Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 20, 2009



Happy Holidays everyone.

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

Moy Eng was the Program Officer for the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation for the past eight years. As she exits that post, she sat down with me for this interview.


BARRY: As you look back on your eight years as the head of the Performing Arts Program at the Hewlett Foundation, what stands out to you as the major challenges to the arts sector in America? What are the principal lessons you have learned about our sector over the past eight years? What are you pessimistic about ? What are you optimistic about ?

MOY: Over the past decade a number of important environmental factors have occurred that profoundly impact the ways in which art is created and how people engage with it: demographic trends, technological breakthroughs, and widespread interest and engagement in good design and in culture. Just as an additional note, my view is deeply affected by the place where I’ve lived and worked for almost a decade: San Francisco Bay Area, more specifically the heart of Silicon Valley.

A bellwether state on issues affecting the country, demographers suggest by 2050 California will be increasingly younger and older. Hispanics will become the majority with slightly over 50% of the population, followed by whites at 25%, Asians 15%, and African Americans and those in the US Census Other category the remaining 10%.

Over the past decade, 24/7 connectivity has become reality. Living in (Shifting between) real and virtual time/space is oxymoronically natural in our lives. Technological breakthroughs enable us to be connected to each other and to address our needs and desires immediately with often a device as large as your or my hand. Often most coveted devices such as an IPhone, Alessi household appliances, and HP minibooks designed by Vivienne Tam and Tord Boontje infuse high functionality with sleek visual design, making visible an individual’s desired identity. And, well-designed everyday objects have helped to increase public expectation of excellent design in what we buy and use.

Perhaps the most important impact is they make it possible for everyone to make art – mixing and remixing samples for new work to making business cards and CD cover images to documenting our lives with videos uploaded to YouTube (where 20 hours of new content is uploaded every minute) to composing, recording and mixing your own music on your laptop.

As a consumer the ability to satisfy your music fix has never been so easy or so affordable. For instance, you can purchase a track within a few clicks for less than a dollar or go to one of the P2P networks and download it for free. In fact, the industry estimates that for every track that sold 20 tracks are downloaded for free. For a musician, it has never been so easy to work on music with colleagues across time and geophysical place, share your music with your friends and colleagues, secure new fans exponentially, and attract investment and visibility from influentials (the local club owner to multi-media producers).

Technology has democratized the opportunity to learn and express one’s creativity, enabling a proliferation of DIY trend and creativity to an unimaginable degree and blurring the lines of who is an artist or not. And…most important, the democratization has eroded the market value of art, music and ideas in that they should be free; i.e., subsidized by an economic model which make the exchange/transaction appear free of cost or shared for free between individuals or through a social network. The impacts can be seen most dramatically in entertainment sector encompassing what used to be the recording industry, Hollywood and gaming and its unsuccessful scrambling to date to find a competitive edge or even an innovative economic model amidst a transformed and highly fluid sector.

BARRY: One of your major accomplishments was in creating an infrastructure for moving arts education forward in California. Yet despite having created that apparatus for advocacy and (involving arts educators, school superintendents, nonprofit arts leaders and others)the state’s arts education budget allocation has been left to each District to determine how to spend, and the result has been many (if not most) have chosen to spend the money on things other than arts education. What are the missing pieces that still need to be in place before we finally have a (stable and protected) pool of funds that will be spent directly on arts education? When we talk about the importance of arts education, more often than not, we reference its pivotal role in developing future audiences? Does its role in that regard trump other reasons for supporting the concept? What other lessons have you learned from your experience in this arena?

MOY: First, let me clarify that the Hewlett Foundation works in a variety of sectors from education to global development and depending on the program and its priorities, regionally, statewide, domestically, and internationally. The performing arts program focuses its support primarily on the San Francisco Bay Area. Since 2004, the performing arts program and the education program have collaborated on an effort to increase arts education for California’s more than 6 million public school children. More than $9 million has been awarded to support efforts in policy research, including the signature study by SRI, An Unfinished Canvas, a statewide survey of arts education in California, advocacy, and model programs and initiatives such as Music National Service and Alameda County’s Alliance for Arts Education. Efforts led by California Alliance for Arts Education in partnership with mainstream education leaders and groups, arts education, business and community leaders have resulted in over $800 million in the state education budget for arts education in a three-year period.

Looking ahead the question is do the state’s leaders have the political courage, will and determination to create a better system through which to provide a student centered, outcome oriented, comprehensive education (math, science, English, social studies, physical education and arts/media) to our children. An education that will produce critical and creative thinkers, compassionate, lifelong learners, and productive members for the 21st and 22nd century workforce. Since the enactment of Prop 13 and ESEA (No Child Left Behind) legislation, the curriculum has narrowed to the few subjects being tested. Numerous subjects including arts learning have fallen by the wayside, except where the strong convergence of educators, parents and funding revitalized arts education beyond one or two model schools such as in Los Angeles, Alameda, Santa Clara and Orange counties.

Recent developments with the high school graduation requirement and influx of education funds mentioned earlier have fueled some hope into California’s highly regulated, complex and stressed system. And, with the poor economy and California’s dysfunctional governance with regards to budgeting all issues are taking a beating, even education which comprises approximately 50 percent of the state’s budget! Recent gains made in increasing arts in the schools are eroding, such as in LAUSD, which plans to fire 50% of its arts teachers this year. While understandable given the size of the budget gap, it is demoralizing to the field. LAUSD’s 10-year old initiative (fact check), under Richard Burrows’ leadership, is a national model. Furthermore, the state funds allocated for arts education can now used for other purposes.

The fragility of these gains reminds me of the ebb and flow of prosperity. However, the crux of the issue is not solely what could we do to figure a stable and protected stream of (designated) funding but…ask ourselves why and what in arts learning is essential for every child and how those elements uniquely contribute to the development of a young person. And then, to really make arts and creativity learning a core part of a schoolchild’s day (and not just inspirational rhetoric) will take:
  • Significant, steady and reliable money including general education funds, designated money, and private sector contributions-smallest percentage, I hope of this last element)
  • Additional policy(ies) and regulations such as a nuanced assessment of arts learning focused on student outcomes not solely outputs at the federal and state level that are linked smartly to an overall vision and suite of outcomes for our schoolchildren
  • Performance incentives for educators focused on outcomes, not just inputs and/or outputs
  • Research at the federal and state level that tracks/monitors/disseminates outcomes to the people who need to know in order to continue to make the education of our children even better
  • Professional development for educators and teaching artists
  • Again, money – lots of steady money.
Teaching any subject takes a serious commitment of resources (financial, human and time) and doing it on the cheap is not possible for any subject, ask any teacher whether s/he is a math, science or social studies teacher. In 2006, California Governor Schwarzenegger, his staff and legislators made a courageous and excellent first step with $100 million commitment which is $15-20 per student. Perhaps we should consider what it optimally would take to support such a vision: $500 per student starting in FY 2012/13?

BARRY: Given that foundation portfolios have lost value, resulting in less available funds to support arts organizations in 2009 (and predicted to drop further in 2010), what do you think will be the major impacts to the arts ecosystem? What should arts organizations do now to adjust and adapt to likely declining revenue streams (at least from funders)? And how long do you think it will take to recover from those impacts?

MOY: The nonprofit arts sector will continue to be significantly impacted by the poor economy. As with other businesses (for profit and nonprofit), companies will need, if they have not already done so, to focus on their core business whether it’s arts learning, development and production of new work or preservation of a traditional art form. For the Hewlett Foundation, staff was asked to reduced its grant-making budgets from its 2008 base by approximately 40% by 2010. We asked the same question of ourselves at the performing arts program. What is most essential to which we should devote our reduced budget?

As with past recessions, arts companies in the nonprofit sector hunker down to survive. While there is an increased sense of the need to share resources, to collaborate, there is little appetite for deeper collaboration or mergers. There surely will be companies that will not survive the declined revenue streams and audiences.

You ask how long I think will take to recover from those impacts. It’s hard to say. The easy answer is when the economy improves. I think that the hypercompetitive environment for discretionary time and funds will continue for the near term and with the significant environmental pressures, there will be entrepreneurial and resourceful individuals who will find innovative ways to make and share artwork.
The Hewlett Foundation budgets using a 3-year average and is committed to supporting the performing arts in the Bay Area. So…watch this space in calendar year in 2012 and 2013. For other colleagues, it’s much more difficult to say. You see some have reneged on their grant commitments and are moving forward with much grantmaking in this area. For other foundations, they’ve used this time to examine what is most important and no longer fund in the arts. For other colleagues, they’re committed to the arts and when the endowment returns improve, it’s probable the arts will benefit from the improved economy.

BARRY: I wrote in a blog last month that I think GIA (Grantmakers in the Arts) has the potential to marshal the resources necessary to facilitate real collaboration in address the big issues that face the entire arts sector – issues that often have gone unaddressed. Do you think the foundation and wider funding community will finally pony up the resources to tackle those big issues, and what would be your advice as to how to make that a reality? Where are the best potential intersections of funders and others in the arts field to engage in real, productive collaborations in the future?

MOY: Among funders, collaboration is a deeply held value and promoted practice especially in times of economic scarcity and where there is a singular opportunity(ies). However a successful collaboration requires:
  • Leaders who identify and share common goal which requires a partnership/collaboration to achieve it
  • Sense of urgency; i.e., a time sensitive opportunity
  • Favorable political, economic and/or social environment
  • Excellent communication (internal and external)
  • Commitment to allocate the resources (human, financial, time) to fuel the collaboration.
If it’s short-term, the singularity of the opportunity must be even greater than usual, given the challenging financial resources at this time, such as the educators and arts learning professionals working on ARRA funding opportunities (Race to the Top and I-3) and reauthorization of the ESEA (No Child Left Behind).

