Recently by Casey Rae-Hunter, Communications Director, Future of Music Coalition
OK, so this isn't meant to be self-aggrandizing, but I thought you might wanna have a look at what some prominent Hill staffers had to say about hearing from the arts and cultural community.
I also think maybe we all could use a little break from text. I'll draw the line at cute kitten videos.
This panel took place at FMC's recent DC Policy Day on May 25, 2010.
I'm not trying to be the philosophical chowderhead in this series, but I wanted to go wide (again) for just a sec.
Everyone's been talking about policy and legal frameworks, which is great, but I still think that resources are a major concern. In an economy like this, everyone's cutting back and pinching pennies. But this doesn't have to be the end of the world.
One thing that the for-profit universe has down pat is cutting expenses and shifting resources around. Of course they do this mostly by getting rid of personnel, mergers and consolidation -- none of which we're particularly fond of. The flexibility is impressive, if even if the results aren't. Maybe we could try less destructive ways to conserve. This could help us shore up important resources on the road to solving all of our issues (if that's even possible).
Simplicity vs. Austerity
There's a lot of chatter lately about "austerity measures" -- many of us are experiencing the phenomenon to some degree. But the arts community (and nonprofits in general) needn't resemble a Soviet breadline. Perhaps we can pursue simplicity instead of austerity and achieve a more workable result.
In my mind, this requires a clear assessment of what we're currently doing. Is it effective? How much of it is simply automatic functioning -- in other words, we've been doing it for so long, we might not remember why we started. Have conditions changed? Is a particular battle winnable, or is that even the goal? If the answer is "no," it might be a good time to reevaluate how much time and treasure we're devoting to it. By identifying ways to simplify our process, we conserve energy and open up more space for critical thinking.
I'm not suggesting that anyone radically alter their mission statements or give up on their core issues. I'm merely offering that there might be a way for us to redeploy some of these resources towards efforts that can actually produce some of the change we're itemizing here.
Just a thought.
Am I detecting a theme here? I hope so, because there are a lot of ideas flying around, and it might be worthwhile to try and shoehorn a few of them.
Here's the "known unknowables," or "knowable unknowns," or just plain vexing conundrums.
We know the issues are complex, prone to tech-driven change, and consensus-resistant -- for all the reasons that my fellow bloggers have so eloquently articulated.
We also know that some of the institutions that arose to help shepherd the creative disciplines towards a more art-friendly future are having a hard time adapting to the sudden influx of complexity.
We're starting to understand that any number of government agencies that were previously in separate silos are all tangled up for many of the same reasons (technology chief among them).
Finally, we know that our education system isn't doing much as much as it could to prepare the next generation of artists, arts managers, arts presenters, arts advocates and rodeo clowns (just seeing if you were paying attention) to navigate this shifting terrain.
Maybe we can break potential solutions into chunks, too. If for no other reason, than because everything looks better bulletpointed.
The following rubrics are pretty basic, and aren't meant to ignore or downplay the tensions and difficulties within each. But they may provide some points of focus. Or not.
- Education: We all know that early arts education in schools is among the first things to be cut when the economy goes pear shaped. That's going to be a tough one to fix. Maybe we should enter from the other end of Education Alley? I talk to university professors in the music and business worlds on a semi-regular basis, and they often tell me their frustrations about how there aren't any programs that make connections between the new tools for arts creation, distribution and promotion and the structures that determine how, where -- or even if -- we get to use these tools. To a large degree, policy determines access, availability and economic possibility. Our academic institutions should make this explicit, or else we're doing our young minds a disservice.
To put it plainly, the upcoming generation of artists and arts leaders need to know more than just how to use technology to produce and market art. They also know how to create more efficient systems, manage information and disseminate it to partners, peers and policymakers. This would help strengthen the field in general, and go a long way towards removing the artificial barriers between disciplines and agendas. (Some of these ideas are expanded on in a white paper Future of Music Coalition put together with Fractured Atlas and NAMAC.)
- Communication: I thought what Yolanda said about a lack of resources was very apt. So how do might we conjure up additional capital and capacity? Well, first of all, we have to come up with more compelling ways to make our case to not only to our traditional supporters but also to potential new champions who don't yet know why they should be on our team, but might if we spoke more of their language. We also should consider how we're listening: to our supporters, representatives and, most importantly, each other. Are we missing something important? Can we clear some mental space to better hear what others are really saying? Might prove informative, perhaps even galvanizing.
If we got better at this, we'd be further along in preparing ourselves for the real fights ahead of us; the ones that require dedicated cross-field advocacy. Even if we're not always able to come to a consensus on every single priority, surely there are a few issues with which we share clear common ground. Knowing how to communicate is the key to preparation for any situation, from individual fundraising to all-in advocacy.
- Representation: Who speaks for us? Are we able to effectively speak for ourselves? What do we need to be informed self-advocates on the issues that affect us? As I mentioned at the start of this rambling post, this stuff gets really complicated really quickly. Are there folks in our networks who can assist us in getting up to speed on what we need to? This takes trust, and trust takes communication. It's not about speaking with one voice, or submitting to a command-and-control construct (although I am pretty fond of Bill Ivey's idea of a Department of Cultural Affairs, which is hardly the same thing.) What we need to do is look for more opportunities to make our voices heard en masse, via the most appropriate ambassadors in our ginormous tent, or in strategic -- and even ad hoc -- coalitions that can apply the right pressure at the right time in the right place.
When things seem impossibly complicated, broad concepts can help organize specific goals and ideas. Maybe not these broad concepts, per se. But, you know, something to help focus our efforts, hone our communication and amplify our shared ideals. Because we do share some, right?
I would argue, however, that these factors are not an excuse for giving up on making our case. In fact, I'd say the opposite.
Marty talks about the recent revelations about FCC leadership engaging in closed-door conversations with Captains of Industry (in this case, the Internet Service Providers). The purpose of these meetings (as well as some less "closed" discussions on the Hill) is to arrive at a consensus regarding proposed regulation to preserve the open internet.
Now, those of us to read the tea leaves for fun and non-profit would probably tell you that such consensus will be difficult if not impossible to achieve. What really bugs some folks about the FCC situation is that the Commission already has a pair of public proceedings about the aforementioned issue, and at least one on the National Broadband Plan. Doesn't this kind of go against the whole transparency thing?
Yes and no. It's not uncommon for policymakers to have direct conversations with representatives from the private sector, and it's not always a quid pro quo situation. It's actually a way for officials to hear potential concerns -- real or manufactured -- about proposed policies. The important thing is for these same policymakers to hear from us.
I'm not suggesting that just anyone from the arts community is going to be sitting across the table from the CEO of Comcast in a high-stakes horse trade. What I'm saying is that there are plenty of opportunities to articulate our concerns and those of the broader arts community -- we just need to get better at spotting and taking advantage of them.
Look, we already know that we can't match the lobbying power of multi-gazillion dollar corporations. But we can tell stories. We can offer real-life examples of how we benefit from access to technology and communications platforms that don't discriminate against smaller voices. We can remind policymakers that protecting these voices is an American virtue. And we can do this without name-calling, hyperbole or even gobs and gobs of cash.
If those of us in the arts community are truly concerned with the outcomes of today's policy debates, than we'll work even harder to have a voice in them. We're certainly allowed to be disappointed when our leaders fail to live up to expectations, but it's more productive to remind them of why we had those expectations in the first place.
They won't always listen. But if we don't speak, they'll never hear us at all.
This blog is a project of... the Future of Music Coalition, the National Alliance for Art Media + Culture, Fractured Atlas, and ArtsJournal.com. more
Our Bloggers We have 22 bloggers taking part in this week's conversation. They are... more
Contact us: Click here to send us an email... more