Sunday, November 28, 2010

Science, Math and the Arts

Good morning.
Welcome back to work and I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

“And the beat goes on………………….”

Moving the Minds:

John Maeda, graphic designer and computer scientist, and President of the Rhode Island School of Design, argues “that scientists need art and artists in their professional lives in order to invent and innovate successfully, and with a particular focus on education he has toured the world to promote the idea that government-approved "Stem" subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) should be widened to include art; "turning Stem into Steam," as he puts it. Click here to go to the article

According to Maeda the answer to the question: Why does science need artists? is precisely what we have been preaching for a long time: “We seem to forget that innovation doesn't just come from equations or new kinds of chemicals, it comes from a human place. Innovation in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience. And human experiences happen through engaging with the arts – listening to music, say, or seeing a piece of art.”  Bravo!

While the U.S. Department of Education now includes art as a core subject along with math and science, in many, if not most, local districts it is not treated the same – neither as a priority nor in the allocation of funds, resources, teachers, within schedules or classroom assignments. Business and industry, especially in the high tech sector, has for decades now made prioritizing science and math education one of its highest priorities, and with marked success – at least in terms of embedding the idea that math and science education are critical to our national future.

Yet we still haven’t gotten that far in including the arts in the national psyche as equally important. We've been trying for a long time to make the case for the relationship between arts and science and math and for making the arts an equal priority.  Perhaps we have spent too much focus on working with the businessmen who run the industries and companies that tout science and math, but ignore the arts. Perhaps we should focus more on a dialogue and cooperative joint effort with the scientists and mathematicians themselves – for it may just be that those people “get it”, while their employers simply do not.

I remember reading an article years ago (that I have unsuccessfully tried to chase down) that claimed that a very high percentage (in the 90s) of all recipients of Nobel Prizes (including in all the sciences) were practicing artists – amateur not professional – but neither spectators nor patrons, but actual practitioners (musicians, writers, designers, thespians, even dancers) - and that they claimed the arts were essential to their ability to do their work. I don't find that surprising. 

I would like to see the NEA, the President's Committee on the Arts & Humanities, or some national arts organization find a way to sponsor the bringing together artists and scientists and mathematicians and let them have a conversation about the importance of each discipline one to the other, how those relationships work, and how we might integrate all of them into our education portfolio. And after (and only after) that gathering you could bring in the educators, and arts administrators and the business and industry employers to talk about how we might implement the recommendations of those on the front lines.  At least we might shine a spotlight on the issue and gain some media attention. 

Have a great week.

Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Speak Up For Art 2012 Campaign

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

Speak Up For the Arts:
The 2012 Election cycle will begin in January. Soon hopeful GOP Presidential candidates will set up shop in Iowa and New Hampshire and the media will begin with endless and relentless coverage, so called analysis, punditry and projections. The same thing will begin to happen off camera as it were for lesser races from Congress to City Halls all across the country. And all of that will filter down as the parties and special interest groups begin the process of gearing up for the defense and advancement of their own interests, pet causes and the like.

Frankly, we ought to be doing the exact same thing. In a more perfect world we would be setting up local and state committees and PACs and trying to identify arts friendly candidates to support, or even those from our own ranks that we could convince to run. We would be identifying specific legislation and policies we would hope to advance and / or defeat to protect our interests. We would begin to raise funds, do benefits, reach out to stakeholders to form alliances, and begin our media strategy to get the public on our side.

