Sunday, August 23, 2009

August 23, 2009



Hello everybody.

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


This year I asked 60 leaders from all parts of our sector and all parts of the country – from large and small organizations – national, regional and local – and from every discipline and demographic to send me their nominations for the most powerful and influential leaders in our field. One third of these nominators participated in last year’s process, while two-thirds were new invitee nominators. The process was anonymous and none of the nominators knew the identity of any of the other nominators. All were free to nominate anyone they thought qualified, including themselves the only caveat being that this was about arts administration and organizational leadership, and so I asked that we leave artists off this list (that’s a whole other ranking). I know some of you out there think this list is incomplete and inaccurate without the inclusion of artists, but this ranking is principally about arts administration and the business behind the scenes. As such, you are, of course, right – it is, at best, incomplete.

Is this important? As I said last year: Yes, in many ways it is, because these people largely determine how the debates in our sector are framed and what the agendas will be. They are the people who control much, if not most of the money, and decide where the funding goes (at least in broad swatches), what issues should be on the front burner, and what we talk about when we meet. They influence our goals and objectives, our priorities and the positions we take – and even the way we do things. In large part, they are our most experienced and knowledgeable people -- our trend-setters, taste-makers, best thinkers, and established power brokers.

Nominees could come from any area within our field. Their power and influence could come from their position, who they are, what they have done, how long they have been in the field, how highly they are respected, the fact that they control purse strings (or grants in our case) or whatever criteria the nominator choose.

Each nominee was expected to have the capacity to exert influence in, and on, our field (either as a whole or on some distinct section therein) – how we arrive at policy, what agendas are set, who is considered an expert or not, what research is important, where money is spent, how we fundraise and market etc. etc. etc. Some nominees may be universally highly respected, others may have more than their share of detractors – the criteria is power and influence – not popularity. This really wasn’t a beauty contest. Nominators might strongly disagree with someone but still recognize that the person is powerful and influential.

The rankings reflect an attempt at balancing the actions, power and influence of leaders over the course of the past year, and prospectively for the coming year. Some of those ranked in the higher numbers may be nearing the end of their tenure in the position they currently occupy, for others the activities that pushed them to the forefront may have passed and they may now be receding into a lower profile. The power and influence of others may be on the rise as they assume new posts, are thrust into the center of new projects or otherwise see their stars rising. Still others may be in transition.

42 of those I asked for names responded and while this was by no means anything other than a subjective exercise, there was a fair representation of our sector in terms of who responded. Not really surprising, as last year, there seems to be a disproportionate number of people on the list whose sphere is national, and who, in one way or another, are connected with the control of pools of funds. As the economic crisis has put the hurt on most arts organizations across the country, and as local funding has seen precipitous declines, there is more emphasis this year on the NEA and the political reality of a new Democratic Administration – including those whose power stems from their connection to President Obama. While scores of names of local discipline based organization leaders were submitted, most were recognized primarily within their local venue or discipline and not nationally.

This list is, of course, incomplete and flawed. It is just an attempt to identify those perceived as being powerful within our small world. No insult is meant to anyone whose name is not on the list, and I am sure there are many people whose names should be on the list. While I personally agree with most of the final selections, there are some I find very surprising. I am also confused by the omission of others that I would have thought would have been consensus inclusions. And while there are many repeats from last year, there are also new names this year. Some climbed the list; others fell downward in their ranking. This is likely nothing more than a snapshot at one point in time.

(Note: There is again this year a “Bubbling Under” section listing other leaders in our field who didn’t quite make the list but very well might have – and probably will in the future. And, I've also included Barry's Picks - a personal nod to two younger leaders who I think are very likely to grow into major contributors to the arts in this country over time.)

Few other blogs that I have ever posted (over the past 10 years) seem to have generated as much buzz and interest as has this annual ranking. For those who believe they have been unfairly overlooked, you can commiserate with me later over a beer at the bar. Even if I were to have allowed my name to be nominated – which I did not – I wouldn’t have made the cut anyway, so I can appreciate other’s disappointment.


1. (Tie) BILL IVEY (former Chair of the NEA under Clinton; author; Director of the Curb Center of Art, Enterprise & Public Policy; Obama transition team).
Bill’s involvement in the Obama transition team, his successful efforts to gain Stimulus money for the NEA, the publication of his book Arts Inc. and his role in the search for the new Chair of the Endowment all added up to rank him in a tie (with his new BFF – Bob Lynch) for the most influential leader of the past year. Though his return to public policy discussions via his role as the Director of the Curb Center will likely give him a lower profile this year, he remains a key, pivotal player on the national arts stage and one of the sector’s principal “big picture”, strategic policy thinkers. Clearly the most active of the former Endowment Chairs.

