Sunday, May 31, 2009

May 31, 2009


Hello everyone.

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


With budget downsizing, layoffs and less money coming in from all sources, what can the average arts organization do to get staff help in fundraising, event planning, marketing, media relations, volunteer coordination and all the other things that simply have to get done?

The bad economic situation may actually be providing at least a temporary answer -- qualified interns. More and more recent college graduates are actively seeking nonprofit internships because in the current job market there are no jobs to be had. Internships give them practical experience and something to put on their resumes that will help them distinguish their experience (and commitment to a chosen field (e.g. marketing, finance, etc.). Any number of experts are advising college graduates (and even displaced workers)to consider an intership as a smart (temporary) move.

An increasing number of nonprofits are finding that they are getting huge responses to ads on craigslist and other places for interns - including non-paid positions -- even ones demanding six month minimum commitments. The key to attracting superior talent to these positions is to offer real training and oversight as well as meaningful decision making authority. If all you are looking for is someone to file papers and stuff envelopes, you aren't likely to get anyone who can really help you. But if you can allocate senior management time to oversee such a program and offer mentorship and skills training so that the experience is seen as serious professional development, there has never been a better opportunity to attract truly talented and often time surprisingly well qualified people in fields as diverse as website design and management, to marketing and public relations, to finance and accounting.

Need help in your understaffed (or nonexistent) marketing department? Is your finance department (or finance person) overwhelmed? Do you just not have the time right now to begin to create next year's budget? Want to boost the percentage of twenty somethings in your audience? Want to get some media coverage with that same segment? Want to increase awareness of your organization and raise money from the young professionals crowd?

Why not recruit two or three recent communications department (or other departments - e.g. business / finance etc.) new college grads as unpaid (or minimally paid) interns, for a defined time period (say, four to six months), and then after a quick orientation and tutorial in your organization and the nonprofit arts sector, turn that mini team loose to work on a series of predetermined objectives you and the team mutually arrive at (e.g., raise $20,000 from the under 35 crowd. Or get ten articles in local papers, magazines or on local television about the organization. Or draft a detailed budget for next year including cost cutting options. There are doubtless a score of things you would like to have done, but can't do yourself)? No budget? No problem, that is part of their challenge. You meet with them regularly to review what they are doing, offer suggestions and direction and monitor their progress. You stand to get unbridled energy and enthusism, out-of-the-box thinking and entrepreneurialship, and just maybe achieve some results that have been eluding you. You also get one or more people who will care about your organization and go out into the community and spread goodwill. You might even get a future permanent employee. They get the opportunity for some practical, real world experience, real decision making authority, and, depending on the degree of their success, an excellent addition to their resume and a terrific recommendation from you to prospective employers. They also get the chance to do some meaningful work and help with a good cause. Win / Win. No?

But this opportunity may not last forever. The economy will improve, more jobs will become available, and more workers will then be in demand, and less of them will be interested in working as an intern.

Something you might want to think about anyway.

Links you may want to check out:



Have a good week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

May 24, 2009


Hello everybody.

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

Here's some links I thought you might find interesting:

John Kilacky (Arts Program Officer - San Francisco Foundation) emailed me with this link to his Ten suggestions of things you can do to cope with the hard economic times. Check them out here –

Here's an idea (from the Dalouge Smith blog - Dog Days - May 14, 2009)I have long thought should become reality. An Artist-in-residence in every corporation – click here:

Some people thought Michelle Obama's remarks at the Metropolitan Museum in New York last week came up short, but to me what is important is the fact that the First Lady made the remarks in the first place. (I don't remember Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton out on the stump for the arts - though perhaps they did - though not often that's for sure.) One can only hope, however, that the arts are not just on the First Lady's radar screen, but will be a policy priority of the West Wing and the President too. Here is the text of Michelle Obama's speech –

The Hewlett Foundation released the SRI follow-up report to their California arts education report - you can find it at their onsite library (scroll down) once you click here:

The Poodwaddle World Clock is a very cool site that gives you (in real time) the world population as it is growing plus scores of other world stats and info. It breaks down growth by continent, in terms of gender and some other fascinating statistics - there is a moving toolbar at the top - click on any of the icons. This is a dynamic site - play with it. I think you will find it fascinating. Click here:

Got an email this week from a Gen X self-described "emerging leader" who suggested to me that the real reason a lot of people are going to this year's Americans for the Arts Conference in Seattle is to network and look for possible new employment given that there are so many layoffs and closures going on in our sector. And I suppose if you are looking to put your name and face into people's minds so as to increase your chances of finding a new position, this conference is a very good one at which to do that. Click here for a link to their conference site:

Target Women if you want a donation. I have long suspected this is true. My own experience suggests most corporate giving decisions are made by high level exeutives wives. Here the Chronicle of Philanthropy suggests women in each family increasingly make the philanthropic decisions.