All of which takes sophistication, money, organization and commitment – none of which we have unfortunately. But we might just be able to focus on a single strategy that could help us. There are lots we could choose from. I have a suggestion: A national word of mouth and quasi media campaign (I say quasi because we can’t afford a real full blown media / advertising effort and there is probably too little time before 2012 to get an Ad Council or other pro bono effort launched) that urges people everywhere (parents of school kids, the PTA, everyone involved in the nonprofit arts and the for profit entertainment industry, artists both professional and amateur and any and everyone else we might convince to join us) to SPEAK UP FOR ART at every opportunity they get – to their local elected officials, to the media, to their colleagues at work, to people in groups to which they belong, to their neighbors – to anyone they can – and tell their stories of why and how the arts are valuable in people’s lives, to communities, to business and the economy, to education and civic life. Op Ed pieces in newspapers, a letter campaign, email petitions, viral videos on You Tube, public opinion surveys, release of new or even repackaged research and data.  A two year grassroots campaign to enlist the help of all those people for whom the arts have meaning to SPEAK UP FOR ART – loudly, often and with conviction. It would be relatively easy to set up a web site, provide people with talking points, aggregate poignant stories and the like and promote it across America.

If we could get it to catch on, we might make it grow exponentially and by the time we got to November 2012 it might make it much easier for us to leverage what we had grown to political action on our own behalf with the goal of making the arts a bi-partisan “good” which everyone supported; if not sacrosanct, then at the least, embraced by so many that attacking us would not be as easy an option.

I would call this campaign SPEAK UP FOR ART 2012 – and here’s the logo

Sé4A 2012

Speak Up For Art 2012

The point is if we want to be better positioned in the next election cycle, we need to begin to strategize and implement strategies on the local level and moving up now.  If we started some campaign like this now, we might be able to position it by 2012.  If every organization included the logo and a link to a site, and promoed it in their newsletters, advertising and the like we might have a chance to fix it in the public's mind. Of course, it would take a large percentage of all arts organizations to join in and promote and hype the logo and idea of the effort so as to involve as many people, communities, groups and organizations as possible.  Not an easy task, I know.

Random Acts of Art:
Here’s a link to a Random Act of Art from the Opera Company of Philadelphia unwritten by the Knight Foundation. I think I’ve seen one or two of these kinds of things before including a recent one at the Heathrow Airport outside of London. Basically it is a coordinated, yet unannounced and seemingly impromptu performance piece not dissimilar from flashmobs done in a public place on an unsuspecting audience. Although very rehearsed and planned out, because it appears somewhat incongruously out of place, and initially unrehearsed and spontaneous, it is all the more enthralling and captivating – and leaves the audience feeling buoyant and upbeat.

Delighting those fortunate enough to be in the area at the appointed time, it is a great calling card for art and an unforgettable reminder of the power of art to alter moods and change perceptions, and simply make people happy.

I applaud the Knight Foundation for funding it and hope they do more.  Maybe other foundations or funders could join in.

Imagine the impact of something like this if it were done on a grander scale. In California we celebrate ARTS DAY (as part of Arts & Humanities Month) on the first Friday of each October. How cool would it be if this kind of impromptu performance was done in a score of places across the state on the same day by operas and symphonies and dance companies and theater groups and choruses and even visual artists and so on -- in malls and public squares and lobbies and on the street. What if the entire state just sort of broke out in displays of art.

Or maybe even bigger – what if we did this across the whole country on some appointed day as a culminating act of the SPEAK UP FOR THE ARTS 2012 campaign. In homage’s to Cristo, Spencer Tunick the Philippine Prison tribute to Michael Jackson and many more - one day of hundreds, even thousands of unannounced performances in public places all calling attention to Sé4A 2012

Think of the media coverage and the opportunities to tell our stories - how we might drive home the power and importance of art in everyone’s daily life, and get people who never give the value of art any thought at all to talk about art and its role in our lives.

Of course, all of this would be a Herculean task no doubt, but a lot of fun and the chance to be part of something so much bigger than what we do usually. And if everyone just ran with it on their own, we wouldn’t need a lot of national from the top down organization. Just empower people to buy-in and see where it goes – a national two year viral flash mob of inestimable size. Perhaps a true work of art in its own right.  Maybe the Knight Foundation could take the lead.

Just another thought. I can dream can’t I?  And maybe smarter people than me can come up with a far better campaign idea, slogan, logo or what have you.  We could / should be able to mount some kind of effort, no?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Don’t Quit

Speak é For Art 2012

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Internet Potpourri

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on............................"