BOB LYNCH (President, Americans for the Arts).
Americans for the Arts played a key role in the push for Stimulus money for the Endowment, and in the organization of arts leaders on behalf of President Obama. The Arts Action Fund grew significantly in both numbers of citizen advocates that can be called to action and the dollar amount available to support arts friendly candidates of both parties, and Americans for the Arts is “the” lobbying force for the arts on the federal level. Meanwhile, AFTA continues to lead in arts marketing, convenings, support for emerging leaders, arts education and outreach to the private sector and business communities and thus has long tentacles into the sector across the whole country. Bob remains a tireless traveler and his network grows annually. If there is a single voice for the arts, he’s it.

2. PATRICE WALKER POWELL (interim Director, National Endowment of the Arts).
Patrice skillfully and adroitly managed the Endowment at a critical time in the sector’s financial situation – working behind the scenes to secure, then defend, stimulus money for the arts & culture sector. She adroitly managed the Endowment’s affairs, quickly and transparently got the Stimulus money out where it was needed, and her management and diplomatic skills have kept respect for the agency high. Doubtless the new Chairman and other new appointees will rely heavily on her advice and counsel as they begin their tenures (if they are smart, they will anyway). She is precisely the kind of diplomatic talent that would do well in a high placed White House position, and she would be an ideal candidate for any Arts Czar post.

3. ROCCO LANDESMAN (incoming Chairman, National Endowment of the Arts)
The recently confirmed Obama choice for Chair of the Endowment, powerful Broadway producer, Mr. Landesman has already sparked some controversy by declaring that he intends to support art based solely on its quality and not on geography (a move counter to the painstaking efforts of his predecessors, Ivey and Gioia, and sure to not sit well with smaller and rural state arts groups and their Congressional representatives). This is a new mini-universe for him, and the advice on the street is that he needs to give himself time to acclimate. The new Chair arrives at a time when funding is finally returning to levels the Endowment enjoyed prior to the cultural wars of the 1990s that almost brought the agency down, and perhaps also the dawn of brand new such attacks from the right wing. Given the current financial meltdown in the sector, the Endowment has arguably never been more important to huge segments of the nonprofit arts universe. Whatever else, Mr. Landesman promises to bring new energy, vitality, passion and different ideas to the post; he isn’t likely to let attacks on the arts go unchallenged, and under his tutelage, this won’t be your father’s Endowment anymore.

4. CLAUDINE BROWN (Program Director, Arts & Culture Program, Nathan Cummings Foundation)
Reputed close ties to the Obama team, she organized a White House meeting with artists and arts leaders this past spring that vastly upped her creds and profile. Reported as a serious candidate for the Chairmanship of the Endowment, she continues to have a national platform based on the Cummings Foundation grant making and initiatives – particularly in the multicultural areas - most certainly a growth sector for arts in culture in the coming decade. That she may have access to the President, or at least his inner team, or even only that image - doesn’t hurt her power either.

5. MICHAEL KAISER (Executive Director, Kennedy Center for the Arts; author)
Very few national arts leaders have been more active, vocal or prominent in the past year than Mr. Kaiser who is redefining the scope of the Kennedy Center to national involvement in arts organizations across the country. Author of “The Art of the Turnaround” and on tour across country in support of his (sometimes controversial) theories as to how the arts can survive in the current economic crisis, he also launched the Arts In Crisis initiative and the Arts Manager online resource to support arts organization leadership. On a tour now to all fifty states to spread his messages. Receiving a lot of publicity, he isn’t shy and he has an agenda – though what it exactly is isn’t yet clear. No one should underestimate his resolve. A one-man Bob Lynch, and even more of a major player to be.

6. DANIEL WINDHAM (Director of Arts, The Wallace Foundation)
Quickly becoming one of the senior voices of the arts foundation community. The Wallace Foundation is the leader in the attempt to increase arts audiences and participation in the arts. A re-granting program with local partnerships in metropolitan areas across the country gives Wallace a national platform and spheres on influence coast to coast. Mr. Windham has an artist’s background and sensibility that serve him well.

7. (Tie) JOHN McGUIRK (incoming Program Officer, Performing Arts, Hewlett Foundation)
Returning to his former foundation home base with three more years experience under his belt, Mr. McGuirk now moves into one of the most powerful foundation positions in the arts. He knows what direction he wants to move and what challenges he wants to address, and his familiarity with the Hewlett program and his new title may give him the platform and freedom he might not have had at Irvine. One to watch for the future. His timing is good. Promises to be very effective.

