Reflections on a Conference

In November I participated in a conference sponsored jointly by New Mexico MainStreet, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, and New Mexico Arts. It was a multi-disciplinary gathering to cheer my liberal arts soul. It was also–as a result, I believe–one of the most productive conferences I have attended in years. At the close, the principal presenters were asked to summarize their takeaways as a prelude to participant discussion. What … [Read more...]

The Visible Hand


Much of my pragmatic (as opposed to moral) argument for deep focus on community engagement is of the “invisible hand” variety. (Thank you Adam Smith.) Economic, cultural, and social forces will inevitably, but without direct action, change the landscape to such an extent that business as usual in the arts will eventually become unsustainable. The area where such pressures move from the invisible/indirect to the visible/direct is in public … [Read more...]

AftA Thoughts (2014)


Americans for the Arts held its annual conference in Nashville last month. As always, it was a chance to catch up with long-time colleagues, make new friends, and delve into the issues facing what I call the "arts establishment." I had the pleasure of helping facilitate a gathering of researchers in the field in a discussion of latest trends, needs, and issues. The bottom line was that as young (relatively speaking) as the nonprofit arts industry … [Read more...]

Plan B


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 … [Read more...]

Dark Future?


In a recent post, Elizabeth Merritt, the founder of the American Association of Museum's Center for the Future of Museums, gave a good synopsis of impending threats to nonprofit status that the arts may well be facing in the near (or immediate) future. (Dark Futures: Nonprofit Fragmentation) The essence of the argument is that in a time of budgetary despair for government, there is great pressure to examine the legitimacy of the tax benefits … [Read more...]

China Thoughts


So, I've now been to China, Beijing specifically. I was privileged to have been invited to speak for a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the arts management program at the China Conservatory of Music. A single trip does not make one an expert on China! It does not even make one semi-literate about it. That said, it was a wonderful experience that broadened my horizons substantially. It also reinforced the lesson that surprised me last year … [Read more...]

The Engagement Quiz


I am in the midst of a series of workshops and speaking engagements, centered around the theme of Mainstreaming Engagement. One early sponsor, Anne Katz of Arts Wisconsin, asked me to come up with questions for workshop participants to consider ahead of time, and I realized that a set of them I had put together earlier had rolled off my radar screen. Since I think they are fairly helpful additions to the workshop, I thought it would be good to … [Read more...]

Farewell Rocco


Rocco Landesman's departure from the NEA and Barry Hessenius's interviews of Rocco and his Chief of Staff, Jamie Bennett, provide an occasion to reflect a bit on Mr. Landesman's legacy in federal arts policy and advocacy. (Disclosure: Jamie has been very good to me in providing support, advice, access to NEA staff, a brief "meet and greet" with his boss, and the Foreword that Rocco wrote for my book.) I suspect (hope) that the lasting impact … [Read more...]

Communities Take Care of Things


Communities take care of things . . . that matter to them. That sentence, without the ellipses, made it into my notes from some conference in the last year or so. I have no idea what conference. That's one of the big problems with a life lived in conference sessions and without adequate notes. The statement has been staring at me, gnawing at my mind from the series of legal pad pages that serve as home to blog post ideas, for months. … [Read more...]

Public Benefit

. . . for the people.

Public benefit (or one of many closely related concepts) is becoming an increasingly important element in rating grant applications and in assessing the value of arts organizations to their communities. As I discovered in my recent work on a grant review panel for Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, there needs to be much more discussion of and, eventually, agreement about what this means. This is far too big a topic to be addressed in one or even … [Read more...]