Cool jobs of the month

Foundation Fellow, George Gund Foundation

The George Gund Foundation Fellowship provides an opportunity for promising professionals to work inside the Foundation, a philanthropic organization that plays a vital role in supporting the civic life of Greater Cleveland and in various national policy deliberations that impact our community. The Fellowship is a two-year, full-time commitment beginning in Summer 2014, requiring residence in Northeast Ohio during the term of engagement.

Deadline: January 3, 2014. Recall that Gund Foundation staff hosted the program-related investments panel that Ian attended and wrote about at GIA.

Multiple positions, Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland is the national organisation that funds and supports the development of Scotland’s arts, screen and creative industries. We are here to ensure that these sectors continue to thrive and to achieve their full potential in Scotland and beyond.

Led by our recently appointed Chief Executive, Janet Archer, we are now taking the first step in the journey towards a new structure, one that reflects our priority areas of work, our ambition and that reflects the three sectors we are here to support, namely the arts, screen and creative industries.

[The agency is hiring a Director of Arts and Engagement, a Director of Film and Media, and a Director of Strategy.]

Deadline: October 27.

Trust Program Manager, CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia

CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia ( seeks a full-time Trust Program Manager to be the principal administrator of arts, cultural, and heritage projects under CultureTrust Greater Philadelphia. CultureTrust has been established as a separate nonprofit trust acting as an umbrella for multiple charitable projects and organizations operating in Greater Philadelphia. The Trust Program Manager is instrumental in supporting all of the Trust Program’s core administration and management functions, working closely with the directors of each individual project. This job offers the chance to work within (and for) a diverse group of innovators and visionaries across fields, types, and sizes.

No deadline. This one’s been up for a little while, but it hasn’t been taken down yet, so…

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Around the horn: GIA recovery edition


  • Twitter, Facebook, and now the Minnesota Orchestra: everyone’s going public these days. State legislators announced a bill last week to save the troubled ensemble and gauge public support for its continuation by making it “a community-owned entity in which any individual or group could buy stock.”


  • Robert Vagt, the President of the Heinz Endowments, has announced his resignation, not long after two staff members were fired amidst controversy over Heinz’s support for the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. Vagt himself had faced criticism for his connections to the energy industry.
  • Expanding his reach outside of the arts field, Americans for the Arts President & CEO Bob Lynch has been elected to Independent Sector’s Board of Directors.


  • Here’s an arts organization that talks about “combining resources” and sounds like it really means it: the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company is rebranding and revamping its building as the “Cultural Corridor Theater Center,” sharing its costume and scene shops with other companies and bringing in commercial tenants to boot.
  • Fractured Atlas has launched, a cloud-based platform that helps artists and arts organizations sell tickets, take donations, and track their fans.
  • Hoping to replicate the success of the Met Opera, London’s Royal Opera House is simulcasting a portion of its 2013-14 season in movie theaters across the United States.
  • A new “due diligence” company has been founded to serve potential investors in art. The good news is you can hire The Art Compliance Company to verify the provenance of that Pollock you’ve been eyeing. The bad news is you may need to.
  • DePauw University is making big changes to its music school with the help of a $15 million contribution used to establish the 21st Century Musician Initiative (21CM). DePauw hopes the new program will “better meet the needs of students entering a rapidly changing music industry.”
  • Brooklyn-based community art center and co-working space 3rd Ward unexpectedly shuttered its doors last week, leaving artists and members without access to studios and supplies. Hyperallergic details its rise and fall of the financially troubled center and the sometimes “uneasy alliance between businessmen and the ‘creative communities’ they cultivate.”


  • Chalk one up for data-driven grantmaking: after the First Peoples Fund issued a study showing that training in entrepreneurship and financial management makes a real difference to the economic self-sufficiency of Native artists (a category that includes nearly a third of Native people), the Northwest Area Foundation announced it will give $1m over three years to support a pilot of just this kind of intervention.
  • Consultant Marc Vogl argues that more of the millions of philanthropic dollars donated by the tech industry in the Bay Area could make it to the arts with a slight change in tack from arts organizations.
  • High demand and low supply have driven housing costs in San Francisco to extremes and sparked migration to places like Oakland. Both cities made the list of top ArtPlaces in 2013.


  • As the vaguely Soviet-sounding National Innovation Summit for Arts & Culture gets underway in Denver (attend virtually here), the arts blogosphere is abuzz with meditations on the “i” word. Howlround hosts a three-part series on the importance of organizational innovation; Isaac Butler one-ups them with what he claims will be a four-part series questioning that importance; and Culturebot has a six-part series problematizing the “innovation agenda.”
  • Two thoughtful reflections on what could be lost as our cultural landscape is transformed by technology and commerce: Nancy Levinson on print vs digital and the fate of “serious” publishing, and Ben Davis on Big vs Small contemporary (visual) art and the fate of little galleries.
  • The bookworms at Fractured Atlas are back with a review of Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently – And Succeeding, by Honest Tea co-founders Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff (the latter of whom happened to be Ian’s entrepreneurship professor in business school).


