Sunday, October 4, 2015

Interview with Kerry Adams Hapner

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

NOTE:  The response to the Communications Survey invitation has been tremendous, and I want to thank all of those national service organizations, fellow bloggers and others who helped spread the word and promoted the invitation to take the survey.  And, of course, to each of you who have already taken the time to complete it.  I am confident we will end up with a credible, representative sampling pool and that the data will help inform the field about our communications habits, preferences, perceptions and behaviors. That information can begin a dialogue in the field about how we manage communications.  It's important that all sectors of our field are part of the sampling pool - including small organizations, multicultural organizations and leaders, all the disciplines - operas, orchestras, museums, theaters, dance companies, film groups, presenters, government agencies etc,  So -- If you haven't yet taken the survey, please consider doing so today.  Click here:      See last week's blog post describing the whole communications survey project.

Thank you again.

Kerry Adams Hapner Bio:  
Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Jose.  Adams Hapner oversees services and programs in the areas of public art and creative placemaking, special events, cultural funding, cultural facilities, creative entrepreneurship and the creative economy.

She has led the development of significant cultural policy and programs including: Cultural Connection: San Jose’s Cultural Plan for 2011-2020; cultural development goals for Envision San Jose 2040, the general plan update; and the Cultural Funding Portfolio: Investments in Art, Creativity, and Culture.

She regularly writes on and speaks at national conferences on a wide range of topics including creative placemaking and cultural development. In 2014, Kerry presented on San Jose’s art and technology work at the National Arts Policy Roundtable in Sundance, UT, co-convened by the Sundance Institute and Americans for the Arts.  Since 2013, she has served as the Chair of the United States Urban Arts Federation, comprised of the local art agency executive directors of the 60 largest U.S. cities. She has served on the board of Californians for the Arts and California Arts Advocates for the past eight years, and has landed on this post's Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders.


BARRY:  You serve as the Chair of the United States Urban Arts Federation (Local Arts Agency execs of the 60 largest US cities). What are the biggest challenges and trends you and your LAA colleagues are facing? What are the implications of these challenges and trends for the future of big city LAAs and the arts in those cities?

KERRY:  I have served as Chair of USUAF for the past two years. It has been an honor. It’s a peer to peer knowledge exchange in which we meet in person twice a year to discuss challenges and trends. Our work lies in this wonderful sweet spot at the nexus of cultural, community and economic development. Local Art Agencies (LAAs) straddle the spheres of public policy and practice – typically through a portfolio combining grantmaking, special events cultural facility management, art education, public art commissions, marketing, artist workforce investment and/or film. When I think about LAAs across the US, a favorite quote from NEA Director for Local Art Agencies Michael Killoren comes to mind, “Local art agencies are like snowflakes, each one is slightly different.” Each has adapted to its local environment.

The “A” in LAA, or agency, is a key word. LAAs have agency to harness the power of the arts and connect it to broader civic and urban issues.  The arts are viewed as essential community building blocks and part of solutions as we advance urban cities and urban agendas.  Placemaking is a perfect example.  Another key trend right now is cultural planning – which is on the rise. Big cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, San Jose and Houston have/are tackling ambitious cultural plans. These plans will further shape the role and value of LAAs in urban environments. The implications of these trends are that we increasingly need to take an integrated approach to issues while focusing our priorities and resources where the greatest impact will be.

BARRY:  You’ve been San Jose’s Director of Cultural Affairs for over 7 years now. What is changing / has changed in running a major city LAA and in San Jose specifically?

KERRY:  There is an increased understanding of the arts’ role in urbanism and fostering a vibrant community. Increasingly, we are seeing that LAAs are at the table discussing civic and community issues. It is all adding up to advancing the arts as an exciting and dynamic part of this city.

I came into my position in 2008, and we immediately experienced the economic crisis.  Thankfully, our budget has rebounded and our primary funding source, the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) also known as the hotel tax, is performing really well.  Progress is being made in implementing our cultural plan, Cultural Connection. San Jose’s art organizations are delivering great work to this community.  A positive change is the momentum in the art community. It is taking an increased interest in activating the public realm, whether through public art or other programming.  This is a shift from local government being the primary delivery mechanism to partners providing the service. The San Jose artist community is burgeoning, and I’m excited to see new projects, interventions, and faces.

BARRY:  Assess the state of funding for big city LAAs across the country. Are things better or worse than they were a few years ago, and why? What are the odds funding for LAAs will increase for the future. Besides government support, is there any other source?

