Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November 21, 2006

Barry's Blog - November 21, 2006

Table of Contents:
I. Give the Gift of Art!?
II. Policy - Who cares huh?

Hello Everybody. Gobble, Gobble!

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

I. The GIFT of Art?

"Have yourself a Merry little Christmas..............."

As the Christmas shopping season opens, I am again struck by the fact that there are so few publicized opportunities for gift-givers to give Art instead of the usual commercial products being pushed. I love Open Studios - and most of those programs not only bring people into contact with artists, but result in huge sales of actual artwork. Museum gift shops, on average, do very well and contribute to the bottom line. Art isn't going to effectively compete with the newest Playstation or ipod - I know that, but that's not the goal. But why we don't collaboratively rent empty storefronts for the month of

December and push our own products via our own marketing channels is beyond me.
We are committed to providing opportunities for performance artists to perform, to earn a living thereby; indeed, we fund countless performance organizations that do exactly that. But for visual artists, artists that create tangible physical artwork, we invest little funding and effort to significantly increase the places they can show their work, and more importantly sell their work so as to make a living. Museums help train artists and provide them with other services, but very few artists are provided access to exhibition via museums. What then do we do to help artists earn a living through their art? Besides open studios? Wouldn't some kind of collaborative Christmas campaign help to address this unmet need?

Boomers have money and have gotten to the point where a piece of original art costing several hundred dollars is certainly within their budgets and the range of money they intend to spend on certain gifts and would have far more of an impact on the person's life to whom the gift is intended than almost anything else; would likely be a gift far more appreciated and remembered than any other gift -- so why don't more people give artwork as presents at Christmas. And I do not believe you can't pick out artwork for someone you know that they will appreciate. I think you have a better chance of picking out artwork that they will like than you do to pick out a sweater they will like.

And wasn't Christmas originally about hand made gifts? Wasn't Santa Claus an original craftsman artist - or were those the elves? I just think the market is ready to respond to a campaign to sell artwork as Christmas gift ideas - and that, who knows, we might even get someone like our old friend American Express to partner with us next year in a campaign to have a one month art store in every city and a campaign to give art for Christmas!

Or not as you may prefer. Just another thought.

II. Policy?
"I'm late, I'm late, no time, no time, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late......."

In October Bob Lynch President and CEO of Americans for the Arts and Robert Redford, Chairman Sundance Preserve, co convened the First meeting of the National Arts Policy Roundtable of Americans for the Arts, at Sundance. The National Arts Policy Roundtable was conceived as a national convening of top level decision makers from the public and private sectors such as elected officials Corporate and Foundation CEOs and board members and individual philanthropists to discuss cultural policy issues and help forge cultural policy positions and eventually public and private cultural policy itself. The Policy Roundtable is chaired by Marian Godfrey of the Pew Charitable Trust. This first Roundtable convening looked at the slippage over the last decade in the percentage of private sector giving going to the arts and discussed policy change at the Corporate, Foundation, and Individual Philanthropic levels as well as public sector polices that affect the private sector such as tax laws. A complete report is expected after the first of the year.

I look forward to that report, and hope that it stimulates more discussion of how we are going to formulate policy for the arts in the future -- not just what the policy might be, but how we will go about determining what it might be. I fear that we will, in large part, leave formation to others; that we won't have the time, energy, resources or inclination to discuss, debate and determine what our policies might be and so we will allow whatever policy might exist to be determined largely by default - by our failure to act.

I'm not criticizing here. I understand. I've been there, done that. There is no time to consider such lofty considerations; we have no tools or resources to encouage formation of policy; and only a few people have the luxury to even think about it. Where is its practical application? How does it specifically impact - anything? or anybody?

Alright Barry, if you want to help those people in the trenches - then figure out a way that you can raise more money, increase the funding pool somehow, that will pay for their operations. Not their programs - but their operations. Staff salaries and salary increases. Staff expansion - adding new people to do the work that so desperately needs to be done, but for which there is no time for ME or anyone on my staff currently to do. Cut back the paperwork and all the hoops I have to jump through to get even a teeny, tiny little grant. Expand the grants programs so that all of us way back in the pack here - those of us who are NOT the big cultural institutions - can get our hands on some amount of money that will actually mean we can move forward a little instead of just running in place and getting tired. Get me some board members who will go out and raise some money and stop wanting to plan my programs for me. That's what I need, ok - and what has "policy" formation to do with any of that? (And just a minute, ok, please note that those of us out here who are defined as the "big" cultural institutions - are pretty much in the same boat everyone else is, and all we're talking about is size and scale, and the fact is that we carry our weight and give back far more than we take, and all the talk about all the money going to us isn't doing anybody any good and besides, it isn't true, and it's getting old already, ok?)

So what does policy have to do with all of that? Good question. It's like asking what does a U.S. foreign policy that states that America has the right to pre-emptively invade any nation that we believe may be a threat to our security, irrespective of tangible acts indicative of such threat, have to do with getting mired down in Iraq in the middle of what has become a civil war?

The answer is that you need to have some guiding principles that will allow you to travel a path that avoids as many pitfalls as possible and maximizes the opporunties so that you can move towards your mission. Lots of room to disagree about what that might be, and that is why the more it is discussed the better the final result.

We should protect all of the arts organizations in the sector so that we can develop as a supportive community? Or not? What's the policy? What are the implications? We should or should not be active lobbyists and get involved in candidates campaigns, in the quest for more government money? Which one? What's the policy? What are the consequences either way? Foundations will support organizational operations AND programs, or only programs and not operations? What's the policy? What's the result?

Complex stuff. But whether we consciously tackle the problem of policy formation or not, we will end up with policies in place - by default or by common action -- like it or not, and policies do affect action.

Anyway, I hope Bob Lynch's Roundtable helps. At least it's some movement, something positive. I hope that somehow policy formation filters down to the lowest levels, because sound policy has widespread ownership.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

Remember, Don't Quit!


Monday, November 6, 2006

November 7, 2006



 Hi everybody.

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

VOTE! Please take the time and VOTE today, and urge all your friends, family and neighbors to vote too. Whichever side you are on - this is a critically important election.

And let's all pray there are no irregularities or alleged fraud, or any kind of disaster with the voting machines that would call any election into question, nor any stories about dirty tricks by either side. Democracy can't afford to go through those scenarios.

Predicting what will happen is a risky enterprise. People don't tell pollsters the truth about how they will vote, or even if they will vote. If you pick wrong, then you've have no credibility (at least until the next election, because people have very short memories). If you're right, then you probably just got lucky (and those short memories will mean no one remembers that you were right anyway).

That said, I've been following this really closely. Here's what I think will happen:

The new Congress will be:

House of Representatives:
Democrats: 231
Republicans: 204

Democrats: 49
Republicans 51

(this could flip flop the other way)

Finally, let's hope after tomorrow, whoever wins - there is some movement towards acting like we're all in this thing together; that we are, after all, people that care about the country.

Vote and Don't Quit!