Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hooray for Arts Latino Lobbying

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

For years I yapped on about getting the arts to spend more time and effort in building real political power and engaging in the same lobbying efforts every other interest group does.  I finally pretty much gave up and accepted that for whatever reason, the arts are not going to raise money to directly engage in political lobbying - or anything that might remotely be considered playing real hardball politics.

But there are numerous ways to lobby and to position one's interests so that those interests register with decision makers one wants, and needs, to influence.  Politicians are very astute at reading the tea leaves as it were, and when they detect even minor public opinion shifts, or the increasing organization of special interest groups, or the rise in money being raised to achieve some end that may even remotely be interpreted as having political over or under tones, their radar kicks into high gear.  Witness the GOP finally figuring out that a pantheon of their positions are losers and that they need to move direction on immigration, jobs, gay rights and other issues.

So I was absolutely delighted with a news item last month that told the story of the organizers of a gala concert and some other events that happened during the second  inauguration of President Obama in January that celebrated Latino culture are now donating the proceeds from those events to help raise the national profile of Latino arts and culture.
"Actress Eva Longoria and others announced they are giving $170,000 to the Friends of the American Latino Museum, which aims to build a museum on the National Mall. That group will make grants ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 to the Smithsonian Latino Center, the American Latino Heritage Fund of the National Park Foundation and the Kennedy Center to support Latino cultural programs."
Reflecting increased political power by the nation's growing Latino community, Henry Munoz III said:
"It represents our investment into institutions that are responsible for telling the American story.  It is saying now that we're beginning to develop a generation of arts patrons, of involvement in the arts that will begin to pave the way for a more complete story."
According to the article,  Hispanics voted 7 to 1 for Obama and Latino dollars helped elect the President.  Munoz discussed he money donated from the inaugural event:
"The money also supports the advocacy effort to urge Congress to authorize a national Latino museum. A bill has passed through the Senate but is awaiting action in the House.  Munoz led a presidential commission that called in 2011 for an American Latino museum to be built as part of the Smithsonian Institution. Longoria also served on the commission, along with actor Emilio Estefan and others.  This is the moment to begin to develop Latino philanthropy. It's critically important," he said. "I'm hoping that this will increasingly be known as the brown age. It's important for us to support our own."
This is a form (or at least a forerunner) of lobbying.   I would hope both the Latino arts community, and the wider arts field, support not only this effort, but more direct efforts to lobby for all the arts.  This is a very good first step - but only a first step.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Interview with Aaron Dworkin - President and CEO of the Sphinx Organization

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

Aaron Dworkin bio:  Named a 2005 MacArthur Fellow, a Member of the Obama National Arts Policy Committee and President Obama’s first appointee to the National Council on the Arts, Aaron P. Dworkin is the Founder and President of the Sphinx Organization, the leading national arts organization that focuses on youth development and diversity in classical music.  An author, social entrepreneur, artist-citizen and an avid youth education advocate, he has received extensive national recognition for his vast accomplishments. His memoir titled “Uncommon Rhythm: A Black, White, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness, Irish Catholic Adoptee's Journey to Leadership” was recently released through Aquarius Press.

He has been featured in People Magazine, on NBC’s Today Show and Nightly News with Brian Williams, named one of Newsweek’s 15 People Who Make America Great.  He is the recipient of the National Governors Association 2005 Distinguished Service to State Government Award, Detroit Symphony’s 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003 Michiganian of the Year, Crain’s 40 Under 40, BET’s History Makers in the Making Award and AT&T Excellence in Education Award.

Mr. Dworkin authored an autobiographical poetry collection entitled “They Said I Wasn’t Really Black” as well as a children’s book entitled “The 1st Adventure of Chilli Pepperz”.

