Sunday, November 25, 2012

Naming Rocco's Successor

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

Let me add my name to the chorus of praise for Rocco’s leadership over the term of his three plus year tenure as Chair of the NEA.  Once he got the lay of the land, he effectively used his bully pulpit to champion the arts, and he launched several major initiatives that ought to have a positive impact on the future of the sector - including meaningful expansion of the Endowment’s relationship with other federal agencies, a long overdue stepped up research agenda and strategy, and the Our Town and Creative Placemaking projects.

I hope to post interviews with both Chairman Landesman and Chief of Staff Jamie Bennett before the year is out.

Now the question looms who should replace Rocco as the new Chair of the NEA?  Joan Shigekawa, Senior Deputy Director, will helm the agency until a new appointment is made.  I doubt this appointment is high on the President’s agenda, and I also doubt (though I certainly may be wrong) that they already have someone in mind.

I think it might be advisable for us to do two things:  First, openly discuss the kinds of qualities and skills that we - as a field - think any new nominee for the post should have, and Second, suggest at least a short list of names for the President to consider.  My own hope is that the next Chair of the Endowment might be someone from within our own ranks - someone with nonprofit arts experience and familiarity.

Here are some questions we might openly begin to discuss concerning a new Chairman:

  • What are the qualities an NEA Chair needs to be successful in the next four years?
  • What would a person rooted in private foundation experience bring to the NEA Chair position?
  • What would a person rooted in public policy experience bring to the NEA Chair position?
  • What would a person rooted in nonprofit arts organization experience bring to the NEA Chair position?
  • What would a person rooted in private sector business experience bring to the NEA Chair position?
  • What would a working artist bring to the NEA Chair position?
  • What would a person who is a celebrity  bring to the NEA Chair position?
  • What would a former elected official bring to the NEA Chair position?
  • Which of the former NEA Chairs have been successful and why?
  • What should be retained from the Rocco Landesman Chairmanship and what should be jettisoned?

Perhaps we might form a small select Blue Ribbon Committee to formally suggest a small list of vetted names to President Obama.  I think this might be an opportunity to establish a small precedent wherein the arts field itself is at least tangentially involved in the section process to name its most visible and important leader, and so I hope the field will insert itself into these deliberations, and come up with a list of names the President might consider.

Here then is my list of just a few of the possible candidates (by no means a definitive list, and I am sure you out there can come up with scores of other names we ought to toss around - AND I invite you to add to this list via your comments to this posting.)   I realize some names on the list would seem to be outliers, and perhaps they are, but in many respects virtually all the previous appointments to the Chairmanship have been outside the field.  Maybe this would be a good time to go inside the box.  And, in any event, I hope it sparks some debate out there as to what we ought to be looking for in the final selection.

BTW this list reflects my own personal thinking and my biases and limitations and in no way implies WESTAF’s sanctioning of these names or any endorsement on their part.

An Open letter to President Obama:

Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations on your re-election.  In recognition of, and grateful appreciation for,  your past, and continuing support for art and culture in America, the nonprofit arts community was highly supportive of your campaign, and thrilled at your victory.

As you begin the process of selecting Chairman Landesman’s successor, we respectfully suggest that you look within the nonprofit arts field to fill the post.  There are scores of qualified people who would do an outstanding job in that position, and would bring credit to your Administration, and the time has come to name one of our own.

Here are just a few suggestions for your consideration:

Bob Lynch - nobody has more experience, a better wider perspective, or a more intimate knowledge of the issues and the players.  Would be a fitting crowning achievement in an amazing career.

Janet Brown - has both experience with the philanthropic community and local arts agencies as well as a solid background in advocacy and legislative relationships.

Anthony Radich - brings a strong organizational / entrepreneurial perspective and complete familiarity with the Endowment’s state agency and regional partners.

Laura Zucker - knows all the issues and what is involved in trying to address those issues,  and more importantly how to get things done.  Doubtful anyone would be more effective.

Steven Tepper - would bring strong policy credentials to what is a policy centric agency, and would help elevate the national dialogue.

