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March 11, 2005

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 by rlynch at March 11, 2005 08:04 PM


Thank you to all who have shared their knowledge. This discussion has allowed me to read the Rand study with a different perspective.

p.s. Where are the American art heros? Most of our society love sports because they admire those who are the best. I find mine in galleries for the most part. I hope that they will someday find their way into major museums.

There is also a group of artists who because of economic need have worked their whole lives as designers, architects or teachers who consider themselves "fine artists." I see many who return to their roots when the retire from their career.

Thanks to Andrew and the other AJ blogers who daily lead us through the maze of the arts.

Posted by: Charles Hankin at March 12, 2005 03:03 AM

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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.

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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.

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