Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Interview with Santa Claus

Merry Christmas
"And the beat goes on......................."

Here's a gift from Santa Claus - a brief interview:

Barry:  Thanks for sitting down with me.  I know your big day is just around the corner.

Santa:  Yes, yes, lots still to do, but somehow it always gets done every year.  It's like producing a big play, or musical, or festival.

Barry:  I was wondering where the arts fit into your work?

Santa:  (chuckles).  Why the arts are everywhere in Santa’s work.  In the toys, their design and creation, and in the decorations, the wrapping, the gifts, the pageantry, the celebrations, the singing and the performances; in  the story telling, the photos, the memories.  And more than that - in the wonder, and awe; in the beauty and creativity. I exist because generation after generation of parents want their children to know and experience some magic.  Am I so different from art?  There wouldn’t be any Santa or Christmas without the arts.  The arts are a big part of what it’s all about.

Barry:  Then artists are part of all of that?

Santa:  But of course.  Artists are everywhere in my life.

Barry:  You have a lot of help.  The elves I mean.  How many of them are artists?

Santa:  (Ho Ho Ho).  They’re all artists.  Everyone of them.  And beyond the elves, all my helpers out there in your world.  Artists of all kinds who make the magic of the season happen.  The season’s art is hard to miss.  Every decorated tree in every house.  Every song that is sung.  Every card that is written. Every meal that is cooked. Every story that is told.  The elves sing and dance while they create all year long.

Barry:  In my field, we’re trying very hard to get arts education back in the schools.  Do you have any advice for that?

Santa:  (chuckles).  You know little kids are all artists.  They know that intuitively.  Just ask them.  They will tell you.  Now some of them grow up and don’t want to admit they’re artists anymore, and some of them actually begin to doubt they are artists.  But deep inside they know.  I think its wonderful that you are trying to get arts education back in the schools, but perhaps you might think about spending some time and energy teaching the kids that it’s alright to think of themselves as artists - because they are.  If you can somehow give them permission to shout this to the world, you might find after awhile that more of them will grow up allowing themselves to think as creative beings.  And be more supportive of you.  And you might also spend some energy convincing their parents that letting them be the artists they know themselves to be is healthy and helpful to them.  Parents want the best for their kids.  If you want arts in the schools, maybe you can start with their parents.  If they demand it, it will eventually happen.

You might be surprised at how many of the letters I get are full of artwork - quite impressive too I might add.  I should also mention that in all my travels (and you can imagine they are quite extensive), the greatest gallery and museum in the whole world is (can you guess?) - it’s the refrigerator.  I see art created by the boys and girls and displayed (proudly) on the refrigerator doors in millions of homes all across the world.  Lots of Christmas trees and renderings of me around this time of year.

Barry:  We’re very heavily involved in Placemaking efforts in the arts.  Do you have any thoughts on that?

Santa:  (chuckles).  Well, of course, the arts make a place better.  And every place needs art.  And so I think what you are doing there is wonderful.  But it’s really not so much about the place as the people in those places, right?  You know in my work I always focus on the kids.

Barry:  There was a little controversy in the last week or so over some remarks that you are “white”.  Did you catch that?

Santa:  (smiles).  I get a kick out of how important color seems to be to some of you.  I’m part of the spiritual world. I live in people’s hearts and souls.  I’m whatever color you want me to be, whatever color you see - white, black, brown, yellow, the red and green of the season.  I’m even purple to some folks.  I’m an idea, the better instinct of humankind.  I’m about giving - especially to little children.  You want to know what color I am - look in the mirror.  I’m any color, and every color.

Barry:  We are concerned in the arts with trying to help our people become better leaders?  How might we do that?

Santa:  Well I’m just an old man with a really good job.  But it seems to me that being a good leader isn’t so hard, if that’s what you want to be.  Just do what you know in your heart to be the right thing, and do it with conviction and passion, and I think people will see that and respect that and relate to it.  And I suppose that it’s always wise to treat everybody with respect.  Start there.

Barry:  What do you think of technology and all the advances of late?

Santa:  Oh, I think it’s wonderful.  All kinds of fantastic new toys out there for all of you that aren’t little kids anymore.  Many of my outside helpers are involved in dreaming up these wonderful toys and then helping me by building them.  These toys show up on more and more lists of what kids want, you know.

Barry:  Actually, Santa, they aren’t really toys.  We’ve come to depend on these advances to do our work and live our lives.  We need them.

Santa:  You need air, and water, and food and shelter, and beyond that a sense of joy in your work, purpose, friends, family and love.  The rest are toys that come and go, and sure, they make your life easier I guess (if you say so).  But like the train set you yourself needed when you were eight years old that I brought you, there will be other toys to come.  And your needs will change.

Barry:  We’re also concerned with our declining audiences.  What are your thoughts on what we can do?

Santa:  (Ho Ho Ho)  Your audiences aren’t declining.  There are more people making art, being creative, seeing and enjoying art, looking for art,  then ever.  They may not be coming to you for their art as much as you would like, but then maybe you need to figure out how to get the art to them.  Your world is pretty complex, with so many demands on your limited time, and so much you have to do, that people are finding other ways to have art in their lives.  This technology you speak of - it is an unbelievable way to help you reach out to more people is it not?  Why don’t you use it more?  Or figure out other ways to share what you do?  Now some folks may not want you to make any changes, while others do.  Can’t you appeal to them all?  Isn’t art a pretty big tent?

Barry:  Have you had any recent “aha” moment?

Santa:  I have the same “aha moment” all the time.  Every time I hear little kids giggling, or I notice someone older who sees something of beauty, something that strikes their imagination  and that person goes “wow” - and I think to myself that there is a lot to like in humankind; that the force for decency and good among humans is so strong, so much stronger than all the missteps people make, that life is good.  I exist because of that force.  Art does too doesn’t it?

Barry:  We struggle Santa to pay for what we do, and it isn’t easy.

Santa:  No, I am sure it’s not, but my own experience is that if you champion excellence, and open your doors as wide as you can, that people will come.  Not every toy we build here works that well.  We have to keep coming up with new toys, and make the old toys that everyone loves, even better.  It’s a challenge, but the elves (the artists) never seem to tire of the challenge.  A long time ago, I use to make all the toys myself.  Now of course, there are so many more little boys and girls around the world, that I have become somewhat of an “administrator” I guess, but I remain an artist too, and I know that in both roles there is a never ending process of working and reworking and trying to make it all work.  Easy?  No, but worth it.  People know that what you do is important.  People value music, the theater, dance, paintings and sculpture, films, folk art.  They sometimes forget just how much it adds to their lives, but they know.  Maybe you need to spend more time showing them exactly what you need and what you will do with it.  Don’t make it so general and boring.

Barry:  We do lots of research Santa.

Santa:  Me too.  I ask the boys and girls what they want, and they tell me.  Very specifically most of the time.   Have you tried that?

Barry:  Sometimes it’s discouraging Santa.

Santa:  Hmmm.  Yes I can see that.  But do what I do - look into the faces of those who get the gifts you have to give, and you will see how much what you do is worth it.  There simply isn’t time enough to question why it isn’t all easier.  Don’t Quit.  Isn’t that what you say?  I also like a good cookie to fortify myself sometimes, but Mrs. Claus says I have to watch it or some of those chimneys will be too small for me.  I just tell her the magic will make it work.  And it does.

And now I really have to get back to work.

Barry: Checking the list, finding out who’s naughty and nice?

Santa:  (Ho ho ho).  You know little boys and girls aren’t really naughty.  Oh yes sometimes rambunctious, sometimes curious, sometimes full of too much energy.  But they have good hearts.  The naughty and nice stuff is, I suspect, an invention of their parents to keep them a little compliant during the hustle and bustle of the season.

Barry:  Merry Christmas Santa, and I should add Happy Chanukah (came early this year), Happy Kwanza and all the other greetings of the season too.

Santa:  They’re all the same my son.  They’re all celebrations of life and faith and belief; an exaltation of family and friendship and love  -- and hope.  Doesn’t really matter who says it or how it is said.  The sentiment is what is important.  Lots of people around the world celebrate Santa Claus because they know that whatever their beliefs are, “giving” is something that brings us together, makes us part of something bigger than ourselves, and, of course, the children, and that is what it is really all about.  The arts are like that, aren’t they?

And here’s my gift to you:  Little boys and girls believe in me. And so do their parents really, because they know my true nature ---  just like little boys and girls love art, so do their parents.  Even if you don’t sometimes believe it.

So a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings and love to you and everyone.

Ho Ho Ho!

And with that and a twinkle in his eye, he went outside to talk (it’s true) with Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen - and, of course, Rudolph --- and the interview was over.

Don’t Quit

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Interview with Anthony Radich

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

I have long wanted to interview Anthony Radich at WESTAF (which distributes my blog).  I finally got him to agree.

Bio:  Anthony Radich has served as the executive director of WESTAF since August of 1996. In that capacity he is responsible for providing leadership to the thirteen-state regional arts organizations’ programs and special initiatives. He oversees WESTAF’s work in the areas of research, advocacy, and online systems development designed to benefit the cultural community. Prior to accepting his position at WESTAF, Radich served as the executive director of the Missouri Arts Council for eight years. There he led the successful effort to create a state cultural trust fund supported by a stream of dedicated state funding. Preceding his work in Missouri, Radich was the senior project manager for the Arts, Tourism, and Cultural Resources Committee of the National Conference of State legislatures (NCSL). As senior project manager, he worked with state legislators from across the country to develop state-level legislation and policy concerned with the arts, tourism, and historic preservation. While working for the NCSL, Radich was appointed by Denver Mayor Federico Peña to chair the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs, the city’s arts agency.