  • The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has published a data-driven overview of the state of the nonprofit sector in the area, compiling information from the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s State of the Sector report; the Foundation’s own giveGreater database; IRS data; and survey results.
  • Major players like JSTOR and the University of California system are starting to offer low-cost or even free access to academic articles and research.
  • Charity Navigator released findings from an in-depth study of CEO salaries at 3,929 mid- to large-sized charities around the U.S. On average, a CEO earns about $125,000 annually and Charity Navigator cautions donors to “be skeptical of charities that pay salaries hovering near or above one million dollars.”
  • If you feel like studies on the “creative economy” have been all the rage, you’re right. At least 27 reports on the topic were released between 2003 and 2012, and The National Creativity Network went ahead and analyzed them. Seems like we’re all defining the creative economy/industries in slightly different ways, and while “a case for a national data-based definition of the creative economy can begin to be constructed,” we’re more interested in focusing on our own specific regions.
  • Researchers examining an 1814 change in British copyright law have determined that extending copyright protections caused payments to authors to nearly double.
  • This nifty study on novelty in film from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York suggests that creativity in film peaked in the 1960s, following the demise of the “Big Five” studio system.
  • WolfBrown has published a summary of its four-year evaluation of a New World Symphony initiative to develop new concert formats appealing to younger, inexperienced, and more diverse classical audiences.
  • Media Impact Funders has released a new report exploring the in-house media efforts of cultural organizations and the funding that supports it. The report, Molto + Media; Digital Culture Funding, profiles nine organizations including Fractured Atlas and Sundance Institute and summarizes funding trends.
  • The Future of Music Coalition scours the NEA’s new Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (which we covered in the last edition of Around the Horn) and finds that music has avoided the declines in participation seen in other genres, with nearly a third of all adults attending a musical performance last year.
  • Speaking of FMC, a new survey suggests that artists are uninsured at twice the national average and, when they do have insurance, as six times as likely as others to pay for it themselves. All the more reason to get the exchanges working…
  • A chorale a day keeps the gerontologist away? Building on previous studies on the benefits to older people of singing in choirs – among other quality-of-life indicators, “choir membership can also reduce snoring, ease emphysema, [and] soothe irritable bowel syndrome” – the NIH is funding a five-year clinical trial in San Francisco.
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Artists not alone in steep climb to the top

A mural by street artist Scotch 79 reads "Will Work 4 Food." Photo credit: carnagenyc

“Will Work 4 Food,” a mural by New York street artist Lord Scotch 79. Photo credit: carnagenyc

Philip Glass drove a taxi, Patti Smith was a bookstore clerk, and William Faulkner worked the night shift at a power plant. It’s an old story: when they aren’t working in their studios, recording, or rehearsing for upcoming auditions, many, if not most artists spend their time at another job that brings in a steady income. Some take what few teaching positions they can at colleges and universities – an increasingly unstable source of employment. Others land full-time jobs in the commercial arts. They set aside their own visions and projects in service of students and clients, while earning a salary that no doubt inflates the $43,230 median wage of U.S. artists reported in a 2011 NEA study. Offering limited opportunities for recognition and financial growth, these gigs can seem like consolation prizes in a field where few ever achieve stardom. However, for those artists lucky enough to make it big one day, the financial rewards can be enormous.

The arts labor market has been called one of the oldest examples of a “winner-take-all” economy, a term popularized by Robert Frank and Philip Cook in their 1995 book, The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us. The hallmark of this kind of market is extreme income inequality, whereby a small number of the bright, talented, and fortunate generate the majority of economic value. Case in point: according to the New York Times, 56 percent of all concert revenue in 2003 flowed to just a handful of pop music stars like Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. That left less than half the year’s proceeds to be divided amongst all other performers.

But the arts aren’t the only field in which a huge number of aspirants compete for few professional gigs, often choosing between what will sell and what they really want to do. Here we take a look at two other examples of “winner-take-all” economies and consider a future in pursuit of superstardom.

Fashion Models

In 2012, Gisele Bündchen earned $45 million. In addition to working her typical modeling gigs, the Brazilian thirty-something is a spokeswoman and endorsement queen contracting with big name brands such as Pantene, Esprit, and Versace. Her commercial success and business savvy have made her the Andy Warhol of the modeling world, although he never made nearly as much while alive. Gisele leads her supermodel pals in yearly earnings by a cool $36 million, with Kate Moss in distant second place.

Supermodel Gisele Bündchen reportedly earned $45 million in 2012. Photo credit: Tiago Chediak

Supermodel Gisele Bündchen reportedly earned $45 million in 2012. Photo credit: Tiago Chediak

The allure of such multi-million dollar salaries, the jet-set lifestyle, and the promise of beauty immortalized on the cover of Vogue has inspired many young women to pursue a modeling career. Popular TV shows like America’s Next Top Model have steadily increased the number of new hopefuls into the industry. Unfortunately, that has only made the dream harder to attain. Ed Razek of Limited Brands puts into sharp perspective just how tough it is to be one of 140 women to have strutted the catwalk for Victoria’s Secret over the years:

“There are seven billion people on the planet. That makes each of them not one in a million, not one in five million, not one in ten million. That literally makes them one in 50 million humans.”

All Bündchens aside, success in the fashion world is extremely difficult to attain. In fact, the median income for an American model in 2009 was $27,330. How is that possible? According to sociologist and ex-model Ashley Mears in her book Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model, the sheer number of women competing for modeling opportunities today has caused pay rates to drop. A few years back a runway show would typically pay $1,000 to $5,000 a day. At this year’s New York Fashion Week, one model made between $800 and $1,000 per show and sometimes was only compensated in trade such as clothing, jewelry or makeup. She was also expected to front the expenses for her transportation to and from gigs, as well as for hotel stays. After all that, her agency still took a commission. A model can quickly find herself in debt if the jobs don’t line up – and they very well might not. It’s common for a model to go weeks without another opportunity. So why does she suffer through it all? For the exposure. Sound familiar?

Just like artists, models will often spend their own money on projects and ply their craft for next to nothing for the sake of exposing their work to a broader audience in hopes that they will eventually be “discovered.” If that moment never comes, the model may have to find a more reliable means of support. These jobs are usually less glamorous than shooting couture magazine spreads in exotic locations. In Pricing Beauty, Mears identifies the highest earner at one New York agency: a perfect size 8 who can charge $500 per hour for fittings with major American retailers. For all the cash she brings in, there’s little prestige in this type of work and agencies actually frown upon these jingle-makers of the fashion world.


The Bill of Rights (left) drafted by Model Alliance and W.A.G.E.’s “wo/manifesto” both advocate for fair pay and ethical treatment of industry workers.

Not all models are willing to accept current wage inequities within the industry. Model Alliance is an unofficial union formed by supermodel Sara Ziff that aims to establish ethical standards and fair pay for its workers. Their interests mirror those of labor advocates in the arts, such as Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.), a New York-based group fighting for regulated payment of arts workers at nonprofit institutions. While both industries remain wholly unregulated, these labor organizations give voice to an under-paid and under-represented workforce. Which brings us to…

Lawyers (the curveball) 

Practicing law has long been touted by many a family member as one of the most lucrative, and therefore reliable, careers. However, a shift in economic climate and rise in digital technology and information access has eroded this old standard. Once upon a time in 2008, recent law graduates had a job placement rate of 76.9% in positions that required passing the bar exam. Since then many changes have swept the industry, including automation of once labor-intensive work, the outsourcing of mid-level clerk positions, an increase in price competition, and a trend towards doing away with the billable hour structure. Last year, the American Bar Association (ABA) reported that barely half of law school graduates had found work in comparable full-time positions. Couple this high level of unemployment with the enormous amount of debt incurred by students—the average is about $125,000 for private law school—and the situation starts to seem a little desperate.

Andrew Carmichael Post, a “boy-genius” who passed the California State Bar at the age of 22, still wasn’t exceptional enough to land a job with a firm after graduating. He resorted to living with his parents, wearing Goodwill, and working four jobs as a computer programmer while taking on small business clients just to afford his $2,756 monthly loan repayment. His total debt of $215,000 far exceeds the national average. Post is not alone in having to adjust his career expectations. Above the Law recently stumbled across a job post on Boston College Law School’s website with an annual salary of $10,000. Not only is that below the minimum wage, it contrasts starkly with the $6,500,000 earned by the highest paid general counsel in 2012 – and that figure doesn’t include his stock option. Incidentally, the law office that posted the listing defended the low salary, citing “valuable experience” as a perk of the position. Thirty-two hopefuls applied.

Detail of an epic flow chart created by Connecticut attorney Samuel Browning based on the book Don’t Go to Law School (Unless) by Paul Campos.

Detail of “Bad Reasons to Go to Law School,” an epic flow chart created by attorney Samuel Browning based on the book Don’t Go to Law School (Unless) by Paul Campos.

The legal industry has begun to respond to the changing shape of the marketplace. The ABA recently presented a report calling for education reform that would help reduce the time investment needed to obtain a law degree and promote lower tuition costs. It suggests training non-legal professionals in limited services and lowering requirements for taking the bar exam. Some law schools have already reacted by reducing class sizes. One has even lowered acceptance standards in an attempt to boost admissions after a drop in enrollment. A number of schools have opened nonprofit law firms to give graduates a little income and real world experience, while also addressing a growing need for affordable legal services. Dozens more plan to offer similar programs for alumni in coming years.

It’s uncertain whether changes within the legal field are here to stay, but for the moment they threaten to upend the lawyer’s traditional career trajectory from student to clerk to firm associate. They also hint at a future with more affordable basic legal services provided by lesser-paid specialists, while the talented and ambitious few in Big Law continue to command eye-popping salaries. Reflecting on the results of the 2013 Law Firms in Transition Survey, Tom Clay of Altman Weil wrote, “Firms are beginning to think more strategically about growth – trading up to improve profitability, rather then bulking up to drive gross revenues.”

Artists (home plate)

The rise of nonprofit law firms provides an interesting comparison to the arts. What would happen if arts schools now examined the law school model of running spaces where alumni gain experience, earn income, and provide a service to the community? Would this model temper dreams of art world superstardom and promote a more sustainable career path? Would it also provide a means of lowering education costs for artists, an issue the arts sector has debated heavily as more and more artists enroll in MFA programs, some with tuitions of nearly $100,000?

Many of those artists, just like Andrew Carmichael Post and his classmates, will likely have difficulty repaying their student loans. In “Artists in the Winner-Take-All Economy,” sociologist Mark Stern surmises that income disparity in the arts is representative of overall trends in our society, and we ignore it at our own peril. He also paints a rather pessimistic picture of an economy that perpetuates the culture of superstars ad infinitum once it takes hold. The outcome is a country wholly divided by income and accessibility, a depressing thought. However, if the arts are in any way representative of the rest of the system, then working to transform its micro-economy into a healthier and sustainable one may provide clues as to how to pull our society out of the superstar spiral.