Some Random Findings from Around the Web:
  • Real World Learning:  I get lots of emails touting professional development programs, classes, workshops, seminars and the like.  Invariably all of them focus on a very narrow course or class offering.  It would seem that there are only a handful of skills you need to be a fully qualified arts administrator - including not much more than marketing, fundraising, board development and strategic planning.  That is, of course, absurd.  There are scores of skills one needs to develop or hone that are essential to becoming a competent, let alone high level, business manager no matter what the field - from accommodation of different generations to how one creates an ecosystem for new ideas in the workplace; from how to negotiate to time management -  but the arts either don't recognize any of those other skills as important enough to offer classes designed to improve them, or we simply have virtually no resources that will allow us to offer anything more than the most basic of training opportunities.  Yes, of course, our people have to have the basic skills, and need to go back and improve on them from time to time, but is that all we can offer?  I ran across this site:  The School of Life - Ideas to Live By offering a course entitled "How to Have Better Conversations".  This is exactly the kind of thing I think we need to offer our leaders - courses in how they can actually become better people managers.
  • Univision to become the Number One Broadcast Network in 3 to 5 years:  That Reuters headline caught my eye.  A projected 45% increase in the new census to 50 million people and the capture by Univision of certain ratings wars - especially in the lucrative 18 to 34 market and experts see advertisers moving towards the market.  What might that mean for the arts?  And where is the focus on multicultural arts that should be growing in our sector?  I haven't seen it at the last five conferences I've attended. 
  • Rich Americans' Philanthropy Down - but not for the Arts:  That LA Times headline caught my attention too.  Bank of America and Merrill Lynch found that households with incomes of $200,000 or more, or net worths of at least $1 million (not counting a primary home's value) devoted 7.5 cents out of their charitable dollar to the arts during 2009, compared to a penny for the population at large.
    Good news for the arts, right?  Well, maybe.  The article doesn't give any indication where in the arts sector that money went.  Very likely, those rich patrons gave to the biggest cultural institutions.  That is just speculation on my part, because there was no comparison of where the rich gave money and where the average Joe gave money in our sector.  It is an indiction that the wealthy patronage system of arts support, even if still limited to a small sub-sector of our field - is alive and well, and that is good news I think - at least for those recipient organizations.  Would be nice to have the study extended.
  • Ten Mistakes for Entrepreneurs:  A Wall Street Journal article by Rosalind Resnick listed the Top Ten Mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting a company.  As we in the arts are largely entrepreneurs ourselves, even if we're involved in running organizations that have been around for a long time, her advice seemed particularly on point to me.  For example, she cautions against "spending too much time on product development , not enough on sales."  That advice might well apply to many arts organizations that emphasize creation to the exclusion of sales.  Check out her list.
  • The Class of 2014:   Finally the Beloit College Mindset List - released each August provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall.  Born in 1992, the first time college students in the Class of 2014 are different from you and me - really different in their cultural points of reference.  For example, email has always been too slow for them.  They've always had 500 tv channels to choose from.  Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.  Most of them have never seen a carousel slide projector.  Czechoslovakia never existed.  Nirvana is played on the oldies stations. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents.  And rock bands have always played at Presidential Inaugurals.  I wonder if we're approaching the time when what we now refer to as the "generational" differences -- in our workplace, with our audiences, and even in the artist community itself -- will not be generational, but change with the entering freshman class of every five years or so.  The whole as yet underdeveloped concept of generational marketing may get far more complex before we even get a handle on it.
Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 7, 2010


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

Post-Election Analysis:

In the aftermath of last week’s election, the question is what will be the impact on the arts sector? Of course all politics are local, and thus it is a mistake to generalize too much; nevertheless there seem some very likely reasonable conclusions we can draw about how this election might impact us.