Mr. Dworkin currently serves on the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras, National Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan, National Guild for Community Schools of the Arts, National Society for the Gifted and Talented, Artserve Michigan, WRCJ 90.9 Detroit Classical and Jazz Radio and the NEW (Non-Profit Enterprise at Work) Center. He is also serves on the Advisory Board of ASTA Alternative Strings Awards, Rachel Barton Pine Foundation and the Avery Fisher Artist Program, and Editorial Board of Downtown New York Magazine, Independent Sector’s NGwen Awards Committee. 

Here is the Interview:

BARRY:  You founded Sphinx based on really a simple purpose.  Growing up as a serious student of classical violin, you looked around and never saw other people of color doing what you were doing.  Later, much later, at the University of Michigan, you were finally exposed to black classical composers, and you wondered why you were never exposed to those artists before.  Sphinx was created to address that reality by first launching a national competition for serious black and latino string artists, and has now developed a host of other programs and projects that pursue that original mission.  How important do you think it is to have a defined, focus purpose when trying to start something new?  Is there a tendency for launches to try to be too many things, to too many people, too soon?  What are your two or three big take-away lessons from your experience with launching and growing Sphinx?

AARON:  I think that one’s ability to define a purpose, a specific mission when launching something is absolutely critical.   First, it helps set a clear trajectory toward the ultimate goal, allowing to tell a story with integrity and authenticity.  In a world where non-profits struggle to survive and resources are scarce, it can, indeed, be a challenge to stay aware of that line between embracing opportunities and becoming too many things to too many people.  Some meaningful take-aways for me include that a vision must be singular, unique and powerful.  A mission, once defined, can and should evolve and change to betterunderstand and embrace the atmosphere in which it operates.  Another lesson to share is that persistence is the absolute key to success.  There is an ocean of rejections for every small lake of affirmations when it comes to securing the resources necessary to carry out to the work.  It is critically important to persevere and keep the telling the story when it is a compelling one.  If the research, integrity and hard work are there, the results will pay off.

BARRY:  You call yourself a social entrepreneur, and eschew the label of manager or administrator.  Now that Sphinx has grown from its embryonic launch, you, of course, have staff people who shepherd its operations and growth, who might be legitimately termed managers and administrators.  How do we develop and nurture more arts social entrepreneurs?  Can it be taught?  What is the role of ‘risk’ in successful entrepreneurship?

AARON:  Entrepreneurship itself may be difficult to teach, however, to some degree, that quality within many may not be recognized.  For example, a dedicated music teacher may be an entrepreneur: launching a studio, creating a mission, developing a set of criteria for success for her/his studio, building a microcosm within which to operate.  A young person starting a student organization, a community program: examples are plentiful.  I do believe that entrepreneurship may be a combination of acute creativity, passion and courage to see it through. Those are valuable qualities, but even when natural to some, they must be nurtured, cultivated, developed.  Success does not come overnight, and when it does, it may not be there to stay: so again, perseverance is key.  Risk is almost inherent in a world of an entrepreneur, but the key is knowing when to take it: one’s ability to calculate all risks becomes the key to survival.  I do believe that it is equally as important to develop administrators and those who take great pride in their work and carry out a mission defined by someone else using all of their talents, diligence and ingenuity.  The non-profit world would not survive without that balance.

BARRY:  At one point in your memoirs “Uncommon Rhythm” you note that you were impatient - “very, very impatient” in your youth, but that you think that impatience helped you to build Sphinx.  But Sphinx wasn’t the first attempt in your life to start a social organization that would address some important societal need and hopefully make the world a little better.  Those earlier attempts - for a variety of reasons, chief among them insurmountable funding challenges - were unsuccessful (or at least weren’t sustainable).   What were the key lessons you learned from those experiences and how important do you think they were in your success with Sphinx?

AARON:  I have indeed started a good number of other social endeavors: some looking at challenges as fundamental as homelessness and environmental issues.  Those efforts, while valuable, were not sustainable, however, I could not be more thankful in retrospect.  Those experiences afforded me a great deal of incredible skillsets, they widened my horizons, teaching me the importance of looking at the world through a prism of creative problem solving.  Starting Sphinx was also a risk, as there was no way to initially tell whether the vision would resonate with the community of constituents, funders, supporters.  A combination of luck, hard work and passion helped me pave a different path.