Radich earned a bachelor's degree in physical anthropology and a master's degree in art education from the University of Oregon. He also earned a doctorate from the Graduate School of Public Affairs of the University of Colorado Denver.

Here is the interview:

Barry:  You have long promoted the re-envisioning of state arts agencies. Define “re-envisioning.” To what purpose is this important, and where do you think the agencies are today in this regard?

Anthony:  The concept of developing state arts agencies was a very important idea and one that has leveraged tremendous benefits at the state and local levels. Through the state arts agencies, many of today's most important cultural organizations received state funding at critical times in their development. But that was then.

I talk about “re-envisioning” because the world is quite a different place from what it was in the 1960s and 1970s, when most of the state arts agencies were formed. Remember, that time was before the Internet, before public sector tax and expenditure limitations, and before the development of many of the now very significant arts-funding entities such as major community foundations and well-developed local arts agencies. One can either ignore this new reality or re-envision how to redesign a state arts agency so it can effectively work within this new context to serve the public.

When I talk about re-envisioning, I mean that the largely grantmaking-driven state arts agencies simply are not structured to excel in today's environment. This is primarily the case because the grantmaking function in the states as currently practiced requires an ever-expanding flow of funds to operate successfully in the long term. That dynamic is at odds with long-term and entrenched pressures to constrain the growth of governmental budgets. No one is picking on the arts here; take a look at how higher education budgets have been chopped away over the past 10 years.

Today's pervasiveness of technology and its future potential also play a role in my call for re-envisioning state arts agencies. How would state arts agencies look if they were newly established in today's technology-rich environment? While virtually all arts agencies deploy some technology, few of the agencies use technology as a central thrust in their work. I would argue that, even if they wanted do so, their being embedded in state bureaucratic structures largely dooms them to be followers and not leaders in the area of technology. A key reason for this is that the technology world moves very rapidly and with a high degree of flexibility—two attributes that are largely absent from governmental structures.

Finally, where state arts agencies may once have been envisioned as the major--or one of the major-- arts funders in a state, that vision has largely not been realized. Except in a few states, the state arts agency is usually one of many arts funders and often is smaller in budget size than one or more local arts agencies in the state. This different realization of the state-level arts-funding vision argues for a different approach to the way the agencies conduct business. It implies that inter-organizational collaborative work with other arts funders is more important than ever and that coordinated inter-organizational policy making rather than arts-agency-centric policy making is a path to success in today's more crowded funder environment. Many arts agencies are currently engaged in such collaborations, however, I would argue that the agencies are not structured in a way that will maximize them.

My call for re-envisioning is a challenge to state arts leaders and their allies in government and in the arts community to either think of new ways to dramatically increase their capacity to be funders—and thus realize the legacy vision of the agencies as major funders-and/or to develop ways that don't involve “big money” to leverage support and opportunities for the arts in the states. I don't envision any single means of accomplishing this but believe that some of the key elements that would undergird a successful re-envisioning of an agency would be: a) the development of more flexible staff structures so that the agencies can be more staff nimble and thus able to respond to rapidly changing conditions; b) the consideration of ways to become quasi-state agencies and thus free from the negative undertow of state restrictions while retaining that still-important connection to the state government; and c) an openness in the field to state arts agencies evolving in quite different ways and a view of that change as positive rather than a threat.

Barry:  Although you hold a doctoral degree, have a wife who is deeply involved in university-level education, and have an interest in advancing the field, you are not a known promoter of any arts administration program. What is the story here? Do you think we are doing what is necessary to insure well-trained, capable leaders for tomorrow? What should we be doing that we aren’t?

Anthony:  Let's be frank about arts administration programs—they are not all equal. I divide the programs into three types: a) serious programs with dedicated full-time and qualified academic staff; b) “barely there” programs that have been initiated with good intentions but have never secured the resources to become academically serious programs; and c) money grabs by institutions of higher education that would launch a master's degree program in gerbil grooming if they thought enough paying students would sign up. In fact, there are relatively few academically credible arts administration programs in existence. Most are actually training and continuing education programs.

When I recruit new employees, I seek bright people with good educations who also know how to communicate effectively in writing and in person. When I consider arts administration graduates for positions, I only seriously consider those who have graduated from what I consider to be academically credible programs; that is a baseline for full-time mid-to-senior level-employment at WESTAF in any position. I don't actively seek out graduates of top-tier arts administration programs because the number of graduates from such programs is fairly small, and I usually have strong applicants with more broad-based educations who can effectively engage in our technology and policy.

Barry:  What is your position on the equity question in the arts? Specifically, where do you stand on the issue that too much funding and too many resources continue to be allocated to the larger, Euro-centric arts organizations, and too little is left for the smaller, multicultural entities? What about the statistics that indicate that Latino and African American kids are the ones who are getting shut out of an arts education (at least at a far disproportionate rate in comparison to white kids across the country)?

Anthony:  There will always be a scarcity of funding for the arts just as there is a scarcity of funding for nearly all things. In the arts, this scarcity is exacerbated by the fact that the flow of arts funding has not grown much in most places in recent years, and the core of that funding is often tied up by entrenched interests. So what else is new?

Multicultural, new, and non-mainstream organizations do, however, have a new opportunity. In many communities, large traditional arts organizations have lost traction with their publics. The old argument that “our city needs a comprehensive art museum or a symphony orchestra or it will no longer be viewed as a serious city” has now been proven to be pretty hollow.  As a result, those who have the lion's share of arts funding can be challenged as they have not been able to be challenged before. Large legacy arts organizations are slipping from the entitlement shelf and, unless they can successfully defend their value to the public, they will ultimately lose their entitlement. The work for those who want to acquire these formerly locked-in legacy or entitlement funds is to ask for a review of the process that consistently allocates funds to the entitled. If that process no longer reflects the interests of the communities the funder is serving, the process needs to be changed. The process of funds reallocation is usually a little bit ugly. My experience is that someone has to put the question of fair process on the table and push for a redesign of that process to better fit the community's desires. This task is usually difficult, but is changing entrenched systems ever not difficult?

A more immediate concern that your question raises is the role of equity and diversity in the current arts agency efforts to promote the broader creative economy. I am concerned that the values of diversity and equity our field has stood for over the years are increasingly overlooked in creative economy conversations. In those conversations, I often hear examples of new jobs, new creative output, and newly revitalized areas—all good—but there is not much talk about diversity and inclusiveness. I believe our field should not be so ready to dance with economic development interests that we will discard years of good work in the areas of equity and diversity. We can bring those values to an arts economic development conversation, and we should.

Barry:  Over the years, the NEA has invested a great deal of money in regional arts organizations--where have these entities been successful and where have they struggled?

Anthony:  The long-term investment the NEA has made in Regional Arts Organizations (RAO) and the freedom the RAOs have been given to respond in very different ways to the needs and desires of the field present the Regionals with a challenge--how to maximize these advantages. The RAOs are rapidly moving beyond their core legacy activities of presenting and touring.  I would argue that the biggest challenge facing the RAOs is the challenge of imagining what they can be and what they can do in the future. They can be significant as organizations and make great contributions to the arts, but they first need to imagine themselves as potentially greater entities.

Barry:  You have been proactive in hiring young people at WESTAF. What has your focus on youth contributed to WESTAF in terms of success? Where has it failed?

Anthony:  The great majority of WESTAF employees are under the age of 35, and many are less than 25 years of age. At WESTAF, we always seek out young people because we want to be an organization that is building for a future reality, and our youthful employees can help us identify and then shape a part of that reality. Of course, WESTAF has a large position in technology, and often young people have vastly more experience in that area than others. But our employees are not all bureaucrats and technologists; we have several visual artists on staff as well as four very active musicians.

The failures we have had with young people are mostly related to the context in which they work. For many of our younger employees, WESTAF is their first job. Supervisory staff need to be aware of how people in their first jobs often need to understand even the most basic features of managing a job. However, more important, young staff have largely not worked in nonprofit arts organizations or state and local arts agencies. Because of that lack of work experience in organizations we serve daily, we need to spend more time teaching these employees about the environment of the people with whom they work.

These limitations are offset by the freshness young people bring to their work and their willingness to try new things. Not knowing the “traditional” or “right” way of completing a task is not a problem if an employee can come up with a better way of doing it.

Barry:  Is there a future to state support for the arts? The field has been stagnant for a very long time now. Why have all our advocacy efforts in this arena seemingly failed (unless you consider survival to be a victory)? What is the future of state arts agencies?

Anthony:  We are currently in a time of change and experimentation in state arts agencies. Most have realized that they need to change their positioning within state government and also alter the way they relate to the field if they are to have the strength to create positive change for the arts. Unfortunately, over the years some of the agencies had become what I call cultural policy closets in state government. By that I mean that they have been sidelined within state government and are considered too difficult to get rid of-but not important enough to empower. Obviously, this needs to change for the better.

