Of course, not all commentators will make equally valuable contributions to the discussion. Just like art, providing critical analysis and consistently thoughtful, informed, and credible feedback requires considerable skill and practice. In short, we want to be able to open up the process to anyone without having to open it to everyone. What qualities would we desire in those who influence resource allocation decisions in the arts? Certainly we would ask that our critics be knowledgeable in the field they review. We would also want them to be fair—not holding ideological grudges against artists or letting personal vendettas influence their judgment. We’d want them to be open-minded, not afraid to dive into unfamiliar or challenging territory when the time comes. And finally, we’d want them to be thoughtful: able and willing to appreciate nuance, and mindful of how what they are experiencing fits into a larger whole. Technology now allows us to systematically identify and reward these qualities in a reviewer.
—Ian David Moss and Daniel Reid, Audiences at the Gate: Reinventing Arts Philanthropy Through Guided Crowdsourcing (February 22)
So why would anyone form a nonprofit? A nonprofit still makes sense, in my view, if its focus is not on a specific artist or group of artists. Any organization that provides infrastructure – presenters, community arts organizations, arts education providers, local arts councils, service organizations, and the like – is a good candidate for the nonprofit form. Rule of thumb: if an organization would have no reason to continue on if its founder(s) left tomorrow, it probably shouldn’t be a nonprofit.
—Ian David Moss, Supply is Not Going to Decrease (So It’s Time to Think About Curating) (March 24)
The reason stories work for us as human beings is because they are few in number. We can spend two hours watching a documentary, or a week reading a history book, and get a really deep qualitative understanding of what was going on in a specific situation or in a specific case. The problem is that we can only truly comprehend so many stories at once. We don’t have the mental bandwidth to process the experiences of even hundreds, much less thousands or millions of subjects or occurrences. To make sense of those kinds of numbers, we need ways of simplifying and reducing the amount of information we store in each case. So what we do is we take all of those stories and we flatten them: we dry out all of the rich shape and detail that makes up their original form and we package them instead in a kind of mold: collecting a specific and limited set of attributes about each so that we can apply analysis techniques to them in batch. In a very real sense, data = mass-produced stories.
—Ian David Moss, On Stories vs. Data (March 29)
Do you see where I’m going with this? This process of getting attention presents us with a HUGE class issue. Is it any mystery why our arts organizations have trouble connecting with less affluent members of society? It’s not because they can’t afford the tickets. It’s not because they can’t get to the venue easily. It’s not because the genre as a whole isn’t “relevant” to them. Okay, I lied – it is all of those things. But I don’t think any of them are the main reason. I think the main reason is because these less affluent populations don’t know anyone in their communities who is a professional artist with those organizations. Because how could you be, if you grew up poor and couldn’t afford conservatory training and weren’t given lessons in school and anyway now you have to work two jobs to put food on the table and feed the kids? We talk a lot about cultural equity in the arts, and we typically frame it in terms of audience access: who has the opportunity to see one of these amazing artists perform, or witness their creations? But as more and more of us turn to creative expression as a way of affirming our identities in an increasingly connected world, I think the most important cultural equity issue of our time isn’t who gets to see the amazing artist, it’s who gets to be the amazing artist.
—Ian David Moss, TEDx Talk (May 15)
If subsidized arts workers are labeled as something like freeloaders in public discourse, then farmers, homeowners, hybrid vehicle buyers, the airlines, and the oil & gas industry are freeloaders too. Ayn Rand is very popular again among conservatives, so where is the conservative outcry against oil & gas subsidies? Instead, we are offered a redefinition of the “free market capitalist system” as something that requires government subsidy. Oxymorons rule the day when the free market must be subsidized, and arts created explicitly in the public interest, without a profit to distribute, must stand alone.