KERRY:   Generally, LAA budgets are coming back in a very healthy way.  More and more, there are other public funding sources being eligible for arts uses or increasingly used for arts purposes in community development efforts. A good example is funding for Community Development Block Grants.  California cities did experience a set back with the loss of redevelopment agencies, which funded a lot of cultural infrastructure. Whether or not LAA funding increases really depends on the funding source, economics and political will in their communities. If the economic benefits of the arts continue to gain recognition, then there will be greater support at the local level. New philanthropic support over the past several years from organizations like ArtPlace America have helped make the case around the role of the arts in community development and serves as an incentive to leverage local funds.

BARRY:  Placemaking has become a core strategy for the arts, and LAAs are arguably at the center of those efforts - directly or indirectly. What -- in the current strategy of placemaking efforts for downtown San Jose -- is different from previous efforts? What lessons have been learned?

KERRY:   Placemaking is a long tradition in the arts and obviously that means different things in different communities. San Jose’s placemaking history tells the story of its evolution from agricultural community to suburbia to urban center of Silicon Valley. At one time, downtown San Jose had the largest redevelopment agency in the state. It financed significant infrastructure including theaters and museums. Our downtown was driven by civic, business and cultural activities. The downtown core didn’t have a significant residential population, which is changing now. Now our urban placemaking strategies also focus on the activation that happens between that infrastructure and providing spaces and events where people can gather formally or informally and engage in their city.

Place is dynamic and belongs to many people. More and more in San Jose, we are enjoying activation and art interventions by community members - whether whimsical yarn bombing or San Jose Taiko rehearsing in a plaza.  The arts are part of a range of tools to transform spaces that may be of larger revitalization efforts – alongside activities like yoga in the park - all placemaking. For an LAA, enabling placemaking and vibrancy in our city also means refining municipal codes and policies to enable activation – reducing the barriers for the arts to happen.

A key placemaking strategy in San Jose is at the intersection of art and technology, an opportunity to visually reflect the spirit of innovation and aspiration of San Jose. The San Jose International Airport, a gateway to Silicon Valley, includes a series of dynamic art installations around the theme of art and technology.  This fall, we are launching Illuminating Downtown - an initiative aimed at lighting up downtown through interactive and technology-based light installations at building tops, gateways and pedestrian pathways.

Although downtown, as a central gathering place and urban core, is a natural focus. We asked ourselves, how do we best serve our entire community? We've learned it's important to decentralize and cultivate placemaking efforts city-wide as well.  The OCA is launching a city-wide program called San Jose Creates & Connects, a multi-prong placemaking and participatory arts initiative.  It will bring together our artists and arts organizations of all cultures and disciplines to celebrate residents’ creative self-expression and artist-driven projects - as part of a community-wide effort to provide opportunities for people to create and connect with themselves and others.

BARRY:  Several years ago there sprung up a movement for more direct collaborative efforts by/and between LAAs and foundations to promote and expand community engagement efforts. Did those efforts materialize? How might LAAs and foundations scale up their collaborative efforts?

KERRY:   Community engagement is a broad term that is often proxy for the terms “participation” and “connection.” I see bright spots out there. For example, I respect and value what the Kresge Foundation is doing. Their collaboration with the Tucson Pima Arts Council in its PLACE Initiative is a national model. I appreciate the conceptual underpinnings of engagement that the Irvine Foundation is shaping.  Arts organizations are key to this equation too and how they can be sustainably supported in providing opportunities for people to meaningfully engage in the arts. Trends in consumption and digital culture/technology  are driving change in the way that people are engaging in the arts and culture. Those areas offer an important opportunity for collaboration between LAAs and foundations.

BARRY:  The issues of Equity and Racial Relations are at the top of virtually the entire field’s agendas. What is your assessment of the Equity challenge and how we can meet that challenge? San Jose is very diverse. Has that diversity made it easier or more difficult for you to address the equity and race relations issues? Why?

KERRY:   Equity and racial relations are complex, critical issues we are all facing today.   In addition to ensuring that there is access to the arts and culture by all members of our communities, there are issues of relevant programming.  A question I ask myself is, “What is the opportunity to optimize the role of the arts in fostering equity, access, and equal opportunity?”

