Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 01, 2009



Please scroll down for the Wrap Up of this Panel, to the previous blog entry for the beginning of this discussion, and to the entries before that for the Panels 1 & 2 comments.

BARRY: What are the essential elements that ought to go into forming a national policy on arts & culture?

FRANCES: Policies on media and communications; international exchange; immigration policy; and support for the full economic scope of the sector with loans, insurance, and other supports as well as grants. A balanced focus on excellence and broad public access. Recognition of the nation’s evolving demographic profile. A scope that recognizes for profit and nonprofit arts as parts of the same system and fields.

DANIEL: Since I understand that Blogs are characteristically brief, I offer one essential element to forming a coherent policy on arts & culture – education in the arts. The RAND study Cultivating Demand for the Arts has found a strong correlation between arts education (including lessons, appreciation classes, and being taken to a performance or exhibition by relatives or friends) in childhood and adult participation in the arts (click here: Demand for the arts. Therefore, more widespread and better arts education for young people could result in more Americans taking part in the arts, bringing multiple benefits to both them and their communities. We believe that access to high quality arts learning deserves a secure place in every child’s education for several reasons: it can enhance a child’s ability to “learn how to learn;” it can develop skills of persistence and teamwork; it can enhance the school experience for students – stimulating their interest and enthusiasm for learning, it can strengthen empathy and imagination through experiences that the arts uniquely provide, and it can help them discover beauty and meaning in their lives. More broadly, arts education plays a vital role in ensuring America has a vibrant cultural life, and, conversely, its absence over the long term could cause harm. In short, every child – and the broader society – benefits from high-quality arts education.

LOIE: We need to be able to answer the question of why does art matter and demonstrate how this is relevant to our communities. I think the arts actually are part of the day-to-day lives of our citizens; the problem is that many people just don’t make this connection. There is a disconnect.

LAURA: Whatever it is, please make sure it is actionable!

1) A widening of the lens that embraces, values and supports all artistic and cultural expressions in the US.

 2) A more rigorous refinement of the NEA’s theory of change, its ultimate, intermediate and short-term outcomes, strategies and metrics (qualitative and quantitative) that tracks progress and/or achievement which appear to currently focus on inputs as the proxies to measure progress. More needs to be done in this area.

3) I would suggest as a “throw down” springboard for discussion a bold, inspiring vision that purports everyone is creative and the NEA’s vision is to support the development of the creativity found in every individual in the following ways:
  • arts education (every child should have a regular, if not daily, opportunity for arts learning in and out of school)
  • arts participation (every individual should have opportunity to participate in arts and culture in real (geophysical and virtual/online) time experiences in a way that not only enriches the quality of his/her life but build highly valued workforce skill sets, provide opportunities for community engagement and volunteerism, and develop his/her ability to navigate an increasingly diverse world.
4) A comprehensive assessment and analysis at the midway point of its 2006-2011 strategic plan, given the new NEA leadership, the impacts of the current economy on the arts/culture and entertainment sector.

5) This development should include not only the anointed thought leaders from the politically anointed to the usual suspects/experts in non-profit arts and culture sector, with all due respect to my colleagues around the world, but also via web-based surveys and deeper interviews (web-based, telephonic and in-person) with a broader public ranging from traditional culture bearers, students posting on You Tube, PTA parents and CEO’s to designers and technologists at IDEO, Google and Facebook.

6) A reevaluation of the NEA’s focus on the supply chain and perhaps not enough on the demand side, much less strengthening the infrastructure; e.g., organizational development, capitalization, research and development for new ideas and new art forms and longitudinal data collection and analysis on key evergreen issues such as cultural preservation.

7) Then the hard decisions will come: crafting a powerful strategy to execute a bold vision (see #3) that is ambitiously viable, politically smart, and with the right (and significantly larger) size/scale of funding. At $100 per capita times 300 million people = $30 billion for arts and culture!

8) A person to guide this effort with the new NEA leadership.

BARRY: Has the Endowment done enough to nurture, protect and foster greater development of multicultural arts, and what might it do to support those legacies and create greater access to those cultural heritages?

JOHN MCGUIRK: The NEA has made great strides to represent and support the diversity of arts and culture organizations across the nation, yet given the rapidly changing demographics, there is much more to do. Beyond cultural heritage, preservation, and transmission, multicultural arts have a unique capacity to build bridges of understanding among different cultures. Imagine a cultural diplomatic corps within the State Department promoting international arts exchange, working with local culturally specific arts organizations.

