Monday, September 21, 2009

September 21, 2009



Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on.........."


Welcome to Week #2 of the online forum on the future of the NEA. Please scroll down to last week’s blog to review the remarks and comments of the First Panel (and / or to the previous weeks before that for an overview of this whole online Forum project). Here are the participants in this week’s panel.

Bob Lynch – President & CEO Americans for the Arts
Jonathan Katz – Executive Director, National Association of State Arts Agencies
Patrick Overton – Director, Front Porch Institute
Sandra Gibson – Executive Director, Association for Performing Arts Presenters
Anne Katz - Executive Director Arts Wisconsin, Immediate Past Chair, State Arts Action Network
Don Adams – Cultural Policy Analyst
Brad Erickson – Executive Director, Theater Bay Area (San Francisco)
Celeste DeWald - Executive Director, California Association of Museums

Thank you all for participating.

BARRY: Apart from funds allocated to arts organizations, states and regions, what kinds of initiatives do you think the NEA should launch that might help strengthen the infrastructure and ecosystem of arts provision in America and in particular that of arts organizations?

JONATHAN: I would distinguish between program initiatives and national leadership activities. Program initiatives directed by the NEA need to be very few and powerful; their justification is the need to put a spotlight on the unique impact a government arts agency at the federal level can provide. It’s a good thing for the head of the NEA to be able to describe the work of the agency concisely: our core programs address our goals as informed by artists and arts organizations who produce the arts and encourage participation; the portion to states and regions addresses our goals as guided by public plans developed in every state and territory, and our program initiatives illustrate why public sector leadership at the federal level is essential and worth the investment. The expertise and passion of the head of the NEA is important in the selection of a program initiative. One obvious option is an initiative to advance arts education, since arts education opens doors to participation in the arts, whether in not-for-profit, for-profit or amateur contexts.

With regard to national leadership activities, what’s important to bear in mind is that the real operational impact of a public agency derives not only from what its personnel and advisors do, but even more from how successfully its activities motivate, engage and empower its partners, grantees and the people it serves to provide public benefits. Here are a few suggestions for operating the NEA as a center of national leadership. I’m not suggesting these are new ideas, nor that some have not been done to some extent.
  • Networking among the associations, centers, higher education institutions, and others who plan and conduct arts-related research. Encourage them to share, collaborate, and build a research agenda that will yield the best ideas and information to address a variety of goals.
  • Realize the information, learning and leadership potential of routine NEA operations. For instance, tap the expertise and perspective generated by grant panel convenings to identify trends; engage in dialogue with national service organizations to organize and send information to the field and the public; draw upon National Council members as ambassadors, reporting on NEA activities to their state, regional and local arts agencies, state and local officials, and/or service organizations and reporting back.
  • Maintaining a priority commitment to the not-for-profit arts sector, identify leadership activities that can broaden and deepen public participation in the arts through for-profit and amateur participation in the arts; facilitate conversation among these sectors—and enlist for-profit and amateur arts participants as NEA proponents.
  • Regularize communication with national arts service organizations and other networks, drawing upon their interests and expertise to identify emerging issues and opportunities to broaden and diversify participation in the arts.
  • Work with colleagues to identify the information, messages, documentation and networks that can most effectively communicate the value of the arts, the NEA and the activities it supports to key decision makers and the public.
BOB: The key federal cultural need is the appropriation of more financial support for nonprofit arts organizations and artists in America. The dollars currently available are simply not enough to realize the promise of the arts in our country. This fact holds true for government support at the federal, state, regional and local levels. Working on changing this is job number one for all of us in the cultural industry. Earlier this year Americans for the Arts proposed and then joined together with a number of national arts service organizations together to propose $1 billion for the arts through the NEA in the economic recovery bill which resulted in a $50 million appropriation. Figures like a billion dollars are what we need to be talking about for the federal appropriation and even that is less than 2% of the roughly $63 billion estimate of the collected budgets of the nonprofit arts industry, as reported in our Arts and Economic Prosperity III study.

The National Endowment for the Arts has traditionally reflected to some extent contemporary issues under each of its Chairmen. In my twenty five years at Americans for the Arts, each Chairman has launched efforts that had focus areas that were a bit different than their predecessors or successors. For example, Chairman Hodsoll spent a great deal of time on federal, state, and local support partnerships and spent time focused on leveraging local government dollars; John Frohnmayer had a particular focus on the arts in rural communities; Jane Alexander initiated some key artist service and international arts projects; Bill Ivey did some terrific work in making sure that the arts served every part of the United States; and Dana Gioia launched initiatives to bring heightened attention to the value of the arts. Each did many more things in their respective tenures. There is important value to consistent focus at the NEA on basic grants contributing to the basics of nonprofit arts organization programs and general operating support. However the current federal appropriations is about one fourth of one percent of the $63 billion expenses of the total industry so I have always seen the federal dollars as really more like recognition and stimulus dollars to leverage more support. There is critical value to using the wonderful leveraging power of the federal dollars to advance the pool of support itself at the federal, state and local government levels as well as in the private sector and to encourage all organizations to use the fact of NEA support to apply that same leveraging to their own fundraising.

In addition, however, some issues that need attention either from the NEA or from any other part of the sector were surfaced in our own Americans for the Arts planning survey, completed over the last two years where approximately 6,000 responses came in from throughout America. That is a very large sample group. What they said was important, and includes the following dozen or so key issues:

1. Strategy for dealing with the challenged American economy

2. Changing demographics; need to address the broadly diverse American public

3. Greater professional and volunteer leadership capacity

4. The impact of technology on art and management; the blurred lines between the non-profit and for-profit arts sectors

5. Arts and education

6. Articulating the “arts value” message

7. The audience as the new curator

8. The changing financial support mix and metrics

9. The arts as tools for community advancement and competitive edge

10. New non-profit arts business models

11. Support for individual artists and new work

12. International role of the arts

Here is the link to the entire study if anyone wants to explore further

ANNE: “We need to create environments - in our schools, in our workplaces , and in our public offices where every person is inspired to grow creatively. Why?...because as the world evolves, the very future of our communities and institutions will depend on it.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

The “we know what art is good for you” approach has passed its shelf life for the Endowment or any other arts organization. Now the Endowment must be pro-active about strengthening the creative economy, supporting arts and creativity as integral components of 21st century education, and developing the arts at the local level.
  • Community cultural development--- organizational and community planning issues and actions
  • Strategic planning and implementation
  • Organizational effectiveness and capacity-building, including training, leadership development, organizational stability, nonprofit organizations entrepreneurship
This approach allows for a great deal of opportunity for partnership and collaboration with other public agencies and national independent organizations, as well as doing more to help political leaders and the American people understand and support the arts as beneficial to all.