Create a "social network" of your own. is -(according to - "a social network designed around creating social networks. Ning invites users to create their own social network by going through a series of steps that name the social network, select a color scheme, and allow for unique profile questions.

In some ways, Ning is a portal to mini-social networks since you can choose to join any of the thousands of user-created networks, and in other ways, it is a social network development platform."
This has many potential uses for your arts organization. Click here:

Place group calls and send messages to multiple people for free (from your mobile or any other phone).

If you have a link to a cool site you think people would like to know about, please add it as a comment below, or email me a reply. Thanks.

Hope you are rejuvinated following the Memorial Day holiday.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 17, 2009


Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on............”


In conversations with foundation program officers, local and state arts agency directors, and elected officials, I am hearing the same draconian predictions – that arts organizations (in many, if not all, places) haven’t yet really begun to feel the economic crisis that is looming in the near future. We’ve been hit hard already, but we’re really still living on last year’s budgets and spending patterns – last year’s city and municipal budgets, last year’s foundation budgets, last year’s philanthropic giving, and last year’s audience attendance. And it is going to get a lot worse.

I am hearing that some major foundations may be cutting their funding pool budgets for next year by 20% or more, and that some smaller arts funding foundations are contemplating even deeper cuts. Local cities and counties, hard hit by the economic downturn and desperate for revenue, are likewise contemplating huge reductions for arts funding. And the competition for those scarcer dollars is heating up as many government funded areas seek to appropriate arts money for their needs, and are making the argument that what they do is more critical and necessary than arts funding and that arts funding must, during these hard times, take a back seat to other, more pressing needs. There are many cities and counties where the local arts agency funding pool is threatened with elimination or drastic cuts. Similarly, hotel tax funds – used to fund the arts in many jurisdictions, are down because tourism is down, and thus their pool of arts money is shrinking.

The response by many arts organizations to these possible reduced funding pools is to (perhaps erroneously) assume that if there is a 20% cut in some funding pool (hypothetically a foundation let’s say), that their grant will be cut by 20% next year. But what I am hearing is that (at least some) funders are trying to reassess what they fund and to what extent as they struggle to make hard choices in these desperate times, and that may mean that any number of organizations that have for a long time gotten an annual grant, may this year not get a cut in that grant, but rather may not get any grant at all. If the average arts organization’s funding includes a number of grants from a variety of sources, all of these cuts, in the aggregate, may add up to be a quite substantial portion of their total budget. For any number of organizations that could be an overall cut to their budget much larger than what they are anticipating.

Add to our problems that the number of those donating to the arts may not be falling, but the amount of their individual gifts apparently is. Corporate giving is way down across the entire nonprofit sector. And we have all seen the impact of audiences staying home resulting in cancelled or shortened performance schedules and the like. The NEA economic stimulus money (though not very much) nonetheless has helped some organizations cope with the (so far) relatively modest downturn (compared to what might lie ahead this coming year), and that has, itself, created somewhat of a false sense of security. That extra money won’t be available next year.

The long and short of all this is that a lot of inside people are talking about the next year as one that will really hit the arts hard. Some organizations are in denial over what may be coming, others may just not see it coming and are going to be in for a shock. Still others see the writing on the wall and are trying to plan for survival, but aren’t sure to what extent all of this will hit them. It will be prudent for arts organizations of all types and sizes to do some very serious worst case scenario planning this year in anticipation for next year.

One can only hope the above scenario doesn't happen.