FRANCES: The Endowment’s Expansion Arts program kept a spotlight on the emergence and vitality of multicultural arts organizations. That sustained focus was critically important as a conscience for the national arts scene. Now, many of those organizations seem to be languishing. Subsequent generations have different priorities (and different understandings of their identities). When, for example, I look at the organizations serving the Asian American population in San Francisco, many have shifted from focusing on Chinese or Japanese constituents to become broadly pan-Asian and, in doing so, they struggle to foster communications across generations.

This is a particularly hard topic for The Endowment, because many of these organizations come out of local settings and their vitality depends upon their being steepened in localness. But we still need inclusion and respect and we still need to tell our larger story as American culture evolves. Perhaps this is a case in which the Endowment’s resources help to document the important work of these groups—honoring their legacies, positioning them as subjects for research and reflection, and enabling them to move into their futures.

Another piece of this subject is that hip hop, one of the most vibrant cultural movements of recent decades, is a very multicultural movement that emerged, for the most part, outside of the structure of nonprofit organizations. If the Endowment doesn’t cast its glance over the for-profit and unincorporated dimensions of the arts field as it addresses policies for artists, it will miss important work, including important multicultural arts.

JOHN KILLACKY: San San Wong, director of the Cultural Equity Program at The San Francisco Arts Commission was lamenting to me about the dire financial shape of many Asian American arts organizations. I commiserated, but added that these organizations were, unfortunately, not in any worse shape than African American and Latino organizations. Given that many of these ethnically specific organizations were founded over 30 years ago, one would think they should be thriving.

Location and demographics should also be a determinant of success. More than 57% of Californians are people of color: Latinos account for almost one-third of the state’s population, Asians and Pacific Islanders 13%, African Americans 7%, and American Indians 1%. California has more self-identified multiracial individuals (767,000) than any other state. There are an estimated 10 million immigrants today, 28% of the state’s population.

These numbers, contrasted with the stark reality of so many culturally specific organizations at risk, demand future grantmaking be seen more through a racial equity lens. A 2006 survey by the multi-ethnic public policy research and advocacy institute, The Greenlining Institute, sparked considerable discussion in California, including legislators investigating whether foundations should be more transparent about their giving in terms of race and ethnicity.

Greenling surveyed 13,566 grants made in 2004 by 24 foundations and found wide discrepancies as to their investments in people of color-led organizations.

California’s community foundations awarded a greater percentage of grants (18.8%) and dollars (25.7%) to these organizations than both California-based independent foundations (11.4% of grants and 4% of dollars) and national independent foundations (7.7% of grants and 14.7% of dollars).

Greenlining’s analytic framework only tracked people of color-led organizations and did not include grants to organizations serving these communities not led by people of color, so it only captures part of the philanthropic picture. Nevertheless, the systemic bias and inequality revealed is sobering. In a state where there is no majority culture, these numbers call for redress.

With major support from Hewlett, Packard, and Irvine Foundations, The San Francisco Foundation, along with eight other grantmaking organizations, will be working to strengthen grassroots organizations over the next few years. NEA, over its’ esteemed history, has tried to address racial and ethnic disparities in the past. As foundation’s are recessing systemic bias, so too should our national agency.

LOIE: The NEA does a great job with its Folk Arts program and National Heritage Fellowships in fostering traditional multicultural arts but probably more could be done to capture what is going on in our cities and our immigrant communities and to promote cultural exchanges.

BARRY: For some time, funders were criticized for funding programs and projects they liked, but not allowing funds for the increased overhead such programs and projects necessitated. Has that changed? Is there a trend towards unrestricted operations grants?

JOHN MCGUIRK: All funders should include a portion of overhead and operating costs within project grants. This is a prudent best practice within arts administration and philanthropy. However, responding to the call for unrestricted operating support is much more difficult. For example, the demand for unrestricted operating support usually far outstrips the available financial resources, even with highly restrictive geographic boundaries. This means selecting only a very small percentage of high functioning organizations aligned with the funders' goals to receive ongoing general operating support. Lucky if your organization is one of the few, but most organizations would be left out, and have little opportunity for inclusion. Project support offers the capacity for funders to spread the resources more broadly and impact a larger system of arts organizations.

LAURA: Yes and no. Hopefully there will always be the amazing fellowship opportunities offered through private funders like MacArthur or US Artists, but for the rest of us… I hesitate to put this out in public, but the traditional model for public grant programs—essentially unrestricted funds that arts organizations get to do with as they want— is a dinosaur that hasn’t quite died yet. Public funding sources want to know what they’re money is buying; outcomes are key. And this is becoming more and more important for foundation funders as well. However, we should develop clear standards as a field for the inclusion of adequate overhead for all grants.