DON: That the National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities was begun in the mid-1960s, at the height of the Cold War, and with questionable support for having a public cultural agency, meant that it was based on fairly narrow foundations. The Rockefeller panel on the performing arts, Baumol and Bowen and other studies had shown an "income gap" for existing institutions, with the public role being to help private philanthropists cover this shortfall. The Kennedy administration had invited Pablo Casals to the White House, reinforcing the sense that the arts belonged in the nation's living room, but in a genteel sort of way that reinforced their status-quo identity as something nice for people of a certain class and taste. Though the Endowment grew quickly under Nancy Hanks' politically foxy leadership, it developed as a kind of specialist preserve, focused on the professional arts fields, which are of course very important to our national cultural life, but leaving out the big picture of public interest and public cultural policy: this left the agency weak when the likes of Jesse Helms focused in and began their attack. Forty-plus years later, we need to build a new foundation for federal cultural policy. We need to articulate the real needs and values of cultural development in the nation as a whole, as almost every other country in the world did in the '60s and '70s, defining sensible leadership roles at every level of government and catalyzing strong, decentralized leadership in every community in the country. This is the missing "moral " leadership of national cultural policy - not in terms of enforcing moral standards, as censors might, but in terms of articulating democratic values of participation, freedom, cultural diversity and equity of access that should characterize our national and community cultural lives.

PATRICK: I do not believe the NEA has the financial resources, the inclination, or the political capital to re-activate the individual artist grants program. The NEA should keep those programs that honor “body of work/life’s work” of artists as National Treasures as only a national agency can do. Any effort to provide support of individual artists will place the NEA once again in the middle of an invigorated cultural war environment. I fear that all the will come of it is for the NEA to be used as new fuel to inflame the rhetoric and the incivility in this country that has absolutely nothing (and never did have anything) to do with the arts.

Some of my individual artists friends/colleagues have informed me we have a whole generation of individual artists emerging onto the scene that do not assume federal/state funding will be available. They have moved beyond a “sense of entitlement of public money to do their art” and have started looking at new, innovative, edge-line ways to make their art happen. We need to explore what this means for the NEA and other public and private funding sources. This paradigm shift is already underway. We need to listen to these voices and be willing to learn from them. We might be surprised at what we learn.

CELESTE: As an advocate for arts and culture, reliable and current research that demonstrates the impact of public investments in arts and culture is key to its sustainability and growth. The purpose of these studies should help articulate how Americans are benefiting, as both citizens and communities. I would not want a research or data collection project to be on a level that minimizes the agency’s support for arts organizations or duplicates information that is already available. But, not investing in these kinds of initiatives, on some respectable level, would make it extremely difficult to articulate WHY continued funding is important. Anecdotal stories are good – but they don’t provide the hard data that advocates need.

SANDRA: As a participant in the meetings that culminated in the creation and circulation of the Arts Transition Paper on arts policy for the Administration, I’m a supporter of the recommendations for the NEA and the proposed increase in funding support and resources so that the NEA could provide the kind of national leadership needed to advance the arts in America:
  • Create a capacity-building initiative to support artistic excellence, improve organizational financial structures, develop a national cultural arts infrastructure, and broaden participation by all Americans (a separate proposal was developed for this and submitted to NEA leadership by a small group of us on behalf of a larger arts coalition two years ago;
  • Support arts education by engaging educators, artists, and arts organizations in extending the experience in arts education through lifelong learning, and collaborating with the U.S. Department of Education to advance the federal role in K-12 arts education;
  • Make flexible grants that increase the capacity of American arts organizations and artists to create and present meaningful arts experiences for Americans, recognizing the value of establishing fellowships to individual artists, providing grants for multi-year support, and permitting arts service organizations the opportunity to re-grant funds;
  • Expand the research capacity of the NEA and the federal commitment to initiating research on issues in the arts and cultural policy; we need ongoing and comprehensive research about the impact of the arts economically and “emotionally” (how the arts make us better citizens and individuals and how we are motivated to participate in the arts).
  • Involve close consultation with artists, arts organizations, and the communities they serve in developing and advancing new programs and initiatives at the NEA as well as enhancing existing programs.
  • Nurture collaboration around goals shared by not-for-profit arts organizations and the commercial arts sector;
  • Strengthen the National Council on the Arts through appointments broadly representative of artistic disciplines and concerns, geographically diverse, and characterizing the multiple and collective cultural interest of all Americans, and create a stronger forum for expanding the presence of and access to the arts in this county.
  • Encourage increased public/private partnerships to maximize resources used for the promotion of cultural exchange, including the creation of new opportunities to participate in cultural exchange, subsidized touring and multi-year, sustainable exchange programs.
Finally, as a musician and longtime practitioner working for many years in arts support organizations, I know the critical need for and value of supporting young and emerging artists in exploring their talents directly. The NEA can play a role nationally, as well as on a fundamental local level by creating innovative programs in schools and communities.

BRAD: For a number of reasons, the National Endowment for the Arts has a unique role to play in strengthening the overall ecosystem of the arts in this country. For one thing, despite its modest (or even miniscule) budget for a federal agency, the NEA grants more money to the arts, on an annual basis, than any other funder. Probably even more importantly, as an arm of the federal government, the NEA holds a position of leadership and prestige in the national arts community which is unparalleled by any other private or public entity. The NEA doesn’t have the capacity to single-handedly ensure a healthy environment for the arts nationally. It very much can invest in and support organizations that are already providing a network of programs and services that link and nurture art-makers and arts organizations, nationally, regionally, and locally.

