AJ Logo


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

« Greg Sandow Weighs In... | Main | Continental drift »

March 10, 2005

Stuck in the middle

The image of arts managers as Wile Coyote suspended in mid-air is now a picture I'll keep in my head for a long time, thanks to Bill.

Yes, it's clearly past time to rethink the system. We have too many organizations in the middle range of size and resource, and if the cracks aren't showing yet it is only a matter of time, to echo Cassandra. This difficulty of the mid-size is by no means confined to the arts; with economists on our blog line I don't need to explain why in any system the middle is usually an untenable place to be -- lots of heavy tomes have been written about this. There will no doubt be some culling, and as painful as it may be this is part of any dynamic system. Adrian notes the problem of the "drive to survive" subverting the purpose of organizations, and this leads to an even greater problem with their long term sustainability: insufficient differentation. Everyone starts to look sort of the same to the consumer, in the same range of artistic risk and about the same price. This is the beginning of consumer indifference, and the points that Ben and Midori have made about the excellence of the product are ones that arts organizations ignore at their peril.

Enough doom and gloom from me. It is time for us to encourage and demand the funding of risk, for all aspects of programming. In the happy event of future surpluses, money should be retained to keep investing in pushing back the artistic boundaries, rather than doing the same thing faster and in a bigger hall. Bill points out that the expected failure rate in the commercial sector is much more realistic -- it's time for us to stop trying to make part of the case for the arts that its leaders have an ability to land on a dime every single time. But we can't have misses to leaven our hits if those misses mean we go out of business. So perhaps one of the better cases to be made to the arts to funders, both foundations and individual donors, is that funding risk and accepting failure are the visionary end of philanthropy. It also means we could take our conversations with them up a level, to actually talk about the art. I suspect they would enjoy it -- as would we all.

Posted by rtaylor at March 10, 2005 12:42 PM


Post a comment

Remember Me?

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...

· Weblog Home
· The Question
· Participant Bios
· Reader Comments

Developed in partnership with
The Wallace Foundation

rss feed
(rss 2.0)

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.

Copyright ©
2005 ArtsJournal. All Rights Reserved