—Aaron Andersen, Federal arts funding: a trace ingredient in the sausage factory of government spending (June 1)
Over the last five years, the El Sistema “model” has become a sensation around the world as more musicians and arts leaders have visited Venezuela and felt inspired to adapt the program within their communities. Others have learned about El Sistema on programs like 60 Minutes and through the popularity of Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel. I had the opportunity to visit El Sistema in Venezuela in 2007, and everything about it was intoxicating: the enthusiasm of the teachers and administrators to save disadvantaged children through music, the level of the musicianship, the camaraderie of the students and teachers, the music-festival spirit of the program (it felt like my experiences at summer music festivals, only this program is all year long), the concert hall designed specifically to advance the education and performance opportunities of El Sistema participants, the participatory nature of every rehearsal and performance.
—Jennifer Kessler, El Sistema: The Movement (June 3)
So what are the implications of Informal Arts for the role of the nonprofit arts institution? None of the case study activities took place at a formal arts institution. I think that suggests that the majority of our arts institutions are viewed as places to consume art rather than to create it. Should they seek to change that perception to become viewed as places to create as well? The answer to this question will vary from organization to organization depending upon the resources and mission of each. But to ensure the future of any art form, there must be practitioners and consumers. And since practitioners often become consumers (and bring their friends with them), I believe it is in the long-term interest of arts organizations—large and small, presenting and producing, of all disciplines, including service organizations and arts councils—to encourage adult creation of art at the informal level.
—Crystal Wallis, Arts Policy Library: Informal Arts (July 6)
Those elements are clearly important, but the reality is that the arts ecosystem is far more complicated. It includes social service agencies, churches, and others that might provide arts programs. It includes not just for-profit firms that present arts programming directly, but also the companies that manufacture shoes for the ballet dancers, sell the strings for the guitars, and design the postcards for the show. It encompasses a huge range of patron roles from major donors and Board members, to passersby taking in a work of public art or ambient sound installation, to people who experience the arts only in their own homes. Arguably, it even includes Google, Facebook, Staples, and the IRS – entities with which almost every arts organization interacts, even if those entities are not arts-specific at all.
—Ian David Moss, An Ecosystem-Based Approach to Arts Research (October 17)
Is our advocacy goal a widely seen news piece outlining all sides of the issue? Or, do we want a successful budget outcome? I think it’s the latter. And when it can be achieved with a quiet effort, making sure to begin modeling this new way of thinking about the arts in our meetings with decision-makers, that is preferable to another big public debate. Because the big fight in the default way of viewing the arts is very losable. And in our efforts, we’re forced to expand a precious resource: the time and energy of staff and key supporters who have to work so hard to convince public officials that they won’t suffer consequences in the next election.
—Margy Waller, Uncomfortable Thoughts: Is Shouting About Arts Funding Bad for the Arts? (October 24)
I’m not suggesting that the concerts that the City of San Francisco produces with the San Francisco Symphony are unworthy of public funding, or that $2 million is not a reasonable amount to pay for the Symphony’s services; I have no reason to make such presumptions. But it does seem to me a perfect example of how large-budget, historic cultural institutions have privileges of access at their disposal that few arts organizations founded within our lifetimes (including, therefore, hardly any organizations founded by or primarily serving racial and ethnic minorities) could ever dream of. Sure, Galeria de la Raza got 12 grants in 5 years from SFAC. But most of those grants had to be won with the approval of a panel of fellow citizens, with panel discussion taking place in public (CEG has one of the most radically transparent review processes in the country; see page 11 of the pdf). The San Francisco Symphony, to my knowledge, does not have its contract up for public review by a panel of citizen peers every year. It just gets the money.
—Ian David Moss, Cultural equity and the San Francisco Arts Commission (December 12)
Here were the most-read articles from the past year, in case you missed them:
- Supply is Not Going to Decrease (So It’s Time to Think About Curating)
- Audiences at the Gate: Reinventing Arts Philanthropy Through Guided Crowdsourcing
- Emerging Ideas: Classical Music’s New Entrepreneurs
- Kansas Arts Commission vetoed by Governor
- Okay, it’s official: State arts agencies are in trouble
- Get a (folk)life: How folklore research helped an arts agency
- On Michael Kaiser and Citizen Critics
- Re-envisioning No Child Left Behind, and What It Means for Arts Education
- Uncomfortable Thoughts: Is Shouting About Arts Funding Bad for the Arts?
- An inside look at Colombia’s “Sistema”