Sunday, March 28, 2010


Good morning.

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


Two articles in the L.A Times last week give testimony to the continuing cutbacks and closures of arts programs & services across the country. In the first article, The Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s vaulted summer internship program was saved from total elimination by the local Board of Supervisors with a vote to approve $250,000 for this year’s program – down from $500,000 last year. This program is one of the best internship programs in the country, and a benchmark model for mentoring new arts leadership for the future. The second LA Times story chronicled the severe cutbacks to the Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs staff roster and the city plan to privatize a number of satellite art centers run by the Department so as to cut more jobs. Additional layoffs and early retirements loom over a department that expects staffing to fall from 63 last summer to 36 by July 1.

And in another sign of the times, last week Bob Booker, Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, sent out an email message entitled: “We’re Not Dead” to reassure the Arizona arts community that the Commission was still alive and still awarding grants, though with downsizing and cutbacks.

These three incidents are emblematic of what is now commonplace across the nonprofit arts landscape as the dire predictions of further cuts made by a host of funders last year are coming true. We continue to measure our success, not in growth, but in maintenance of the status quo - in saving some of our programs, organizations and jobs out there. We are saving fewer of those than we did in the past. This isn’t a surprise, we knew it was coming. Still, the shock and reality of it are daunting. It’s likely to get even worse next year.

The strategy seems to be to hang on and survive; to more narrowly focus on our missions and insure that we enable and produce great art – even if less of it, or less access to it – until good times return. But the question looms – is this really temporary? When the economy is again strong and robust, and more Americans can find jobs -- when stock portfolios rise and tax coffers again swell so as to reduce the deficits, will we return (as we have on numerous previous occasions) to meaningful arts funding and then be able to begin to re-build the part of our infrastructure that we are now losing? Are we just in one more of those cyclical economic slumps that we in the arts have seen many times before?

OR is that more likely a false hope, and might the reality be that this scaling back, these lost jobs, these shelved programs, these changes in our structure, these shifts in our funding sources are all permanent? Are things fundamentally different this time, and does it presage a new era for our sector that will not follow past rules and probabilities?

And if it turns out that these adjustments and adaptations we are now making are not permanent, do we really want to go back to our previous modus operandi and once again create the same fragile structure we had – one subject to the same pressures and fatal flaws when new bad times come around? Isn’t that a bit like building the same house on top of an earthquake fault after a major trembler, or building the same house on the same waterfront after a big hurricane? Is that smart?

It seems to me that we are once again so involved with simply trying to survive the hard times, to get by with at least the framework of our past efforts still intact, that we haven’t really given much thought to whether this crisis is a repeat of what we have previously seen and weathered, or this one is different and will result in a forever altered landscape for the way we do business in the future. I think many arts organizations and leaders are just assuming that this is a temporary crisis that can be weathered and that the model they have painstakingly created over time will survive and again serve us all well. We just have to wait it out and things will get back to normal. I think perhaps that assumption is erroneous, and that when this crisis is over we may not be able to return to the way things were. I think maybe our revenue stream model will never again be the same as it was two years ago, nor perhaps will our past approaches towards staffing, marketing, and even strategic planning work anymore.

Is it time to question our model, our structure, our approaches, and even our basic assumptions ?

We don’t really know what will be the outcome once the economic crisis is past (and it will pass), but it is something we should be thinking about and asking ourselves about with an eye to what new approaches we may need to adopt, and what directions we may be forced to take when things return to a “new normal”. I think it might be smart if we consider – both as isolated, individual organizations, and as a sector – what a “new normal” for us might actually end up looking like. If things don’t (can’t) go back to the way they were, then to the extent we anticipate what changes might be here to stay, the better we might be able to adjust and adapt to some new paradigm. And if they do go back to the way they were, don’t we have to ask ourselves if we want to do this over and over again with each new economic downturn cycle? If we’re to not only survive, but thrive and prosper, we need to take a cold hard look now at the phenomenon of change as it pertains to our field, not after it’s already here. In this, like advocacy and a host of other areas, the arts simply must become proactive instead of reactive. Right now may be the time to look around at your organization and begin to wonder in earnest whether or not the changes that are taking place are likely to redefine what you do and how you do it -- permanently. It’s possible a “new normal” will soon be upon you, and you need to grasp what that means for the future and how you can adapt and make it all work for you. Something to think about anyway.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Good morning.
“And the beat goes on..............”


Many arts administration gurus and pundits have chided arts administrators for not listening to their supporters and audiences enough as background to the conclusions they reach, and the formulations on their planning, marketing, fundraising and other tasks. Managers in our field are advised to spend more time talking to their various constituents so as to have more information on which to base decisions, and to keep open lines of communication to improve the involvement and sense of ownership and buy-in by the organization’s critical “public”. Studies and surveys consistently show that our key supporters and audiences often only hear from us when we want something – most often, money, and many resent that.