BEN CAMERON (Program Director for the Arts, Doris Duke Foundation)
Still the most dynamic and sought after public speaker in all the arts, Mr. Cameron is one of the most insightful and astute analysts of the myriad nuances and ramifications of the problems the sector faces. A one man think tank. When he talks, people listen. Duke Foundation a pillar of performing arts funding. He needs a signature project.

OLIVE MOSIER (Director, Arts & Culture Program The William Penn Foundation)
Enormously experienced, quiet power broker and key player in funding initiatives – specifically in the greater Philadelphia area. Her unassuming demeanor belies tenacious understanding of how our sector works and how one must orchestrate divergent interests to arrive at consensus solutions. Another one to watch.

8. JANET BROWN (Executive Director, Grantmakers in the Arts)
The new voice of the arts grant making community, she is still testing the waters as to how and where she can lead this diverse group of funders. Not shy or timid by inclination, when and where she decides to move GIA, it will likely be a big deal. She didn’t take the job to sit quietly in a corner. This is her biggest stage and she knows how to play it.

9. SANDRA RUPERT (Executive Director, Arts Education Partnership)
No nonsense leader of the national arts education movement, having replaced the indomitable and iconic Dick Deasey as spokesperson for arts education in this country (promoted from within the organization). Small staff, but she is very focused. Arts Education continues to take two steps forward, two steps back, but it remains the most marketable arts endeavor to the general public and government. The arts need a victory soon in this area - a big one. Pressure is on.

10. SANDRA GIBSON (Executive Director, Association for Performing Arts Presenters)
Political survivor and increasingly adept insider player on the national arts scene, she remains the voice of the wildly and widely diverse presenting community – a task some have described as similar to trying to herd cats. APAP celebrates its’ 50th Anniversary and high profile.

11. (Tie)MARION GODFREY (Senior Director, Cultural Initiatives, The Pew Foundation)
The grand dame of arts funding in America, Ms. Godfrey now spends as much time working from home as from the office. As she slowly transitions out of her long time post at Pew, she continues to be one of the most sought after counselors and advisors to anybody and everybody in arts in America, and is likely, whether she intends it or not, to remain such. Haven't heard her swan song yet.

MOY ENG (outgoing Officer, Performing Arts, Hewlett Foundation)
For the past eight years, she has effectively and impressively directed one of the two or three most powerful foundation arts programs in the country, and in the process has helped fund arts education both in California and nationally, pushed for key research and data collection, including generational studies, helped a dozen or more major cultural institutions develop real sustainability, expanded arts facilities in northern California, and promoted several important collaborative efforts. Frequent in-demand speaker and panelist. Reputedly was on short list of candidates for Chair of the Endowment. Will be interesting to see where she decides to go next.

FRANCES PHILLIPS (Program Director, Arts & The Creative Work Fund, Haas Foundation)
Long time tactician and theoretician in arts funding, highly respected by colleagues and clients. Knows the sector backwards and forwards, including issues directly relevant to artists. Excellent writer and frequent contributor to GIA and other publications. Unassuming but no nonsense approach. A veteran’s veteran, she's leaving a legacy.

12. JONATHAN KATZ –(Executive Director – National Association of State Arts Agencies)
Decline in state arts agency fortunes lessens his and NASAA's influence, but he continues to intelligently and effectively help guide the state arts agencies through a myriad of sea changes and challenges, keeping most of them relevant and effective despite deep cuts and major threats to many. A road warrior and experienced trouble shooter - and a good thing.

13. KAL PENN – (White House liaison to arts & culture communities)
President Obama’s only move thus far to put someone in change of arts & culture into the White House. Not the Arts Czar many wanted or expected, former movie actor, Mr. Penn, is also the liaison to the Asian Community – an unusual combination of duties and client bases. Disappointingly conspicuously absent and quiet so far, remains to be seen what his role or contribution will be or whether or not he truly has the President’s ear. The potential for real power is there. Hopeful there IS a "there", there.

14. (Tie) LAURA ZUCKER (Executive Director, Los Angeles County Commission on Arts & Culture)
Experienced, smart, savvy, intelligent long time leader in the LA Arts scene. While many organizations seem to be on the throes of disintegration, Ms. Zucker seems to have everything under control in southern California. She usually does. If you want something done, and done right, she is the go-to person. An "A" LIST leader.

