Friday, July 18, 2014

Blog Forum on the Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #6

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

Note:  For bios on the Forum participants, please see last week's blog post (or, if you are on the blog site, scroll down).

Future of State Arts Agencies and NASAA - Day #6

What is the ideal relationship for NASAA and its logical clients, stakeholders, potential partners and collaborators  - including state and local arts advocate groups, local city and county agencies, the Regional Arts Organizations, arts educator and arts education groups, private sector groups, the philanthropic community and various arts discipline service providers and the NEA - and how far is that ideal from the reality?  What needs to be done to make all of those relationships (and potential relationships with asymmetrical organizational partners) work for NASAA and each of those communities? 

Ra Joy:
There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to reimagining the future of NASAA. For me, that elephant is NASAA’s relationship with Americans for the Arts.

When I started at Arts Alliance Illinois in 2007, there were whispers at the time that AFTA would absorb NASAA soon after the retirement of Jonathan Katz. You could chalk those rumors up to gossip-mongers and conspiracy theorists that had nothing better to do with their time. Or, you could look at the 2005 merger of operations between AFTA and the Arts & Business Council and say to yourself – “why not NASAA?”

The arts sector is incredibly fortunate to have two very powerful, well established national organizations that occupy a similar space. NASAA is the membership organization that unites, represents and serves America’s state arts agencies. They focus on advocacy, research and building community among SAA staff and council members. AFTA is the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. They focus on advocacy, research, professional development and network building.

Luckily, AFTA and NASAA have established a strong partnership and work arm-in-arm to advance the presence and importance of the arts in America. NASAA is a healthy association and a trusted champion and advocate for SAAs. It has a top-notch staff team, a strong governance structure; and its members are innovative, nimble and strategic leaders.

But in this era of limited resources and constant change, there remains a steady drumbeat to eliminate duplication of services and embrace innovation. Regardless of whether there was ever any truth to those rumors or not, NASAA should strive to create brand distinction and drive brand loyalty.

I think developing a new, unique, and compelling value proposition for NASAA is an important step to becoming a more powerful organization in the future. In doing so, NASAA will help the broader arts community better understand and appreciate the essential role it plays for state arts agencies and the communities and citizens they serve.

Scott Provancher:
Several years ago I was working on a major fundraising campaign for the Arts in Charlotte.  The campaign had reached a point where the campaign leadership had run out of ideas on how to close a $20 million gap.

While having dinner with Hugh McColl, former CEO of Bank of America and significant Arts supporter, he was recounting the key to his success in building a sleepy little bank in North Carolina into one of world’s largest and most profitable banks.  Mr. McColl said that the key to his success was that he focused almost all of this time on understanding what motivates people, which often times is our heart, not our minds.

To make his point, he told me stories about the process of acquiring or merging banks and how most of his competitors focused on the numbers (hiring thousands of consultants to crunch the numbers to justify the purchase price).  His competitors would often be shocked and confounded to learn that Mr. McColl had closed the deal before they even realized he was bidding on it.

Mr. McColl said while his competitors were focusing on the numbers, he was focusing on what were the leaders of the bank’s desires, fears and expectations.  For some people it was all about their family’s name remaining the on the Bank after the merger, or that they got to sit on the Board of the new Bank, or that they wanted their employees to be protected from layoffs.  Having that knowledge gave him the required insight to make the deal happen before his completion could even pose counter offers.

The light bulb went off for me.  I left that meeting and began to immediately focus on the relationships that would make the final $20 million ‘deal’ happen for the Arts campaign.  Focusing on the desires and needs of the key players allowed us to secure several gifts that ultimately closed the gap—all of which came from a understanding the key donor’s desires.

So what does this story have to do with the role of NASSA in the greater landscape of the arts sector?

It’s all about the need for our industry to have more “deal-makers” that can put together unique partnerships and launch new ideas that can transform our industry.  NASSA needs to be one of these deal-makers—finding the right partners (private sector, government, SAAs, LAA, etc…), understanding the shared goals and values of the partners, and “closing the deal” for our sector.

That deal may be a new advocacy partnership that links all of the major arts service organizations under one banner, a $1 billion national campaign for Arts education in America, or launching a new SAA model that tests ideas in States where the old model is not producing the desired outcomes.   Whatever the new partnerships or ideas are, I am convinced that we need to spend more time pursuing collaboration that will transform our industry.

Maybe one of us will be having dinner with a young arts leader 10 years from now and will recount the story of a sleepy little movement call the “Arts” and how it rose to be one of the most powerful forces in making America a global innovator—NASSA should be one of the key deal-makers that makes it happen.

Arni Fishbaugh:
In an ideal world
The ideal relationships with all of the above-mentioned parties are those that address NASAA’s mission to “strengthen state arts agencies.”  Much good work is going on within NASAA toward this end with all groups, and there are other cases where further relationship building is ongoing.   

