Createquity in Quotes: 2012

Becker’s statement gets at some of the main challenges in measuring the “impact” of a work of public art—a task which more often than not provokes grumbling from public art administrators. When asked how they know their work is successful, most organizations and artists that create art in the public realm are quick to cite things like people’s positive comments, or the fact that the artwork doesn’t get covered with graffiti or cause controversy.

Katherine Gressel, Public Art and the Challenge of Evaluation (January 7)

But more than that, I sometimes wish we wouldn’t take what we do so damn seriously all the time. Maybe this is coming from someone who’s spent too much time on Roadside America, but I think that by pretending that all artwork is sacred, we unwittingly make failure (acknowledged or not) unacceptable. Of course art is subjective, but that’s precisely the point. Maybe it’s okay to hate a specific piece of public art, if that’s one’s honest response. Maybe we should be encouraging honest responses. Especially to public art, which, unlike a bad performance, is still there the next day and, unlike bad museum or gallery art, is visible to you whether you want it to be or not.

Ian David Moss, Uncomfortable Thoughts: Is Public Art Worthy of Hate? (February 21)

Given all the above, it may seem ironic that it is Kickstarter that has seized the mantle of democratizing access to the arts in the public imagination, rather than the NEA. A closer examination, however, quickly reveals why. In recent years, the NEA has focused on arts access from the perspective of the audience, particularly through geographic reach. The Endowment publishes national studies on arts participation twice a decade, supports touring programs through its network of regional partners, and frequently supports established organizations that are capable of bringing in large crowds consistently. But these measures are often not so friendly to the creator. The NEA’s focus on pre-existing institutions, its requirement that applicants hold tax-exempt status, and its extensive application requirements and lengthy review process all erect barriers to participation no less formidable than those that face artist-entrepreneurs who come to Kickstarter without access to a video camera.

Ian David Moss, Art and Democracy: The NEA, Kickstarter, and Creativity in America (April 9)

So if audience engagement is about utilizing the work of art to facilitate authentic, personally-relevant connections with others and the work of art itself, it seems we have an army of individuals waiting in the wings to be asked to the party. Teaching artists, still frighteningly in the margins of our quest to reinvent arts institutions, are experts in audience engagement. They do the following things exceedingly well:

  • Teach cognitive skills needed to think artistically and creatively
  • Teach aesthetic education, or the ability to make sense of art, not skills-based art-making
  • Understand how to create questions and activities that are relevant to diverse ages and levels of arts education
  • Work across the community, from performing and presenting works for discerning adult audiences as well as in schools in rural and low-income neighborhoods
  • Understand that what they do is spiritual in nature, and help create a link to individuals’ higher selves.

Kelly Dylla, Why Teaching Artists Will Lead the Charge in Audience Engagement (May 10)

Art and science have a longstanding relationship, and it does a disservice to both to pretend that isolation from one another is the best approach. For example, there is a long history of illustration in biology. Chemistry uses pictograms with specific rules to convey structures and arrangements of atoms and molecules. Many of these traditional methods have specific rules to most accurately represent ideas, or particular aspects of an idea. These methods of visualization are developed to work within the scientific community, frequently to the exclusion of the lay person. But interesting things begin to happen once those strict rules of representation are relaxed. Most specifically, in Dance Your Ph.D. we see scientists imagine their works through dance.

Shane Crerar, Understanding Through Tangential Questioning: Art, Dance Your Ph.D., and the Large Hadron Collider (May 16)

One of the reasons people sometimes feel anxious about evaluation and measurement is because they’re afraid of being held accountable, especially to things that they don’t have full control over or to metrics that don’t seem relevant to what they’re trying to do. When that happens, there are enormous incentives on managers and their supervisors to “cook the books” or otherwise game the system to show results that look better than reality, because any failure—even failures that are no one’s fault—reflects on them personally. That’s the danger of trying to enforce a data-driven culture without first developing the theoretical frameworks that determine what data you’re trying to collect. Because logic models separate the person from the program, they can distinguish between lagging initiatives that might just need more time to prove themselves, and failures of design that can be transformed into productive learning opportunities.

—Ian David Moss, In Defense of Logic Models (June 28)

The survey bias may significantly undermine one of the five goals of the study, to “measure levels of cultural engagement, broadly defined” in the Inland Empire and Central Valley. Given that both Phase 1 and Phase 2 display signs of pro-arts bias, it’s difficult to take the reported levels of overall cultural engagement at face value. The four other goals don’t require as broad a view of the data, and Cultural Engagement serves them much better. They include exploring and defining what arts engagement means for the target regions; understanding differences in engagement across demographic cohorts; investigating the settings in which people engage with the arts; and developing recommendations for how Irvine can more effectively support arts and culture. Even if the report’s numbers for the general public represent an already arts-interested population, results showing an expansive definition of arts and culture, differences in engagement among racial/ethnic cohorts, and a wide variety of arts settings are likely relatively unaffected. WolfBrown’s recommendations to adjust Irvine’s funding to reflect these findings seem to rest on a fairly strong foundation.

