Sunday, February 22, 2015

In the Skills Adults Think Kids Need to Succeed, the Arts Come in Last

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

In a recent Pew Research Center survey of what adults think are "the most important skills for children to get ahead in the world today", disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the arts come in last. Again.

"Across the board, more respondents said communication skills (90%) were most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork (78%), writing and logic. Science fell somewhere in the middle, with more than half of Americans saying it was important.
Rounding out the bottom were skills more associated with kids’ extracurricular activities: art (23%), music (24%) (sorry, right-brained people) and athletics. There was virtually no difference in the responses based on whether the person was a parent of a child aged 18 and younger or not."

This is frustrating.  At the core of art is "communication"; at the essence of performing arts is "teamwork".  That's intuitive.  Why then does someone who values communication and teamwork as skill sets, not equally value the arts?  It's mind boggling.

What was somewhat surprising in the study (to me anyway) is that whites and college educated people ranked the arts lower than Hispanics and Blacks, and lower than those with a high school diploma or less.  Assuming that most of the educational decision makers are white and with college educations, that is discouraging.  The assumption (mine included) that whites and college educated people are likely to be more supportive of the value of arts education is also somewhat discouraging.  On the plus side though, there is increased support from the growing ethnic communities, and at least (nearly) a quarter of the respondents did pick Arts / Music as important.  We need to embrace and build on that foundation.

For some reason (unclear to me) the Survey arbitrarily included Music and Art as separate categories instead of the wider and more generic Arts (plural) category (but curiously left off entirely as a choice - Social Studies).  Music fared better on the ranking than did Art - but not by much.  The ten skills might have gotten a different response if creativity and / or innovation were included, but the results are still telling.  Political affiliation (unsurprisingly) impacted the responses: Democrats and independents put a higher value on learning about music, a skill that just 17% of Republicans agree would be helpful for kids to succeed.

What does it all mean?   It means despite decades of work citing and arguing the value and benefit of the Arts as a core subject important to the education of our children, despite substantial research on that importance,  despite the flourishing of hundreds, if not thousands, of exemplary programs across the country, and despite all our efforts, the public seemingly STILL thinks of the arts (at least as important in education) as a frill, a luxury.  It means that despite the recognition in the survey of the importance of communication skills and of teamwork as a skill, the public doesn't make the link between the arts and those two key skills - let alone to reading and writing.  We haven't yet succeeded in demonstrating and convincing the public that inclusion of the arts in the curriculum directly relates to preparing better communicators and team players.

We've centered our past arguments in support of Arts Education on the value of the arts in improving SAT and other test scores, in fostering better academic performance and model classroom behavior, and in raising the level of self esteem and confidence of young students.  We've argued that Arts Education helps to equip innovators and is the natural hand-maiden of creativity.  Perhaps we now ought to spend more effort on linking the arts directly to those skills the public already values - communication, team work, reading, writing and even math and science.  And help the public to make the link between the arts and those valued skills.

If we want universal, curriculum based, sequential arts education, then (it seems to me) one of the potentially most fruitful strategies will be to convince parents to demand it in their schools.  And maybe we can move to increase that demand if we link the role of arts to what those parents already seem to value as critical preparatory skills.

Somehow, some way, some day we have to successfully challenge, attack and bury once and for all the notion that the arts are just a nice indulgence unrelated to truly valuable skills.  I'm tired of always coming in last in these kinds of surveys.   We really need to ask ourselves WHY we continue to come in last; and how can we move purposefully and strategically to change that.  We ought to do research, surveys, focus groups and dig deep into the reasoning behind the public's perception with an eye to changing it.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 16, 2015

Interview with Jonathan Katz - Part II

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

Here is the conclusion of the interview with Jonathan Katz:

Barry:  Some people think SAA’s should move away from grant making and focus more on providing other kinds of services and initiatives to their constituents.  Where do you come out on that debate and why?  Is there a balance that would be better than the current situation?

Jonathan:  This question always troubles me because it seems to be based on presumptions that strike me as wrong.  One is that “grant making” is a uniform term and not a basket term for many different purposes and methods of distributing money, so one can reasonably be for or against it.  Another is that this decision can reasonably be made in general terms, in the abstract, as if environmental factors – such as the density of arts organizations or patterns of arts participation or population demographics – that make one state different from another aren’t germane.  Grant making is a tool. It’s a means to an end. The question isn’t are you for it or against it; the question is whether there’s a variation of it you should use to affect the indicators you have identified, to achieve the goal, the outcome, you desire.

My general observation is that the most useful discussion of grant making takes place when the achievement of various goals is what drives discussion of what kind of grant making can (a) be most effective and (b) build sustaining public value.  Grants can be given to encourage or enable grantees to achieve outcomes that are the priorities of the grantor.  Grants can be given to support the goals of grantees.  General operating can be given and the grantees can be offered their choice of documenting whether it results in broadening their reach, improving their quality or strengthening their financial situation. Grants can be given to encourage activities done using a particular method, such as collective impact, or through a particular process, such as strategic planning. Sometimes you talk to someone who has been described as not giving grants and what they are doing is distributing funds through requests for proposals or within a relationship that, because it involves their recipients following through with some thank-you’s to authorizers and documentation, is called a partnership agreement. To me, these are all kinds of grant making.

Grants can be given to test a strategy as an experiment to see what happens, or to test a promising model of funding as a pilot, or to take a successfully tested program model to scale, or to document a program, or to evaluate a program, or to encourage a practice such as collecting certain kinds of information or using certain promotional methods. Grant making can take the form of formula funding, operational support, project support; can require no match, 1:1 matching or leveraged matching such as 3:1. NEA grant funding to states and regions is a mix of formula and categorical funding, Most public agencies, like state arts agencies, employ a mix of grant making strategies.

There are states where the size, number, distribution and influence of arts organizations makes an emphasis on general operating support and/or formula funding practical. In other states, where crafts, traditional, folk, ethnic and tribal artists are numerous and influential, RFPs, individual grants, and project support might be more practical. In some states, where state government is focused on economic development and job creation, grants that respond to what looks like a business plan and look themselves like investments and venture capital projects and job training might make the most sense.  My experience is that the broad question about grant making is more seriously and frequently a topic raised in the West than elsewhere.  During the 1990’s, state arts agency budgets doubled in the aggregate but not in that region, so it’s quite possible that that results in some difference in perception about how SAAs can distribute money and provide services to build public value.

Barry:   If the search committee for your successor is looking for a candidate who can “develop and diversify the financial resources necessary for NASAA to ensure future stability and sustainability”, and “Lead fund development efforts that secure dues revenue, garner government support, attract corporate and philanthropic contributions and generate earned income” - how do you think NASAA can succeed in each of those areas?  Do you think NASAA should partner more with foundation or other funders in launching new initiatives that benefit the states as a way to diversify its own funding, and do you have any specific ideas to suggest?  Is NASAA too dependent on member dues?  Is it too dependent on its share of NEA funds?  How might NASAA monetize more of what it does, and thus increase its earned income?

Jonathan:  NASAA represents the best vehicle for ensuring that a $300 - $400 million revenue stream from state and jurisdictional governments for arts participation continues.  SAAs use substantial portions of their grant funds to support local arts agencies, arts education leadership, and general operating funds to arts groups. Their partnership building for the arts, convening role, support of statewide arts service groups, public information, promotion of the public benefits of the arts, research, celebration of artistic achievements, and strategic planning function are vital activities that provide benefits throughout a state.  Foundations and other funders would be wise to invest in NASAA’s capacity to strengthen SAAs. They would be wise to consider how NASAA and the SAAs can be useful as allies in achieving their top priority program goals.  NASAA is in the process of reviewing all revenue sources with an eye towards diversification and, as you note, this will be a priority for the next CEO. I view knowledge and learning services, and leadership development, as areas of staff strength where more revenue can be realized, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see enterprise collaborations with regional arts organizations, other national organizations, or institutions of higher education.

Barry:  AFTA and NASAA together have focused their advocacy efforts at the Federal and State levels.  But where is the direct attempt to organize advocacy from the city (local) level upward?  Would that be a worthy goal for NASAA?  Why, or why not?  What is, and what ought to be, the relationship between SAAs and the major city arts agencies in each state and why?

Jonathan:  These relationships are very different from state to state. In a number of states, the major city agencies – especially those that operate united arts funds – have significantly larger budgets and staffs than the state arts agency.  In any case, the state and city arts agencies share local constituents and can only gain from regular conversation between their leaders about what they see as key issues, trends, goals and programs.   That naturally leads to exploring whether there are ways to complement each other’s work or collaborate.

Barry:  What are the negatives and what are the positives in the relationship between SAA and staffs and their governing Councils, and how might that relationship be changed for the benefit of the state agencies?