The first ingredient of successful advocacy for advancement rather than survival of a state arts agency requires the establishment of a large and compelling vision. States that have created such visions have generally been able to advance. That vision is not “give us more money to do the good things we are already doing.” A second component of a such an advancement is the redefinition of the state arts agency as part of a coalition of state-level cultural interests. Such a coalition is an admission of the obvious: Most state arts agencies are too small to go it alone in today's difficult political climate. These two elements must be combined with the hiring of a top-tier lobbyist who has the positioning in the legislature and with the administration to actually help move things forward. Also most useful is the presence of a statewide advocacy group that can connect with elected officials at the local level and demonstrate that the ask is not from the arts agency but from the people of the state—and, of course, the vision should reflect that. Finally, state arts agencies need to line up influential individuals in business, government, education, the medical community, and elsewhere who can be briefed on the vision and provide it with informal support within the corridors of power. Of course, with these ingredients, one needs considerable persistence, but the job can be done.There very much is a future for state support of the arts. We just need to do a better job of creating a vision worthy of that support and then pursue that support.

Barry:  The WESTAF board seems to let you do any crazy thing you want. Why is that?

Anthony:  In the period 1995-1996, the WESTAF trustees and executive directors of the state arts agencies of the region decided to completely reorganize WESTAF. The reorganization was prompted in large part by the huge reduction in federal (NEA) funds experienced that year by all RAOs and state arts agencies. During that time, the WESTAF board and the region's executive directors of state arts agencies laid the groundwork for a faster moving and very entrepreneurial organization. The culture they wanted to instill in the organization was one of risk taking and leadership. To attain that vision, the group moved away from extensive group decision making about programs and services to a more corporate structure, where the board is much more of a policy and oversight entity. I have a lot of flexibility in what I do because the WESTAF trustees and the region's executive directors expect me to take risks. No one likes failure, but the WESTAF organizational culture deplores static behavior. The activity level-–including the “crazy ideas” at WESTAF--do not just reflect my interests, they are organization's interests.

Barry:  WESTAF has invested in the launch of many successful technology projects under your leadership. Why have you put so much of the agency’s focus into that area?

Anthony:  At WESTAF, we are involved in technology for many reasons. One often overlooked reason is our belief that the arts community should not just be a customer for software but should have an active role in building and benefitting from software that serves the arts community. With this approach, we have been able to build low-cost tools for the arts and have been more arts friendly in our construction and adaptation of software for use in the field.

We also view technology as a way to provide service to the arts while creating the foundation for earned income that can support other arts-related endeavors. The earnings from WESTAF's many technology projects support advocacy work in each state in WESTAF's region; WESTAF's annual cultural policy annual symposium; and initiatives such as the WESTAF “Resolutions Project, “ which is designed to inspire and support the advancement of state arts agencies. The flow of funds from earned-income projects makes it possible to support activities that cannot be underwritten by the NEA and that may take years and years—and considerable staff effort--to secure funding for from private foundations. The formula of technology ownership allowing for arts-community-influenced software to both provide useful services and also support important WESTAF initiatives is a good one for us, and we expect that part of our work to continue to grow.

Barry:  What do we need more - effective managers or risk taking entrepreneurs?

Anthony:  The safe answer here is that, of course, we need both. However, I would argue that risk-taking entrepreneurs can best succeed when they are placed in organizational environments that allow risk takers to succeed.

Barry:  What role do you think arts organizational “territoriality” - the instinct of organizations to be unwilling to share data and information (or even really cooperate) unless there is a clearly defined benefit to themselves - plays in keeping us from leveraging the power of our numbers and making real collaboration exponentially more difficult to effect? How does ‘territoriality’ impact our ability to develop and maintain a “cooperative sense of community” for the arts?

Anthony:  Arts administrators work in a highly uncertain world, and most of them have very limited resources.  Why wouldn't we expect them to be territorial? After struggling for so long, sharing difficult-to-find resources is not a natural act. You can call that territoriality, but I think it is a learned survival instinct of an arts administrator who has no buffer time or buffer resources to take a risk on collaboration.

I would argue that, in most cases, if the end goal of a collaboration were significant enough, realizable in a reasonable period of time, and required reasonable expenditure of time and funds, arts collaborations would be more successful. To attract the time and resources of a busy arts administrator, the goal of a collaboration must be so obviously beneficial that the administrator is willing to make the investment. I find that arts administrators don't dislike collaborations; rather, they have for too long been the victims of being invited into collaborations with very modest goals that are not worth their time and into collaborative processes that were poorly organized and time wasting.

Barry:  Is the arts administration ecosystem ultimately more concerned with protecting its own existence than it is in serving artists? Why?

Anthony:  The arts administration ecosystem often gets a bad wrap for not serving artists, but that system actually supports a huge base of artists. I view the arts administration ecosystem—mostly the administrators of arts organizations--as a major and often the major employer of artists. In this discussion, we need to keep in mind that most arts administrators are charged with providing arts programs and services to the public. Artists are part of that public and a very important part; however, serving artists is not the primary mission of most arts organizations.

What organization doesn't spend time “protecting its own existence”? Isn't that a good thing?

Barry:  Is the economic impact argument really meaningless on its face, as MichaelRushton has suggested? Did it nonetheless serve a purpose for us? Is it time to put it on the back burner?

Anthony:  The field of arts economic impact studies is populated by charlatans, experts, and the ignorant. Let me explain. There is an established academic and rigorous approach to conducting arts economic impact studies. Unfortunately, some of the most well known arts impact studies of the day do not meet even elementary standards of rigor and really never intended to even try. These are the charlatans. There are also arts leaders who have not taken the time to understand even the basic methods of economic impact studies; yet, in spite of their ignorance of method, they pontificate. These are the ignorant. Then there are the experts—individuals who have long labored in the field. But these experts largely write about this subject outside of the arts administration communication stream, and thus their work is relatively unknown to the arts community. So we have a situation with arts economic impact studies where the misleading and the ignorant have the floor in our field, and the truth tellers are largely unheard.

I believe that the root of the debate about the use of economic impact studies is the false dichotomy between the “arts-for-economic-sake” and “arts-for-the-economy's-sake” arguments. This is a false dichotomy because arts economic impact studies are a tool and usually designed to be one of a suite of arguments used to secure resources and opportunities for the arts. In times like today, the economic impact argument related to the arts can be especially powerful. However, eventually, an arts-for-art's sake argument may be just as powerful. The point here is that using an economic impact study to argue for the arts does not mean one does not believe in the value of the arts for art's sake. Rather, it means that there is a need to use that specific tool of argument at a particular time. During another time, a different tool may be selected.

One final word on this subject: Arts economic impact studies are useful and do have a worth. An example of their worth is the fact that virtually every other special interest has such studies, many of which are also poorly researched. In the contest for the allocation of dollars—especially in state and city elected bodies, the arts often need their version of an economic impact study in order to be seated at the table when the economics of an activity are discussed by leaders. Not having such a study out of some kind of sense of purity is just not politically savvy.

Barry:  Studies suggest that audiences for live arts-performing events are in decline, but there is contrary evidence that more people are interested in the arts than ever before. They are simply choosing to access and participate in different ways (including via technology). What do you think is the future of the live performing arts event? Can performing arts organizations survive without it?

Anthony:  I think our field needs to stop the hand wringing related to attendance and admit that parts of it are over built. In many communities, the arts organizations and the menus they present look like a vision of the arts from the late 1970s. Certainly, the world has changed since then. Some art forms need to be trundled off to the “not-interested-in-you-now” art-form museum, and others need to be revitalized to meet the participation tastes of today’s audiences. People like to be with people, and I don't see that changing. If success in the arts is attracting more of the people who want to be with other people, the field needs to do a better job of competing for their attention and participation.

Barry:  What should be the priorities of the next Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts?

Anthony:  I believe that the next NEA chair could make some headway by: a) Working with the leadership in the states to guide an effort to move state arts agencies forward in a significant way. The NEA allocates 40% of its funding to states and regions and could take a more proactive role in addressing the challenges the state arts agencies currently face; b) Allocating more attention to the infrastructure needs of the arts and recognize that, like the states, with a now very limited budget, infrastructure assistance may be a better way for the NEA to assist in the nation's arts development than is finding funds for more arts programming; c) Expanding the NEA's investment in local arts agencies. The local arts agency area is one in which very interesting growth is now occurring. The NEA's further fueling of that growth would be money well spent; and d) Imagining an NEA that has a vastly larger budget. Certainly, this is difficult to conceive of in today's toxic political environment, but why not plan now during this lean time and develop a vision for a $1 billion NEA budget and begin to create the coalition that could make that vision a reality?

Barry:  Bill Ivey said on his exit as chair of the endowment, that the agency (and by implication the arts) are the province of the East Wing of the White House; they are essentially something for a First Lady to dabble in but are not fodder for the policy-making apparatus of the West Wing. Do you think that is true today, what does that mean, and what should we do about it?

Anthony:  When an endeavor like federal arts advocacy lacks strength and national grassroots passion, its future is left to the vagaries of palace politics. We as a field have failed to build a successful and sustained national level advocacy effort. Until we do, we will be guided by the whims that flow through our national palace.

Barry:  Why do the arts continue to act like Oliver Twist, holding their bowl out, meekly begging “More, please, sir. Can I have some more?” Where is the anger? Why do the arts refuse to play hardball politics like every other successful interest group?

Anthony:  The arts community jealously guards its prerogatives, and one outcome of this is that a great distance has been opened among elected officials, persons who influence elected officials, and those asking them for arts funding. When the arts ask elected officials to provide support, they do so by strongly communicating that the elected officials will have little if anything to do with the development of programs and the distribution of public funds. So why is this not intriguing to elected officials who like to channel results to their home districts?

The arts don't need to turn all decision making over to elected officials, but those officials and their staffs need to be invited into conversations about program design, allocation patterns, and special initiatives. Not doing so in the political world makes one a beggar.  Frankly, we have done such a good job of insulating arts decision making from elected officials that they no longer have much interest in us. Combine that with the professionalization of the field that has resulted in the chasing away of many influential volunteers, and you have the foundation for a politically neutered arts field.