The New York Times broke the story last week that Rocco Landesman, a broadway producer, is President Obama’s choice to head the NEA ( ) For many in the arts this was a very surprising nomination, and some will be disappointed that Obama didn’t pick someone of color, a woman and / or someone with nonprofit arts experience. I don’t know Mr. Landesman, but like him I was an outsider and came from the "for profit" entertainment sector when I first started in the non profit arts 13 years ago, so I would hope everyone would give him a chance. I think it incumbent on the whole of the arts field to open an immediate dialogue as to what the NEA should be, what its’ priorities ought to be, how it’s money should be allocated and what role it should play in supporting arts & culture in America. I think every national arts service provider group – from every discipline, along with the foundations and funders, and & every state and city agency, should all begin to ask their colleagues to chime in on what kind of NEA we all want to see and then begin to organize those thoughts and reflections and share them with Mr. Landesman. Along that line, I intend to gather a half dozen or so leaders for discussion on this blog of exactly those questions -- with the hope that such an exercise might motivate others to do the same. The NEA ostensibly belongs to all of us. We need to discuss what the agency should be.


With budget cuts, shrinking funding pools, and looming challenges, it is hard to argue that people should spend money and time travelling to attend a conference, but I would argue that this is precisely the time when arts leaders should get together --- to talk about those challenges, share ideas as to how to survive and cope and to network with their peers. For me, the Americans for the Arts conference has always been one of my personal preferred meetings. I can think of three really good reasons why arts leaders here in California in particular should attend the meeting in Seattle June 18-20th.

1. The networking possibilities. The conference provides one the better opportunities to intersect and interact with some very well positioned and powerful leaders in the field -- including those from three key groups: a) a large segment of the foundation / funding community -- (and I like to intersect with the people who have the money because sharing information with them tells you a lot about the health of our sector and let’s you know what kinds of projects may and may not fly in the future), b) a very large segment of the national service provider organizations(half of which it seems are now part of Americans for the Arts under the expansion umbrella of the past few years), and interaction with those people gives me a good idea as to what the various sectors of our field are facing and what they are doing to cope, and let's me get a handle on how others are successfully dealing with major challenges (it also let's me brainstorm with people from different corners of our field about possible collaboration, and (c) an excellent cross section of the sector's best and brightest independent consultants - and as a consultant now I like to touch base with others to see where there might be some possibilities for collaboration or for work.

I have found that I invariably come home from these gatherings with a new project in the development stage, and a very high percentage of those embryonic projects conceived at this conference end up being realized. Something seems to happen here and there are always surprising outcomes.

2. AFTA always allows attendees the opportunity to really see and experience the arts & culture of a city up close and in detail. I have been to probably a dozen AFTA conferences, and but for those conferences I would never have had the chance to really experience those cities and their arts communties in anywhere near the depth I do because of AFTA's sponsorship. Seattle is a fantastic and cool city, and it's so close to California that it's possible to come to this meeting Thursday and go home Friday night if you want to. Airline flights have never been more reasonable and there are multiple hotel options. As the conference rotates to different locations around the country, (and was in Vegas two years ago), it isn't likely to be back on the west coast for some time.

3. The chance for renewal. I have come away from each of these conferences both renewed and re-energized, and it is important for arts leaders during these times to get reconnected again to the pool of positive energy that will allow them to survive and weather these tough times.
Click here for AFTA convention information & registration

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May 10, 2009


Hello everybody.

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


During these stressful times, more and more of us are likely to feel the pressures mount and begin to burn-out. Those kinds of feelings can strike all arts administrators, whether new hires or seasoned vetern leaders. We need to first recognize the signs, then take pro-active steps to cope with the syndrome. Leaders need to know that burn-out is common, and how they can help their staffs to successfully combat its negative repercussions.

Here is a simple test to help determine if you are near or experiencing some kind of burn-out.

1. Are you feeling over tired and drained of energy?
2. Are you getting easily annoyed and irritated with small problems?
3. Are you less sympathetic or empathetic to others around you?
4. Is what you say increasingly misunderstood or misinterpreted by those your work with?
5. Are you increasingly feeling frustrated in trying to reach reasonable goals at work?
6. Do you think you are achieving less than you are expected to on the job?
7. Do you feel organizational politics in your organization has gotten out of hand and is making it harder for you to do a good job?
8. Do you sometimes dread coming into the office in the morning? Are you watching the clock in the afternoon?
9. Do you feel increasingly disorganized?
10. Do you daydream more during work hours than you use to?

Score yourself on a 1 to 5 scale for each question, with 1 being that you rarely, if ever, feel this way, and 5 being that you now feel this way most, if not all, of the time. The nearer your total is to 50, the more in danger you are of serious burnout.

What can you do to avoid and / or recover from burnout?

