Sunday, August 4, 2019

Exit Interview with WESTAF's Anthony Radich

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

Note:  Anthony Radich joined WESTAF in August 1996, and retired at the end of 2018.   I previously interviewed him in 2013.  You can read that interview here.  Next week I interview his successor, at WESTAF, Christian Gaines.

Anthony Radich Bio:
Anthony Radich served as the executive director of WESTAF since August of 1996. In that capacity he was responsible for providing leadership to the thirteen-state regional arts organizations’ programs and special initiatives. He oversaw WESTAF’s work in the areas of research, advocacy, and online systems development designed to benefit the cultural community. Prior to accepting his position at WESTAF, Radich served as the executive director of the Missouri Arts Council for eight years. There he led the successful effort to create a state cultural trust fund supported by a stream of dedicated state funding. Preceding his work in Missouri, Radich was the senior project manager for the Arts, Tourism, and Cultural Resources Committee of the National Conference of State legislatures (NCSL). As senior project manager, he worked with state legislators from across the country to develop state-level legislation and policy concerned with the arts, tourism, and historic preservation. While working for the NCSL, Radich was appointed by Denver Mayor Federico Peña to chair the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs, the city’s arts agency.

Radich earned a bachelor's degree in physical anthropology and a master's degree in art education from the University of Oregon. He also earned a doctorate from the Graduate School of Public Affairs of the University of Colorado Denver.

The Interview:

Barry:  You spent most of your nonprofit arts involvement at the helm of WESTAF.  In an interview  I did with you back in 2013, I asked you what were the three most important big ticket lessons you'd learned in your nonprofit arts career.  You replied that you'd answer that question closer to the conclusion of your career.  Can you answer it now?

Anthony:  I have very much enjoyed my career in the arts and hope to never stop learning, but  here are three significant things I have learned over the years:

The arts field is full of creative people. In spite of the intense creative environment in which we work, however, I find arts administrators to be quite conservative in the execution of their work. Most prefer not to take chances, and they tend to be very late adopters of contemporary business practices. This conservatism of the field initially surprised me. Today, it frustrates me.

When developing a network to support an arts organization, reaching out to include individuals who are unlike you—even very unlike you--can be very helpful. Many times over the years, I have been helped—even saved—by people who appreciated and trusted me even when they did not really care about the arts.

Completing some tasks at a “good-enough” level and other tasks at a high level of excellence is a good strategy. Those who seek to do everything extremely well all of the time fail to get much done.

Barry:   WESTAF is an RAO - Regional Arts Organization - serving state arts agencies.  What are the biggest current challenges facing state agencies and how are they coping with those challenges?  What’s different now than say five or ten years ago?

Anthony:   As a group, the agencies have not grown, and most now have budgets and staff levels that in inflation-adjusted terms are lower than they were 20 years ago. Referring to their diminished nature, I used to call them “cultural policy closets.” I think they are now of such little significance in state government they are “cultural policy desk drawers.” The agencies have been very slow—nearly terminally so—to understand the value of cultivating and supporting strong and effective statewide- advocacy efforts. The field and its leaders have been negligent in their lack of focus in this essential area. Developing and maintaining viable and progressive advocacy efforts to stay alive—let
alone grow--is the principal challenge facing state arts agencies today.

Barry:   Let’s get specific.  Funding.  It seems public funding for the arts is a roller coaster ride - when the economy is good, funding is more likely to be there, and when state income is under economic pressure, funding tends to often dry up.  This seems particularly true with Republican controlled state legislatures.  We know this, and we know that other interest groups have more sophisticated and better funded lobbying efforts to work to protect their public funding.  Why can’t the arts seem to raise the funds to mount a competitive advocacy effort, and what can be done to change that?  Across the country, and including the West, there are still many states that don’t even have a staffed and functioning arts advocacy organization.  What can be done?

Anthony:   Your metaphor of state arts funding as a roller coaster is an appropriate one because when you finish a roller-coaster ride, after some stomach-churning moments, you end up where you started. That sounds a lot like state-arts-agency funding today. Many arts- agency leaders excuse their funding failures by pointing out that there really is no money, and when there is money, their agencies will receive money.  While I agree that a rising tide tends to lift all boats, very few arts agencies have developed plans that could free their agency budgets from very limited tidal growth. Look around. There are examples of old and new (non-arts) agencies receiving money outside of the tidal flows. They got to that place by: a) creating a multi-year (five-to-ten-year) plan to acquire significant new funds; b) designing and launching an advocacy strategy that is broadly inclusive and reaches far beyond the agency’s board and staff; and c) identifying a use for new funds that the public finds compelling. This sounds simple, and it can be, yet the arts agencies as a group have repeatedly failed to get these fundamentals of budget advancement right.