One of the most significant partnerships blog readers may not be aware of is the Cultural Advocacy Group, which is the group of lobbyists in Washington D.C. from all the national arts service organizations, such as NASAA, AFTA, TCG, AOL, Chorus America and Dance USA, etc.  They work to go forth to Congress in a united voice on arts issues important to us all and have done incredibly valuable work.

The most important relationship?  NASAA’s members and the NEA.

Because NASAA is member-driven, our first priority is the need of our members.  The next most important relationship, in my view, is with the National Endowment for the Arts.  Some readers of this blog may not be aware that 40% of the NEA’s program funding is allocated to state arts agencies and the regionals.  This is why it is so crucial that a true partnership relationship exist between the state arts agencies and the Endowment.

I know I speak for everyone around the country when I say that we are looking forward to the new vision and leadership that Dr. Jane Chu will bring to the Endowment as its chairman.  NASAA will be working diligently to foster a mutually beneficial partnership relationship with new Chair.  

Mark Huffland:
What is the ideal relationship between a state arts agency and its principal stakeholders and logical potential partners and collaborators - including state arts advocacy organizations, local city and county arts agencies,  state arts education organizations, discipline based service provider organizations, other state agencies, private sector interests and the philanthropic community, and where does that ideal differ from the current reality?  Needs more teamwork by, participation with, and service to these others.

What needs to be done to move the reality closer to the ideal?  Wisdom, passion, organization and activism.

Kris Tucker:
Kudos to NASAA for its work in recent years to convene a better coalition for national level advocacy, and for nurturing a good relationship with the NEA, especially the state/regional partnership office.  Over the years, NASAA has also navigated strong partnerships with State School Chiefs and the NGA, among others.

I hope the new NASAA leader will be broadly visible and proactive as she/he gets acquainted with the field, the job, the context – and develops relationships and connections. Then I hope a compelling new vision and approach are developed with some fairly immediate opportunities and longer term options. The Board and membership must be fully engaged – but must be open to uncertainty, and should expect our assumptions to be challenged. The decade ahead will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. 

Let’s hope State Arts Agencies have the courage, creativity, enthusiasm and intelligence that the arts deserve.  

Laura Zucker:
So now it’s my turn to pose some questions:

Beyond its members, NASAA’s most important relationship is with the NEA, as 40% of the NEA’s budget is distributed directly to the SAAs, and I understand that the relationship hasn’t been as collaborative as it could be. Can NASAA really “get” the chair of the NEA’s priorities and figure out how the state’s NEA allocations can support the broader agenda (there’s that fealty concept again)? 

Just as the NEA made a concerted effort under Rocco Landesman’s leadership to partner with other federal agencies, is there room for NASAA to explore this arena to enable its SAAs to benefit from new federal partnerships?

As the NEA rolls out new strategies around systemic change in arts education nationally, what role could NASAA play in helping statewide initiatives take root?

The NEA has also demonstrated through spearheading the creation of ArtPlace the caroling power that’s possible to bring a federal agency and private funders into alignment around a common approach to a funding priority, whatever it might be. Is that something NASAA could model for SAAs?

In other words, If NASAA decides it’s going to take on issues of field wide importance, the sky’s the limit on the partnerships it can form.

Randy Rosenbaum:
Several years ago I attended a NASAA conference in Chicago.  The "culture wars" were underway, and at this conference NASAA had assembled representatives from all of the arts service organizations.  Everyone was seated as one very long table on a ballroom stage, so literally two dozen or more organizations, representing thousands of artists and artsorganizations, were present, all with a single purpose: to put there name to a document that unified everyone in support of public funding for the arts.  I knew this meeting was happening "in the moment", and it didn't really represent a unified approach to anything at all.  But it really sparked my excitement and imagination.  That, to me, is the ideal relationship, taken from the moment and put into practice.  NASAA should be one of many in that relationship, and the contribution of state arts agencies should make sense within a unified approach to advancing the arts community.  I'm convinced we can, collectively, get behind a few basic issues and work them out collectively.  And if NASAA could contribute to that, just as it contributed to the development of the Cultural Arts Group (CAG - a collection of advocates from the major arts service organizations), well that would be a wonderful thing.

Anthony Radich:
NASAA’s efforts to prepare for the post Baby Boomer world of culture should be no different than those of all cultural entities.  The first step in such preparation is an assessment of what the role of the arts are in contemporary life and what state arts agencies and NASAA can do to enrich and extend that role.  Probably, both the mix of arts desired by the public and the role the arts play in life today are quite different than they were in the 1970s arguably the heyday for state arts agencies.  The agencies and NASAA need to be open to these changes and look forward not back.  The other key thing is to bring new and diverse young people into positions of responsibility and leadership.  Because the Baby Boomers have been around so long, they have hindered the upward mobility of may in the field.  Now that they are departing, now is the time to reach out and include these younger people.  Finally, the new people brought into the work of state arts agencies would, I hope b e unlike many of those who have served the field well over the years.  Let’s honor all of those people but recognize that different times require different skills and that young people who act and think like some of the fields most successful Baby Boomers, are likely to failures in the world we are evolving into.   

Thank you to all the participants.

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