1. Identify what you think are the likely causes of your feeling stressed or unhappy on the job. Write them down over the course of a week if you have to. Just knowing what specific kinds of things are increasing your stress levels can help you cope with them. The more you understand what is making you feel like you are ‘burning-out’ the easier it will be to eliminate some of the negatives. Understand that you aren’t likely alone in feeling burnout on the horizon. Talk about what you are experiencing, not as a way to whine or complain, but as a rational approach to dealing with what are the root causes.

2. Recapture your time. Learn how to say ‘no’ to demands put on you that interfere with your productivity and stress-free environment. Prioritize what you need to get done and cut the rest back. Time is a precious resource – don’t spend too much of it on low-yield work that nets little results. Get more sleep, more exercise and take more time for yourself – even if just a few minutes here and there. Discover what you consider to be a reasonable work / home balance point, then rigorously defend that point. If you need to take a day off, do it. If you think you are in serious burn out, move your vacation up. Talk to your supervisor(s) and explain that you need to cut back in order to stay an effective team member. Take a deep breath and step back during the course of the day and when negatives arise, ask yourself: “Is this really a big deal? “ Don’t be hesitant to point out where the organization is losing it focus on what is important. It’s easy during difficult times for organizations to sometimes get involved in projects and tasks that are impossibly burdensome and unlikely to succeed. Sanity may ultimately depend on recognition of where energy is misplaced.

3. Conscientiously think more about how to manage your workplace environment and your relationship to co-workers and colleagues so as to avoid some of the negative pitfalls of office politics. Increase the time you spend with your positive support network. Don’t let people depend too heavily on you for too much. Manage those kinds of relationships. Distance from co-workers is both a cause of burnout and a defense against it. Spend at least part of each day thinking about how things are going for your co-workers? Are they burning out? Do they need some support? Empathy with others is essential to feeling more in control yourself.

4. Think about what parts of your job give it special meaning to you, then spend at least part of your time involved in those activities so you can maintain your level of passion and commitment. Spending all of your time dealing with the negatives on your plate breeds frustration, hostility and hopelessness. You need to spend some time doing tasks that you know are effective and which you enjoy. If your job description has become part of the problem, see if it is possible to have someone else within the organization help with some of the more stressful components - at least temporarily. Help can make the job easier and less stressful. If all of your job description is confronting challenges that leave you empty, you need to change that job description in some way.

5. Remind yourself about the good things that attracted you to your job in the first place. Try to gain a little perspective by standing back a little from time to time to appreciate that all the unreasonably burdensome challenges you currently face are likely cyclical – and that, in time, things are likely to get better.

NOTE TO SENIOR STAFF AND HEADS OF ORGANIZATIONS: The single most important thing to do in the face of actual, or potential, burnout is to address the issue head on and not ignore it. It isn’t likely to just go away by itself, but with a little conscious effort, you can effectively deal with it. If you are a senior manager, or Executive Director of your organization, try to remember that any number of the people on your staff may be dealing with some degree of job dissatisfaction and burn-out, and try to acknowledge that this reality is normal. You need to support your staff in identifying burn-out, its root causes, and some of the ways that your people can effectively cope with it. Bring the topic up at staff meetings, or with department heads or individual employees – and empower everyone to frankly and forthrightly accept that in these very difficult and challenging times (when programs and services are being cut, and staff laid off) burn-out is common and it is ok to acknowledge it. The more open you are in dealing with it, the less of a problem it will be for your organization. Please don’t assume it isn’t an issue for your people, just because no one is complaining about it openly.

Good luck.

Have a great week. Hope it was a Happy Mother’s Day for all.

And remember: Don’t Quit.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

May 03, 2009


Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on.......”


From the news accounts it would seem that the current flu pandemic isn’t likely to pose the level of threat originally feared. While it remains to be seen how it will fully play itself out, it seems this flu isn’t the “doomsday” everyone fears may one day confront the world. I think the response by governments across the globe was pretty much the right response. Better to be cautious. Mexico, of course, took the biggest economic hit as a result of their attempts to contain the virus by discouraging (and preventing) people from assembling. Seeing what happened in Mexico makes it relatively easy to speculate as to what would happen to our little arts sector if some potential pandemic had had its genesis here in our country, in one of our metropolitan areas. Imagine the epicenter of the beginning of this pandemic scare having been New York or Los Angeles. And imagine it a more dangerous flu and so the fear lasted not one month, but three or four or more. If Mexico’s actions were the reasonable first response, then the closing of museums and galleries, the shutting down of virtually all performing arts venues (and movies, then restaurants and more) would happen here. Even if there weren’t a current economic recession and wider crisis, such action would be economically devastating to our sector. And perhaps the next potential pandemic will start here. It probably isn’t a question of IF, but WHEN. What would we do? What could we do? Clearly, the arts sector is highly vulnerable.