The NEA is now providing financial project support to a number of service organizations and that support should absolutely continue. (As the executive director of a service organization which does occasionally receive NEA funding, this may seem an incredibly self-serving observation, but I’ve got to make it.) Beyond dollars (always needed and appreciated), the NEA could provide thought-leadership for service organizations that would multiply the impact of its financial investment many times over. Convening the conveners is a function singularly well-suited to the NEA. Too often, service organizations conceive, create, execute and sometimes discard programs and services in not-so-splendid isolation, re-creating the wheel time and again, depleting scarce resources of time, energy and cash. Better links between organizations serving a variety of locations, disciplines, and interest areas would allow service organizations, as a sector, to build on each other’s research and experience. The NEA could sponsor a regular (annual, biannual?) convening of these groups, and provide or at least offer support for year-round links that would establish an ongoing platform for sharing information and best-practices.

In terms of advocacy, perhaps the greatest service the NEA could provide the field as a whole is ongoing thought-leadership in articulating the value of the arts to individuals and to society. As a government agency, the NEA is rightfully constrained on lobbying for its own appropriations, but the NEA can and should offer intellectual leadership in defining the critical role the arts play in our multi-cultural, 21st century democracy. Assertions that eloquently answer the question, “What’s art for?” (and that are backed by continually refreshed research) would arm advocates across the country in making their case to local, state, and federal public-policy makers as well as private institutional funders.

To this end, and to further guide the field as a whole, the NEA should strengthen its commitment to research and data collection, providing top-notch analysis and disseminating its results in compelling and widely-accessible reports.

BARRY: In recent years, local arts agencies have lost visibility and funding streams at the Endowment, yet the locals are one part of the arts infrastructure that has experienced growth in demand for services. What should the NEA do to nurture and protect the system of locals and how might a healthier locals infrastructure benefit discipline based arts organizations and/or individual artists?

ANNE: The arts sector is only as strong as its weakest link. So a healthy local arts infrastructure benefits every discipline-based arts organization and every artist in a community, not to mention benefitting the business, education, government and political sectors and the general public overall. Every community needs a voice for the arts on the grassroots level, to pay attention to the bigger picture, connect the arts to community issues, speak up for the arts as integral to the community’s future.

Too many places don’t have that connective “mechanism” that is a local arts agency or council. There may be a lot of arts programs in a community, but too often those organizations and programs exist in a vacuum, in a state of competition instead of partnership. Without a sense of the bigger picture and connections to the larger arts sector and community overall, individual organizations make uninformed and short-term planning decisions and don’t have a way to understand the impact of those decisions on other organizations and on the community, without thinking about partners that could enhance the overall effort.

The simple answer to “what can the NEA do to nurture and protect the system of locals” is to invest in programs that support and strengthen local infrastructure. As a wise arts leader friend of mine once said, “There’s nothing you can’t do with time, money, and staff.” To create such a program, or enhance the current locals program so that it supports organizations and communities, not just projects and programs, requires a re-imagining of the Endowment’s programs so that community cultural development becomes an issue worth of funding.

BRAD: With hundreds and hundreds of local arts agencies across the country, the NEA can’t possibly fund each one of them to any meaningful degree. In this way, publicly-funded local arts agencies aren’t very different from the multitude of private, non-profit arts organizations the NEA is also called to support. The NEA can, though, help every local arts agency by serving as the ultimate model for a public arts agency, clearly articulating the value of the arts to individuals and society, creating logic models that justify public support for the arts (answering the perfectly reasonable question that, “While the arts may indeed be a wonderful and even necessary thing, why should tax dollars be spent on it?”), and nurturing innovation and best-practices through the occasional granting of outstanding projects that can serve as national models.

PATRICK: I think most of what the NEA should be doing is to re-focus its energies on how it can help regional, state, and local organizations/agencies provide the resources needed to repair, build up, and expand the cultural capital (financial, human, and social) essential to the future sustainability and well-being of our communities and the citizens who live in them.

In 2003, WESTAF held a Symposium on “Re-Envisioning State Arts Agencies.” It was a powerful event and the proceedings should be read by everyone engaged in the discourse we are having right now about the NEA. The recommendations I made for the future role of state arts agencies at that event applies to the NEA as well. They include:
  • Have the NEA play a critical role in giving federal and state certification of local programs and services. Being able to say “Funding provided by q state arts agency and the National Endowment for the Arts” can be used to leverage much needed additional funding support;
  • Have the NEA provide much needed professional and organizational development “deep-training” resources, especially for the thousands of local, community-based, rural/small community organizations and institutions that is appropriate to their place and their situation;
  • Have the NEA help identify a clear set of nonprofit, community-based organizational standards to help guide the nonprofit community-based arts organizations and professional competencies of those individuals who lead them;
  • Have the NEA broker essential federal/regional/state inter-agency public/partnerships to help create innovative ways to support the arts at every level and in every community;
  • Have the NEA be the catalyst to help regional/state arts agencies coordinate, implement, and support regional and statewide convocations of the community of arts for the purpose of professional, organizational, and artistic development;
  • Have the NEA be the force behind the development of public policy on the arts and, through effective advocacy efforts, help promote the contribution the arts make to the existence and sustainability of communities all across this nation – regardless of their location, their size, or their cultural resources.
BOB: Local government support for the arts is the largest public funding stream for the arts in America, but it is a sleeping giant. The NEA proved in the 1980’s the amazing leveraging power that federal support has in urging local government leaders to appropriate more dollars to the arts. (The NEA had already proved in the sixties and seventies the federal leveraging power for state dollars which actually helped spawn the majority of state arts agencies and the significant current appropriation from the states today.)

It has always been the policy of Americans for the Arts to urge the NEA to do as much as possible to help foster more local government support. Local arts-enabling organizations have many names, local arts agencies, arts councils, united arts funds, business committees for the arts, arts and business councils, cultural alliances and more. The majority are local funding agencies and are even now in aggregate the largest public funding sector for the arts both in total dollars and in numbers of grants. The number of such entities has grown to some 4,000 but the full potential for leveraged dollars from these existing agencies or for the creation of such a local arts support mechanism in every community is not yet realized. A decade ago, with the slashes in federal government appropriations, there needed to be less of an emphasis on this mechanism simply because basic support for our nation’s cultural organizations seemed to be such a need and priority with such limited resources. Today, with the federal appropriations nearly back to where they were and hope in the air, it would be a good time to think creatively about how the role of government support at all levels can be maximized.

CELESTE: My focus has really been at the state and (to a lesser degree) the federal level. I know that museums benefit greatly from the local arts councils and commissions across California and that they are a fundamental part of the funding tapestry for nonprofit arts organizations. Particularly in California, I have witnessed the extremely painful cuts in local governmental funding. As a federal agency that has ties in every state, I would hope that NEA would encourage state councils to take a role in nurturing and/or meeting the needs of the “locals”.