BARRY:  Certainly, as you note, being designated a MacArthur fellow (the oft-called “Genius grant”) opened doors for you that, at the very least, it might have taken longer to open.  But few will ever have the benefit of that kind of recognition.  You have had uncommon success in getting major corporations to lend their financial support to Sphinx, but most arts organizations have had precious little success in attracting corporate buy-in to their visions.  You success may be due in part to the sheer power of your personal passion, and to the fact that Sphinx’s mission may have dovetailed perfectly with certain corporation’s specific goals.  How can people get those doors to open who aren’t singled out with the prestigious Genius designation?  Do you have any advice for them?

AARON:  While it is a great honor to have been named a MacArthur Fellow, I do believe that there is much more to the story of Sphinx’s success.  In my view, it is essential to stay true to what one believes in and do great work when no one is watching.  At Sphinx, we work everyday to ensure that the story is told continuously, growing our programmatic impact, dealing with challenges of funding and resources: despite the importance of our mission, we continue to seek funding year-to-year, without that much needed underlying support.  So, without question: it is a tough environment for non-profits, but if the cause is important, it is worth a good fight.  Ultimately, one of the keys to Sphinx’s success has been a strong team of experts who comprise the Sphinx family: their energy, patience and creativity make it possible for us to reach almost 20,000 young people and 2 million in live and broadcast audiences, annually.

BARRY:  Obviously your own personal identity - self described as a “Black, White, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness, Irish Catholic Adoptee” (who plays the violin) has given you a unique perspective on diversity.  There has been increasing dialogue within the arts sector over the past couple of years about race, racism, equity (in allocation of resources, audience access, and basic support), and how the arts exist within the overall White Frame of Reference operable in America.

As someone with a personal reference point in both the (benefits and negatives) of White and Black frames of reference growing up, what are your thoughts about how the field can do more to insure we move towards a fair and equitable, and representative (given the demographic composition of America as a whole) distribution of funding and nurturing to the largely still underserved multicultural wing of the wider nonprofit arts sphere?  Another issue (apart from more support for multicultural arts organizations) within the equity question, is whether the funding paradigm (public and foundation support) ought not to try to fund everybody as there is clearly not enough funds to meet the demand, and that trying to spread the available money too thinly serves no one well.  What are your thoughts on the thinking of that camp?

AARON:  The question of funding is a complex one: there are, of course, limited resources and a great deal more organizations who require them in order to do the work that they do.  But it does fall upon the funding community to recognize the merit in smaller deserving organizations.  Too often, the larger non-profits receive much larger grants: while logical, that leaves smaller organizations with little room for growth and realization of their full potential.  It is my sense that grants should be given based on merits of the work that they do and the impact that they are having, to fully empower smaller organization to expand the depth of their work.

BARRY:  Do you think the existent nonprofit arts administrative infrastructure serves artists well?  Where is it successful, and where does it come up short?  What are the biggest needs of both emerging / developing and working / established artists - and are those needs being effectively met?

AARON:  Ultimately, this generation of artists perform and function in a different world.  Therefore, the biggest responsibility falls upon the artists themselves to understand that they need a different set of skills, one where they have a defined mission and a clear understanding of how they fit into the community which they serve.  All too often artists look to their managers, administrators, to do the majority of the work.  However, the notion of a “pure” artist, without the sense and context of the broader society, the role that artists serve, is archaic and not-sustainable.

BARRY:  What do you see that the arts organizations in our field that are thriving (not just surviving) are doing that those organizations that are struggling and floundering are not doing?  When you think about the future of the arts in America, what worries you the most?

AARON: To thrive in today’s environment is to understand how your unique mission fits into the greater community, its needs and its future.  The organizations that succeed today are discovering how to be relevant, inclusive, embracing.  They do represent a minority: I am concerned about the relevance and value of the arts as an integral facet of the development and survival of our society.  Public support for the arts is critical: we rank astonishingly low in that realm as compared to most developed countries.  The arts are a part of the solution, hopefully in the future: it falls upon us as the field to make that case.

