A Public Conversation Among People Who Care
March 08, 2005From Midori: Returning "Results"
Midori is stranded in a snowstorm in an Italian airport and asked me to post her latest blog contribution:
One of the greatest challenges of advocating for the arts is in designing the programs to fulfill our fundraising promises. In order to receive grants and donations, we wine and dine potential grantors, we dance and sing the benefits that the funding would bring, and attempt to persuade funders of the potential worth of their donation. When the funding is secured (usually for a limited time only, as no funding source is ever a bottomless pit), it is only a beginning. The real challenge comes after the grant is received. It's now time to execute the promised activity/project and to prove its worth. Sharp development administrators must do even more. In order to be truly successful, they know they will require continued support so, in order to demonstrate the success of a given project, they must demonstrate the "results" in terms that funders understand and appreciate. Documents such as the RAND Study are very helpful for fundraising purposes, not only before the funding is secured but afterwards as well.
For example, most funders like statistics and proven facts, like numbers. They want an outcome that is expressed in business terms, like a scientific model. These are facts of life for those of us seeking funding and we have to live with them. In fairness, funders certainly deserve to know how their money is spent, but for an arts organization sometimes painful choices must be made between quantity and quality.
Numbers, seen concretely on paper, are easier to comprehend and more persuasive than descriptions and, for this reason, they have become extremely powerful in the non-profit world. In reality, only a few of the decision makers in the granting organizations actually have the opportunity to directly observe the programs which seek their funds or to get to know an organization first-hand. The rest of the decision-making body therefore must rely partly on the appraisal of a few who have observed a program, and mostly on the funding application, which is filled with hard facts and numbers. With individual donors, this can be less of a problem, but it remains difficult to grapple with the entire scope of an arts activity unless one has direct and ongoing involvement. As a result, numbers have taken on an even more powerful role.
The Executive Director of one of my non-profit organizations often talks to me about the dilemma of quantity vs. quality. When resources (in terms of finance and personnel) are limited, having both quantity and quality is impossible. It is also difficult to convey the concept of quality, or depth of effectiveness, within the narrow confines of a grant application. In short, quantity has become ever more powerful as a fundraising tool. Could this be caused in part by the mass culture that seeks massive solutions?
In my own experience and that of colleagues who also advocate for the arts, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make an argument to potential funders for an increase in the quality of a program versus the raw numbers of individuals the program will reach. If we want to increase the funding for a program in order, for example, to give 1,000 children the opportunity to paint in oils as well as watercolors, often the potential donor will require instead that 2,000 children be given watercolors. We find that donors and granting organizations feel the need to prove their effectiveness by citing the number of individuals served rather than the quality of the service provided.
For administrators (and artists), it's a Catch-22. We have to supply the numbers to prove ourselves so that we can get our projects funded. Without the funding, we can't deliver anything--including quality. But, in order to meet the huge quota demand, we risk having to spread ourselves thin, thereby reducing the quality of the programs we provide.
How can we begin to resolve this?
We need more artists actively involved in all aspects of advocacy and fundraising. We need artists, administrators, and funders to be partners. More artists and more involvement means, at least, more artists to supply the "quantity" but less of those artists having to spread themselves thin.
We need more opportunities to make ourselves (artists and organizations) more accessible, to cover larger geographical areas.
We need more concrete training possibilities to be made available to artists, so more artists can qualify to provide quality.
Needless to say, all these initiatives require money, and lots of it. More opportunities for fundraising! I'd like to see greater collaboration and dialogue among those of us who are involved in arts advocacy, and this blog is certainly a step in the right direction. It might also be very helpful to have a conference to discuss our shared challenges. Ultimately what we need are concrete actions, based on a realistic assessment of where we are and where we want to go.
Posted by mclennan at March 8, 2005 03:28 PM
When we talk of changing, or even budging, the culture, we realize it is going to take time... a lot of time. I think we need to challenge some of the existing and ridiculous myths that abound in America. For instance, the idea that the arts and education and services are in competition for dollars; they aren't! They are all being squeezed by an outrageously bloated military budget and prison system, both of which have been built on a steady stream of lies that spending more and more money in these areas will actually make people safer. Yet people feel less and less safe all the time. And spend more and more money. How do we combat that kind of illogical thinking, and reclaim a small percentage of the resources that are spent in those areas.
Well, asking people if they've gotten what they paid for, namely safety, is one.
Extended arguments about art and culture are only listened to by those who care about art and culture already. What we need to find is a way of reaching the average American and getting the message across in bite sized chunks.
But knowing that the Iraq war could have funded the National Endowment for the Arts for 1500 YEARS, or helped resolve the Social Security "crises" might help get the point across to some. Many of the people at the grass roots level that we need to convince don't like polysylables.
Perhaps a few slogans that can help a society raised on sound bites and catchy phrases the opportunity to latch on to some of ours. Here's a few:
1. Make art, not bombs. (apologies to www.girlchef.com)
2. Good art never killed anybody.
3. Would you rather buy an H-Bomb or a thousand symphony orchestras?
4. Land mines can ruin your day, wouldn't you rather have a museum on your block.
5. Prisons seperate people, Art brings them together.
I'm sure there are much cleverer ones out there.
William Inge Center for the Arts
Posted by: Peter Ellenstein at March 8, 2005 04:33 PM
What I'd like is Christo to make me three huge/tall balloons of letters spelling "I V Y" and hoist them over NYC - Manhatten preferably - as a welcoming sign - and then send me a bus ticket. Plus keys to a fifth floor loft down in Tribeca or over in Williamsburg or somewhere similar. No one would have to welcome me. Actually, I'd prefer no one did. It would be supportive, however, if Mayor Bloomberg announced a moratorium on anti-smoking for the length of my stay.
This is off-the-top-of-my-head of what the Public might do to show support for me as an artist. Give me a month or so there, I'm sure I could come up with some projects.
One, it'd be fun to set up of couple blocks of connecting blackboards and several buckets of waterproof color chalks and turn a hundred or so 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders and let 'em draw. Cowboys. Cinderellas. Camels kicking cigarette butts. Whatever. It'd be fun. Maybe more than one adult would join 'em. I would.
I'm 66 years old now, entering "cooter-hood", but I enjoy drawing as much today as I did as a first grader learning how to draw a Flying Tiger shooting down a Zero. (This was 1944) And Wonder Woman. With her magic lasso. Catching the bad guys. She'd make even the Big Bad Wolf run. I liked that too. Still do.
Posted by: Ralph Ivy at March 8, 2005 05:14 PM
I have seen a few comments that prioritize the arts behind more essential social services like health care and transportation. I have lived in Europe for the last 25 years. I have noticed that the societies that spend the most on things like public health and transportation, are also the societies that spend the most on the arts. It is not a question of either/or, but a different philosophy about the use of wealth for the common good.
Show me a country with excellent mass transit and national health insurance, and I will show you a country with adequate public funding for the arts. Show me a country every major city is plagued with massive, neglected ghettos and an almost complete lack of mass transit, and I will show you a country with perennial arts funding problems. The difference is not a matter of wealth, but a difference in concepts of social responsibility.
In Europe, people who are strong advocates for the arts are not called “missionaries.” They are called good politicians and responsible citizens.
We will never really solve the problems of arts funding until the core of the support is based on public funding -- as opposed to random gifts from the wealthy. Adequate public funding for the arts will require a significant change in the political and social culture of the United States. I know this is a daunting task, but the arts organizations must unite and develop a long-term strategy for this cause.
Who could organize a genuinely strong national coalition of organizations for the arts? Who could lead this organization in way that would eventually transform our understanding of the arts and the common good of society? In the long term, this is the only real solution.
Posted by: William Osborne at March 8, 2005 05:19 PM
I am an artist from a family of professional musicians. I studied the violin for 12 years, and made the choice to be a visual artist for then past 40 years.
For the past few years, ironically, I have been asked to serve on three boards, sponsoring music activities: Prelude Chamber Music, Inc, which has been operating for 4 years for the primary purpose of coaching young people and adults in a two week summer camp; the music advisory board of the Cummer Museum which offers (and has offered, since 1961) concerts by world class artists, free, to the public; and, a 115 year old music society, Friday Musicale, which offers free concerts to the public, featuring concerts by international, national, and local accomplished artists and local students. (Rachmaninoff, Schnabel, Kresiler,for instance, were some of the artists of our illustrious past.)
In my various roles on these boards, I have met people who range from professional musicians, to gifted amateurs, to socialites and business people. Money is always a problem, but it doesn't stop any of the activity of these groups.
In this discussion, there is too much focus on justifying something which doesn't need it. Someone mentioned the defensiveness of the arts community, trying to prove its worth to the general public. The greatest effort should be made with public school boards and civic leaders to make the arts mandatory (as it is, under the "No Child Left Behind Act), using people who are successful in business to advocate; businessmen/women who have had arts experiences in their schooling. A perfect example of such a person, is Robert Jacoby, who, because of having studied the violin for 9 years, remembered the pleasure of it, participates in music by attending concerts, and gave the money for the building of the Symphony Hall in Jacksonville. No one had to sell him on the value of anything, musical.
The three symphony musicians who started Prelude Chamber Music did it because of the pleasure of playing chamber music and the thought that they could share this with youngsters and amateur adults who wished to practise ensemble playing. So simple, and yet, so successful.
It may sound trite to say it, but joy, pleasure, and spiritual nourishment is the basis for these activities, the financial support of businessmen, the free gift of time from volunteers on arts boards. The "problems" come from professional arts administrators who use money which could be going for the programs, to promote themselves. They create a need for support staff for all the fundraising activities, taking money from the product: the art, and putting it where it doesn't create anything but more personnel. A museum where I once worked, which put on 6 exhibits a year, two of them originating from our institution, using only two members of the staff to research, write, and design the exhibits, now has a staff of 56, and only has two exhibits a year. Misplaced priorities. The money for exhibitons now goes to salaries and building, and the reason for the museum is lost in the flurry of fundraising.
My argument is for simple, small, excellent, and reasonable expenses and salaries. A few people of taste and experience on a board can make the best case for a prospective donor. It's also more efficient.
Posted by: Margaret Koscielny at March 8, 2005 06:07 PM
I am a past president of a regional visual artist association. Our members want opportunities to exhibit their work and earn a living. Many of those have advanced degrees and have worked for years to maintain their love of art. Most work other jobs to self fund their passions. What we give up with this model is an amazing amount of creative potential.
The "arts" are a basic human form of expression no different than writing or talking. I find it strange that the discussion has found differences between libraries and museums or concert halls. The form of art is less different than the manner that we choose to immortalize it. Free libraries were conceived to provide the "public" with knowledge. Much of their holdings are in the literary art category. Museums and concert halls have seldom had that motive. This seems to be rooted in the idea that collections were privet and exclusive. I would think that a Monet should be part of the human heritage not the property of a board of directors in some museum.
Children learn to make art because they are drawn to be expressive, part of their nature. those who excel are rewarded with praise and advance with their gifts. Like the sports world some succeed while others become admirers or get filled with jealousy or self doubt. We train all our students with this reward system in our schools. Those good at math go into fields that need those skills. We divide our interests and find little common ground or understanding.
Finding support for the arts might be impossible in a democratic society. Where individual self interest is the prime political motivation (social security reform) where the common good is replaced with a individual with wealth, makes it hard to form a consensus on what is of value.
Posted by: Charles Hankin at March 8, 2005 06:47 PM
It's sad that people create art because they have a vision and yet have to compromise their vision for funders.
Fear of biting the hand that feeds us sometimes results in butt-kissing and putting one's vision on the back burner. I'm thrilled when experimental stuff gets made.
Posted by: Andrea T. at March 9, 2005 06:33 AM
I agree with Midori's suggestion that more artists need to get involved with advocacy and fundraising efforts. As a musician who is deeply involved in aesthetic education, I witness the affect on children when they are introduced to, in this case, classical music, by a living, breathing, composer. I believe that a long term solution in garnering support for the arts would be to make sure that every child is exposed to arts education in the schools. Current marketing practices in this country target children because they know they are building relationships that can last a lifetime. Nostalgia plays an important role in consumers' loyalty to certain brands. Children who have had creative, hands-on artistic experiences in the school will more likely become advocates as an adult.
Posted by: Beata Moon at March 9, 2005 07:08 AM
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.
Posted by: Michael Newberry at March 10, 2005 03:10 PM