Last week NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman came to California for a week of meetings as he continued his tour of the arts in America. Every NEA Chair does this. In part it’s a mutual dog and pony show – the NEA introduces its new leader and local arts organizations scramble to try to inform the new Chair of the state of arts in their territories. The California visit, arranged principally by the James Irvine Foundation’s President Jim Canales (one of the more involved and committed to the arts Foundation CEO’s in the country) had stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland. I think this exercise is a good thing for several reasons: 1) the NEA Chair is the titular head and leader of the nonprofit arts in the country. It is valuable for him to be exposed first hand to the arts across the country – and while the arts share much, there are clear and subtle differences in arts provision in different states and cities. It’s good for the Chair to learn the nuances of different regions. It gives him a better (deeper, richer) perspective as to what role and value the NEA has in different areas, and that perspective allows him to be a more effective lobbyist and planner so as to address the needs of the sector; 2) it’s important for the titular head to be seen out in the provinces and for the arts across the country to take his measure and to offer their support or register their concerns; 3) it helps to cement the relationship of local arts with the national organization.

Travel today is not much fun. Airports and hotels are more of a chore than anything else. There are a few people who love being on the road, but many of us do not. So I applaud Rocco’s willingness to go on “tour” as it were. I went to one session while he was here in the San Francisco Bay area – the one on Arts Education. Composed of a very good panel of those involved in the arts ed area, the presentations were informative and content heavy. Though I had virtually no face time with the Chairman on this visit, my sense is that he genuinely came to listen and learn. It was clear to me that he wants to understand the issues and was perfectly comfortable in acknowledging what he doesn’t know (a refreshing stance in anyone today, and particularly appreciated in government officials). I personally believe that the more he interacts and intersects with the various sub-groups within our sector, the more he will be effective in playing the role of our national leader – and we need him to play that role.
And therein he sets(as have virtually every one of the past NEA Chairs) , I think, an example to be followed by all of us. We too need to spend some of our admittedly very scarce available time – even though it may be a chore to do so – getting out there into our small universes and listen and learn from our constituent groups – supporters and donors, audiences and volunteers, local elected officials and the media – about how they perceive us, and what they want and need from us to be more committed to, and effective on behalf of, our needs and wants. It would be very valuable I think for all Executive Directors of our organizations to mount their own “tour” of some sort to gather together their clients and constituents to hear what they think. It’s really not that hard to do. I think those leaders would learn a lot by just listening. And in the process, I think they would also forge deeper and better relationships with all those people on whom they depend. It is very likely those people would be pleased to have their advice and opinions solicited if for no other reason than this particular “ask” wouldn’t be for money. 

Thanks to all of those who worked on Rocco's visit to California. Hopefully, more of this kind of thing might be taped and rebroadcast, or in some other way made available to a much wider audience of local arts organizations. More people in our sector need to share in this kind of thing.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit!


Sunday, March 14, 2010


Good morning everyone.

“And the beat goes on............”

Are the multicultural arts getting a fair shake or short shift as we begin the second decade of the century?

Have budget cuts hit those communities harder than the mainstream Anglo arts organizations? Are funding trends changing as demographics shift? Has technology changed arts creation and provision the same in multicultural communities as in the mainstream Anglo landscape? Are audience trends different (or the same) in the multicultural performing arts arena?

One thing is certain: the demographics clearly show dramatic population shifts already at play in America. The 2010 Census results will give us a lot more information on those shifts and changes. Too bad we can’t include some questions on arts & culture as part of the annual decade census.

An Associated Press article last week noted 2010 may be the “tipping point” year (when the number of babies born to minorities outnumbers that of babies born to whites) as the population in America inexorably moves towards minorities becoming the majority. “Right now, roughly 1 in 10 of the nation's 3,142 counties already have minority populations greater than 50 percent. But 1 in 4 communities have more minority children than white children or are nearing that point, according to a study authored by Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire. That is because Hispanic women on average have three children, while other women on average have two. The numbers are 2.99 children for Hispanics, 1.87 for whites, 2.13 for blacks and 2.04 for Asians in the U.S. And the number of white women of prime childbearing age is on the decline, dropping 19 percent from 1990."

