Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bryce Merrill reports from the Social Theory, Politics and the Arts Conference

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

Report from the 39th International Conference on Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts 2013
From Bryce Merrill, Senior Associate Director, WESTAF

Our panel on data and community began the first day of the conference and, like most early morning scholarly presentations, the panelists and the room took some time to warm up! Steve from the NEA gave the audience an update on the NEA’s “Livability Indicators” project and discussed the challenges of building a community at the federal level while also generating a research model that is locally applicable.

Jim from 4Culture commented on the difficulties of serving diverse communities--whether or not with data--in King County where socioeconomic differences can be vast and challenging. Jim also spoke to the work his organization has been doing to reach out to new immigrant and refugee communities and the unique difficulties service organizations have reaching these communities.

Kris Tucker, representing the perspective of the state of Washington, discussed the ArtsWA “Creative Vitality Index Pilot Project” program that provides labor market data and strategic consulting to research and planning teams throughout the state. These program participants, Kris demonstrated, are tasked with using data for community development purposes, but another, critical function of the project is that a networked community of arts data users are created through the project.

Randy Engstrom spoke to his office’s use of data and evaluation to increase public support for arts education. Engstrom firmly argued that increased resources would not have flowed to arts education in Seattle had the data been unavailable to support the need for additional funding. I then spoke to the two types of data projects WESTAF engages in: 1) “non-research” data projects, typically those associated with our web applications that support the management of the arts and 2) research projects, such as the Creative Vitality Index project, where data is methodologically collected and analyzed. I discussed our work on the Public Art Archive to create a national database of public art, including plans to crowd-source visual data on public art.

Perhaps the liveliest part of the panel occurred when Jim told the audience he has never and will never pay for research! His point, which all panelists more or less agreed, is that with limited funding, it is difficult to justify funding research. Kris and Randy were sympathetic about shrinking budgets, but offered compelling examples of using research to grow funding and, thus, enhance programs and support services. I pointed out that Jim is not alone in the arts world in his reticence to pay for research and that field generally undervalues research. I reiterated a point I have made previously on this blog, however, that unless the arts field finds a way to grow its capacity for sustained and sophisticated research, it will fall behind other sectors in competition for increasingly scarce funding. Additionally, private funders are growing ever-more demanding of grantees to demonstrate with real research the value of their work; not paying for data may not be an option for most.

Ultimately, the panel touched on many themes that would be echoed in several paper presentations throughout the day. I do not think the panel was successful in speaking to the specific regional concerns of the groups represented--we had the perspectives of a city, a county, a state, a multi-state regional, and and the nation on the panel. We did, however, capture what appeared to be the essence of this conference: an academic level concern for arts policy and management.

The following are a few highlights from day one:

  • Michael Rushton (Indiana University) gave a cautionary overview of the L3C structure, arguing for heavy skepticism regarding the ability of this model to combine mission-driven work with for-profit-like entrepreneurialism. Interestingly, the lunch keynote was given by Steve Butcher, CEO of Brown Paper Tickets and creator of the Not-Just-For-Profit business philosophy that BPT follows. Regardless of the legal structure, Butcher argued that business can make money and make a difference. Butcher also had some of the best comic relief moments of the conference, confessing to learning how to code on an Atari100 in KMart while his mom shopped for blue light specials, explaining that he considers his business philosophy to be the love-child of Ayn Rand and Ralph Nader, and jabbing at many nonprofits who appear to be “allergic to making money.” 
  • Louise K Stevens (ArtsMarketing, Inc.) presented a paper on big data and charitable giving, arguing that new, highly localized data sets and data management strategies are making census-level data collection approaches more viable than sampling and modeling strategies. The paper was compelling and rich with detailed data, but the larger argument that the big data project she is engaged in is easily scalable and will replace sampling was less so. 
  • Chantal Rodier (Ottawa) and Serge Poisson-De Haro (Montreal) explored the impact of web 2.0 technologies on performing arts festivals in Canada, illustrating empirically the differences in web 2.0 social media and marketing strategies of small, medium, and large performing arts festivals. 
  • Walter Van Andel (Belgium) used the concept of “effectuation” to explain an entrepreneurial project by the Netherlands Bach Society to build an online platform for all 1,126 compositions by Bach. Principles of effectuation, Van Andel explained, could guide a successful business model for the project in ways that models based on causality could not.
  • A graduate student of at The Ohio State University, Yifan Xu, presented a paper on online interactional differences in American and Chinese users of music platform’s such as Spotify or China’s Douban. Yifan suggested that deep cultural ideologies--American Individualism and Confucianism--might help explain differing use behaviors on these platforms, with Chinese users favoring active interactions (chatting) over passive ones (“liking” music or referring songs).