Barry:  What are the two or three big take-aways that you have learned over the course of your career?

Anthony:  I will tell you later closer to the conclusion of my career!

Thank you Anthony.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Change Management, Delivery Systems and Transparency

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

Change.  It's in the air, it's all around us, it's an unavoidable mandate in today's climate.  We hear advice everywhere that individuals, companies, organizations, must be adaptive, flexible, nimble in their approach to what they do.   Training and education is lifelong.  Companies will morph from one incarnation to another.The future will see careers increasingly involve any number of moves.  Nothing is permanent, little can be counted on.  The whole world must be entrepreneurial.

Globalization and, in particular, the speed of technological innovation has posed a dizzying array of new challenges - not just for us, but for every sector.  The rise of mobile adaptability has impacted everything, and revolutionized how people interact with the world.  Knowledge itself has grown exponentially.  Business survival, let alone competitive advantage, belongs to those that adapt and can successfully change.  And the future very likely holds even greater change that we can even imagine today.

All these changes have made longer term strategic planning an anachronism.  It's hard to plan for a future that may look nothing like today.  Yet we can hardly afford to just be reactive to all the change around us.  At least not entirely.

The only constant then is change, and we are advised to be prepared.

But are we?  To what extent have we made real progress in understanding the dynamics of change as it affects us?  What models have we developed that might help us to manage change in our universe? What training do we offer that enables our leadership to deal with change?  What have we learned from other fields?  How do we go about change?  Are we changing, and are we changing fast enough?

Note:  There is no shortage of change models and step processes to guide one.  The key is to adapt the advice to our situations.

Change management theory - the attempt to develop structured approaches to ensure smooth and successful change transition is at least 30 years old.  The basic tenets aren't rocket science, but fully implementing change is not easy.
First, of course, there must be recognition of the necessity for evolving change within an organization. 
Second, there needs to be some basic understanding of what needs to be changed, and why. This involves understanding how the need for change serves mission, goals and objectives.   It ought to be specific.
Third, there needs to be internal / external communication as to the need for change and what change will entail.  Buy-in is critical. 
Fourth, comes the development of specific strategies for how to change specific things. This stage is definitionally experimental, and there is a risk of error in judgment.
Fifth, there needs to be training and preparation not only of the people who will execute the change, but those whom the change will impact. 
Sixth, there needs to be some measurement of change as it unfolds, and in terms of its success as measured against the mission, goals and objectives.
As change is, by its nature, fraught with risk, none of these steps are simple.  The problem with effectively managing change as a constant, is that there are no one-size-fits-all models we can use. Change is particular to the the situation and the organization.  Compounding the challenge is the reality that the changes we need or want to make are dictated, in part, by the wider changes over which we have little to no control.

People and organizations are likely "change" averse.  Change can be a frightening prospect.  And the bigger the change the more difficult to implement.  How then do we move to the new normal where change is not an occasional phenomenon, but rather a "way" of doing things.  There needs to be a culture which not only embraces change, but celebrates it as an embedded process; not a 'once-in-awhile' thing, but an "always" thing.  Imagine innovation as not a destination, but a journey. Imagine change as a process not as a tool, but as part of the mission itself.

And just how close to that are we?  What do we have to do to get there?  What lessons can be learned - and shared (despite change as a concept being customizable to varying and differing sets of circumstances?)

Let's take the 'delivery' system model as an example.  For us in the arts, one of the most obvious areas that demands we make changes is in how we deliver 'art'.  For a variety of reasons - changing patterns of people's lifestyles, the rise of technology enabled access, altering priorities for leisure time allocation of ever scarce resources, the economic reality of a dwindling middle class - the past model of how art is delivered and accessed has already changed; changes that come from outside our sphere rather than from within.   One might argue that we don't even yet full understand exactly how that change affects us, or the dynamics of how it operates; that those outside changes came in spite of us, while we were clinging to the status quo.

And while there is some activity on our part in trying to better improve how we deliver art so as to escape the bounds of being tied to an antiquated and dysfunctional delivery system, (for example, as in our greater exploitation of technology), what are our arts organizations that are still married to the bricks and mortar four wall approach to do?  What kind of change is possible?  That is a fundamental question.  Indeed, change in our delivery system may be the most important change we need to make.

Change need not always be direct.  Changing the four wall delivery system for say, a museum, might involve ways to curate and exhibit outside a bricks and mortar facility, but it also might involve methods to alter the perception of the museum's public as to the facility itself.  Change is, if anything, a multi dimensional phenomenon.  And again, therein lies the challenge.

Then too, there are differing degrees of change.  Some change is hardly change at all - but more of a "tweaking" of something - a cosmetic dressing up of what is old and tired.  That may or may not actually be 'change'.  Other change is systemic and fundamental and goes to the core of something.  Change will be an entirely different thing for different groups and individual organizations, at different times.  You hear lots of people say that they are committed to change, but what does that mean?  Does it mean more than that they understand there are things that aren't working, and they want to find something that does work?  Is it more than verbiage?  What specifically have they done to make changes?

Because change may well be an imperative, because real change likely impacts every facet and every constituent group of an organization, because change to be effective demands it permeate the fabric of the organization, and because change is risky, I would argue that the whole process - from the inception of the recognition of its necessity to the final implementation of concrete actions - benefits from a wide open transparency.  Transparency increases buy-in, opens the door to wider ideas, minimizes some of the risk, and pays dividends in according respect to the various publics of an organization.

If change is thought to be wholly an internal directive, something exclusively from an executive level decision making process, then it seems to me it is somewhat doomed from the outset.  The process itself demands involvement of every segment that may be impacted by the change.  Without that wide open invitation for everyone - staff, boards, supporters, patrons, volunteers, stakeholders, funders, the community - to be part of the whole of the change process, success may be axiomatically more difficult to attain.  And I believe the timeline window for us to "change" is narrowing day by day.

Change is happening all around us.  Change that will dictate circumstances to us of how we will be able to operate and function - whether we like it or not, accept it or not.  We know we need to make  changes, and at many points we are doing so. But at many other points we are not.  We need to consider the dynamics of change in a bigger sense, and specifically how we can get a handle on it for the benefit of the whole sector.  We need to develop some tools that can be helpful to all arts organizations, and share those tools with those that are struggling with how to make changes and deciding on which changes are right for them.  Increasingly, success seems to belong to the bold.

All change is somewhat of a guessing game, and like in other sectors, many of us will guess wrong.  Whatever we can do to increase the chances we can guess right and make meaningful change at minimal risk ought to be a priority.  Two things I would argue for is to first talk about change at every opportunity, and second, make transparency in the process the highest priority.  Change is not a solitary pursuit.

One last point:  As you approach the change process, remember that you have a right to change your mind.  It is a process.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Want vs. Need Discussion / Thoughts on Effective Altruism and Censorship

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

An interesting discussion going on in the arts blogosphere over perceiving what the audience / public want v. what they need -  first broached by Nina Simon, with follow ups from Diane Ragsdale, Doug Borwick, and entries with related topics by Ian David Moss, Howard Sherman and Clay Lord.

There really isn't much to add to Nina's, Diane's and Doug's thinking, plus the comments of a score of people on the topic on their blogs.  And I agree with most of which each of them offers.  I personally feel even stronger that when we talk about what the audience or our public "needs" (talking to them as opposed to amongst ourselves) we are on shaky ground; that it is seen as presumptive, arrogant and patronizing.  Moreover, selling what we offer as satisfying what we in our infinite wisdom conclude people need is a failed strategy if, for no other reason, it is so easy to equate what we think they need, with what we want.    If we want to argue that society "needs" the arts, then I agree wholeheartedly and think we can make a convincing case for that proposition.  But when we make a value judgement as to what individuals in our siloed spheres need, we assume perhaps too much and risk alienating those people if we direct our conclusions towards them.  And, of course, we might very well just get it wrong.

I think Artists clearly have the absolute right to create as they see fit, based on whatever assumptions they may wish to make.  If they create in response to what they identify as a need, or a want or anything else - then that is their right; they may choose to make those assumptions based on what motivations work for them.  And artists who wish to create with no consideration whatsoever as to need, or want - also have the unbridled right to do so.

Arts organizations that wish to identify what they think is a need and respond to it also have the right to do so.  But it seems to me anyway very shaky ground, fraught with risk.  Organizations that try to identify 'wants' --  whether to appeal to a broader base or for whatever other reason, have a right to do so too, though it seems they must be willing to brave the criticisms and attacks that to do so panders to their constituents and somehow compromises their artistic integrity, if not their core missions.  One camp in our field urges organizations to address the concerns, needs and wants of their communities; another decries that approach as basically "selling out".   I leave it for others to sort it out.

What people "need" is highly subjective, while what they "want" may arguably be more possible to determine.  The problem is hardly mitigated by substituting "value" for "need", for again, it is difficult to ascertain what people value as distinguished from what they want - and why.

Ian's piece on Createquity is tangentially related to this discussion.  He talks about the growing idea of "effective altruism" - a concept purporting to embed ethical and moral overtones in its quest to make philanthropic giving pass the bar of someone's definition of being effective:
"It means taking the time to analyze how to do the most amount of good possible with the resources available" 
EA argues that:
"Those causes that can save or improve the most lives must take first priority."
Is philanthropy then just a numbers game?  That approach, despite the argument that arriving at how to best accomplish the objective of the most good for the most people may be factually discernible, is really but another way of saying "we" (in this case the Effective Altruists) can and do know best what the (greatest) need is.   Presumptive, arrogant and patronizing - at least as their conclusions ought to dictate what everyone thinks.

And if this is all reduced to some formula, would it be reliable?  If the only criteria is to save or improve the greatest number of lives, how do you know that arts in the schools might not yield us one student whose life was so changed by that intersection that he/she would grow up to be the artist / scientist that cured cancer.  A short term numbers game seems myopic at best.

I was in the Southeast Asian Tsunami of the last decade.  250,000 people died in that natural disaster, in part because very few understood what to do in the case of a Tsunami, and there was no effective warning system in place.  Arguably, addressing that need would save more lives than some other EA priority focus. Is it relevant to factor in the odds of something happening or not happening?   Or if you want to drill deeper, the unavoidable fact is that all the good you do to save or improve some lives (eradicating disease, providing safe drinking water) pales when faced with the inalterable fact that if you don't do something to stem the tide of overpopulation, than for every one you save, a hundred are born to take their place.  Overpopulation trumps every effort to get any kind of handle on the problems facing those most in dire straits.  So there is arguably no other cause that matters.  Or one might argue that to really change and improve the most lives, you have to change the political situations around the globe that disenfranchise people and allow corruption to keep the many from the benefits their governments ought to provide.  Then the only "acceptable" place to put your money would be in ways to change those political situations.  The point is that despite the claims of the EAs, determining where the biggest need is, isn't necessarily so easy.

And though EA's don't deny there is a self-benefit to doing good work (as they define it), to suggest that is not one of their primary motivating factors is disingenuous.  That they feel they are on the "right" path to doing good  (and presumptively the rest of us are not), is sanctimonious and self-serving.  It is precisely their feeling of implied superiority to those who give to causes that might not necessarily yield the most good for the most people that EAs embrace, that is offensive.  Who died and left you guys the Kings to tell the rest of us that the good we seek to do isn't enough?; that doing good is only a numbers game - an ultimately unprovable one at that.

You can't tell people that doing good only matters if it fits someone else's self defined notion of what people "need". And that is exactly what the EAs seem to me to be doing.   If you want moral certitude, any number of orthodox religions will gladly give you guidance.  There is simply no real way to determine what, in the long run, will actually change and benefit the most people.  Of course, if the EAs reject the long run in favor of the moment, then I'm afraid their whole posture is just silly. That said, I think the E/A concept might (emphasizing 'might') be productive (as a concept) within any discussion of how we might allocate our scarce resources in the arts.  Productive, not dispositive.

Finally, Howard Sherman wrote a compelling blog about a high school principal that cancelled a production of the play Rent by his students in what (from the tone of articles and comments about the incident) appeared to be a pandering to those (not in the student body apparently, but in the community) who might find the subject matter troubling or offensive or inappropriate.  On its face, the principal likely had the "right" to his decision, and his posture seemed rational and even reasonable.  Yet his action was unquestionably, despite denials, censorship.  In a letter purporting to explain his rationale, he cited the need for a "safe" environment for his students, though it would seem that perhaps his "need" for a safe environment was more political.  Nowhere did he mention creating a "safe academic" environment - you know, where the free flow of ideas, even those that might be troubling, are the goal of education and academia.  It seems he had little confidence in those seniors principally involved (though the play was not exclusively a senior production) in the production to handle the challenge of dealing - without supervision and prolonged preparation - a play that dealt with real world issues.   And that strikes me as odd given that in just a few months time those seniors will be enrolled in colleges, able to vote, fight in our military and assume the mantle of young adulthood.  One wonders just what kind of magic morphing the students do in those few months to be able to handle the provocative issues - issues which I would bet they are already very familiar with anyway.

But the issue here is, once again, someone determining what need exists - in this case the need for the students and the community to be shielded and protected from possibly controversial subject matter.  That the principal may have had the right in this case (we tend to ratify decisions theoretically made to protect the innocence of youth) to his decision, doesn't change the notion that when making the subjective decision about who needs what and why - there is an element of presumption that carries with it the risk of backlash (in this case a student body, parental bloc and community that is appalled by the decision.) Moreover, one group's needs may run counter to the needs of another group.  And, of course, that you may simply be wrong.

Finally, Clay Lord in his New Beans post on the high school Rent brouhaha, opines (in speaking about the Principal's decision to cancel the performance until (perhaps) "it can (be) produced later with a lot of context-making activities and conversations to help people understand why it’s being produced") :
"I don’t, for example, find it censorious – I find it, given the climate, rather liberal.  In a town like Trumbull, I’d imagine that a high school musical Rent without appropriate context would serve a much smaller and more incendiary purpose than it might if placed in a larger conversation, where more people could have more nuanced conversations about what it means, why it’s relevant, and where the artistic desire to push outside of comfort aligns with the community’s desire to adhere to certain values."
With all due respect to Clay, (and his piece above is an excellent consideration of the 'other side' of issues and should be read in its entirety), I completely disagree.  The principal's action was definitionally censorship:
"an examination in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable"
whether or not there may be an argument justifying the censorship.  Art is sometimes (often) considered objectionable by someone, somewhere.  While working more closely with, and within, our communities is both a laudable goal and a practical survival necessity for us, I also believe we must resist attempts to marginalize artists and their work by buying into the notion that someone else's perceived need with respect to a work of art, or its presentation, especially because of an objection, is something that governs, if not trumps, the art itself and the artist's need to have the freedom to create (and yes, even offend).  It isn't our job to necessarily provide even "nuanced conversations about what something means or why it's relevant."  We can do that, and sometimes we should do that, but it can be a dangerous precedent and we ought to be championing the right of the artist and the art in the balance.

According to the articles on this matter, the principal denied knowing Rent would be the production, but there is ample evidence that there were numerous casting calls from the beginning of the term and that production has proceeded to auditions.  If he didn't know, he ought to have known.  Though I may be wrong, it seems likely his reservations were occasioned by someone or some small group who found it objectionable.  I certainly agree that preparation with everyone before the mounting of the play would have been helpful (and the articles make it clear that this was a Student version of the play and that there was a wealth of materials to help with the presentation of a Student version), but I think it dangerous that we adopt the position that if anyone objects to a work of art, we are always obligated to bend to their will and explain it all to them so they will be ok with it - especially as in this instance, where there was substantial opposition to the kind of knee jerk reaction that this principal seems to have engaged in.  Needs based on the tyranny of the minority.

I am assuming attendance at the presentation of Rent in the high school situation was not mandatory, and anyone who thought they might be offended or find it objectionable could have simply chosen not to attend.  That is always the choice with art.  You don't have to engage with it.  This play's cancellation was due to someone identifying and satisfying their own need rather than whatever the need was of the group they purported to 'need' protection.  And very likely not at all what the students nor the community really wanted - but rather playing to the needs and wants of a much smaller niche.

In the end there are lots of "needs" out there.  And it is virtually always a subjective exercise to identify them.  We ought to try to understand what those needs may be.  Some may be arguably more pressing than others, but who gets to decide?  Who speaks for whom, and when?

And, of course, there is a vast range of wants out there too - even if, as Steve Jobs said, sometimes people just don't know what they want.

As Diane suggested, what WE need to do is to figure out why we are not connecting with greater numbers of people.  We all want to do that.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Where is the Arts "Neiman Marcus" Christmas Catalog

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

Thanksgiving is over.  Black Friday is over.  Now the Christmas madness starts in earnest.  Every year high end retailer Neiman Marcus publishes their Christmas Catalog - which includes fantasy gifts (their designation, not mine) - over the top extravagant indulgences that in a rational world would embarrass even the super rich.  But with the wealthy getting wealthier all across the planet, they have to have to spend their money on something - preferably something that will set them apart (if only in their own minds) that they are indeed "special."

Retailers are on the bandwagon that customers want "experiences", so this year's fantasy items include a couple of "experiences" (again their designation) - including an overnight stay in a Glass House owned by architect and art patron Philip Johnson.  A veritable "steal" at $30,000 (and all of the proceeds go to the National Trust for Historic Preservation).  There is also a $20,000 Jeff Koons art piece (one of a multiple run).  Another "experience" involves your purchase of a 25 carat diamond (I guess the bling itself simply isn't enough to satisfy the "experience", so according to the N/M Catalog:
"This once-in-a-lifetime adventure starts with a trip to the De Beers headquarters in London. Once there, you'll receive your exceptional diamond in its rough and uncut form, name your diamond, learn about the unique inscription it will receive, and meet the master craftsman who will hand-cut and polish it to perfection. 
A private tour of The Crown Jewels and dinner with De Beers CEO Philippe Mellier and Forevermark CEO Stephen Lussier in the Tower of London follow. Your journey continues on a vessel off Namibia's coast, where your diamond was discovered deep within the ocean floor. You'll then explore rough-diamond sorting houses and a children's community project, where the local population benefits from Forevermark's responsible sourcing of diamonds.
Upon returning to the United States, you'll meet with New York jewelry designer Maria Canale to design the ring that will exhibit your exceptional diamond.
This "experience" will set you back a cool $1,850,000 (with $10,000 going to The Heart of N/M Foundation).  I don't own any diamonds, so I can't really speak to the potential transformative nature that dinner with the CEO of De Beers might offer me.