Minorities are projected to become the majority in America by 2050 according to that study. In California the aggregate of all minorities already are in the majority. Population statistics offered at the California Arts Advocates Visioning Retreat  (scroll down to the download: California’s Changing Demographics) earlier this year suggest the California population will grow 52% by 2050 with a drop in the white population from 46% to 26% and a corresponding rise in the Latino population from 37% to 52%. Latinos will likely comprise the largest group in the state by next year 2011. Indeed California is a special case: nearly 25% of all new immigrants to the U.S. between 1990 and 2000 were living in California in 2000. But California was not the only state to see dramatic rises in immigrant populations. Boston, Chicago, New York, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington D.C. Seattle, Minneapolis – St. Paul, Salt Lake City and Raleigh-Durham were all cited as gateway cities with increasing immigrant growth trends. Latinos are the largest population group in the country with population under the age of 30.


What does this mean for the arts?

The obvious issue is how do the arts reflect this sea change in demographics:
• How do we nurture and support the development of growing cultural communities?
• How do we address the issue of access, and how do we empower more young multicultural artists?
• How do we allocate available funding (now when dollars are scarce, or later if they again become more available in a robust economy)?
• How do we recruit and train more multicultural emerging leaders?
• How do we involve more multicultural communities as our advocates and champions?
• How do we attract more multicultural private sector financial support?

When I assumed the Directorship of the California Arts Council there were already multicultural arts programs designed to address issues germane to those communities, including specific attempts to bulwark developing multicultural leadership and emerging multicultural artists. We added support for infrastructure groups representing multicultural arts communities. Budget cuts have eliminated those programs. All across America the current economic crisis has meant arts organizations of every description and category struggle to survive. Are multicultural arts organizations being harder hit than mainstream Anglo arts organizations, or, because most of those organizations are of smaller budget size and are experientially more adept at survival on modest income, are those organizations actually faring better? We don’t know.

There are political implications to shifting demographics. Historically multicultural communities have not voted in numbers reflective of their numerical strengths, yet we have seen some change in that legacy in recent elections where more minority members are voting and directly impacting election results. Will more minority representation mean changes in local, state and federal allocation of dollars. In any number of cities in California for example, Latinos, as a majority of the electorate, could constitute the majorities of local Boards of Supervisors or City Councils. Will they then vote to change the allocation of local dollars away from Anglo arts organizations to Latino organizations? Would that kind of shift be gradual or might it come precipitously? Would minority population dominance of local governments mean more or less support for arts funding as a whole? Would growing minority political activism portend the possibility of a whole new pool of arts advocates? Would we be able to recruit them or would our pleas to them fall on deaf ears? Again, we don’t really know.


How will these changes in demographics affect foundation and private sector funding? What will foundations do as the population shifts?

Some foundations have already moved to try to address the needs of multicultural arts organizations and the implications for the growth of multicultural communities, and to grapple with the larger questions of arts creation, provision and access. In California the Irvine Foundation moved some of its priorities to multicultural arts in heretofore underserved areas of the state. Other foundations have continued to allocate a sometimes disporportionate share of funds to big budget, mainstream, urban cultural institutions. For a long time, foundations have been one of the bulwarks of funding to major metropolitan area large cultural institutions (operas, symphonies, ballets, theater companies, art museums). Will those foundations – largely endowed by Anglos who made their wealth in the past - with board members with strong ties to those larger urban cultural institutions – stay the course with past priorities in their funding, or will some of that funding move to multicultural arts provision? And as that debate continues behind closed doors, and the economy continues to struggle, there will doubtless be more pressure from all sides for scarce private sector money. Indeed, those same major big city cultural institutions continue to need (and are largely successful, comparatively speaking) huge influxes of private sector dollars. Does that take away from private sector dollars flowing to multicultural needs, or is there no correlation?

In an interesting blog post on the not for profit arts structure by James Undercofler, Professor of Arts Administration in Drexel University's Westphal College of Media Arts and Design (a wonderful relatively new blog on the scene), he argues that: “While at the start-up level the NFP structure presents a visceral challenge, as organizations grow larger, the effects of the structure are more subtle, more insidious. In larger NFP's, because of the need to raise larger budget percentages of contributed revenue, boards of directors become exceedingly large, as does the administration needed to service them. These boards rarely universally possess knowledge of or passion for the mission itself. At the very least they may understand a small portion of the mission's program activity. With these large organizational entities, flexibility is lost, and mature organizations quickly move into decline, as they cannot address the changes presented to them in their communities, from their audiences, and external factors. These organizations become "too big to succeed."

But what if the reverse is true for the largest big city cultural stalwarts? Perhaps those institutions, so much a part of those city cultural landscapes (much as are large sports franchises), so intertwined with civic identity, thought to be so critical to tourism (rightly or wrongly), are actually – like the banks and major financial institutions – now too big to fail. Will that mean more resources will be necessary to save some of them, and will those resources come at the expense of growing multicultural communities and their needs? What do local people do faced with that conundrum? Are then some arts organizations (including multicultural ones) “ to small to save?” How will changing demographics alter that thinking, or will it?