For the long-term, large scale issues which would very much benefit from a national cross-sectoral collaboration coalescing the sharing value of public (and private) sector support for:
  • Arts and creativity learning in and out of school
  • Laboratory for the development and creation of contemporary art and art forms
  • Preservation, promotion and stewardship of traditional and indigenous art.
This last bullet is a particularly challenging one. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area is populated by more than 7 million people representing over 120 languages and cultures. If we as culture policymakers and funders aspire to support artistic expression representative of the aesthetic and cultural breadth in the region and opportunities for relevant and meaningful cultural experiences for Bay Area residents and visitors, the questions are what (cultures) count, why, and attract investment. For a country that will grow increasingly diverse ethnically, culturally, racially, how do we collectively think, discuss, and act on this rich challenge.

BARRY: How can the funding community best promote cultural diversity and support the multicultural arts community? Do you think the balance between foundation support for the larger, established cultural institutions and the smaller multicultural arts organizations is fair and equitable?

MOY: How do we address decades of historic power, influence and money going to big western European organizations? I think the question is a more nuanced one, not driven by a dated and destructive dichotomy driven by us (non-white artists and groups) and them (mainly white, Western European arts groups) debate. With the California and the country becoming increasingly diverse, ethnically, racially, gender, physically, the deeper challenge is how individual and institutional funders can honor and build on their values and histories, examine larger trends such as demography and potential impacts in this area, and determine a way individually and collectively that forges and fosters a richer, more dynamic sector of contemporary and traditional art and seductive incentives for making art and creativity part of our lives.

BARRY: Is there a role for the funding community to play in brokering meaningful alliances with business & industry, and what is that role? Why, in your opinion, have we had such a difficult time developing partnerships with business & industry and in capturing more support from that field?

: Right now, the issue for business leaders is how to focus the schools to educate students with “21st century workforce skills”: creativity, innovation, critical thinkers, collaboration. For those of us who see the world through an arts “lens”, gawd, how obvious is this that arts learning would be a critical inclusion in the school day! But…alas, it’s not. Business leaders do not see the connection between arts learning with acquiring skills in problem solving in a creative way or seeing the world in new ways in order to re-imagine and solve a long-standing problem in a new way, or in fostering respect and collaborative skills to work effectively and collaboratively in a team of strong, diverse individuals. With solid research that suggests such outcomes as a result of arts learning and possibly the institution of nuanced outcome-driven assessments of student learning in arts and creativity, this area might be a gateway to a strategic engagement with industry leaders.

BARRY: Advocacy continues to be on everybody’s list of important priorities. What do you think is the role of funders in enabling and empowering the arts to gain more effective political clout?

MOY: For you, Barry, it definitely is. More broadly, advocacy is an important priority for some, not for everyone. You have to believe in the political system and the potential to change it and the value of public support for nonprofit arts. The challenge is never before (I feel) has there been so much access to engage in art as a result of technology. People including political leaders and policymakers make their decisions about getting their “fix” based on their own interests and quite simply what grabs them viscerally and intellectually. They do not place a greater weight on purchasing art made by a nonprofit sector artist versus a commercial artist. There may been a strong case to be made in attracting public support if the nonprofit sector will continue to focus as an:
  • Research and development department or laboratory for the development and production of new work such as Angels in America and the building of a distinctly American canon and arts forms (jazz, modern dance, spoken word) (INNOVATION)
  • Space to preserve, pass on and promote traditional arts (Kathak dance, Western European classical music, Mexican mariachi) (TRADITION)
  •  Place to foster lifelong learning in the arts and creativity (CREATIVITY)
BARRY: For years we have talked about redefining and reinventing the nonprofit business model and structure. What do you think might replace it and how would that new model look and work?

MOY: It’s already happening. Fractured Atlas’s for-profit software development company provides services and support for the nonprofit arm, San Francisco Symphony’s collaboration with Google and its own media company, artists pooling funds to purchase property which some of which is rented out (which may subsidize) the remaining space for use by the artist investors, increased need by artists for fiscal sponsor agencies to attract funds and provide basic infrastructure needs without establishing a standalone nonprofit organization. The obvious path for a 501©3 for an artist to attract support is over. Companies are usually started by a vision of an artist(s) and are led at least in the early years. For some a founder has stayed on for much longer (Randall Kline at SF Jazz and Jim Nadel at Stanford Jazz Workshop). For the large majority of artists who have chosen to artmaking as the primary focus of their lives, grant money is typically too modest, requires a lot of paperwork, and is not enough to survive on. And, more importantly seed funding for start ups, even those with dynamic founder/leaders and a fantastic idea, is not only rare but arts foundations are best equipped to fund organizations well-past proof of concept with an established, successful history (funding, established audiences, etc.). And, venture capital kind of expertise is needed to actively seek, find and invest in such new ideas, knowing there is a fairly high ratio of failure to success when doing so.

BARRY: If you had one million dollars to spend tomorrow to advance the arts, what would you spend it on?

MOY: Right now, ummm…it’s a tossup:
$1,000,000 to support efforts to increase arts learning in school:
  • By strengthening policy incentives as part of the reauthorization of ESEA (No Child Left Behind)
  • By developing and testing more widely nuanced assessment(s) in arts learning in California
  • By building advocacy of California and national education policymakers and parents/community leaders
$1,000,000 to test cool ideas in music, digital media and arts participation by individuals under 25 and over 50.

"And I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Don't Quit.