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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
A Public Conversation Among People Who Care

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Daily Archive: March 11, 2005

Some More Readers...

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How do you get a principal violist or a Renaissance art curator to become more expressive and communicate her passion more directly and immediately to her audience? And what would have to change about the concert or the gallery (not the music itself or the art itself)? Real questions, but worth answering, if only as a thought-experiment. We'll never know whether there's a larger audience for the arts, or a larger role for it to play in society, until we get it out of its own way. - Peter Linett
The simple statement "No modern nonprofit could tolerate the failure rates accepted in movies, TV, or record business" is startling. Of course this does not mean that the corporate arts world is full of bold risk takers, but it should give pause to those of us who feel the not-for-profit world is the place to nurture risk taking. And it reiterates the need to build endowments, which may be the single dullest thing a not-for-profit director can say, but it is true. - Harry Philbrick
Europeans will never use language like American administrators who refer to artists as “entitlement seekers.” Europeans will hold to their centuries old belief that genuinely qualified artists are workers who deserve good jobs just like everyone else. - William Osborne
Midori suggests that more artists advocate for the arts, but how about taking it a step further? Instead of just lobbying for support, shouldn't artists aspire to positions in political offices and funding entities where they can make these decisions themselves? It is not enough to try and convert our Senators and foundation officers into full-blooded arts enthusiasts. If we're distressed over the state of arts education in our schools, then we should choose one of our own to sit on a school board and represent our interests. Some of us must answer a call to become policymakers and shape our communities in a manner influenced by our time spent creating and producing art. - Michael Newberry
Even if the arts had significantly greater funding levels and support, and there was a symphony, theater, opera company, and museum in every major city in the U.S.; I cannot be convinced that we would see more people in the theater, concert hall, at the museums, or even involved with the arts at all. Availability is one thing, Involvement is another. - Derek
Ask an artist, if the uniquely compelling power of art is transmitted through brief, passive and/or virtual encounters? Yes, performers and their audiences – be it baseball or violin – grow out of consistent, sustained, early exposure, with lots of “hands-on” practice. But to be fully engaged (some say “hooked”) at the deepest level – the level of art –requires that it spark creativity through as many senses as possible, and quench the insatiable human need to make sense of oneself. Without that visceral “high” there will be no buy in and no repeat customers. - Jan Yager

posted at 12:06 AM | Comments (0)

Doug's Request - Strategies

Doug is asking us if there are any practical strategies/actions.

From my humble point of a view, as a violinist/performer, who has started three non-profit organizations, I would like to make a few points:

1. We should re-examine larger "successful" non-profit arts organizations. If they are truly successful, what are they doing, and how can we learn from it? Are these mega-non-profits giving the rest of us a lopsided image that we are, after all, fine? Not all non-profits have a deficit, and although rare, some come out with a handsome surplus. How did they manage to do so? Is it a sign of good management, or are they attracting funding that might otherwise go to smaller organizations? In other words, is this surplus the result of "great" programs that warrant such funding? Also, how thorough is their non-profit mentality? From the top executive all the way down to the intern, is the non-profit mentality being experienced and felt? Adrian made a comment about the dilemma of the top tier museums. I think we have a similar phenomenon in the music world.

2. Now for the more practical, (and I'm speaking strictly from the point of view of a classical violinist), let's try to find a less stratified way of doing things. For example, we have different programs to attract different audiences. This is good, but we also need to be more inclusive. What about programs that bring different groups of people with different interests to share their interests with us? It seems to me that we try too hard only to give "them" but that we don't try to receive what they have to offer us. I'm not talking about only understanding audiences’ tastes in music or their opinions
about our organizations. If there were ways in which different individuals could participate non-musically, more people might start participating, perhaps not directly at first, but that could come. I think we have become too exclusive in a sense that if music is not the center piece of an activity, we don't think of it as doing us any service. This is not true. How many of us only tried something because a friend was doing it and then realized that it wasn't so bad? Human relationships must be the starting point for creating more interests. It's harder to refuse your friends.

I have experienced the success of this strategy in a project I started in 2002 (which will be repeated this coming June). There was a theme, intentionally not a musical one, which served as the common bond. In each of several locations, the activities, which all concluded with a recital, were organized exclusively by volunteers. Not all were music lovers or connoisseurs, but they were interested in the theme, and they all had a role, either as a volunteer or as a participant. The recital at the end of the project was only one component in the overall picture of the project and its theme. And, best of all, the relationships that were built in the process of the project were sustained and built upon. Many people who didn't initially have much interest in music got involved because they were interested in sharing and donating what they could, and they were not made to feel that they had to do anything musical. The important thing here is that eventually they did encounter music. Not all of them fell instantly in love with it, but they all had the satisfaction of realizing that they were partially responsible for the success of the project--and the concert--which others (their fellow citizens) enjoyed so much.

3. We must educate our future performers about the importance of outreach activities and make it possible for them to learn the knots and bolts of the art of outreach. Learning the technical skills of an instrument should not be separated from learning the methods of outreach. The young performers and top music students need to understand that outreach activity is not extracurricular. I am committed to outreach myself and think of it as one of the best and most worthwhile things I do. The time must come when involvement in outreach is a consistent given and not a sporadic exception.

4. We need to form stronger partnerships with artist managements to convince them to stop thinking of outreach as extracurricular, and with presenters and promoters, who must not think that in requesting an outreach activity of their guest artists, they are asking for a favor.

I am sure there are other strategies others have, and I look forward to learning about them.

Today is the last day of this blog. Thank you Doug, for giving me this opportunity to give the topic of arts advocacy concentrated attention, and to share my thoughts!

posted at 12:38 AM | Comments (2)

Final Thoughts

I'd like to know more about Midori's 2002 project that contained music but had a "non-musical theme." We do tend to see art as always having to be the centerpiece and there may be something in the notion of sneaking it in as a surprising and meaningful sidebar. Jim Kelly's reminder of the importance of retail advocacy is good. Earlier Bob Lynch talked about advocacy on behalf of the NEA a few years back. In practice that advocacy was, of course, caring individuals meeting one-on-one with members of Congress. I had 230 face-to-face meetings with members myself when I was NEA Chairman, and they were fun, challenging, and absolutely critical to restoring good overall relations between the agency and the Hill.

After reading the entries and responses to this blog, I'm convinced that our real challenge is to decide if we can enter a kind of "rub-your-stomach; pat-your-head" period in which we work hard to craft and execute good casemaking on behalf of nonprofits, while, at the same time, we step back to assess our current approach to cultural intervention in order to figure out what we do now, in the 21st century, in order to help the arts system work better for citizens and artists. My initial notion is that modern-day intervention will find us taking on tax policy, access to heritage, balancing copyright against larger public intersts, and media regulation; grantmaking and public funding may not be, for the next few decades, "where the action is."

One example: The Curb Center's DC office coordinates a program called the "Arts Industries Policy Forum." It is a policy neutral, off-the-record, bipartisan rolling seminar on cultural policy subjects. Forum membership is restricted to senior career government staffers on Capitol Hill and with Federal Agencies. We now have 35 members, drawn from the FCC, the Office of the US Trade Representative, the Department of State, Trademark and Patents, the Justice Department, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Commerce Committee --- you get the idea. We commission background papers on topics the Forum selects, bring in guest speakers, maintain a listserve, and so on. Last year we looked at radio consolidation and the public interest; next month we'll have a guest speaker talking about the value of impact analysis as a component of policy work; other topics are in the pipeline. The Forum acknowledges that, in our system, many different agencies and Congressional committees own a slice of the cultural policy pie; we're trying to produce a backdrop for better cultural policy by getting these multiple actors gathered up around arts and cultural system issues. Just one small activity we are trying to take on the bigger questions.

Back when I was NEA Chairman, it was a great deal of fun to work with the good Endowment staff, Americans for the Arts, NASAA, members of Congress pro and con, in order to get the agency moving again. We accomplished that together, and it's great. But at the very same time we, as arts public intellectuals, were all caught up in issues surrounding government funding, the term of copyright was extended, the 1996 Telecommunications Act paved the way for media consolidation, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act criminalized digital duplication, and the USIA was rolled into the Department of State and basically eliminated. Now, it was nice to get an attitude shift in Congress and an additional $17 million dollars for our federal grantmaking agency, but those other actions (most initiated or strongly supported by the Clinton administration) really, really transformed the cultural landscape. If our goal is to advance quality of life by nurturing a vibrant arts system, we're going to have to worry less about a few million dollars in grants, and more about a range of laws and regulations that define and redefine the mechanisms of finance and control that give our cultural landscape its character. This is unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable territory for many of us who care about the arts, but if we don't jump in the pond, we'll be left fiddling while Rome burns. (I did that on purpose, just to let you know my skill with mixed metaphors hadn't flown the coop.)

