Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 23, 2009




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


1. Great turnout: 1200 people attended. Down from the record 1400 in Philly last year, but more than anticipated. General feeling of delegates that the current economic tough times (like the post 911 period) increase the need to gather and network and be around each other. Good cross section representation. More from the west coast than otherwise the norm because of the location. Most attendees continue to struggle to deal with budgets and cuts.

2. Seattle is a beautiful city. Hadn’t been here in five years, but the city continues to shine – beautiful, young, vibrant, easy to navigate. Most memorable view was from the windows of the 35th floor lounge of the Renaissance Hotel where they held the Friday night late night equivalent of prior years’ Hospitality Suite – Bob Lynch on the piano, impromptu vocals by Moy Eng, Marion Godfrey and others (why is it foundation program officers have such good voices?).

3. This year the conference was centered exclusively at the Convention Center (and that worked well ) but with delegates housed at five separate hotels in the area, there was no real sense of the conference in the hotel lobbies and lounges, and I missed that feeling and the ongoing opportunities for casual conversations.


The great value of this conference over the years has been the networking opportunities. The Opening Session – with a ballroom full of people – many of whom you haven’t seen for awhile produces two feelings: First you are heartened to be back among friends; to see many respected and admired colleagues again; and Second, it is enormously gratifying that there are so many of us in our sector.

You get a real sense of the depth and scope of our reach, and of our potential power. It is empowering and puts the isolation of daily work back home into perspective. In fact none of us are alone. We are part of a huge, dynamic, living sector. It is reassuring to be reminded of this every once in awhile.

BILL IVEY Remarks:

Bill Ivey, Former NEA Chair and Obama Team Arts & Culture Transition Team Captain, shared anecdotal stories of how the Obama team approached the integration of our sector into the launch of the new Administration – including consideration of a future cabinet level position and the $50 million of Stimulus money for the NEA. For the latter, there were apparently plenty of back stage debates and lobbying - and the fear that inclusion of that money for the Endowment would set off opposition arguments against arts funding (which arguments did indeed come to pass) was countered by Bill and his allies to beat back the Coburn Amendment which would have banned any stimulus money going to the arts field (like our jobs aren’t real jobs?). Bill noted that two events helped position the arts well in the new administration: First, Hollywood Producer George Stevens was an out of the gate Obama supporter, and he teamed up with Broadway Producer Margo Lion to launch an Arts Policy Committee to support Obama’s candidacy (and, according to a number of well placed sources I spoke with in Seattle, Margo Lion was the likely force behind the nomination of Rocco Landesman as Chair of the NEA (click here for a link to the story and encouraging news that President Obama wants a “game changer” in the post – www.laurencejarvikonline.blogspot.com ; and second the Americans for the Arts initiative to get the arts on the priority agenda of all the presidential candidates in the New Hampshire primary combined to set the stage for increased awareness of and commitment to our sector by the President (who, Bill described as having an “instinctive cultural presence”). Those two moves are a departure for the arts sector in that they were proactive moves designed as a foundation on which we could build movement. Too much of our advocacy legacy has been reactive to crisis. These two moves are proof that to the extent we can create foundations on which to build, we will reap greater success in our lobbying of government for our needs and the intrinsic value of what we do.

Together with Americans for the Arts and a host of other players, Bill spearheaded the fight to get and keep that $50 million in the Stimulus package and all of those players should be congratulated for their deft and skilled handling of lobbying for arts & culture’s role for America for the future. One observation I found particularly telling, was Bill’s recounting of White House Chief of Staff Rahn Emmanuel’s observation on the economic meltdown: “Let’s not waste this crisis.” There is much food for thought in that observation that we can, and should continue to use. Our economic crisis, while likely to cause sea changes to the way we do business, is also likely to have profound impact (much of it negative) to those communities where we live and work. We need to make sure our communities know exactly what is at stake if we are not included as essential services to be protected during this time. We can’t afford to waste this crisis and let the negative consequences to our sector go unknown to our local publics. Bill observed that he thinks we would have lost the $50 million NEA Stimulus money were it not for the (Americans for the Arts Action Fund led) grassroots efforts of the field that rallied in support of the money when challenged by the (ultimately defeated) Coburn Amendment. Doug McLenann taped a brief interview with Ivey that can be accessed here: www.artsjournal.com/diacritical/2009/06/bill-ivey-talks-about-obama-an.html