I don't fault Neiman Marcus for ballyhooing what amounts to a kind of shameful excess given the plight of hundreds of millions of people around the world. This really isn't about the featured items for sale anyway.  This is about marketing.  I wonder how many of these big ticket items over the years go unsold.  This is about promoting the Neiman Marcus brand as high end, and this catalog has been tremendously successful in doing just that over the years.  It makes the news, gets television exposure, people talk about it (some people anyway), and it fits nicely with positioning N/M as a high end retailer.  Kudos to them for what (at least once) was a new, creative marketing approach.

I wonder though why real arts experiences aren't featured.  How about one of our major choreographers will name a new piece after a purchaser, and that lucky buyer will get to see the piece unfold from conception, to rehearsal, to debut performance - with lots of perks of involvement along the way.  One million dollars.  Or how about one of our conductors will take you step by step through the visioning and end performance of a new work (and perhaps even let you take a turn at conducting one of the final rehearsals).  One million dollars.  Or one of our museums will offer you and 50 of your best friends a sit down dinner and private curated tour of a big exhibition.  One million dollars.  Those would all be enviable experiences.

Or how about this ego feeder: for a measly one million dollars you can take "selfles" of you with major artists in a variety of our disciplines - composers, conductors, musicians, visual artists, poets, writers, film makers, playwrights.  Then you can post them on a social network to amaze your friends.

I'd like to see "experiences" like those in the N/M Christmas Catalog.

Or better yet, I would like to see the Arts have their own Christmas Catalog with some fantasy gift offerings like the above, but with maybe a hundred pages of real art and art performances from artists and arts organizations from across the country.  Real experiences:  From involvement with undiscovered rising dance companies to experimental theater groups; from innovative young artists pushing the boundaries in the social justice field, to the full diversity of new poets; from hip hop artists to classical musicians. Artists that could feed your mind and soul about how they create - sharing with you some of the process. There are doubtless a thousand times more exceptional experiences we could offer than even the thickest catalog could do justice to.

And even if (as I suspect with the N/M Catalog) many, if not all, these fantasy offerings went unsold, it would still garner us some much needed media hype, public buzz and maybe even honest interest in all the art that is out there.  Promote our brand, giving some inkling of the kind of experiences we offer.  I gotta think a lot of the experiences (with artist interfaces) that we might offer would find buyers.  Maybe lots of buyers.

I envision a Whole Earth Catalog (too young to remember it - Google it) of Arts Experiences going on every day in America.  Changing all the time, and changing the world as they unfold.

A different kind of bling.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Exit Interview with Olga Garay-English

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

Olga Garay-English Bio
Olga Garay-English is the Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), a position she assumed on August 1, 2007. Reporting directly to the Mayor of Los Angeles and managing a $40 million budget in FY12/13, the Executive Director is DCA’s chief artistic and administrative officer. Since her appointment with the City, DCA has been awarded $21 million in funding support from private and public entities.

Prior to joining the City, Olga was an independent producer and performing arts consultant who worked with organizations such as the Lincoln Center Festival, the National Performance Network, and El Museo del Barrio. As Founding Program Director for the Arts for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (1998 - 2005), Olga was responsible for the planning, design, management, and evaluation of the Arts Program, one of the largest national arts funders in the United States. A total of $145 million was awarded to arts organizations during Olga’s seven-year tenure.

The LA Weekly Theater Awards of 2013 made Ms. Garay-English the Queen of Angels for Special Achievement in theater and for being Ms. Garay-English was named a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture and Communications in 2012 for her significant contributions to the arts. In 2011, Los Angeles Magazine named Olga one of ten “Game Changers,” women who make an impact in LA every day. She received a “Bessie,” the New York Dance and Performance Award, and was named the Cuban Artists’ Fund Distinguished Honoree in 2006. She also received the 2003 “Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award” for exemplary service to the field of professional presenting from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. Olga was born in Santa Clara, Cuba, and came to the United States in 1961. She is bilingual in English and Spanish.

Note:  This interview was conducted prior to the announcement that Olga is leaving her post at the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and I asked Olga to comment.

Barry:  The recent change in administration at the Los Angeles City Mayor's Office has resulted in your departure from your politically appointed post. What are your priorities prior to your exit in January, and what are your future plans?

Olga:  My priority is to solidify the many projects, initiatives and grants that are currently active under my leadership by either maintaining a project based involvement myself, re-assigning primary responsibility to another DCA senior staff member, or bringing the project to a close.

For example, as Senior Advisor on Local and International Arts Programs for Councilmember Tom LaBonge, I will continue to work on the year-long celebration of Los Angeles and Bordeaux's 50th Anniversary as Sister Cities, which will take place throughout 2014 with over a dozen cultural exchanges between the two cultural capitals.

I will also continue to work on the Creative Economy Convergence initiative, as Senior Advisor to Otis College of Arts and Design President, Samuel Hoi.  Otis' annual Report on the Creative Economy of the Los Angeles Region, in collaboration with the California Arts Council, will now have a state-wide scope. I think this will be a welcome and intriguing expansion that will better inform us how local and state-wide entities can work together to solidify California's role in the world's creative economy.

As of this writing, DCA has secured more than $23 M for its programs during my six year tenure (vs. the $21 M I reported since we can now count funds we secured for RADAR LA Festival of International Theater and a few other corporate grants).

Also, we have decided not to move forward with the Fellowship program we were to launch in partnership with the British Council and the LA County Arts Commission.  My staff felt that without my stewardship on getting the program off the ground and without any assurance that future funding would be available once a successor is named, it was not viable to launch a new initiative.

In addition, though it would be premature to name them, other projects locally, nationally and internationally are already bubbling up, and I am keeping open to other possibilities.

I want to ensure that I leave DCA as secure and focused as possible by consolidating existing partnerships and ensuring funders that the Department will follow through on its diverse commitments.  My hope is to leave the Agency in a more robust position and ready to meet future challenges.  And I think the arts community of Los Angeles will demand that DCA continue on this upward trend.  A great city deserves a great local arts agency.  We must, as commmitted Angelenos, ensure that our government continue to invest in the cultural community.

Here is the Interview:

Barry:  Under your leadership the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs has raised over $21 million in additional public / private support.  How did you do that?

Olga:  Our success, I believe, is due to the partnerships DCA/LA has established, within the City family as well as with outside organizations, that have made sense in addressing various challenges / opportunities in our community. For example, one of the issues that is perennially identified as being problematic for the City is the lack of affordable housing for artists; addressing this is crucial to maintaining LA’s place as a cultural capital. Working together with The Actors Fund and Artspace, two of the country's leading developers of affordable housing for artists, as well as the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts), which wants to expand its footprint Downtown, in addition to City Departments such as Planning and Housing, and Council District 14 Downtown, we have successfully raised nearly $700,000 in grants for Planning and Pre-development work related to the creation of the Downtown Cultural Quarter (DCQ) Creative Enterprise Zone. The DCQ will be anchored by the Downtown Arts Center (DAC) mixed-use affordable housing project, the CalArts campus and other for-profit creative businesses and non-profit arts and educational endeavors. This includes an accelerator / incubator being planned by Otis College of Art and Design as well as student housing being planned by SCI-Arc, one of the country's leading architecture schools. In all, this robust group of collaborators is planning to revolutionize the way artists and other creatives interact with our Downtown core.

Barry:  There has been a marked shift in increased arts funding to cities and decreased funding to states, and City and County agencies seem to be doing remarkably well in terms of funding - at least as compared to the states (which haven’t yet recovered from the cuts of the 2008 economic crisis).   Do you think those trends are now permanent or merely reflective of the current times?  Does that mean that more of the power and influence is shifting to the city and county agencies that once was with the state agencies?

Olga:  As former House Speaker Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." The fact that most states still rely on General Fund appropriations to support their State Arts Councils is particularly troubling in fiscally difficult periods. Local Arts Agencies, such as the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, often receive specific, formula-driven appropriations from Tourist Tax Revenues and Percent for Public Art Programs. As such, when the economy upswings, as is the general trend right now, there is an automatic increase in our revenues due to more robust business and leisure travel expenditures as well as more public and private real estate developments.  Keeping to political observations, this one attributed to JFK, I strongly believe that "a rising tide lifts all boats." So figuring out how to best secure the economic health of our state arts agencies will better secure the viability of the local arts agency field.

Unlike metro areas like Philadelphia and Northern California, Los Angeles doesn’t have a base of large foundations supportive of the arts.  How have you applied your prior experience in running the Duke Foundation Arts Program, your familiarity with foundational philanthropy and your network of contacts to account for that in Los Angeles?

It is difficult to say why certain areas of the country have a better developed philanthropic sector than others. But the country is a patchwork, with some areas (particularly older more established cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco as you point out) having an impressive philanthropic ecosystem while others have a more anemic sector). But that is reality, so it is more effective to work with the resources available in your sphere in the most creative way possible. Being able to identify a challenge or opportunity in your community that may be of interest to a national funder and then putting together a partnership team that will enable you to address it significantly is always attractive to a funder. Being able to articulate your vision and why it makes sense for your community is a must. I always visualize how a peer review panel will respond to the project I am trying to get funded. After all, their job is to whittle down the applicant pool and find the few projects that they think have the most chance of succeeding. My job is to make the vision so compelling that panelists will feel confident in awarding grant dollars. Also, I believe in engaging the grants staff at the philanthropies you are approaching. It enables me to better hone in on what the funder is trying to accomplish and typically leads to a more targeted ask. Lastly, I always call to get panel comments after the funding decisions are announced - whether DCA was recommended for funding or not. The insights you get from that exchange are invaluable in refining the ask the next time.