In a little under 8 hours, I saw 9 presentations and cannot say I was disappointed by any of them. (This is a rare compliment for an academic conference, but I also did not stay for the second day.) As always, the off-the-record conversations were lively and rich. Perhaps echoing Norman Bradburn's recent paper on establishing an arts and culture research network, there were many discussions about solidifying the field's research and policy infrastructure. The diversity of participants was remarkable, as was the strong international presence. Seattle University was a comfortable and accommodating conference location, with only one noticeable glitch in the conference set up. The organizers, Kevin Maifield and Woong Jo Chang, did an outstanding job putting the event together, and special thanks are owed to the many students and staff members that ensured the event run smoothly. I’ll look forward to attending the next one--perhaps at an international location! It would only be fitting...

Thanks Bryce

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dinner-vention Part 7

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

Click on the Barry's Blog logo above, and you will be taken directly to the site where you will find Part VII of the video of the Dinner-vention conversation.  Once you get to the site itself, you can scroll down to watch previous parts if you want.  If you are on the site, Part VII is below.

This is the final Part of the conversation.  Thanks again to all involved.

Note:  Margot Knight's name is inadvertently misspelled in the credits, omitting the "t" and erroneously    listing her as "Margo".  I deeply apologize to her for that error.

Don't Quit

Don't Quit

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dinner-vention Part 6

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

Click on the Barry's Blog logo above, and you will be taken directly to the site where you will find Part VI of the video of the Dinner-vention conversation.  Once you get to the site itself, you can scroll down to watch previous parts if you want.  If you are on the site, Part VI is below.

Note:  Margot Knight's name is inadvertently misspelled in the credits, omitting the "t" and erroneously    listing her as "Margo".  I deeply apologize to her for that error.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dinner-vention Part 5

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

Click on the Barry's Blog logo above, and you will be taken directly to the site where you will find Part V of the video of the Dinner-vention conversation.  Once you get to the site itself, you can scroll down to watch previous parts if you want.  If you are on the site, Part V is below.

Note:  Margot Knight's name is inadvertently misspelled in the credits, omitting the "t" and erroneously    listing her as "Margo".  I deeply apologize to her for that error.

Don't Quit

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dinner-vention Part 4

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

Click on the Barry's Blog logo above, and you will be taken directly to the site where you will find Part IV of the video of the Dinner-vention conversation.  Once you get to the site itself, you can scroll down to watch previous parts if you want.  If you are on the site, Part IV is below.

Note:  Margot Knight's name is inadvertently misspelled in the credits, omitting the "t" and erroneously    listing her as "Margo".  I deeply apologize to her for that error.

Don't Quit

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dinner-vention Part 3

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

Click on the Barry's Blog logo above, and you will be taken directly to the site where you will find Part III of the video of the Dinner-vention conversation.  Once you get to the site itself, you can scroll down to watch previous parts if you want.  If you are on the site, Part III is below.

Note:  Margot Knight's name is inadvertently misspelled in the credits, omitting the "t" and erroneously    listing her as "Margo".  I deeply apologize to her for that error.

Here is part III of the Dinner-vention conversation.

Don't Quit

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dinner-vention Part 2

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

Note:  Margot Knight's name is inadvertently misspelled in the credits, omitting the "t" and erroneously    listing her as "Margo".  I deeply apologize to her for that error.

We tried to embed the video into the email of the blog so you could watch it that way, but it turns out the file is too big to do that.  So, if you click on the Barry's Blog logo above, you will be taken directly to the site where you will find the video.  Once you get to the site itself, you can scroll down to watch Part I if you want.


 Here is Part II of the Dinner-vention conversation.


Don't Quit

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dinner-vention Part 1

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

Note:  Margot Knight's name is inadvertently misspelled in the credits, omitting the "t" and erroneously    listing her as "Margo".  I deeply apologize to her for that error.

It is with great pleasure that we are today posting Part I of the Dinner-vention conversation. We have broken down the entire conversation into seven (approximately 20 minute) parts so that it will be easier for you to watch shorter segments rather than try to watch the whole thing in one sitting. We will post one part per day for the next seven (business) days. We also hope that this approach will allow time for you to consider the dinner guest’s comments.

 I want to again thank Anthony Radich, Shannon Daut, Bryce Merrill, Brigid McAuliffe, Trevor Trumble, Laurel Sherman and Margot Knight at Djerassi for all of their help with this project.

And my deepest thanks to the dinner guests themselves.

We are now working on the plans for Dinner-vention II.