Bill also noted in his remarks, his thesis set forth in his book Arts Inc. published last year, that market forces and sloppy public policy have pulled arts & culture away from the public’s best interest. His continuing goal remains to get the West Wing to take on at least a modest portfolio of arts policy objectives and to abandon the practice of thinking of the arts as an “amenity”. He shared his belief that arts & culture will likely, for the first time, be represented on the Domestic Policy Council under Obama, but that there remains a challenge to our community (arts administrators, arts educators and artists) to continue to press Obama and Congress for an expanded role in policy formation. And he noted too that while arts organizations are expert at managing scarcity, we need to stop playing victim.

Finally, Ivey argued that we must continue to make convincing arguments for the contribution of arts & culture to the sustainability, livability and ennobling of our communities and noted the value of tools such as Westaf’s Creative Vitality Index.

AFTA Annual Report:
As time was short for the opening lunch, Bob Lynch’s AFTA Annual Report was brief. He noted the drop in the percentage of philanthropic donations going to the arts, the 3% dip in attendance figures for arts events and the continuing budget cuts to local arts organizations both public and private. He also noted the number of successful attempts to secure more funding, and the rise to 100,000 enrolled members in the Arts Action Fund and the enormous value those people helped to play in protecting that Stimulus money when it was attacked. (More on the Arts Action Fund below). Click here for AFTA’s 2009 Strategic Plan: www.americansforthearts.org/about_us/environmental_analysis/default.asp

Two Californians and long time friends were Award Recipients at the Opening Luncheon: Victoria Hamilton (San Diego Commission for Arts & Culture) won the Selina Roberts Ottum Award for exemplary leadership qualities, and Bruce Davis (Arts Council Silicon Valley) won the Michael Newton Award for innovative fundraising. Other awards went to: Randy Engstrom (Youngstown Cultural Arts Center) 2009 Emerging Arts Leader; Sheila Smith (Minnesota Citizen for the Arts) 2009 Arlene Valkanas State Arts Advocacy Award (Sheila led an outstanding drive to secure dedicated state revenue for the arts); and artist Buster Simpson won the 2009 Public Art Award. The Dallas based company Big Thought won the 2009 Arts Education Award for best arts education program design. Congratulations to all. I think we should have more awards – local and national – for exemplary work. It costs nothing, it raises visibility, and there are more than enough deserving individuals. Recognizing our own is something we should do more of.

There were two Grantmakers in the Arts sessions and both were highlights of the conference from my perspective – highly informative with lots of practical information, expertly presented by very sharp panelists.

The first GIA Session was a recap on current research on arts funding – here are some of the highlights: (Go to www.giarts.org/for a complete report on all the listed studies in this first session. Download the Summer 2009 issue of the GIA Reader from the home page)

The GIA STUDY: Based on polling information (and not strict scientific balanced data):

