Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18, 2009


Hello Everybody.

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

I had intended this blog to continue the discourse started a couple of weeks ago on moving our marketing efforts to CAST A WIDER NET (theories & thoughts on reaching the Tipping Point with different approaches -- more next week), but with the inaguration of President Elect Obama on Tuesday, I thought I would take the opportunity to comment briefly on the historical moment.

First though, an update on our sector's efforts to move our agenda forward as part of the Obama Administration's First 100 Days Action Steps.

This from Americans for the Arts at the end of last week:

"The House Appropriations Committee released an $825 billion economic recovery package. Included in the proposed bill is an infusion of $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (in addition to its annual appropriations) to specifically preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support. The House plan proposes additional opportunities throughout other parts of the federal government that could also help the nonprofit arts sector and individual artists. Many of these other opportunities correspond closely with our Recommendations for Economic Recovery & the Arts."

Congratulations (and thank you, thank you) to Bob Lynch & his team, along with Jonathan Katz, Bill Ivey and (I surmise) at least a score (or more) of other people who have played an instrumental role in our sector mobilizing its efforts to lobby the incoming Obama Administration as to the value of arts & culture, and our pressing needs in this trying economic climate. I think this is a really encouraging sign for us - both because we are finally getting our act together to stand up for ourselves, and because that effort seems to be producing tangible results. I salute and thank all of our leaders (and all of you who are joining their lead) in making the case for protection of the arts in America. This is tremendous. (It is, however, not yet a done deal. We need massive support to ring through the halls of Congress).

Click here to read the Nine Recommendations for Economic Recovery & the Arts proposal put forth by Americans for the Arts:

Also last week a petition, inspired by Quincy Jones, to create a Secretary of the Arts at the Cabinet level began ciruculation. Click here:

Again I strongly urge all of you to support these efforts. Write to Obama and your Congress persons and Senators and urge them to support the arts with inclusion of funds from the Recovery Stimulus package. And sign the Secretary of the Arts petition.

Tuesday we finally turn the page on a long, disasterous chapter of American history, and move again into the uncertain future with new hope.

The inaguration of Barack Obama is, of course, historical. The election of a person of color to the presidency is an event most of us never thought we would see during our lifetimes. It sends a powerful message of renewal not only around the world, but to ourselves. The country is growing up. Despite our problems, despite the mistakes, missteps, embarassments, catastrophic and unimaginable blunders of the past eight years, America again has the opportunity to reclaim its better instincts and the promise of global leadership. America can once more reclaim its soul, its identity, its purpose.

Nations today are yesterday's tribes - more unwieldy with layers of complexity far beyond the smaller tribal versions of the past. But tribes nonetheless. To succeed today as a nation, as a people -- as a tribe - to protect ourselves, offer something back and grow - for our benefit and more importantly for the benefit of our children - we must begin to once more think of ourselves as a people with common goals, values and aspirations. We must think again in terms of the whole of us, of sacrifice, of building a better tomorrow through common action.

Obama has been reaching out to build bridges across deep divides, even where many of us wish he would not. Our natural instinct has been not to extend a hand to past enemies, but to seek our revenge on them, and that is wrong thinking. IF we have any chance to repair the damage to our economy, our global standing, to our education, health care and numerous other "systems", we have to put away old thinking, old suspicions, old animosities and bury the proverbial hatchet. We have to again become a 'tribe'.

There is a danger that we now deify Obama and in so doing put unreasonable expectations on him - expecting HE will solve all OUR problems. Won't happen. Not without all of us working together -- together in new ways, as never before.

Hopefully, President Obama will call on all of us tomorrow to join in a renewal of our tribe and we will respond. America is both loved and reviled around the world. Still, it is OUR country and though far, far from perfect, we have both a legacy and future of which we can be proud. Now we need to repair the damage done, and rebuild. And in our small little niche - the nonprofit Arts & Culture Sector - we can and should play a very important role in helping our people to move towards our better future. There is now a moment of opportunity to again believe in what might be possible -- not just the positioning of the arts more front & center in American life -- but in the way we behave as a tribe.

Though we are in for a very rough 2009 (and who knows how long beyond that), I think this is a time for us to dare to hope again; to find new inner strength to fight for what we know is important. In our own community this is a time for us to unite to protect and nurture each other - for large & small arts organizations all across the country - arts organiztions of every discipline, of every size to find new ways to work together, new ways to collaborate, new ways to build bigger audiences, share data and information, reach out to new funding sources. It is a time to put away territorial jealousies and some of the barriers that have separated us in the past and made us competitors rather than partners; it is a time to take the time to help each other. It is a time for our tribe to think in terms of what is good for "The ARTS" as well as what is good for ourselves. It is time to reconnect, to reach out to each other, to think in terms of us being a "TRIBE".

Like innumerable other sectors we have a leadership role to play - leading by example. Unlike other sectors, we are far more visible, with many more tenacles reaching out into our communities. Think of the message we would send, if all across the country, people saw the arts uniting around a rebuilding and renewal theme, saw us working together, collaborating in new ways as never before, reaching out into those communities united with our message of why and how the arts can nurture renewal and new growth. Not a hundred thousand individual organiztions, but one FIELD - THE ARTS - speaking as never before with a united voice.

Oh, I know, I am just some kind of foolish, pollyanna -- spouting nice, lofty aspirations. Naive, even dense, because, after all there is hardly the time for any of this, and job number one is survival - and survival is pretty much a lonely pursuit. Is it really? Take the crash of the NW Airplane in the Hudson last week -- didn't those people survive precisely because so many people acted in concert together to save them? There IS an opportunity here at this moment to do some of the things we do differently than we have ever done them; an opportunity for a fundamental change in how one tiny little sector operates as a whole.

I know too that many people reading this will ask themselves: "What the hell is he talking about?" And the honest answer is that I am not exactly sure. I'm talking about somehow our field figuring out new ways to do business AS A 'field' - new ways to redefine how we see ourselves as a 'tribe'. I don't know exactly what that means or how it is accomplished, but if all of you out there talk to each other I have faith you will come up with new thinking that can move us in new directions. I know that we aren't just individual organizations - separate dance companies, theater groups, symphonies, museums, film labs etc. etc. spread across big and little cities -- we are more than that -- we are THE ARTS. There are things we can do ONLY as THE ARTS, and while our primary responsibility is to the health of our own organizations, we also have a responsibility to the tribe. And it isn't just about responsibility, it is about self-interest, because making time to act in concert will ultimately help us as individuals. Just like it will take all Americans to really change our future, so too will it take everyone in the arts - not just the leaders, but you - for us to change our future.

So I urge all of you to seize this new moment in time to launch new initiatives, new dialogues, new thinking about how we can better act together to really advance our common agendas. Call somebody you know in our field this week and just talk about this. If there were 10,000 such conversations next week, I know that some ideas would spring up and it would lead somewhere. And I promise you that in that process you will find new strength, new resolve, new hope so that you will NOT QUIT.

Tuesday we can all be proud of our country. I know many of you, like me, will watch the pagentry and spectacle of the inaguration, listen to the words of encouragement, and a tear or two will come to your eyes. One of God's greatest gifts, it seems to me, is that we can both laugh and cry when we are happy. Let those tears flow people - we've waited a long time.

And if I haven't said it in awhile, THANK YOU - for everything you do for the arts and in so doing, everything you do for our country.

End of rant and thank you for your indulgence.

Have a great week America.

Happy Martin Luther King day - more meaningful than ever this year.

Don't Quit.