Thanks for all the good ideas.


posted at 06:58 AM | Comments (8)

A thousand thanks

As this collaborative weblog winds down, I just wanted to convey a profound thanks to ArtsJournal, to The Wallace Foundation, and to all participants and readers submitting comments. As I said early on in the week, to me this issue lies at the core of cultural management, policy, marketing, fundraising, and the extended vitality of the field.

This conversation has been rich with nuance, new ideas, and spirited but friendly debate of a level I haven't seen much of anywhere else.

What fun. And what benefits, dare I say, to the public purpose.

posted at 02:13 PM | Comments (1)

Closing Out

It's been terrific week and I want to thank my fellow bloggers and commenters for the fabulous exchange of ideas. I am flattered to have been invited to participate with such an august group of arts intellectuals, which believe me, I am not. Thank you, Doug.

I represent the ground troops, battling every day to secure funding, keep arts at the policy table, help artists and arts orgs fulfill their missions and realize their goals (or sometimes just keep the doors open) and find new ways to advance the work we all love. I will continue to do this work at the local level, but I agree with Bill and Midori who suggest that the arts should identify and pursue a "big idea," like guitars for every fifth grader. In King County, we'd love to see every child learn to read music before they complete middle school.

I have been reminded in this blog that the arts are much bigger than the non-profit sector and that policy may have much bigger impact on the arts than funding.

And I agree with all of the commenters who said artists should be elected to school boards, and city and county councils. Artists should be an integral part of a community, not consigned to the fringe.

I entered this conversation because I felt I needed a new case for the arts. I mentioned in my first blog that I am battling in the state legislature on behalf of a bill that will secure arts funding in King County for the foreseeable future. We have a hearing next Tuesday. I had hoped to find some new argument that would seal the deal. Instead, I gained a new appreciation for the tried and true, and new insights into the multiple benefits that we all experience when the arts thrive in a community.

I will use economic impact arguments next week. When asked by legislators why they should fund the arts instead of health and human services, I will tell them that the arts are a health and human service. I will echo commenter William Osborne that a civil and healthy society doesn't choose between the arts and transporation; it finds a way to do both. Wish me luck.

Signing off.

posted at 03:30 PM | Comments (0)

The Long Goodbye

Difficult to keep up with the sheer volume and hold down the day job. It’s also difficult to respond in a considered fashion to points raised by fellow bloggers, rather than using them as the pretext for pre-cooked and deep-frozen reactions. But I tried, honest…

I am convinced that the territory covered over the past few days, both by the Doug-anointed blogotariat and by the people in the right hand column who have been heckling us, is of fundamental importance. And artsjournal, simply by aggregating English language hard news about the arts internationally in the way it does, has afforded all of us over the past few years the opportunity to observe trends in a way that would not otherwise have been possible without vast research capacity. Certainly my view of these issues has been profoundly informed by having artsjournal hit me in the face every day when I log on. Mmm…not another mid-western orchestra in trouble; not another new museum feasibility plan by the Guggenheim repudiated by local politicians etc. etc.

Equally, I am sure that, because most news is bad news, headline stories tell an overly down-beat tale. As someone once said to me: “Can you imagine anything worse than being trapped inside the world described by the headlines in your local newspaper?” Well, artsjournal is my local newspaper.

Doug suggested on Wednesday that there was a diagnostic consensus in our ramblings and then asked whether any of us had prescriptions to hand. Here are some thoughts that this blogathon prompted.

First, policy wonks like me should to be better able to define that vibrant cultural community than we are. And we should have a better analytical understanding of what the drivers are: why capital investment is unhealthy for us unless matched by operational funding, like carbohydrates without vitamins; why there needs to be a balance between investment in amateur and professional activities; what levels of investment in arts educational activities etc. etc. constitute a balanced cultural ecology. We lack the causal models that help other policy communities hone and explore areas of agreement and contention. The data we collect always seems to be for advocacy rather than analysis, leaving advocacy under-served by the absence of analysis. So one thing that the policy wonks can do is improve the technical understanding of the sector. We are, to use Bill’s analogy the ‘stomach rubbers’ and we need to rub more vigorously.

Second, there seems to be a consensus that lobbyists and advocacy bodies -- Bill’s ‘head patters’ -- need to find a more compelling public language for the core experiences that we know are what draws us towards cultural activities and that also engage many if not all funders and they get a bit more rigorous in their impact methodologies.

Head patters and stomach rubbers alike know that much of the current language of legitimation sets the bar of public accountability low and at a clumsy angle to the core purposes and value of many cultural organizations. A language that more accurately reflects why cultural activity engages is also more likely in turn to engage decision makers. The less authentic it is, the more likely it is to generate expectations than cannot be fulfilled in the longer term – and risk a backlash for which I fear the head patters will blame the uppity stomach rubbers.

Third, arts funders, public and private, should be more responsible and more attuned to the long term impact of different forms of cultural support. Foundations, who are supposed to be society’s thought leaders, could lead the way on more of this stuff. I do not necessarily mean commissioning RAND XIV. Rather I mean thinking through the long term impact on the ecology on the sector of different forms of cultural investment. In particular they should think through the infantilizing impact of overly directive funding and the destabilizing impact of the emphasis on program funding rather than core activities, and the resulting under-funded expansion.

Fourth, arts administrators should not be as easily seduced as they have been by the trappings of the civic agenda; have the self-discipline to remain focused on their core mission; and be a little more leery than they have been of seeking roles and responsibilities (and a scale of operation) that diminish their ability to take the risks that creative endeavor requires.

It is very difficult for any of us to do any of these things if the climate of opinion is hostile or indifferent. The value of this sort of dialogue is that it helps climatic change. As John Maynard Keyenes famously but succinctly put it “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back… Sooner or later, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.”

Over and out.

posted at 06:32 PM | Comments (0)

One Town at a Time

I found my day today to be a wonderful mix of multi-sector arts experieces. In New York this morning I spoke to a group of lawyers and collectors from the Clifford Chance law firm, the largest global law firm and this year's sponsor of the Armory Show, the wonderful for-profit international visual art sales exhibition in New York. Afterwards I was in a meeting at MOMA (yes, work) but surrounded by beauty in a non-profit setting. And I have just arrived back in DC where this weekend I will have the chance to sit in with some Irish musicians to celebrate this coming week's very important holiday. This will be an unincorporated pick-up group and probably the most fun for me.

If you think about it most of us engage this range of sectors in our daily arts lives. And most artists now live their lives this way too. This is both the grand story of the growth of the arts in the last century and the great dilemma as each of us now has a continally growing menu of cultural opportunity. Each of these three different sectors of art benefit from each other and from some common resources like arts education. Whether the gallery owners selling at the armory or the artists in the non-profit MOMA or the Irish musicians there was a teacher, a mentor, a publicly funded venue, and an inspiring commercial art product somewhere in the background. That mix goes back a long way, to Walt Whitman and Mark Twain or PT Barnum as the first presenter of opera singer Jenny Lind in the U.S. So for the record I love it all and I want other people to have the opportunity to experience it all. I do still believe it will change their lives for the better.

A few thoughts in response to Doug's request for suggestions to take us forward. What do I want? I want every community to have a true climate in which the arts can thrive just like the enabling legislation of the NEA hopes for. To achieve that takes people, policy, and money. It doesn't really matter much where an activated community starts - whether it chooses to invest in a museum or an active blues artists community or a street for commercial theater like Broadway. What do the people want? How can that be used to open new windows for new community desires? It's a continuing process of rediscovery and growth. And policy, actual regulations enacted by decisionmakers, is the gift that keeps on giving. A single percent for arts ordinance at the local level can mean millions of dollars automatically year after year to the arts. And that is just one of hundreds of policy vehicles. When I look at all of this locally it is very achievable ...and has been inspiring to me over the last thirty years of looking. And it often comes down to just a few people working to make that climate happen(patrons, advocates, teachers, visionaries, troublemakers), all the names for the kinds of people who get things done. They usually approach this in an old fashioned marketing style - who needs to be convinced to do something, what do they need to hear to be convinced. Every community will be different. The tools these leaders need are training and inspiration, useful casemaking facts, visibility about their cause, encouragement to actually ask for what they want, and friends from other parts of the community to buy in. This works, but we as a nation, we have never comprehensively and systemically invested in this approach. With half the money of the non-profit world coming from earned revenue and all of the for-profit and unincorporated dollars coming in this way our national cultural policy is still really one of local institutional and individual self determination.

When I look at the goal of helping each community get to where it needs to be from a national perspective it seems lofty and big. It is stated as an Americans for the Arts goal in the next five years as some 4 billion dollars more a year in public and private sector support for just the non-profit arts community plus the needed arts education, the broadened link to the for-profit, plus all that has been discussed here in the last few days. But it can be done - as it has always been done - one town at a time.

posted at 08:04 PM | Comments (1)

Many Thanks...

I would like to thank everyone - bloggers and readers - who participated in this weeklong public discussion. There have been so many ideas and observations, it's rather dizzying to try to keep up.

If I may offer a personal observation: I think one of our real challenges today is finding ways to have debates about culture in public. Politics is endlessly debated. So is sports. But where are the frank public conversations about art and about culture? Not just someone spouting an opinion. Not just another self-promotion or evangelical sermon. How do we get the public engaged in talking about art? We have to promote the conversations wherever we can.

To me, art is about wrestling with ideas, about engaging with creativity in a vigorous back-and-forth that leaves me changed in some way. I love that an encounter with really good art usually provokes more questions than answers and sends me out looking for more.

Maybe that's one reason that having a conversation like this and expecting clear answers and an action plan is impossible. Yet I think it is crucially important to try. How great to see people engage and talk about art as if it mattered. As demonstrated over and over, passion is one of the most attractive and effective ambassadors for art. Thanks to Andrew, Bill, Joli, Midori, Russell, Jim, Phil, Bob, Adrian, Glenn and Ben, as well as the astute and provocative reader/contributors who posted more than 100 comments and significantly broadened the conversation. Also thanks to Lucas Held and Mary Trudel and The Wallace Foundation, who helped make this blog possible.

This week we will archive the blog here on ArtsJournal (see "Blog Heaven" at the bottom of the right column). And we'll also prepare a version of the blog that can be downloaded and printed without killing too many trees. Thanks again, everyone.

posted at 10:03 PM | Comments (0)

Is there a better case to be made for the arts? more...

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Ben Cameron
Executive director of Theatre Communications Group more

Adrian Ellis
Managing consultant of AEA Consulting more

Bill Ivey
Director of the Curb Center, Former Chair, NEA more

Joli Jensen
Professor, University of Tulsa, Author: "Is Art Good for Us?" more

Jim Kelly
Director, 4Culture, Seattle, WA more

Phil Kennicott
Culture critic, Washington Post more

Glenn Lowry
Director, Museum of Modern Art more

Robert L. Lynch
President, Americans for the Arts more

Violinist more

Andrew Taylor
Director, Bolz Center, University of Wisconsin more

Russell Willis Taylor
President, National Arts Strategies more

Doug McLennan
Editor, ArtsJournal.com

Gifts of the MuseGifts of the Muse
Free access to the full RAND study at the core of this conversation, funded by the Wallace Foundation. An executive summary is also available. Other Wallace Foundation publications and reports are available through its Knowledge Center.

Top arts researchers will come together to present and dissect the latest data at Measuring the Muse, an unprecedented National Arts Journalism Program-Alliance for the Arts conference at Columbia University.

The Values Study
A collaborative effort of 20 Connecticut arts organizations, the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, and facilitator/author Alan S. Brown. The effort trained arts leaders to interview key members of their constituency, to discover what they valued about the creative experience -- in their own words. The process was sponsored by The Wallace Foundation's State Arts Partnerships for Cultural Participation (START) Program.

Valuing Culture
An initiative of London-based think tank, Demos. This effort brought cultural and policy leaders together to discuss the public value of culture in the UK. Resources include (with a downloadable briefing report by Adrian Ellis), a collection of speeches from the event in June 2003, and a summary report by John Holden called Capturing Cultural Value.

The Arts and Economic Prosperity
The 2002 report and related resources assessing the economic impact of America's nonprofit arts industry, based on surveys of 3,000 nonprofit arts organizations and more than 40,000 attendees at arts events in 91 cities in 33 states, plus the District of Columbia.

The Value of the Performing Arts in Ten Communities
A project of the Performing Arts Research Coalition, researched by the Urban Institute, exploring measures of value in specific cities across the United States. Reports are available for download.

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