Back in 2005, when the SARS (Bird Flu) pandemic scare was playing itself out in Asia, I blogged about the arts & culture sector doing some kind of scenario planning for the eventuality of some kind of natural (or man made) disaster. At the Madison Wisconsin Americans for the Arts conference that year, we did a “Hessenius Group” live session that touched on the issue of our sector’s contingency planning for unlikely scenarios (or more accurately, the lack of any such planning). I argued then that we ought to at least consider the implications of the impacts of everything from pandemics to economic collapse to earthquakes and hurricanes, and, at least, convene some of our best thinkers to discuss what those impacts might be and what might we do to minimize the negative fallout in the unlikely eventuality that any one of those scenarios became reality.

I echo that clarion call again. Now maybe there isn’t anything that can be done in the face of such disasters. I don’t know. But I still think we ought to try to get some kind of handle on what might happen, and consider whether anything could be done or not. If nothing else, we might increase awareness of the problems and challenges we might face, and at least begin to catalogue where our most pressing needs would be in such circumstances, craft some kind of unifying action that might address those needs (or at least get individual organizations to think in those terms), and expand awareness of our plight with the public. In all probability, scenario planning for us would have as its goal, not saving every organization, but saving the sector itself. The exercise itself would be, I think, of value.

If we had done that kind of planning, would it have made any difference given the current economic crisis and its impact on our sector? Could we have come up with any plan that might have helped those countless arts organizations that are now struggling? Or would it have just been a waste of time (a resource that seems in perpetual short supply for us)? I have no idea. I don’t think we can know until we do it. I suppose the easiest suggestion in the face of future catastrophes, would be to start some emergency fund to deal with those future needs, but how on earth would we possibly fund such a contingency pool? In all probability the small amount of money we could raise would be ineffective in the face of whatever need it was designed to address. Ok, I know that. But I still believe that it is prudent to at least discuss what kinds of events (that now seem ever more likely to happen and far less the isolated, unlikely random occurrences) might have significant negative impacts on our field, what those impacts are likely to be, whether or not there is anything we can do up front to prepare for those scenarios, and, even if not, then what the aftermath would likely look like as our sector is changed. I still think, for example, that we ought to be collecting data now during the current economic crisis which can be used to analyze what the sector was and what it will look like in two years when the economy rebounds, because I think there are lessons to be learned from what we are going through now, and those lessons can empower us to seize opportunities that may arise in the future – a future changed because of what is going on. But there is a much bigger issue at stake in talking about scenario planning – and that is that we have no mechanism in place to even have such a discussion.

The real issue is how can we function as a “sector” when such action might be called for as necessary or advisable.


The arts & culture sector’s capacity to behave like a sector is something we rarely face head on. We have no ongoing entity or structure or apparatus that allows us to discuss any of the myriad of issues we might want to discuss as a sector. We haven’t even really yet advanced to the point where we think of ourselves as a cohesive sector, capable of concerted, organized action on specific common challenges. We still lack the will, the skills and the means to think and act as a unified field, despite our constant references to ourselves as some monolithic arts & culture sector. We have too few of the tools in place yet that allow us to work and position ourselves as a field. Even though we pretend we are a “sector”, for the most part we are scores of separate interest areas and tens of thousands of individual organizations only loosely linked because of geography, discipline, budget size, lofty mission statement or other variable. We very infrequently work as anything even resembling a cohesive, organized, unified whole with common purposes and goals. We squander the potential clout and power we might have based on our numbers and our community value because we don’t act in concert. And when we do, it is usually reactive to some imminent crisis. There is no long range strategic planning for sector wide action on any level. We don’t even have the tools yet to move ourselves in that direction. We are still at the “talking about” it stage. That lack of identity and ability to mobilize ourselves has had profound costs to all of us over the decades, and is likely to be even more costly to us in the future. Yet here we remain.