BARRY:  You seem to be gifted at working the bully pulpit.  What advice to give to others in that pursuit.

AARON:  I believe in the transformational power of the arts, in their ability to change lives, inspire people, sparkcreativity.  I also believe in the arts reflecting the diversity inherent in our society today: that gives me the courage and a sense of purpose to speak on the issue as much as I am able.  It falls upon each and everyone of us to use the bully pulpit on whatever scale is feasible: one’s school, one’s organization, community center, place of worship, service organization, national publications and beyond.  Think about the value that the arts have had in your life, your sphere, your world and then assess the potential impact of their absence.  Everyone must become a spokesperson, an advocate, a leader, a catalyst for change.

BARRY:  Do you think there is too much emphasis placed by arts advocates on the economic benefits of the arts as contrasted with the joy of creativity? We have embraced the economic impact argument as the centerpiece of our advocacy for well over a decade.  Many are increasingly criticizing this approach.  For example:  Michael Rushton who directs the Arts Administration programs at Indiana University in Bloomington said in a recent blog:
“This is what is most commonly thought of in the United States when we hear the words “economic impact.” The arts is an economic sector with consumer spending and employment and can be fitted into input-output tables of demand, whereby spending in the sector is factored up by a “multiplier” to find the total economic impact. Americans for the Arts have built a small cottage industry from persuading local and regional governments and arts advocates to construct such studies. And the numbers contained within the studies are of no worth whatsoever. First of all, every sector – hair stylists, dry cleaners, furniture makers, taxi drivers – has an “economic impact” that could be calculated by similar means. These studies are a waste of resources.” Others think the   economic impact argument marginalizes the best argument for the arts, to wit:   the irreplaceable beauty and joy creativity brings to humankind.  Art itself is the real benefit, not economic benefit. “ 
Your thoughts?

AARON:  The arts are an active facet of a functioning society.  Understanding their economic impact can only help inform their value, not decrease it.  In a world where everything has an assigned value and there is a real, tangible limitation of resources available, understanding that the arts bring value to the bottom line of a city, state, country is valuable data, yet understudied.  I would love for the arts to be thought of for the intrinsic value of beauty, fulfillment and spiritual empowerment.  However, our society looks at ways to expend resources and return on every investment, almost out of necessity.  The message of the ROI for the arts has not been crafted cohesively and in a way that is easy to understand, accept and advocate.

BARRY:  Have you had any recent epiphanies or ‘Aha’ moments?

AARON:  I have spent some time thinking about the link between the arts and creativity.  While creativity exists on its own and is a broader concept (for example, dealing with science, innovation and other sectors), I have been thinking about how creativity is energized, sparked by, magnified by the arts.  The arts are still seen by too many as an element of luxury, extracurricular, optional, purist and not essential.  Creativity, however, is, valued by the broader society, as a means to solve real-life problems and address primary needs.  If we can find a way to better demonstrate the link between the two and how one helps the other emerge, I think the impact may be profound.

BARRY:  In your poem Picture Perfect - a deeply personal and heartfelt homage to your adopted mother after her death, you said:  “.......I know you better than I did when you were alive. I want to try harder......”  I deeply related to that, as I think many do, and wonder if it is not a profound truth for all of us - to better know and really understand our parents after they are gone.   What lessons, if there are any, can we help teach our children before we are gone, that might make the void of that realization less painful for them?  Or is it that very experience that may ultimately make us better parents - knowing full well that there are some life lessons and epiphanies that you cannot give to your children - they will simply come to them or not when the time is right?

AARON:  That is a deeply personal and poignantly difficult question to answer.  I do believe that there are some lessons our children learn in their own time.  I do also believe (as a father to two most amazing boys) that we have the ultimate responsibility to arm them with the skillsets necessary to face the world from a very early age.  Work ethic and quest for excellence are a couple of those qualities that my mother helped develop in me.  I also believe in honesty, direct feedback, coupled with unconditional love: something I strive to exercise as a parent.