GIA 2013: Making Room for the New

I have now been to the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference five times. I sort of can’t believe I’m writing that — it simultaneously makes me feel old and very, very lucky. I’ve written about my experiences there now four of those five times; you can find my wrap-ups for 2009, 2010, 2011, and of course 2013 on Createquity.

I basically retired from conference blogging two years ago, but the opportunity to bring together our hot-off-the-presses editorial team in one place and try out a new medium for us (video) was enough to drag me out of the attic for this go-round. Once you’ve attended any conference for several years in a row, it’s easy to get jaded and start to care more about reconnecting with old friends and making new ones than about the session content. This phenomenon probably reached its peak for me during last year’s conference in, of all places, Miami Beach, where I arrived to discover a hot tub in my room and one of my coworkers got randomly upgraded to a swim-up bungalow. Kind of hard to concentrate on PowerPoint slides in that kind of environment; I remember hanging around the pool with colleagues right after presenting one afternoon, wearing my nametag over a full suit and tie and feeling like a very sweaty idiot. I figured I wouldn’t have quite the same sorts of distractions to contend with in Philly, but still, it was another year of GIA and what promised to be another year of what have become some very familiar conversations.

Many conferences have formal “tracks” corresponding to industries, sectors, topic areas, and so forth, so that if you identify with one of those tracks you can easily navigate your way through the content that is most relevant to you. The GIA Conference essentially has implicit tracks that pop up every year: arts and social justice/cultural equity, arts education, technology, support for individual artists, creative placemaking, and so forth. I’m more invested in some of these topics than others, and it had become my practice at GIA and other conferences to gravitate towards those topics and engage with the kinds of people who get invited to speak on them. Nothing wrong with that, except that over time I found myself learning less and less from these sessions; I was already pretty on top of whatever conversations were going on and had met most of the people there were to meet. I’ve now been to not just GIA but also the Americans for the Arts Convention five times each, and my most positive experience at each conference was my first, in 2009 – when I was new to this corner of the field and everything was fresh.

So this year, I decided to switch it up a bit and deliberately attend some sessions that were outside of my comfort zone. The first of these was the Arts Education pre-conference, which you can hear about in our first video blog if you haven’t watched it yet. I’m going to focus here on two sessions during the main conference that blew my mind for two very different reasons, neither of which I had a chance to talk about much during our in-the-moment recaps.

On Monday, I attended “Invisible » Visible: New Native Voices on the Forefront of Change,” organized by Reuben Roqueni of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. That morning, GIA had unveiled its much-ballyhooed IDEA LAB, a series of TEDx-style short presentations, and the initial round of mini-keynotes were all delivered by artists or curators. While some of these talks were compelling, most of them ended up being about the artist’s individual work or the importance of art in general without much connection to grantmaking practice or the broader themes of the conference, and felt like tangents as a result. I came to this artist-centric session bracing myself for more of the same, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Rulan Tangen of Dancing Earth started things off with a full-group movement and sound exercise which managed to transcend the awkwardness of our windowless hotel room setting. Poet Natalie Diaz followed with two riveting readings from her work, and media artist Cristóbal Martinez demonstrated two of his creations (one live and one via slides). The difference with this session is that not only was the artistic content engaging in its own right, it led seamlessly into a fascinating discussion about how to support, respect, and engage creatively with indigenous communities around the globe. Tangen’s participatory dance workshop helped to bring us closer to the subject matter, Diaz’s poetry laid bare the tensions between ancient traditions and modern realities that make up her daily reality, and Martinez told us of a remarkable installation in a Sydney art gallery that involved cutting out part of the floor to allow voices from the earth to echo through the space. Each of these artistic explorations, in their own way, showed a different side of the clash between Eurocentric and Native worldviews, of the power imbalances inherent in that clash, and of the halting and uncertain efforts to call to account and heal the rift. Because philanthropy itself is at the center of not only the clash but the healing, the artistic connection was not just a feel-good reminder of why we’re all here, but intimately woven in to the conversation itself.

The distance between that session and Tuesday morning’s “Alternate Funding Tools: Program-Related Investments” shows the range of GIA at its best. Deena Epstein and Robert Jacquay of Cleveland’s George Gund Foundation offered a down-to-earth, relentlessly practical, and admirably candid take on their own experiences offering lesser-used tools such as low-interest loans, equity investments, and more to arts groups in their community. The topic wasn’t uncharted territory only for me: session organizer Regina Smith from the Kresge Foundation kicked things off by asking who in the room had direct experience with PRIs; only a couple of hands went up. After a brief review of the history of PRIs, Jacquay described the Gund Foundation’s work with this tool. About 3.5% of the foundation’s investment corpus is held in this asset class, with examples of investments in the arts including a low-interest loan to the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art to help the institution secure a New Markets Tax Credit for a new building, using an equipment purchase as leverage with the landlord of an organization that was at risk of losing its lease, and (my favorite) depositing $25,000 in a local credit union that gives loans to working musicians. Epstein and Jacquay reported that despite a perception of PRIs as risky and unfamiliar on the part of some institutions, their experience has been that the due diligence process is “not a huge mystery.”

