Monday, February 20, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 1

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

Katherin Canton, Lead Organizer of the San Francisco Bay Area based consortium of arts leaders  ABBA - Arts for a Better Bay Area  - asked me if I would organize an online blog forum with leaders of the local arts agencies in the area.

Despite their popularity, I haven't hosted a blogathon (blog forum) in some time, as these events seem to get ever more difficult to organize.  It isn't that people don't want to do them, it's that schedules have never been more demanding for people, and time a precious commodity of which there is never enough.  So it now takes considerable effort on everyone's part to find a convenient and consensus time period to schedule a forum.  And so I am very grateful to the panelists who agreed to participate in this forum and for their thoughtful answers to five questions. 

All five questions adhered to the general theme of the Bay Area as an interconnected, interdependent whole - one in which, while local agencies still function as separate and independent arts ecosystems, often in silos, those agencies are increasingly part of a larger construct.  And the challenge is whether to, when, how and where to work as part of a region.  That reality is, I think, not unlike any number of metro areas across the country. 

The Bay Area is generally thought of as nine contiguous counties with the major cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose included.  And while San Jose is actually a larger city than San Francisco and more of a hub to Silicon Valley, and while Oakland has seen tremendous growth in their arts and artists moving there, and while the outlying areas (including a number of cities) have developed vibrant arts ecosystems and infrastructures of their own, San Francisco still continues to be the principal hub for the entire region. While San Francisco is home to more arts organizations than in the other cities and counties, those organizations depend on people in the other counties as their audiences and supporters.  Indeed, there is a certain interconnectedness and synergy, as well as cooperation, collaboration and competition by and between the nine counties and the various cities, each of which has a version of its own local arts agency.  While increasingly these organizations are out of their silos and interface with each other, they are all still autonomous entities dealing with widely varying demographics, populations, issues, circumstances and challenges. 

The participants who accepted the invitation to ihis blog forum are:

Tom DeCaigny - Director of Cultural Affairs, San Francisco Arts Commission
Michele Seville - Arts & Culture Manager, City of Richmond
Connie Martinez - CEO, Silicon Valley Creates
Roberto Bedoya - Cultural Affairs Manager, City of Oakland
Kerry Adams Hapner - Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Jose
Kristen Madsen - Director, Creative Sonoma
Olivia Dodd - CEO & President, Napa Valley Arts Council

I will post their answers to one of the five questions each day beginning today and continuing through the week.

I believe ABBA plans to post the entire forum on their site as well.

ABBA Blog Forum:

Question 1:  
The greater Bay Area arts ecosystem is dependent to a degree on residents of different areas patronizing and supporting the arts in neighboring cities and counties.  Yet historically organizations have essentially operated in territorial silos.  How might city and county local arts agencies and individual arts organizations cooperate and collaborate together more to the benefit of all?  Is it a good idea? What kind of infrastructure exists, or might be created, to facilitate and nurture those kinds of joint efforts?  What are your suggestions to move forward?


Tom DeCaigny:    It may be a misconception that greater Bay Area arts organizations operate in territorial or geographic silos. Data shows that Bay Area arts audiences often travel to follow programming that appeals to them and many arts organizations have added new project locations and collaborative partnerships in response to the diverse communities they serve. Organizations such as The Lab, Queer Cultural Center, Youth Speaks, SFMOMA, A.C.T., Radar Productions, Axis Dance, Destiny Arts, Zaccho Dance Theater and many others have missions that serve the region and include regular programming collaborations throughout the Bay Area and beyond.

The Bay Area also has several strong arts service organizations that serve the region well. Established service organizations such as Theater Bay Area and Dancers’ Group as well as advocacy organizations such as Californians for the Arts and the Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area facilitate regional dialogue and foster collaboration. Newer organizations like the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) are also set up to serve the region. CAST started in San Francisco with seed funding from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation and recently expanded their real estate model to Oakland. Organizations such as CAST offer innovative models for public and private sector partnership and therefore offer a promising path forward for advancing regional solutions to persistent challenges such as affordability of space for artists.

City and county local arts agencies are not as well positioned for regional cooperation when compared to private arts organizations and philanthropy. Public policymaking has consistently shifted more and more to local control and local arts agencies such as the San Francisco Arts Commission typically have geographic restrictions on public funding. Elected officials who control public arts funding are inherently focused on their local constituents and therefore lack incentive to support regional initiatives. On the contrary, much of private philanthropy serves the region and has greater flexibility around funding guidelines and regional initiatives. The Arts Loan Fund at Northern California Grantmakers has provided longstanding infrastructure for regional sharing of resources and promising practices. This group of greater Bay Area public and private funders meets monthly to review loan applications and discuss regional arts policy issues. Northern California Grantmakers is also host to the regional Nonprofit Displacement Project which grew out of San Francisco’s Nonprofit Displacement Mitigation Program, a $4.5 million initiative to help nonprofits find permanently affordable space in San Francisco.

Kerry Adams Hapner:  There exist numerous organizations that provide critical forums and networks, offering opportunities for collaboration and knowledge exchange. Through these networks, we are able to advance goals at the local, regional, state and national levels. As a local arts agency leader, I am in regular dialogue with my regional colleagues, many with whom I partner. We share resources, get referrals, provide advice and feedback, and share opportunities. In the Bay Area, we often do this through organizational convenings of the Center for Cultural Innovation and Theatre Bay Area. For example, on March 13th, I will be participating in the Theatre Bay Area’s annual conference with Tom DeCaigny of San Francisco and Roberto Bedoya of Oakland to discuss emerging public policy in the arts and other contemporary issues like art spaces after the Ghostship tragedy and threats to the NEA.

In Silicon Valley, the San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs partners with Silicon Valley Creates on multiple initiatives. Their CEO, Connie Martinez, and I meet at least monthly to ensure our agencies are supporting and complementing each other.

Statewide, I serve on the Californians for the Arts board. CFTA holds an annual conference called Confluence in partnership with the California Arts Council. There, arts professionals of all disciplines come together to learn, network and advocate.

Nationally, there are several service organizations that connect peers from across the US. Among them are Americans for the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts, United States Urban Arts Federation, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters. Each serve a unique niche. It is through this local, statewide, and national arts ecosystem that we advance our own local art agency and collective goals.

Olivia Dodd:  My answer here is, wholeheartedly, ‘yes - let’s do it!’ We all share the goals of providing access and engagement in the arts within the Bay Area and to see a thriving local arts culture. There are a wealth of ways both individual arts organizations and local arts agencies can more effectively collaborate to the net benefit of all.  Whether we are a local arts agency, individual organization, or a community-minded artist, the human capital we have in the Bay Area is incredible in our creativity, diversity and resourcefulness. There is much to be gained by simply sharing information and ideas in our areas of strength and seeking partners who have found success where we are weaker.

The first steps, as I see it, are to identify the common goals, to know our shared audiences (habits, interests, and needs), and to build relationships with groups sharing those interests. A quick phone call or email to these groups can be the start to a whole new approach. If there is one thing I have learned about our field, it is that we like to help each other out. I have grown so much from just being able to reach out to a fellow arts professional and say “I love what you’re doing, would you be willing to share a bit about it?”. This does mean that we have to prioritize pausing, every once in awhile, to step back from our own work and engage in what our colleagues are up to.  This can be one of the most challenging aspects of collaboration - simply making the time - but when you do, you will find it exponentially worth it and so will our audiences.

The easiest ways to begin may be simply information sharing (communicating among ourselves opportunities, news, program offerings, etc) and document outlines/templates (governance toolkits, program applications, creative for arts advocacy, etc). Beyond this we can enhance our promotional reach by finding  partners to cross-market to each other's networks or by developing more reciprocal membership programs  (like studios arts centers - where you may have certain facilities and another city may offer complimentary but different tools).  As we get more sophisticated, I think there’s opportunity to build strategic partnerships that can support cost-saving in shared administrative functions like web development, accounting, human resources, etc. (an example of this live is ArtsPool out of New York).

That being said, there is a lot that can be done to better facilitate and sustain this collaboration among arts throughout the Bay Area, which is the function of the local arts agencies, regional organizations, and networks. Together, we can function in a greater capacity to host collaborative ideation, problem-solving, and infrastructure development.  Thanks to the growing capacity of the California Arts Council and Californians for the Arts, we have been helped forward with statewide convenings, re-initiating our State-Local Partner regional networks and even available funding to formalize alliances (like the five-county True North Arts & Culture).  While we have not convened as the full nine county region, the 2016 Confluence conference gave our North Bay region the opportunity to connect and discover our commonalities and points of differentiation. And I am excited to continue this work, especially among those of us who share large numbers of commuter and tourist populations, like Sonoma and Solano counties. There has been relationship development among the local arts agencies in Marin, Napa and Sonoma over the past three years to discuss everything from calendar systems, education advocacy, grantmaking, and regional arts marketing. However, I believe I speak for all my North Bay friends when I say that we can and should network more regularly to facilitate easier connections for our artists and arts organizations. I see that there is especially fertile ground for collaborating in offering professional development, leadership training, disseminating opportunities, and networking.

I’d even extend the benefits of collaboration past the audiences who travel to participate in the arts, to those who have not and perhaps might not even be aware of what lays beyond the territorial border. In our community there is a very real “Napa Valley bubble” - once you move here, the invisible boundaries of the rural county quickly become your world view and, especially for the economically disadvantaged, access to the greater Bay Area is extremely limited. In this instance, a relationship of a local museum with a partnering institution in another part of the region may provide the students’ first opportunity to leave the county.  And we may be able to provide urban students with their first opportunity to be in an agricultural and open spaces environment.

Roberto Bedoya:   Communication among the local LAA leadership is paramount and if a common agenda is to be advanced related to some of the cultural challenges we face in our jobs, the first step is the dialogue among us. I’m fortunate that through my involvement with the United States Urban Arts Federation (USAF, which is a network of Executive Directors from the largest 60 cities), I’ve gotten to know my colleagues Tom from SF and Kerry from San Jose. To have professional colleagues to talk shop and policy with, that you admire is a joy. It is an informal network of information sharing and one of trust. How to deepen this peer network into a more formalized structure…an arts version of ABAG (The Association of Bay Area Governments) is up for discussion. I’m lukewarm about it this idea. For the time being the old-school phone call or a meal together works fine. On those occasions where we do meet we discuss our challenges and our working relationships to elected officials, philanthropic, civic and arts leaders who will engage with as we move forward to enliven a Just City and support the aesthetic articulations of our city.

The Ghost Ship tragedy Oakland has brought me to the table of the City’s Housing, Building, Public Works, Fire, Police Departments with the Mayor as convener as we work on ways to respond to this tragedy. As we generate actions that will build safety, we are establishing some common language that move us out of work silos and deepening our cross-sector working relationships and civic charge.

Connie Martinez:  Specific to a regional cooperative campaign it would only work if a funding source existed that could showcase the strength and diversity of Bay Area arts as a whole, and the unique value of each sub-region and its artistic or creative personality.  It is great that arts lovers travel across city and county borders and are able to enjoy an eclectic menu of offerings.   But “inclined” patrons find the information they need through social media and the Internet.  And the task of cooperating and collaborating between organizations is only possible if both sides trust each other and perceive equal value.  In other words it has to come from within the participating organizations for a collaboration to work, rather that a partnership designed or controlled by a regional strategy.  If there were funding sources to encourage these kinds of connections and collaborations that would be great. I would start by asking regional arts agencies (infrastructure already in place) if they would be willing to help fund of find funding for regional initiatives.

As for regional initiatives and collaborations in general, each of our local communities are unique, have unique arts communities, and unique populations, so a broader plan might be most useful around advocacy, visibility of importance of arts and key issues (ie displacement), and for LAAs to share best practices and support each other with staff development opportunities and internal collaborations on execution.

Kristen Madsen:  We’ve all heard people say, many times:  “Arts Organization X, you should work with Arts Organization Y, because you are both arts organizations doing similar things.”  I’ve never really understood why people think that makes any sense.  Imagine saying to Nike, “You should work with Adidas because, you know, you both make shoes.”  Of course, if any organization or enterprise can find organic reasons to collaborate with another and that leads to more effective use of limited resources, that’s a total win.  I’m just not sure it’s as easy as it sounds or inherently a good idea.

If an LAA has already tested the market to determine that there is a need and a will for collaboration, a grant program encouraging and supporting collaborative efforts would make sense, whether it be for artistic or administrative – or otherwise.  LAAs that are already supporting arts incubators are probably bumping up against this objective.  They would be a good focus group to determine if it’s a viable concept, especially as participants in the incubators graduate.

A final comment, particularly important for those of us on the north side of the Bay.  Localization is a fascinating and growing trend in so many areas of our lives, including how and when we want to experience and participate in art.  So for organizations whose audiences may live or work within the same neighborhood, but are divided by the somewhat arcane county lines, the idea of collaborating likely holds a greater potential to explore.

Michele Seville:  This is something that we have tried to do over the years in Richmond…getting our art non-profits and related entities together at meetings. We had minimal success, partly because each of the entities sees itself as vying against the other for private funding. Eventually we stopped having the meetings. However, I still think that regional events could work periodically where art-relevant topics were discussed that affect us all. Especially now that federal art funding is being challenged! This could be a great opportunity for brainstorming and collaboration.

Tuesday's Question:
Working in the arts probably means we understand the intrinsic value/ transformative power that the arts can provide or tap into.  How is your department or arts organizations in your county building public will for the arts across it's residents, so we aren't always pitting arts against every other important experience?

Have a great day.

Don't Quit