LOIE: Grant funds need to be able to be used for operating support as that is where the need is huge. You can still look at an organization’s mission and artistic excellence in considering whether or not to fund them.

VICTORIA: Funding for general operating support is critical to the vitality, stability and survival of arts organizations in this dire economic climate. Funders should provide core support for the delivery of services and other activities directly in pursuit of an arts organization’s mission, including administration and overhead expenses. Over the years, as local government funding has increased, so has the trend for local arts agencies to support operations rather than special projects.

FRANCES: I admire the Nonprofit Overhead Cost Project and other recent research into true costs of vital organizations with vital programs. Based on informal observation, I believe that funders recognize and support truer overhead costs, but I do not have data to back up that belief. Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has included this theme in its research and conversations along with promoting general operating support. Perhaps I believe more grantmakers recognize the need for overhead costs to be covered because much is being written on this topic. I hope that if the subject is being aired, grantmakers are adapting their practices.

At the same time, some of the nonprofit ranking services such as Charity Navigator suggest that donors should seek organizations with low overhead costs without analyzing the type of nonprofit or stage in its development. I recently received a direct mail piece touting zero overhead costs from my contribution. The letter made me believe that the organization was not telling me the truth, but someone out there had tested the market and found that promise to be meaningful to the public.

In conversation, I know of funders repurposing grants for general operating support in the economic downturn, but I do not know how widespread this practice is.

And there is the topic of capitalization, of providing nonprofits with resources for the rainy day, the good idea, the new opportunity. I recommend the recent report out of Pennsylvania, “Getting Beyond Breakeven,” by TDC, funded by the William Penn Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

BEN: One of the few bright sides of the economic crisis is perhaps that more funders are turning to general operating support as a funding mechanism in an effort to help organizations through the current economic crisis. The Boston Foundation, for example, repurposed many of its prior project grants towards more general purposes and recently announced a new strategy that will essentially offer gen op grants to groups who can demonstrate certain impact of their work. At DDCF, we now attach gen op grants as “partner” grants to many of our project grants—e.g. a dance company receiving funds to create a new dance piece through National Dance Project or the MultiArts Production Fund (both of which we support) now receives additional gen op support as well. The legacy of this economic downturn may be a return to gen op for many funders.

JANET: I don’t know if there are statistics to prove that more private funders have moved to unrestricted operating grants but the “buzz” is that many have done that during the past year to better respond to needs of their grantees. GIA has published research on general operating support. I’m always a proponent of funders being less prescriptive and more responsive to their communities. That doesn’t always mean general operating grants are the answer. Sometimes community needs are not necessarily in sync with organizational needs and the funder needs to make a decision to entice action through funding.

“Boutique” funding is the prerogative of the private funder. Recently, I read an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled “Catalytic Philanthropy” by Mark Kramer of FSG Social Impact Advisors. He cited examples of philanthropists creating their own action-oriented organizations. So instead of writing a check to an existing nonprofit to deal with an issue having negative social impact, the funder creates their own organization, directs the program and addresses the issue. I can’t imagine this extending too far into the cultural community, but maybe? The current and future generations of donors want to be more engaged, want to have a say, want to make a real difference. This leads to a different kind of philanthropy, perhaps.

BARRY: How does the funding community achieve increased organizational capacity for its grantees and any kind of longer term stability (for the whole field), if there is not some provision in its grantmaking activities that grantees must obtain funds to extend the program being funded after the grant expires? (Thus, for example, the xyz arts organization obtains a grant to hire a marketing staffer, and does so. What is really accomplished if after expiration of the grant (and the money runs out) the newly hired marketing person is let go. Two steps forward, two steps back. How can the funding community work together to address these kinds of challenges?

VICTORIA: The funding community can achieve increased organizational capacity for its grantees and achieve long term stability if they work together and speak with one voice. Articulating a clear and compelling argument about the value and public benefit of arts and culture is ever more important during this period of unprecedented change. Emerging and new leadership within our creative communities and at the helm of local, state and federal government can bring more energy, diversity and substance to our advocacy efforts.

FRANCES: I know from personal experience as a former executive director that investments in increasing a development or marketing staff rarely pay for themselves or, if they do so, it takes three or more years. At the same time, I work for a foundation that believes in project funding of limited duration. All I can say is that smart nonprofits are continually broadening their scope of funding and influence.

LOIE: Fostering sustainability is a challenge all funders face and it is particularly important in the current economic climate. This is another area where the NEA could help share best practices and promote collaborations, partnerships and mentorships to provide professional development to the field. Leadership training is also important.