 Los Angeles is both a city and a county, and has separate public arts agencies for each.  While the geographic territories are distinct, there is a lot of cross over and spill over at least in terms of the mobility of the area’s residents.  To what extent, and how, do you cooperate and collaborate with the Los Angeles County Commission on the Arts?  Do you and Laura Zucker partner on anything specific, and how has that relationship worked out?

Laura has a very strong grasp on the local and national arts environments and keen insights as to how address the needs of the arts community in proactive ways. The Los Angeles County Arts Commission (CAC) serves as a convener of other municipal arts agencies. Through CAC’s leadership, LA arts funders, executive directors, program officers, and other staff meet approximately every month to share information, address field wide concerns, and learn from each other.

DCA and CAC have worked together on a number of specific projects. For example, we are now working with the CAC and the British Council to launch a program for emerging arts leaders who have participated in the CAC’s Arts Internship Program and have been working in the arts field from three to seven years. Through a competitive, peer reviewed process, six former interns will be chosen to travel to the UK where British Council colleagues will offer a series of experiences that will provide participants with an in-depth understanding of a range of issues in arts management and leadership practice, as addressed by fellow practitioners in the United Kingdom. The program will consist of visits to leading UK arts organizations, seminars with British cultural leaders and arts professionals, and opportunities to see high quality performances and exhibitions. This represents a high level opportunity for our best emerging arts managers to engage expand their networks and universe. DCA could not have accomplished such an enterprise on its own and is excited about the partnership with both CAC and the British Council.

Barry:  What do you see as the major obstacles in providing more direct services to artists in Los Angeles, and how are you addressing those challenges?  How can we better serve working artists?

Olga:  A number of studies have posited Los Angeles as a major arts capital. Relevant to this question in Ann Markusen’s 2010 report for the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) that hails Los Angeles as “America’s Artists Super City.”  Professor Markusen observes that, “successful artistic livelihoods, studies show, require lifelong learning, validation, access to financial and physical resources (including space to work and equipment), health insurance, business skills, and networks that help expand markets or land jobs (Jackson, 2003). In Los Angeles, these are especially pivotal and yet underinvested in.”

The sheer number of artists that make Los Angeles home makes serving them a very challenging proposition… especially in difficult funding climates. In addition to providing direct funding support to individual artists through our respected COLA Individual Fellowship Program, which turns 20 next year, we provide artists in residence support in all 15 Council Districts and, in a program I started upon arriving here, through our Cultural Exchange International Program, which provides international residency opportunities of a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of three months to chosen applicants. Further, we work collaboratively with arts service and advocacy organizations such as Arts for LA, the Center for Cultural Innovation, the Dance Resource Center, the LA Stage Alliance and others, funding them to better serve individual artists through a variety of proactive programs. Yet it is still not enough and we constantly strive to be more intelligent and more creative in our quest to serve individual artists.

Barry:  Los Angeles has one of the more sophisticated, active and successful local advocacy arms of any metro area in the country.  How do you and the DCA work within that framework?  What hasn’t the Arts For LA structure yet been able to accomplish that is high on your priority list?

Olga:  I am a big fan of Arts for LA. Executive Director Danielle Brazell and her team have done amazing and strategic work in promoting the arts and arts education for our diverse community.  I routinely credit Arts for LA as saving DCA during the darkest period of the City’s fiscal crisis.  Arts for LA galvanized the arts community, which came out in droves, in support of DCA’s work.  And smartly, now that the worst is hopefully over, Arts for LA continues to engage the City family positively by having annual “LA Arts Days” in City Hall that bring together elected officials, their Arts Deputies, and our City’s arts advocates to better inform each other on their goals, aspirations and realities, and to celebrate the important work being undertaken in Los Angeles by artists and creatives.

Arts for LA’s primary challenge in accomplishing its goals, and by extension DCA’s goals, I believe, are primarily a resource issue. By any measure, it is a small (some would call it lean and mean) operation that needs more stability. But DCA’s ability to substantially help could undermine Arts for LA’s efficacy as an arts advocate during tough times. It is better for us to fund its educational and professional development activities rather than to muddy the waters by supporting its advocacy efforts. One of the primary goals Arts for LA wants to accomplish for DCA is to have the City significantly increase grants funding. It is an uphill battle but one best accomplished by having Arts for LA truly independent as an advocacy organization and not perceived as an arm of DCA. By the way, naming Danielle Brazell to WESTAF’s (really Barry’s) list of the Fifty Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Arts was spot on.

Barry:  As the head of one of the major arts agencies in the country, and as a Latina woman what is your position on the increasingly accepted proposition that too much funding (public and private) has, for too long, gone to the very largest (and largely Euro-centric) arts organizations, and too little has gone to multicultural, emerging, smaller and more vanguard arts enterprises?  How do you think a more equitable allocation of our scarce resources might be accomplished?

Olga:  This has been an ongoing battle (or debate depending on where you sit) that has been taking place for dozens of years. This axiom is especially true during fiscally challenging times when organizations of color and alternative arts organizations more often fail than do mainstream arts organizations. It is not a level playing field by any means. And just as funders are complicit in helping create this ecosystem, they must be just as complicit in turning the situation around.

For example, when I was hired to be the founding Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable foundation (DDCF), I was told that grants had to be of a significant size (typically, grants were $500,000 to $3 million), this meant that the majority of organizations of color and avant-garde arts organizations would not qualify for Duke support since their annual operating budgets would not adequately support receiving a grant of that size. I knew, however, that those were the very types of organizations that Miss Duke supported while she was alive.  I therefore convinced DDCF leaders to support vital organizations such as the National Performance Network and the National Dance Project (of the New England Foundation for the Arts), which could justifiably receive multi-million dollar awards and then re-grant them in smaller chunks to deserving small to mid-size organizations including artist run ensembles.  Further, we sought out organizations of color such as the Caribbean Cultural Center and 651 ARTS in New York City and contemporary arts presenters around the country, such as the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art and jazz-specific organizations, such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, to receive multi-year matching endowments that were restricted to artistic endeavors. These endowments were never meant as a stabilization strategy, since Miss Duke’s will was about supporting individual artists, but to provide reliable revenue streams for grantees to commission new work, support community based residencies, and other research and development efforts that directly benefit individual artists.

Barry:  At the Duke Foundation, and in Los Angeles, you have a long history of active involvement in supporting arts performances and touring and presenting in general.  Why do you think audiences continue to shrink and where do you see paths to address that decline?  What is at the root cause of the decline?  What has to change?

Olga:  There are many theories on why there has been a steep decline of audiences at our performing arts institutions. I think it is an unfortunate convergence of many factors. Lack of arts instruction in our schools, lack of public transportation options, increased competition for decreased free time, costly ticket prices, and the list goes on. Yet sometimes I attend a performance and see how a community comes together and the excitement that is generated by witnessing a live performance. That gives me hope. We need to capture people’s imaginations in more engaging ways and make them feel welcomed and appreciated at our venues, but without numbing down the work.

Sometimes you see all of these factors come together and it is a joy. The LA Phil, for example, has managed to capture this spirit and is now taking their zest for classical music to LA’s disparate neighborhoods through their Youth Orchestra LA Program. It is inviting young people throughout the city to learn to play and love music. As their website explains, “through Gustavo Dudamel’s Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA) program – inspired by Venezuela’s revolutionary El Sistema – the LA Phil and its community partners provide free instruments, intensive music training, and academic support to students from underserved neighborhoods, enabling every child to contribute using their full potential.” It is a model to be emulated by others in the field interested in building tomorrow’s audiences.

Barry:  Do you think the arts infrastructure is overbuilt - i.e., too many arts organizations given the demand and the available support?  What is the solution?

Olga:  No. I think it is the lack of support available that needs to be addressed. I do a lot of work with institutions and colleagues in other developed countries. These countries acknowledge the role the arts and culture play in developing a national character as well as a sense of self. I think we need to, as a country, become more attuned to how the arts and culture define us as a people and to make this work a national priority instead of an afterthought.

Barry:  What’s the last big programmatic risk you took that didn’t work out well for you, and do you have any regrets?

Olga:  As in most communities, Los Angeles’ arts organizations tend to cluster in specific areas of the city instead of having representation throughout the City’s significant footprint. Areas such as the San Fernando Valley and South LA are underserved by DCA and have scant arts nonprofits we can work with and provide support to. To address this imbalance, I proposed establishing an “arts ombudsman” in those areas. The problem is that I included this in a proposed budget which, due to the City’s recent awareness that it was facing a $500 million deficit (in FY 2008/09) was doomed to failure. My regret was not getting more buy-in from the elected officials representing those communities. Because I was pretty new on the job and did not have the relationships I do now at City Hall, it was a premature idea since I did not have the votes. Of course I regret that tactical error, but now that the economy is on the mend, we may try to revive that concept.

Barry:  As of this writing, the NEA continues without a named successor to Rocco Landesman as Chairman?  If the White House called you tomorrow and said the President wants you for that job - walk me through the first three things you would do after your Senate confirmation.

Olga:  Kiss my husband, Dr. Kerry English (we have only been married two years so we are still on our honeymoon), who is a huge supporter of the arts; convene the NEA staff, which has been on a roller coaster since the culture wars of the early 90’s, and celebrate their dedication to the field; and begin one-on-one meetings with elected officials to continue getting individual buy-in for the work of the agency.

Barry:  A large portion of your budget is TOT income and allocated to public art programs.  Would some of those funds be better spent in other kinds of support for artists and arts organizations, or is the current strategy in place the right one for LA and for the times?  If so, why?

Olga:  Just to be clear, DCA is supported by three primary revenue streams from the City of Los Angeles. The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) provides 1% of the 14% TOT collected by City of Los Angeles hotels. The 1% allotted by ordinance to DCA, which typically ranges from $9 million to $12 million. These funds support our annual grants program; our 25+ arts centers, theaters, and historic properties; City-wide programs managed by DCA such as Music LA and various festivals; and all our full time and part time salaries and fringe and overhead expenses.  Additionally, DCA uses 1% of the Arts Development Fees (ADF) from private developers for our Public Art programs as well as 1% of public development fees, which are also used for Public Art programs.  So in effect, the TOT funds used by DCA, through its grants programs as well as instructors fees at its arts centers, directly support artists and arts institutions (Public Arts Commissions, which are significant in our annual budget, also provide 10% to 20% of all project funds to the lead artist(s), making these Public Arts dollars an important support system as well). The goal is to shift more of the TOT dollars to our grants program and away from staffing and overhead costs. As the economy improves and TOT revenues increase, we are hoping to devote said increases more and more to our grantmaking activities.

Barry:  You talked about the Broadway Arts Center project in a blog for AFTA last year.  Where is the project currently at?  How do you think it will ultimately impact the arts in LA?  Will the impact be limited to downtown, or will it have a larger impact across a bigger geographical territory?

Olga:  We are now calling it the Downtown Arts Center (DAC) since the site selection process being led by our primary partners, Artspace and The Actors Fund, has led us to realize that finding a lot the size needed on Broadway, where most properties are owned by individuals, is going to be quite challenging financially – especially now that the economy is improving. As such, we have decided that we need to expand our search to encompass all of Downtown LA. We have been meeting with government officials, for-profit developers and non-profit community development corporations trying to find the site and the financing structure that fits the needs of the DAC and our other major project: expanding the Downtown footprint of CalArts. These two efforts will be the anchors for the larger Downtown Cultural Quarter Creative Enterprise Project being designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Thom Mayne and his firm, Morphosis Architects.  Their charge is to create a roadmap, including zoning and code recommendations to the City, which will result in more creative for profit companies and arts and education concerns moving to a more welcoming Downtown. I believe that a strong, vital and alive Downtown core will have an impact across the greater Los Angeles area and result in outcomes we cannot even imagine currently.

But to more directly address the second part of your question, DCA just was awarded another NEA Our Town grant that will directly impact outlying areas though it will be piloted in the Downtown adjacent Arts District. Our Town funds will support the Artists’ Affordable Housing Partnership (AAHP), a program to provide immediate affordable artists’ housing and create a replicable strategy for use in other communities in LA and beyond.

Though they have been around for many years, 80/20 developments, where 80% of rental units are market rate and 20% are designated affordable, have traditionally not been accessible to the arts community, due to lack of familiarity with the program.

In 2008, HR 3221 clarified Low Income Home Tax Credit regulations to specifically allow a preference for "those involved in artistic or literary activities.” Many developers of affordable housing, as well as the arts community, however, are largely unaware of this provision, and its benefits have not been fully realized; deliberate brokering needs to occur between affordable housing developers and the arts community. The AAHP will develop resource materials to increase developers’ awareness of the artists’ provision (HR 3221) as well as educate artists on how to accurately complete the needed financial qualification documents and other application materials. A website will be maintained to promote affordable housing opportunities to artists and the broader creative community. DCA plans to use the materials, protocols, and curricula developed in other City of LA regions, such as Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, both of which have 80/20 projects coming on-line in the next several years. there is interest from cultural affairs departments in Pasadena and Santa Monica, two neighboring separately incorporated cities, to replicate the program.

Barry:  Management skills, entrepreneurial skills, listening skills, fundraising skills, people skills, visionary skills - all of these and more help arts administrators successfully navigate ever more difficult pathways in running arts organizations.  Which of these or other skills do you think are the most important, and why?

Olga:  They should all meld together, but it is rare for an individual to possess all of these skills. In my case, developing entrepreneurial skills, along with fundraising skills, but based on constant interaction (listening) to the field, has been key. These are crucial underpinnings to not only developing a vision but being able to articulate it to partners and funders and other key allies so that the vision can be turned into reality. These are important elements when you are looking for true leaders.

Barry:  Having now been both a foundation and a public agency funder - what advice do you have for your former foundation program officer colleagues?  What would you tell foundation program officers that they need to think more about?

Olga:  When I became the Program Director for the Arts at DDCF in early 1997, I set out to develop a program that I would have liked to have in place while I was working in the field as Director of Cultural Affairs for Miami Dade Community College. Right before I left Miami, I was coming to the end of a multi-year grant from the Ford Foundation titled “Internationalizing New Works in the Performing Arts.” I was able to work with Ford to establish a modest endowment for the Cultural Affairs Department. This allowed us to start each fiscal year with approximately $60,000 in our account to match grants, initiate projects, or simply as much needed cash flow. It was such a relief not to have to start each year with a blank slate, as was the custom at the College. That stuck with me as I segued into being a Program Director at a major US foundation. Coupled with Miss Duke’s instructions to support artists with the creation and public performance of their work, but bound by the Foundation’s decision to make large grants, I came up with the idea to help the country’s most excellent performing arts presenting institutions, which are extremely under-endowed compared to museums and symphonies, to establish or grow their endowments. But we restricted the way the interest earned could be deployed so that it would be used directly on artists, as Miss Duke had stipulated in her will. So the lesson is to keep constantly in contact with the field so that the programs created by foundations deal with the real issues grantees must constantly tackle; that is my recommendation.

Barry:  To what extent do you think arts organizations are too often isolated in their own silos and miss opportunities to work together for some greater good?

Olga:  This is a quandary faced by all types of organizations (universities, city government, the tourism industry) and not just arts organizations. In an overworked and under-resourced environment, it is easy to become siloed since we are forced to do more with less and in order to do so have to become like heat seeking missiles, (i.e., totally focused on what we need to accomplish).  However, it is extremely important – especially when times are difficult – to force ourselves to look around and invite other people to the table. Through combined efforts and diverse knowledge bases, one can tackle much more complex issues with a greater degree of success.

Barry:  Jeff Bezos from Amazon walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best arts entrepreneurial idea.  What is it?

Olga:  This is an idea that we wanted to pitch to the Bloomberg Mayors’ Challenge Program last year.  However, the City chose another department (cities could only present one proposal to the Bloomberg program). Our basic idea is as follows, “to establish LA’s Broadway Cultural Quarter Creative Enterprise Zone, transforming Downtown into a thriving 24/7 hub, marrying adaptive reuse and cultural overlay ordinances.”

We figured that a major adaptive reuse initiative had been successfully deployed in downtown Los Angeles in the late 1990s turning historic buildings into residences and hotels (and resulting in investments of more than $6 billion over the last 15 years, according to the national trust for historic preservation). Yet the strategy has never been utilized to help Downtown building owners invest in turning unused upper floor space into attractive studio and other work spaces to specifically attract and nurture creative businesses. DCA proposed to couple an adaptive re-use ordinance with a Cultural Overlay Ordinance, two successful urban revitalization strategies, using proven methods in innovative and more impactful ways, thus making it cost-effective and attractive for landlords to invest in their unused spaces to make them more inviting for creative businesses and arts and education nonprofits, which in turn would lead to a revitalized urban core. We are still trying to effectuate this plan even without specific outside funding. However, having $1 million from Bloomberg or Bezos, for that matter, would make it happen much more expeditiously.

Barry:  Looking back to when you were just starting in the arts, what is the one thing you wish someone had told you?

Olga:  Though people extol the value of being connected to community, it is often necessary, in order to increase one’s effectiveness, to move from the place where you are grounded to take advantage of a work opportunity that will allow you to have more impact.  It took me a long time to learn that, but being named Program Director for the Arts of DDCF, though it meant leaving Miami, my home, allowed me to envision and implement programs on a macro scale that would never have been possible had I stayed in Miami.  Being given that national platform eventually put me in line to become the Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. So getting out of your comfort zone, is sometimes the best way to challenge yourself to become more effective.

Barry:  Is too much emphasis still being placed on the arts using the economic benefit argument in advocating for support?  Conversely, is too much emphasis placed on the “intrinsic value” of the arts argument?

Olga:  In my mind they are both critical aspects of our field and, depending on who your audience is, it is important to articulate both arguments equally skillfully.

Barry:  How do you motivate your staff and the organizations your agency supports?

Olga:  The senior staff at DCA has, almost to a person, been with the Department for ten or more years. They are experienced Arts Managers in their own right and so treating them as such is important to me, and I think is appreciated by them. It has been a difficult few years for the Department, given the economic challenges faced by the City, which thankfully are now being righted. Layoffs and early retirements have had a major impact on the way DCA conducts business. Obviously, this has been a stressful time for all. But ultimately, I am a driven person and spend a great deal of time on the job and then thinking about the job. I expect my colleagues to do the same, and they have rallied to the occasion.

In terms of the organizations DCA supports, I am constantly present at diverse programs and functions throughout this vast City. And being present is half the battle. This means many nights and weekends spent attending events. But our colleagues appreciate that DCA is in the  house, and I think that it comes back in spades. When the future of the Department was at risk and over 6,000 Angelenos wrote, sent emails, and made phone calls, then packed City Hall to demand that DCA be a part of our City services, it was clear that the work of the department was prized by our constituents and that was a clear indication that art matters.

Thank you Olga.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Don't Quit.