SANDRA: It’s certainly critical that NEA conduct a strategic review of its programs, initiatives and funding policies to set the direction for the next few years. Local arts agencies and organizations form a critical part of the funding, producing and presenting infrastructure for the arts in the U.S. They put the resources of the NEA in the hands of the people who are working at the most fundamental level and reflect back to agency the national identity on the ground floor. A healthy local infrastructure could help to extend the NEA’s reach across the country and across the field, especially through the offering technical assistance, professional development and other capacity or knowledge building services effectively at a grassroots level and connecting professionals and artists across genres and disciplines.
Funds appropriated at the local level, whether directly to arts councils and commissions or to arts producing and presenting organizations that are line timed in municipal or county budgets are leveraged many times over to create broad access to the arts for entire communities and to deepen the engagement in the arts for many. Stakes are high for individual artists at state and local funding levels, and local arts organizations could be valuable intermediaries between the NEA and individual artists. I would want to see the NEA create a broad definition of what constitutes high quality, effective local arts service. Traditional arts councils offer vital services at the local level and should be supported. It is also critical to discover and support providers that are outside the mainstream or traditional realms and that may reveal a richer fabric of arts creation and cultural identity.

JONATHAN: According to Americans for the Arts, before a decline in 2009, local government funding for the arts has grown rather steadily for the past 25 years, and rather significantly between 2004 and 2008 to an all-time high that approached $900 million. I think it would be useful to have more detail on the growth in demand for services referenced in the question. I think a role for the NEA in nurturing the effectiveness of local arts agencies is appropriate. Any of supporting research and the exchange of information among local arts agencies, testing the effects of various models and strategies, fostering leadership development, exploring productive local-state working relationships, and educating local decision makers to the advantages of local arts support might be leadership activities for the NEA.

DON: Stronger, clearer national policy leadership would equip local leaders to couch their work within a more comprehensible public-policy framework. Much of the strength, development and innovation within our post-1965 public-arts-agency system arose from the 20% requirement to fund state cultural agencies: there wasn't much money involved, especially at first, but it effectively required people in every state of the union to engage in discussing what needs and potentials existed in the arts and culture - even in places like my native state, South Dakota, which otherwise would never have come onto the radar of national arts policymakers. Different approaches were needed in such very non-urban places, and new models of work slowly arose, as state arts agencies sought greater independence from the "NEA model" in the '70s. When support to local agencies first came onto the National Council's agenda in the early '80s, Council members' reactions were bizarre: two in particular asserted that the bland proposal to allocate funds for re-granting by municipal arts agencies brought should be "leaked to the KGB" as a way of undermining the Soviet Union, then being described by the new President as the Evil Empire, because nothing would so rapidly undermine quality in the arts as this kind of decentralization. Advocates won the Council's lukewarm, limited support by assuring them that local agencies gave the lion's share of their local grantmaking to the same major-institutional grantees as the NEA did, rather than using such other arguments that they could support smaller, more diverse and innovative programs closer to the ground. This is why I think federal policy is important here: to articulate values such as freedom of expression, cultural diversity, innovation and public service that inspire innovation in our decentralized pubic cultural-support system. Decades later, I think it would behoove planners and policymakers as we embark on this path to look back to some of the seminal texts in international policy-making, like Austin Girard's Culture and Development, where intelligent discussions of the roles of central and local government are laid out and where the importance of decentralization is stressed. Earmarking matching funds for local agencies - which should indeed exist in every Congressional district, and even more locally, throughout the country -- could being about a diversification and strengthening of the public-support system, emphasizing democratic values in cultural policy and contextualizing the importance of creativity and active engagement in the arts.

BARRY: Where should the balance lie between artistic excellence on the one hand, and criteria such as geography, large and small organization size and budget, the various disciplines, multicultural considerations etc. in the allocation of the Endowment’s grant funds? And what consideration should be given to the administrative or non-artistic costs associated with an artistic program grant application?

SANDRA: I feel strongly that as a national arts agency that the NEA should support first and foremost efforts that have artistic merit and high quality, whatever the expression or aesthetic; and the NEA should support a full array of artistic expressions and aesthetics. Authorizing legislation also commits the NEA to supporting work and projects that have significant reach, value and that reflect the diversity of cultures, traditions and peoples living in communities in the United States. These remain important aims for NEA to balance along with ensuring there is wide access to those living in the urban centers to rural reaches of the country and the range of communities between the two. I believe that NEA can also balance the need to reflect geographic, discipline and organizational diversity through its funding of state arts agencies and regional arts organizations that sub grant funds and through the support of arts service organizations that are much closer to the ground where the arts are developing and advancing. These organizations extend the reach and impact of the NEA.

PATRICK: The issue isn’t access or excellence – it is access to excellence. I believe everything starts with access. Without access to the arts experience, individuals, organizations, and communities cannot achieve excellence in the arts. Excellent art doesn’t just happen - it is hard work and it isn’t created in just one place under one set of conditions by certain gifted people. It is difficult to create funding support that finds its way into the complex cultural ecosystem that can’t be divided as neatly and cleanly as people have tried to do over the past two generations. The NEA has not been nearly as successful in its mandate for access to the arts for all Americans as it has its effort to promote excellence in the arts. It can’t just be one or the other – they are intimately connected.

Our nonprofit, community-based arts organizations are standing at the edge. It is a precipitous position for organizations that have been stretched too far and too thin the past fifteen to twenty years. Many of these organizations are “broke” in both senses of the word and may not make it. They are broke because of dwindling financial resources and, perhaps just as importantly, they are broke because of the demands being placed on them to function efficiently, creatively, sustainably and to do so with full public accountability regardless of their size or location. Funding from the NEA to agencies/institutions that can deliver effective organizational and professional development technical assistance to address these issues can make the difference as to whether or not these organizations survive.

We need to start looking beyond the existing community-based nonprofit model and explore what other options exist. Low-profit and, in some instances, even for-profit structures are springing up in response to the need for something new. What does this mean? How do they work? Are the successful? This needs to be explored. Whatever it is do we have to do something. We can’t just stand by and continue to watch. Our cultural organizational structures have to be more nimble, flexible, and adaptive to changing conditions. And the professional administrators leading these agencies must be equipped and prepared to help these organizations accomplish these tasks. There is nothing the NEA could do right now more important than providing the funding support necessary to make the organizational and professional development assistance needed to help our local, state, regional, and national cultural infrastructure reinvent itself.

