On the Value of the Arts

Why do the arts matter at all?  For some, the special characteristic of the arts and humanities to teach us to hold more than one truth in our heads at the same time (Martha Nussbaum identifies this as training in the Socratic Method – an essential skill for a functioning civil society) is reason enough.[1] The uniquely vicarious experience that experiencing a great work of art gives us allows for a particular kind of empathy – an understanding of how someone else views the world.  And surely we need that now. Last year a study was released … [Read more...]

Sinéad Cusack, An Ode in Prose

In honor of Arts Advocacy Day, we at NAS are pulling back the curtain a bit and share our own thoughts on why the arts matter? We're continuing where we started last week with posts by members of our team. We invite you to add your thoughts as well. As a 14-year old boy at school in Alexandria, Virginia, I had an embarrassment of riches: the chance to see as much theater as I wished by merely signing my name on a piece of paper at school. For a short time, I decided to ignore this in favor of more important pursuits like buying a fake ID … [Read more...]

Bringing People Together to Improve the Place They Love

Before coming to National Arts Strategies, my office was a shady spot under a mango tree in the front yard of my compound in Ati Atovou, Togo.   Days in Ati-Atovou passed mostly in the same manner as they do in my DC neighborhood: people wake, do good work, laugh with the people they love and nourish their bodies with favorite local dishes. When I made the decision to spend over two years in Togo as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was worried that I was turning my back on a career in the arts that I was so passionate about.  What could Togo offer … [Read more...]

Arts as an Engine of Unrest
Or, How the Arts Ruined a Perfectly Good Childhood

Art makes people happy. Lots of individuals and institutions are now looking at proving and understanding this link. To some it’s the holy grail of arts impact. Who doesn't want to feel good? Well… I don’t. Or, at least I don’t think that’s where the real power of the arts lies. For me, the arts matter because of their ability to do just the opposite. I was raised in a tiny farming community in Northern Arkansas. We didn’t have a symphony. We didn’t have a museum. We didn’t have much “Art” to speak of. If forced to name the town’s cultural … [Read more...]

Everything I Know about Why Art Matters I Learned from My 5-year-old

I have the privilege of working in a museum that prioritizes making meaningful connections between art and people’s lives, and because it is my job to help frame opportunities for visitors to ask questions, to try new things, and to stretch their perspectives through art, it becomes easy to see, on a daily basis, why art matters. Art is an equalizer in those moments, helping individuals or groups make connections across diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, and ideas. But, it is my five-year-old daughter who has reminded me how naturally creative … [Read more...]

Why the Arts Matter

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In honor of Arts Advocacy Day, we at NAS wanted to pull back the curtain a bit and share our own thoughts on why the arts matter? Throughout the week, we will add posts by members of the team. We invite you to add your thoughts as well. … [Read more...]

The Case for Cultural Fluency

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In this excerpt from "The Case for Cultural Fluency," Mikel Ellcessor introduces the concept of Cultural Fluency as it can be applied by arts and culture leaders. You can read and download his full white paper here.  It’s déjà vu all over again. Picture this: you are in a meeting and you have been in this meeting many times. After another detailed mapping of the problem, someone takes a stab at a solution and says it: “We have to move beyond the current audience and into new audiences and communities.” This feels like success, right? … [Read more...]

The Under-resourced Nonprofit Sector – Crisis or Chimera?

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"How many times have You heard someone say If I had his money I could do things my way" – Johnny Cash, "A Satisfied Mind" (Written by Jack Rhodes, Red Hayes) Though I lack hooves, I have a burr under my saddle. In years of working with nonprofits, I have long since lost count of the number of times I’ve heard colleagues whose work and opinions I think highly of refer to our under-resourced sector. In conference panels and on blogs, in keynotes and cocktail conversations, we are witness to (and to be fair, participate in) references to … [Read more...]

Reading List: Hacks

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This post appears as a the first of an occasional series of tricks and tips you may find useful in tackling your daily challenges. Does your team ever get stuck in a creativity rut? Do you think you need a license to be creative, especially if this isn’t part of your job title or job description? Do you need a shockabuku? Even the best teams get stuck once in a while, but you don’t have to be on the artistic side of the organization to be creative. What you do need to do is practice. In this HBR blog post, brothers Tom and David Kelley of … [Read more...]

Are You a Board Member or a Bored Member?

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As a leader who has a strong interest in boards and governance, I try to stay current on publications and discussions about board engagement. I have heard and read many opinions on how to keep a nonprofit board engaged, but it is usually advice for the executive director. Many articles, such as Guidestar's "Keeping Your Board Engaged for Your Cause," offer tips to the executive director about keeping a board informed and clear on their roles, goals and objectives. While this advice is extremely valid, I believe board engagement is a two-way … [Read more...]