VICTORIA HAMILTON (Executive Director, San Diego Office of Arts & “Culture)
Like Ms. Zucker, Ms. Hamilton is a long time successful player in the San Diego local arts scene, with a similar ability to protect her agency irrespective of the threat level. Active in the Urban Arts League and nationally recognized. She's low key but not laid back.

BRUCE DAVIS (Executive Director, Arts Council of Silicon Valley)
Another survivor and astute local agency political player in the tricky high tech region of northern California. Successfully fought off draconian cuts to his agency. His Artsopolis website software licensed to scores of arts organizations around the country and is fast becoming the standard. Smart political player with extensive contacts. Recruited Linda Ronstadt for Americans for the Arts Washington DC Congressional testimony.

ERIN TRAPP – (Director Denver Office of Cultural Affairs)
Holds a Ph.D, and knows how to make an effective case for the value of the arts with the private sector and government. Well respected in the urban arts community for her experience with research and policy formulation and for her considerable communications skills.

ANNE KATZ Executive Director, Arts Wisconsin / Chair State Arts Action Network)
She continues to effectively speak for and guide the network of state and local arts agencies around the country including the backbone network of state advocacy organizations.

15. (Tie) ANTHONY RADICH (Executive Director, WESTAF)
Now one of the veteran leaders of the Regional Arts Councils, a risk taker who is willing to think outside the box and try new approaches to old problems. Quiet demeanor but steely resolve. Ever widening circle of influence and network of supporters.

MARY KENNEDY McCABE (Executive Director – Mid America Arts)
Another stand out in the crowded field of excellent Regional Arts organization directors, she knows how to serve her constituent base well.

16. (Tie)KRIS TUCKER (Executive Director - WASHINGTON State Arts Commission)
Still one of the most effective and dynamic long term state arts agency leaders in the country. Knows her stuff, doesn't sweat the small stuff, and rolls with the punches --- very effective.

ROBERT BOOKER (Executie Director - Arizona State Arts Commission)
Also knows the ins and outs of state arts agency dynamics by heart. Capable, experienced manager able to deal with wide variety of ups & downs. An authoritative voice in the NASAA community. Loves it in Phoenix. A Happy Camper.

17. CORA MIRIKITANI (Director Center for Cultural Innovation)
Now perhaps the leading spokesperson in the nonprofit arts administrative strata for the needs of the artist. Great strategic thinker. Able to implement ideas in a methodical manner that maximizes success. Able to ignore the stuff that is irrelevant. CCI continues to grow and expand under her leadership –for now California, but soon to be regional or national?

Renowned and respected dance community power broker involved on numerous levels in advancing the arts beyond the dance sector. Well connected, especially on the east coast. Behind the scenes player.

19. (Tie) ALAN BROWN (Consultant)
Continues to be one of the most respected independent researchers and consultants. Still the authority on audience development.

Pairing of these two highly experienced consultants (Sidford founded LINC, was New En gland Foundation for the Arts Ex. Director, and worked at Wallace. Cady was Arts Program officer at Irvine and coordinated TCC Knight Foundation Arts Access Program) resulted in more work than they had time for. Much in demand – conducted numerous (widely cited) critical studies of the impact of the economic meltdown on the sector. The very top of the consultant heap in 2009.

20. (Tie) DOUG McLENNAN – (Editor, ARTS JOURNAL)
The online Arts Journal just keeps getting bigger and better. Now, without question, the hub of all online news and opinion relevant to the nonprofit arts sector. Massive effort, fastidiously managed and an almost unbelievable accomplishment by one person. Looks like he has a staff of 25 people. It's mostly him. Increasing number of admirers.

Andrew continues to speak for the nation’s university degree in arts administration programs as well as offers insightful opinions and thoughts (with humor) via his very popular blog The Artful Manager. Frequent in-demand convention speaker / panelist.

Congresswoman Slaughter continues to lead the national federal Arts Caucus and the efforts to protect and fund the NEA. Public Hero Number One for the arts.

NINA OZLU TUNCELI – Chief Counsel of Government & Public Affairs - Americans for the Arts)
AFTA Advocacy / Lobbying guru extraordinaire. There very well might not be an NEA were it not for her efforts, organization, skill set and political savvy over the past two decades. The unsung hero.

22. TERESA EYRING (Executive Director, Theater Communications Group)
Not easy to replace Ben Cameron, but she has done an effective job in representing the huge, diverse, and active theater community and to raise continued awareness for collaborative ventures and projects. She has a huge platform, but so far she's been running so hard there's no time to think about how to use it. She's getting close.

23. ROBERT REDFORD – (Sundance Institute)
The foremost and most respected celebrity defender and supporter of the arts and arts education. More please.

