Prediction for 2013: “Value Proposition”

In today’s edition of You’ve Cott Mail, Thomas Cott invites predictions for the arts for 2013.

I am very grateful for his question because it compelled me to sit down and articulate a concern that’s been gnawing at me for quite some time.

Here is my prediction for 2013:

Robert Fludd’s 1618 “water screw” perpetual motion machine from a 1660 wood engraving.; the first recorded attempt to describe such a device.

This year, the term “Value Proposition” will replace “Sustainability” as the focus of public policy, philanthropic and audience development efforts for the arts & cultural sector.

In the face of strained economics, shrunken budgets and on-going advancements in communication technologies, the ambition of “sustainability” has been revealed to be a mirage.  Engineers and physicists long ago concluded that the laws of thermodynamics make it impossible to create a perpetual motion machine (i.e. one that continues indefinitely without any external source of energy).  Yet, the notion of “sustainability” has been advanced with expectations that the non-profit arts & cultural sector can survive (and thrive!) exclusively from the operation of its own programs and services.

The focus on “Value Proposition” drives the arts & cultural conversation back to something concrete & immediate: to direct accountability to audiences, members, donors, sponsors, and communities.

This is not a minor semantic change.  Neither is this a theoretical question for the ages .  The focus on “Value Proposition” drives right to the heart of a mighty and potentially insidious question:  “Who should be paying for arts & culture in America?”

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