San Jose is a large, diverse city without a majority population.  It's one-third Asian, one-third Latino and one-third Caucasian.  Each of these groups, and the sub-groups within them, has a long tradition of rich arts and culture that deserves support.  And there are communities including African Americans, Native Americans, LGBT and others that have a rich cultural history.  In San Jose, one strategy that we have used successfully in our goal towards equity has been targeted capacity building programs.  Many of the culturally-rooted arts organizations groups that were part of our multicultural arts incubation program a decade ago are thriving today with strong leadership that now serve as respected mentors for the next generation.   As stewards of public funds, access to funding opportunities is a guiding principle. Effective outreach is key priority for us and includes high-touch methods as well as advertising grant opportunities in communities where English is not the dominant language.  One thing's for sure:  having a diverse community is certainly an asset in that we have many resources to draw from -- and we have a critical mass of people that helps keep us accountable on issues that we may overlook.  Our diverse arts and cultural sector has also played a significant role in building connections within and across our many communities.

BARRY:   There have been countless high profile closures of arts organizations across the country, including the San Jose Rep. What (if anything) could have been done to prevent these organizations from getting to the point of bankruptcy? What lessons can be learned from these closures?

KERRY:   Wow, where do I begin? Let’s start with a basic premise that art organizations need to be well capitalized. Fostering a culture of philanthropy is vital.  Once an organization beings to experience financial loss, they can slip to experience death by a 1,000 cuts. Organizations try to curb costs and cut programming, marketing, and outreach. It can become a downward spiral in which they are reaching fewer and fewer people. The cost of building operations and maintenance can compound the strain for any organization without sufficient capitalization.

Adaptation, relevancy and a deep connection to audiences are also essential to sustainable operating models.  In San Jose, our demographic shifts over the past 30 years have been enormous. San Jose is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the nation due to the iconic success of Silicon Valley.

There are life cycles to arts organizations, yet their closures are a significant loss to a community and those that dedicated themselves to keeping them going. A new model does not naturally reappear and, if one does, it takes years to cultivate.  The reuse of the 540-seat Hammer Theatre where the SJ Rep performed will involve a new performing arts model in partnership with San Jose State University, which will take several years to incubate and refine.

BARRY:  San Jose is a major city, more populous than San Francisco, yet remains in the shadow of San Francisco in the greater Bay Area. How have you been able to deal with that reality?

KERRY:   Yes, with a population of a million, San Jose is the largest city in the Northern California and the 10th largest in the US. I don’t engage in the SJ/SF comparison or succumb to the “in the shadow” comparisons. Both are great cities. San Jose is the urban and cultural center of Silicon Valley with global recognition.  I embrace and love what is unique and authentic about San Jose. Our history and identity are our own.  San Jose’s culture is DIY. People are participatory, creative, global, educated and innovative. They are actively engaging in the arts in a personal way. San Jose’s arts community is multi-faceted, diverse, multicultural, and adaptive.

BARRY:   How can you positively impact whatever it is that attracts artists? How might LAAs better directly service working artists in their areas?

KERRY:   Artists are the backbones of any cultural community. While each artist community is unique, there are common ways in which they need support: economic opportunity, access to resources to advance their small businesses, housing, and the perennial need for rehearsal, production, and exhibition space. There is also the need for networking, a sense of belonging and of being valued.

Fostering an environment in which artists have opportunities is a core goal of our office. One of San Jose’s successful programs is the Creative Entrepreneur Program, developed in partnership with the Center for Cultural Innovation.  We seek to support the business side of artists’ practice through professional development, grants, and convenings. We are also aiming to move the needle on the crucial issue of affordable housing for artists.

Artists are resourceful and work across sectors – nonprofit, commercial and individual practice. Three years ago, we launched the Creative Industries Incentive Fund, which awards funds to grow or stabilize commercial arts-based businesses. 501c3s are not eligible. In the case of all of the grantees, arts are at the heart of these businesses and they are making a contribution to San Jose’s cultural life. I’m really proud of this program – its modest, but businesses and leaders (who are all artists) are growing.  We are also seeing a “stickiness” and commitment to San Jose as a result.  It is a talent retention strategy - a wonderful hybrid of cultural and economic development.

BARRY:   I recently did a blogathon on Arts and Science Intersections. Has your agency become involved in this  growing effort, and if so, how?

KERRY:   The nexus of art and environmental science is an area of interest for San Jose’s OCA. In partnership with San Jose’s Environmental Services Department, the public art program is commissioning a series of artist interventions aimed at promoting environmental stewardship. The projects seek to instill a better understanding about individual roles in influencing the environment – such as how our actions affect creeks, watersheds and the ocean. This is an area of tremendous opportunity going forward - using the arts and the vocabulary of the arts to help protect the environment.

BARRY:   San Jose was the pilot community representing the state of CA in the national - Arts Midwest created - initiative, Building Public Will for the Arts and Culture. (See  Tell me about it.

