Sunday, October 16, 2016

I'm Just Saying

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

On My Mind:

GIA Conference:  It's that time again - for the annual Grantmakers in the Arts Conference - this year in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Alas, personal reasons won't allow me to attend what has become my favorite conference.

Judging from the session topics, and recent conversations with funders I know across the country, this year the GIA delegates are continuing the serious inquiry into the equity / diversity / race issues as the same relate to the nonprofit arts sector, including the issue of the relationship between the arts and social justice.  Initially GIA played host to a general consideration of equity and diversity within the framework of conceptual structural racism - both in the wider society and as played out in our own field (even if unwittingly), and begin consideration of the subject by first introducing the topics and making people aware of them, then digging into the nuts and bolts of how equity, diversity and racism were played out in our field.  Now this year it seems the inquiry is drilling down into the topic to explore in more depth the myriad aspects of how the equity and diversity issues impact what we do, how we do what we do, and our successes or failures in doing what we do.   Consider these session topics as part of the evolution of dealing with the challenges:

  • Innocent Giving: Building Authentic and Functional Relationships with Communities of Color.
  • Arts at the Service of Juvenile Justice:  A Public-Private Partnership Focus of High-Risk Youth.
  • Towards Beauty or Towards Justice:  Must We Choose?
  • The Enrich Switch: Breaking Down the Racial Equity Arts Movement
  • Bridging Difference, Connecting Cultures
  • Looking at Racial Bias in the Panel Deliberation Process
  • Intersectional Philanthropy: Power, Privilege and Practice
  • Three Funding Agencies Walk into a Bar: Partnership for Equity
  • The Practice of Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy
  • Racial Equity Policies and Practices Define the Future of Local Arts Agencies
  • Arts-led Conflict Transformation in the American Community
  • The Role of Arts and Culture in Countering Islamophobia
That's a sampling.  While a major focus, the conference is by no means limited to a single issue. Other major topics generating sessions over the course of the conference include: Arts Education; Capitalization (and by implication, the survivability of arts organizations); Data collection and application; Rural Arts; and individual artist issues among others.  What I have always liked about this conference is a discussion of big ideas by some of our best thinkers. This isn't so much a How To conference, as it is a How Come discussion.

I'm just saying..........

Every year the President of the United States issues a Proclamation proclaiming October as Arts and Humanities Month.  This year's proclamation is like all the others in that it contains a lofty and impressive narrative of how valuable the arts and humanities are to the country.  Indeed, these things are exercises in hyperbole and don't vary that much from year to year.  Presidential proclamations are, in fact, not very rare - there are scores of them every quarter and number in the hundreds over the course of a year.  They range from designating days, weeks or months to celebrate and honor everything from the arts and humanities, to secretaries to military spouses, and commemorate things as varied as boating safety week, the great outdoors month, and national alcohol and drug addiction recovery month.

I went back to take a look at all of President Obama's Arts and Humanities Month proclamations, and interestingly, the initial ones from 2009 and 2010 (I couldn't find one from 2008), include noting that the arts contribute to the nation's economy in important ways.  In effect, they included our economic impact argument about how we bring financial value to communities and the country.  All the ones from 2011 to this year, however, make no direct mention of the economic argument, but instead, like this year's. they are basically about our arguments that the arts bring intrinsic value -- wonder and awe -- and build bridges, expand minds and like that.  

I wondered why the mention of the economic argument seemed to disappear from the later proclamations.  Odd, in that we not only continued to make that argument, we actually doubled down on it and it became our calling card argument, not only at the federal level, but at the state and local levels as well.  Now, it's highly unlikely that the President actually writes any of the proclamations himself.  There are too many issued every month; it's a full time job, and there might actually be a staffer whose sole job is to write the proclamations - with, of course, an appropriate title - something like:  Director of White House Values Recognition Memorialization.  Or maybe just "Speechwriter Junior".  This individual must have, above all else, an extraordinary vocabulary - at least of adjectives.  No doubt s/he has a dog eared copy of Roget's Thesaurus on their desk, because while all of the Arts and Humanities Proclamations are elegantly laudatory, they are all different.  It is a testament to the writer's resourcefulness that they are able to say essentially the exact same thing, every year, gushing about how great we are, while never repeating a phase or even re-using a particularly lovely descriptive word.  Why though was the economic argument exorcised from the later treatises?  I suspect that maybe a different writer penned the first two.  Maybe it was Kal Penn, who worked in the White House back then and had the arts as part of his portfolio.  He would have been very aware of the economic argument, whereas someone later assigned the task may not have noted how important we regarded it.  We might want to try to get more input to the drafting of this annual proclamation.  

I'm just saying..........

Arts Policy Statement
Back in early September I wrote a blog calling for the arts community to unite to present the eventual winner of the Presidency and the new administration with evidence as to our value, accompanied by a policy paper that set forth what we needed and wanted, and the policies we thought important to the health and vitality of the arts in America in the future.  

Shortly thereafter I came across a cogent, intelligent document entitled:  Advancing the Arts to Support National Policy Priorities, signed by over three score of national arts service organizations and networks, which document was drafted in September, and does exactly what I had called for.  Now, there is no way this document was created in response to my clarion call - it is too good to not to have been worked on for some time - and doubtless long before I brought it up.  I would like to thank and acknowledge those organizations that signed it, and the uncredited authors who drafted it.  I hope it comes to the next President's attention, and that it is used by the next administration's transition committee to better understand the nonprofit arts sector.  And I think it would be of enormous use at the state and local levels too. I'm surprised it didn't get wider play - or maybe it did.  Now maybe a representative committee of those same organizations could take it upon themselves to make sure we try to get to the next administration's transition committee with this message.

I'm just saying..........

The Election Aftermath:  
Whoever wins the Presidential election, it will be a relief to some, and a bitter disappointment to others.  This has been the most contentious election of my lifetime.  What concerns me now, is that no matter who wins, there will likely be a percentage on the other side that simply cannot, will not accept the result.  I worry now that that hardcore percentage may constitute a new and dangerous fringe element that threatens the very principles of democratic rule.  We talk about the arts as a bridge builder, a joiner, a healer.  Maybe we should be seriously pushing efforts right now for the arts to do just that after November 8th.  There may be precious little time to launch efforts to heal the country.

I'm just saying...........

And finally Bob Dylan:
Those who denounce and reject the Nobel Prize going to Bob Dylan are just, IMHO, irrelevant, stupid bores and snobs.  Give me a break with your arrogant pontificating and judgmental jibber jabber.  He's a poet, and he knows it.  

I'm just saying...........

Have a great week.

Don't Quit