In exit polls a very high percentage of voters (well over half) identified with the T-Party – amplifying the level at which Americans are angry, fearful of their futures, and suspicious and impatient with their government(s). As reflected in the new Congress, there is strong sentiment to cut spending, reduce the deficit, and shrink government. Indeed, for the GOP, the T-Party message is that every single Republican candidate is being watched – and that the only likely safe vote for the "now" incumbents – at least on spending issues – will be a ‘no’ vote. A number of moderate Democrats that rode Obama’s coat tails into Congress in 2008 were defeated last week. We seem to have now institutionalized the ‘no compromise’ intransigence of the last two years, and I suspect there we are in for grid lock and paralysis. The 2012 Presidential Campaign will begin in earnest – to the chagrin of many of us – in January, and will last for the next two years.

For us, I think this means two things:

1) As to the NEA allocation – there will likely be new attacks on the Endowment and cries to get out of funding the arts at all. The T-Party / Libertarian lines intersect here in calling for arts funding to be one of those spending items that is either philosophically inappropriate, or simply unaffordable in the current climate. While arts funding may be a bi-partisan issue in some states (for example, with Jerry Brown’s election, there are now doors open in California that haven’t been open for a long time), in most areas, and nationally, there remains a great (and growing) divide between Democrats and Republicans in support for our interests. We can narrow that divide in economic good times, and often, even in questionable economic times, at the national level where the balanced budget isn’t mandatory – but the same cannot be said at the state and local levels. In reviewing the Americans for Arts Senate Report Card in ranking how current members of the Senate voted on arts issues, out of 28 Senators who got an “F” grade, 25 were Republicans; out of 23 who got an “A” grade, all of them were Democrats. Once again the arts will have to defend themselves at the national level – at least in the House. I doubt the cries for getting rid of the Endowment will really amount to anything more than shouts in the dark, and that the only real battle on our hands will be the dollar amount of the Endowment’s line item in next year’s budget. Fortunately there will still remain support in the Senate and White House. But I suspect that it will be a battle to keep funding at the current level – unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the economy (which would qualify as a miracle of the first order). We are now dealing with a much more dogmatic GOP controlled House with far less room for variance in how those members will be able to vote, and that will hurt us.

2) On the local level, there will likely be some of the same sentiment where the composition of state houses, city councils or boards of supervisors has moved from the center to the right. Each will be different, and the arts may do well in some areas, and horribly in others. But because of the shift at the Federal level, many states will feel a negative impact irrespective of how the elections went locally. In Congress there is likely to be strong anti-stimulus sentiment and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to pass any bill that authorizes increased stimulus money (and that despite any consensus by a majority of economists that the economy desperately needs stimulating by the government). Couple that reality with a likely intractable anti-tax House position, and federal money that might have flowed to the states (and remember it was stimulus money last year that allowed a number of states to balance their budgets or at least reduce dramatically their deficits) will cease. That will mean that there will be more pressure on state governments for shrinking revenue pools, and that will mean more battles on those fronts to protect arts funding.  Cuts will have to come from somewhere. And as the states scramble to balance their budgets they will continue to look for local funds they can appropriate to the state level, thus continuing the cycle and putting more stress on local budgets – all of which will make it even more difficult to maintain arts support at the local level too.

What are we suppose to do then? What can we do short term to protect our funding, and what can we do longer term to move the arts towards the center as a non-partisan issue?

As to protecting what we’ve got – it will likely be a fight - at all levels. We will again have to spend precious time and resources to make our case, rally our troops and stakeholders and advocate and lobby to keep what we have. I think the earlier we get out front on the coming battles, the better we might fare. Proactive will be better than defensive posturing. This will be difficult for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are: 1) the field is getting weary of relentless attacks and having to defend ourselves with fewer real victories to be had; 2) time is an ever scarce resource as we work to survive and transition to new economic revenue stream models; and 3) as government support becomes less available it becomes less relevant and that makes it harder to recruit support to defend it.  Smart states and local jurisdictions will contremplate formation of local arts PACs to increase their political clout.

