify two or three with which we have the strongest affinity. In what new ways can we communicate with, work with and form alliances with them for greater mutual gain? Given those partners, what are manageable translations of relationship-building strategies that can be worked at the state level and at the community level? (Let's remember strategies should be simple and easy for busy people to implement).

Let's use technology and existing networks for more efficient dissemination and sharing of good research and thinking. For example, how could WESTAF's current assessment and plan to reinvigorate and better position the 12 state agencies in the West as more proactive advocates be applied in all 50 states? Why can't AFTA's 'Art, Ask for More Campaign' be a link on the home page of every arts and cultural website in the country? In what other ways, and in what other arenas, could the campaign be promoted to reach more people? Across the board, how can we be more efficient in sharing ingredients of successful strategies so we don't unknowingly expend limited resources on duplicative endeavors?

How can we better extend our messages outward? In addition to the ideas offered by Cora, Moy, Anthony, you and Jonathan, and other contributors, what if the agenda of every state superintendents annual conference, every state association of counties annual conference, and so on, there were presentations, keynotes and/or panels highlighting specific examples how the arts advanced those sector agendas, maybe the messages would result in more lasting impressions. This same strategy could be applied to national and state gatherings of our creative industry partners. And if presentations were delivered by arts champions from within those sectors ranks, perhaps they would have even more credibility.

The point was made that arts education can be a powerful rallying point for advocacy on behalf of the arts. I strongly agree with this. Parents care deeply about what their children's experiences and are one of the last groups left willing to bleed a little to get something done. Interestingly enough, the arts, particularly the formal and classical arts, are currently suffering the disbenefits of the decline in arts education. So we in the arts have a strong nexus with this issue, and we should have a strong motivation to become active in the area of arts education advocacy. Before we do though, I think we need to look at our dismal past in the area of arts education advocacy and ask questions such as:

1) Why have over 30 years of public art funder involvement in arts education failed to arrest the decline in arts eduction--or at least the public's perception of the value of arts education in our society?

2) Isn't it time for us to realize that in many places, implementing or sustaining a K-12 sequential quality arts education within the schools is not going to happen. While not giving up on that ideal, shouldn't more of our efforts be directed to sequential quality arts education in before and after school programs?

3) How have traditional arts educators helped us in this work? What is it about their interests that, in my view, prevent us from reaching a solution to this problem?

4) Why have arts education efforts historically been assigned such a small role in the work of public sector arts agencies?

5) When we talk about arts education advancement, what should we consider to be a victory? Pilot and model programs are nice, but when the arts education delivery system is collapsing around you, are these not an unnecessary distraction?

Finding a solution to the arts education provision conundrum will not be easy. But we have to start somewhere and I propose we begin with a little self examination. Arts education is an area that is very critical for all of us. We have not done very well with it to date. We have got to do better!

I want to thank this month's panel for a lively and thought provoking discussion. And thanks to all of you who took the time this week to follow the discussion - I hope you feel it was worth your effort.
The next HESSENIUS GROUP will begin on Tuesday, March 14th. The regular BARRY'S BLOG will return in two weeks (or sooner). Please tell your colleagues to subscribe.

Have a great President's Day weekend, and remember

Don't Quit.