24. MARGO LION – (Broadway Producer)
The driving force behind Obama’s Arts Advisory Committee that helped galvanize support for his presidential candidacy in both the “for” and “non” profit entertainment and arts sectors. Has the President’s ear. Major fund raiser. Quite possibly behind Rocco Landesman’s appointment to the NEA Chairmanship. Watch to see if she plays a role in the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities – as of today still populated by Bush appointees.

25. YOU
The heart and soul of nonprofit arts in America. In the aggregate, no one is more powerful, influential and important to the sustainability of the arts in America than YOU are. The people on this list are merely spokespeople for YOU.

Alan Cooper – Mid-Atlantic Arts Federation
Gerry Coombs – Southern Arts Federation
Mara Walker - Americans for the Arts
Luis Cancel – Executive Director San Francisco Arts Commission
Rory McPherson –Wallace Foundation
John Kilacky – San Francisco Foundation
Ramona Baker – consultant, Glouster College

Marc Vogl – Hewlett Foundation
Ian Moss – prolific young blogger

Have a great week.

UPCOMING in September: Six Part Online Forum Discussion of the Role of the National Endowment in American Arts & Culture and the Nonprofit Arts Sector.

Don't Quit

Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 16, 2009



Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on.............."

Nonprofit Arts managers are lousy business people and Four other Myths about the Nonprofit Arts.

I ran across an interesting Opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor on myths about arts entitled: “Anyone could paint that and 7 other myths about art” wherein the author sought to dispel seven common myths about art – click here:

That got me to thinking about prevalent myths about the nonprofit arts world that the public has been spoon fed over the past decades, and which hamstring us in our efforts to gain support. Here then is my take on the subject:

Nonprofit Arts managers are lousy business people and Four other Myths about the Nonprofit Arts.

1. Nonprofit arts managers aren’t real business people. The very moniker of “nonprofit” has been taken to mean that those involved aren’t real business people. They are ‘do-gooders’ who don’t understand or adhere to strong business practices.

False. All arts organizations are at their core, small businesses, and those who manage them are some of the best business practitioners anywhere. They are faced with continuing finance and other business dynamic challenges that would torpedo the average business enterprise and they continue to survive amid the worst of circumstances. Of necessity, they are creative, adaptive, experienced survivors – familiar with personnel matters, budgets, fund raising, program development and management, payrolls, board relations, marketing, public policy and all of the other areas savvy business leaders must deal with.

2. The nonprofit arts should be funded by the private sector not with public funds. If they can’t stand on their own in the market they shouldn’t be in business.

False. Government subsidizes all kinds of private sector industries with special treatment and money in the form of subsidies, investment, tax breaks and more (the current debate on health care but just one example of special treatment given to the private sector; the for profit film industry is another example where jurisdictions fall all over themselves to grant special consideration to film companies coming to work in their areas). Moreover, the nonprofit arts are about protecting cultural legacies and the preservation of art forms that are important to the whole of society. They generate far more public dollars and economic activity than they receive in government funding.

3. The nonprofit arts don’t have public support or as wide an audience as other forms of entertainment.

False. The aggregate attendance at nonprofit art performances and exhibits far outdraw the aggregate number of people who attend either movies or sporting events.

4. Too much of nonprofit arts are either controversial or just plain worthless junk.

False. A very tiny percentage of all the arts produced in any given year in America are even remotely controversial or critically panned as worthless. Moreover, the decision as to the value of any given work of art rightly belongs in the eye of the beholder. The arts have as a core part of their creation the assumption of risk on the part of the artist. A society that wants to move forward must champion that assumption of risk as a basic tenet of progress.

5. The arts are a luxury, a ‘frill’.

False. The arts are an essential to any society. Not only a practical necessity – as an economic engine, as a part of the education of our young people and part of preparing them for jobs in the “creative” global economy, and as critical to the tourism industry, urban revitalization efforts and even health care, but also as a means to promote tolerance, understanding and acceptance, and to build cultural bridges across the planet. We are in the midst of the new “creative driven” economy, and the arts play a fundamental role in keeping us competitive and facilitating new industries, new ways of thinking and new ideas.

We need to work harder to dispel these myths if we are to make progress in convincing the public as to our value to our culture. We need to develop more advanced and sophisticated lobbying (not advocacy, but lobbying) capacity to succeed in breaking down these barriers. We simply cannot afford to let these myths continue in the public psyche or the media coverage of who we are and what we do.