BARRY:  I did a recent interview with Arlene Goldbard, and in one of her two new recently published books, she cites this report:
“A 2011 National Endowment for The Arts (NEA) study reports that:
“[T]he decline in the rate of childhood arts education among white children is relatively insignificant from 1982 to 2008, just five percent, while the declines in the rate among African American and Hispanic children are quite substantial — 49 percent for African American and 40 percent for Hispanic children. These statistics support the conclusion that almost the entire decline in childhood arts education between the 1982 and 2008 SPPAs was absorbed by African American and Hispanic children.”  
That is a very deeply disturbing reality, emblematic of the ever growing divide of “have” and “have nots” - and the result is surely at least one and maybe two or more generations of black and latino kids denied the same exposure and opportunity to see, study and practice art in the formative years of their lives.  What can we do?  How can this be allowed to continue?

AARON:  The statistics are abhorrent, without a question.  Ultimately, I feel it would take a fundamental change within our system of education on a multitude of levels, including, teacher qualification, arts integrated curricula (met with some success in cities like Chicago and elsewhere already), managing class sizes and cutting in places other than our children’s education.  Until these statistics begin to mean something to the system, not just the “choir” to whom they are being preached, I am afraid that change will remain marginal.  What happens at home matters: we do not all come from the leveled playing field.  The issues of access are real and we all know that social-economic challenges are acute in minority communities.  Therefore, teaching everyone in the same way has not and will not work: we are setting our young people up for failure, which is tragic.  A lack of equity in the education we provide needs to become everyone’s problem, tackled by each of us on all possible levels.

BARRY:  Former Superintendent of Public Instruction in California, Delaine Eastin use to tell the story of when she would address audiences of various groups, and, at the outset, ask them:  “How many artists are in the audience today?”  that invariably maybe five or six hands (out of every hundred people) would go up.  Then she would tell them that when she asked a kindergarten class the same question, every hand would go up, every time.  Very young children intuitively know that they are artists.  Yet when she asked the same question in a sixth grade class, only ten or fifteen percent of the hands would go up.  Something happens between kindergarten and the sixth grade to convince kids they aren’t artists (anymore), or that being an artist isn’t ‘cool.”

Why do you think that is and what do you think we can do about it?

AARON:  My sense is that when we are very young and yet untainted by preconceived and false notions of what it means to be an artist, we are free to experience the magic of creating something.  We draw, we sing, we make music and we derive ultimate joy when a parent, a neighbor a teacher reacts with a smile.  There is purity in that immersion in the arts: I see it with our young people at Sphinx, at an introductory level, I see it with my own 6-year-old.  Being an artist is associated with positive reinforcement, a smile, a feeling of accomplishment.  Then we enter a school setting where arts are marginalized or extinct.  We continue through our educational experience where the arts eventually are associated with something unnecessary, non-essential, purist, elitist, extracurricular (with some exceptions, of course).  Part of this is due to costs associated with taking music, dance, art lessons and how from the very beginning, one must be driven and creative as a parent to find a way to cultivate that passion, that aptitude within their child.  It takes a great deal of personal resources, time and persistence.  Then, given that such opportunities are not afforded to many, arts become less and less relevant and present for us through adolescence, high school, college and beyond.  Since such has been the historical precedent, stories like that one you shared have become common (however unfortunate).

BARRY:  Why do you think audiences for the arts have been declining, or do you think that the audiences are actually growing, but that they way audiences now access the art has dramatically changed?

AARON:  Part of the answer to this question is offered above: audiences are participants.  If what is presented on stage is not reflective of myself and the experience that I consider “mine”, if my contact with the arts is non-existent to minimal, I am not likely to participate.  Less than 1% of repertoire performed by American orchestras is by composers of color: I think that statistic alone may shed light on the reasons behind dwindling participation.

