In the context of posts that write themselves, this one falls in the category of “written (primarily) by someone else.” The Guardian (London) published, earlier this year, an opinion piece titled “Public arts funding: towards plan B.” (It was written by Three Johns and Shelagh: John Holden, John Kieffer, John Newbigin and Shelagh Wright.) The article is a critique of Arts Council England’s arts funding report titled Towards Plan A, a report they consider to be too “business as usual,” leaving “haves” and “have-nots” pretty much in the same place they have always been. The authors of the piece propose a “Plan B.” They say:
How many arts organisations can honestly say that their local communities would erect the barricades to defend them? Plan B involves creating the kind of solid public support that makes cuts politically dangerous or, even better, unthinkable.
This awareness of the connection between arts organizations taking public benefit seriously and resultant public policy (and private giving increases) is one of the (though not the only) principal rationales for community engagement. The article puts it this way:
Cultural organisations should be loved and cherished by their communities of interest and/or geography. Communities = people, and people = voters. But people are not only voters who can influence politicians; they are individuals who can dig into their pockets.
To which I can only respond, “Amen.” So what is Plan B? Arts organizations should:
• Create relationships rather than transactions with their communities
• Extend their reach and improve ratings – bums on seats do matter; so does critical and public response to their works
• Make their governance reflect their community
• Be clear about their artistic and civic purposes and shout about them in plain and simple ways
• Not treat public funding as a proxy for public engagement
• Use language that everybody understands instead of advocacy-speak
• Be as creative and innovative in their organisational life as they are, or as they should be, in their artistic endeavours
• Use their spaces as much as possible – public buildings should be used every hour of the day and night
• Collaborate as much as possible, with other local arts organisations, community organisations, public agencies and businesses
• Be financially careful and able to show they give great value for money
• Show they care
I’d probably reverse the last two and the public funding point is almost irrelevant in the States. But the list as a whole is a clear statement of “marching orders” for any organization serious about community engagement. The arts should be for all, should be meaningful to all. It is in the interest of the nonprofit arts industry to work tirelessly toward that end, but the end will not be achieved through business as usual. The reasonable hope is that as a result of commitment to engagement:
[I]f organisations do get total public support, they will be able to flourish without grants. Their existence will no longer be subject to the vagaries of public funding or the whims of philanthropists.
Image: Public domain (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plan_B_Entertainment_logo.svg)