ART AND THE GOVERNMENT

MUSICAL CHAIRS

  • MacArthur President Robert L. Gallucci will step down when his term expires on July 1. Julia Stasch, VP for US programs, will act as interim president while the board searches for a replacement.
  • Jarl Mohn, chairman of Southern California Public Media and former MTV executive, is the new head of National Public Radio. Mr. Mohn has the enviable charge of pulling NPR out of its deficit, sowing harmony among member stations, and figuring out how to fundraise in the post-pledge drive era.

ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS

  • The Knight Foundation has awarded Theaster Gates $3.5 million to transform an office space on the south side of Chicago into an incubator “where neighborhood residents will come together with artists, designers and urban planners to work on revitalization projects through art.”
  • Reflecting on the Hewlett Foundation’s recent announcement of the end of its Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative, Tony Proscio wonders whether the funder pulled the plug too soon. Meanwhile, in another frank self-assessment, Hewlett undertook a field scan of evaluation spending and found room for improvement in its own practice, particularly regarding embedding evaluation strategies in the early life of programs. As a result, the foundation plans to up its evaluation spending from roughly 1.2 percent to 2.3 of its overall grant budget.
  • Bad news for “cultured professionals” looking to buy art at auctions: the average price for fine art has doubled over just four years, leaving many to settle on prints. And in other art market news, between 2012 and 2013 online art purchases increased 83 percent. Total sales have finally exceeded $1 billion.
  • Angie Kim summarizes the origins and history of the 5 percent payout rule for foundations and argues a variable payout rate, based on a foundation’s performance over 25 years, would better ensure that foundations’ wealth does not grow disproportionately to their support of the greater good.

IN THE FIELD

BIG IDEAS

  • As Piketty-mania continues to drive interest in income inequality, a comparison of the prices of various goods in the United States over the last ten years yields grim insights about its effects. While the cost of education and health care — i.e. services that can’t be outsourced — has risen dramatically, the cost of electronics, clothing, and other personal goods has fallen. One commentator sums things up nicely: “Prices are rising on the very things that are essential to climb out of poverty.”
  • Mania being what it is, it’s not surprising that some conversations about income inequality have taken an interesting turn, suggesting that the widening gap between rich and poor may be good for artists. As at least one author has pointed out, that argument fails to demonstrate that the arts are “more dynamic under high inequality than… under conditions of low inequality,” and even if great art has been produced in awful social conditions, that by no means justifies those conditions. Add to that mix confusion about the difference between rising wealth creation and wealth inequality, and you’ve got a growing debate on your hands.
  • Design methodology is increasingly used to solve unwieldy social problems at a policy level in the European Union, but the US has been slow to catch on. The National Endowment for the Arts contracted the Design Council to organize a webinar addressing how to use design “to create public services around the people who use them, to introduce new methods into the civil service skill set, and as a tool to aid the process of public policy development” as part of the Learning from Abroad series.
  • The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy has launched Philamplify, a collection of in-depth assessments of the top foundations in the country. Assessments of the Lumina Foundation for Education, William Penn Foundation, and Robert W. Woodruff Foundation are included at the moment, though the site plans to add about one hundred more within the next few months. Website visitors can indicate whether they agree with Philamplify’s recommendations for the foundations and add comments.

RESEARCH CORNER

  • Arts marketing specialists LaPlaca Cohen released the sixth edition of their CultureTrack report on participation in cultural events and held a panel discussion about it. The report characterizes American audiences as promiscuous (we range across media) and social (we hate to go alone, and personal recommendations and invitations are among the main drivers of participation). The verdict on attendance is mixed: more people are attending museums, musical theater, and classical music each year (though not straight plays, theater, or opera), but overall they are going less often.
  • A new study by researchers at the London School of Economics concludes that engaging in the arts makes people happy – as happy as if you paid them $100-150 per month. Michael Rushton, as is his wont, argues caution.
  • The NEA has an update on three current projects that aim to support continuous learning in the field: 1) an assessment of the artistic excellence of grantees’ work products, 2) a pilot survey of grantee organizations’ audiences, meant to measure the extent to which they were engaged and moved by arts experiences, 3) a new evaluation by the Urban Institute of the the NEA’s Arts & Livability Indicators.
  • inBloom, a massive educational data collection effort supported by the Gates Foundation, is shutting down following mounting concerns voiced by parents regarding their children’s privacy. Besides serving as a cautionary tale of how philanthropic efforts can stumble when they lack appropriate buy-in, the example may portend a backlash against collecting data on children — and arts audiences of all types.
  • Of 7,000 Victorian novels, only a few dozen are read today. How does an author pass the test of time? Salon interviews cultural historian Franco Moretti, who uses big data to analyze bad books.
  • Speaking of not getting read today, do you ever feel like posting reports online is adding to a virtual wasteland of PDFs that will never be opened? You’re probably right. The World Bank decided to test that feeling by running analytics on its website and discovered that a whopping one-third of its research reports have never, ever been downloaded. Only 13% were downloaded more than 250 times.

ETC.

  • Positive reviews on sites like Yelp and Amazon translate into real money for businesses – even though as many as a third of reviewers may be fake and the real ones may not be representative of customers.
  • The Gray Lady suddenly appears to find itself in the business of hiring actors, thanks to a new “Verbatim” series that features “recreations of actual events from the halls of law and government” by “transform[ing]… legal transcripts into dramatic, and often comedic performances.” The first one comes courtesy of a 2010 lawsuit involving photocopying public records. It has to be seen to be believed.