BARRY:  In your memoirs you offer one of your “most beloved quotes”:  “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”  Later you say:  “As I review all of the challenges presented to me on the path of launching and building the Sphinx Organization, I can say that I took every obstacle and turned them into opportunities.  One of the core values I have instilled in my team has been the ability to adapt.”  Can you elaborate?

AARON:  First, I do love quotes and often look for insight from great minds for inspiration.  As it relates to one’s ability to adapt, I have always felt that to be essential.  The environment in which we live is ever-changing, the challenges that present themselves can become opportunities, and it is so important to recognize and seize those.  As an example, amidst the economic downturn, Sphinx was about to lose an in-kind host for our summer program, affording full scholarship string training to young aspiring musicians of color.  We were resourceful, we adapted to the change and chose to fully explore options with all of our partners.  As a result, we identified 2 additional in-kind partners, now doubling the student reach through our summer program.

BARRY:  You say in your memoir:
“At this point in my life, Sphinx is more than a full-time job; it is my life’s work.   However, it is important to note that I am certainly a multidimensional human being, a creative and artistic personality.  I actually look at the Sphinx organization itself as my primary artistic instrument, one that requires not just a pragmatic and analytical and organizational approach, but equally, if not more importantly, a creative an artistic one.” 
Do you think arts leaders, administrators, managers, entrepreneurs are artists themselves, or can be in pursuit of their careers behind the scenes?

AARON:  Absolutely, administrators can be creative people and use their medium to express themselves literally through empowering careers of other artists, or, in some instances, be artists themselves.  I continue to perform my spoken word art and write extensively.  A number of wonderful administrators I know, including those on the Sphinx Team are active, accomplished artists, as well.

NOTE:  I asked Aaron several questions that had to do with the NEA and the National Council on the Arts, but given his position on the latter body, he thought it inappropriate to respond to those pointed inquires, and I understand and accept his position.

Thank you very much Aaron.

Have a great week everyone.

Don't Quit

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Couple of Survey Results

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

Note:  I want to note the retirement from the California Arts Council of its longest termed employee - Lucero Arellano - who has been at the council for 34 years.  I had the great pleasure of working with her as a member of the CAC staff during my brief tenure as the head of the agency, and her passion and dedication for the arts was exemplary.  Over the years she has quietly and unassumingly impacted thousands of decisions that have helped countless arts organizations and artists - unbeknownst to most of them.  But more than that, she is a a really good person - decent, with integrity; kind and considerate; generous and giving.   Congratulations Lucero - well done, and on behalf of everyone in the arts - thank you, thank you very much.  We all wish you the very best on whatever new paths you take.  

A Pew Survey:
In a recent Pew Survey on the perception of Americans as to how certain 'groups' contribute to society's well being, the military ranked very high (78% saying they contribute "a lot" to our well being) , followed by teachers (72%) , doctors (66%), scientists (65%) and engineers (63%).  Artists (30%) trailed the Clergy (37%), but came in above journalists (28%), business executives (24%) and, of course, lawyers (18%).  Politicians were apparently not included.  All groups were down in 2013 when compared to 2009 - some slightly, some significantly.  Artists were down only one percent.

When you include the response that a given occupational group contributes "some" to society's well being, to those ranking a group as contributing "a lot" - artists come in at 72%, still behind all the other groups as 24% think artists contribute "not very much or nothing" to the well being of society.  Unfortunately, the survey doesn't break down the support or non support for the value of artists as to gender, age, education, political affiliation or otherwise.

This data can be looked at two ways:
On the positive side, 72% believe the arts contribute something to the well being of American society.  Almost three quarters subscribe to the notion that the arts are a positive influence.   That is a number on which we ought to be able to build.

On the negative side, only 30% believe the arts contribute "a lot" to the well being of America.  And that number has remained relatively constant for the past five years.  Very likely, we need to move that number to (at least) slightly over 50% if we are to reach a tipping point for public support (and thus elected official support) for the arts.  And converting that missing 20% + will not be an easy task, as 28% think we contribute "not much, or nothing". How we might improve those numbers ought to begin with some research into why the 70% don't think of the arts as contributing "a lot" to our well being, or why the 28% think we contribute "not much, or nothing".  First we need to understand the thinking of those we need to target.