Let’s Infiltrate the Chamber of Commerce:

I think we need to begin to develop strategies that that will allow us to foster relationships and support within the infrastructure that is the backbone of the GOP. I’m not talking about just educating the Republican party leadership, nor just making our case to them, but rather to become involved in those mechanisms that constitute the skeleton of the party itself.

As to longer range efforts to establish beachheads in the Republican strongholds, I have a suggestion: The Chamber of Commerce is increasingly moving towards aligning itself with the right. In this past election, it was the vehicle for undeclared corporate money supporting various ballot propositions and specific candidates it identified as sympathetic to its agenda. There was a time, at least in some places – including California – where the arts had a decent relationship with the Chamber and could even count on its support. That reality now seems distant. The arguments that use to work in terms of convincing the Chamber to be supportive – namely that the arts were really just small businesses like most of the other Chamber constituents; that the arts were integrally important to the tourism industry and to business innovation and creativity in general; that the arts were an economic engine and a source of job creation; and that arts education was central to job preparation in an ever increasingly competitive global marketplace – all now seem unimportant to those that control the Chambers. 

In California there are some 14,000 businesses that constitute the state Chamber’s membership. Local chapters deal with local issues and the work of the state Chamber is done by committees and volunteers from those local chapters. The hierarchy of the state organization’s leadership and governing Board come from the bottom up. There are some 10,000 nonprofit arts organizations in California. If 20% of those arts organizations were to join their local Chambers of Commerce (dues are modest and local chapters welcome arts organizations) and get involved on the statewide committees and move up the ranks to chair some of those efforts – thus moving up the ranks of the organization – in just a couple of years the arts could constitute a formidable bloc within the state Chamber – and in so doing we could begin to seriously impact the policies and positions the Chamber takes. If 40% of all the arts organization would join their local chambers, and work into postions of authority, we could virtually take over the whole structure by 2016.  That's only five years from now.  And there are benefits - from networking, to resources, to local advocacy for the arts as small businesses in joining the local chapters.

When I was the Director of the CAC, some arts organizations were (as is still true) members of their local Chambers. The local membership welcomed those arts organizations as local businesses and partners and the very fact that arts organizations were involved members, helped to educate the entire local business communities as to how much in common arts organizations had with other businesses and how many mutually beneficial intersections existed for cooperation and collaboration. I went to several state Chamber conferences, and the membership of the state Chamber was very open to, and supportive of, the arts as part of the businesses community. It is only at the very upper echelon of the state and national Chambers that the leadership doesn’t seem to get that the arts are their constituents. But if we were 10% of their membership, I guarantee you everything would change. And the leadership would fall over themselves trying to address our needs. 

If we joined and got involved in the local, state and national Chamber we could change its attitude towards government arts support, and in so doing, increase the number of intersections with the GOP and the possibilities to educate them and change their perspectives on us. And it wouldn’t be all that hard, nor at all costly for us to embark on that sort of strategy. It would take some investment of time (which I know is scarce), but the benefits would arguably be direct, meaningful and (almost) immediate.  Now I know this is highly unlikely to happen.  No, we are likely to continue to plod along the way we have for decades, and with the same likely results:  the arts will continue to flounder and struggle for government support and legislation they want passed - to only marginal success.  We are, in this area alas, the very embodiment of Einstein's definition of insanity. 

This is the kind of effort we need to move towards in our advocacy and lobbying strategies if we are going to keep (and ultimately grow) government support for what we do – not just in funding, but in receptivity to a range of legislation that we might wish to put forth to protect the arts, artists, arts education and arts organizations over the next few years. If we don’t figure out a way to move arts support from being a one party issue, then we might as well resign ourselves to forever fighting the same battles over and over again, with the likelihood that, at best we will win some in good times, and that in bad times we will lose more and more of them. Both our advocacy philosophy and strategy must become much more sophisticated than just making the case for our value and defending ourselves against attacks.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit