Friday, June 20, 2014

A Potential Deep Divide in the Arts Sector is Brewing

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

S P E C I A L    R E P O R T - Equity and Arts Funding Allocation

(Apologies if some of the font in this post is smaller.  It may turn out ok, but the Google Blog Platform seems to frequently make its own decisions - for inexplicable reasons - and try as I might I can't get it to change its mind…….)

"Oh we got trouble, right here in River City, with a capital 'T' and that rhymes with 'E' and that stands for equity……………"

One of the blog topics I left off last week's list of issues has taken on more of a sense of urgency this week.  I kept it off last week's list, because I wanted to write about it at some point.  That point appears to be now.

I have long suspected (and have intimated in previous writings) that there is brewing a deep divide in major urban areas as to the allocation of decreasing government funding pools between the established cultural organizations of an area (mostly white), and the growing multicultural organizations.  That scenario, in my mind, unfolds something like this:

The demographics of urban areas is rapidly changing and the inevitable march to previously minority populations becoming the majority is in full charge.  As those largely ethnic groups grow to majority status they gain the local political power that comes with their potential at the ballot box.  City Councils, Boards of Supervisors and even Mayors - all being political animals - see the writing on the wall and appreciate that the power balance is changing.   
As minorities move to majority, they inevitably and understandably seek greater equity in the allocation of government funds to support their organizations and their needs.  That, in many cases, they have sought a greater piece of a shrinking pie for some time, and have been, in one way or another, rebuked has left them resolved now to redress their grievances.  The power vacuum has changed. 
This is true in the arts sector as in other sectors.  Much of local government funding has for a long time gone to the established white cultural organizations (arguably at the expense of multicultural groups).  And now, with power, those groups want a change.  In some quarters, good will hasn't been helped by what is (legitimately or not) perceived by the multicultural community as arrogance and patronization (either implicit or tacit) by the dominant cultural community.  In some places, this has created a storehouse of resentment.

And now a version of that scenario has come to the fore in San Francisco - and it has the potential the get ugly and to pit one segment of our field against another - with equity being the watchword, but with undertones of charges of racism.  And it may very well be a divide and a fight coming to your community.

Some background:  San Francisco is both a city and a county.  The San Francisco Arts Commission is the official local arts agency for both.  It's funding comes principally from the City and County budget.  Grants for the Arts is a separate organization that gets a percentage share of the local TOT (Hotel tax) funds, and it is that organization that dispenses the lion's share of the funding to local arts organization grantees.   The Arts Commission has a program that awards grants in an Equity Program designed to support local multicultural arts organizations (and it also administers the local public art programs and provides other services to the local field).  Both organizations are under the control of the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor.  There was an attempt a few years ago to combine the two by the Mayor's office into a Cultural Affairs Department based on the recommendations of a widely publicized task force, but there was substantial opposition and the proposal died on the vine.  Apparently, the major cultural institutions had their paid lobbyist fight the change. Unquestionably, politics was, and is, involved in the San Francisco Arts ecosystem on this and other matters.  

Both organizations are led by capable, locally experienced, seasoned leaders - Kary Schulman at Grants for the Arts and now Tom DeCaigny at the San Francisco Arts Commission.  I know both of these individuals, and both (to my mind) have a legacy of trying to be supportive of the arts in San Francisco - all the arts - but this potential chasm in the community puts both organizations,  and Kary and Tom, in the proverbial "between a rock and a hard place."  I don't envy either of them having to meet this challenge.  It will call on not only theirs, but the whole of the arts community's best efforts to deal with this - if it gets out of hand.

The Gist of the Fight:

I got two emails on Wednesday of this week.  The first was from the San Francisco Arts Town Hall - a four year old (+ or -) ad hoc local advocacy group that sought to reach out to candidates for office to ascertain, and encourage, those candidates to be arts supportive - and with notable success.  The composition of the organization was fairly representative of the whole of the community and had seeming widespread support.

The email had to do with a proposal to take one million dollars from the Grants for the Arts budget and transfer those funds to the SF Arts Commission to provide greater funds for its Cultural Equity Grants program.

Here is that email:

We have heard reports from City Hall that there is a proposal to cut funding to Grants for the Arts by $1 million.  The proposal would transfer these funds to the Arts Commission to fund cultural equity grants.  Cultural equity is an extremely important issue that needs to be addressed and this isn't the right way to do it.  
A $1 million cut to Grants for the Arts (GFTA) would be devastating to arts organizations that depend on GFTA for operating funds.  Arts organization and artists need more funding during these difficult times.  Pitting arts organizations and City agencies against each other won't help solve our bigger problems.  We need to work together to find more resources for cultural equity grants - not cut funding for the arts to fund them. 
Please help stop this devastating cut by emailing the Supervisors now!  They are meeting this week to discuss this budget and we need to speak up on behalf of the arts community in San Francisco. 
Just cut and paste the email addresses below and use our draft as a template.

Thank you for your help!

The San Francisco Arts Town Hall Organizing Committee"

The second email came at the same time, this one from Urban, which organization's website describes the organization as follows:

"The Urban Institute for Development and Economic Alternatives (Urban IDEA) is a progressive think tank focusing on land use, housing, transportation, economic development and job creation, environmental justice, food and water policy, climate change strategies, and urban and regional governance. Urban IDEA serves as an incubator for new ideas and approaches to urban and regional development from a left-progressive perspective. Bringing together researchers, professional practitioners, scholars, cultural workers, policymakers and activists, Urban IDEA promotes dialogue, critical thinking, engaged scholarship, and a collaborative approach to addressing the larger forces influencing development in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Institute promotes exchange of ideas and strategies being developed elsewhere in the US, and internationally, that are at the forefront of efforts to bring about social and economic equality and long-term urban and environmental sustainability."

I have no idea who is actually behind this move or how widespread the support for it is.  

Here is the gist of that email - which, BTW, had as its subject line:  "Protest Institutionalized Racism in San Francisco Arts Funding.

"Come to a Budget Justice Rally at City Hall Friday June 20 at 9:00am to Protest Severe Cultural Inequity in Arts Funding Stay for Public Comment at the Board at 10:00am(write the Board of Supervisors telling them to support cultural equity)City Budget Analyst Report Proves Grants for the Arts policies reflect the same funding priorities of a long by-gone era (1960), when 82% of San Francisco’s population was white.
More than half a century later GFTA policies and procedures still ensure that over three quarters of its grant dollars (77%) are awarded to arts organizations that predominantly serve white audiences, even though the white population now only comprises 43% of the City’s residents."

The email went on - in a damning indictment of GFTA funding (and because I think it important, I am including it here in its entirety even though it is lengthly):

"Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, outraged by the findings of a report by the City Budget Analyst on the Grants for the Arts program, are considering giving a million dollars from the discredited agency’s budget to the Cultural Equity Grants program at the San Francisco Arts Commission.
The Supervisors’ are considering this action one year after the Finance and Budget Committee members initially expressed concern that GFTA awarded only 23% of its funds to organizations whose artistic programs authentically reflect the lives and experiences of San Francisco’s culturally diverse residents. Supervisor Eric Mar called for the Analysts Report after GFTA Director Kary Schulman last year assured the Committee that her scheduled $400,000 plus budget increase would “support the new, younger upcoming groups that serve the populations that you (Supervisors Mar and London Breed) referenced.” Watch the video here  
Instead, in 2013-14 GFTA increased funding for white organizations by a quarter of a million dollars whilst those representing people of color remained unchanged.
The subsequent report confirmed that virtually no change had taken place during the past 25 years. Since then, GFTA has just released its 2014-15 grant awards: funds to organizations of color increased by six--tenths of one percent. At its current rate of change, GFTA will not achieve cultural equity until the year 2061.   
The Budget Analyst’s report found:
  • GFTA’s funding for arts organizations reflecting people of color has not changed in over a quarter of a century, even though the demographics of the city’s population has changed significantly in that time. 
  • That in 2012-13 while people of color represented 57% of San Francisco’s population, GFTA funding allocations to organizations from this sector of the population was 23%. 
  • The report also found that from 2006-07 to 2012-13, the Agency had reduced the percentage of its funding awarded to arts organization of color and it was trending down. 
  • Further, the report goes on to say that GFTA has no plans to alter this allocation or the funding mechanism through which it makes its funding decisions.
The Budget Analyst’s findings has also led to a renewed call for reform through creation of a Department of Cultural Affairs, as recommended by the San Francisco Arts Task Force in 2006--something that City Hall, at the behest of Ms. Schulman, has resisted implementing.
The Task Force Report explained how San Francisco’s decentralized and dislocated arts funding of approximately $75,000,000 a year (as highlighted in the Budget Analyst’s report) resulted in little coordination, strategic planning, transparency or accountability.
GFTA’s policies and their impact
  • GFTA’s practice of awarding public funding based on an organization’s current budget size produces an arts community similar to the national economy, in which the affluent accumulate wealth while the rest of the population struggles to make ends meet.  The agency’s policies represent a form of bureaucratic “red-lining”: they promote inequality and discrimination without being patently illegal. 
  • In 1992, the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors declared that pursuing and respecting cultural equity was the City’s arts policy; in the City Budget Analyst’s study of GFTA, the agency’s Director repeatedly insists that because she is not mandated to diversify her funding, she does not keep statistics on this matter and is therefore not responsible for the inequities of her outcomes. Apparently, only the Mayor and Board of Supervisors can or will correct this situation. 
  • Once an organization is added to the GFTA roster it typically stays there: some organizations have been on the roster since 1961 when GFTA was founded. But over the past 50 years, while San Francisco, California and the nation have experienced powerful demographic shifts, GFTA’s annual grant awards have consistently reflected the cultural biases of the 1950s: art is for the affluent and hyper-educated; classical music, opera, ballet and big museums are what really matter. 
  • GFTA’s practices have institutionalized cultural discrimination: its policies guarantee that non-profits serving affluent white audiences will annually receive a disproportionate percentage of the City’s annual investments in the arts, to the detriment of the rest the arts community as well as to the City’s long-term financial interests. Many small groups—particularly Asian and Latino organizations--whose applications have repeatedly been rejected and have simply stopped applying. 
  • GFTA’s policy of giving its largest grants to organizations with the largest budgets (all of which are rooted in western European culture), disproportionately supports white organizations that have accumulated substantial endowments over the past century. For half of this time, other communities were subjected to legalized discrimination and did not develop similar resources. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act was still law when the San Francisco Symphony was founded in 1911 and when the SF Opera was founded in 1923 and the SF Ballet in 1933.  
  • GFTA’s discriminatory and short-sighted policies adversely impact the agency’s stated goal of attracting visitors to the City. Residents of the surrounding Bay Area counties have always comprised the vast majority of these visitors and The US Census Bureau projects that in 2050, only 28% of the Bay Area’s 10 million residents will be white. It is clearly in the City’s long-term economic interest to maintain its position as the center of the region’s cultural production; however, to achieve this goal in the future, the City will need to promote the evolution of a culturally diverse non-profit arts community.
The San Francisco Arts Commission’s website describes its Cultural Equity Grants Program as follows:
'The San Francisco Arts Commission’s grant making programs are committed to supporting and building cultural resources for our City’s diverse arts communities. The SFAC stewards the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund, the Neighborhood Cultural Centers Fund and other City resources to foster the values and increase the impact of cultural equity and neighborhood arts. The SFAC supports San Francisco artists, arts organizations, and historically underserved communities through grants, technical assistance and capacity building, economic development, arts education initiatives and community-based Cultural Centers.
Grants from the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund provide support for the enrichment of San Francisco’s multicultural landscape and are intended to ensure that:
  • all people who make up the city have fair access to information, financial resources, and opportunities for full cultural expression, as well as opportunities to be represented in the development of arts policy and the distribution of arts resources; 
  • all the cultures and subcultures of the city are represented in thriving, visible arts organizations of all sizes; 
  • mid-and large-budget arts institutions whose programming reflects the experiences of historically underserved communities flourish.

Note:  I believe the $75 million arts funding budget referred to in the above email is the combined total of the SF Arts Commission, Grants for the Arts AND the money expended by the City of SF to maintain the large budget cultural organization buildings which the City owns - funding which inures indirectly to the organizations housed in those buildings.  Claims on both sides will need to be verified.

And so it would seem there is a potential fight brewing, one that may already have the seeds of acrimony planted.  In any fight, there are always two sides to the story.  Dismissing the claims of either seems ill advised, but lines are being drawn and positions staked out.  Posturing is likely to follow.

Then on Thursday, another email - escalating the divide -  from the Urban Idea group went out:  Here is that email: (with the subject line:  "Arts Lobbyist Views People of Color as Fringe Elements.")

"The Paid Lobbyist of the Opera, Symphony and Ballet Yesterday Joined with Arts Town Hall to Call Artists and Arts Organizations that Represent People of Color “Fringe Elements” 
 An extraordinary e-mail written by BMWL & Partners (the official lobbyists for the City's largest and most powerful arts organizations including the SF Opera, Symphony and Ballet) and distributed through the San Francisco Arts Town Hallwebsite/e-mail server yesterday attacked the City’s arts organizations of color and LGBT artists as "fringe elements of the arts community" for daring to protest the inequitable funding distribution at GFTA. The accusation that anyone who supports cultural equity is a “fringe element” lets us know exactly what these organizations think about most of the City’s artists.  
Artists and arts organizations representing people of color have for many years bemoaned the lack of equity at GFTA, but became particularly incensed when the City Budget Analyst published a report on GFTA funding practices in March that proved their point: that while people of color are 58% of the City’s population, they receive only 23% of GFTA money. 
Members of the Board of Supervisors sitting on the budget and finance committee were equally outraged by the report and even more so by the fact that the director of GFTA did not seem to think that her agency’s clearly discriminatory policy was a problem and had no plans to change it--despite making assurances to the contrary when she appeared before the Committee last year. 
As they discussed the budget it became clear to the Supervisors that there should be some kind of measure that registered their strong priority for GFTA to change its policies and equitably fund organizations that represent people of color. 
Clearly, if an indication of GFTA's comparative funding levels is anything to go by, then People of Color are indeed fringe elements when it comes to determining the City of San Francisco's arts funding policy."  

Note:  Included in the email was a graph (that would not reproduce well for this post) that indicated the percentage of GFTA funding that went to the 'white' arts community was approximately 78% of the total.  Also, I could not locate the purported email from the lobbying firm, and the only other email I received from the San Francisco Arts Town Hall was a call for the arts community to lobby the Board of Supes for more money for the SF Arts Commission's Equity Program, but not to take money from GFTA - a solution that may be problematic if there isn't any more money, and which somewhat begs the question of equity in allocation long term. .  

The email from Urban Idea went on:

"Ask the Supervisors to:
  • Not allow any increase in funding to GFTA. Any new monies should go to the Cultural Equity Grants program. 
  • Increase the annual funding allocation to the Cultural Equity Grants program at the San Francisco Arts Commission. 
  • Make any future fundraising increase to GFTA be contingent on the department's efforts to achieve cultural equity. 
  • Start to work on a plan to merge GFTA to become part of the San Francisco Arts Commission as recommended by the Arts Task Force in 2006." 

I have no idea how this will play out in the short run, or what action the Board of Supervisors might take. (As of this writing the results aren't yet in).  The current Board has substantial multicultural representation on its membership.  I do not know when a final vote or decision will be made, but as this is a budget issue, the budget calendar theoretically has time constraints.).   The issue is money and how it is allocated - compounded by a history.  On one side you have at least some members of the multicultural arts community and on the other the more established (and white) organizations. And the strong local foundation community will have a stake in this outcome too.   It is a situation that has been brewing for a long time.  How San Francisco deals with this conflict; whether or not it can manage it and maintain a civility and unity within the arts community, and whether or not it can find a way to broker an acceptable compromise that will satisfy some of what each sides wants (and my advice to them is to remember that a successful negotiation has little to do with what your side wants, but rather what to do with what both sides need to reach a consensus) remains to be seen, and very well may frame the issue for other communities.

One way or the other, I don't think the issue is going away.  And I think it may yet play out all across the country as the times change.  Unfortunately the local government funding pie is simply too small to meet the legitimate needs and demands of the entire community.  And realistically there is no alternative to government funding (federal, state and local) to make up the shortfall that we are experiencing.  And our efforts to increase government funding to meet the demand have not succeeded.  Somewhere compromise will need to be made - at least if we are to avoid the trap of thinking we are our own enemies.  We have more than enough enemies outside ourselves.  Exacerbating animosity between factions within our community will have negative consequences for all of us in the long run.  As we, in my generation, were advised in kindergarten: It is important to learn to play nicely with everyone.

I think in the near future the established cultural sector will no longer be able to claim a disproportionate allocation to itself - irrespective of whatever theory it puts forth to justify its claims.  The shift in political power will eventually change the dynamic, and as that power shifts so will the funding.  More minority voters will inevitably mean more minority office holders - as the minorities become in many cases the majority - [though I note the unique situation in the (relatively small) City of San Francisco where housing prices (purchase and rental) are escalating in response to demand to the point where all but the wealthy are being driven out of that market to some degree and that may impact the growth of minority power accumulation].  As the composition of local governing bodies changes to reflect changing demographics, the Large Budget Organizations will likely not be as successful in their formal and informal lobbying efforts to protect their status quo.  Demand for equity by the multicultural communities will inevitably grow and put pressure on all funders - and a more equitable distribution of funds will likely mean less funding for the current recipients (it will have to come from somewhere).  I think the days when multicultural arts support is its own "special" category are numbered, and the former majority cultural community - at least in certain urban areas, if not everywhere - will find its preferred status over.  And as costs of doing business for arts organizations escalate, income decreases and shifts (funding, foundations, other philanthropic support and audiences), we are likely to see more closures and failures by organizations who will become economically nonviable.  And all the improvement in our business skills won't likely be enough to "market" our way out of this reality without substantial government support - and that seem problematic at best.   This is the tip of the iceberg.  

As Bob Dylan sang to my generation:  "The times they are a'changing".  I will try to report back on what happens and any positions put forth by either side in this conflict, or by other interested parties.

The challenge of nurturing and supporting multicultural arts provision in an equitable manner, and protecting the integrity and viability of our established cultural organizations and that ecosystem - but no longer at the expense of multicultural or other communities - is likely the challenge for the arts in the next decade.  It won't be easy.  Stay tuned.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Random thoughts on Things to Blog About

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

I read about 40 arts blog posts that I subscribe to each week, as well as dozens of articles and stories on arts web sites.  I also read, on average, three or four reports and studies each week, and I surf the web constantly for arts related information.  I try to keep up with what is going on in the various disparate parts of our field and to stay abreast of recent developments and ideas.  I talk to lots of people every day. I do all of this, in part, to come up with subjects about which I might blog on this post.  That's my job.  I realize most other people in the field do not have this luxury; they have full time jobs at working arts organizations and their plates are full every single day (and night).  I hope this blog and many, many others help to make people aware of some of what is happening out there and to raise some of the issues and share some of the thinking around those issues.  I hope that at least once in awhile I may write something that strikes a chord.  Sometimes that happens.  Often I miss the mark.  That's ok with me.  When I am on target, the occasional email response I get is tremendously gratifying and makes the effort all worthwhile.

It is increasingly difficult (if not impossible) to keep up with all the information available to us.  The amount of coverage just in our field is growing exponentially at an accelerated rate.  I keep a folder of links and articles and studies to which I refer when considering what to write about.  The folder keeps expanding, and for one reason or another, I don't get back to it to chime in on what seems to me important as often, or as much, as I mean to.  Sometimes what seemed like a great idea, on reflection seems not so great.  And then there are just too many items in the folder.  I will never get to all the things out there that are worthy of some kind of analysis or look.  I enjoy it personally because it is all food for the mind.  But, as I said, I have more time than the average arts administrator to indulge myself.

Here then is a random selection of topics (and thoughts) that I mean (meant) to write about, but haven't yet (and may not ever) get to:  (Maybe there are one or two that resonate with you).

1.  Increasingly national (and some local) arts organizations are streaming at least part of their conferences live.  A recent case in point - Americans for the Arts - offered live and online the plenary sessions of their just concluded conference in Nashville.  I applaud those efforts and hope this is a trend that has legs and will expand.  Though I understand why organizations may not want to compromise their delegate registrations by offering everything online, for those who wish they could attend an event, but cannot, live and on demand streaming is of great value, and ought to be encouraged and supported.  At the AFTA Nashville conference, for example, there was a really outstanding session on: "How can arts and culture maintain or regain standing as a core public value to our communities" with Graham Beal, Marc Barmuthi Joseph and Marissa Shriver.  The analysis, observations and ideas of these three were food for thought and there were ample nuggets in the discussion that gave me ideas for at least a half dozen blogs.  More of this kind of streaming please.

2.  As I have written about before, one problem with the onslaught of so much data and information is the dearth of clearinghouses where one can find all that is available in an easy, one stop step.  Increasingly, there are more of these data, research and other clearinghouses being put online -- but the scope and depth of information available has become so large, that we are, I think, now approaching the need for a Clearinghouse of Arts Clearinghouses.  Who will mount that effort to help us save time in trying to keep up to date?

3.  Taking a page from the Open Mic protocol, what if there were a performing arts facility in our communities that employed a similar protocol (at least some of the time) whereby performing arts organizations, irrespective of their size and operating budget or any other classification, could sign up and present their piece of art much like an Open Mic night?  You could have some kind of vetting process that would establish a minimal bar so that only legitimate arts organizations qualified, but there are, I would guess, more than enough that would qualify.  Over time the public might warm to the idea that, while perhaps hit and miss, really unique and quality performances would perform at such a venue; a boon to organizations that did not have easy and ready access to such opportunities.

4.  There are some 130,000 plus schools (K-12) in America.  While we have an increasing number of extraordinary pilot kinds of programs to get the arts in those schools as part of the educational experience (thanks to the efforts of so many dedicated, passionate and able people in our field) the real elephant in the room - if we want the arts in all those schools, is the cost.  Two art teachers (which may or may not be enough) at a cost of only $35,000 each (all inclusive) means we need somewhere around  nine billion dollars a year - every year.  While that seems like an almost insurmountable bar, it is but a fraction of the cost of a couple of months of our war machinery.  Contrary to what politicians may say - we can afford it if we choose to.  While we gain more experience to make the case, and while we learn about what works and what doesn't, I would hope we would begin now to simultaneously push for government (federal, state, local) expenditure of that total, and not wait for only incremental successes.  The nation's kids need the arts now, so let's push for the final solution while we chip away school by school.  Aim high.  Aim higher.

5.  Should the arts have their own tumblr and pinterest sites?

6.  When will foundations finally shed their fear of funding direct advocacy (and even lobbying) efforts on behalf of the arts?  Is the move to fund arts education advocacy an opening of that door?  What might be done to move them in that direction?

7.  There is in France a policy of exception culturelle (cultural exception) - as noted in an article in The Guardian - "a fiercely-guarded principle that means anything considered to be of cultural value to French society should be protected by the state from market forces."  An outgrowth of that policy is "special status given to more than 254,000 workers in France's film, theatre, television and festival industry. Known as intermittents, a 1936 law gives them higher compensation, benefits and social protection than the average unemployed person in recognition of their job insecurity. They have to work 507 hours over 10-and-a-half months for performers and over 10 months for technicians to qualify for the payments" -- which policy is now under attack.  Wouldn't it be nice if we had such a policy. While I would put the chances of passage of such a policy in the current political / economical climate at zero, it may nonetheless be of some advantage to put it forth and push for it, if for no other reason than to sell the idea that culture is of special value to any society - ours included, and that artists are the actors on that stage.  Sometimes asking for way more than you think is realistic is a good strategy.

8.  Why is there no awards show on television that honors the annual (and lifetime) achievements of the artists with whom we work with, for and represent?  There seems to be an awards show of some kind every week.  Where is ours?  And why aren't the artists we are involved with regarded as celebrities?  Where is the Red Carpet for the arts? And for those who think the notion of our artists as celebrities is an abhorrent idea that dumbs down and marginalizes their artistry, I would say: 1) let the artists decide, and 2) reaching the parts of the public that we don't reach may be a goal worthy of trumping over concern with the purity of art.

9.  As the trend towards the Internet of Everything (linking, for example, cars, televisions and everything else to the internet), including the trend towards wearable devices (think primarily of devices that will continuously monitor your health, but remember there will be myriad other applications) - how might that impact live performances or the creation of art itself?  It may enhance and detract, but how?

10.  Is the Performing Arts business model - live performances in a designated venue - just about dead now, or only still evolving?  Can the current model really work without government support?

11.  Is the future development and deployment of Robotics a threat or boom to the arts?  It may, for example, make set design cheaper and better, but may cost jobs in so doing.  What other ways might robotics impact the creation or presentation of art?

12.  If funders want real transparency, shouldn't they share with us all the reasons why they do not fund specific proposals and grantees?

13.  The arts are finally gaining a seat at the tables where decisions that impact us are made; from cities and the Mayor's and Governor's Conferences, to federal and state agencies, to private sector tables - thanks to the hard work of a lot of people in our field.  As we gain more of those seats, how will we manage communication between those representing us at those tables so that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, and we maintain a consistent message across all those tables.  What kind of mechanism can we develop that will insure a pipeline for all our people who are at those tables?

14.   People are our greatest asset, and it is our best people who make for our many successes.  Why don't we allocate at least a part of our funding to support those people and their ideas themselves rather than specific projects and programs.  If you trust the track record of extraordinary people, why not fund them to come up with a project or program upfront. An editorial in Blue Avocado put it better than I can:

"These days there are so many people creating tools for nonprofit leaders and for activists. Foundations fund online tools, research studies, websites that analyze and present data, convenings on new tools, and so forth. We have a million factories making hammers.
But we don't have enough carpenters to use all these hammers. Every few months we have a dozen more foundation-funded studies on taxes, but almost no funding for nonprofits organizing for tax reform. We have thousands of whitepapers with recommendations for lawmakers, and almost no money for people organizing voters who will elect lawmakers who might take those recommendations.
In fact, if we had more carpenters, they would buy more hammers; they'd drive up demand. A carpenter-driven market would drive quality, usefulness and price in hammers. If only foundations would fund fewer new hammer factories, and instead fund a lot more carpenters, we might actually see more houses built.
And maybe pigs will fly to the stars."

15.  Is there a single bigger threat to the arts than the disappearance of the middle class?  As the one percent's share of the nation's wealth grows (at the expense of the middle and lower classes) will that take us back to the model of the Medicis as the principal arts patron funders?  What does the widening of the gap between the have and have nots mean for the future survivability of the arts field?

16.  A number of futurists suggest that the single most important business skill is "foresight".  How is it developed?  And speaking of futurists, where are the arts futurists - those who can spot the trends that impact our planning and efforts?

17.  In the supposed age of people wanting "authenticity" (and nowhere more so than in their travel experiences) why aren't the arts a part of the package of services you can pre-book and purchase on sites like Orbitz and Kayak? Hotels, flights, rent-a-cars, and the arts?

18.  And on the tourism / hospitality front - why aren't restaurant associations our biggest backers.  They, as much as any group, enjoy direct, economic benefit from the performing arts.  Where are those major intersection partnerships?  And I don't just mean restaurants giving a small discount to performance ticket holders as a one off - but sustained industry wide support.

19.  There ought to be some national model for a dedicated revenue stream for the arts - allocated on a per capita basis from its source.  What about a 25 cent per movie ticket add on?  Ticket prices keep going up anyway.  Would it discourage movie going?  The problem is the industry would vehemently oppose it (even if you provided a portion to cover any of their out of pocket costs in implementing it.  I know I tried it in California and got nowhere.)  But I think over time we might be able to guilt them into it - with the help of some high profile celebrities and well placed power brokers.

20.    What would an Arts Ombudsman do?

21.  Lots of people think that writing basic computer programming will be an absolutely essential core business skill in the not too distant future.  What are we doing to make sure arts managers are competent in that area if that comes to pass?

22.  Where is the Arts Hall of Fame?

23.  As arts managers how do we hone the skill of cutting to the chase - and quickly sifting through all the b.s. to get to the heart of the matter on any given decision?

24.  If one out of every three Executive Directors or Senior level arts managers will retire or exit their posts in the next five years (as predicted), what are we doing to preserve their storehouses of knowledge and experience for the future.  Take, for example, the recent retirement announcements of Jonathan Katz of NASAA and Patrice Walker Powell of the NEA - two of the giants of our field.  Are we just going to lose their knowledge?  Those who replace them will not be emerging leaders - they will be seasoned veterans - shouldn't there be some kind of mechanism that will allow those who fill their shoes to have access to all they know?  Some mechanism to debrief retiring leaders. Should there be some kind of 'kitchen cabinet' of those exiting the field, that can be tapped into (if only for awhile) by the new wave of leaders?  Should there be something like the Presidential Library of former Presidents wherein can be housed the papers and speeches of those who exit the field so as to protect some of the institutional memory of our current leadership?

25.  Why aren't there film / video 'trailers' about upcoming arts exhibits / performances in movie theaters?  Can't we fund some of our film grantees to produce those trailers and maybe convince movie theaters to run them by offering them a quid pro quo like inserting flyers in our programs about their coming attractions?  Win win for everyone?

26.  How do we finally organize working artists?  How do we organize all those enrolled in university arts programs with the arts as their majors?

27.  Fast Company suggests three new job titles every company needs, but no one has yet:  Chief Reimagination Officer, Chief Paradigm Officer and Chief Paradox Officer.  Anyone in the arts dealing with the kinds of issues involved?

And here's another new job title for the arts:  The Engagement Anthropologist - in charge of efforts to integrate the arts into the various communities in which an organization operates by understanding those communities better.

28.  Is there really such a thing as the "arts field" or are we really just an amalgam of specialized interest groups that, despite a lot in common, really come together only around funding for the NEA (if then)?

29.  An article in Forbes about job titles in the future suggests this to me:  If the arts join the trend towards putting together temporary teams (perhaps even from widely disparate points of origin) to solve specific problems (whether industry wide or for specific organizations), do we need to start to develop Casting Agents (as in the movie business) to help in that effort?  The team concept for problem solving is action / results oriented.  It is not about committees. And if the arts don't move towards the temporary team trend, why the hell not?  Would a casting agent for temporary teams be like a curator?

30.  In the "be careful what you wish for" category, is a cabinet level Secretary of Culture really such a good idea?  I suppose it may depend on who the appointee is, and who is making the appointment.  I can see it not working out as envisioned.  Politics injected even more so into the sphere.

31.  What if all arts organizations gave away their art for free - on the internet only - and then up sold premium memberships with additional benefits and services including live performances?  Sort of like what the regional airlines are so successfully doing.

32.  To what extent do the efforts to create arts / business partnerships cost more (in terms of time and other resources) than they yield?   Sounds good, but is it in reality?

33.  Should grantees be required to convince funders that they have a good chance to keep alive programs or sustain their capacity to continue projects after the grant runs out as a precondition to qualify for funding?

34.  As mobile internet usage surpasses desktop internet use, you have to ask whether or not your website is platform responsive -- meaning that the website technology automatically provides the best user experience for the device being used - desktop, tablet, smart phone.  All the navigation, images, buttons, menus and other content automatically adjust so the user can access the content easily - without the need for pinching and zooming.  Does your website do that?  Is your website mobile user friendly?
If not, your website is not serving its purpose.

35.  Does (will) climate change (more severe winters, hotter summers) affect audiences for us?  Should we be thinking about the impact in our long term planning?

36.  As arts revenues decrease, workloads increase and staffs shrink - how far away are we from a critical toxic stress overload on arts administrators?  Are we talking (or even thinking) about this and how to help our people handle it?

37.   Finally, two philosophical questions:

  • Which requires more faith - art or religion?  
  • And which offers more hope, art or science? 
This folder is bigger and the list is longer.  Oh my.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Report on NEA / UK Arts and Humanities Research Council Meeting

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

Reflections on Measuring Cultural Engagement amid Confounding Variables: A Reality Check
By Bryce Merrill
Senior Associate Director

I had the pleasure last week to attend a conference co-organized by the National Endowment for the Arts and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. The convening was excellent with few exceptions. The list of participants included many of the major players in arts and culture research in the US and UK; representatives from Canada, Scandinavia, and Australia were also in attendance. The conference was structured to privilege conversations about research methodologies for understanding cultural participation, and much of the dialogue stayed at this level of analysis—it was a conference for the wonks. But the convening also questioned the “policy motivations” for cultural participation research, and topics of a more political, less methodological nature were also on the table. There were times when the usual (and tired) tensions between policy-based, applied, and academic research perspectivessurfaced, but these were minimal. Overall, Sunil Inyengarand his counterpart Geoffrey Crossick curated a rich event that I hope will be the first of many. The weather in DC wasn’t half bad either.

A few recurring themes at the conference are worth mentioning. The first theme, which was introduced by Bob Groves, current Provost at Georgetown University and former director of the US Census Bureau, was the imperative of traditional social scientific research to address challenges posed by 1) the emergence of “big” data and 2) the growing and unsustainable costs of research. Groves referred to “big” data as “organic” data to indicate that data produced by information technologies and collected and managed by computer scientists lack the type of methodological rigor—and thus validity—that is foundin traditionally collected data. (To clarify the metaphor, organic data is untamed and less useful as such.) Grove quipped that big data computer scientists are really just “playing social scientist,” but he seriously called into question the efficacy of long-term traditional research thatfails to use big data meaningfully. Conference participants returned to this issue regularly, and there was some indication that more work should be done on the costs and consequences of doing research in the age of big data.

A second notable theme was the conceptualization of culture either broadly or narrowly. (Think: high vs informal art, dominant culture vs folk culture, and so on). The topic, of course, remains relevant. If we are to measure cultural participation, then we should clearly know exactly what it is we are measuring. We should also be open to the many empirical forms of cultural participation that exist whether we say they do or not.Moreover, this concern is politically relevant: if the supply of opportunities for cultural participation does not meet the demand, then something is wrong with the chain. This is not to say, as some fretted over at the conference, that arts organizations couldn’t support cultural forms that lack popular demand; but the argument for matching public money with popular interests is not far fetched. For all its strengths, this conference shed little new light on this issue. Granted, there is only so much you can do in a day and half.

A few additional items were remarkable:

•There were no “quantitative versus qualitative” debates muddying up the presentations. Participants either advocated for mix-methods approaches or followed the methodological axiom “choose the best method to answer the question.” This might have been the influence of the UK on the convening.

•UNESCO economist Lydia Deloumeaux joked at the reception for the conference that depending on what part of the world one lives in, the word “data” is either singular or plural. Many of us laughed—as I said, it was a very wonky conference.

•Jon Clifton, managing director of the Gallup World Poll, presented early results from Gallup’s global survey of subjective well-being. To more than a few grumbles, he indicated that “well-being” might be a better predictor of political unrest and revolution than Gross Domestic Product. When asked how one can access Gallup’s data, he responded that Gallup had invested over $100 million in the data, and thus the data were available for a fee. That was one direct lesson on managing the rising costs of research.

•Hasan Bakshi, director of Nesta’s creative economy research program, delivered intriguing preliminary findings from a study of the impact of live theater broadcasts on theater attendance. The full report is one to look out for.

•Abigail Gilmore of the University of Manchester reported on her promising research on everyday arts participation in Manchester, demonstrating the value of longitudinal qualitative research.

•UK Deputy Ambassador Patrick Davies referenced pop sensations One Direction several times during his welcome, offering a truly expanded definition of culture!

I believe the organizers have plans for releasing recordings from the conference, and I highly recommend taking a look when they are available. This was an important event for the field, not just those of us who work at the intersections of research and policy.

Thanks Bryce.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, June 2, 2014

Arts in the Schools May Not Solve the Declining Arts Audience Challenge

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

Note:  I want to clarify a point in the below post.  As Randy Cohen pointed out to me there are credible (if dated) studies that suggest that people who have arts in school are more likely to be audience members later in life than those who do not have the arts in school.  But those studies do not claim that having arts in school makes it likely that you will become an arts audience member in the first place.   I would also like to state unequivocally that I was in no way calling for less arts in the schools.  I have always championed the idea of more arts in the schools.  My point was simply that the belief / claim that if we only had arts in the schools we wouldn't have any decline in our audiences hasn't yet been validated.  Studies may sometime prove it to be true, or that it is not.  It would be of value to know. Please click on the "comments" button below and read the comments and my replies.  Thanks and sorry for any confusion.

Arts Education and Future Audiences:

Without arts education in the schools, future generations will have little to no exposure to, or experience with, the arts and are therefore less likely to be supportive - including as our future audiences.  We need to make sure young people get the arts in schools as a way to insure we will have future audiences and public support.

That belief has been repeated so often in our field, that it has taken on the mantle of an absolute truth.

We desperately want that to be true.  It would be the magic bullet that would change our circumstances and theoretically (eventually) bring back 'happy days'.

Yet, we have little to no proof that the claim is valid.  When I was young, we had arts in the schools - drama, art, handicrafts, music programs - together with grammar school exposure to a variety of cultural events, including field trips to museums, the symphony, ballet, plays and such.  So, one might conclude that my generation is (would be) arts supportive because of that early exposure.  And because of the size of the baby boomer generation, our audiences should now be packed houses for all our offerings, but attendance is declining.   Based on the very limited empirical evidence available, there is very likely more support for the hypothesis that art as part of the school curriculum and experience has little to no impact on whether people will - later in life - be more interested in the arts (or any specific art form or discipline) - as audiences or supporters.  It would be nice were the notion true (and it may be), but there is little current evidence to support it.

There may be (and probably are) numerous reasons for performing arts audience decline, but we have to consider that a lack of exposure to the arts in school isn't necessarily one of those reasons.   The very challenge of tracking those with access and exposure to the arts in school over a generation or even two  to determine whether or not school exposure and experience impacts later behavior hasn't even been attempted, and so there is simply no way (other than anecdotally) to verify such a postulation.  One might argue that the fact that performing arts audiences skew towards an older cohort (and that this older cohort, in fact, got the arts in school when they were young) verifies the proposition that arts in the schools does indeed insure an arts audience later on. But that is conjecture and speculation absent some studies to compare those who got the arts in school to those who did not.

Exposure to, familiarity with, and involvement in the arts - at whatever level - may correlate to attendance and support, and then again it may not.  We simply don't really know.  The research would be helpful, but will take a long time to complete, and it hasn't really started yet.

The reality may be, for example, that young people are simply not attracted to Opera (at least not in numbers large enough to bear significantly on audience attendance) - but, that as people grow older and their tastes change and their cultural attitudes are refined, more people in the older cohort are the mainstay of the opera audience.  I personally didn't begin to appreciate classical music or jazz until well into my 30's and beyond.  My exposure to music in school - even opera (though extremely limited) didn't lead me to become a lifelong devotee.  It was only much later that I began to have more of an interest in the art form.  But can we extrapolate from my experience that as people grow older they will more likely become interested and supportive of opera?  Probably not.  Under the theory that early exposure increases future attendance, and given the size of the boomer generation, arguably, opera houses should be packed.  They are not.

So the boomers who got arts in school, and who are now the mainstay of performing arts audiences, are, by themselves, not enough to fill all the available seats.  Supply exceeds demand. That doesn't bode well for us over the next two decades, as boomers are replaced by Generation X, which is numerically much smaller, and members of which may not have had arts as part of their school experience.

There are a myriad of factors that we need to study and analyze to understand the audience decline - everything from price, convenience, and marketplace competition, to consideration of how people's tastes (individual and collective) change over time, to consideration of the possibility that some art forms have a limited (if not finite) appeal (whether we like it or not).  There are, of course, multiple strong arguments in favor of arts education apart from whether or not it may help to build audiences or supporters in the future.

Similarly, the theory that exposure to an art form at any point in life, may help to convert people only marginally interested in that art form, to become more involved, may also be suspect.  Consider this report from Britain on a survey that showed people who sampled live Opera at their local movie theaters:

"Around 85% of audiences that attend live screenings of opera do not feel more compelled to see the art form live afterwards, according to a new survey. 
The investigation found that, after seeing an opera at the cinema, around 75% of participants reported feeling no different about attending a live production, with around 10% feeling less motivated. 
This has shown that screening opera productions to create a new generation of audience for the live art form is “wishful thinking”, according to English Touring Opera’s general director James Conway. ….around 80% of cinema opera attendees were more than 60 years old, which was slightly older than the average age of live opera-goers. Fewer than 10% of those at the cinema screenings were younger than 50 years old.

One might argue that if that 15% of those that went to see a live opera at a cinema (and didn't reply that they had little to no interest in seeing the real thing) could be converted to becoming regular audience members, that slice of the pie might be enough to fill all the empty seats.  But it is a long road to make those conversions, and the graying of the audience, and the problem that those in the audience are scaling older, remains.

Of course, the MET's live opera performances at movie houses around the world has been phenomenally successful - financially and otherwise (brand building and awareness included).  But it hasn't resulted in the MET selling out any (or very many) of their live performances.  And while the MET commands global interest in its offerings via movie houses, very few other companies can compete with them in that medium.  The MET basically owns it and smaller companies do not have the option to reap benefits by copying the offering or trying to compete with the MET.  It may work better for more companies in Europe than it does here.

Back to my point, which is that both early arts exposure in school, and later exposure to operas, don't seem to have resulted in full houses for any opera company.  Perhaps the problem is too many opera houses, too many seats given the demand, and that the demand is not necessarily increased by exposure to the art form - at whatever point in life.  But that may be too simplistic.  We don't know that one generation will behave in the same way as a previous (or future) generation did (or will) behave.  Beyond the role of school exposure and involvement in the arts as a positive (or neutral) influence on audience participation, we don't know which causes of audience decline are primary and which are secondary, and thus wherein the pantheon of positives, school exposure falls.

What we need is long term generational studies to find out with more precision what exposure to, and involvement in and with, the arts in school (or later) has on audience (and support) behavior and trends later in life.  Those kinds of studies will take time.  In the meantime, we must consider that the challenge of butts in the seats as well as increased support for any given art form may or may not be affected by increasing the access of the experience to a wider slice of the public.  It may work, it may well not.

And we must also consider that chasing the younger audience may or may not yield the desired outcome - at least at this point in their lives.  It may be more an investment long term - though those are the studies we need to answer that question.  It may be that certain forms of technological access may increase the interest of differing generations, or again, that may turn out not to be true. And even if it moves interest upward, that may not translate into increased live performance attendance.  It may also be true that certain of the fine art forms do not necessarily have broad appeal across generations, but are most attractive to more narrow age cohorts.  Then too we must also examine the proposition that certain art forms have a finite potential audience - period - and that the audiences for them are not likely to significantly increase in size no matter what we do to attract them, or even when we do it.  And if that is the case, then the issue is how to protect that art form for the present and for posterity given that it may not be sustainable on its own.  And that may involve some very hard choices.

I just don't think we should put too much stock in the proposition that once the arts are back in the schools, or once we can get people to sample the arts, the audience problem will eventually be solved.  There is no credible evidence yet to support such a thesis. Successful marketing may require a great deal more than simply providing access or promoting sampling of experiences.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.