Interestingly, the groups that rank high on this survey as contributing "a lot" to our well being, are all primarily those that, in one way or another, protect the safety of Americans - the military, doctors, scientists, engineers.   One might even argue that teachers and clergy are also concerned with our safety - the safety of our being prepared for the future (job preparation) and the safety of our souls.   I wonder then what appeal the arts might have in protecting the safety of our spirits, and whether or not positioning the arts thusly might be helpful or not.  Such an argument is probably a hard sell, but I believe maybe not quite as hard a sell as we might imagine.  Increasingly, people are coming to recognize and appreciate that a healthy "spirit" - positive attitudes about our lives - is an important variable in the well being of the whole of society.

What is clear is that all of our Herculean efforts to convince the American public that we do contribute "a lot" to the well being of the country haven't yet moved us to where we need to be.  And apparently not at all in the past five years.  More work on this front will be essential - and that means more research, more studies, more focused efforts, more making the case, more outreach and more strategic planning.

Local Arts Agency Salaries:
A new report on the salaries of those who work at local arts agencies around the country (the first in ten years) was released by Americans for the Arts this week.

Not surprisingly, this field is heavily populated by women, most have college degrees, most of them are over 35 and under 64, and the average length (for full time employees) they have been in their current position is seven years.   Salaries paid in this sub-sector of our field appear to be reasonable and competitive (and likely on the rise).

As noted in the introduction to the report (and some responses to its publication), the most glaring statistic is the lack of diversity within the ranks of the leadership of this segment of our field -- clearly not even close to reflecting the actual population (86% are white / caucasian).   It would be helpful if we could compare all the other segments of our field so we could see how the LAA contingent is the same or different from the music, theater, film, opera, dance, presenters, museums or any other sector of our field in terms of the change in leadership to more reasonably reflect the actual population.

The question looms "why" aren't there more people of color in the leadership positions of these agencies.  Having worked in this sector in the past myself, I believe there are likely serious and ongoing attempts to recruit people of color.  As many agencies are urban based, where minority population's geographical centers seemingly increase the pool of qualified candidates, then the question becomes is recruitment of minorities unsuccessful, and if so, why?   Why don't more people of color want to work at local arts agencies?  Is it too little money, too few advancement opportunities, no role models, or something else?  Or is the proposition even true?  It would seem reasonable to suppose that more people of color within the lower ranks of these agencies would portend (as those people rise through the ranks), that more senior staff, including Executive Directors, will ultimately be positions filled by minority members - but it is unclear whether or not those lower staffing positions are currently being filled by people of color.  Again, if not, why not?  If more entry level positions are being filled by recruiting from University arts administration programs, then a question is whether or not those programs are themselves successfully recruiting more diverse graduating classes.  This is yet another instance where we need to know why things are as they are before we go about fashioning a response to address a need.

I would think LAAs will find this survey useful in a review of their own situations, and other sub-sectors of our field will similarly find it of benefit in a comparison to their own universes.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Announcing The Dinner-vention Dinner TOPIC

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

Jammin at Djerassi:
The Dinner-vention Dinner Party guests have chimed in, and we have come up with a topic for the evening.

If there is a single overarching challenge that the nonprofit arts field faces, it is probably (to put it in its simplest form) survivability.  What will it take for the arts organization and artist ecosystems to survive? With the seeming negative “perfect storm” of factors allied against the arts [declining public, corporate and philanthropic support (and despite recent indications that arts philanthropy is up - when inflation is factored in, the rise is less than necessary to address the shortfall created over the past five + years); declining audience attendance and earned income; increased competition (not the least of which is the technological revolution) for public interest and support; a still faltering economy; and the undervaluation and marginalization of the arts and their role in our society on multiple levels] the question of just surviving (for arts organizations and individual artists) is anything but settled.

