Whew! Extremely full day yesterday. Started with waking up far too early to catch Peter Senge’s keynote address. Senge is the founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning and focused his talk at the mile-high level, really probing into why the work we do is important. The speech received mixed reviews from the people I talked with; I’m not sure I came out of it with anything new, but I at least found his address engaging. Rather than go through his speech blow-by-blow, I’ll simply list a number of quotes that I found notable:
- “If you live [art] every day, you don’t need a name for it.”
- (talking about ancient cultures) “Because if you didn’t do your dances, the universe was not in harmony.”
- He didn’t like the word “sustainability,” because it’s a “negative vision.” It says “survival is our goal.” On the other hand, “it’s the theme of the conference, so we have to work with it.”
- Talking about living within our means as a planet and recounting a conversation between the head of an association of school superintendents and a 12-year-old girl. Adult: “So, what do you think about the future?” Girl: “We figure you drank your juice and then you drank ours.”
- “Even if climate change were fixed tomorrow, we’d still have the same problem.” [i.e., overconsumption]
- “There’s only one acid test for a vision statement. It’s ‘how did it guide your actions today?’ If you don’t have an answer, there’s a technical term for what that vision statement is: ‘bullshit.'”
- “To create, you must understand constraint.”
- He ended by quoting biologist Humberto Maturana, who said “I want to contribute to a work of art in the domain of human existence.”
I had originally signed up for one of the ArtVenture tours after this, but decided to ditch it in favor of the Grantmakers in the Arts featured sessions. The morning’s panel discussed how arts funders are adapting in the face of the recession, based on the findings of two studies recently conducted by Helicon Collaborative, and a survey of the impact of the recession on artists by Artist Trust. GIA Deputy Director Tommer Peterson also presented the findings from a snapshot of arts funders that is part of an annual collaboration with the Foundation Center. In brief:
- Foundation assets declined 22% in 2008 in unadjusted dollars (from projections and the survey).
- There is a further decline of 9-12% projected in 2009.
- 67% of funders said they would reduce their grantmaking in 2009; another 25-40% (depending on how you read the undecideds) plan to reduce further in 2010.
- Some of the recession strategies being employed by funders include repurposing endowment grants for operations, accelerating payouts to grantees for multiyear grants, removing restrictions from grants, and dipping into the corpus for additional money.
- Arts funding is not dropping at a greater or lesser rate than other fields, at least among the survey respondents, and in previous recessions the arts have not seen a major difference relative to other priorities. Moreover, in previous recessions the arts have bounced back relatively quickly, though this is no run-of-the-mill recession.
- With that said, because of the way foundations spread out their grantmaking commitments, the worst years may be in 2011-12 (and that’s if things get better soon).
- For now, earned income seems to be holding steady or declining only a little bit. State funding is through the floor; localities are suffering too. Among foundations, community foundations are getting hit the hardest, then private foundations, and corporate funders surprisingly are holding up the best.
- Most foundations are cutting grant budgets and administration by the same percentage. The admin cuts have so far come mostly in the form of reduced travel and office expenses, but we may see more layoffs now that Ford and Robert Wood Johnson have taken the plunge.
- Artists (we’re getting into the Artist Trust portion of the presentation now) are definitely suffering from the recession, seeing substantially fewer opportunities. The most widespread personal impact is on morale.
- When asked what kinds of interventions would help, artists said they would most appreciate small micro-grants, business training, low-cost access to materials and supplies, access to affordable space, and convening/networking opportunities. So basically, more resources, lower costs, and convening/networking.
- Affordable health insurance is also big, as many artists are dependent on a spouse with a day job for coverage, and are now afraid that the spouse may lose his or her job.
- A survey of the impact of the recession on arts organizations in Puget Sound found that most organizations are taking an “informed” approach to dealing with economic realities, while about a quarter were “proactive” and about 15% in “denial” – not understanding that they face a structural change, rather than a cyclical change.
- Arts organizations, as well, are facing significant financial losses, with endowments down 20-35%, corporate contributions down 20-50%, and foundation and individual support down 10-25%. Capital projects are getting suspended or delayed, and staff are hit hard.
- There’s a general belief that the recession is simply exacerbating challenges that were already percolating in the background, such as the question of relevance in the face of changing demographics, access to technology, changes in audience behavior and funding patterns, etc.
- Grantees wanted four things from funders: flexibility, candor, advocacy, and leadership. Ideas suggested by grantees included the financing of a regional capitalization initiative, the creation of a “sunsetting fund” to help organizations go out of business gracefully, and brokering cross-sector partnerships.
- The What Are Arts Funders Doing? report interviewed a group of 22 funders to get a qualitative sense of the state of the field. This mostly confirmed the picture that the other studies had already shown. Projected cuts in 2009 grants range from 0 to 85%, and most anticipate further cuts in 2010-11. New applicants, unfortunately, are mostly getting shut out. However, support for artists is firm in a conceptual sense and not taking a hit relative to other priorities.
- Cautious growth strategies in 2003-07 were rewarded in 2008-09.
- Funders’ self-articulated priorities include taking their own medicine (asking the same questions of themselves that they ask of grantees), gaining a greater understanding of capitalization and hybrid models, developing the next generation of leadership, promoting dynamic adaptability, and reshaping the policy agenda.
- An audience questioner pointed to a similar study, which I haven’t yet had time to read, on arts organizations in the Mid-Hudson Valley in New York.
After some schmoozing and lunch, I split my afternoon time between the second GIA session, which centered around a presentation by Bill Cleveland on how arts organizations can access federal funding outside of the normal channels, and the Career 360 sessions. And then it was Emerging Leader time: a networking session during which I met lots of Gen Y folks doing remarkable things back home; a “guerrila panel” held at a gallery-cum-lounge called Grey, for which panelists sat on bar stools on the upper level and talked to an audience seated on couches below; and a nighttime reception at the same location. I even ran into some old classmates from high school who I hadn’t seen in 11 and 13 years, respectively (god, that sentence makes me feel old), one of whom was attending the conference. A long, but full day.