Jonathan:  This is difficult to generalize about because in one state the ED might be a governor’s appointee and the Council’s role entirely advisory while in another state the chair of the Council might have the key political relationship, the Council operate like a board and have hiring and firing authority over the ED. In any case, much about the health of the relationship between the SAA staff and the Council members hinges on the partnership between the executive director and the chair of the Council. The ideal situation is where the chair and ED agree on priorities, communicate regularly, and take responsibility, respectively, for aligning the work of Council members with the work of staff members. One key element is the degree of input either the chair or the ED can have with the authority responsible for appointing Council members. This varies from state to state and administration to administration.  When agency leadership can make recommendations that are seriously considered, it can make an enormous difference in the quality of contribution the Council can make to the agency’s decision making, resource development and representation.

Barry:  What can be done to more fully integrate the planning and programming by and between NASAA and the Regional Arts Organizations?

Jonathan:  The RAOs interested in national advocacy do work collaboratively with NASAA. RAOs also work on information collection collaboratively with NASAA in various ways. A couple of times, when I felt the need to meet with all SAA leadership in person, the RAO ED’s were enormously helpful in providing opportunities in and around their own meetings for that to happen.  From time to time, when they meet as a group in Washington, they have invited me to join them. For many years, a seat on NASAA’s board has been reserved for RAO representation in order to ensure regular communication.  NASAA board members are encouraged to report on NASAA activities at their regional meetings. If a payoff for the investment of more time and attention to collaboration were readily apparent, it would have happened. Obviously, we all value our autonomy and the RAOs have developed a variety of national programs without needing assistance from NASAA. The structure remains one of great potential for various kinds of collaboration. NASAA’s development of earned revenue strategies or program ideas that a new CEO might pursue could catalyze that collaboration.

Barry:  What is your stand on the equity in funding debate?  Some argue that an unfair disproportionate amount of available funding continues to go to large, urban based Eurocentric legacy arts organizations.  Should more state money go to multicultural and smaller arts organizations in a manner more reflective of current demographic trends?  What is the role, if any, of the SAAs in changing the funding allocation paradigm?

Jonathan:  There are many kinds of equity that merit policy analysis.  Race, age, gender, geography, income, education, and language are all factors to be considered. As part of their public planning processes all SAAs identify underserved constituencies and the actions they are taking to address concerns. Grant making is one measure of attention to equity, but, for SAAs, the make-up of councils, staffs and panels; provision of staff services; the availability of leadership and professional development opportunities; encouragement of networking; and inclusion in promotional and information systems are also important. From the data SAAs collect it’s not easy to gauge all dimensions of equity in grant making, but one can observe the success of the job SAA community development staff have done over decades of traveling their states in the percentage and number of SAA grants to rural America. The role SAAs play in mapping the availability of arts education, the quality of arts education, and grade-level arts learning proficiency is important in bringing visibility to widespread inequities and making the case for resources to correct them.  Another model of what SAAs can do is Poetry Out Loud, whose 365,000 annual participants represent broad racial and ethnic diversity, most obviously among the state champions.

Barry:  There may be some agreement on how the arts should move forward in any number of areas, but why are there not more codified (and official), consensus national policies that would guide our collective action on such things as arts education, research, funding allocation, and more?  What is necessary for the field to develop and establish national policies in these and other areas?

Jonathan:  This is a very complex question. One book I’m writing is focused on the observation that American public policy – in general – tends to emphasize the protection of individual, local and private sector prerogatives. So we have the most decentralized education system, some of the lowest tax rates, some of the free-est speech in the developed world, as well as a strong resistance to explicit federal educational and cultural policies. Hence the absence of official national curricula and need for the state-based Common Core, our extraordinary reliance on individual (tax-deductible) giving to provide social, health and cultural services, etc.  We provide for arts education policy interpretation and a clearinghouse for research in that area through the Arts Education Partnership, driven by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education.  The Cultural Advocacy Group of national arts service organizations who employ lobbyists does guide collective action, collaborates on writing the policy briefs for Advocacy Day, and there is a sub-group that organizes collective action on education issues.  A sense of national identity - and threat to it from globalization - and the need to protect our language, music and film industries is not what drives centralized cultural policy in the U.S. as they do in other countries. If it did, we’d have a ministry or cultural policies driven by a coalition of federal agencies or federal legislation designed by the Congressional arts caucuses. We assume our dominance and identify with our popular culture, which does dominate the world market place. So the most general answer here is that national consensus is not likely to be articulated by an “official” source, but developed in all these areas through the facilitation, coalition-building, will-building, collective impact, these are variations on the theme, of a group of leaders who share the vision of a common outcome, and whose networks, together, can influence what will be national policy, whether adopted officially or not.  Lack of consensus, as well as absence of infrastructure, we should note, is also, de facto, a policy.  For the reasons I’ve noted, de facto policy is not uncommon for cultural issues in the United States.

Barry:  There is a lot of emphasis today on innovation in the strategies and actions arts organizations adopt to stay healthy.  SAAs operate in the climate of state government which, as a bureaucracy and in its obligation to the public, arguably limits to a degree innovation, flexibility, and creative risk taking.  How do the SAAs address that challenge?

Jonathan:  It might also be said that the bureaucratic requirement of a public planning process, the prospect of a peer application review upon which the federal partnership agreement is contingent, the need to align with changing state government priorities, and the reality that its programs must please constituents in order to motivate advocacy for its resources combine to ensure that SAAs must continually demonstrate a degree of innovation, flexibility and creative risk taking.  Constant consultation with artists and arts organizations as well as other agencies of state government, leaders in other fields, and other state arts agencies is key to effectively adapting to a changing environment. So is monitoring trends in arts participation, other leisure time use, education, the economy, politics, technology and equity. Networking, perspective and information make effective leadership possible.  In my response to another question, I mentioned that SAA innovation in programs, partnerships and operations is documented regularly in the “State to State” column in NASAA’s monthly online newsletter. SAA adaptive ingenuity can be gauged by viewing the last 75 columns that feature three innovations a month over the past six years, more than 200 examples selected from among many more. I’d also observe that in the climate SAA leaders have had to work in during the last decade of multiple recessions innovation, flexibility and creative risk taking combined would not have been sufficient for individuals to resist burn-out and for agencies to survive. Passionate commitment to both the value of the arts and to public service, energy and resilience were also necessary.

Barry:  Some argue that arts leaders across the spectrum are now faced with an ‘information overload’ that is negatively affecting their productivity, ability to focus on the big challenges and even in job satisfaction.  What can be done to manage this overload of information?

Jonathan:  Everyone is faced with information overload. Managing it starts with individual discipline because there is so much distracting data constantly being delivered, so many emails and texts, and social media updates.  I have a couple of screening methods I’m trying to make into habits. One is to sort stuff as it appears into data (isolated), information (facts related to issues and decisions), knowledge (what has been learned from various uses of information) and wisdom (what guidance knowledge suggests for the future) – and spend as much time on the wisdom end of that continuum as possible. Another screen is “Can I use this to teach others something?” If the answer is yes, it crowds out other stuff.  The information function of a service organization like NASAA used to be the gathering and sorting of comprehensive and encyclopedic collections of information.  But as the digital revolution progresses, it is more and more the distillation of data and customization of its delivery, so a user is enabled to select the examples or lessons that are precisely pertinent to an issue or decision. What this means is that your decisions on what websites to check regularly and what associations to join will be big factors in the efficiency of your information management.

Barry:  You have long championed the ability of the arts to tell effective stories about their contributions to our civic life as a way to effectively make our case to decision makers.  But that approach has had great success sometimes, and very little success in other situations. What other approaches might complement our storytelling as a means to succeed in our goals?

Jonathan:  Storytelling is most likely to be transformational -- to affect perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and actions -- when it takes place within a relationship of openness and trust. So a storyteller, let’s say an arts advocate, needs to build that relationship before expecting the information delivered or action requested to get the desired response.  There are also times and occasions when listeners are more prone to empathize with a story.  One might observe that right around budget time, when decision makers are under pressure and receiving requests in volume, is a time for a reminder of a story delivered earlier under more comfortable conditions. There is also a complementary relationship between stories and evidence. Both are necessary to initiate the affective response that triggers change or action and to reinforce the conviction to continue along that path. The selection of storyteller is also key. More attention can be expected for a story coming from a teller relevant to the listener’s power and influence, self-esteem, or affection. A powerful persuasive formula is what I call “the advocacy trifecta” -- shared sensory experience combined with story to interpret the experience and evidence to reinforce a rational commitment. So, for example, the legislator observes a dynamic arts education class, hears how someone’s nephew on the way to dropping out was turned around by his music class, and is presented with the hard data about how arts education is linked to test performance, college enrollment and job preparation.

Barry:  What are your future plans?

Jonathan:  Thanks for asking. I didn't decide to retire from NASAA and then plan an agenda. I developed an agenda that necessitated a big change in how I use my time. So my own reinvention will be through writing and consulting. In the past couple of months I’ve completed a book of poems and sent the manuscript to a few publishers. Now my most immediate subjects for publication and presentation are Explaining America: Values and Consequences, Gain Theory: Why Movements Win and Lose, Problem-Solving in Professional and Personal Life, and The Seven Calculations of Winning Poker Players. I have hopes the new dimensions of my writing will lead to new dimensions of speaking and consulting. I would love to continue, on a selective basis, keynote speaking and consulting on cultural trends and policies, strategic planning, and leadership development. Along those lines, I will be doing some work for Americans for the Arts, for the Sarasota County Arts Council, and on a coalition interested in connecting arts, science and humanities education. Right now, I'm testing for professional e-mails the address

Thank you Jonathan.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 9, 2015

Interview with Jonathan Katz - Part I

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

Jonathan Katz served as the head of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies for 29 years, and his tenure defined not only that agency, but the whole state arts agency movement.   He stepped down from that post late last year.  He agreed to an interview, and I appreciate his candor and frankness.  I am posting the interview in two parts - today and next week.

