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