I, and many others, have been beating the drum for a long time for increased cooperation and collaboration for the arts -- as a field -- to act in unity on broad issues that impact us all – from advocacy to research and data collection, from internal to external collaboration itself, from marketing to audience development. I don’t mean to suggest there is no cooperation and collaboration, no effort going on -- only that most of those efforts have little to do with arts & culture as a “sector”; most collaborative efforts are by and between individual arts organizations and sometimes with other sectors. The few sector wide efforts (Americans for the Arts Action PAC comes to mind as an example), are still somewhat embryonic and are not yet based on any widespread local foundation. Indeed, that’s how we think – basically narrowly within small spheres, and not “globally” as an actual sector (or industry). We are forever divided by discipline, territory, size, and several other markers. Theater groups rarely talk to symphony people, dance companies don’t interface or intersect with museums. Suburban groups have little interaction with their urban counterparts. Large budget organizations don’t interact with smaller arts groups. We remain separated by diversity, and age and other categories. We all champion arts education as common ground, but even there our agendas are different and the specter of “territoriality” raises its ugly head. Occasionally we rally to advocate on behalf of the NEA or something, but usually such efforts are “reactive” not “proactive”. We talk a lot about “the arts” and our value to society. But we rarely act like “the arts” – a cohesive, unified force that thinks in terms of what is best for the whole of arts & culture. Even when we look like we are acting in concert – say for pushing government for more money - in reality we aren’t doing so because we have some consensus on what would be good for the whole field, but rather are hoping we will directly benefit as individual organizations. I am not saying there is anything wrong or even unusual in our acting from the selfish motive of what is good for us as separate organizations, but rather that there are ways and times that if we thought and acted more on what would really be good for the whole arts & culture sector, we would, in fact, be pushing our own agendas, and would likely be directly moving towards addressing our own needs more than we are by continuing to be governed by a vivisectionist legacy.

But how on earth do we get there? How do we overcome all the obstacles to working in concert, to thinking in terms of the whole of the arts, to defining what an arts & culture sector is, and isn’t – and to developing the tools and the means to act collectively in smart, meaningful ways?


I call your attention to the just released Report authored by Elisabeth Long Lingo, Andrew Taylor, and Caroline Lee on the outcomes of the 2008 National Performing Arts ConventionAssessing the Field’s Capacity for Collective Action. You can access the full report via Andrew Taylor’s blog – click here:

This was a quite remarkable conference and is, I think, a landmark and very important report. It deals specifically with the capacity of the performing arts sector to think and operate “collectively” by examining what performing arts organizations already share, and the elements of building community and capacity to act in concert. Finally, it considers the “opportunity structure” for acting like a unified field. I can’t possibly do justice here to all that is contained in this report (and I urge you all to read the section in which the caucus participants at the Denver NPAC make specific recommendations. Great food for thought, and enough topics for a whole summit meeting of our best and brightest).

The report deals with “building community” by breaking that challenge down into four sub-parts:

• Defining the community by exploring what constitutes its boundaries and membership.
• Examining how cooperation and collaboration is valued
• Defining what are the shared interests, values and mission
• Articulating the common problems and opportunities for acting together.

The Denver Convention didn’t really focus on how the whole of the arts field (not just the performing arts section) might work to push a common agenda on a national basis. As the report concluded: “While building community is essential for defining common interests and connections, building institutional resources and capacity enables a community to take positive action together. The Denver convention was designed primarily to build community and define the common set of opportunities and issues for first action."

To move from building a sense of community to full "sector" awareness and identity, we would need to develop "institutional" (or systemic) resources which we do not currently have.

The report considers that process:

"The process of building institutional resource capacity involves four factors:

Accessing and mobilizing community members and allies (the report noted that “a majority (77%) of respondents thought challenges facing the arts could best be addressed at the local level”) which may ultimately help the effort for the arts to develop a “sector” mentality, image and approach by providing a foundation on which to build.

Acquiring, deploying and sharing resources (the report noted that “indicators suggest a systematic issue around knowledge dissemination in the field. Arts leaders either lack time or incentive to discover and use existing knowledge resources, or effective knowledge dissemination mechanisms do not exist to get this information out”). Clearly, if a significant percentage of us aren’t familiar with the (limited) tools that are available to us to act collectively, we have a long way to go.

