Monday, February 20, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 2

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

Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see yesterday's blog for the introduction and participant list).

Today'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?


Connie Martinez:  We are working closely with the City of San Jose on their Building Public Will initiative and are using the language and messaging that the research has deemed important to building public will. As for pitting the arts against others, we use a collaborative approach in all of our work and see arts as a value add to many other sectors:  health, education, urban development, etc.  To that end, we bring the arts to the table to contribute to the strength of other sectors when we can and avoid an "us vs them" acknowledging that we are part of same community and share the goal of strengthening the common good.

Michele Seville:  Two ways: a) the Richmond Arts & Culture Commission is proposing a Percent for Art in Private Development ordinance – which will bring even more public art to our environment; and b) the commission has decided to embark on a project called “Community Conversations” where we invite unlikely partners to the table to discuss what they want to see in their community, and how to achieve it together through the arts.

Kerry Adams Hapner:  The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs is participating in a multi-phase national initiative called Creating Connection to build public will for the arts and culture.  Through aligning the arts with the existing closely-held values of San Joseans, the goal is for the arts to be recognized as a vital and essential part of the daily fabric of life.

Conceived and led by Metropolitan Group and Arts Midwest, this initiative is supported by multiple local, regional and national funders in the public and private sectors who understand that a thriving arts and cultural environment is essential to sustain strong communities. Because of its diverse population, vibrant neighborhoods and thriving cultural community, San Jose was selected by our partner the California Arts Council as the pilot community to represent the State of California for this growing national initiative. The Packard Foundation has been a wonderful supporter of the three phases of this project to date.

This public will-building approach coalesces support for social change by connecting an issue to existing, closely held values of individuals and groups. Through this connection, new expectations can influence long-term changes and achieve positive community outcomes.  This approach has a proven track record in other public policy areas, having catalyzed significant change in community expectations regarding now-commonly accepted practices as smoke-free public space, library support and improved water quality.

Phase 1 focused on national surveys, supplemented by focus groups in local communities, to uncover the core, shared public values and behaviors around community, education, self-expression, and family. The research found that the value of connection - with ourselves, the people closest to us, and the world around us - is the most strongly aligned with arts and culture.  Entitled Creating Connection, the research report for Phase 1 can be found at   Key findings for the San Jose and other pilot areas include:

  • Connection is a key motivation driving personal behaviors. 
  • “Creative expression” has a greater resonance with the public than “arts and culture.” 
  • Engaging in or experiencing creative expression is associated with a beneficial personal outcome. 
  • People under 40, women, parents of younger children, and people of color are key audiences for whom creative expression is a priority. 
  • Barriers to creative expression and activities exist, but, not insurmountable. 

The research findings in Phase 1 informed the development of a national message framework which serves to communicate the connections between the inherent benefits of the arts and existing community priorities.  Recently completed, Phase 2 equipped a cohort of diverse arts organizations to take the research findings and messages to a broader audience. Organizations in the implementation cohort received message training with tools, programmatic recommendations, and funding to implement the framework. An exciting outcome of the cohort is that the organizations chose to adopt a hashtag called #408Creates that serves as a means to develop critical mass. A third phase is being launched now, which will offer another cohort and funding opportunity to San Jose groups, a social media campaign, as well as a convening of cross sector leaders to provide input on the building pubic will initiative.

In addition to working through arts partners, the OCA has designed a complementary programming initiative entitled San Jose Creates & Connects, which is designed to build a more vibrant San Jose by connecting San Jose residents across communities and within neighborhoods through creative, participatory experiences in arts and culture.

In supporting cultural activity within neighborhoods across the city, OCA’s objective is for residents to view the arts as integral to their everyday lives. Residents will celebrate their neighborhoods, connect with their neighbors, and have their voices heard through the arts. This initiative also supports the local employment and financial viability of artists and artist-run business as cultural producers, teachers, neighborhood anchors, and community organizers.

Specific initiatives being considered for inclusion over the course of two years are:

  • micro-grants and investments in place-based arts-businesses;
  • city-wide public art initiative connecting across communities, such as murals at underpasses or participatory art projects in parks, libraries and community centers; and
  • participatory arts festivals in non-traditional venues.   

Working synergistically, Creating Connection and San Jose Creates & Connects help ensure that San José’s robust cultural environment continues to thrive now and in the future.  These efforts serve to strengthen the local arts and cultural sector - by providing organizations with proven messages and strategies that demonstrate the connection between their offerings and the public’s existing values.

Olivia Dodd:  To my mind, it is critical that we (the arts most devoted fans) understand how the average person sees and feels about the arts (or at least the term) and work to: demystify the field, make it more approachable, and find relevant ways to engage in public issues.  It’s on us to speak and show why we believe so passionately that the arts matter, not in our own terms but in the language that is relevant to our broader communities. If we want to be a part of the fabric of California life, then it would go a long way to show how the arts can be a resource for the other important issues and experiences. 

While lack of access, lack of diverse arts exposure, or a distant association with the term “art”, there are a number of reasons the value of the arts haven’t yet resonated with the general public. BUT I believe that more of them have experienced the transformative power of the arts, than realize it - so I propose that it’s our task to breakdown our own walls, whether it’s between disciplines or genres or between pop, folk/traditional and academic arts. Each aspect of culture is a gateway to being exposed to another. 

As an agency, we have prioritized building public will as critical to the success of our local arts and culture field.  Beginning in 2015, we started to convene a cohort of local arts leaders to develop common language and pilot a Leadership Seminar program that focused on advocacy and public-will training. We started with an exercise in considering what our community cares about and how the arts might serve some common values within our resident populations and how we might integrate with reigning public issues of transportation, land use, agriculture, environment, affordable housing, visitor management, and immigration. Just this year, we announced the reorientation of our annual arts month, Napa Valley Arts in April, to engage the public where they already are in arts that is relevant to their lives - a locals first approach. Putting student voices at the forefront of our arts education communications for advocacy.  Public Art programs prioritizing community-build projects. 
We can look to  groups like ArtsWave in Cincinnati that have institutionalized this approach to better serve their communities, with great success. I am very appreciative to Margy Waller of Topos Research who was a part of the public will building initiative for ArtsWave and has shared insights into their work with our community through a workshop last Fall.  I also recommend we follow Arts Midwest’s national public will building campaign, being piloted locally in partnership with the City of San Jose (I am curious to see Kerry Adams-Hapner response to this question and how they are finding the work in practice.)  

Roberto Bedoya:  In light of the Ghost Ship Fire it has been invigorating to see how the artists’ DIY community who been have organizing themselves around policy matters related to “space” and in these efforts they have spoken clearly at public hearings and community meetings either at City Hall, neighborhood centers or art venues that artists are part of a larger community of folks in need of affordable housing, not a special interests group. Articulating how an underground illegal housing market whether it is a warehouse or residential garage is a civic crisis that demand remedies.

To speak of will – there’s the political will, public will and poetic will that I encounter that enliven the city. The political will of elected officials, lobbyists or get out the vote drives; the public will of a Women’s March, or the Save the Bay movement and the Poetic Will of how we imagine our plurality via images, the lyric, the story, or gestures, through acts of cultural citizenship that make a claim on civil society are woven together in my job as a civil servant.

I pay attention to the poetic will at play in civil society and how it moves in society, not so much as the I, but the we. The poetic will of art often unhinges the rational world of empirical reasoning with its images – images of freedom, beauty, possibilities, the abject, morals, or ethics as opposed to facts as definite, scientific, and absolute. The composing, the dreams, vision, utopia or dystopic energies that animate the secular, the interconnectedness that governs daily life via the promise of the city - expressive life a locale which is woven together through an interplay of people, land, arts, culture, and engagement that is a form of aesthetic ordering that roots a city in its development, its identity and creates the space and place called home. It is a form of ordering and speech that sources the work we do.

Kristen Madsen:  Let’s avoid the trap in this question that imagines the binary argument of the arts against every other cause.  If you’ve sat through a City Council of Supervisors’ budget hearing, you know that every issue and every cause is – and will always – be fighting to increase its share of the pie.  

That said, helping any resident of our community understand that creativity is in all of us – that we can get in the habit of exercising our creative muscles a bit more often – is core to the mission of Creative Sonoma.  We’re starting at the start with the recognition that providing access to arts education for all students is as likely as any other arts related issue to garner broad support.  I outline our specific plans in that regard in response to Question 4 below.  

On another, quite different track, we are working to launch a new mini-grant program, adapted from an existing program from LA Cultural Affairs:  “Pop-Up Creativity Grants.”  The grants will be made to fund production of temporary creative events, objects, installations or experiences, in neighborhoods across the county.  Projects that include engaging community members in art making will be encouraged.  We’ll market the projects as they occur and after each season’s worth of grants in an effort to show the collective creativity that exists of all kinds in Sonoma County.  This is a our first effort to remind Sonomans that they should take great pride in the creativity that is on full display every day in our county, with the ultimate goal of making “creativity” a defining characteristic of Sonoma County.  

Tom DeCaigny:  The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) is currently in the fourth year of a 5-year strategic plan. One of the issues identified in our organizational assessment during the planning process was low visibility of the City of San Francisco’s arts investments with members of the public. In response, the SFAC’s strategic plan defines several strategies to build public will for the arts. They are: 
  • Act as liaison between the arts community and policymakers to increase understanding of how artists can contribute to creative problem solving of larger policy issues.  
    • Over the past three years the SFAC has received over $2.5 million in special ‘add-back’ funding from the SF Board of Supervisors to support neighborhood arts projects that improve the quality of life for San Francisco residents and visitors. Examples of projects from our most recent Request for Proposals can be found here.
  • Collaborate with other city agencies to understand the intersection between arts and support for children, youth and families, public health, environment, etc. 
    • The SFAC currently has partnerships and work order funding from several peer City departments including the SF Department of Public Works, the SF Public Library, the SF Planning Department, the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families.
  • Participate in national research projects that highlight the importance of the arts in the local economy and improving the quality of life for San Francisco residents and visitors.  
  • Support small, grassroots organizations that serve the community directly through grants and capacity building. 
    • The SFAC’s Cultural Equity Endowment Fund received an ongoing annual increase of $1 million in Fiscal Year 2016. These new funds represent a 50% increase to the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund and have supported increased grant amounts to grassroots arts organizations for artmaking and capacity building.
  • Connect arts to other social sectors and issues.
    • The SF Arts Commission Galleries has recently expanded into a new space at the Veterans War Memorial Building. The current show, Not Alone addresses the experiences of veterans and their families and has received significant press coverage including a recent feature in Hyperallergic.  
The SFAC’s Arts & Communities: Innovative Partnerships grant program supports organizations working at the intersections of art, social justice, immigration, public health, education and the environment.

Wednesday's Question:

Funding varies from area to area, across disciplines and organization size - and remains one of the key challenges to every arts organization.  Is there any kind of tax or dedicated revenue stream that might have a chance of voter passage that would include all nine Bay Area counties?  Is that kind of approach viable?  Are there other ways the funding issue might be addressed from a cooperative approach?

Have a nice day.

Don't Quit