Don’t Quit 


Monday, October 14, 2013

Aaron Dworkin on Diversity Inclusion / Final GIA thoughts

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

Last Tuesday evening, Aaron Dworkin delivered an address at Carnegie Hall on the occasion of the Tenth Anniversary of the Sphinx Organization on the topic of diversity inclusion in American Orchestras.  In it he challenges arts funders to address the scarcity of multicultural artists in those orchestras.  The speech speaks for itself.  It can be accessed here.

Final thoughts on the GIA Conference.
There was, I think, an overall optimism at this conference.  Not that the funding pool will increase to meet the legitimate demand of artists and arts organizations, but that the public and private arts funding community is learning more about how to make the funds that are available work better for both artists and arts organizations; and those in this cohort are getting smarter about helping. And I think that optimism is well supported.

There were also a number of important issues that weren't discussed to the extent I think they need to be.  Those include:

1.  How the arts funder program officer can change the direction of their organization in ways that will benefit the field.  Specifically, how those program officers can make an effective case for changes with their Presidents, Executive Directors and Board members.  This is the elephant in the room; an area where there is virtually no conversation going on.  It is the unspoken reality that governs much of the approach funders (are allowed to) take.  But it is risky ground.  It needs to be talked about - for too many Boards are unaware of, and some are actually unwilling to consider, all the challenges the sector faces - the nuances, the ramifications, the impacts.

2.  Research - and particularly what research is defensible and what research is really ill advised.  Not every proposed research project is justified.  How do we make informed and rational decisions as to which is which.

3.  The equity, inclusion, diversity challenge.  We talk about it, we talk around it, but we must soon do something about it.  Yes, I grant you there has been progress.  But not enough, and too slow in coming.

4.  Cross funder collaboration and leveraging the power of the whole of the arts funding sphere.  We have made great strides in this area, but have a long way to go before we are anywhere near leveraging our collective power.  This is not an easy area in which to make advances, because virtually all funders are islands unto themselves, and that isolation and territoriality is very difficult to change.  But we are not having the collective impact we might by continuing to act as independently as we do.

I have faith movement is afoot and smarter people than I are moving mountains to come to terms with all of this and more.  It will take time, but one can hope not an unreasonable amount of time.

Have a great rest of the week.

Dinnervention Video coming very soon.

Don't Quit

Thursday, October 10, 2013

GIA Day 3

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

This is a day after the event itself.  

Breakout Sessions:

I.  Who Are Our Constituents?  This session was based on the proposition that clarifying one’s constituency can change the approach to grant making.

I think the reality is not so much in clarifying the constituency, as identifying which constituency the focus needs to be on to advance whatever strategies have currently been adopted to meet a goal or the mission.

Though some see the public and private sectors as having different ultimate constituencies, I don’t think that is necessarily the case.  Corporations, nonprofits, government entities all ultimately serve a public interest.  In the end, a public good is the ultimate constituency.

The traditional corporate model suggests the purpose of the corporation is to “enhance shareholder value” (and arguably, that is a private, not public interest).  For the most part, that may well be an increase in bottom line profits.  But it may also be accomplished through a myriad of other activities.  Thus, for a company like Boeing - where their workforce is rapidly aging - philanthropic efforts that address that issue (like the promotion of creativity as an educational objective resulting in a more qualified workforce) indirectly relates to the enhanced shareholder value.  And in serving that objective, the corporation is (even if indirectly) serving a public interest.

For Boeing, their external stakeholders logically include: the airline customers, their suppliers, government agencies and the local communities in which they operate, the people who fly and the tourism industries.  Their internal stakeholders include their employees and their stockholders.  Also included in the mix is their role in the overall nonprofit sector in the geographic areas (principally Seattle) where they do business.

So, where they focus their philanthropic strategies, is, to me, the issue.  Workforce development is a key upcoming challenge to them, so education that seeks (long term) to support and develop a more creative workforce is a no brainer.  Success in that strategy benefits the wider public.

Target Stores, like Boeing has concluded that philanthropy is good for business (and thus the shareholder value).  Their constituents likewise include their customers and employees.

In the nonprofit sector, the government accords a special tax status on organizations that are legally defined as “public benefit corporations” (that provide a benefit to to the public) - which is not altogether much different than enhancing shareholder value - with the public itself being the shareholders.  Our nonprofit grant making includes a gamut of stakeholders - from the artists and arts organizations, to audience members, to communities.  Nonprofits too must determine where their focus will lie as they try to balance their constituent interests.  Clarifying which constituencies that focus will be on may help them to clarify their approaches to grant making in pursuit of an objective.