I often wish I could do these interviews live, so I could pose follow up questions suggested by the interviewee's initial responses and have that kind of Charlie Rose conversation.

Bio:  Jonathan Katz, Ph.D., served from 1985 through 2014 as CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the association through which the nation's 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies share knowledge and strategic thinking, develop leadership and professionalism, and advocate the value of the arts and culture. In that capacity, he co-founded the Arts Education Partnership (, the nation’s coalition of more than 100 organizations for the advancement of learning in the arts, and the Cultural Advocacy Group, which is the forum through which the national cultural service organizations of the United States develop their united federal agenda. Before then, he was awarded tenure as a full professor of public policy and administration at the U. of Illinois at Springfield, where he directed the graduate arts administration program. He has directed the Kansas Arts Commission, The Children's Museum of Denver, and he is proud that his support helped establish Poetry Out Loud, a partnership between the NEA, The Poetry Foundation and the state arts agencies that now engages 365,000 high school students in competitive recitation each year.

Here is Part I of the interview:

Barry:  Looking back on your long tenure at NASAA, what are the major trends in the SAA field that you think have defined that field?  And what do you see will be the future trends that will impact the SAAs?

Jonathan:  I would first observe that the state arts agency movement in the United States is an exceptional and evolving experiment in the exercise of purposeful cultural policy in one big laboratory – the federal government – and 56 diverse but networked laboratories – the state governments. After 1776, it was 122 years before the first state (Utah) established an arts council, and 189 years until the authorization of the NEA.

A key word that defines the field is “purposeful.” Much of public policy making in the U.S. focuses on response to or regulation of purposes coming from the private sector to the exclusion of the identification and implementation of leadership roles for government. Therefore, the most general and significant trend that defines the state arts agency field is the creation of a locus in every state for a public dialogue about what are the most important benefits the arts provide, which benefits government should play a role in providing, and what that role should be.          

The program and service trends that define the state arts agency (SAA) field derive from what an agency of state government devoted to fostering participation in the arts must do in order to maintain sufficient support from government officials and from a community of advocates to compete successfully in the annual legislative budgeting process. The artistic mandate to foster participation is itself complex. One challenge is to broaden experiential access, which is a matter of education, resource distribution, and overcoming a host of societal inequities.  Another challenge is to ensure that the aggregate quality of artistic experience available exemplifies and trends towards the most powerful and valuable level, that which people describe as “excellent,” “transformative,” or, more recently, as putting one “in the flow.”  Understanding these challenges helps to explain why SAA grant making and staffing has trended towards an increasing proportional investment in arts education – school-based, community-based, and the capacity of artists and arts organizations to assist in providing it.  

One governmental imperative for SAAs is to distribute funds and services for arts activities in ways that build broad and enduring political support. General operating support has long distinguished SAAs from other grant makers. More purposefully, every SAA has developed decentralization strategies suited to its unique cultural mix, geography and demography.  These include re-granting systems, local arts agency support, statewide arts education programs, touring and presenting initiatives, as well as programs that spotlight the state’s folk, traditional and ethnic traditions, foster cultural districts and rural arts activity, and identify underserved populations for special attention. Another imperative is to broaden the vocal arts constituency beyond artists and arts organizations. Most notably since the early 1990’s, SAA advocacy has emphasized the public benefits that derive from transformative arts experiences and the activities of arts organizations. Even during the decade following the Mapplethorpe, Serrano and “NEA 4” controversies, state arts agency leaders and advocates doubled their aggregate budgets (growing faster than state government budgets overall) by documenting and promoting the benefits of the arts in terms of the economy, education, tourism, youth at risk and strengthening community life.  SAAs have learned to include elected state officials and their staffs in their planning surveys and listening tours, and to welcome them on their councils.

The foreseeable future for SAAs will be influenced strongly by the two devastating recessions in the first decade of the 21st century; political polarization, a skeptical reappraisal of the roles of government, and loss of public trust in both the public and private sectors; an intense debate on how to improve public education; America’s increasing demographic pluralism; and the continuing effects of the digital revolution on arts participation. To sustain support in their evolving environment, SAAs will need to be competitive in terms of their perceived ability to create jobs and strengthen a state’s economy, develop an agenda that unifies advocacy from a broad artistic and cultural community, demonstrate relevance to a state’s education improvement policy, and maintain a political constituency that crosses party lines.  Advocates will need to be prepared to debate the most fundamental questions about why an SAA is necessary. They will need to engage in this debate at both the federal and state levels, drawing upon the testimony of local partners and stakeholders.  For at least the next few years, it looks like effectively positioning and implementing integration of the arts in creative economy, creative place making, creative aging, military rehabilitation and education improvement strategies will be rewarded.

Barry:  Following up on that question, what do you think are the major accomplishments of NASAA over the past 30 years, and what areas do you regret that you have not been able to address as you might have wished?

Jonathan:  Let’s imagine state arts agencies operating without the association they created to provide themselves with a collective voice and the capacity to learn from each other. NASAA has enabled SAAs to communicate as a field – and to partner in programs – with Congress, with the White House and the federal government, with the NEA, with governors, with state legislatures, and with other cultural constituencies. Over the past 30 years, NASAA has helped establish the federal commitment from the NEA approximating $50 million annually to SAAs that helps sustain both support for the NEA in Congress and support for $250 million - $450 million annually from state legislatures. NASAA has also helped ensure that the benefits of statewide distribution were applied to federal funding programs such as ARRA and Goals 2000.  In the 1970’s, NASAA and the NEA created the National Standard for Arts Information Exchange, which was a pioneering achievement in designing the kind of data collection that would make cultural policy analysis possible – and which still guides baseline public sector grant data collection. NASAA facilitated the use of the SAA grant application process in every state to distribute AIDS awareness information to the cultural community.  Thirty thousand groups, a significant percentage of the universe of arts organizations, participate in that process. Through NASAA, the SAAs were able to partner in coalition with other cultural groups to defend the NEA in Congress from those people critical of its links to the work of Mapplethorpe, Serrano and the “NEA 4.” That National Cultural Alliance evolved into the Cultural Advocacy Group, which continues to serve as the forum through which the national arts service organizations plan and advance a unified agenda for the federal cultural agencies.  Illustrations of how NASAA operates to benefit all SAAs include contributing to the series of National Governors Association issue briefs  on how the arts provide resources to address the most pressing issues facing state executives and working with the National Conference of State Legislatures to conduct focus groups aimed at determining what state officials want to know about the arts and how they want to be provided that information. NASAA also gives SAAs the capacity to collaborate with national partners in ongoing programs such as Poetry Out Loud and the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards.

I have to admit I’m jealous of the opportunities the next NASAA CEO will have to make progress in several areas.  The policy partnership between NASAA and the NEA can be strengthened, especially in the area of arts education. There are new and promising opportunities for NASAA and the NEA to work together with other federal agencies. There’s an openness in communication between NASAA and Grantmakers in the Arts that can be pushed towards more pervasive collaboration between public and private grant makers nationally, and maybe even some programmatic partnership. I think NASAA and its member agencies will be important participants as the national conversation about diversity and equity in arts participation and funding progresses to its next level. I also think that NASAA’s growing expertise with new technologies will lead to new methods of assisting cohorts of states to explore common interests together – such as creative aging, cultural district development, other creative economy initiatives, and collaborations with the military.

Barry:  Certain constituent groups seem to have been a natural fit for NASAA - including state (and city?) advocacy organizations, state arts education groups, and perhaps even state business for the arts groups.  Those have been folded under the AFTA tent over the period.  Do you think that NASAA should have been more aggressive in making those groups part of the NASAA tent?  If not, why not?

Jonathan:  NASAA has the very focused mission of strengthening the state arts agencies.  The state leaders who created NASAA and govern it are also its clients and support its services with their dues. They have been quite clear about their priority needs being knowledge, leadership development, representation and community. They want these needs met in depth and with the necessary frequency that only an association tightly focused on this membership can provide. It’s not a tent designed to fold over other groups except for a few, strategically chosen partnerships. NASAA’s ability to be as effective as it has been on behalf of the state arts agencies in Congress and in its relations with the NEA has a lot to do with staying on point and thoroughly communicating with and through its members.  NASAA’s budget, cash reserve and staff resources are strong, and member satisfaction ratings are all very high.  No members were lost during the two recessions, which is an amazing achievement considering we are talking about state government budgets under huge pressure to cut expenditures.  In fact, members have just set records for individual giving to NASAA, matching a $50,000 challenge grant and exceeding that match the following year without the challenge grant. AFTA’s mission and methods are different, and, consequently, right-sizing means something different to the two organizations. AFTA has numerous member segments and an interest in direct public interface, which differentiate it from NASAA. On AFTA’s Artsblog, Chad Bauman’s bio notes that when he was director of marketing and communications for AFTA he was responsible for promoting more than 480 different programs. NASAA and AFTA are the closest of allies, joining forces in advocacy at the federal level through the Cultural Advocacy Group, where we’ve worked with other groups to determine and manage a unified agenda for the federal cultural agencies, and at the state level through joint meetings of SAALA (State Arts Advocacy League of America) and SAA leaders, where we’ve shared experiences, modeled successes, and are fostering good working relationships between agencies and advocates.  

