When does coaxing become coercing?

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Last week I wrote a post on the efforts of foundations to encourage diversity (of various forms) in nonprofit arts organizations, in which I suggested that such efforts could be construed as a form of coercion. In particular, I discussed a new initiative at the Irvine Foundation and suggested that Irvine has been trying to "coax" its grantees into uncharted territory and "coerce" them into behavior that some are not ready or willing to adopt. In response to my post, Ted Russell at the Irvine Foundation tweeted the excellent question, “We're … [Read more...]

When did being pro-artist make one anti-institution?

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I attended the Theatre Communications Group conference in Boston a couple weeks ago. On the first day of the conference Michael Maso, managing director of the Huntington Theatre, was presented with an award recognizing his contributions to the American theater. Towards the end of a humorous and lovely acceptance speech, Maso switched gears and used the opportunity to share thoughts on those that would question the priorities and processes of large institutional theaters. He said: Over the next few days we will be engaged in an exploration of … [Read more...]

Funder knows best

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In a recent thought-provoking Createquity post, Creative Placemaking Has an Outcomes Problem, Ian David Moss examines one of the newer initiatives of the NEA (and its private philanthropy friends) and finds it to be lacking a logic for how it will achieve its aims. Moss criticizes this program and others for attempting to connect the arts with economic development without considering the steps in between. Moss's post is a call for a clear and detailed theory of change for such initiatives and he goes so far as to share two models (one simple … [Read more...]

Making donor dollars stretch and perform miracles

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The other day I received an email alert from the Philanthropy News Digest, which mentioned that a theater company had announced a $7 million endowment challenge grant. When matched, the 3:1 challenge grant (which requires the theater to raise $2.5 million) will boost its endowment from $500,000 to $10 million. Putting aside for a moment debates over the pros and cons of endowments for performing arts organizations, I was struck by the following quote by theater’s artistic director in the press: When reached, this unprecedented offer will … [Read more...]

Time to start pulling off the duct tape …

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In his article, Occupy the Arts, a seat at a time, NY Times critic Anthony Tomasini (like others) pounced on recent allegations of ‘elitism’ in the arts (growing out of the Occupy movement), decrying that there are loads of free and affordable arts events and that even those organizations that charge $400 per ticket also have cheap seats (and the experience is just as great from the nosebleeds, thank you very much!). Not only do Tomasini and others seem a tad defensive when they fly their Free Tickets Flag in the face of those seeking to raise … [Read more...]

Instead of more data perhaps we should discuss why we keep ignoring the data we have?

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I finally had found some time this week to read Scott Walter’s excellent second post in his trilogy (all three now published) looking at the 1% vs 99% issues in the US arts and culture sector. A compelling string of comments follows this post, led by one of my other favorite bloggers, Clayton Lord, who argues two points: (1) Is it effective to turn against the ‘top’ arts organizations at a time when the arts generally are under attack? and (2) We need to collect more data to understand how to improve the system. Walters responds that the time … [Read more...]

On artists making a living and artistic directors that could make a difference but don’t

Ethan Lipton

Saturday night I went to Joe’s Pub to see playwright-lounge lizard Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra perform  his new work, No Place To Go, about a playwright-lounge lizard that must decide whether to relocate or stay in the ‘the city’ when the company that has provided him with a steady ‘day-job’ (part-time no-benefits employment) for a decade decides to relocate to Mars.  It’s funny, satirical, and poignant. As you might have inferred, the piece is inspired by events in Lipton’s life. Some of my friends who are actors, playwrights, … [Read more...]

The times may be a-changin’ but (no surprise) arts philanthropy ain’t

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The Philanthropy News Digest recently sent me a bulletin with the headline, “Arts Funding Does Not Reflect Nation's Diversity, Report Finds” which linked me to an AP Newsbreak article with the headline “Report finds arts funding serves wealthy audience, is out of touch with diversity”. My initial thought was, “Seriously? We need a report to tell us this?” The report, Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy, was produced by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and written by Holly … [Read more...]

But What Does Barry’s List Mean?

the politics of culture

So Barry’s Blog posted its annual Top 25 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts list last week. In years’ past I would see this list and bemoan the fact that it seemed to be dominated by funders. I never said anything because I thought it would probably come across as sour grapes since I was, at the time, a funder (but not one that made the list).  As it turns out, this year I squeaked onto the list … barely. And so (with this new found and, no doubt, short-lived position of influence) I have decided to raise the … [Read more...]

It may be excellent work … but is it good?

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A few years back I heard Howard Gardner speak in a lecture series at MOMA in NYC called The True, the Beautiful and the Good, Reconsiderations in a Postmodern, Digital Era. I attended the lecture on ‘the Good’ in which Gardner described ‘good work’ (in the sense of one’s vocation/job) as work that is excellent, engaging, and ethical (for more on this idea, check out Gardner's Goodwork Toolkit). As soon as I heard the description my mind began working on a question: By-and-large, are nonprofit arts organizations doing ‘good’ (i.e., excellent, … [Read more...]

Strategic partnerships between funders & arts orgs: same small grants, more hoop jumping

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There were many thoughtful comments to last week's post, including provocative reflections on the power imbalance between funders and grantees and speculation as to whether restructuring the relationship as a ‘partnership’ might be feasible or desirable. In recent years, a ‘strategic partnership’ approach (commonly used by venture philanthropists seeking to, for example, fund nonprofits to make and distribute mosquito nets in the Third World), has been embraced by some arts funders. But is this a positive development for arts groups? Most … [Read more...]