BEN: I think the presumption behind grants such as the one cited is that short term support of a marketing director should either 1) increase revenues sufficiently to allow the organization to keep the marketing director on after the grant ends, and/or 2) demonstrate the value of marketing to the extent that the position becomes an indispensable priority. If revenues haven’t increased or if the director hasn’t proven the value of marketing to the organization, maybe she/he should not be retained! Most funders are clear about the limits of this support and would consider support of such a position to be an invitation to investigate new practices, make new gains, etc., rather than mere payroll relief for a short term.

For my own part, I wonder whether stability isn’t perhaps over-rated. I wonder what the landscape would look like if funders tried to amply support artistically vibrant organizations as an objective, rather than to create stable organizations.

LAURA: If we had a system that basically funded arts organizations in perpetuity with permanent subsidies this wouldn’t be an issue. But we don’t. Most grants these days are project oriented and we funders make little provision for sustainability other than asking the question in the application and then hoping for the best. So this goes back to the issue of building capacity in the field. We’ve got to teach organizations to fish, combining technical assistance (that doesn’t become too high touch) with grants.

DANIEL: Wallace’s experience is that grant funding works best when the goals of organization receiving the grant are in harmony with our own – which is to say that our funding is a “good fit” with the organization and its direction. We’ve found that talking with other funders can reveal common goals and opportunities for collaboration, but it’s not clear that convoking other foundations is a cure for the problem of extended funding as much as honest conversations between grantor and grantee.

: What kinds of initiatives (research and data, professional development opportunities, convenings etc. ought the funding community get together as a whole and launch (if any)?

LOIE: As previous panelists have stated, having viable, timely research and good data is extremely important in helping us to make our case as to why the arts matter and to help all of us stay on top of developments in the field. Arts education, leadership development, organizational sustainability and technology are all priority topics. Partnerships and collaborations are key here and, rather than reinvent the wheel, we need to use the existing national and statewide organizations, including the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Grantmakers in the Arts and Americans for the Arts. This is no time for a silo mentality. We are all in this together.

JANET: 1. A national discussion of undercapitalization of nonprofit arts groups. Are there standards and models for capitalization that funders should agree on that would provide a consistent framework and vocabulary for grantees?
2. How do we develop more funders for the arts from corporations, foundations and individuals?
3. Research on staffing practices and professional development needs for the field, particularly mid-sized organizations.
4. Research on the value of service organizations as technical assistance providers and advocacy networks.
5.Research on multi-issue foundations and their commitment to the continuation of arts funding.
6.Public relations campaign on creativity, the benefit of the “artists among us” and of arts education as creative workforce training.

LAURA: The five California-based funders blogging this week are part of more than 30 collaborating on the Cultural Data Project (CDP), a system for collecting quantitative information from arts organizations developed by a group of Pennsylvania funders led by the Pew Foundation. The CDP is far from perfect, but it’s the best tool we’ve had to date to collect apples-to-apple information. In addition to Pennsylvania and California, it’s being adopted in Maryland, New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts. So we’ll soon have the ability to do a lot of important research, like analyzing systems of support for arts organizations across the country. The Pew Foundation has done an amazing job leading this initiative, but the NEA could make the CDP a truly national database by helping the rest of country implement the system.

BEN: Perhaps none. I believe that the diversity of interests and perspectives is an asset for the funding community, rather than a liability—just as that diversity is an asset to the arts community itself. One man’s funder cooperation is another’s funder collusion, and I am sore pressed to think of a single initiative undertaken by all funders that serve the arts field in its fullest sense well.

FRANCES: I want to see us work together on what we will do in the face of the demise of newspaper journalism and criticism. Online tools are proving to be valuable for marketing, and we benefit from the voices of bloggers, but what can we do to build widespread, well-informed reporting and critical discourse about the arts?

Thank you all very much for an outstanding discussion.

Wrap-up tomorrow.