—Jackie Hasa, Arts Policy Library: Cultural Engagement in California’s Inland Regions (July 3)

Nevertheless, what “Discovering Fiscally Sponsored NYC Dancemakers” does show is that fiscal sponsorship is a major force in the New York City dance world. Sponsored projects account for hundreds of distinct enterprises and at least $3 million in annual expenditures. They reach tens of thousands of audience members and serve something like a thousand artists (assuming a reasonable rate of overlap between projects). And remember, this is just in one discipline and one city of the country.

Ian David Moss, “Discovering Fiscally Sponsored NYC Dancemakers” (September 17)

In any particular place, changes in the proposed indicators will not be attributable to the creative placemaking intervention alone. So imagine the distress of a fundee whose indicators are moving the wrong way and which place them poorly in comparison to others. Area property values may be falling because an environmentally obnoxious plant starts up. Other projects might look great on indicators not because of their initiatives, but because another intervention, like a new light rail system or a new community-based school dramatically changes the neighborhood. What we’d would love to have, but don’t at this point, are sophisticated causal models of creative placemaking…

—Ann Markusen, Fuzzy Concepts, Proxy Data: Why Indicators Won’t Track Creative Placemaking Success (November 9)

Shared delivery does not reflect what I or, based on anecdotal evidence, the majority of people within my age bracket received in terms of arts education. My fifth grade generalist teacher was a woman named Mrs. Gonzalez. I saw her every day, and she taught me math, reading, science, history and so forth. My school had a visual arts specialist, Ms. Peters, whom I saw once a week. Art never really came up during my math/reading/science/history lessons, and math/reading/science/history never really came up during my art lessons, so if Mrs. Gonzalez and Ms. Peters worked together behind the scenes, their collaboration wasn’t readily apparent to me. The only visiting teaching artists I recall encountering in elementary school were members of a theater company who performed an abridged version of Macbeth during a school-wide assembly in our cafeteria. Afterwards they sat on plastic chairs and answered questions. They stayed for about an hour, and we never saw them again.

Talia Gibas, Unpacking Shared Delivery of Arts Education (December 3)

Here were the most-read articles from the past year, in case you missed them:

  1. Creative Placemaking Has an Outcomes Problem
  2. Public Art and the Challenge of Evaluation
  3. Fuzzy Concepts, Proxy Data: Why Indicators Won’t Track Creative Placemaking Success
  4. In Defense of Logic Models
  5. Unpacking Shared Delivery of Arts Education
  6. Parklets: Coming Soon to a City Near You
  7. Art and Democracy: The NEA, Kickstarter, and Creativity in America
  8. Burning Man is Dead; Long Live Burning Man
  9. Why Teaching Artists Will Lead the Charge in Audience Engagement
  10. Apply for the Spring 2012 Createquity Writing Fellowship
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The Top 10 Arts Policy Stories of 2012

From Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History's Family Fallapalooza

From Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History’s Family Fallapalooza

Each year, Createquity offers a list of the top ten arts policy stories of the past 12 months. You can read the previous editions here: 2009, 2010, and 2011.  The list, like the blog, is focused on the United States, but is not oblivious to news from other parts of the world. This year, for the first time, I opened up the creation of this list to Createquity authors past and present, and I am particularly grateful to Jackie Hasa for contributing the entries for orchestra labor strife and SOPA/PIPA versus the internet. If you’re interested in being a part of a growing and increasingly active team here, a reminder that the deadline for the Createquity Writing Fellowship is coming up on January 8.

2012 was a year of cautious optimism for the arts. As the economy continued its slow recovery, for the first time in four years, government funding at the state level did not see a decline, and the slash-and-burn tax-cutting fervor of political conservatives seemed to be blunted by November’s election results, at least temporarily. There were stories of individual organizations making good, and ambitious initiatives seemed to be around every corner. And yet in certain contexts, the arts were still or newly facing dark days. Arts communities in much of Europe and the Western world struggled with austerity measures, as did orchestra musicians in the United States. And in many Muslim countries, art and artists found themselves in the middle of (or even the target of) oppression, strife, and violence. One comes away from this list with the sense that things are going to be interesting in 2013.

10. Nina Simon reboots the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History

I don’t normally include innovation stories from rank-and-file arts organizations on this list, but Nina Simon’s transformation of Santa Cruz MAH has been so far-reaching and impressive that its broader fieldwide significance is hard to deny. It’s not just about the numbers, though Simon has those too: attendance has more than doubled, the busiest day drew triple the participants over previous years,and there’s now a $350,000 cash reserve. More interesting, however, is the combination of Simon’s fame and her daring programming that has put the MAH “on the map” in a way that simply wasn’t the case before. Simon is the rarer-than-you-might-think example of a consultant who has successfully transitioned into an executive role, and in the process she has eagerly seized the opportunity to reshape a struggling institution into a playground for her (and the community’s) ideas. Through new programs like the You Can’t Do That in Museums Camp, an exhibition-as-exhibition, and more, Santa Cruz MAH is charting the frontiers of what it means to be a participatory museum, and we get to have a front-row seat by virtue of Simon’s long-running and admirably transparent blog, Museum 2.0. Simon’s approach may not be right for every arts organization, but it surely presents one very clear vision of the future, one to which attention must be paid.