Creating effective decision-making and implementation processes for action plans (the report noted the oft cited reasons for our failure to act together to achieve mutually beneficial results by noting: “when describing the greatest challenges to taking action together, respondents cite follow-through and maintaining momentum, coordination of efforts (who would do what), preoccupation with day-to-day organizational demands, and the different needs/interests of the many disciplines. The old familiar problem of not enough time to do what needs to be done continues to vex virtually everything we try to do. When will we learn how to stop doing things we only think are crucial, so we can actually have the time to do some of the things that are, in fact, crucial? And while these practical considerations logically explain our failure to move closer to a unified field, it doesn’t explain our failure to “think” of ourselves as part of the same, larger “tribe”.

Ensuring sustainable leadership (here the report noted that “it was striking how little conversation focused on the discovery and development of future leaders, and the skills and abilities they might require.”) And this might be at the heart of our problem to engage each other in a common mission to use our collective strength and act in a concerted manner, at least to some limited extent – to wit: nobody has the time, inclination or resources to craft, let alone implement, strategies to move us in that direction. It will take leadership – skilled, experienced, trained, respected leaders from within our field whose sole job is to move us to optimizing our position as a unified, collective field. Not only haven’t we identified (let alone recruited) any of those leaders, but we have no platform from which they might act even if we did identify them. Ultimately, fashioning the myriad segments of the wider arts & culture community into more of a cohesive, collective, is going to have to be some people’s full time job. We will never get there if it continues to be a volunteer effort. We need visionary leadership, and we need to provide that leadership with the support and tools (budget) to move us in the right direction. At some point the work must move from the discussion stage to the action stage. And to do that, we need to fund people to help us organize the effort.

The report suggests that given the overarching reality that people in our sector (as in most others) tend to think and act locally, one approach to building more of a sense of community as a precondition to building more of a capacity for us to act as a unified sector (at least in some ways, some of the time) is to build on that local (or even regional) core base and train and empower more people to act together as a field on that local level. I think this is largely the right approach. We need to build a foundational base on which we can develop an ever widening awareness of collective thought and action. Yet, I think we have to acknowledge that there may not just be one road to success. In some instances, a national campaign or agenda can be the catalyst from which the local effort can eventually be spawned. Thus, I think it may have taken years, if not forever, to build local Political Action Committees on behalf of the arts to develop our collective political and lobbying clout. Americans for the Arts has had great success in a relatively short period of time in establishing a national PAC. Of course, it predominantly deals with national issues, but one hopes that it can be the basis (soon) to now develop state PACs under its umbrella, and that eventually can lead to local city PACs. It’s not impossible to build from the top down, but it probably makes more sense in trying to develop consciousness as a sector to build from the bottom up.


The task of moving any sector towards thinking as a sector, and then manifesting that collective sense of community and unity into specific actions that benefit it – both as a whole and for its individual component members – is a daunting one, and arts & culture has a long, long way to go. We have made progress and conventions like NPAC and this report are terribly valuable. Alas, the problem is that our efforts so far remain random, ad hoc and infrequent. We as yet fail to have any sustained, comprehensive approach to addressing the challenge of thinking and acting like a sector (at least when it is in all of our interests to do so). We really do ourselves a disservice if we simply allow dealing with this issue to remain on our “to do” list for an indeterminate amount of time without ever moving specifically and methodically to deal with it. And I think the only way to give these isolated efforts some structure and legs as it were is for those few in power who can pull some of this together to take leadership initiative. Thus it is the NEA, or Americans for the Arts in concert with some of the other national service organizations, or one or more major arts funding foundations (or even the GIA on their behalf) – or all of these groups together who ought to make the forging of a true arts & culture sector a priority. These groups ought to figure out a way to convene representatives of us all to consider the ways we might think of ourselves as a sector and then act on that thinking – whether it is worst case scenario planning or the identification of leaders that might devote 100% of their time to dealing with this challenge, (and then figuring out how to support those leaders in dealing with the challenge), or some other area of mutual concern. We are much more likely to develop into a formidable “sector” that can deal with common problems and challenges and do things for our common good if we actually push for this kind of development rather than simply leave it to chance to happen on its own. Yes, it will take a long time to reach any level where we really have a national consciousness to who we are as a sector, and the built up foundation on which we can achieve common goals based on the power of that consciousness – but we have to start somewhere, at some point – and I hope the NPAC momentum doesn’t die on the vine and four years from now we talk about it again having done nothing in the interim.

Follow up link on last week’s blog about Young Professional Arts Administrators and their efforts to deal with the challenges facing them to having a career in the field. Click here (thanks Andrew Taylor):

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.