WRAP – UP / Friday, October 02, 2009

I always find much food for thought in the remarks and discussions of those leading the funding communities in the arts sector, and this discussion was no exception. Without any attempt to fully synthesize and summarize all of the points made by this esteemed group, the following things stood out to me:
  • There was substantial discussion of the issue of how the demand for the arts impacts our future, both on the conceptual level of the demand of the whole of the public for art and the more specific audience demands within performing arts disciplines. How do we better make our case, tell our stories, and educate, inform and convince the public of the value of art to people’s everyday lives? More than one panelist made the connection between the future demand for arts and creating that future demand via arts education in the formative years of our populace growing up.
  • Several panelists pointed out the need of arts organizations for basic operational support to survive the current financial crisis challenge. Several more pointed out that funders had repurposed and repositioned funds to help organizations survive, but more than one panelist also spoke of the money challenge being deeper; that the money issue related really to more fundamental organizational capacity – having the right board in place, responding to key decision maker needs as a precondition to having them respond to the organization’s needs, having deeper ties and relationships to the local community, and that some organizations (most likely the ones faring better in the current climate), are those that have previously addressed these fundamentals. While returning to operational arts funding may be something the NEA can / should do – it was also pointed out that we need to tie funding to specific outcomes.
  • There was a lot of discussion of collaboration, and it was pointed out that there has been, and continues to be, substantial collaborative effort (including the extensive sharing of information and ideas) – particularly at local and regional levels by and between all segments of the funding community. The one area where that seems most prevalent is in the area of research and data collection. It was also pointed out that collaboration is difficult in the best of times, and never more so given the economic downturn. Panelists pointed out that diversity in funding approaches and local perspectives as a counterpoint to widespread collaboration might just be a good thing. Advice to the NEA included taking the lead to encourage more collaborative efforts by figuring out what the field could do to complement the NEA’s strengths, and to urge the other funding entities to move in where the agency was weak.
  • There was also provocative discussion of the need for the arts community to better understand its audiences, including the “public” as an audience for all the arts.
  • The undercapitalization of arts organizations as fact was validated by more than one observer. In response, Janet suggested that we take a long look at the past 40 year model we’ve been using to promote adequate capitalization, and ask “what hasn’t worked”. The Endowment might play a role in this kind of introspective analysis by the field.
  • One repeated suggestion by this Panel was that the NEA can play an invaluable role as a national convener of the entire field – to consider a wide variety of issues ranging from the aforesaid review of the arts funding model to the establishment of a national policy on arts & culture.
  • Another common comment was that the NEA needs to figure out what it can and cannot best do, and focus on setting its priorities for the near and long term, and determining how to best go about that task. The consensus was that the agency cannot be everything to everyone. Conversely, it was pointed out that the funding community itself should do the same thing – figure out what it can and cannot do – and that perhaps the NEA can plug some of the holes and do what the outside funding field cannot, and vice versa – the independent funders along with the cities and states, can work together to do what the national agency can’t. Perhaps the Endowment might convene a meeting to do just that.
  • There was some agreement that the weakness of the field in the area of advocacy stems from the perception by many arts organizations that making a substantial commitment in this area really doesn’t yield tangible results for the individual organization – in short the arts operate in their own self-interest, with the implication that there is a widespread belief that spending a lot of time and resources doesn’t advance that self-interest – at least not enough. Most of the comments suggested that funders could best support advocacy with research and other evidentiary materials that would help the field better make the case for the value of the arts. Somewhat personally disappointing, and surprising, there was no talk about how funders might support efforts to better teach, equip and empower the arts community to know how to be better advocates and lobbyists -- not to advocate or lobbying for anything specific, but to train the field how to do it.
  • While the field continues to expand its support for multicultural arts provision, several panelists remind us how much more needs to be done in this arena.
  • In terms of the development of a national policy for arts & culture, I think Moy laid out the best steps to address such an issue, while Daniel emphasized inclusion of arts education for audience development, John Killacky argued for the inclusion of artists in the mix, Francis included the international aspects, and Loie reminded us of the public value as the underpinning of any policy.
NEXT WEEK’S PANEL (Emerging Leaders, Arts Education Specialists, Artists Representatives, Bloggers and Independent Consultants) continue the discussion. Begins TUESDAY, OCTOBER 6TH.


Jodi Beznoska – Vice President of Communications - Walton Arts Center
Ian David Moss – Blogger
Shannon Daut – Deputy Director, WESTAF
Neil Archer Roan – Independent Consultant
Marcy Hinand Cady – Principal Hellicon Collaborative
Doug McLennan – Founder / Publisher ARTS JOURNAL
Cora Mirikitani - Director Center for Cultural Innovation
Hollis Headrick – Arts, Education and Philanthropy Consultant; former Director New York State Arts Education
Dr. Scott Walters – Associate Professor of Drama - University of North Carolina at Asheville
Laurie Schell – Executive Director, California Alliance for Arts Education
Andrew Taylor – Director BOLZ CENTER for Arts Administration / UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN – MADISON SCHOOL OF BUSINESS; author of The ARTFUL MANAGER blog.

Have a great weekend.

Don't Quit.