Finally, government agencies (like local arts councils, cities, states) also have as their underpinning, the public as the ultimate constituency.  They spend taxpayer money to enhance public value.  Where they choose to focus that spending affects how they design and implement programming.

I am not sure where this all leads, but it seems that asking the question “who really are out (current) constituencies” may be helpful in then determining how and to whom to make grants.

In the comments portion of this session, the discussion went far beyond the base question of who are your constituents and into the realm of how you go about vetting new ideas.  Mario Garcia Durham, from APAP, had what I think is a very keen observation:  he suggested that we ought to embrace some mechanism that would provide strong skepticism to new ideas; that while we didn’t want to discourage new thinking, we did need to challenge new ideas on multiple fronts with rigorous due diligence before rushing to embrace them.  I think he is right.  Too often, our dedication to the very concept of new ideas, leads us too quickly to move from one approach to another and that as a matter of strategy, we need healthy questioning of all the implications and likely impact of changing from one thing to another.  I think that is a good idea at both the organization and the sector levels.

II.  Capitalization - What are the Next Steps?

There is ample evidence that a huge percentage of arts organizations are in a financial crisis; they simply do not adhere to the principle of spending less money than they take in.  The funding community has played a role in allowing a culture of tolerating the conditions of inadequate capitalization to exist.  How then do we now help arts organizations to retire their debt, and embrace adequate capitalization, to become the requisite norm of the business model?

In the private sector, the market makes frequent corrections.  But in the nonprofit sector, market forces are undependable, unpredictable and chaotic.

One fundamental problem for arts philanthropy is that grantees - increasingly in a survival mode, desperate for funds, and wanting to appease funder demands - make two critical and costly decisions (consciously or unconsciously):

First, they continue to seriously underestimate the cost of overhead.  Whether intentionally or cavalierly, they submit budgets that suggest the cost of their doing business is far less than the reality.

The second error is the flip side of the coin:  they seriously overestimate their projected incomes.

The philanthropic community has moved, in recent years, to address the first error by providing more money for general operating expenses, and more money for the overhead and management of specific projects (moving to a more realistic goal of 30% for overhead).  And evidence suggests funders have gone from providing general operating expenses in the 15% range to the 35% range.  But they haven’t yet found the best way to change that culture of misinformation - with grantees providing unsubstantiated and false figures on expenses and income.  Many arts organizations are in denial about both, and many are not being completely honest with themselves, let alone their funders.

The challenge is to change that culture - to where grantees are more honest and realistic - in order to arrive at a better working relationship between grantor and grantee.

Two realities seem apparent to GIA:  1)  Bringing organizations to a position of being more comfortable with being honest and realistic with themselves and funders, and moving towards positions of adequate capitalization, are both part of a big conversation involving the whole arts organization’s communities, including Boards who are often not thinking about capitalization.  And 2) This will be a long, long conversation.

III.  Luncheon Plenary.  Speaker Ethan Zuckerman

Working through his organization Global Voices, Zuckerman is concerned with helping activists have a social media voice, and in the process is learning about how change happens in the world.

Some of his observations:
  • The media didn’t see the changes wrought by new technology coming, and don’t yet know how to recover.  That seems to me akin to the music business (post Napster) failing to see a fundamental change in their business model - changes that moved them from selling records as the primary income generator, a model that supported touring of artists as incidental to the selling of recorded music, to the model where recorded music became the tool to promote touring as the primary source of income.  Napster enforced a new reality - the non-paying downloading of music - and that new reality has fundamentally changed forever the music business model.  I wonder if the rough equivalent of Napster for the nonprofit arts is somewhere out there lurking, and that the proverbial bus for us is leaving the station?  And whether or not we are perilously close to missing that bus as our model is morphing into something we don’t yet see and from which we may not recover?
  • The new media stars are former bloggers.  
  • Twenty year olds (the new generation that Zuckerman calls the “digital natives) have already decided what actions they will and won’t take to affect change.  For example, this group doesn’t look to Congress or government as the place to make change happen.  They are suspicious of institutions.  They live in a high tech social world and cherish a “participatory world” - and if there is no participation, then they aren’t interested.  Moreover that world is seen through a “pointilist lens” wherein the impact desired (and having impact is a highly desired outcome) is achieved by small increments, not big movements.
  • There is, in this group, the tendency to gravitate to small, known groups - which inclination is most pronounced online, where the “digital natives” live.  Thus creativity is an import / export business - not a solo endeavor.  Participation is based on passion for this cohort, and the questions for the arts are:  1)  How can the arts be a cultural bridge?, and 2) how can the arts support institutions in a pointilist world?
IV.  The offsite session:  Challenges, Opportunities and Impacts at the Intersection of Art and Science:

One of many off-site, afternoon long sessions, this one was held at the URBN Center at Drexel University.