Barry:   The RAOs all seem to focus on different services to their state arts agency constituents, and approach their work from different perspectives.  Describe WESTAF’s focus and priorities under your leadership.  What do you think the future of RAO cooperation and collaboration might be?

Anthony:   The RAOs have collaborated on a number of small-scale programs but nothing on the level of what might be expected of them due to their size and reach. The RAOs have difficulty collaborating because they still largely consider themselves arts programmers rather than large-scale cultural policy influencers. They find collaboration difficult because their leadership tends to be reactionary. I have been at many RAO leadership meetings in which the group--in reaction to the climate of the moment--decides to take some sort of ambitious action. Usually, that action has a “dissolve-into-nothing” time span of 12 to 18 months. Significant collaborations are not successfully built on such sandy ground.

Barry:   State Arts Agency senior leadership, including Boards of Directors or governing bodies, tends to be predominantly white, which likely often reflects the population base in much of the west.  What needs to be done for the future to insure inclusion and diversity in SAA leadership, and how can that happen?

Anthony:   A place to start is for the leadership of state arts agencies to work to know who is available for potential employment and board service in communities of color and in other communities. This means getting out and creating a network that contains individuals who will not only respond to requests for service on an agency board but who also will feel comfortable brainstorming with the arts agency about possible other candidates. This work needs to be combined with the proactive management of gubernatorial appointments to the governing boards of state arts agencies. There needs to be a thoughtful and disciplined multi-year strategy that pushes the governor’s office to appoint people who address the agency’s need for diversity in its leadership. Finally, in order for the agency to be attractive to candidates for board service, it needs to support policies, funding allocations, and programming that reflect the interests of diverse communities. Without that commitment, any effort to increase the diversity of an SAA governing board is one that can best be described as superficial.

Barry:   There has been a movement afoot over the past decade for the arts to collaborate and partner more with other government and nonprofit agencies.  Thus, for example, in California there is the arts in prisons project.  In other states, we are seen partnerships between the arts and senior citizen centers, hospitals and nursing facilities.  Where do you see more such cooperation opportunities for the future that aren’t yet being tapped?

Anthony:   Partnerships can be great things and provide huge benefits. Unfortunately, I find many arts agency partnerships to be diversionary. For the last 20-plus years, there has been a strong theme in the public arts funding arena that because funds coming to the arts field are limited and are seemingly going to be limited for a long period of time, the field should partner with those in other fields of endeavor who have funds to get things done. Practiced in moderation, this strategy can be effective. I would argue, however, that the approach has distracted many arts agencies from their core mission and has served as a ready excuse for not doing the hard work of imagining a compelling reason to expand support for public funders of the arts. I am always suspicious of partnerships that are instituted in place of a focus on meeting core organizational goals.

Barry:   The arts have never really figured out how to use social network platforms to increase audience attendance at their performances and exhibitions.  At least not to the extent those platforms were suppose to hold promise for us.  In hindsight, was that promise basically a lie, and is using social networks not really a viable way for us to expand our audiences or bases of support, donors, volunteers and board membership?

Anthony:   Social networks are a now not-so-new tool that can be deployed to build engagement and support. From time to time, we hear of an arts-related social network-based effort that yields amazing results. But those tend to be exceptions, and those who expect social networks to be panaceas for the arts will be disappointed. The social networks are now utilities. We need to use them effectively, but there is no magic to them. There is, however, a price to pay for not understanding how to use social networks as a basic tool.

Barry:   Recognizing, of course, that we need a balance in all things, when speaking of Boards of Directors, should the arts right now focus on Board members with strong current or former arts backgrounds, or should we concentrate on recruiting members from outside the arts, who may bring other perspectives and talents?  Where should the emphasis lie?

Anthony:   We live in a time of tremendous change and change that is cross sectional. While any arts board needs individuals with an understanding of the arts and how they play a role in our society, now more than ever arts boards need leaders who understand what is going on outside of the arts. This is the case because in order to remain viable, arts organizations and arts agencies need to sell themselves to their outside worlds. Information about how to do that is only partly held by members of the arts community.

Barry:   What is the single best trend you’ve seen in nonprofit arts management in the past few years and what about that trend gives you optimism for our future?

Anthony:   One great trend is a growing commitment to inclusion and diversity. In the old days, that work was largely done in reactive fashion when a funder made it a priority, or there was a need for a response to a public incident. During that period, when funders no longer pushed such efforts, they greatly diminished or died. The current trend of commitment to inclusion and diversity has come very slowly, but I believe the kernel of an authentic commitment to the task is now there and that it will grow.

Barry:   The availability and quality of arts education is a function of whether a local district has money.  Will then arts education always be a have / have not proposition and is there any alternative then to writing off arts education for a large percentage of each generation’s students?

Anthony:   Making arts education of quality available to everyone is a really big challenge. I believe there is broad-based public support for it; however, national and state level advocacy efforts have not been developed to a point of sophistication and funding to effectively address this issue. At the state level, when arts-education advocates have organized and really pushed, they have generally advanced. But in order to make a sustained and long-term impact, state and national arts advocacy entities need to be far more robust and sophisticated, and their efforts need to unfold across a five-to-ten-year time line.

Barry:   As the generational leadership transition moves from Boomers to Gen Xers and eventually to Millennials, what do you see fundamentally changing in our sector and why?

Anthony:   I see several things happening:  a) Support for traditional art forms and the “save-the-art form” approach will diminish; b) Interest in community arts participation may take a higher level of priority than artistic quality; and c) The newly in charge Millennials will find ways to more effectively use technology and social media in their work. After all, many of them are addicted users of social media, so who better to provide leadership in this area?

Barry:   Why haven’t the arts mobilized the huge bloc of artists in this country to act as lobbyists, advocates and ambassadors for public support for the arts?  Why hasn’t there ever been any real attempt in that direction?  Is the problem that organizing artists is liking herding cats, or is the problem that artists really just don’t want to be activists for the nonprofit sector?

Anthony:   The core of the challenge of mobilizing the artists in this county is rooted in the exclusionary nature of public funding. By this I mean that amateur, avocational, community, and many other artists who are devoted to the arts have long been excluded from national and state advocacy.  They have been excluded not only from the grant opportunities of public funders but, more important, from the conversation about advocacy for the many things public funds can do to serve their interests.

I provide as an example of this the approximately 80,000 artists WESTAF serves through its ZAPPlication® online system that services outdoor art fairs. A high number of artists participating in these fairs are professionally trained and have a strong grounding in their local arts communities. Yet, whenever I have suggested to national arts organizations that they engage this group, I have been rebuffed—this crowd does not fit into their circle of who they consider to be legitimate artists. Another reason artists have not been mobilized is that a compelling national vision that includes the interests of all artists has not been developed. Rather, public arts funding and seats at tables have been handed over to a curatorial claque that favors what is an important but actually a fairly small number of practicing artists.

Barry:   We talk a lot about innovation and adaptation; about our organizations being flexible and nimble and responsive to what is going on outside them.  Is all that talk just a way to say we have to learn to “do without”; to function on less?

Anthony:   I would not consider arts organizations and arts agencies to be nimble. They are largely conservative entities that need to be shoved into action. They demonstrate nimbleness only when budget reductions force them to contract. For many years now, I have proposed that state arts agencies need a more nimble organizational structure in the form of a quasi-governmental entity.  Such structures would allow the agencies to be more nimble.

Barry:   University degree arts administration programs keep popping up, and students keep enrolling in them.  Are there enough jobs for all those graduates?  And while our senior leadership is now getting paid better, if not wholly competitive with the private sector, our middle level and entry level staffs continue to struggle with often less than real living wages.  How do we get to the point where we can pay our people better?

Anthony:  In terms of pay, the arts field is one of haves and have nots. Looking at the salaries of many of the top administrators of arts organizations, many are being paid very well and some to considerable excess. Those who are not receiving adequate pay are usually facing a major challenge—they are working for organizations that probably have never been properly capitalized, have never had an adequate and sustainable cash flow, and are structured outside of a prosperity consciousness frame of thought. Arts organizations need to take a broader view of where their funds come from and try to create organizations that are rooted in abundance rather than scarcity. The scarcity model can be great for learning, but it is not so great for those who seek to have a financially stable life with a minimum of financial stress.  Isn’t that nearly everyone?

Barry:   We are doing more research in the sector than we ever have, and that research is across all areas.  It’s not easy for over worked arts administrators to always keep up on, and use - to their advantage - all that research.  What ought to be done to help them?  And where aren’t we doing research, that needs to be done, and soon?

Anthony:   Periodically, there is a conversation about a national research agenda in the public sector arts area. Conversations about what should be on the national, regional, state and local research agendas need to occur, but they are not happening much at the present time. However, a more immediate need is for the field to receive education and training regarding how to evaluate research output and how to properly use research findings. I find the field to be rather bad at evaluating the quality and usability of research. Often desperate for another advocacy hook, arts leaders at all levels have historically misused research results and, by doing so, have made themselves targets of criticism by those who know better.

Barry:   Are we ever going to achieve any real kind of equity in the arts unless and until we start to move a meaningful portion of our grant funding from those that have gotten it forever to those that have not?  The real decision makers in the arts are the Boards of Directors.  If they remain insular to attempts to diversify them, will anything really ever change?

Anthony:   There are two big issues here. One is legacy funding. The field does a great deal of that.  The Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland recently broke up its legacy funding patterns. Watching that result should be most interesting.

Legacy funding is a problem in part because the public funding pie is not growing. When  the funding pie grows, legacy grantees can receive smaller or no annual increases, while other endeavors are able to receive new or more money.  Creating equity out of a growing pie is relatively painless.  However, in most states, the arts-funding pie is not growing and, due to the regular march of inflation, it is actually shrinking!

Many of the large legacy-funded arts organizations have considerable power to assist with advocacy for additional arts funding. Unfortunately, over the years, state arts agencies that have not grown in their funding capacity have lost influence with larger cultural organizations or simply ceded that influence. Instead of finding a way to engage the large legacy entities in something meaningful to them, many agencies have let those once-robust relationships wither. Any push for major funding usually needs this group on board, so equity issues need to be considered in this context.

Barry:   The nonprofit arts live in silos.  Symphonies rarely interact with dance companies, who rarely cross paths with theaters, who almost never work with museums.  State arts agencies, at least, have a larger viewpoint of the whole of the field.  What ought they be doing to promote and support more integration of our sectors various component parts so that we might better enjoy the economy of scale?

Anthony:   Years ago, state arts agencies were leaders in weaving together various arts communities. All of these communities wanted to be at the table because there was an expectation that the agencies would grow and become significant funders of all the components of parts of the arts community. With stagnation in state arts agency funding, the power of the arts agencies to convene the full range of interest groups in the arts community has faded. In addition, the historic grant-review peer-panel process has largely changed. For many years, it served as an important tool to convene the breadth of the arts community in meaningful discussions about the arts in a state or the nation. The in-person review meetings and their numerous side conversations and social events helped weave a strong national network outside of the standard silos of the field. Unfortunately, many public art funders have ceased convening panels in person, using the excuse that technology can be deployed in place of in-person meetings to save money.

Finally, in most states, the arts agencies lack a compelling long term vision that would attract the interest of the full range of arts leaders. There is no multiyear plan to generate meaningful money that might accrue to these entities, and there is no compelling vision that can be used to inspire the arts field to help.

There are a number of things a state arts agency can do to build community: a) Host inclusive convenings around issues of field-wide concern; b) Actively invite the field to advise the agency on changes to rules and procedures; and c) Devise research and other projects that invite the participation of a wide array of arts groups.

Barry:   What advice do you wish you had gotten when you first assumed the helm at WESTAF?

Anthony  When I joined WESTAF in 1996, the organization had completely reorganized itself.  Part of that reorganization was the directive that the organization would deploy a “strong CEO” model. Because of that, I had a very free hand in providing leadership from the staff side of WESTAF, so I don’t have an answer to this question as I understand it.

Barry:   And what advice would you give to your successor?

Anthony  I very much believe that departing executive directors need to leave their successors  alone. But since you ask, I would pass on the following advice:

--The embrace of entrepreneurship has been very important to the success of WESTAF. Entrepreneurial activity in a place like WESTAF needs to remain a significant force in the organization.

--Avoid the temptation to seek to succeed through process and organization--you can’t. Innovation and creative risk taking are the roots of success.

--You don’t want to be disliked by too many people, but being liked by too many people can indicate a lack of decisive action.

Barry:   Where do you go from here?

Anthony  I continue to be interested in the public arts agency field, especially state arts agencies. I plan to further research and then present the field with some insights about how it can prepare itself to move forward in substantial ways over the next five to ten years. I am doing this work because most state arts agencies no longer hold the place in state government they had when I started relating to the agencies. That first contact was in the early 1970s in my work at the University of Oregon Museum of Art, where the Oregon Arts Commission supported a traveling-exhibition program with which I worked. That early visual arts touring program made a difference for both artists and communities.  Helping the arts agencies become more robust so they can offer similar but contemporary opportunities is something I find quite appealing.

Thank you Anthony.

Have a great week everybody

Don"t Quit