Next Week: Barry’s Blog’s Second Annual Listing of the Top 25 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts

September: An unprecedented six week national public dialogue and discussion of the role of the National Endowment of the Arts’ in Arts & Culture in American society – featuring a veritable Who’s Who of Arts leadership from our national organizations, our city, state & regional arts agencies, foundations and funders, thinkers, consultants, academia, past leaders of the Endowment, the various arts disciplines, and the private sector arts industries. Details to follow.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 09, 2009



Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on................“


Ian Moss recounts Fox News’ misstatement of facts in its “report” on the recent NEA Stimulus money grants wherein (echoes of Maplethorpe) “Fox News identifies three instances of supposedly objectionable programming, all of them in San Francisco: a $25,000 grant to counterPULSE, which has a "pansexual performance series" called Perverts Put Out; another $25,000 to the Symmetry Project, whose dance performance involves nudity; and $50,000 to Frameline, a gay and lesbian film festival and support organization that screened a purportedly pornographic film. “ As Moss points out Fox News got its facts wrong (surprise)on multiple counts. (click here: for the story. Scroll down to the August 6th entry.)

UPDATE: 50 Republican Congressmen complain about offensive art funded by the NEA - click here for this story:

The particulars aren’t all that important. This isn’t really a “report” as much as it is an ad hominem attack on arts funding – alas, disappointingly reminiscent of the ‘cultural wars’ initiated by the far right wing neo-cons beginning with Mapplethorpe and continuing through to Angels in America. It took the arts sector a decade plus to rebound from those attacks. Bill Ivey, then Dana Gioia, both spent much of their tenures as Chairs of the Endowment convincing Congress that taxpayer support for the arts wasn’t about funding pornography and anti-American sentiments, but rather a good investment in local communities. Bulwarked by numerous economic impact studies – lead by Americans for the Arts – and by the work of people such as Richard Florida, the arts were finally able to win back support arguing that the arts are an important economic engine. Work of those like James Catterall was helpful in showing that the arts are an important part of the education of young people and their job preparedness, and of corporate creativity and competitiveness, a boon to tourism, good for downtown revitalization efforts and to civic life in general. Appealing to our sense of national purpose, the arts successfully pointed out how other nations across the planet understood the value of the arts and its contributions and far out spent us to support arts and culture enterprises.

But the “success” in getting us back to where we already were took a herculean effort and countless man hours and energy spent defending ourselves. The right wing spent relatively little time or energy putting us in that position. They know full well that “facts” aren’t important. Just a few well placed “accusations” and some media coverage, an appeal to highly charged emotions, and we had our backs to the wall, and almost lost the endowment. This Fox “report” is disturbing and alarming because it is arguably part of a much larger new right wing campaign to once again go on the attack – this time part of an effort to do anything that can be done to undermine the Obama and Democratic Administration. I fear this may have been the opening salvo in the new “cultural wars”, and the arts may again be on the defensive. It couldn’t have come at a worse time, of course, as the economic reality is making ‘survival’ problematic to a large percentage of our sector. There is little time, let alone funds and energy, to spend in defense of the arts – particularly against this kind of attack (i.e., taxpayer supported arts = pornography and ant-American sentiment).

I still believe those who make these kinds of baseless attacks are not at all interested in the art the organizations it seeks to attack are, or are not, involved with. I don’t think it was any coincidence in the first Cultural Wars that almost brought down the NEA that the “issue” in most of the attacks was gay related – Mapplethorpe nudes, a gay film festival in Texas, the production of the play Angels Over America in North Carolina - because what the attacks were really about wasn’t taxpayer money or art or pornography, they were about fund raising for the evangelical wing of the Republican party – and nothing has ever been more successful in raising funds from that sector than the specter of gay rights. When the coffers of the right wing are running dry, the time-tested solution is to trot out the threat of gays having equal rights – and it has, for a long time, worked very well. Couple the gay rights issue with the accusation that taxpayer money is spent on anti-American pornography – and, well, the potential for a fund raising bonanza is just too tempting for the right wing to ignore. A new cultural war is an easy way to grab headlines, raise the level of visceral response, and rally their troops.

It hardly matters what the motivation might be. And perhaps then here we are once again. If this is the beginning of a possible new wave of attacks on arts & culture and the NEA in particular, we’re in trouble once again. We will have no choice but to again try to defend ourselves – and waste precious time and resources in the process. But we should keep in mind that in large part the last cultural war, and very likely a new one - is but a means to an end for those who wage it against us. We should remember their real motivation as we brace for the attack and strategize to mount counter arguments. We should NOT make the mistake of thinking we have to mount free speech arguments or defend 'art'. This was, and will be, political. We need to act politically in our defense. One would hope the American society has come a long ways since the last time we fought this kind of war – but recent events suggest we remain a deeply divided country on many levels, that Washington is still a partisan citadel of power struggles and that the bickering is beginning to get nastier and deeper.