SEAD is a network for Sciences, Engineering, Arts and Design, and interested in new forms of collaboration among SEAD constituencies.  They did a study to identify issues that must be addressed in order to create an ecology of networked knowledge and innovation among these groups.  Such a program needs to attend to the following issues:
  • Translation - of the SEAD constituencies’  preferred language, objectives, modus   operandi, assumptions and more - among academic, commercial and civil societies.
  • Convening - overcoming trans-disciplinary thresholds.
  • Enabling - sustaining balanced SEAD relationships, i.e., establishing safe places within academia for hybrid individual practices.
  • Including - dynamic varied communities.  Global communities with local diversity.
  • Embedding - public engagement and negotiation.
  • Situating - engaging ecologies of creative and alternate spaces.
  • Sense making - of the multi ways (modals) of knowing.  Integration of understandings through the varied SEAD perspectives.
  • Documentary - Capturing, publishing, curating and archiving new forms.
  • Learning - Tapping into life long learning and creativity and sharing of blended experiences.
  • Collaborating - methodologies across disciplines and institutions.  Partnerships across organizational boundaries.
  • Thriving - ethical values including well being and joyfulness.

Two things struck me from this session:
First, there is a lot more (science / art) cross disciplinary conversation and interaction going on (at least at the academic / university level) than we realize.  In touring the Drexel schools, there is a wealth of intersections going on crossing the art, design and science departments.  The challenge for us is to promote wider understanding that these conversations have already started and are moving forth fairly rapidly, and then to seat ourselves at these tables so that as these dialogues and resultant new thinking continues and emerges, we are part of the decision making process and that we have the opportunity to provide input all along the way so that the relationships that develop include our issues, our perspectives, our needs, our hopes.  The nonprofit field sector of the arts seems very likely (to me anyway) already behind in this effort.  The academic aspect of these intersections is a train already moving and gaining speed.  If we are to catch this particular train, we need to get on board quickly to join the planning process of how this all unfolds.

Second, that movement of citizen scientist and citizen artist is making progress.  But again that development is moving without benefit of any consensus, comprehensive policy to guide its formation and output.  We need to work with the academic arts and science communities to involve: 1) us as the arts field practitioners; and 2) the private sector business scientists as the science field practitioners.  This whole effort has to be more than an academic / University led evolution.

The cross sector challenges for us to promote those intersections and the potential to bridge silo thinking are:  first to gain more widespread awareness of these efforts.  Professional organizations of scientists and artists need to meet regularly, and the conceptual framework of STEM to STEAM may be a good place to start.  And second, to identify the ways each sector can be supportive of the other.   Both sectors suffer from cultures of territoriality.

Finally, I also think there has been little movement yet in building the leveraging of public opinion bridge - little progress in creating mechanism whereby arts and science can support each other’s value and validity via leveraged advocacy and educational efforts.

V.  The conference reception at the Barnes Foundation’s Philadelphia Campus:

For me one of the great benefits of going to different kinds of arts conferences across the country over the last decade plus has been the pleasure of seeing cultural facilities and art in a score of cities as a VIP guest, and that has been a unique and joyous opportunity.  The reception at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia added to that long list.  The collection (the subject of much controversy in moving it from it’s original distant site to this new site) is stunning - Van Gogh, Matisse and other impressionist masters - but the real stars are the Cezannes and Renoirs.  I have never seen so many Cezannes and Renoirs in one place.  An extraordinary collection, now housed in a beautiful building - the clean lines of the modern architecture complementing the collection and how it is housed and displayed.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

Monday, October 7, 2013

GIA Conference - Day #2 Breakout Sessions

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

The first full day of the GIA Conference began with thumbnail presentations by young artists - all of whom were engaging and inspiring.  I find it often difficult to write about an artist’s presentation.  I am not a critic and don’t have a critic’s toolbox to review artistic merit or even a simple presentation.  And as a observer, I find my relationship to an artist is personal and defies easy explanation or classification.  Then too mere words often are inadequate to convey an in-person experience.  

I went to several breakout sessions today:

First up - Building Demand for the Arts - Ben Cameron and Alan Brown presenting a long, multi year program and study designed to promote the intersection of artists and organizations to think together about how to build demand.

Ben summarized our past approaches:  We have gone from Audience Development strategies (principally “butts in the seats” thinking) which have dominated our approach for decades, to Audience Participation thinking, to now Audience Engagement approaches.  All along we have embraced the core of what the Wallace Foundation started: how to “broaden, deepen and diversify” our audiences.

And now we are moving to consideration of the phenomenon of “demand” itself.  How do we define demand? (It is, it was suggested, more than simply “butts in the seats”).  Demand is manifested in various ways.   How do we quantify it?  What are it’s various relationships to “supply”?

Brown and Cameron suggested the concept has multiple potential frameworks ripe for consideration of ways to expand demand for the arts.  One example is in the realm of “settings” - so that presenting the arts in different settings (away from the four walls of the traditional arts venue, and more where the audiences might be) is but one rich opportunity for changing and building demand.  Another is in pursuing definable communities.  Another is in consideration of the role of algorithms play in Preference Discovery techniques (i.e., when you choose one song on Pandora Radio, the site suggests other songs you might like).  There are untold questions to explore when we talk about audiences from the demand perspective - from the role of “free programming” to new ways to use the exiting over supply to address demand.

I asked whether the project included looking at where the existing demand is not intersecting with the existing supply (e.g., a younger cohorts interest in dance, but via virtual presentations and not via the traditional arts four wall venues), but am not sure that fit the framework of the project.

Ben Cameron and Alan Brown are two very smart men, with substantial experience in audiences.  So if they argue to me that there are valuable lessons to be learned and benefits to be gained from this project, I support their conclusions.  As Ben suggested, this project is less about robust post facto evaluation, and more about creating a community dialogue - particularly between artists and organizations together.  I fully agree we still don’t have enough background, data, information and ways to make the informed decisions that will get us to a better place.

But Alan also acknowledged that we have spent years and literally tens of millions of dollars trying to address the question of audiences for the arts.  And, those efforts have largely not yielded ways to stem the tide of the audience decline over the past decades plus.  Alan opined that the decentralized nature of the arts field has led to frustration in this area because there has been so little uptake of the lessons learned.  I hope another project -- to come at the issue from yet a different perspective -- will give us expanded insights and new avenues to pursue that will allow us to finally address our audience challenges, but I think it not unreasonable to wonder how this will turn out substantially different from all the other approaches we have taken - approaches that have not yielded the desired result.

The issue is about “butts in seats” - however one may wish to define what that means (and it certainly may mean more than the literal “butts in seats”).    We haven’t yet come up with the answer to stem the decline.

 The second breakout session I went to was the Intersection of Creativity, Health and Aging.

This from an AP story that I read last week:
“The world is aging so fast that most countries are not prepared to support their swelling numbers of elderly people, according to a global study being issued Tuesday by the United Nations and an elder rights group.
The report ranks the social and economic well-being of elders in 91 countries, with Sweden coming out on top and Afghanistan at the bottom. It reflects what advocates for the old have been warning, with increasing urgency, for years: Nations are simply not working quickly enough to cope with a population graying faster than ever before. By the year 2050, for the first time in history, seniors older than 60 will outnumber children younger than 15.”
I have long thought that the relationship between the arts and healing and aging is potentially a goldmine for us.  The problem of aging and the attendant health care issues is going to be a major priority across the planet, and governments everywhere will be looking for help in addressing the problems of their aging populations.  The arts are one of the answers to any number of those problems.  We can form new alliances with governments and be part of the response to this challenge.  In the process, we can improve those relationships and our chances for across the board support.

This session provided clear and convincing evidence based on case studies of how the arts can help with Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s Disease; how storytelling and dance can help senior’s long term conditions; how the arts can de-medicalize those conditions and help aging populations better their situations and improve their life styles.   And I think we have barely scratched the surface of the value of the arts in addressing these issues.   Every local arts community ought to get involved in this area..

 The last session I went to today was a sharing of some of the progress GIA has made in its effort to move the nation’s arts organizations to embrace adequate Capitalization as a cornerstone of their operations.

Here’s what the data they have amassed in a score of workshops shows:

The field is largely undercapitalized.  Too many arts organizations have little to no working capital, inadequate facilities reserves, and virtually no available risk / change capital.  And too many other organizations are incorrectly capitalized.  They are trapped by poorly conceived endowments, over invested in buildings, and ill prepared to manage unplanned growth.  All of which is straining their capacity to make ends meet.

They also found that size matters.  Smaller organizations have less cash flow, but greater flexibility.  Larger organizations attract most of the money, but are less flexible.

Past funder behavior has played a roll in this situation.  Funders inadvertently created funding approaches that punished surpluses, were inadequate to cover costs, and were often too restrictive.  And funders priorities shaped organizational behaviors.

They also found that often grantees spent money on operations despite the money being allocated for other purposes, and that grantees were often not completely honest with their grantors.  And if that is true, and I have no doubt to an extent it is, then that, in my opinion is a major issue.  If grantees aren’t able to be honest with their grantors how can there be any kind of real working relationship.

Evidence from three funders approaching the challenge, suggests funders are adopting a variety of approaches to help arts organizations get to the point of moving towards adequate capitalization: workshops, trainings, grants et. al.  The question that looms is that if adequate capitalization is a core value and objective (because inadequate capitalization limits the viability of the organizations, and in the aggregate threatens the health of a local arts ecosystem), then at what point does the funder say to an organization: “if you can’t achieve adequate capitalization, or at least implement a viable plan to that end, then you are no longer eligible for continued funding”?  That question remains unanswered at this point, but needs to be answered soon.

More tomorrow.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

GIA Arts Education Pre-Conference - Common Core Standards

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

Blogging live from a conference is fraught with dangers.  Unlike my regular weekly blog, which I can write, then re-write, then ponder, then dig deeper into some point, then re-write yet again - blogging from a conference is much more shooting from the hip.  A long day of meetings - the endless parade of speakers and talking heads, and then evening receptions and late at night there you are writing a blog entry; trying to be complete and fair and balanced.  And you are tired.  Still, there is something about trying to relay and report thinking near to when it happens that is challenging and rewarding.

Few things on our collective agenda are more important, long range, then the re-establishment (or in some cases, the initial establishment) of curriculum based, sequential arts education taught to standards and assessment, by trained arts professionals for K-12 students in all schools in the country.  Not only is that goal critical to us in the development of new audiences, supporters, donors and champions, it is critical to the country to produce independent, creative, fully educated citizens who will populate our workforce and underpin our democracy.

Yet that Holy Grail continues to defy out best attempts to make it a reality.  We are encouraged by the widespread support for what we intuitively understand to be of enormous value, and for the myriad inroads and advancements we make each year - and at the same time, discouraged by the spiral of forever cycling  back to the beginning of the march towards making it happen - never quite overcoming the challenges of funding, politics, scheduling and all the other hurdles we must overcome to put arts in the schools.  Hell, we don't even get invited to half the tables at which decisions that affect us are made.

The latest star to which we are encouraged to hitch our wagons is the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which is the current educational reform movement du jour - largely, no doubt, a backlash to the mindless testing and narrowing of focus brought about by No Child Left Behind.  I don’t mean to make light of this effort.  CCSS seeks to establish a single set of standards for teaching competency in English Language Arts and Math in each of the states that adopt the standards (and - impressively - so far, 45 have).  The good news is that the standards center around each student having the higher learning skills to process information and relate it to the world - as opposed to simple rote memory.  And the creators of the Core Standards seem fully committed to the inclusion of the arts as one of the ways to teach to the new standards.  Indeed, one of the principal architects, David Coleman, now President of the College Board argues forcefully that the Arts are well suited to the kinds of studies the CCSS promotes to provide deep and rich earning experiences.  There are, to be sure, real opportunities for the arts to embed ourselves into the structure of education to an extent heretofore denied us.

The Standards prescribe what should taught, but not how or when. As the CCSS is rolling out across the country, it is now presumably the job of the arts supporters (and that would be “us”) to catch that train and work to make sure that - as a matter of policy - the arts are used to teach to the new standards.  In this light, we join the darling of the Silicon Valley Corporate set - Science - which is also, like the arts, a “means” to teaching Language Arts and Math.   And there may well be some real opportunities to partner with the science business lobby in joint, mutually beneficial, efforts.  Opportunities long hidden.

Note that there is a completely separate ongoing movement that deals with Standards and Assessment for the Arts as a core subject itself.  And those efforts may end up as local bars for teaching, and they too may move towards a national roll out on the state level.

Note too that CCSS is but one educational reform of the past decade and indeed but one currently shaping the matrix.  We are still dealing with STEM and STEAM, and TItle I is still the law of the land.  Getting arts education into the schools in the way we want is a battle we must simultaneously fight on multiple levels.  It is both a political battle (and there are no shortages of arts education enemies and detractors), and a practical battle (questions of funding, teaching training, scheduling, curriculum integration, testing and more bedevil school boards, superintendents, teachers, artists, and parents -- all of which must be addressed before we get down to the most important person in the whole scheme - the student.)

We have been fighting these battles - with some success, but in many cases very limited success, for decades now.  Our lack of success has largely to do with how complex and daunting a task fighting the battles is - given our limited resources of time, money, leadership and power.

It was suggested at the GIA PreConference on CCSS that one of the biggest opportunities for the arts lies in the provision of Professional Development and training for teachers, and there has already been significant investment in mapping possible Common Core Arts Curriculum thinking; that what we ought to do is work with local school districts to help train teachers how to include the arts as part of the content of teaching to the new standards.  And clearly, we ought to do that.  Once again, the problem is that to do all that kind of work is time consuming, costs money, and needs qualified people to do it.  We are short on all three.  Can funders help?  One would think so. Will they?  That remains unknown.

To be sure, not everyone is fully convinced the role of the arts in the  CCSS is necessarily a good thing.  Some suggest it once again marginalizes the arts as it relates them to predetermined and preconceived notions of expression - and thus it may deny or bar artistic expressions of dance, music or other performance in favor of using those expressions as means to study and express (in writing) the lessons learned.  Others complain that the standards will demand of the arts something impossible for them to deliver given the current framework for arts education.  For some people, adding yet one more arrow to our quiver is of little value so long as we remain without a bow to shoot any of those arrows.

The second half of the GIA Common Core PreConference centered on the politics, policy and advocacy efforts necessary to move forward on all the arts education fronts.

Richard Kessler discussed how our focus on practice - on programs, rather than policy - has limited our reach and success in getting arts education in the schools.  One example of the cost of that approach is the STEM paradigm.  We weren’t at that table when it was created, and so we have, ever since, played catch up in trying to move STEM to STEAM.  We need to both recognize where the tables at which we need to be seated are at before decisions are made, and we need to figure out how to wrangle invitations to those tables.  Richard suggested that “but for” David Coleman inserting the arts into the fabric of the content envisioned for the CCSS in an architectural way, CCSS might not be much of an opportunity at all for us.  I agree it may be folly to count on the David Colemans being there so fortuitously.  (And if Mr. Coleman really wants to help the arts, might I humbly suggest that in his new position as President of the College Board he makes sure knowledge of, and some experience with, the arts is one of the requirements for passing SAT tests that determine college aspiring students of their future admission to the college of their choice.)

One of the problems we face in the advocacy arena is that our own best potential advocates and lobbyists - our cultural institutions - especially the larger ones with powerful Boards - are principally interested in their own self-interest.  They save their efforts to feather their own nests.  That’s completely understandable, but not helpful to the sector as a whole, and certainly not helpful to furthering arts education K-12 efforts.

My own opinion is that powerful Board members of major cultural institutions are first and foremost interested in spending their political chips on access that benefits their own personal business interests, and only after that expenditure are they interested next in pushing the interests of the arts organization with which they are affiliated.  There is little to no room left to push for sector wide advantages, and that includes arts education.

The question is what might funders do that will influence and impact how we organize and leverage whatever clout we may have in the arts to efforts - life arts education - that benefit all of us.  That is a very difficult question politically, and gets made, if at all, on an  individual, case by case, basis.   What else can funders do to enable arts organizations and arts administrators to engage in effective policy work?

The remainder of the afternoon included a number of entreaties urging the funding community to get involved, and stay involved, in helping to promote advocacy for arts education, at all levels.   Good advice we have heard before - but again where is the time, money, expertise and leadership to carry it forward.

I heard two excellent pieces of advice that everyone should take to heart:

  1. Joe Landon, Executive Director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, advised funders in the audience that if they really wanted to have an impact they should look for and listen carefully to people who truly understand how things work and get done on a local level for suggestions to how to successfully move forward.  That is sage advice.
  2. Laura Zucker, Executive Director, Los Angeles County Arts Commission advised funders to consider that advocacy efforts and organizations are not your grantees, but your partners

There are ten thousand plus school districts in America.  Maybe as many as a hundred thousand schools. Almost all of them are guided by local decision making - decentralized, subject to local politics.  As vast as the nonprofit arts are, with our tentacles into virtually every community in America, we are not yet organized enough, nor equipped with the necessary time, money and other resources, to truly effectively lobby across that mass.   The rich districts and schools are more likely to have arts offerings.  My fear with the Common Core, for a variety of reasons, is that it will once again fall victim to the result of “haves” and “have-nots”.  Big problem for us and for the country. But that is not a reason not to support and try, as vigorously as we can, to embrace the CCSS and do what we can to insure the arts are part of the content that is part of the curriculum in the CCSS approach.  There are victories for us to win here.  Lots of them.  And building on those victories is the way we move forward.

But we need to remember this is not the “Open Sesame” answer to all the challenges.  Just another step.  Another arrow.  Be nice if someone would buy us a bow so we can start shooting some of these arrows.

Like Sisyphus we keep pushing the arts education rock up the hill.  Always pushing.

Don’t Quit