Recently by Chris Mackie, Principal, Covelly Strategies

Yolanda, I'm not the policy Philistine you seem to think :-)

I was suggesting that we (participants in this blog) stop talking about direct-advocacy strategies that would take years to mature, if ever, given the present-focused scope of the topic Doug set for us. I wasn't dissing advocacy in general, much less suggesting that we (those currently engaged in advocacy) should disengage. If you look back, I even included an indirect plea for those involved in advocacy to work harder to make their activities cumulative, rather than scattergun. That would be a valuable step, and one that I hope some funders would encourage.

Advocacy is important work, and it's important that many types of arts service institutions (perhaps not all) be dedicated to advocating for the arts as part of their missions. It's not easy work, in part because artists are so hard to organize for all the reasons that others have highlighted, in part because arts organizations aren't any easier to organize than are their constituents, and in part because, even when organized, the arts operate at a financial disadvantage as major political players, especially when compared to the competing interests against which they are presently arrayed. As you know even better than I, the difficulties that arts advocates face in securing reliable, large-scale constituent or financial support put a severe crimp in the outcomes they can realistically hope to achieve. But the fact that it's hard work doesn't mean it's worthless.

I'll stand by my point about the marginal dollar, though. Precisely because advocacy is such hard work, it's imperative that arts advocacy be rigorously, even ruthlessly scrutinized for both value and feasibility. Limited resources should be concentrated in places where they can accomplish something. When something else generates greater returns-on-mission than advocacy, we should take the money out of advocacy and put it there. Anything less is irresponsible to those who provide the funds and unfaithful to the missions of the arts and the artists that advocacy is intended to serve.

Advocates should continue to make the most effective cases they can to their sponsors regarding why their work should be supported. But those who hold the purse-strings should be equally diligent in making sure that they're spending each dollar where its impact will be the greatest. Tactically wise spending on advocacy is imperative, but most of the time, I suspect, the best location for the next marginal dollar will be nowhere near advocacy.

That's why I wanted to talk about something else: I want someone (who isn't already a policy wonk) reading this conversation to go away thinking about something she or he can do today to bring about a more arts-friendly world. To that end, I do think it's more valuable for an artist or nonprofit leader to read more here about changing architecture and norms than about changing legislative markup.If we want to have a conversation about how to help advocacy organizations become more effective, I'm game for that, too--but I suspect that conversation has a much more limited audience.

July 22, 2010 5:59 AM | | Comments (0) |

A big +1 to Nathaniel's points, and especially to the insight that change happens in architecture, markets, and social norms, as well as policy. Tim's subsequent post suggests we branch out to those other domains as well, but I want to go even further, and suggest we quit talking about lawmaking altogether, for now.

If I read the other posters accurately, the reluctant consensus here is that the arts community is in no real condition today to affect the outcomes of current policy making, and won't be for years to come, at best. According to the various postings, the understandings are lacking, the institutions are lacking, and the motivation is lacking: none of these is a quick-fix problem, and any one of them alone is lethal to effective activism.

So perhaps we should stop talking about creative rights as lawmaking or political activism altogether, and instead talk more in-depth about changing the constraint(s) at which the arts have a comparative advantage?

Of the four constraints, artists individually and the arts collectively are at their strongest and most passionate when striving to change social norms, and at their second-strongest when changing the social architecture. Moreover, as our panelists all seem to agree, the arts are not over-funded even in their areas of comparative strength. So, if an artist, arts organization, or philanthropy has a marginal dollar to spend on securing the future of the arts and is interested in maximizing its social return on that investment, policy activism may well be the worst of the four constraints on which to spend it. The same dollar is likely to go a lot further if it is spent on creative work to change one or more social norms that shape the way lawmakers think about cultural policy, or to fund an arts-tech project that incrementally changes the social architecture in a direction favorable to the support of creative expression.

What, then, should these holders of marginal dollars fund? For instance, even if you had the money and other resources needed, would you really want to spend them to try to reverse the political-economic trends in arts education nationwide? Your "solution" would just start unraveling again the moment you stopped spending, because the underlying constraints (architecture, markets, norms, policies) would not have changed much. Or would you rather use the same resources to try to change the social architecture and norms vis a vis participation in art-making, so that every child is immersed in a culture of creativity that radiates into, not out from, the school? If you prefer the latter approach, what aspects of the architecture and what norms would you (as an artist, not a policy maker) want to tackle first, or hardest?

In other words, is the most powerful strategy available to the arts world to make the artist a better salesperson for certain policies--or is it, just perhaps, to make the next generation of policy salespeople better artists? If the latter, what do artists today need to be doing now, and what resources do they need to do it?

July 21, 2010 5:41 AM | | Comments (1) |

Marty, thanks for kicking us off--and so provocatively, too! OK, I'll bite. As you well know, there's more than one way to affect a policy deliberation--and more than one kind of political capital. I would think that, if artists get into a head-to-head battle with Big Media in a smoke-filled-room, the chances are not good. But who says a frontal assault in a back room is the only feasible strategy? And who says artists have to go it alone? And who says Big Media's interests are monolithic, or entirely hostile to the public sector? And who says that at least some Big Money wouldn't welcome the arts as an ally, for mutual objectives?

In politics, like any other performance, it's usually a good idea to play to your strengths. Money is not a strength of the arts, I suspect we will all agree. Therefore, it's especially important to ask the questions, what strengths do artists and cultural workers bring to the political table, and how best can those strengths be leveraged?

July 18, 2010 10:09 PM | | Comments (0) |


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