The theme of this year’s GIA Conference was “The NEW Creative Community,” and conference organizers made a concerted effort to deliver new thinking to its attendees both in the plenaries and the choice of breakout sessions. That effort wasn’t 100% successful in an absolute sense, as emcee Ben Cameron pointed out on the second day of IDEA LAB – when you try to make room for the new, a lot of times what you get is old ideas in new clothes. But attendees can nevertheless make room for the new in a relative and personal sense by taking a risk and giving unfamiliar topics a chance. I’m following up my GIA experience this week by attending the American Evaluation Association Conference in Washington, DC. This is my first time at this event and it is providing a rush of stimulation due to its dramatic differences from GIA and any other conference I attend regularly: over 3000 attendees from all over the world (I shared an eight-person table on Monday with people from Germany, Brazil and Indonesia), 1000 sessions (sometimes more than 50! at a time), dozens of workshops, and very little arts content. I’m getting a lot out of the experience because I’m stretching myself to learn things I don’t already know. So if you think you’ve seen and heard it all, take it from one who has learned his lesson and consider how you too can make room for the new.

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Systemic Change in a Pointillist World – Questions from GIA 2013

I approached the 2013 Grantmakers in the Arts conference as an opportunity to revisit my roots while stepping out of my comfort zone. I grew up in the Philadelphia area and my first job out of graduate school was in grantmaking. Since then I have been living and breathing arts education. I arrived last week happy to be “home” and eager to take a break from edutalk. I wanted to sit back and revel in topics I know little about.

Wouldn’t you know it? Of the nearly ten pages of notes I wrote over those three days, almost half are about public education.

So much for that break.

I did go to a few sessions specific to education: an update on GIA’s Arts Education Funders Coalition’s advocacy efforts, for example, and a session about the Hive Learning Network‘s support for digital learning. Most, however, didn’t explicitly have much to do with K-12 classrooms. One described a multi-city performance festival. Another shared lessons learned from one foundation’s attempt to coax a bit of “ridiculousness” from its grantees. They were fascinating in their own right, but as I listened I kept writing vague questions to myself about “evolution,” “innovation,” and “the system.” Something was nagging at me, and I didn’t know what it was.

Then Ethan Zuckerman made my head explode.

Mr. Zuckerman’s keynote on day two of the conference was the perfect cerebral counterbalance to the soul-stirring meditations provided by Quiara Alegria Hudes and Nikky Finney on days one and three. (Kudos to GIA for lining up not one, not two, but three exemplary plenary speakers for this gathering.) He talked about how digital media is changing our interactions with one another, changing what it means to be an engaged and globally-minded citizen, and changing how we access and filter the information and opinions that shape our understanding of the world. The upcoming generations of “digital natives,” he said, are raised with a “pointillist” worldview. They seek and expect constant participation and engagement in the causes they think affect their social circles. They want immediate impact. They risk falling into an echo chamber of ideas that support their existing conception of the world. They are suspicious of institutions. They engage via social connections, not broad issues. To them, “the idea that [their] job as a 20-something is to read the newspaper every day and every two years elect someone to represent [them] is bullshit.”

I don’t have a Facebook account but I don’t live in a cave. The idea that the Internet and social media are changing how we consume information isn’t new to me. However, Zuckerman hammered home both the speed and uncertainty with which the world is shifting beneath our feet. We can’t yet judge whether these changes are for good or ill, but must be flexible in our understanding of what things like “citizenry” and “creativity” mean. Creativity, according to Zuckerman, isn’t just about creation. It’s about settling into a space between concepts, actively seeking divergent points of view, drawing connections between people and disciplines that seem to have nothing to do with one another, indulging in an “import-export business” of ideas, and resisting the temptation to lapse into homophily.

For the rest of the conference, everything I heard and discussed was about “the space between.” I went to an off-site session at Drexel University, where fashion majors work alongside engineering majors to create wearable pieces of circuitry, and students in a music and technology engineering lab stay up to the wee hours figuring out how to program robots to play drums for a tongue-in-cheek video rendition of  “Come Together.” As one of the presenters quipped, showing us a visual map of men and women with “hybrid competencies” working between disciplines, “the tree of knowledge has been cut down and replaced by a network.”

It was pretty darn cool.

It was also clarified my vague musings about “evolution” and “the system.” In arts education we seek “systemic change,” trying to determine the structures we must put in place so all students have equal access to studying visual art, dance, etc. Those structures are based on our own understanding of the artistic disciplines and our experiences with “the system.” In light of what Zuckerman described, however, they seem, well, rigid. To give one example, our advocacy efforts often make clear that “the arts” refer to four specific disciplines – visual art, dance, drama, and music. (With the advent of new national core arts standards, a fifth discipline, media arts, is getting its due, though the fact the word “digital” is missing may be testament to just how far our efforts lag behind student experience.) We do this because our field is a “big tent” and we want to be sure no one is left out (unless, like both our plenary speakers on days one and three, you happen to work in the literary arts). So we are careful to call those four-or-five disciplines out as separate-but-equal, and maintain that students should have high-quality learning experiences in each.

Those decisions make sense to us. But do they make sense to our students? Do they align with their “pointillist” worldview?  Will they be relevant in 2020? Will they be relevant in 2016? How on earth do we craft policies that have the “teeth” to get to issues of equity, but not the rigidity that will render them obsolete? How do we take a “systemic” view to support students with a “pointillist” lens? What if a “pointillist” generation doesn’t want or care about four-or-five separate artistic disciplines? What if our desire for policies and definitions that reflect how we think about our work are getting in our way of supporting what they need?

Uncomfortable thoughts, but not unwelcome. I came to Philadelphia thinking I would lend a newcomer’s perspective on foreign topics. I left with those foreign topics challenging my longstanding perspective. The “space between” is interesting indeed.

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Supporting Excellence in the Arts – Lessons from GIA 2013

To this newcomer, the 2013 Grantmakers in the Arts conference in Philadelphia was a whirlwind tour through dozens of ideas and themes that have currency among arts funders, from creative placemaking to creativity and aging, from combatting racism in our own practice to ensuring all students receive a robust arts education. A few days after the final breakfast, I’ve achieved some distance from the details, and from that vantage, I want to reflect on a fundamental question that cropped up in various plenary presentations, breakout sessions, and side conversations throughout the conference: How can we as grantmakers most effectively support excellence in the arts? The question has special resonance for me as I step into a new role as Executive Director of the Whiting Foundation, which gives to individual writers.


A Voice from the Other Side of the Grant

Two remarkable artists gave plenary talks that not only moved and inspired everyone I spoke to in the audience but also demonstrated the speakers’ facility with the written and spoken word. Each is the kind of artist any of us would be proud to have supported, the kind we have in mind when we think about artistic excellence. And, in the course of retelling her own development as a writer, each offered important lessons for how to think about grant program design.

Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, author of Water by the Spoonful and In the Heights, grew up “in the barrio” in Philadelphia; among her family, she was “the one who got out,” though not the only artist: a cousin was inspired by her success to write his first novel from prison. He has just finished his third. That inspiring success was enabled – or at least facilitated – by three critical grants, one received when Hudes was a sophomore at Yale, one when she was a graduate student in playwriting at Brown, and one when she had achieved enough commercial success with In the Heights to face the hard choice between signing up to write for the screen and re-devoting herself to less remunerative but more personal writing. In each case, as she put it, it was the length (one to two years), quantity (enough to allow her to quit the jobs she held to pay the rent), and quality (no strings attached) of the grant that made it transformative. At least in this case, it seems that the best thing a grantmaker could do was spot a potential talent, give her the gift of time, and get out of her way.

These grants worked differently from each other in an important way, it seems to me. The first freed a young artist who had thrown herself into theater at college from the need to work over a summer, offering what may have been her first chance to get lost in a single project; the second gave force to the eternal promise of the MFA as an uninterrupted opportunity to focus on craft, to experiment, and to produce. Both awards encouraged an early-career artist in important ways: they were bellows to a spark that, for all anyone could know in advance, might have sputtered out rather than catching.

The third grant, by contrast, emboldened an artist in full command of her powers to turn down a lucrative screenwriting gig – “my agent fumed,” Hudes gleefully recalled – to pursue a project with much less commercial promise that she couldn’t quite get out of her head. The result was the Pulitzer-winning Water by the Spoonful, the second play in what is now a trilogy. This third grant was a different kind of gamble: by this point, we could be pretty sure Hudes was going to make something wonderful (television and film are both vibrant media, after all), but the grantmaker presumably believed she would make something more wonderful without financial pressure.

It’s hard to know what might have happened without any one – or even all three – of these philanthropic interventions. Hudes clearly has immense inner resources to complement her immense talent: she had made it to Yale before the first of the grants she mentioned, and from the lectern she conveyed such mastery and conviction that it was hard to imagine her not creating art and amazing audiences. If cultural philanthropy did not exist, perhaps Hudes would have made the time and mental space to make equally acclaimed work. Or perhaps she would have followed so many of her classmates into business or medicine or law and put her art on hold, for a few years or a lifetime. Ultimately, we can only celebrate what did happen, and take Hudes seriously when she says that the support she received – long-term, sufficient, and unqualified – was crucial for her.


Considering How We Give

We can also think hard about what Hudes’s example tells us about how we select grantees. Of course we do our best to assess talent, but is there a way to know in advance who has the grit to persevere in a life dedicated to art, which can be hard even with grant support? Is there a way to identify the established artist who has a new, brilliant idea that won’t attract commercial support, that she can only pursue with philanthropic dollars? How can we nurture the excellent art that otherwise might not happen?

Expertise and judgment must be the answer, and, thanks to IRS rules, it is almost always the expertise and judgment of panels that determine which individual artists and arts organizations receive grants. I moderated what seemed to be one of the more tactical of the breakout sessions, in which Createquity’s own Ian David Moss and Ed Harsh of New Music USA presented on ways of “Rethinking the Grant Panel.” Diane Ragsdale has an excellent summary of the presentations in her final post from the conference, so I will only say here that there seemed to be a hunger to discuss the specific changes that some funders are making to their panels. Some of the questions that we could only touch on (or didn’t even have time to) in the one-hour session include:

  • How can we use technology effectively to expand grant panels to fairly evaluate the work of a growing number of artists?
  • What kinds of expertise are most important on grant panels? Should a jazz pianist’s proposal be evaluated only by other jazz pianists?
  • At what stage and by whom should different criteria (artistic excellence, project potential, financial sustainability, etc.) be evaluated?
  • How can we balance the advantages of a model that requires consensus among judges (e.g., fairness, direct comparison of applicants) with the advantages of a model that gives weight to the passionate advocacy judges may feel for an especially strong applicant?
  • What should be the role of deliberation, face-to-face or otherwise, in selecting grantees?
  • From a technical perspective, should we account for “easy” and “hard” graders among panelists?
  • Who wins and who loses when we adopt new techniques like dispersed panels or applications that emphasize public presentation through a website?
  • What promising innovations is no one trying yet?

We plan to continue the conversation about these and other questions; leave a comment if you’d like to be a part of it.

We actually know surprisingly little about how private arts funders give to individual artists. Grantmakers in the Arts publishes an annual report on the state of giving to arts organizations that, despite the imperfections of the data, is an excellent guide to the field. GIA is now a year into a similar project covering giving to individuals, which was the subject of a breakout session at the conference and a plenary discussion at the “Support for Individual Artists” preconference. GIA’s Tommer Peterson (the quiet heart of the conference) is leading work with Alan Brown and Claudia Bach to catalogue the various ways funders can support individual artists, from outright cash grants made directly to artists to the provision of a variety of in-kind services through a financial intermediary. Once a taxonomy is established by March 2014, the real work will begin, as data is collected from pilot sites to test the system before GIA establishes a national database. Within a few years, we may learn much more about the tools available to us as funders and how those tools are currently being used. In the meantime, GIA has collected articles on the topic and provides updates on what they’ve learned so far on their website.


Who Will Support the Sensitive Child?

And, of course, we can continue to learn from artists what makes the difference to them. I want to close by returning to the second artist who gave a plenary talk at this year’s conference, National Book Award-winning poet Nikky Finney. Finney opened with a quote from Willa Cather: “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” She spoke movingly about growing up as a “sensitive child” and the editorial attention of a high-school English teacher who helped her realize that her intense experience of the world was something to be treasured, mastered, and recorded. (Hudes spoke of similar attention, from a local street musician who give her a crucial cassette and an unforgiving Russian piano teacher.) Toward the end Finney posed a question that was also an exhortation (roughly transcribed): “Who looks for and seeks the sensitive child before she needs money to make her art? Call out her name to let her know she has been loved and cherished. Make her know that what she has witnessed – whatever it has been – greatly matters in this world.”

For those of us with our heads fully in the technical construction of grant panels by that final breakfast, Finney was, as she said artists must, “saying the hard thing beautifully.” This was a plea to consider the stage when an intervention – philanthropic or otherwise – can make the most difference in fostering excellent art: the stage when a child is learning how to confront and express the creative impulse within her, is accumulating unbeknownst to her the resources and materials that will fuel her art for years, and is making the choices that will one day turn her into a professional poet.

There is a clear message here for those who grant in arts education, but there is also an important lesson for those of us who support adult artists. It matters that we give; it matters to whom we give; and it also matters when in their development as artists we give. There is something special about support that comes early enough to turn the sensitive child into an artist – or that, later, comes at a moment when the artist must choose between art and another of life’s demands. As we strive to improve our grantmaking, how can we more effectively intervene with the right person at the right moment to make possible the commitment to a potential masterpiece – or to a lifetime of creating excellent art?


Video-blogging from GIA: Day 3

Our third and final Grantmakers in the Arts conference video blog is our meatiest yet, covering curation as a moral imperative, rethinking the grant panel, expanding outside of our arts silos, and the nature of radical change. Oh, and there is some gratuitous giggling at the end.

We’ve had a great time in Philadelphia this week. Look out for additional wrap-up posts in this space coming soon!


Video-blogging from GIA: Day 2

Our second video report from Grantmakers covers arts and social justice as a vehicle for systemic change, a fantastic keynote from playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, and our field’s “weird dance” with evaluation. Perhaps someday we’ll figure out how to make our transitions tighter and remember to keep our faces in the camera frame as we’re talking. Until then, we hope our amateurish charm will carry the day. Enjoy!


Video-blogging from GIA: Day 1

As a special treat to celebrate the Createquity editorial team’s convergence on Philadelphia for the Grantmakers in the Arts conference, we decided to try out a new format: video. In this inaugural go-round, we discuss the arts education preconference, networking, and our session selection strategy. We’re going to try to create and post two more of these before we skip town. Enjoy!


Around the horn: just another government shutdown edition


  • The public has spoken: polling released in late September shows 75% of Detroiters oppose cutting pensions and 78% oppose selling artwork from the Detroit Institute of Arts to ease the city’s financial troubles. Meanwhile, the DIA is pitching a long-shot plan to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder that would direct significant state funding to the museum – possibly in exchange for the city’s relinquishing ownership.
  • Is Philly’s status as a world-class cultural city at risk? The Philadelphia Inquirer explores the potential impact of sharp cuts in private and public funding in a city where arts tourists outnumber sports tourists 4:3.
  • Washington, DC may be paralyzed over ObamaCare, but you don’t have to to be: Fractured Atlas follows up on its infographic guide to ObamaCare for artists with a similar guide for small business owners. And the Future of Music Coalition has announced a new website designed to be a comprehensive resource on the implications of the Affordable Care Act on artists. There’s even an artist-friendly hotline.
  • In an interview in The Atlantic Cities, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell talks about how the city benefits from – and has to adapt to – the huge festivals that undergrid its cultural economy.
  • “Be A Creator” enters California elementary schools later this year as a pilot program designed to teach K-6 graders that sharing other people’s ideas and artwork without permission is stealing. The Center for Copyright Infringement (CCI) prepared the curriculum in conjunction with the California School Library Association and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition to address online piracy by educating the young. Detractors claim the curriculum is just “thinly disguised corporate propaganda.”
  • Meanwhile, voluntary agreements held by the entertainment, advertising and internet industries to address issues of content piracy are apparently going well, according to testimony from a recent Congressional hearing. That’s good news following the controversy over the SOPA and PIPA bills last year. However, notably missing from the hearing were independent labels and the artists themselves.


  • The Kansas Arts Foundation, established after Governor Sam Brownback abolished the Kansas Arts Commission in a controversial and unsuccessful attempt to eliminate state art funding, has named Karen Lane Christilles its first Executive Director.
  • Lois Lerner, embattled head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division, has retired after bearing the brunt of the blame for the recent scandal involving targeted investigation of Tea Party-related organizations. A review board that was about to propose she be fired alluded to “neglect of duties” during her 12-year tenure at the agency, which raises an interesting question: is Lerner just a political scapegoat or has the IRS’s nonprofit unit actually been mismanaged for years?


  • Copper heiress Huguette Clark’s will established an arts foundation and bequeathed it her $100m California estate to showcase her art, but other aspirants to Clark’s $400m fortune have taken to the courts.


  • New York’s 70-year-old City Opera is closing its doors following a decade of deficits, an unsuccessful campaign to avert bankruptcy and, according to Mayor Bloomberg, “a business model [that] doesn’t appear to be working.” Michael Cooper and Robin Pogrebin provide the most in-depth reporting on the institution’s final days and just how precariously it held on to life up to the final act.
  • How many stagehands do you need in a new education space? Carnegie Hall’s opening night gala was abruptly canceled in the wake of a union dispute over jurisdiction of Carnegie’s still-under-construction education wing. The feud is raising eyebrows, particularly given that five of Carnegie’s top ten earners are stagehands, each earning more than $300,000 apiece.
  • In an interview with Ellen McSweeney, Cynthia Cyrus of the Blair School of Music discusses the role of MOOCs in music education and the challenges posed by murky copyright law.
  • Two great examples of museums keeping pace with changes in the education sector: the Museum of Modern Art recently wrapped up its first MOOC on museum teaching strategies, and reflects on how it went. The American Museum of Natural History, meanwhile, graduated its first class of science teachers, thanks to a federal grant that made it the first (and maybe not the last) museum in the nation to offer a full teacher prep program.
  • Perhaps not such a great example of a museum keeping up with the times: New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art recently offered a Groupon “deal” for an $18 admission voucher. The only problem? Entry to the museum is supposed to be free five days and two nights a week. This bit of deceptive advertising appears to be just another episode in the institution’s shady history of misleading visitors about its pricing structure.
  • The now year-long labor dispute at the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra has prompted both celebrated music director Osmo Vänskä and composer Aaron Jay Kernis to resign, dealing a major blow to the future of the organization. The question that remains is whether the board will try to rebuild the 110-year-old orchestra or the musicians will strike out on their own.
  • Meanwhile in Germany, the Berlin Philharmonic has led a massive country-wide strike to protest further decreases in job opportunities for orchestral musicians.
  • British museums are adjusting to a world with less public funding. The Museums Association recently released its annual review, finding that nearly a third of survey respondents have had to cut staffing, replacing many of the positions with volunteers and interns. Interestingly, museum attendance is at an all time high.


  • David B. Pankratz reports out on a few ideas about research generated at Americans for the Arts’s National Convention back in June: better link research to policy, create pathways for young researchers to study the arts, expand the focus of research beyond nonprofit arts, and more speed dating, among others.
  • At WorldFuture 2013 (the best-named conference around), Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop Per Child project and co-founder of MIT Media Lab, described four different ways to see the future. In this post Elizabeth Merritt applies the theories to attempt to forecast the future of museums.
  • Clayton Lord celebrates the recent Arts Dinnervention with a week’s worth of posts from himself and three other participants. Linda Essig joins in the conversation.


  • Where have all the theater nerds gone? The National Endowment for the Arts’s latest survey of public participation in the arts is out, and reports a nine percent drop in musical theater attendance and twelve percent drop in play attendance since 2008 – but greater participation by the young in arts festivals and by non-white and Hispanic Americans in art performances broadly. 
  • Chris Unitt examines a a new report from the UK’s Culture 24  documenting the second phase of its action research project on “understanding and measuring digital engagement” in the cultural sector.
  • Also out of the UK, Ticketmaster has released the results of a survey of playgoing among the British, who are more likely to have attended the theatre than a concert or sporting event. Audiences skew younger and more experimental than you might expect – which means audience codes of conduct are shifting, too.
  • Last month Capacity Interactive released its Performing Arts Digital Marketing Benchmarking Survey Study with some interesting findings to report. Perhaps not surprisingly, “the biggest obstacle for digital marketing success is lack of budget.”
  • Theater Communications Group has released its annual Theater Facts 2012 report, authored by the folks from the National Center for Arts Research. It’s possible to spin the news a few different ways, but what’s clear is that in many key areas, things are starting to look like they did before the recession: revenue is up, subscriptions are up, income from single-ticket sales is up. The full report is here.
  • New neuroscience research finds adults with musical training perform better on tricky cognitive tests than those with little to no experience playing an instrument. And creativity in music doesn’t just happen randomly; freedom, flexibility, time and “being in the moment” are the key elements needed, according to a new study led by John Rink, professor of musical performance studies at Cambridge University.
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