Chief among all those challenges would seem to be the declining and unstable audience base for the performing arts (and quite possibly for other arts areas too).  If that trend continues to make earned income for arts organizations problematic, then the impact on artists will continue to be felt.  Coupled with declining public and philanthropic funding, and the question looms large whether or not there is any model that will allow any real measure of sustainability to exist.

So we proposed this as the dinner topic:

Traditional audiences are declining and participation patterns are shifting seismically, which is having a deleterious impact on arts organization's traditional revenue streams. How can we address this pattern on a macro scale? What would a new movement around the arts look like?

In any discussion of that topic, issues of:
  •   The theory of engagement (community or otherwise)
  •   Equity
  •   Research, metrics and data
  •   Issues of technology and access to art
and all are germane to the discussion.

And, in the larger sense, that topic also implicitly asks the question of whether or not there will need to be (or can be) any new attempt to create some new (or revived) movement in support of the arts in America.   We seem to have lost any sense of an arts ‘movement’, and the field appears to be mired in localized survival issues rather than a broader compelling movement-framed vision.

--What are the key characteristics of a movement for change?

--Did the arts field ever have the movement structure, movement energy, and movement passion that would quality it as a movement? Do we want one?  Is one possible?

--What reforms need to be undertaken in the structure of the organized arts to create a strong movement for arts development?

The decline of the audience base and its impact would seem to be a single topic that invites multiple perspectives and the consideration of other issues in a discussion.  It allows for each of the dinner guests  to come at it from his/her own focused direction.

All that said, this experiment is governed by two principles - one positive, one negative.

I.   (Positive) We want to explore some specific, new ideas to address the main topic (audience decline and the impact on sustainability) and any of the other sub-topics that will be part of the discussion.  

Examples of new ideas (not necessarily tied to the above topic, but simply representative of new thinking):
a).  Arlene Goldbard a year or more ago suggested that community planners require a Cultural Impact Report before any new development projects got approval.  The CIR would echo the Environmental Impact Report now required in many instances.  Whether one thinks this is a good idea or not, it IS a new idea.

 b).  A couple of years ago I suggested that if every arts organization in every community in America (or even just 20% of that number) would join their local Chamber of Commerce and become active in its committee system and governance, the arts (as a field) could virtually take partial control of the national Chamber, and that would then allow us a powerful base and platform for our advocacy efforts and our efforts to build meaningful partnerships with business.  Again, good idea or stupid idea - but at least a (then) new idea.

We hope for specific, new ideas to come out of the dinner discussion and hope each of the guests will bring one to the table.

II.  (Negative)  We do NOT want the dinner conversation to be a rehash of the points about the topic or sub-topics with which everyone in the field is familiar.  We do NOT want to engage in the same analysis of the problem(s) that seems to happen at every conference and every gathering to discuss our challenges.  We’ve heard it all before.  It’s BORING.  We want to break new ground and talk about what we can do - NOT where we are at.

We want a lively and unscripted discussion, but we don’t want chaos, and we do want to bear in mind that we are videotaping the discussion and it has to have some “form” so that it will ultimately be engaging to those who we hope will watch it.  We also, of course, want to bear in mind that a two or three hour discussion (even with preparation and substantial aforethought) isn’t enough time to consider all the aspects of any topic, let alone all the implications of any suggested approach to addressing one or more challenges.  So we want to dig as deep as we can, as quickly as we can, given the time constraints.

We are in the process of now determining what protocol for organizing the dinner conversation will work best.

All of the dinner guests will be submitting briefing papers (one page - narrative or bullet points as each prefers) on what they think are the major issues within the topic, and / or the direction or perspective they want to take in discussing the topic. We have advised the guests that they can stake out any territory they wish given their own thinking on the topic.  I will post all of those briefing papers on this blog sometime in August before the actual September 5th Dinner-vention.

Thank you all for your continuing interest in this experiment.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit