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

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March 09, 2005

One additional thought..

Just one quick additional observation. Before we get too enamored with the notion of experimentation and innovation as the raison d'etre of the not for profit, let me just add that it is one--but not the only--reason that justifies our existence. The notion that we make a social/ educational/ cultural contribution may or may not translate into innovative aesthetics.

Many theatres work to give voice to communities who have been historically denied a larger public platform. Theatres of color, gay and lesbian theatres, theatres working to capture rural traditions, theatres for the deaf--these and many more--are a critical part of the not for profit landscape and are vital to our larger social health, even if they choose to operate within relatively conventional dramaturgical structures and patterns (as many, but by no means all, of them do). I worry that in our emerging focus on innovation/experimentation, we're inadvertantly distorting the shape and value of the sector as a whole.

Posted by bcameron at March 9, 2005 07:49 AM


I have been trying to decide where to wade in and this looks like a good spot. Why is it that a case must be made? If the arts on which this discussion is focusing were a vital part of the lives of the majority of our population there would be no need for this weblog.

In my consulting work, I challenge arts boards with the question, “How are the lives of the people of your community made better by the work you do?” The arts have incredible benefits to offer, giving voice and hope, as Ben says, to communities traditionally ignored by the arts.

However, this is a mode of thinking that is, by and large, not taught to artists and generally unthought by arts boards and management. And, it is threatening to those (like myself) whose training and life-work lie in rarified artistic expression that may not readily translate to those with whom we might hope to relate. To me, the question is not about the “case” to be made for the arts. Rather, it is what are the arts *doing* to make themselves vital to their communities. Good answers to the latter question make the former superfluous.

Posted by: Doug Borwick at March 9, 2005 10:29 AM

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Director of the Curb Center, Former Chair, NEA more

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

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Director, 4Culture, Seattle, WA more

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Culture critic, Washington Post more

Glenn Lowry
Director, Museum of Modern Art more

Robert L. Lynch
President, Americans for the Arts more

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Director, Bolz Center, University of Wisconsin more

Russell Willis Taylor
President, National Arts Strategies more

Doug McLennan
Editor, ArtsJournal.com

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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
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