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

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March 11, 2005

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 by ataylor at March 11, 2005 02:13 PM


Douglas asked for concrete suggestions that might help us better understand and create arts-funding models. At this point, I think the most important changes need to be in our thinking.

1. If America is ever to have adequate and consistent funding, it will have to be from public sources. Relying on the wealthy (and their manifestations, such as foundations and corporations) for gifts will continue to be as ineffective as it has in the past. Working within our current system will always have the character of using bailing wire and rubber bands to repair a broken-down automobile that will never run properly.

2. The move to genuinely funding the arts publicly will take at least half a century. There are no short-term fixes that will produce lasting results. Long-term strategies must be developed, and become a coordinated effort of a wide spectrum of arts and social organizations. Supporting the arts publicly will require a transformation in our understandings about the meanings of wealth and its use for the common good that is deeply needed in the United States.

3. We should have full confidence in the meaning and importance of the arts and be fully prepared to take a stand for their importance in society.

4. We must understand that there has NOT been a grass-roots rejection of the NEA by the American people. The attacks have come from special interest groups of rightwing politicians and media organizations who reject the arts for their left-leaning tendencies. This is a part of a larger cultural war to control institutions that also include PBS, NPR and our universities. Polls show that these politicians have not been given a mandate for their actions. Americans still strongly support the NEA, PBS and NPR. We must continue publicity efforts to sustain and strengthen this support.

5. We must realize that our current funding system plays a large role in making the arts seem elitist. The financial patrons of the arts are the very wealthy. Elitist systems of patronage tend toward a concept of art that reinforces, justifies, and rationalizes an ethos of elitism. Public funding would bring increased arts education, lower ticket prices, and a wider geographic distribution of the arts. This would help move the arts to the mainstream of our population – and away from the enclave of the wealthy.

6. We must realize that cultural identity always has a local character, and that this should be reflected in our funding system. The main sources of funding should come from the state and municipal levels. A federal agency such as the NEA simply does not have the understanding of local communities it would need to be a successful arts funder. It is also too vulnerable to specious attacks from opportunistic politicians.

7. We must realize that the health of our arts and our urban environments will always be deeply connected. American cities suffer more social problems than any other country’s in the industrial world. Without healing the problems of our cities, we will not be able to create a healthy atmosphere in which the arts and culture can thrive.

I realize that these transformations will take a very long time, but I think they will eventually come.

Posted by: William Osborne at March 11, 2005 03:24 PM

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This weeklong weblog is now closed, but will remain on-line as an archive of our conversation. In addition, the entries and reader comments are available for download in Adobe Acrobat format, suitable for reading on-screen or printing. You will need the free Acrobat reader software to open the files below:

Participant Entries (~880K, pdf)
Full text of the posts of our 11 invited participants.
Reader Comments (~900K, pdf)
Full text of reader comments posted to the site.

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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