Adam Huttler - an innovator’s voice - his of the next generation of arts leaders and his appointment would signal a new era at the agency.

Dennis Scholl - a risk taker, with a commitment to quality, he worked closely with Rocco and he would add another dimension to the post.

Richard Kessler - would articulately champion Arts Education better than anyone.

Joan Shigekawa - why not simply name Joan the permanent Chair?

Aaron Dworkin - an artist with strong organizational skills, and with a national platform and reputation for his commitment to diversity.

Cora Mirikitani - former head of the Irvine Foundation arts program, and current head of the Center for Creative Innovation she is one of our best thinkers and fully understands the needs of artists in America.

Ben Cameron - certainly no one would use the bully pulpit better than he.

Alan Brown - would bring an academic and researcher’s perspective to the post.

Maria Lopez de Leon - a passionate and articulate voice for America’s fastest growing constituency and a proven bridge builder.

Colleen Jennings Roggensack - would articulate the Presenter’s point of view and build bridges to at least a faction of the private sector.

Thank you for your consideration.

Oh, and if you just can't find anyone to serve in the post, call me.  I'll do it.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thankful for the Little Things

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

Reminder:  Last Chance. The lists of names for possible inclusion in the Arts Dinner-vention dinner party are due tomorrow November 20th. Email to me at  I know you have some names to suggest.  Thanks.  

Thankful for the things that make me happy:
It's that time of year again (already!).  Thanksgiving week is upon us, and in just a couple of weeks the country virtually shuts down until after the first week in January.

So in that annual rite where we think about what we are thankful for, I made a list of the things that invariably bring a smile to my face; that actually make me happy --  thinking these are some of the things I am really thankful for.  While I admit that when I was younger, more materialistic pursuits were on my mind, now it turns out the things that please me  are all small things; things that cost nothing at all.  I had about forty things on the list and I have culled them down to ten.

1.  When driving along, I love seeing the expression on dog's faces when they are walking with their masters.  The way they look up at them - eyes wide, mouth open, smiling.  Dogs are always "engaged".  There is just something extraordinarily satisfying about dogs.

2.  Sunday mornings in the fall:  Me on the couch, lox and bagels, the New York Times, a football game on television, a fire in the fireplace, rain at the window.  It doesn't get any better than that.

3.  Butterflies and hummingbirds.  I can't help but smile when I see either or both.  Magical.

4.  I love seeing old couples holding hands as they stroll together.  Watching them from behind as they amble slowly, so many memories shared.  How wonderful.

5.  I can't help but smile every time I hear little kids giggling.  It just tickles me so much.  Their laughter is so genuine and infectious.  Would the world would listen more to that music.

6.  Whenever I hear of some random act of kindness by human beings towards another, it makes me feel good - hopeful and glad.  A gentle reminder that the force for good, for generosity, is so much stronger than the forces that pit us against each other.

7.  Dancers.  I love dancers.  Poetry set to motion to music.  Wow.

8.  Blue skies and big, puffy white clouds bring a smile to my face and always make me grateful  I am alive.  Sunrises are like that too - beginnings.  And in the Spring when the daffodils first bloom - life is again renewed.  Sweet.

9.  I get a smug feeling of satisfaction crawling into clean, crisp sheets on a summer's eve.  And a good night's sleep is up there too.

10.  The tens of thousands of you out there who work in the arts and who never quit.  That makes me happy in a way I cannot even put into words.  It always makes me proud that I work among you.

And, of course, chocolate, great wine, Magnum ice cream bars, bear claws, Elizabeth George novels, pecan pie and did I mention chocolate?

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving with friends, family and loved ones.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

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

Note:  The lists of names for possible inclusion in the Arts Dinner-vention dinner party are due November 20th. We've gotten lots of suggestions so far.  Why not include yours this week.  Email to me at  Thanks.  

Election note:  Whew.  Like everyone else, I am greatly relieved that we do not have to mount some Herculean efforts to save the NEA. Nothing is ever a done deal, so hopefully all of you out there will reach out to newly elected or re-elected members of Congress, State Houses and local City Councils and Boards of Supervisors, and begin the process of lobbying them for support for the arts at all levels.  There is still the Fiscal Cliff looming, but it is inconceivable to me that it won't be somehow resolved.  (Of course, it was inconceivable to me that we would have allowed our national credit rating to have been compromised - but it happened).  Still, this is a different Congress and the public has little patience now for more partisanship). 

The Arts and the Convenience of Attending Events:
I live just north of San Francisco, about 40 minutes from the city. Like many major metropolitan areas, traffic in the Bay Area is a problem - and not just during peak commute hours.  It is a growing hassle to go to the city for any purpose - the traffic is exhausting and parking is a hassle; there is the cost of gasoline, bridge tolls and parking.  The Golden Gate ferry system is an alternative - but the last one returns from the city before 11:00 pm.  If you live in the East Bay, there is BART - the Bay Area Rapid Transit system - as an alternative.   The point is that, for me (and for many others I suspect), the inconvenience of getting to an event frequently trumps going at all.

If I want to go to a movie, pretty much anything that is playing is within a 15 minute drive -- easy parking, no cost, and the movie itself is relatively inexpensive.

We spend a lot of time and energy exploring the ways the arts might better, and more meaningfully, engage our audiences as well as ways we might be more relevant to, and involved in, our communities. But I think we spend perhaps too little time considering the mundane, pedestrian issue of convenience for our patrons - particularly those with more limited incomes and time (and that is increasingly the whole of the middle class).  This is probably an issue that breaks down on income as well as generationally (i.e., the cost factor is a factor for those still struggling on a budget to make ends meet, and those skewing older find "convenience" a more important variable than younger people).  Then too, convenience is likely tempered by where you live as well.  The hassle of attending an arts event is likely exponentially greater in the larger, more populace dense, urban areas of the country (at least for those outside the city center area or wherever the arts venue is located) - less so in smaller cities and rural / suburban areas.

So it is not a one-size-fits-all issue.  But it IS an issue. Underestimating the impact of "convenience" overall is, I think, a grave error.  A lot of people who might attend our events, do not - because of the cost and the inconvenience.  It has nothing to do with the quality of the offering - nor with being or not being engaged.

I go to two or three San Francisco Giants baseball games on average each season.  I have the option of taking a specially scheduled Ferry to the ballpark (it's on the water).  This is an especially attractive option as the Ferry Terminal is only 15 minutes from my house and parking is ample and free.  The cost of the RT ticket is considerably less than driving - no gasoline, no parking fees - and the ferry docks right at the ballpark.  But most importantly - there is far less hassle.  Moreover, the experience of riding in with a boat load of other fans is enjoyable.    Those in the East Bay who take Bart have a similar experience.

There are times I wish there were a similar option to attend an arts event.  I wish there were an Arts Bus that I, and fellow arts attendees, could take that would be relative inexpensive - let me out right at the venue and pick me up afterwards.  It would make the whole idea of going so much more attractive.  And so I wonder if such an idea is workable.

Doubtless an Arts Bus would be an expensive proposition for any one arts organization to underwrite (especially as such an enterprise would likely take time early on to catch on with people, and thus would need to be subsidized).  But at least on weekends, several performing arts organizations might share the management workload and cost.  The bus could simply make the rounds of a half dozen venues much like airport bus drop-offs do at various hotels.   It might be interesting to ride in and back with people going to a different event that I might be attending on any given night - and impromptu conversations might peak my interest in other offerings.  You could even have a docent on the ride in talk about the various events on the stops, thus making the whole experience more attractive and more involving.  People going to one event, might think about another event for the future.  It would also I would think help raise awareness of various arts offerings in the area, and help with the branding of participating organizations.

And if such an idea were do-able, over time it ought to be a break even situation.    It might (and I say might - because there are a lot of unknown variables)  attract new people to our venues, or at least serve well those who want to attend our events.  And we might target such a service at the sector of the population that simply is not part of our audience.

This may just be a silly idea; impractical and impossible to mount. Maybe there is a much better approach to addressing the "convenience of travel challenge".   I am a person more inclined than the average arts attendee, and I would love such an option.  It would make me attend more events.  We really ought to think more about how getting to and from our events is part of our audience development challenge and directly, and substantially, impacts our attendance figures. There might be some kind of pilot project we could mount that would help in this area.  Just thinking out loud.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 4, 2012

And You Were On My Mind

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

The Devastation of Sandy:
My heart goes out to all those on the East Coast who are trying to cope with the devastation of last week's fury of Mother Nature. Having been in the Thailand Tsunami, I know personally the awesome power of weather, and especially water, to destroy property and disrupt lives.  While the early aftermath is centered on survival, the longer term challenge is as much emotional.  It is still too soon to know precisely the impact on our sector, but even for those not directly in the path of the storm, the impact of the disruption of normal functioning is bound to cause havoc on performance schedules, fundraising and more.

I am heartened to see that we do have resources available to our own people, and that there is meaningful activity in trying to assess the impact and respond to the challenges.  The California Arts Council website provides links to coverage of the impact of the storm.

What we really need is some kind of war chest available to help our people when these kinds of natural disasters hit - and if you believe the commentators, the frequency of natural climatic disasters is very likely to increase;  funds that could be used specifically to support hard hit arts organizations and individual artists.  While national appeals to donate to the Red Cross and other agencies have seen an outpouring of American generosity, it would be even more beneficial if we had a fund of our own.  I doubt we are likely able to mount Telethons or other such tools to create such a fund, but were there the will, we might someday be able to develop our own mechanisms to fund such as war chest.

We could, for example, organize an effort by performing arts organizations / museums to, say, donate some small percentage (10%?) of a single performance (or day's box office) to such an effort - complemented by an appeal to all of us for individual donations.   All we would really need logistically would be for AFTA, Fractured Atlas, the NEA or some body to administer the account, and then generate enough commitment across the country to do it.  Each participating organizations could determine for itself when to do it, and then forward their contribution to the organizing agency.  If we had significant participation, it would likely generate substantial funds.  Perhaps, we might even do this once a year.

Of course, it is a lot to ask of already struggling organizations, but a one time, small contribution would not necessarily be unreasonably taxing.  Maybe I am just a dreamer and this is not something our own people would support.  Consideration of such a move raises the question of whether or not we are a community, or more precisely whether or not we think of ourselves as a community.   Are we willing to act on behalf of our own, especially if that constitutes sacrifice few can honestly afford?  I have no idea the answer to that kind of question, and maybe we don't want confirmation that we do not think of ourselves as a "community" wherein we all share some sense of responsibility for the rest of us.  I think, though, that were there the right kind of appeal, it might work.

I suppose some would argue it isn't really necessary - that the Red Cross and other agencies best address the needs in situations like this.  I wonder though if, long after the media interest in the slow process of recovery has waned, whether or not the unique needs of our people will be met by those efforts.   I personally believe that the very exercise of trying to take care of our own has its own intrinsic value in building a sense of "we-are-in-this-together", and I think acting as a community benefits the whole of us far beyond helping those of us who are facing trying times.

In any event, I hope and pray all the people affected by this storm - including especially our people - quickly recover and get back to some sense of normality.  It will take time.  While those of us in other parts of the country are grateful we are not the ones hit this time, this kind of catastrophe ultimately negatively impacts us all.

Follow up on the election:
This comparison of the Presidential Candidates arts platforms, - from Americans for the Arts.

Congratulations to Victoria Hamilton - first for San Diego's success in recent efforts to secure a "Penny for the Arts" plan that would more than double the percentage allotment of the TOT earmarked for the arts, increasing the funding from $7.3 million in 2012 to nearly $18 million in 2017.  That is a fitting 'farewell' accomplishment for one of the sector's major leaders as she announces her retirement after 24 years as the only executive director of the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.  I have had the great pleasure of working with Victoria over my entire tenure in the field, and she is in a league with the very "best and brightest".  Well done, Victoria.  And thank you.   Thank you very much.

Have a great week.  Vote.

Don't Quit