And as multicultural communities grow their own wealthy barons, will new foundations come into existence that prefer funding allocated to the communities from which they came?

In some sense, discussing multicultural arts v. mainstream Anglo arts is a false dichotomy. After all, isn’t art in the final analysis – art? There are many Latinos who love traditional opera, and many Anglos who love Flamenco music, many artists in all disciplines popular across all ethnic lines. And excellence is excellence – though doubtless somewhat of a subjective determination influenced by biases and prejudices. Still, there are fundamental questions as to the nurturing, preservation, protection and expanding the access of all the arts; questions of fairness and equity, balance and scarce resources – all of which will be impacted by new realities born out of shifting demographics.

This is hardly a definitive discussion of shifting demographics and multicultural arts. Many of the answers and approaches to the questions and challenges that will arise from demographic shifts will unfold slowly over time. Many though are here right now. This is yet another issue on our plates that we need to continue to take a long hard look at, ask tough questions about, and begin to craft some responses to – and now, not later. I think it’s time to put this issue back on the front burner. I would love to see the National Endowment for the Arts or even the President’s Committee convene regional gatherings across the country to talk about (and shine a spotlight on) multicultural arts support issues and the inevitability of the dynamics of changing population demographics. Or even Americans for the Arts or some other national arts service provider have as its central theme an upcoming convention on the topic.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.


Monday, March 8, 2010


Good morning everyone.

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

The National Medal of the Arts Television Show:
In 1999, when I was still the President of the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies (now tragically defunct – but that’s a whole other story), I accepted an invitation to attend the National Medal of Arts ceremony in Washington D.C. I went because I had a meeting in D.C. with Harriet Fulbright, then Executive Director of the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities, about a project she and I were hatching to get then Vice-Chair of the Committee, Terry Semel – co-chair of Warner Brothers Pictures – to convene a Who’s Who of Hollywood to consider ways to support the arts (and that’s a whole other story too), and I went because the ceremony was at the White House and guests were to be treated to a private tour. I had never been to the White House and I thought this a good chance to cross that item off my bucket list. Alas the ceremony was scheduled for the Rose Garden, and it rained, and so it was moved to Constitution Hall. I haven’t yet been in the White House.

Still, it was an impressive event. That year the recipients included Aretha Franklin, folk singer Odetta, Norman Lear, designer Michael Graves, Maria Tallchief and the Julliard School. The ceremony was very simple, but in that simplicity there was a certain elegance; an awards show with class. The honorees sat on stage, and then President Clinton spoke about the achievements of each, a voice over narration provided a thumbnail sketch of each one’s artistic accomplishments, and then the President bestowed the award to each. None spoke. The whole thing took about an hour. As I watched the ceremony, I thought to myself that this would make a fantastic television show. Why not? There seemed to be an endless parade of award shows on television. Today it seems there aren’t a half dozen nights in the year when there isn’t some kind of awards show being broadcast. Television loves awards shows -- the big ones do really well in the ratings, and they are all relatively cheap to produce and easy to hype.

I noted the 2009 ceremony was held last week. This year’s crop of awardees included Bob Dylan and Clint Eastwood (disappointedly neither of whom showed up – and why was that? Perhaps if it had been on television they would have made it) along with Frank Stella, Michael Tilson Thomas, Rita Moreno and Jessye Norman among others. The awards frequently include arts patrons and even organizations (this year including the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the American Ballet Theater), and that’s one of the things about these awards that impressed me - a mix of celebrity names and the less famous (or at least not as well known) nonprofit artists and patrons and arts organizations. It is really a celebration of art in America. Watching the Oscar telecast last night, got me thinking again, why isn’t the National Medal of the Arts presentation a television show? The only real awards show we in the arts have is the Kennedy Center Honors – singling out lifetime achievements of the same mix of the famous and the less famous – but all artists of distinction. The Medal of Arts is special – it’s this country’s highest honor for artists – bestowed on behalf of a proud and grateful nation. This show ought to be on television.

We talk all the time about the lack of media attention we get that drives home the importance and the value of the arts. All of the awards shows on television –from the Oscars and Grammys and Emmys to the myriad of other awards shows that champion the arts – really champion only popular entertainment and entertainers (many of whom are truly artists – don’t get me wrong), but the celebration is really of “celebrity” as much, if not more, than “art”.

