• I promise most of this post will not be about the NEA, but here are some loose ends to tie up: Rocco Landesman’s Peoria comments have not surprisingly rubbed some people the wrong way, and as predicted, Arlene Goldbard has arrived with an essay about it (though she’s more generous to him than I expected). Meanwhile, the Chairman himself is taking a trip to Illinois to visit the theaters (two of them, as it turns out) of which he was unaware, and RealClearArts has a great backstory to share.
  • As for the larger issue of navigating the arts and their political pitfalls, Isaac Butler concurs with Barry Hessenius that it’s all about the gays, and Corwin Christie says that art needs to be for conservatives too.
  • Barry H follows up on his previous post with five myths about the nonprofit arts that continue to hamper advocacy discussions because of the extent to which they have tended to dominate the debate. I think Barry nails it with these; the myths are 1. Arts managers aren’t real business people (and the corollary that arts organizations aren’t real businesses); 2. The nonprofit arts should be funded by the private sector but not public funds; 3. The nonprofit arts don’t have public support or as wide an audience as other forms of entertainment; 4. Too much of nonprofit arts are either controversial or just plain worthless junk; and 5. The arts are a luxury, a “frill.” Some of these may not be myths so much as prejudices (#5 seems a matter of opinion, for example), but all of these attitudes are quite prevalent among the general public and really get in the way of advancing forward intelligent arts policy.
  • Americans for the Arts is giving it a shot, though, and is organizing a number of arts organizations in support of health care reform. You can view the statement here.
  • On to philanthropy. The Hewlett Foundation Performing Arts Program, where I interned last summer, has a new director in John McGuirk, who rejoins Hewlett after leading the arts program at the Irvine Foundation for three years. (h/t GIA blog)
  • Via Sean Stannard-Stockton, I found out about an awesome-looking new foundation called (wait for it) The Awesome Foundation for Arts and Sciences. Started by a bunch of techies in Boston, the Awesome Foundation delivers a $1000 grant each month to the most awesome idea submitted during the month prior (the inaugural grant is to a RISD professor who wants to construct a huge hammock in Boston Common). It’s pure, serendipitous, few-strings-attached risk capital, the kind that the arts need so desperately — and with a healthy dose of fun to boot. Sean uses the example to argue that we shouldn’t be so beholden to logic models and notions of effectiveness that we squash donors’ enthusiasm and unique passion for whatever gets them going. I happen to think that Awesome’s model is actually really smart microphilanthropy, though the trustees may not fully realize how smart it is. Sean may be right about the dangers of imposing a top-down model on donors, but the real potential lies in enabling the top and bottom to better inform each other, in my opinion.
  • Now, one reason why Awesome works is that they plan to give out a total of $12,000 a year. When you’re the 7th-largest foundation in the country, though, the rules are a bit different. The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which made waves last year with the disclosure that a “mission statement” signed by the donor directed that virtually all of the trust’s money go to caring for dogs, is back in the news again. It seems that animal welfare groups are upset that the trustees, having been given the green light by the New York Attorney General’s office, distributed only $1 million of its initial $136 grant payout to dog welfare charities. For its part, the Helmsley Trust has issued a lengthy statement on its own website addressing the matter.
  • And back to policy for a moment, as Lucy Bernholz is proposing an intriguing Philanthropy Policy Project. If we had the power to change how philanthropy is or is not regulated, what would we change?
  • This is interesting: the Gates Foundation has sold off nearly all of its holdings in biotech, healthcare, and pharmaceutical companies in the most recent quarter.
  • Seems incoming first-years at Penn will be analyzing a painting instead of the traditional exercise of reading a novel over the summer.
  • Seth Godin thinks education is going to follow in the (economic) path of newspapers sometime soon. I can see his logic, though it seems to me that the scarcity of status and legitimacy is a factor in colleges’ favor that newspapers cannot take advantage of in the same way.
  • The audiences for classical music and jazz may be getting older, but everyone likes the Beatles. Meanwhile, music schools are finally starting to wake up and offer entrepreneurship training to students.
  • Addicted to the internet? There’s probably a good reason for that.
  • In a stunning demonstration of the power of crowds, a mega-collaboration of more than 30 lower-ranked teams has overtaken a supergroup comprised of the top two entrants in the in the Netflix Prize, one of which was already a hybrid of heavy hitters formed earlier in the competition. The group is called “The Ensemble” and is providing plenty of follow-along-at-home drama for this otherwise very nerdy event. As the author ofthe Wired article states,
    Say what you will about the future of Netflix’s business model as we shift from discs to downloads, but this contest is pure genius. Most brand-sponsored contests are little more than transparent marketing efforts. (”Upload videos of you enjoying our products to enter!”) The Netflix Prize, on the other hand, is science — a meritocracy in a sea of mediocrity.

  • DJA

    a mega-collaboration of more than 30 lower-ranked teams has overtaken a supergroup comprised of the top two entrants in the in the Netflix Prize

    Wow, that is awesome! This contest got some play on This American Life recently, but this latest development is kind of incredible.