KERRY:   How do we advance the arts as an expected part of people’s lives in San Jose? To answer this, the OCA partnered with the California Arts Council and Arts Midwest to collaborate on a project called Building Public Will for the Arts and Culture.  The project aims to connect the arts to existing, closely held values - resulting new and lasting community expectations that shape the way people act, think and behave. San Jose is the pilot community representing the state of California for this growing national initiative, also including the states of Minnesota, Oregon, and Michigan.

Through qualitative and quantitative research, we learned that people care about family and relationships, health and well-being, and learning and self-improvement. Core to these values is the idea of connection through creative expression. Sharing creative experiences - and expressing our own creativity - helps us connect with others and ourselves.  By aligning the arts with what people care about, arts providers will not only reposition how they converse with others or speak about their work, but also deliver on that promise to provide opportunities for connection and creative self-expression.
A research report for Phase 1 has been completed and can be found at  The results of this pilot will inform the phase two implementation plan at the national, state and local levels.  The OCA is working with the Metropolitan Group and other funders to outline a Phase 2 implementation strategy that involves a cohort of San Jose art organizations as well as our own city-wide placemaking strategy, San Jose Create & Connects.

BARRY:   You serve on the Californians for the Arts board (the state’s advocacy organization). Congratulations to CFTA and California for finally getting increased funding for the California Arts Council. While that significant increase is being described as “permanent”, what efforts are underway to insure that it continues, and perhaps is even expanded?

KERRY:   Thanks, Barry. That was long overdue! CFTA is a 501c3 organization that has a “sister organization,” California Arts Advocates, which is a 501c4 that provides advocacy services for the state’s arts communities. Through CAA, a lobbyist is under contract.  The CFTA board works in partnership with the California Arts Council. We help generate grass roots support for the arts and state funding – and keep our eye on proposed policy that may impact the sector.

Our board is evolving and is increasingly more diverse in the areas of geography, ethnicity, and discipline. Each board member brings a strong network to the table. There is no complacency on that board. We meet regularly to discuss the legislative environment and strategy. But we can’t go it alone. We need sector support. People are encouraged to get involved.

BARRY:   My first job in the arts was as the head of the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies - funded principally by the CAC and individual member dues and support. As an umbrella service provider organization for the states 250 local arts agencies, CALAA was able to take a lead position in the successful statewide effort to increase the CAC’s budget from $12 million to $20 million under then Republican Governor Pete Wilson (which amount was subsequently increased under Democratic Governor Gray Davis to $32 million). CALAA was in the unique position to coordinate the efforts of the state’s 58 county LAAs to act as hubs in organizing that advocacy / lobbying effort. Now that the funding for the CAC has increased, do you see any need for, and possibility of, resurrecting CALAA or some form thereof to help serve the LAAs - including as organizing hubs - for the benefit of the California arts field?

KERRY:   CALAA was a great organization. It served as an important convener, service provider and voice to the LAA field in California.  Americans for the Arts plays a primary convening role of LAAs nationally and they do it well – and they provide immense resources and services. CFTA is stepping into the convening role for our state. This past year, in partnership with the CAC, CFTA organized state-wide convening in Sacramento called Confluence, which was very well attended. It included legislative visits and briefings. We have a long way to go to bring the budget back. I’d like to see us strengthen and build on these efforts. California LAAs can and should part of this work as their collective budgets and impact are far reaching; their voices are important.  Their involvement is welcomed.

BARRY:   San Jose will be a host city for Americans for the Arts' New Community Visions initiative. What is this about?

KERRY:   Yes, I’m excited that Americans for the Arts (AFTA) will hold a New Community Visions Initiative (NCVI) convening in San Jose in November. NCVI is an ambitious two-year effort to explore the future of local arts in America with cross-sector input. Incorporating feedback from 12 forums, NCVI will propose a blueprint for 21st century local arts development. The goal is that this will inform local-level capacity building, public policy and change in order to create healthier communities. A key theme is “The Arts and…”  It will be interesting to see the results of the process and the introduction of a new framework.

BARRY:   Rumor has it you’re going back to school at Stanford. What’s that about?

KERRY:  I am pursuing a Master in Liberal Arts at Stanford, an interdisciplinary course of study that involves the humanities, arts, social science and natural science - cultivating connections among different areas of human thought. I firmly believe that interdisciplinary collaborations and approaches to issues will drive the future. It is intellectually stimulating and will advance my work in the creative economy and place.

Thank you Kerry

Have a great week.

Don't Quit