What a wonderful show the National Medal of Arts would make, even without the Red Carpet – so obligatory now to all award shows (America seems to care more about what honorees wear than why they are being honored). Still all the essentials of good television (read – ratings) are present: glamour, prestige, celebrity, stellar artistic achievement, the President of the United States, the White House as backdrop, names in the audience (including political big wigs who might fall all over themselves to be seen and even some foreign dignitaries), thumbnail visual highlights.

It would be an easy show to produce. You could create a very interesting and captivating two+ minute video piece on each one – charting their rise and accomplishments, showcasing their creative performances and works -- with a voice over narration by someone with a great (and recognizable) voice like Morgan Freeman, or Maya Angelou or even Tom Hanks. You could even offer small mini-grants (and probably get some corporate sponsor to pick up the tab) and solicit talented working artists to create those videos – and those might turn out to be mini works of art in their own right – an interesting experiment – a sort of two minute video twitter. The President could make whatever introductory remarks he might deem appropriate for each honoree, and each recipient could be allowed a couple of minutes of acceptance remarks. It would be refreshing to hear artists talk about their art rather than thanking their agents. The whole thing could be relatively fast paced. There are all kinds of promotion angles and opportunities to really ramp up media attention. It would complement the Kennedy Center Honors, and in the same way demonstrate the value the nation places on the arts and artistic achievement. It would send the message that the arts encompass more than Hollywood – and feature all artists portrayed as equally important – a key message to send to young people.

It would be a splendid opportunity, I think, to elevate and exalt the arts – and, because the honorees are so varied, it would have the potential of appealing to a wide audience. Past recipients have included such a stellar and representative sampling as: Les Paul, Dolly Parton, Robert Duval, Buddy Guy, Tommy Tune, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Yo Yo Ma, Johnny Cash, Itzhak Perlman, I.M. Pei, Saul Bellow, BB King, Ray Charles, Bella Lewitskiy, Cales Oldenberg, Mikhail Baryshnikov, jazz great Benny Carter, Harold Prince, Barbara Streisand, Frank Gehry, Robert Redford, Tito Puente, Maurice Sendak, Wayne Thiebaud, Ray Bradbury, Gregory Peck, Richard Diebenkorn, Gene Kelley, Roy Lichtenstein, Cab Calloway, Paul Taylor, Beverly Sills, Jasper Johns – and such supporters and patrons as the Lila Wallace Readers Digest Fund and the Dayton Hudson Corporate Fund – to name but just a few. How’s that for an “A” list?

We need more media coverage of our triumphs if we are to successfully make the case for support for our value. Here is a golden opportunity. I even have a suggestion for a producer for the show – long time, frequent Oscars telecast producer and nonprofit arts theater stalwart – Gil Cates.

This might be a project which NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman – with his theatrical experience, showmanship acumen and network of contacts could put together. Rocco, are you listening? Please give this kind of effort your consideration. I think it’s an idea with merit. We really desperately need more media attention. Thanks.

I think there are any number of ways we might convince television that shows involving the arts (and not just Hollywood arts – but not to exclude them either - as we need more bridges to Hollywood anyway) would make good television (again read ratings). Like it or not, television coverage often has the effect of legitimizing value in the public’s mind. And the more we can get ourselves in the mainstream media and get people (especially younger generations) to see that the wider society champions all the arts – the better off we might be; the easier to make our case. I have a couple of other ideas for television shows that feature the arts that I will share with you in a future blog.

NOTE: Beginning with this blog I am going to try, from time to time, to include links to some artistic performances that are just on the cusp of more popular entertainment. I include them for your enjoyment as a break from the daily grind, and as a way to showcase the changing nature of how art is produced and accessed. Here are two truly outstanding YouTube clips I know you will enjoy and which, though not of well known performers, are extraordinarily artistic:

The first has been on YouTube only a week or so and is already a phenom – garnering over 1.25 million plays. Who says the unknown artist isn’t commercial? Watch the YouTube alternative “We Are The World for Haiti” -- a basically amateur version – 57 unknown singers who are quite talented. Some are budding professionals on their way up. But all are relatively unknown still. (You can click on the screen for any one of these singers and go to their website to hear and learn more.) What a great project – put together by Lisa Lavie – one the 57 singers and one of the most talented. She is a pioneer in using the web for getting her music out to the world.

The second is a performance by Jake Shimabukuro - who played the TED Conference this year – an incredible virtuoso performance of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody on the Ukulele – yes the Ukulele. Watch it – you won’t believe what he can do. So far 38 million people have watched it. Probably more people than have seen all the theater, dance and music performances in a year. And probably as many people as watched the Oscars last night. These two online performances are in many ways the future of the arts. But that too is a whole other story.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.