Barry:  State funding to the SAAs has been a roller coaster ride - often rising and falling with the health of the economy.  Some people have suggested that SAAs may now have less of an impact on their states than they had in the past. What do you think can be done to increase and stabilize SAA funding in the future, and what action needs to be taken to blast the agencies into a more meaningful orbit?

Jonathan:  Let’s take this series of statements and questions piece by piece.

State funding is a roller coaster ride – for most agencies and functions of government in most states. Tax revenues go up and down, often unpredictably, and for many different reasons. One reasonable definition of success is that gains are maximized and sustained, and that losses are minimized and strategically managed.
It’s not irrational to suggest that SAA impact on states is less now because there have been years when SAA aggregate appropriations have been higher; not irrational, but wrong in most cases. The current impact of SAAs, is, I think, in general, far greater in the cultural lives of states now than in the past. Over the years, SAAs have established partnerships within state government and in communities throughout their states that leverage their resources and increase their impact. The arts education programs of SAAs are more integrated now in school systems statewide than ever before.  Their integration in Common Core activities, STEM and 21st Century skill initiatives; their expanded inclusion of students, teachers, teaching artists, parents and other educators over the years; their establishment of statewide programs such as HOT Schools, Whole Schools, A+ Schools and others; the NEA’s longtime support of the professional development of SAA arts education managers; the development of working relationships between the SAA arts education managers and state education agency arts education managers; the research and teaching resources now available online; and the models of mapping access, surveying the quality of teaching resources, and assessment of learning in order to demonstrate an equity case for arts education have all made today’s SAA arts education activities more impactful than in years past.  Among state arts agencies, the expanded knowledge, networking, and communities of practice in creative economy, creative aging, cultural district development, arts and healthcare, cultural tourism and other program areas have also leveraged SAA impact. Within individual states, SAA impact is multiplied by agency partnerships in tourism, youth development, rural community development, transportation, economic development, education and other program areas.  Public value strategies have changed the relationships between SAAs, their grantees, constituents and authorizers, increasing SAA impact. And the more sophisticated knowledge resources available now to SAAs from NASAA, AFTA and other service organizations and websites have also contributed to increasing SAA impact. As Regional Arts Organizations have developed partnerships, tapped resources available to multi-state consortia, and produced programs that take advantage of economies of scale, their member SAAs have gained impact. This all may be differently perceived by specific arts groups who, over time, have not experienced their SAA grants keeping up with inflation.

Increasing and stabilizing agencies generally comes from focusing on the value-building basics:
-- Aligning goals and activities with the priorities of state government and the interests of key decision makers.
-- Fostering a strong advocacy network, building its resources, and developing a good partnership between it and the SAA.
-- Using the planning process and targeted programs to broaden the constituency for the arts to include educators, the travel and tourism professions, the business community, health care and aging industries, the information technology sector, etc.
-- Encouraging collaborations between the public arts agencies and the philanthropic community.
These practices are well known and understood, but they are still challenging to implement strategically, methodically, opportunistically and constantly.  Every program and operational activity of artists, arts organizations, local arts agencies and the SAA has to be perceived and implemented as an advocacy activity.

As we headed deeply into recession a decade ago, I developed a workshop on what it takes to make a quantum leap. One factor is the habit of mind to imagine taking programs to scale. If it costs X dollars to reach one tenth of the students in the state with an arts education activity or Y dollars to provide a performance in 7 cities or Z dollars to prepare and tour an exhibit to 3 venues in 3 counties, how much would it cost to reach every student in the state, 100 cities with a performance each, all 75 counties with the exhibit?  Another habit of mind is imagining the funding or distribution support of a powerful partner or network. Supposing a major corporation decided to support your agency’s new initiative; supposing a foundation or bank or accounting firm decided to sponsor a residency or an arts scholarship or an artist internship with a for-profit in all the communities where it does business? What are the pieces that had to be put into place for a program like Poetry Out Loud to go from zero to 365,000 students annually? Another habit of mind is aligning your mission with the mission of one or more other influential constituencies and targeting a big, collective goal. Think of the Legacy funds in Minnesota and how water resources, hunting and cultural activities became beneficiaries of a constitutional amendment slightly increasing the sales tax. Another habit – not just of mind but of will power as well – is to go through the same process of building the constituency, the relationships with authorizers, and the familiarity of request a thousand times, until the resource environment ripens and everything that didn’t work completely, but which but built your accountability over time, falls into place. Like the magnificent jump in Florida’s arts appropriation for this fiscal year.  The point is that the same play designed to achieve a first down can also be considered as a system and designed for a scenario in which it scores a touchdown. Quantum leaps require imagination, analysis and management.

Barry:  If your successor asked you:  “Where are the danger spots in this job?  What do I need to know to protect both myself and NASAA as I assume the helm?” - what advice would you give him/her?

Jonathan:  NASAA is a national association. Despite technology, there are months between meetings and great distances between members and staff. It is also a network of people who want easy, productive relationships with their authorizers and colleagues. There are always high hopes that the CEO and staff can resolve the problems and conflicts that arise.  So my advice includes:

  • Never forget your influence depends on the capacity and willingness of your leadership and membership to support you. Always cultivate and solidify support internally before taking a position externally.
  • You will accurately perceive a thousand injustices to your field and members; that doesn’t mean they will be grateful for the opportunity to confront either the issues or people involved. If you can’t imagine a clear path to board members taking up leadership and becoming spokespersons on an issue, seriously consider spending your time and energy on something else.
  • Rehearse how you, as CEO, represent yourself and NASAA when you answer the question that you will be asked constantly, “So, what is NASAA up to?” Regardless of what you know, you have to sound like you’re in control. 
  • Learn to identify issues that divide your membership and avoid them whenever possible. 
  • Beware of attractive partnerships; they are always more complex, stressful and time-consuming than can be imagined, even when they are worth it.
  • You will constantly be requested for NASAA to endorse statements and join coalitions. Debating, responding and following through on these can be incredibly time-consuming. Put an expeditious process in place with the board for this that weeds out whatever is not close to mission and worth follow-through. 
  • Don’t assume anyone remembers anything from a previous meeting or previously distributed materials. 
  • There is no such thing as “off the record.” 
  • Practice saying negative things in constructive language.  People remember how you said something and made them feel long after they remember what you said. 

Barry:  Assess the state of professional development for SAA leaders and staffs and what needs to be done to offer all those people meaningful and adequate opportunities to improve their management skills?  What are the biggest needs in the advancement of SAAs management skills training?  And are we attracting the breakthrough thinkers we need to successfully meet the challenges SAAs face?  Should we be looking outside the arts for some of that leadership?

Jonathan:  There are excellent SAA leaders who have not excelled at producing or presenting art, but I think it’s a great advantage for SAA leaders and staffs to have their service informed by that experience. I think skills related to strategic planning, public policy making, systems thinking, problem solving, negotiation, organizational dynamics, and persuasion, as well as fluency with social media and up-to-date understanding of trends affecting participation in the arts are all extremely valuable to someone working for an SAA.

I’m a little unsure of what the questions about attracting “breakthrough thinkers” and looking outside the arts for leadership actually mean. State arts agency innovation in programs, partnerships and operations is continuous, and documented regularly in the “State to State” column in NASAA’s monthly online newsletter. Anyone who questions the creativity with which SAAs are adapting to their environment can go to the online newsletter archives and view the last 75 columns that feature three innovations a month over the past six years, more than 200 examples selected from among many more. This month features three ways state arts agencies and regional arts organizations have harnessed Internet-enabled technology to better serve the arts.   Delaware’s new smartphone app connects artists and audiences statewide, making it easier to browse the state's arts and culture opportunities and to make plans to enjoy them. What's On, available for free on iTunes and Google Play, features an interactive map locating ongoing and upcoming performances, exhibitions, films, concerts and more across Delaware. By tapping event icons on the map, a user immediately accesses links to event websites as well as contact information, driving directions and other useful information. These listings and their logistics also are available in the form of a searchable list.  Pennsylvania’s new website features grantee stories and videos. In addition to a new agency Facebook page, the site features a section entitled “What You Do” that showcases the work of PCA grantees to organize and present diverse arts and culture events. Incorporating its new YouTube channel, PCA features in this section videos telling "Impact Stories" of its Arts in Education grantees and recognizing the "Best of the Best" projects supported by its Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts grants. Through their regional arts organization, the New England Foundation for the Arts, the six New England states have just rolled out CreativeGround a free on-line creative economy directory, featuring 30,000 profiles of cultural nonprofits, creative businesses, and artists of all disciplines and mediums. Designed to meet the needs of the region's artists, arts audiences and arts administrators—as well as non-arts entities like city planners and private developers—CreativeGround allows users to sort profiles through specific combinations of variables such as arts disciplines, services, populations served, languages spoken, institution/business type, venue characteristics and accessibility collaborations, statewide partnerships created between the arts and other constituencies, creative planning methods, peer training and consulting networks, etc. ]  Beyond these examples, I’m aware of a great deal of SAA testing of new methods and new program partners to address the new forms of art and the new business models that artists are  constantly creating. The SAAs in the states of Washington, Colorado and Kansas have even changed their names to represent better their evolving brands and missions.