There are differences this time around: the Democrats control the government now – but my own experience within the party suggests to me that the Democrats are hardly unified and that many (particularly those in states with closer contests and large GOP and independent voter concentrations) will run as fast as they can from defending the arts against charges that taxpayer money is funding smut or far left wing agendas. As the gay alliances join in the defense of specific projects, that will fuel the argument by the right that the gay agenda is being hoisted on the back of the American taxpayer and intricately tied into the arts. The media, of course, loves this kind of a juicy story – controversy, sex, politics, what seems like scandal, taxpayer money – it’s a wet dream for a national media that hasn’t exhibited much Edward R. Murrow integrity in journalism in a long time. One can see it all over cable news (which really didn’t even exist during the Cultural Wars of the 1990s) with the same enthusiasm and glee they seem to have for Michael Jackson’s death. I think it will be hard for cable news and talk radio not to run with these kinds of charges – it is ready made for their platforms. And those who will make the attacks know this full well - it is a well worn page from their playbook.

Rocco Landesman, the newly Senate confirmed Chair of the Endowment may (sadly) find himself facing new cultural wars as one of the first things on his agenda. The question now is: What can we do to nip this seriously potentially fatal attack in the bud as it were? Can we mobilize to somehow box in those who will make such an attack and neutralize them before they gain the advantage? If they make the attacks at all, will they not already have the advantage? Do we do nothing and hope they don’t move forward on the same track that they have so successfully and frequently gone down before? I personally think we are looking at disaster if we simply wait and see what they do – because I think this is just too good for them to pass up. But what do we do? What can we do?

Maybe it won’t happen – but would you want to bet your life savings (assuming you have any left) on it not happening – again?

In the past I have blogged about our failure as a sector to do much contingency planning to address possible worst case scenarios. I have previously written about what might happen to our performing arts groups were bird flu or some other pandemic occur. And now it would appear we may again face that contingency with the coming of the swine flu winter season. No one knows if this will turn out to be a mild flu that really is incapable of causing much harm or damage or turns out to be a virulent killer that will wreck havoc in certain sub-groups of the population. The government is already advising parents that schools may have to close and that sick children should, in any event, be kept home for at least two weeks. It is also advising people who get sick to stay home and not go out into the community. So even if this flu turns out to be relatively benign, we may face a period in which a relatively sizable percentage of the populace does not go about their normal business, and that will most certainly negatively impact stores and shops, restaurants and movie theaters and any other retail activity that people might have to forego. Even if people alter their behavior for only for a week or two in any given territory where the flu approximates an epidemic breakout level, and that may happen even if people just get regular old flu – what might that do to our performing arts organizations fall or winter schedules? Might not some of those schedules be decimated by empty houses? And how will that impact organizations that are already on the verge of financial collapse?

The answer may well be that there is no point in even discussing what might happen, or what our response might be – because it is too late to do anything anyway. What is the point in scenario planning if you don’t have the resources necessary to execute any kind of meaningful response? Is it not just a waste of time – time we can’t afford? And if a swine flu pandemic, or even just the fear of one, results in performances cancelled or attendance severely curtailed, what could we do in response? We don’t have any national contingency fund for such an emergency and if we had the money to create one we would have already done so – and likely depleted it given the current crisis. Still, at least on a conceptual nature I think some people, somewhere within our sector, ought to discuss these kinds of eventualities and give some consideration to their consequences. That should be somebody’s job. It is in almost every private sector field.

But the possibility of some health crisis curtailing attendance at our events is likely to be isolated to certain areas and (hopefully) won’t be too severe.

The threat of a new cultural wars targeting government funding of the arts however, poses a more serious challenge to us all. This time it may not confine itself to the NEA - it may target state and city funding and the idea of government support for the arts at all. And what will we do if that comes to pass? Do we have a plan? Is there anything we can do? I don’t know – but as the General in the Matthew Broderick movie WAR GAMES (about a boy who tinkered with a computer system and almost launched WW III) said, as he took the war room to Def Con I – the highest level of alert - when the computer tried to find the launch codes on its own: “We may have to fight this thing all over again – and for real this time.”

God help us all.

Will the far right resurrect the cry to eliminate the endowment, or at least decimate its funding, and will that find traction in a Democrat controlled Congress? Or will that threat simply disappear as the Washington DC combatants move on to bigger controversies?