BOB: Since it’s authorization in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts has focused on creating the opportunity for every American to have the gift of the arts and arts education in their lives. And equally, the NEA mandate was to focus on ensuring that this art was of the highest quality. I think that continuing to look at these two principles as applied to every program, every initiative, and every part of our federal government support program for the arts is appropriate. Large and small organizations are both important to the arts ecology, all disciplines should be considered including new evolving ones, and the cultural contributions of all of America's diverse cultures must be embraced fully and fairly.

CELESTE: I think the challenge is in achieving an acceptable balance of all the factors you mention, perhaps with different grant programs for various purposes. That may seem like just a safe answer – but I also believe it is the best one. I have sat in a legislator’s office and had him ask how the organizations and constituents in his state/district have benefited from a particular agency. I have also had colleagues from small or discipline-specific organizations ask why they should support a cause if they don’t get funded. Ignoring a specific geographical region, discipline, or other group undermines the sustainability and growth of NEA and, subsequently, accessibility to the arts across the country. That said, I think artistic excellence is extremely important and hope the agency will reward innovation and set high standards that will challenge organizations across the country.

BRAD: On its website, the NEA names “supporting excellence in the arts” as its very first goal. Next up is “bringing the arts to all Americans.” And here the tension seems to lie. But the NEA, and its observers, should not view supporting excellence and supporting diversity in geographic and multi-cultural art-making as an either/or proposition. It is not impossible to combine the NEA’s top two goals and say that the agency’s mission is to “bring excellent art—both old and new—to all Americans.” Old, new, of European lineage, of Asian, African, Latin American and Native American derivation as well. And in every one of the 50 states, or how will the NEA fulfill its mandate to bring this excellence to all Americans? The NEA should not shy away from holding up excellence as a standard. But excellence can certainly be achieved in the hinterlands as well is in Chicago or San Francisco. And not just in a few idiosyncratic locales (e.g. Ashland, Oregon’s Shakespeare Festival or Western Massachusetts’ Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival). Excellence can be found as readily in the performance of traditional ethnic dance in California’s Central Valley as in experimental performance works in the East Village. The role of the NEA is to call art-makers in every discipline and in every community across the country to achieve excellence in their own venues, and to provide Americans with access to excellent art in their own communities and in cities and towns far away.

ANNE: Just reading that list of qualifiers shows how very many diverse interests and agendas the Endowment must satisfy – and that’s just within the arts sector. Then there’s Congress…

I don’t believe that artistic excellence is a category unto itself, but is at the heart of any artistic experience. It’s not an “either-or” situation. There is sometimes an assumption that excellence is only realized by “professional” artists, and that it lives only in classical arts in an urban setting. There seem to be different criteria for a community-based effort in a small town or rural area or a new art form coming from a young creative mind.

But of course excellence exists in small places as well as large, and in “amateur” efforts, too. In Wisconsin, we have people like Tom Every of Baraboo, known as Dr. Evermore, who builds outsized, fantastic “outsider art’ scrap metal sculptures that have become known around the world. Is this artwork “excellent”? (Some would even ask, is it art? I don’t want to get into that discussion!) I don’t know, but it sure is creative. (Click here for a photo of the Forevertron, the world’s largest metal sculpture: In the city of Amery in northwest Wisconsin, population 3000, which has designated an official Poet Laureate position, a poem is read before each City Council meeting. Milwaukee has embraced the arts as community assets in myriad ways, from designating the spectacular Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum as part of the city’s “brand” to supporting an award-winning strings program at the Latino community center.

Wisconsin is special, of course, but there are incredibly creative people and places in every corner of this country. Not all should be eligible for Endowment support, but the Endowment should lead the way in providing visibility and credibility to those people and places. Since the Endowment is s a public agency concerned with the common good, I’d like to see the agency provide a more balanced approach to supporting “excellence” with supporting creative expression, access and community engagement and vitality.

Every famous artist or performer starts as a child taking classes and lessons with the local music theater or community theater or art school. Someone or something has got to start fanning the creative spark in that kid and then release him or her out into the wider world.

As the great Robert Gard, the University of Wisconsin professor and arts advocate said, “If we are seeking in America, let it be for the reality of democracy in the arts. Let art begin at home and let it spread through the children and the parents, and through the schools and the institutions, and through government. And let us start by acceptance, not negation—acceptance that the arts are important everywhere, and that they can exist and flourish in small places as well as large, with money or without it, according to the will of the people. Let us put firmly and permanently aside the cliché that the arts are a frill. Let us accept the goodness of art where we are now, and expand its worth in the places where people live.”

As for the administration or “non-artistic” costs – how did it happen that our funding system (not just at the Endowment, but the funding system overall) came to regard administrative costs as an aside, as inconsequential? That mindset has wreaked havoc on the arts sector and the nonprofit system in general, because it’s made having the funds to actually operate an organization so difficult to find and to sustain. All nonprofit organizations, regardless of their budget size, spend too much time chasing the elusive operating money, to the detriment of the creative “product” of their organizations. I’d like to see more understanding and emphasis on the real costs of producing an artistic product, including administration and overhead.

DON: Excellence in the arts - and this means multiple qualities, plural, rather than some singular question of "quality" - is the job of individual artists and companies. Producing the highest-quality art is the primary motivation of any artist, professional or amateur, and is not the result of government or legislation, though public agencies can and should underwrite all the elements needed to support artists and citizens in producing and having access to the best artwork that our people can produce. This means providing facilities, training, opportunities for cross-fertilization, innovation and experiment in every aspect of the arts - in their content, their form and presentation, the contexts in which they are supported, deployed and enjoyed. It should be our clear national goal that the arts be supported and enjoyed everywhere in the United States, with no "flyover" zones, and should be supported by for, in and among all our culturally diverse citizenry. This will look different in rural Utah than in Manhattan or San Francisco, but cultural development and a high quality of cultural life should be available to everyone, everywhere, if we are to enjoy life in a cultural democracy.

BARRY: What an excellent start to this week's discussion. Again, there are so many questions suggested by your comments and observations.

The discussion will continue tomorrow with more questions for the Second Panel.

Please feel free to enter your own comment by using the comment feature below.

Thanks to the Panel and to the readership.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23rd - 8:00 am Pacific Time

BARRY: By law, the NEA allocates approximately 40% of its funding to the states and regions. Should this formula be maintained or changed?

DON: I don't think there's any magical percentage: as long as the entire system is guided by strong policy, I think decentralizing resources - especially if federal funds are used to boost public subsidy at every decentralized point cities, towns, counties and neighborhoods. The main issue is the puny size of the federal cultural budget. Such dramatic controversies have been fanned up over an amount of money that is merely token. The entire NFAH allocation zeros out in the federal budget, yet its critics treat it as a deplorable waste. The investment needs to be multiplied federally and at every level of government so that this percentage - whatever it is - generates a much more substantial level of public investment. This can't happen without clear, accessible statements of the value of public investment in creativity and culture.

ANNE: Making recommendations and decisions about the “right” formula for distribution requires some thoughtful analysis, research, and projections on how the current system and policies work and the potential results of any changes. I am sure that Mr. Landesman’s leadership will include an examination of the funding structure and policies of the agency, including the specific programs and formulas currently in place.

CELESTE: As I mentioned above, I think a balance is appropriate and needed for sustainability and continued growth. I absolutely believe it is possible to reward excellence at a state level, especially in California. Having a geographical formula helps guarantee that every state and/or region is benefiting from our nation’s investment in the arts. I just wish there was more money to spread around, so more Americans and communities benefit from the arts.

BRAD: I am going to go way out on a limb and wonder about the mandate that requires 40% of the NEA’s funding to be dispensed to the states and regions. For its own good, the NEA should make its support clearly visible to lawmakers and the electorate. When nearly half of the agency’s appropriations is diverted to others, it’s much harder to show impact and raise the profile of the agency—to promote its “brand” in marketing terms. Maybe there is a way that state grants, when augmented with NEA dollars, should credit a portion of that support back to the Endowment. The more voters see the NEA logo inside the playbills and museum brochures of their own local arts organizations, the more likely they will be to favor increased support for the Endowment—since they can see its impact on their own community.

PATRICK: Consideration should be given to reverse the current percentage formula. I think 60% of NEA funding should go to the state and regional organizations but it should not be limited to traditional public funding agencies. Consideration also should be given to have these additional funds awarded on a competitive basis. Regional and state funding agencies should be challenged to show how they will use this new funding to fulfill both purposes of the NEA (excellence and access).

This wider distribution of funding across the country is vital to the ability of the NEA to be in a position to get increased funding in the future. People need to see what it is that public funding can accomplish. Therefore any grant received by any agency, institution, or artist(s) from a regional or state agency should acknowledge a portion of its funding comes from the NEA. This way, people can begin to see how it all fits together.

From the beginning of its existence, the NEA has been more of a “reactive” agency, responding to what exists, not what might exist. This is understandable. It is hard for a government agency to be creative even though it is an agency that supports creativity – but that is the task given to the NEA. Unfortunately, the NEA has been a political lighting rod that is disproportionate to the amount of the Federal budget it receives and has been discouraged to take the risks needed to provide effective leadership to the community of arts in America. But this probably will always be the case because most people in this country fail to understand the difference between the “value of the arts” and the “values the arts express.”

Maybe this is the time for leadership at the NEA needs to step forward and embrace its role as cultural catalyst. You can’t support creativity without taking risks. And if there was ever a time our country needs to have creative resources available to address difficult challenges, it is now.

SANDRA: Overall, as mentioned in an earlier question, I think it’s important for the NEA to look at all its existing programs and funding allocations, including states, regional arts organizations, organizations and individuals – all in an effort to enhance the effectiveness, value, and impact of federal dollars allocated through all contracts and grants awarded, and to advance the arts. NEA support to state arts agencies remains critical at a time when many states are sustaining significant cuts to their budgets, which threaten the health and sustainability of the arts nationwide. State arts agencies have demonstrated the ability to assure great geographic, demographic reach and impact with NEA funds, and many states have had great success in articulating and creating public value through the arts as well as a strong track record of effective statewide planning and assessment that has ensures knowledge and capacity building across the arts sector. The NEA provides critical support to state arts agencies that is leveraged many times over and that has helped to sustain state government appropriations and support. This must continue. For most of our constituents, the stakes are far higher at the state and local government levels than at the federal level.

JONATHAN: The NEA employs two basic methods of distributing its funds to fulfill its mission: directly via national panels and indirectly through state arts agencies. I’ll note four reasons that the 40% of the NEA budget distributed through the 56 states and jurisdictions, and their regional groups, contributes powerfully to Congressional support of the agency. One is that the state formula guarantees that a predictable portion of the tax dollars invested annually in the arts by the federal government will go to each state. The NEA is not a foundation. Every Senator and every member of the House of Representatives represents constituents who pay taxes, vote, perceive the arts as important, and want to see the federal investment in artistic excellence and access include their district. The distributive principle maintains the NEA’s viability as a government agency just as it does for the federal agencies with responsibility for education, transportation, housing and urban development, the humanities and other public benefits. The most revealing example of the value of the state portion in sustaining Congressional support for the NEA was when, in the process of reducing the NEA budget from $176 MM to $98 MM in the 1990’s, Congress doubled the state percentage to its present level. (At the same time, Congress limited allocation of the NEA program budget to no more than 15% to any one state and stipulated that the National Council should be geographically representative. This is also about the perception of fairness.) Secondly, beyond distribution, the state portion increases the reach and impact of federal arts support. When agency staff and panels at the state level make decisions and provide services to artists, arts organizations and the public with federal dollars, they do so with knowledge of each state’s unique cultural, social, economic and artistic environment. They cultivate means of reaching every corner of their state suitable to each state’s circumstances – including presenter networks, touring programs, arts education programs, state-local government partnerships, cultural district incentives. Since the NEA requires and approves state plans that must be informed by a public process, must support arts education, and must serve the underserved, the state portion of its budget supports a system through which statewide priorities are identified and addressed compatibly with national goals. I should point out that the unique value of the 40% portion continues to be revealed. When the NEA decided that it would directly award ARRA funds only to recent grant recipients, it meant that in some states only a small number of groups could even apply. The stipulation by Congress that 40% of ARRA funds be distributed through states and regions ensured that jobs in arts organizations would be supported even in areas of the country where arts groups are sparse. Thirdly, the state portion greatly leverages federal support for the arts, stimulating support for the arts at other levels of government and from private sources as well. At least half of the state arts agencies were started by governors in response to NEA incentive grants in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Early on, the state portion made up half of state arts agency budgets; now, state legislatures typically allocate about nine times the state portion annually and 2 ½ to 3 times the total NEA budget – certainly one of the most successful of all NEA programs. It’s important to note that NEA support to state arts agencies is still a quarter, a third, or more of many of their budgets and, especially in tough economies such as we are now experiencing, the desire not to lose NEA state partnership agreement funding provides an extremely important incentive to state governments looking for agencies to eliminate. It’s useful to note as well that state arts agencies have, through the work of their community development coordinators and their grant making, fostered the local arts agency movement. Even though distribution of locals is uneven and some states have only a few, state arts agencies most recently awarded 14% of their grant dollars to many hundreds of locals and to the statewide assemblies of locals. Fourthly, the state portion supports and diversifies the NEA mandate to advance excellence in the arts. If you exclude California, which has so many arts organizations that both the NEA and the state arts agency support a relatively small number of them, state arts agencies support two-thirds of all NEA grantees – and, on average, with twice as much money. In numerous states – Arizona, Illinois, Rhode Island and Tennessee, for instance, the state arts agency supports between 80% and 90% of NEA grantees. The point is that NEA dollars are being put to work raising the quality of participation in the arts both when the NEA makes grants directly to as many as 700 communities in a given year and when the state arts agencies make grants annually in over 5000 communities.

The state portion at 40% of NEA program funds continues to demonstrate its value and position the NEA for overall budget growth. The state arts agencies are strongly committed to neither decreasing it, which would reduce its value in advancing the mission of the NEA, contributing to Congressional support of the agency, and leveraging state arts support, nor increasing it, because we value the national leadership roles of the NEA.

DON: I'm a strong advocate of the public interest in the arts, but right now, I'm most concerned about employment opportunities for professional artists, emphasizing a much more diverse and imaginative deployment of artists' skills, talents and social imagination. Fellowships are good and important, but this should not be the primary function of central government: this kind of support should be available to artists at the state level and locally, protected by a clear understanding of freedom of expression and avoiding partisan political interests in supporting creative artists. (I also think federal-level fellowships should also be restored, but more as a fail-safe to a more generous array of state, local and private-sector options, supporting work that's too controversial or experimental to win more support in more conservative local areas, and to highlight the accomplishments of national-important artistic innovators: obviously, this would challenge federal grantmakers to strongly assert the importance of not censoring artwork produced by individual artists. And we know how difficult this challenge is, thanks to the NEA Four controversies of the late '80s and '90s.) The most important place to address artists' employment lies not in fellowship support, but in public service employment for artists. As in the '30s, with the WPA, and the '70s, with CETA (the comprehensive Employment and Training Act), we've seen the lasting value of employing artists in community contexts all over the U.S. With intractable unemployment at the top of our national economic picture, I'd like to see the new administration make a big statement and a very large public investment in artists' employment in every conceivable community context: schools, hospitals, public artwork, neighborhood projects, social-service agencies, recreation programs, public performance and participatory arts and cultural projects.

I'd also like to see the Endowment's direct focus on the needs of each arts discipline restored, to help guide the entire public-agency infrastructure as well as its own national-level grantmaking. The "Theme park" funding of arts institutions complicated what had been a more straightforward way of dealing with key institutions in various arts disciplines. At the same time, federal-level programs should focus on special needs and issues in the cultural arena, like the situation of minority cultural communities, folk and traditional arts, and the largely untapped opportunities available through community-based cultural development projects, supporting research and development and pilot-project work in cross-cutting areas like these as well as in each separate arts discipline.

BOB: The formula for distribution of funds has been analyzed and changed several times over the history of the National Endowment for the Arts. Congress I am sure will look at this again in the future but that is not happening right now. As I mentioned earlier, the key focus now needs to be on more money for supporting the arts and the amount of money that is distributed, whether through the states, directly to arts organizations, to artists, or through mechanisms like local arts agencies, all need to be increased. It is my hope that the dialogue will focus on this great advancement for growing all available resources rather than quarreling over what percentage of the whole goes where.

: What would you like to see the Endowment accomplish? What policies should govern its actions? What should be its priorities? If you were to advise Rocco Landesman on what the agenda for the NEA should be --what would you tell him?

JONATHAN: Here is a list of recommendations for the NEA similar to those I submitted on behalf of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) to the new administration’s transition team:

1. Articulate a set of priority outcomes related to participation in the arts in the United States and link strategic roles for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to each. Align grant programs and leadership roles such as research, convening and organizing stakeholders, encouraging collaborations, and broadening support.

2. The NEA should extend its leadership and partnerships to enhance the accessibility and quality of participation in the arts provided in not-for-profit, for-profit and amateur contexts.

3. Integrate artists and arts organizations into national policy priorities such as health insurance reform and public service.

4. Build the federal government’s capacity for cultural diplomacy and adopt a comprehensive approach to arts education.

5. Establish a communication plan with priority messages to target audiences about (a) the arts and (b) the NEA. Advance nationwide understanding of the arts as a multisector industry that contributes to employment, a healthy economy and a creative, competitive work force; as essential to American democratic practice and community life; and, therefore, as part of basic American education. Help the First Family portray the value of arts participation.

6. Play an active role with the White House, Congress and other federal agencies to (a) address cultural policy issues and (b) draw upon and support artistic resources to help achieve their program goals.

7. Cultivate a strong federal-state arts support partnership.

ANNE: Although I disagreed with the Endowment’s previous “top-down” approach, I do applaud the agency for paying more attention to access and to making sure that funding was more obviously distributed throughout the country. Now, it’s time (past time!) to lead the way to turn the country’s attention to the role of creativity in the 21st century world and the public value of the arts.
Mr. Landesman, the Endowment’s agenda and priorities should be:
  • Ensuring access to the arts and creative opportunities for everyone, everywhere in America.
  • Advocating for a strong American creative sector as an important component of the nation’s economy , and, for infusing creativity into all sectors of the economy.
  • Supporting and nurturing a healthy and sustainable arts sector, which includes individual artists making a living as creative entrepreneurs and for-profit and non-profit arts and cultural organizations and businesses working as social change agents and community partners.
  • Championing and supporting arts and creativity as the bedrock of 21st century education for all American children.
  • Partnering with local, state and regional advocates to speak up for the agency and increased funding for the arts in America.
PATRICK: The NEA didn’t get to where it is overnight. We didn’t get to where we are as a country overnight either. There is no magical “re-set” button we can hit to return things to where they were with the NEA twenty years ago. And to be honest, I’m not sure where the NEA was twenty years ago is where I would want it to be today. But, the fact is, the NEA has never been funded at an appropriate level and neither have the state arts agencies and nothing is going to happen overnight to change this. I think the reason for this is clear - the arts are not part of the day-to-day lives of most Americans. The reason the NEA doesn’t get the funding it needs/deserves isn’t because people don’t like art or don’t think art is important – it is because the arts have never been a part of the average citizens’ life - they aren’t part of the average citizen’s day-to-day vocabulary.

Maybe what we should be doing is what Baker Brownell suggested sixty years ago - just quit talking and clacking about art and start doing it. Perhaps, instead of the NEA funding a few acting companies to tour all over the nation to expose citizens to the works of Shakespeare, the NEA should provide the funding needed to make it possible for citizens in communities all across the nation to participate in and experience Shakespeare on a personal basis by doing the productions themselves. Now, that is a project that would transform communities and put the arts into the day-to-day vocabulary of people.

People give their money to where their values are. When we build a sustainable, community-based arts infrastructure from the bottom up because people want to participate in and experience the arts on a personal basis – the NEA will be funded at the right level because citizens will insist their Senators and Congressmen fund it this way. State arts agencies will be funded at a level they need to be funded and no one will have to force the legislators to do it – they will know it is the right thing to do. And individual artists and arts agencies and institutions will be funded the way they need to be funded because they are accountable to the people who fund them because they are part of a value system that places the arts within the life experience of each individual and community.

This is the paradigm shift I was talking about earlier. It is already happening. It has been happening at the local community level for hundreds of years in this country and it has hardly ever been “funded.” Now, what can those of us involved in the NEA, state arts agencies, and other public/private funding agencies learn from that.

BRAD: The NEA should have as its priority creating an atmosphere in this country that understands and embraces the value of the arts to 21st century Americans. Helping us all understand and articulate “what the arts are for” in a multi-cultural, technologically driven society that is the unquestioned world super-power, will support not only the prospects for the Endowment’s own funding, but undergird efforts across the country to deliver the community-enriching, personally-transformative power of the arts to all Americans—and can help create a new image of America as a society that is not only rich materially and powerful militarily, but expansive of spirit, profound in understanding, and crackling with creativity.

BOB: The arts in America are America’s secret weapon for change and for making a better nation. They hold great promise as a key tool in America’s relationship with the rest of the world. However, the arts have been too much of a secret and the value of our arts activity in America is virtually unknown globally. There is a great opportunity with more resources to support the great artistic work that is already happening, to strengthen and enable the 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations working to make better communities everywhere, to allow all Americans to realize the asset that is in their midst, and to enable American non-profit arts to fully participate in the great global dialogue of our day—whether international exchange, advancing to new markets, or solving problems through cultural diplomacy. The NEA and all of us need to be even more vocal, more persuasive, more articulate, and relentless in spreading the word of the value of our sector. When questioned or attacked (as American for the Arts was this week by the Washington Times) we need to fight back. The arts are not just decoration, they should be fully part of all contemporary issues and discussions whether racism, crime, economics, war, or health care. Great artists and great art have dealt with all of these issues and more for thousands of years . The NEA currently has just a little bit of money but two great assets , the power to leverage and a bully pulpit. What I would tell the Chair of the NEA is dream big, speak loudly, make change, build the best support infrastructure possible at all levels, use leverage, take chances, discuss ideas widely, partner, think about all of America, make mistakes, celebrate successes, and know (I hope) that 100,000 non-profit arts organizations in America have your back.

  • Invite feedback
  • Listen
  • Determine needs
  • Ascertain what is sustainable and viable given the political environment
  • Propose
  • Listen again
  • Reach general consensus
  • Fearlessly take Washington by storm
  • Repeat
SANDRA: Arts Presenters held a meeting of a small group of presenting practitioners and artists with the NEA in January 2009 to talk about the future of the NEA and the following priorities issues and needs, were identified:
  • Determine the role of individual artists with and their relationship to the NEA
  • The establishment of a capacity building and sustainability initiative for the arts (as mentioned in question # 1); provide operating support to arts organizations that acknowledges the excellence of organizations and provides for infrastructure building
  • The need for the arts to receive support in stimulus funding packages and for the NEA to play a role in the development and distribution of jobs corps funds for the arts
  • The role of the NEA in responding to and prioritizing that the field respond to the vast diversity and demographic shifts that have taken place in the U.S. over more than 30 years (in programs, leadership, audiences and organizations)
  • The importance of the NEA supporting the full array of artistic expression and aesthetics in the projects and initiatives funded
  • The need to foster and facilitate global cultural exchanges and cultural diplomacy programs as well as advance policies favorable to cultural exchange and diplomacy
  • Support arts education and lifelong learning in the arts in and outside the classroom
  • Foster and facilitate relationships and partnerships in the arts with other federal agencies
  • Support the field in the full understanding and use of new media and technologies
  • Support arts initiatives that provide platforms for communities to come together and address social issues
  • Develop a brief and policy statement that communicate the value of creativity in the arts and arts as an important domain of creative endeavor
  • Expand research activities and assist the field in establishing new metrics for and means of assessing the impact of programs and efforts
  • Engage the arts sector in sustainability/climate change issues and the green movement
  • Revive the convening role of the NEA and establish NEA as a leader among as well as a convener of funders and other arts supporters
  • Create new public awareness of the value and impact of the arts to communities
This is a long list of critical issues and needs, and given the agency’s resources, the need to focus the NEA’s agenda for maximum impact and field value is clear. It is my hope that Chairman Landesman will conduct a strategic review of NEA’s initiatives and efforts in determining the priorities for the agency going forward.

BARRY: Some follow-up questions and responses tomorrow. Please feel free to add your own comment or pose your own question by clicking on the comment button below.