The question of whether some leadership to meet the challenges SAAs face should come from outside the arts could be understood to ask whether ideas and models from other fields should be considered by arts leaders to identify and solve problems. They should be and are. Diverse professional backgrounds in addition to the arts abound among SAA staff members responsible for communication, operations and financial management, grant processing, information technology, research and evaluation.  In addition, conference speakers and workshop leaders, planning consultants, program partners in many fields such as health care and tourism, grantees, as well as state officials, colleagues in other state agencies, board members of cultural organizations including the regional arts organizations all provide ideas and perspectives from outside the arts. The environmental scanning and problem-solving activities in strategic planning, and program evaluation activities also provide opportunity for drawing upon expertise from outside the arts.

The question could also be understood to ask whether we should hire more people who do not have professional experience in an art form, with an arts group, or in cultural policy.  Many successful SAA EDs – past and currently – have come to their positions from primarily government, academic, or business backgrounds, but they have usually brought with them at least a passionate conviction about the public benefits of the arts, if not actual professional arts credentials.  I haven’t observed them to operate their agencies significantly differently from their colleagues. Knowledge of and experience in some combination of creating, presenting, interpreting and appreciating the arts is such an asset to carrying out so many of the primary tasks for someone in any SAA leadership position that the idea of looking for people from “outside the arts” is more likely to be detrimental than helpful, more likely to lead to disaster than revelatory innovation. Also, I’m wondering what different hiring practice would be useful when it seems that most public arts agencies are currently being informed by leaders with backgrounds that combine professional credentials both in and outside of the arts.  I don’t see a shortage of such people, especially among emerging leaders – who have all sorts of professional experience related to digital technology skills.
Barry:  You’ve also seen many changes over the years at the NEA.  What do you think the NEA could do better?  And how can the relationship between NASAA and the NEA be improved to the benefit of both?  Where in that relationship can collaboration be improved?  You once raised the issue of having more of the NEA funding allocated to the states.  Is that a position (one that is arguably potentially appealing to Congress) NASAA might (or ought to) revisit?

Jonathan:  Let me follow the practice of phrasing everything positively and looking ahead. I think the NEA serves itself and the public well when it creates ongoing conversations and a variety of forums with its constituents – especially those that represent organized and influential cultural networks – for strategic consultation.  That means exchange of perceptions, ideas and information about trends and issues, and exploration of the roles all parties could play, separately and together, to broaden, deepen and diversify participation in the arts.  To facilitate this kind of dialogue – state leadership to federal leadership – is one of the primary reasons that the SAAs created NASAA. I want to be perfectly clear that, being a former CEO, I am not speaking here on behalf of NASAA, but I think that a strategic conversation between NASAA and the NEA on the topic of how best to advance arts education, for instance, could be tremendously beneficial.

Actually, I didn’t raise the issue of having more of the NEA funding allocated to states (from 20% of grant funds at the time).  In the aftermath of the Mapplethorpe, Serrano and “NEA 4” controversies, members of Congress themselves raised the issue and some specifically tested our response to having all of the NEA grant funds go through states – which we immediately and strongly advised against. Ultimately, even though a group of national arts organizations, including NASAA, was asked for input, the decision that Congressional leaders hammered out was part of a suite of changes made quite independently to re-shape NEA operations into what enough members of Congress would consider letting survive. What the press coverage completely missed was that Congress – across party lines – was just as interested in seeing NEA funds broadly distributed among the states as they were concerned about the recurrence of controversies. At the time, if I remember correctly, more than 80 Congressional districts didn’t receive a direct grant from the NEA. That has since been remedied.  Between 1990 and 1997, in addition to  prohibiting the NEA from making general operating and season support grants, and limiting individual grants to only jazz masters, folk and heritage honorees, and literary artists, they added language directing that no state’s grants could exceed 15% of the total, that the National Council would be more geographically representative, that six members of Congress would sit on the National Council without voting rights, and that a lay member would be added to each panel.  In 1990, they increased the SAA portion of NEA grant funds incrementally to reach 27.5% by 1993 and, over several years following, increased that portion to 40%, maintaining 7.5% within that to reach the underserved.

The annual appropriations process usually focuses on budget and the budget committee’s instructions about programs.  Major policy issues are typically taken up during a reauthorization process when everything about how an agency is structured and operates is scrutinized for potential change. Congress considers 40% to states (including their regional consortia) to be the law, to be a vehicle for reaching the underserved, and for ensuring that substantial federal arts funds not only reach all states, but support state priorities as identified by SAA public planning processes. In my personal opinion, given the likely Congressional environment, it will not be in the interest of either the state arts agencies or the NEA to open discussion of any issue as structural as the state percentage in the foreseeable future.

Barry:  NASAA has been a leader in the conducting and provision of useful research for not only its membership but for the field in general.  Which areas of research need more attention and why?

Jonathan:  There are several areas of research in which I am particularly interested because they are necessary to inform rational decisions of two kinds: through what actions can artists and arts organizations most effectively broaden and deepen participation in the arts and through what policy making can public cultural agencies complement and support these efforts.

So I like to see behavioral models of participation put forth and then tested by practitioners and evaluated in practical terms. I follow the line of research influenced by Rand’s A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts, which suggested the profitability of marketing to several stages of decision making based on people’s backgrounds, their perceptions, practical considerations, and experiences; and I think the kind of research that Alan Brown and Jennifer Novak-Leonard do that links consumer behavior to intrinsic impacts is very rich in implication. This whole area of behavioral research is expanding as cultural agencies all over the world try to put digitally influenced arts experiences – new media, new modes of participation, possible new motivations for engagement, possible new individual and social outcomes -- into contexts amenable to policy goals, grant category design, service programs for the arts field, service programs for the public, and leadership initiatives. Your blog drew attention to the recent NEA report Measuring Cultural Engagement: A Quest for New Terms, Tools, and Techniques.  Connecting cultural policy makers with new knowledge about why, how and with what results people engage in the arts and cultural activities is vital. It will be a major challenge – and should be a priority – for funders and service organizations in our field to work together to invest in, translate and create learning opportunities for this kind of research to inform practical decision making.    

This is going to sound odd, but I wish there were more research or that I knew how to bring together different kinds of research findings that would provide evidence for things that I know are true and say all the time about arts education.  I know that the arts are a symbol system (we can call it sensory imagery) of equal importance to literacy and numeracy. I know that if you don’t include and resource arts education as you do literacy and numeracy that a large portion of the student population will learn much less of all subject matter, and all students will not learn to their potential. But I don’t know what research substantiates this claim.  I know that the competencies of communication and of empathy that are taught in arts classes are vital to the healthy participation of citizens in a democracy, that true democracy and the honoring of diversity begin with the cultivation of each child’s individual voice, but – other than Catterall’s linkage of an arts-rich education with some basic civic behaviors – I don’t know what research substantiates these claims. I know that the problems facing humankind in the near future are of such a complexity and require such a degree of motivation to both engage and change behavior that artistic vision and competencies will be needed to address them in addition to the competencies that the sciences and humanities foster. I’d like to see the public-policy-making, problem-solving and arts education research literatures brought together that substantiate that claim.

And while we’re at it, researchers need to map every state in the country for access to arts education, quality of instruction provided, and grade-level proficiency assessment. That will provide the necessary equity case for arts education.  Of course, research needs to continue on the consequences and costs of providing arts education inequitably, as the NAEP and other assessments have already suggested is currently the case.

Part II - next week.

Have a great week everybody.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dinner Vention Guest's Follow Up Interview

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

At the post Dinner Vention 2014 de-briefing breakfast (back in October), the dinner guests endorsed the idea of a follow up interview to further share some of their thinking with the field.

Getting consensus on what questions to pose (and how many), and a timeline for responses proved to be difficult.  After several mis-starts the guests agreed on two questions of their choosing.  Half the guests (four of the eight) responded, and the questions and their responses follow:

(And I'd like to thank the guests who were able to respond to the questions.  I think there is much food for thought in their responses and am grateful they were able to advance the discussion with their ideas).

Question #1:  What does "partnership with unlikely entities" mean in practice? Have you seen it realized? Can the current arts and culture structure handle a pluralistic approach to arts/creativity in which “unlikely entities’” are welcomed, validated, and honored as affectual? Why is this activity integral to leadership?

Sanjit Sethi:

When thinking about partnerships with unlikely entities in the context of arts and cultural organizations I believe it's important to keep in mind a series of factors that allow one to define the edges of this sphere of discourse. Without being overly semantical we need to think about the terminology were using here: partnership unlikely entities: words on their own they do not seem terribly remarkable however when strung together can lead to a series of cultural innovations or if executed poorly incredible failure. Let’s think about this idea of partnership: in many peoples minds when we think partnership we immediately think about equity and I believe that's highly problematic. Many times our relationships whether their professional personal or otherwise are far from equitable. There may be times we like them to be equitable. There may be times we insist that they be equitable yet most of the time they are not. We have to dismiss this mythology of equity within the terminology of partnerships. Partnerships are inherently power based: they are about an exchange or an agreement to do something for the benefit (ideally) of both parties. Understanding and accepting that many of these relationships are not equitable is the first step to truly actualizing this idea of partnerships with unlikely entities. When we think of unlikely we also need to understand what exactly are we talking about: Do we mean unlikely exotic? Unlikely off the beaten path? Unlikely overlooked? Often times we see organizations embrace a so called unlikely partnership by looking for the partner it's the least like them. And often they do this in an exotic fashion: the art museum that partners with a software company, the performance space that partners with the local zoo etc. and while these may be unlikely I question whether if it really goes to the heart of having a positive, transformative impact. The idea behind the term unlikely for me is relatively straightforward: Is there an exchange of values that is mutually understood and recognized yet do the entities themselves have vastly different vocabularies?  That is a process that rarely takes a single meeting or collaborating on a single event but rather is a process of exchange that occurs through leadership, through programming, and through interstitial exchanges of ideas. When we partner with unlikely entities the final consideration I put forth is in understanding that true partnerships assess and take on a degree of risk. That balance between risk and affirmation of what one is already doing is when things get particularly interesting and when individuals organizations find that nexus between innovation and affirmation. I believe that in order to succeed we must understand that these partnerships if executed correctly are transformative in nature. These types of partnerships in an ideal world should change the nature of the organization itself which also means the organization taking on these types of partnerships should be prepared for that transformation. Often times organizations that think taking on a partnerships with unlikely entities is simply additive in nature: I can try this but I can always retreat back to who I was before.  Partnering with an unlikely entity is like making a soufflĂ©: the ingredients are simple but putting it together combines practice, intuition and an understanding of the environmental conditions beyond ones control.

Ebony McKinney:

In late 2013, I returned to the Bay Area, after a two-year graduate school stint in London. While abroad, I read Rebecca Solnit’s article in the London Review of Books and countless others like it. I’d gone to graduate school to accelerate my quest to understand the contemporary environment for creative labour as well as learn new strategies for resilience and so I looked forward to being of help in some way when I got back. When I got here, I found that all was not lost and many of the organizations I remembered were still alive. However, undercapitalization seemed to cut even deeper and displacement was a widespread threat.

Within the San Francisco arts community the 2014 budget season was particularly fractious and disagreements over cultural equity and city funding as recounted by various cultural policy bloggers including Barry ran deep. The Arts Town Hall in October, was considered by many to be lackluster due to sporadic Supervisor attention and decreased attendance. The night ended with one city official challenging the arts community to come together to submit budget recommendations. It cut to one of the greatest challenges - How do we begin to get organized? Can we work in partnership? Had working together always been so unlikely?

After several months of coffees and lunches with arts organization leaders, city departments, director of cultural affairs, legislative liaisons, funders, artists, arts education partners, support service providers, and advocacy experts and community organizers from other sectors, Lex Leifhet from SOMArts and I (as a representative of Emerging Arts Professionals/SFBA) decided to actively cultivate a network to be powered by members who believed that arts and culture play a vital role in this region’s identity and quality of life.

The evening of Tuesday, January 27th we held the first open meeting of Arts for a Better Bay Area (ABBA) and it was pretty encouraging. Emerging arts professionals, members of the “old guard”, as well as representatives from large institutions, small community organizations and individual artists showed up on the day. (This is the pluralistic make up we are validating and honoring at the moment.) 60+ of us packed the Center for New Music and broke into small groups around issue areas like Access to Space, Cultural Equity, Youth Opportunities, Placekeeping/Neighborhood Arts and Support for Individual Artists & Workers to discuss unmet needs, promising practices and relevant research. People left energized and many signed up to meet over the next few weeks to carry out our ‘beta test’ - recommendations for the city budget.

Once we are more organized we see a great deal of potential in cross sector collaboration with groups focused on areas like youth and tenants rights. Lex and I draw a great deal of inspiration from the success of the Family Budget Coalition and their recent fight to reauthorize and expand the Children’s Fund . I greatly admire the work done at the City-Wide Tenants Convention early last year. However, maybe all of this is just too easy - considering the local climate - would it be possible for us to forge a meaningful partnership with members of the technology community? That sector is made up of more than the big corporations we constantly hear about.

Regardless, right now our first big task is building unlikely partnerships within the San Francisco arts community. As Barry has stated, there are deep and abiding divides to be addressed. With the help of countless collaborators we are on our way to carving a new path. Together our voice is stronger. So yes, in my experience partnership and maybe it also has something to do with my style of leadership - but yes, in my experience partnership with unlikely allies is key.

I wanted to present my own experience and felt compelled to share the work I’m doing at present - it’s rather internal so as a counterpoint I interviewed Ashara Ekundayo Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Impact Hub Oakland. I was intrigued by the groups pluralistic approach to creativity and the way it's ingrained within the organization.

[Can the current arts and culture structure handle a pluralistic approach to arts/creativity in which unlikely entities are welcomed, validated, and honored as affectual?]

I think it’s critical that organizers continue to invite professional artists or people who live some of their life as artists on purpose into all spaces and part of that has to do with my desire to not continue to separate artists from the rest of the people as though everyone doesn’t have the ability to tap into that.

The interesting dynamic about how Hub works is that there is no such thing to me as an unlikely alliance because the DNA of a business like Impact Hub [Oakland] or co-working spaces is collaboration. There aren’t any conversations that happen in a silo at Impact Hub Oakland because it’s about the team. The strangest types of ideas end up as hashtags for us. It’s one of those things that we expect and celebrate and look for. Just as it in nature, the diversity is actually what allows a being or entity to be resilient. One idea doesn’t work anywhere. It needs to hit as many touch points or a surface areas as can be touched as possible.

We’re looking for unlikely alliances as part of our business model.  We have an actual business model that is designed at intersections. We happen to be a team of founders who are also organizers. We happen to be a team of founders who are all creatives and we’re all community activists. That is unique.

We are also the largest team of founders. Usually there is a team of three people, maybe 4 and we’re a team of 7.

If you just look at 3 of us who run the Hub, myself, Konda and Lisa - Lisa has a PhD in chemistry, she’s a classicly trained pianist, she’s a glassblower at The Crucible. She has all of these things that she does in addition to being the COO of Impact Hub Oakland. Konda who is a filmmaker who used to manage musical artists, who is the co-founder of the Berkeley Jazz Festival and travels all over the world, happens to be a master yoga teacher and a dharma teacher and myself who is the only one on the team who has ever run a non profit organization. I’m the one who has done international food justice work and been a curator without a PhD. I’m the only one who had children and raised them and they’ve been around the world with me. We all have very different backgrounds. We seem unlikely to put on any sort of project together, but we have. We are a very real example of an unlikely trio to have started a business. And then you have the other 4 people

It’s about the triple bottom line and it is about being authentic and not having to separate yourself as a parent and an artist or a minister or a yoga teacher from the work that you do everyday because what we ask people to bring is what makes them come alive. We didn’t say come over hear and try to do the same thing everybody’s doing - business as usual.

And so we’re going to have to move differently in our business practices and so a good thing to do is to model and unlikely alliances are the only way that we see our business thriving. And we are about thriving.

John Arroyo:

This question has been on my mind a long time, well before the 2014 DinnerVention. This is likely due to the fact that I no longer work in the arts on a day-to-day basis (which is not to say I don’t support the arts in other ways!). For the last 15 years I have worked on various aspects of urban planning, design, and development, a career that has afforded me a broad spectrum of intersections between the physical and social infrastructure of cities. This spectrum has ranged from housing and transportation to economic development and arts and culture. Nonetheless, even after completing numerous technical projects and completing several urban planning and design degrees, I was consistently pegged an arts administrator more than anything else. This was certainly not an error (I worked in arts administration for nearly a decade). I just felt it was just too narrow a description of my interests. My persistent struggle was getting other cultural workers to see that my work went beyond the traditional arts and cultural setting (and that this was a good thing!).

Today the intersection between urbanism and arts and culture isn’t as much of a stretch as it was over a decade ago, when mixing the two felt quixotic and unicorn-like. My decision to return for my first graduate degree in urban planning and design garnered comments like “Wow, John, you’re making a big career switch” from people who worked in formal arts and culture settings (museums, galleries, theaters, and opera halls). I often responded that I always worked in planning, just with an arts and culture focus. Where my more traditionally arts-oriented friends saw my career trajectory as detracting from the norm, I saw it as an opportunity to create a necessary bridge between otherwise “unlikely entities.” During graduate school my interests naturally swayed towards economic development, housing, law and policy, urban design, and local finance. The more I dug deeper, the more I realized how essential it was for the arts and cultural sector to break out of its shell.

Today the association between urbanism and arts and culture still feels nascent. I regularly receive emails from arts and cultural institutions working to “improve civic life” or defending the arts as an “essential components of quality of life.” I could not agree more, but I can’t help but feel that the arts and cultural sector have much more work to do on this front. Whenever I attend an arts related event I see the same arts patrons. Whenever I see petitions to support an arts-related issue, I see the same arts advocates’ signatures. It feels as if a lot of effort is invested on ensuring the longevity of support among the believers. What I would like to see is more effort spent on developing relationships with the non-believers, or non-arts specific focused advocates. For me, this contingent represents perhaps one of the greatest untapped resources for arts and culture support in the 21st century. A friend and long-time arts advocate recently told me “You never see hospitals and schools go through the budget cuts suffered by arts organizations. What protects them?” “Relevance,” I responded. “The arts have the same opportunity, but they have struggled to cement their relevance in the way other functions of civil society have. I consistently see housing developers and transportation groups garner support by tapping into non-traditional networks such as healthcare, the sciences, universities, and youth development. But I rarely see the arts do the same.”

I’m fortunate to have seen many successful partnerships with unlikely entities in practice (far too many to list). Here are a few of my favorite ones, categorized by their “unlikely sector”:
Housing and Urban Development: I first learned about the Portland, Or.-based Sojourn Theater at an American for the Arts conference in June 2009. They presented on BUILT, self-described as “A devised, participatory, site-specific show staged in a new Condominium tower show floor that included an original civic planning multi-phase board game based on a community engagement research process.”

Homelessness: In 2007/2008 the Los Angeles County Arts Commission launched Artful Solutions: Pathways From Homelessness: ”the nation’s first regional effort to include the arts as an important component of support services for homeless populations and to provide data that can be used in the future to help solve the challenges of homelessness.”

Urban River Revitalization: In 2009 the ongoing revitalization of the LA River became the focus of Cornerstone Theatre’s Touch the Water, the fourth play in Cornerstone’s Justice Cycle series exploring how laws shape and disrupt communities.

Juvenile Justice: NeON Arts is a program of the NYC Department of Probation, through a partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. The program takes place in DOP’s Neighborhood Opportunity Networks (NeONS) and “offers young people in New York City, including those on probation, the chance to explore the arts through projects in a variety of disciplines, including dance, music, theater, visual arts, poetry, and digital media.”

Additional initiatives led by organizations such as ArtPlace America, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mayors’ Institute for City Design, and foundations such as Bruner-Loeb, Surdna, Kresge, and Irvine illustrate why transformational leadership is integral to the success of these projects. Transformational leadership is leadership that isn’t afraid to take risks, even when it’s uncomfortable. When successful, it is this type of leadership that serves as an example by encouraging creative ideas and calls to action.

I previously coordinated the nation’s largest summer arts internship program, the LA County Arts Internship Program (over 100 interns at performing arts, literary arts, music, and dance organizations across Los Angeles County). I’ve been a great fan of the program given my personal experience as an alumnus of its companion program, The Getty Foundation’s Multicultural Undergraduate Internship Program. The beauty of the program was its overall goal. Our job in leading the internship program wasn’t just about developing a new generation of arts administrators. It was about instilling in interns the value of the arts, whether or not the interns pursued future cultural work, either independently or as staff at an arts organization. Over time I saw that many interns became doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs, all professions that afforded them the financial ability to support the arts as a season subscriber to their local opera, as a financially savvy board member at a community theater, or as a major donor to the capital campaign for a museum extension. Unlikely partners are essential to the future of a healthy arts ecosystem where people aren’t fighting to prevent arts-related budget cuts – they’re fighting to increase it.

Rachel Grossman:

Three examples of partnership with unlikely entities:

My first job out of college, I assisted the Kellogg Foundation supported artist-in-residence in Battle Creek, MI. He was a painter and activist-artist, a recovering alcoholic, prone to abrupt mood swings, and very groovy. I was a theatre maker and youth worker, well-organized but under-experienced, looking to find her way and make an impact. Despite cultural, age, style, knowledge, skill, name-your-area difference, we successfully mounted two large-scale, outdoor community art projects, working across town with everyone from Parks & Rec department to the local mall. Joy, art, imagination, community.

When I was at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, I created “The Claque” a community of highly dedicated volunteer audience members, focused on creating, facilitating, and advancing the theatre’s connectivity initiatives. Essentially, they were the connectivity department’s army. The theatre staff (at that time myself and my assistant) worked in partnership with a group of fifteen audience members who were previously unassociated with one another. They were unlikely because they were strangers; some of whom had little-to-no investment in the theatre before joining The Claque. They transformed into my associates, complicit in the work of engaging other audience members in productions. Curiosity, expertise, dedication, community.

If I’m working through a business problem now, I have three go-to sources: a systems designer/analyst; a political fundraiser; a tax lawyer. All of them are able to work with me to dissect and strategize different approaches than the list of go-to solutions provided by the “sector” or “field” (heretofore “sector/field”). It is to their advantage to see an ambitious, passionate arts-administrator dedicated to strengthening and diversifying the area theatre community succeed. It’s a return on their friendship and their individual donation “investments” in local organizations. Knowledge, problem solving, infrastructure, community.

Partnership is a broad term that’s become, along with a number of other words, hopelessly jargonized. Every organization or individual is “partnering” or in “partnership” with another entity, but are these really relationships of mutually agreed upon goals, risks, and benefits? Because that defines a partner. It’s a reciprocal give-and-take toward achieving a shared vision, not a resource exchange in order for one party to achieve his vision. Partnership is vital to leadership because the lone genius leader has been revealed to be a myth; because regardless of industry the most exciting companies and projects, the most rewarding workplaces, the most innovative solutions result from the mixing of multidisciplinary, cross-sector minds. The culture underlying Generation X and exploding from Millennials runs in opposition to the image, theory, and praxis of great, singular leader. If we embrace “partnership with unlikely entities” at all levels of operation as the key practice for being a great 21st century leader in the arts sector/field(s), the other behaviors and practices on our list inherently come into play. However: if we continue to faux-partner with everyone from colleagues to communities, the status quo prevails and, I believe, the arts sector/field(s) will stagnate and grow more obsolete in the lives of a majority of U.S. citizens. I endorse a take-back of the word “partnership” by having arts leaders approach all relationships as partnerships.

Question #2:  Ron (Ragin) wanted at the outset to discuss structures of power and how that impacts the models the field uses. He also talks about the social, political and economic consequences of 'place' and borrowed Roberto Bedoya’s “Sovereignty of Place” concept, and opined, as has Bedoya, that culture can be a tool and also a weapon. What are your thoughts on how structures of power impact the application of the various models the sector uses?

Sanjit Sethi:
When thinking about ideas around models of power and its connection to place I can think of no better technological analogy than one that has become literally, figuratively, and conceptually so embedded in American vernacular then the drone. In a not so recent past figment of science fiction the drone has rapidly become an entity which defies the identity of an individual technological device. The drone is also an incredible symbol of the contested space around innovation, power, cultural development, and the ability to critique the state. From the exotic large wingspan to images of it flying over Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and other places of United States military intervention to the recent crash of a small $500 drone on the White House lawn to organizations like Code Pink utilizing drones at protests to survey police activities these devices act as a fulcrum in which there are no clear answers as to who controls what they are. Power itself has become both more concentrated as we see with wealth in the increasingly powerful 1% and at the same time more diffuse with entities from micro finance organizations like Kiva to college students being able to overthrow decades long kleptocracies in the Middle East.  While this contradiction may strike some with a degree of unease I believe this is the perfect time for cultural organizations to engage in a power / placed based self-assessment to see if they have the ability to create shifts in what they see as unequal structures of power. For the earlier part of the last decade we saw on drones as synonymous with the military industrial complex: big, fearsome objects with its oblique gray paint and missiles mounted underneath the wings- nothing could be less likely to be used as a tool for social change. Now we see drones performing in ways that assist communities in need, communities that feel voiceless, individuals that have experience significant trauma. I'm reminded of the short yet tremendously poignant video shot by a drone by a neighbor of a large scale industrial pig processing plant in the Midwest showing the acres upon acres of untreated raw sewage that was inaccessible to the public eye and was to stay that way (from the owners perspective). Now with over two million hits on YouTube this video has forces the owner of the pig farm to make changes and engage in the neighbors demands for a more environmentally responsible and transparent operation. The ACLU flies drones when permissible over specific protests to record abuse by authorities. This ability to watch the watchers is a significant one and is a key too for individuals and organizations that are able to be adaptable, savvy, and interested in pushing the boundaries around the establishment and dominant paradigms of power. Maybe all leaders of innovative cultural organizations need to take drone flying training classes. Learning how to fly a drone is frustrating and daunting at first: one feels all thumbs until at a certain point when the device takes flight it becomes incredibly liberating. An assistive tool allowing one to perceive and see and engage with a world that was originally beyond you- this is not merely about power this is about the identity of one's own ideas and ones organizational mission in the context of a rapidly changing and contested world.

Ebony McKinney:
Writer Elaine Scarry, wrote in 1985 that what separates the weapon and the tool is “a gulf of meaning and intention, connotation and tone”. Culture is often spoken of in conjunction with the arts, but it’s also behavior, attitudes and ways of living of a particular group or people. With this definition I can start to understand how culture shapes the selection of a goal and how it’s pursued. What differentiates a Jane Jacobs, who called for “diversity, density and dynamism in cities” or a Jan Gehl, who argues that cities should support human needs for intimacy and inclusion from a Robert Moses who seemingly favored highways over public transit and automobiles to humans? Can culture be conceived as intention, attitude, behavior and tone?

When Roberto Bedoya, Executive Director of the Tuscon Pima Arts Council, spoke at the 2013 Creative Time Summit he cited the development of American reservations, the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, the World War II internment of the Japanese and the present day militarization of US/Mexico border as powerful examples of containment and displacement fraught with very real social, political and economic consequences. This is culture wielded a weapon by government structures. Currently, Bedoya’s PLACE (People, Land, Arts, Culture and Engagement) initiative funds projects that explore the aesthetics and ethos of belonging and disbelonging and speaks to his philosophy of cultural and civic stewardship. PLACE supports projects the surface “antagonisms and tensions” within the region and invests in local agency that negotiates with and challenges power. Grantees include a theater piece called No Rooster in the Desert which chronicles women’s journeys across difficult terrain. Other pieces explore the border patrol’s use of racial profiling as well as desert ecology and water scarcity. For the originators of these projects culture appears to be a tool for liberation.

Late last year, I had the opportunity to hear MacArthur Genius and Project Row House Founder Rick Lowe speak at UC Berkeley’s Art Research Center last year.  He spoke of the ethical decisions one makes when deciding to make artwork and the politics that lie behind one’s choices. “Who gets to determine what is art and what’s not? And let me tell you it’s of no little importance who gets to make that decision,” he warned. The same could be said for creative placemaking efforts of course. I believe this is the point.

Lowe referenced Lucy Lippard’s description of land art as focusing the gaze on landscapes too immense to absorb. He compared it to social and community engaged art, and for much of the talk described ways that he concentrated his time and resources on the “social and community actions that we’ve lost the focus to take in” in order to shift people’s perspectives, often of themselves.

Starting with the most blighted houses in the neighborhood, Lowe recognized the beauty of genuine, authentic and practical need, but being an artist, he sought a symbolic layer as well. After conducting research the staff at Project Row Houses discovered a high number of single mothers lived in the area. Understanding that, the renovated spaces became transitional housing for single mothers who’d previously lived in “very raw” situations. Many had given up on these women. In this way, the spaces and the women who came to live there came to symbolize the potential of improbable transformations.

Lowe also set his sights on noticing the value in everyday experiences. He talked about quirky older gentlemen whose audacious stroll and theatrical flick of his cigarette seemed akin to individual, improvised performances. He also described his encounters with a formerly incarcerated man in the neighborhood whom he described as a kind soul. The man confessed to Lowe that if he had it to do all over he would be a cook in a cafĂ©. Lowe designed posters depicting the man as a quality cook and hung them around the neighborhood. This helped the aspiring chef envision himself in his “highest form” and as a valuable member of the community. He became a community caterer of sorts until his death a few years later. “These are people,” Lowe said, who are “obviously trying to express something to the world” in the way they hold themselves and showcase their creativity. In Lowe's work there is often a practical issue that needs to be addressed, but his focus and investment reaches deeper and raises higher. In the latest issue of the Community Development Investment Review from the Federal Reserve of San Francisco, the Ford Foundation’s vice president for economic opportunity and assets Xavier de Souza Briggs, maintains that there is a shift from a fixation on “the hardware of place” to a “much deeper appreciation for the role of human capital, knowledge and creativity.” I can only hope so.

Both Roberto Bedoya's work in Arizona and Rick Lowe's work in Houston highlights the role that culture can play in empowerment, liberation and the celebration of human potential and creativity. Though structures and opportunities like this are not the norm, perhaps little by little, in micro fashion they soon will be. Coming to a neighborhood near you?

John Arroyo:

It’s difficult to answer this question without resorting to theories in political economy, democracy, or political philosophy (we were explicitly told not to get “too academic” – which is a tall order for a hybrid academic-practitioner like me!).

The first idea that comes to mind is the role of legitimacy between arts organizations and individual artists. 501(c)3 organizations historically and consistently have had more opportunities for grant funding when compared to individual artists. This inherent wave of power has manifested in a disconnect between loosely based arts collectives who choose to do less formal, less bureaucratic, and riskier projects without being beholden to a board, donor, or government agency. As foundations and government agencies adapt their guidelines to remain current (connections with unlikely partners!), individual artists wonder if “arts for arts sake” still has a place, especially when their intentions aren’t to create transformative change in a community.

The issue is further complicated when analyzing how organizational scale affects power within 501(c)3 organizations. Despite their ups and downs, the classical SOBs (symphonies, orchestras, and ballets) tend to have greater resources than the community theater or the neighborhood after-school art center. Power not only creates legitimacy, but also opportunities to assert more power. How does an individual artist or a small-scale arts organization with an annual operating budget of less than $50,000 compete with an endowed opera undergoing their second capital campaign within the last 10 years?
When I think the “sovereignty of place” in the context of planning I think of how the value of any place goes beyond its official owner. When I think of “sovereignty of place” in the context of arts and culture I think of how arts are often seen as a place-based weapon that either empower or disempower. Who gets to use a parcel of land for their arts project? Are artists the victims or purveyors of a gentrified neighborhood? Is the goal of arts personal transformation or economic development on commercial corridors? Are we really making new places, or “re-making” existing places in an entirely a new image? The list goes on. If space is territory and place is territory overlayed with meaning, one must ask who assigns that meaning? Is it a market fueled by capitalism or is it the non-economic interests of creative people who inhabit these areas?

As a person who studies cities I am no stranger to how global events, economic forces, migration, and overall urbanization and globalization affect place. For me, the key question is what does a democratic place look like? Philosophers have entertained this question ever since Henri Lefebvre conjured his notion of “The Right to the City.” These thoughts have fueled numerous sociologists, geographers, and political economists to develop theories and enacted policies on a local-scale in Los Angeles to national-legislation in Brazil.

It is clear that for artists it is not enough to own or inhabit a place. What is necessary is the ability to produce in a place, to assert cultural values and how places connect with other sites, people, and civic issues. The recent Occupy Movement reminded everyone of this place-based, yet distributed and re-appropriated notion of power all across the world. It taught us that people need to be empowered to use their creativity produce their own places.

Rachel Grossman:
As the Dinner-vention date closed in last fall, I began to wonder what the hell I was doing going to this event. Don’t get me wrong, I was honored to be invited; thrilled to be meeting Barry, Shannon, the WESTAF team, and the other guests. But why was I invited, why did I want to go, and what would people want to hear from me? And more to the point: what do complete strangers across the country need to hear, to be motivated, inspired, or even curious to reconsider their current Modus Operandi?

Eventually, I was spiraling into a rabbit hole of philosophical questions about the entire model of Dinner-vention and my participation as a demonstration of my complicity in a broken model system. Why was I being flown halfway across the country for one night? Housed in a nice hotel? Wined and dined? How much was this costing? What was the desired outcome for the eight guests? What was the actual impact on “the sector”?

Two days before Dinnervention I had worked myself up to the point that I almost couldn’t attend. Almost. But I got on the plane that Thursday morning, flew to Denver, and had a whirlwind evening because it was an honor to be invited to participate and it was a platform to begin openly speaking questions and statements I’ve been previously told not to.

What I didn’t say at the dinner, but what was bubbling inside me was ultimately my reaction to Ron’s request: the structures of power that support “broken models” in our sector are ones that emphasize expert over artisan, talk over action, players instead of doers. With all due respect for myself, my hosts, and the other guests, I felt trapped inside the thing we were examining. The 300lb gorilla in the room was that on a micro-scale we were demonstrative of many of the “broken models” we were speaking against. In this way we were a weapon. We were the proof that “people were trying to change the system,” but proof that lulled everyone back to sleep so they could wake up Friday morning and return to their positions as if nothing had happened.

Maybe next time I won’t get on the plane. Maybe next time I’ll answer a request like Ron’s more directly and loudly. The structures of power—hierarchy, capitalism, industrial production, male-white-able-bodied-educated-privilege, it’s-who-you-know nepotism—ultimately induce fear of conflict and chance, which leaves us embracing the models we know and “trust.” Until we question why we’re getting on the plane, say something, and then possibly not get on it, we’ll continue to hold those models dear.

Have a great week everybody.

Don't Quit