You decide. I know only this: The arts should take the threat seriously. And we should realize this time around that making-the-case for our value is one defense, but without political clout and an "in the trenches" fight to accompany that argument, that strategy is ill-conceived.

Have a good week.

Don’t Quit

Sunday, August 2, 2009

August 02, 2009



Hello everyone

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


There was a news item this morning about the discovery of two new works penned by Mozart as a child (click here: ) The discovery of heretofore hidden art of any kind is always a cause for celebration - and not surprisingly so, for the arts are one of the only human endeavors important enough to survive over time. No one remembers the local politicans or even minor celebrities of days long gone, no one cares about age old disputes and fights, no one bothers with the petty news stories of previous eras. None of any of those mundane daily things from people's lives in the past matter; all are irrelvant, boring and of no consequence. And the same will likely be true of all we think is so important -- all the trivial nonsense we waste our time with across the planet each day. But the ART survives. The ART is what always survives, and sometimes it is the only thing that survives from the past of civilization. It is ART that expresses our higher and better instincts, and it is what separates us from other species, for only mankind creates art as both a commentary and challenge to our very existence at a given point in time; a thing of beauty and point of thought. How extraordinary. How wonderful to be a part - even a small part - of such a glorious enterprise.

But in times like we currently live in, it's hard to remember the joy and exhaltation of that gift.

The daughter of one of my best friends just graduated with a major in Dance from U.C. Irvine. She is very gifted and has danced most of her life, but came to the conclusion that she might be just this side of the level that it would take for her to have a successful life long career in the field. Still, she loves the arts with a passion, so she has determined that she wants to work in arts education. She just got a fellowship to work at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC starting next month. She is very excited about her prospects, and like most in her generation she is optimistic about the future - her future.

That the Millennials remain optimistic isn't surprising. The current recession and economic crisis hasn't impacted them to the extent it has Gen X and the Boomers. Few Millennials had investments which were harmed or compromised by the current downturn, and few were in the middle level management positions that were the first target of layoffs and downsizing. (See Pew poll on different age groups / different recessions - click here: I remember in the early 80's paying scant attention to the then recession and its aftermath, because, for the same reasons, it just didn't as directly impact me.

For those Gen Xers and Boomers in our sector, the times are more bleak and frightening. Money is so scarce that rare indeed is the arts organization that hasn't seen decreases in income and hasn't experienced cutbacks, layoffs, downsizing and other draconian measures to survive. Alas, despite all those efforts, many will not survive. There are literally thousands of lives being affected in very profound ways in the reality of that last sentence. The headlines gloss over the humanity of the stories behind the statistics - in our field as in others.

The cold, hard and sad reality is that we have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in funding support for the arts (from all sources) over the past three or four years. Some areas have been hit harder, some organizations have fared a little better. But hundreds of millions of dollars available just a short time ago, is not available today. If you take out that much money in funding and multiply it by several years, the overall impact is nothing less than a fundamental sea change in the paradigm of the entire provision of support for arts & culture in the country. We're hurting.

But there is some room for optimism - because the arts always survive. We may be the first cut, and often take big hits, but art is so critical to the human experience that the myopia and short sightedness of any given situation cannot for long harm the natural inclination of the arts to flourish. Like the daughter of my friend we need to remain optimistic. Our future is bright, even if it may not seem so right now.

Art created today will survive. And it will continue to be created. Who knows, some of it may be rediscovered in the future to the delight and wonder of those not yet even born. Not all we do will be of Mozart quality of course, but the very fact of creation is, itself, as important. And in that - what YOU do matters. It matters very much. For if you didn't do what you do, there would likely be less of an ecosystem that supports and sustains both creativity and access to that creativity. And there may be little more important to the future of our species.

So I salute you all, and counsel you not to give up. The cycle will come around again, and the arts will once again grow, and thrive. That will happen because of the nature of the value of art, and because of your hard work. And who knows we may have learned how to better protect ourselves for the future. You may have moved from where you are to somewhere different. Your organization may have had to start all over again. But we WILL survive. I know how down these times can be for many of you, but hang in there. It will get better and you who are on the front lines are the ones who ultimately will open the doors to making it better -- for yourselves, and for those young, gifted younger people out there like the daughter of my friend.

So I want to thank you. I want to thank you all very much. And when it gets so bad you just want to move on, please remember you are important, very important, and your work matters very much. And for those of you out there less threatened by the times, please, try to lend a hand to those of our own who need it right now if you possibly can, even if just to offer an encouraging word.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit