Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Great Appointment, However....

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

Jerry Brown Appoints Rosalind Wyman to the California Arts Council:
Growing up in L.A. in the fifties and sixties, Rosalind Wyman was a major fixture in local politics.  The youngest person ever elected to the L.A. City Council.  Fiery, and a bit of the maverick she, along with JFK, are the two figures that turned me onto to politics.  I was a big fan.

Governor Brown recently appointed her to the CAC and by any account she is an excellent appointment.  She remained (and doubtless still remains) active in Democratic politics.  She is savvy, experienced and knows how to get things done.  Moreover, she has for some time been involved in the arts - from the NEA to the Los Angeles Arts Commission to the Los Angeles Music Center.  Now an octogenarian, my guess is that she hasn't slowed down a bit.  I would think she will provide seasoned leadership to the efforts to someday restore public funding for the arts in California.

I confess to being a fan of Jerry Brown's - from his first stint as Governor to his Presidential bid.  I like him, voted for him, campaigned for him, supported him.  I think he's done an outstanding job as Governor this time around facing almost insurmountable challenges of putting California back in the forefront of the states.  He created the CAC during his initial gubernatorial term, and I honestly believe that if he can move the state's economy back to even close to what it was under Gray Davis that he will find a way to restore meaningful public support to the arts.  So I congratulate him for appointing Rosalind Wyman and to her on the appointment.

However - and there's always a however.

For all intents and purposes, the California Arts Council is really the Los Angeles Arts Council.  There are no representatives from San Diego or the Inland Empire, none from the central valley nor the far north.  No one from San Jose, San Francisco or Sacramento.  And only one from outside the greater Los Angeles area.

Moreover, in what is arguably the most diverse place on the planet - with virtually every culture on earth amply represented within its borders, California is the very definition of diversity.  Yet there are no Asian / Pacific Islanders, no Latinos, no one under the age of 30 on the arts council.  There may be someone from the LGBT community (I have no way of knowing), but certainly no public leader of that group.  Of the eleven authorized seats, Rosalind Wyman's appointment fills the tenth seat.  One remains.

Meaning no disrespect to those who sit on the council (all of whom I believe take their charge seriously and seek to do whatever they can to support the arts in California) it is, nonetheless unfortunate and somewhat embarrassing that the council isn't more representative of the state's geography and diversity.  We need the perspective and ideas of a more widely reflective sampling of who we are.  One would hope it might again be more reflective of California's sub-populations in the future.

Still, Rosalind Wyman is, all things considered, an excellent and valuable appointment.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


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

Still a lot on our plates:
Declining audiences, shifting philanthropic trends, government cuts, downsizing - a lot going wrong, but yet there is much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for the insightful intelligence of fellow bloggers; thankful for the Herculean and ceaseless efforts of the advocates across the country; thankful for the efforts of the foundation community and their leadership to keep it all alive; thankful for the policy wonks who ask the hard questions and the researchers who toil with the data to help us all.  I am thankful for artists and believers -- but most of all I am thankful for you -- the average arts administrator who labors unheralded day after day against formidable challenges, often times long into the evenings and weekends with precious little acknowledgment.  I am grateful for your dedication, for your passion, for your sacrifice and for your  caring so much about what you do.

I am thankful for the boomers who have stayed the course for decades, refusing to give up, and for the Xers and Millennials who choose to commit to the arts instead of something very likely more lucrative.  I am thankful that each of you gets up each morning and joins the battle anew even though I am sure there are days when it seems too much, days when you want to quit, days when you ask yourself "Why?", days when the onslaught of bad news may seen like an avalanche.

There are moments of joy and wonder in what we do; thrilling performances and awe inspiring exhibitions.  And there are the human moments of impact seen on the faces of everyone from seniors to children.  I am thankful to bear witness to that spark. There are victories and successes too, even if some seem pyrrhic.  The arts will always win out for creativity is central to humanity.  But you make it real, you help make it happen.  You are the keepers of the proverbial flame.

For it is all of you - often working isolated in big and small organizations all across the country in urban cities, in the suburbs and in rural towns - that keep alive the promise of what the arts do for all of us - for the kids and for our communities.  It is you who are the backbone of arts provision in this country.  It is you who believe what we do is important - that it means something.  And, let me assure you it DOES mean something - in means a great deal.

So because you probably don't hear it that often, let me shout it:  THANK YOU, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Thank you for your strength, for your character and integrity and thank you most of all for not quitting.  You are a remarkable class of people.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What IS more important - the Chicken or the Egg?

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

Diane Ragsdale raises the issue of living wages for artists in American theatre companies top-heavy with administration, noting that the only salaried actors are likely to be ones that do double duty as administrators.

While confining her entry to theatre, the issue is much larger.  Have we grown the arts administration infrastructure to the point where its' survival (and not the survival of art and artists) has become the prime directive?  Is the sustainability of the nonprofit arts industry now the driving force in all we do and the insatiable beast that has eaten (or at least threatens) the very lamb it was created to protect? Is art and are artists now the second class citizen(s) we espouse as our client and clients, but is that really now just semantical spinning of the true purpose of growing the industry we have spawned?  I know I am biting the hand that feeds me here, but we ought to ask ourselves questions like this once in awhile for our thriving depends on occasional self-assessment.

We talk from time to time about the arts being overbuilt with too many organizations, but is the problem more accurately not too many organizations, but that the model of each of those organizations naturally seeks to expand its capacity exponentially.  The question looms whether by design or default, has that expansion come at the expense of the art and artists?  Have, as one of Diane's commenters opined, we 'the nonprofit arts administrator class' become the corporate agro business and the artists the migrant workers that toil in the fields for subsistence wages.  And more germane, has that 'system' precluded the artists from having any meaningful input into the direction art takes?

To be fair, the half century old model of nonprofit arts provision in America sought not only to nurture and support art and artists, but also to expand public access to that art.  Nonprofits are accorded privileged tax status precisely because they benefit the public, and early on public "access" to art was institutionalized as a benefit equal to the art itself.   Moreover, the fine arts have for centuries depended, in part, on patronage - with which comes infrastructure and 'management'.

But have we overemphasized "access" (and justified in the process the machine we created to promote access) at the expense of artist survivability - let alone growth?  And is the current trend towards emphasis of the 'experience' of the public access over the 'excellence' of the content being experienced disturbing, or a welcome, positive - even egalitarian - development, one arguably pro-art at its' core?

Even were we to conclude that the 'infrastructure' has grown too large so that it now subverts its' original lofty purpose of supporting art and artists (and one can, I think, make a convincing argument to the contrary), what's to be done about it?  Is our sector not as much a victim to the institutional politics of the budgetary process wherein once a program (or organization) is funded, it tends to take on a life of its' own seeking as its principal objective its' own continual existence?  Are we arts administrators very likely to undertake some kind of transformation, the ultimate result of which is our own undoing - even were it to benefit the art and artists we are bound to serve?  Are we not a kind of bureaucracy now - one that demands to be constantly fed, even if one that honestly believes it best serves its art and artist client base by insuring that it is first at the dinner table?

Is one of the consequences of this reality, that artists (particularly younger artists) no longer see our version of the arts as offering much to them - either as artists or consumers- and how do we deal with that?

I don't know, but I think the question of whether or not things have gotten out of hand, and whether or not the growth of management has subverted that which is was created to manage is a legitimate one.  Ideally funding would be sufficient to support the apparatus created to facilitate art and nurture artists, and enable those artists to earn a living wage and create art, but the truth is that such a level of funding does not now (nor perhaps did it ever) exist.  And at least in the long term, consideration of how artists can make a living from their art and the relationship of that to the growth of our structure is relevant.

Have a good week.
Don't Quit.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Surrender, Not Control

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

Wherein Lies Creativity?:
I found this quote by Artist/Writer Julia Cameron in This Week magazine:
"The creative process is a process of surrender, not control".

And that got me thinking that observation might be relevant to why we (as a sector or profession) seem to have so much trouble being truly creative in our responses to the ever daunting challenges that face us - why we never venture too far out of the box.  I think we are too often enamored with our past thinking, with holding onto ideas and concepts, approaches and strategies, based on assumptions that are largely born out of a need to control the situation.  Our thinking is often grounded on certain precepts and theories we have developed with which we are - to put it bluntly - in love.  We simply cannot give up notions we have long held dear and in which we have invested time, energy and even money.  And yet I think Julia Cameron is onto something of use to us.

A case in point that I have previously, and often, ranted about, is the antiquated, and absolutely false theory that all we need to do to impact public policy to our favor is to better make the case for our value - economically, educationally and for its' intrinsic worth.  For a long time, and to a large degree still, a huge section of our field fervently believe that if we can just make a better case (with data, facts, and homespun stories about the people positively impacted by the arts) that it is inevitable that decision makers (once they are aware of the realities) will find a way to support us.  Were that only true, we would be the recipients of huge amounts of funding from the local to the federal level.  Look around.  Anybody see that reality?  We must, I think, surrender our addiction to that falsity. That is simply NOT how politics works.  Public policy formulation and impact, as often as not, has nothing to do with the merits of one side of the issue or another - rather it has to do with how the political process works - which is, like it or not, fueled by money, influence and power plays.  Convincing arguments are necessary adjuncts to the process of exercising influence, but without political power they produce few results.  I think we may need to surrender our loyalty to old ways of thinking.  I think we may need to stop trying to control a game over which we have no control and play the game by its own rules.  Advocates win far fewer of the battles than do the lobbyists.  You want more money from cites, counties, states and the feds?  More friendly legislation for artists?  Form PACS, elect candidates, give money and call in "favors" owed.  THAT is how the system works.  We continue in many quarters to play an outdated hand - one we actually dealt ourselves,

Then too consider our addiction to semantics;  how for two decades or more we have steadfastly and stubbornly clung to the notion that the most effective way to help our community is to advance "capacity building" and "sustainability".  On its face, an almost unassailable theory - but it now seems clearer to many that perhaps we were as enamored with the "words" as much as the lofty aspirations they symbolized.  We need to surrender our penchant for words that encapsulate our aspirations, and be at least a little wary of the notion that any given current dogma is the final solution.  Thus, for example, in the area of Audience Development in the recent past we fixated on the "depth" and "breadth" of the audience participant's experience. Sure sounded good.  But for all the positive aspects of the theories and the research behind those hypotheses, fewer people sat in the seats in our halls in the last five years, not more.  Now I am not suggesting that the levels of audience experience or the ways in which audiences "engage" with art, artists and artistic organizations isn't relevant to our efforts to expand those audiences, but I am suggesting that we need to "surrender" how we embrace each new approach, theory and methodology we create as the "holy grail".  It just may be that the reasons more people don't fill our empty seats have to do with cost, convenience, time and a product that must compete with ever more and better alternatives to what we offer.

I know some people will be offended by my questioning of long held tenets of our thinking,  but honestly folks if everything we were doing was working that well, we would be in a Hell of a lot better position than we are.  We need - desperately need - to be more creative in facing the challenges that haunt us.  And I think Julia Cameron's advice is good advice - to be more creative we may just have to figure out how to surrender some of our deeply entrenched ways of thinking about things and allow for new thinking.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.