Foundation assets (dedicated to the arts) were down 22% in 2008 – from $608 million to $520 +/-.
  • As Foundation money is calculated on a three year average of interest earnings, the figures for 2010, 2011 and 2012 are likely to be worse across the board.
  • 2009 total giving will decline between 9 and 12%.
  • 40% of foundations intend to keep their funding level with 2008 10% plan to increase funding
  • 50% are likely to decrease funding, but aren’t yet sure how to apply any cutback.
Foundations are trying to adjust their grants to help economically challenged grantees by:
  • Allowing endowment grants to be used on an accelerated basis.
  • Allowing multi year grants to be spent over a shorter basis (e.g. a three year grant can be spent in two years).
  • Releasing restrictions on grants and allowing program funds to be spent (in part) on operations.
  • Some foundations are dipping into their own endowments and awarding funds beyond the interest earned on those endowments.
  • Foundations are cutting back their own operational costs in line with the reductions of their grant pools.
  • The arts sector hasn’t historically suffered more than other nonprofit sectors.
  • Marion Godfrey of the Pew Foundation noted Pew is husbanding its resources in anticipation that there will be less available funds for grants in 2010 and 2011.
  • The most pessimism as to available arts funds is in the Community Foundation community and in the corporate sector.
THE ARTIST TRUST STUDY: Based on an unscientific and somewhat anecdotal survey of 1500 artists in Washington state – Puget Sound centric (i.e., more Seattle responses than rural) with a 67% response rate – 690 individual artists – with more visual than performing artists responding.

The negative economic impact from the artist’s point of view:
  • Sales are down
  • Demand is down
  • Income is down
  • Morale has taken a heavy hit
Artists want (in order):
  • Small micro “bridge” grants to get by
  • Business training (particularly in marketing and on-line skills)
  • Access to low cost materials & supplies
  • Convened opportunities to network with peers
  • Affordable workspace

ARTS AND THE RECESSION – Helicon Study #1 of arts organization responses to the recession:
  • 25% are proactive – employing a range of creative approaches to fund raising, program creation, and audience development
  • 60% are informed but cautious in their responses and many in this category aren’t sure how to proceed
  • 15% are in denial that the sky is falling for them and aren’t doing much of anything different
Other findings:

Funding is down across the board:
  • Endowments: down 20 to 25%
  • Corporations: down 20 to 50%
  • Foundations: down 10 to 25%
  • Individual giving: down 10 to 25%
  • Many performance based organizations are adjusting their program offerings for more popular appeal.
  • Audiences are down, on average, 5 to 10%, but some are as high as 30% in decline
Arts organizations have responded to shrinking income by:
  • Freezes on hiring new people
  • Cuts in pay and benefits of existing staff
  • Furloughs
  • Layoffs
  • Surprisingly, investments in technology and online capacity are increasing as marketing shifts to the internet
  • Most arts administrators think the recession is only exacerbating fundamental problems that have existed for years.
STUDY #2: What are funders doing in response?:
  • Concentrating cuts in grants to one or two years instead of letting it flow longer
  • Spreading the cuts over several years to lessen the individual impact now
  • Rethinking their programs and approaches
  • Prioritizing existing commitments to make sure those that expected X dollars can rely on that reliance (which may be bad news for new applicants)
  • Cutting their own operations budgets (though few are laying off staff)

1. The negative impact of the economic crisis will last well into 2013
2. Many arts organizations will NOT survive
3. The arts sector world will be a different place when the shakeout is complete
4. Rethinking funding sources, what we do and how we do it will be essentially across the board.
5. New behaviors for growth and survival will need to emerge.
6. Funders are likely to invest in fewer organizations and be forced to pick a select number to try to help stay alive and grow.

Quote: “It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change that will survive.”

Charles Darwin

The Second GIA Session focus was on Federal Stimulus Funding Money available to the arts and on strategies to get some of those funds. There was simply too much detailed information to recount, but the following web sites should be helpful in understanding what is available, and how the processes work:


Monitor the funds at www.recovery.gov

Review the items listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance at www.cfda.gov and / or www.grants.gov

Funds are available from several federal agencies (and the arts have successfully tapped into these agency funding pools in the past):

Department of Justice
Department of Labor
Department of Health & Human Services
Department of Education
Department of Transportation
Department of Housing & Urban Development
Department of Agriculture

Session leader Bill Cleveland did offer the following general observations to bear in mind when dealing with Federal Government agencies:

1. Most of the money is local in that it comes from the Federal Government to local agencies to disburse at the local level.

2. Securing funds from any of these agencies is “relationship intensive” – meaning that the more of an ongoing and close working relationship you have, or can develop, with the local agency administering the funds, the more likely your chance of getting a piece of the pie. After you identify the source of funds that might be available to you that you think you qualify for, make friends with the local agency people as quickly as you can.

3. The local agencies want to allocate all the money allocated to them. What they don’t disburse locally will only end up going back to the Federal Government. And they are on the clock – there will be a timeline for them to spend the money. The quicker you can make friends with them and make a convincing case that your program will advance their agendas and that you already have substantial local presence and value, the better your chances of getting money.

4. The amount of money can be significant.

5. Details of how to apply and how to get money are likely to vary greatly from place to place.

Arts Innovator Series: The Arts Education Innovator with Wallace Foundation head, Daniel Windham and Americans for the Arts chief, Bob Lynch was one of the best sessions at the conference.

Both men are, of course, extremely knowledgeable and experienced, but what made the session so memorable and enjoyable is that both have a quiet charm and the format of the presentation was to integrate their own musicianship into the offering. Bob shined on the piano, but alas Daniel’s saxophone was apparently damaged in transit. Still, both offered keen insights into how to personalize the arts education messages and how to more effectively advocate on arts education’s behalf. Bob recounted how when very young, he was at a local public swimming pool and what he remembered was seeing a bunch of guys horsing around at one end of the pool, and a bevy of attractive young girls listening to one guy playing a guitar at the other – and that pretty much made up his mind where things were at for him. Daniel told the story of moving from the Boston Symphony in the early evening to acting as a backup for Gladdys Knight and the Pips at the Sugar Shack club.

Bob’s rules for Advocacy are as follows:

1. Determine what you are advocating about. WE want – fill in the blank. But we must be sure to be clear. So we want arts education does us no good. We want passage of AB 101 – a bill that would facilitate arts education does us good.

2. To whom are we talking. We need to know who we are targeting with our advocacy. Far better to identify the members of a legislature that will actually play the decision making role in passing or not passing a piece of legislation, than just trying to lobby any member of the legislature.

3. Why? Why does what we want matter to whomever we are trying to lobby. Not why it matters to us, but why it should matter to the intended decision maker target.

The good news is that there are now 100,000+ people who have signed up as Arts Action Fund members – not contributors to the Political Action Committee – but activists who were willing to send emails, letters etc. Bob Lynch related the events surrounding the introduction of the Colburn Amendment – which would have prohibited Stimulus fund money from going to the NEA – and told the story of how arts supporting New York Senator Chuck Schumer had voted “for” the Coburn amendment. Deluged with Arts Action Fund emails and calls of complaint to his office, he not only backed off but admitted he had made a mistake, then went on the weekend news talk shows to advocate against the amendment. It is, Bob noted, that kind of massive grassroots response that is essential for political clout. As the number continues to grow, so will the power and clout of the arts.
The bad news is that there were less than 100 conference delegates who were willing to pony up $35 to attend the PAC reception. While the PAC has been successful in raising funds for its political war chest – and while it really doesn’t take as much money to be a political “player” as people might think, the arts still lag far behind other special interest groups in raising PAC funds. I still find it a mystery why out of 1200 attendees, less than 100 are willing to stand up with their pocketbooks. Perhaps more contributed than attended, but I still hope the day comes when the PAC reception has to be held in the Grand Ballroom.

Other people blogged on the Convention:

Check out Janet Brown’s (head of GIA)new blog: www.giarts.org/

And Ian David Moss – a new next generation arts leader I first met last year when he was a fellow at the Hewlett Foundation – is writing a really excellent blog which I strongly urge you to consider subscribing to. Ian is sharp, insightful, and his blog has both style and substance. Check him out at: www.createquity.com

All in all another very well organized and successful conference. Next year AFTA will celebrate its’ 50th Anniversary in Baltimore. And that is quite an accomplishment.

Have a great week.


Don’t Quit.