9. The European funding model shows more cracks

Let’s be clear on this one: the core Western European philosophy of seeing culture as an essential arm of government is not on the verge of dissolving, and the wealthy countries that have historically been most faithful to this notion–including Germany, France, and the Scandinavian nations–have so far shown little willingness to abandon it in favor of American-style privatization fever. At the fringes of the European Union and beyond, however, government-centric cultural policies underwent substantial stress in 2012. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, for example, the national museum closed due to lack of funds provided by a non-functioning government; in Greece, spending on the arts has dropped 35% since 2009, and in Italy, Rome’s MAXXI Museum has been put into receivership. Arts Council England, having already suffered major cuts two years ago, is looking at a potential loss of 150 staff, while cities like Newcastle are looking at even more drastic cuts. This is a trend to watch in 2013.

8. SOPA/PIPA vs. the Internet

In early 2012, an enormous Internet protest caused both houses of Congress to indefinitely postpone voting on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA).  These bills sought to regulate Internet content in the name of fighting piracy, which split arts organizations into two opposing camps—those with a vested interest in strong copyright protections, which included many major entertainment industry unions and associations, and those concerned that the bills’ more draconian regulations would dampen creative exchange, which included a broader range of organizations, from McSweeney’s to Fractured Atlas to Dance/USA.  After tabling SOPA/PIPA, Google and other major tech companies helped Congress draft the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (the OPEN Act) as part of a more balanced approach. Public comments on the OPEN Act are encouraged, even as its sponsor, Darrell Issa (R-CA) pushes for a 2-year moratorium on Internet regulations.  Efforts to control the web also failed on the international stage, when a U.N. committee charged with rewriting Internet rules couldn’t get buy-in from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and dozens of other nations due to concerns over censorship.   Lawmakers may not resolve these debates in 2013, but in the years ahead, we will doubtless see continued efforts to regulate Internet behavior.

7. The arts face violence and turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa

Where to begin? In Syria, where the ancient city of Aleppo has been devastated by that country’s civil war? In Mali, where a fundamentalist group called Ansar Dine has destroyed world-famous heritage sites in Timbuktu and threatened musicians with bodily harm? In Somalia, where some 18 media figures, including a popular poet and playwright, have been assassinated by the Al Qaeda-aligned Al Shabab, for daring to mock the militants in public? In dozens of countries where mass protests broke out, some turning violent, in response to a video made by an American filmmaker and con artist with insulting depictions of the prophet Muhammad? In the midst of all the tragedy, we also had uplifting stories like the role that young artists had in galvanizing Egyptian dissent during the Arab Spring. From our comfortable perch in the US, it can sometimes feel like the arts are a frill, a plaything for the privileged, or simply inconsequential. It seems fair to say that in this part of the world, today, the arts matter.

6. State arts councils turn the corner

State arts councils reversed a four-year slide in 2012, finally coming out of the annual budget appropriations process in the black. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies reports that total appropriations rose 8.8% in the aggregate to $282.9 million, although most of this change is attributable to substantial increases in Florida, Michigan, and the District of Columbia, each of whose appropriations more than doubled over the previous year. (Michigan’s budget grew an astounding 366.8%, albeit after having sustained equally astounding cuts in previous years.) In addition, two anti-arts governors found themselves with egg on their face this year, as the recently vanquished Kansas Arts Commission made a triumphant return as the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, and the South Carolina Arts Commission fought off yet another veto threat from Governor Nikki Haley. Other states with budget increases of $1 million or more included Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio. (Update: See comments for info about Connecticut.) And while the Arizona Commission on the Arts continues to receive no legislative appropriation from its state government, it did win a ten-year re-authorization against the odds. The year was not completely free from bad news, however, as the arts councils in Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Utah all suffered double-digit cuts, continuing a trend in the first three states.

5. Labor strife reaches new heights in orchestras and beyond

This year was rife with labor unrest in the arts, most notably among orchestras. Driven by fundraising shortfalls and sometimes debt from capital projects conceived in flush times, musicians walked out—or were locked out—all over the U.S. Unions in Chicago, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Spokane, Louisville, New York, Philadephia, San Antonio, and Indianapolis all successfully reached deals that ranged from modest raises (San Antonio) to 32% wage cuts (Indianapolis). The strife will continue in 2013: in the Twin Cities, both the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra have been locked out for months, with no resolution in sight. We’re also seeing some signs of resilience and cooperation, as the previously disbanded Syracuse and Utica Symphony Orchestras vowed to return for the 2012-2013 season. In 2013, we may see more attention paid to the Colorado Symphony as a potential model. Following their own labor conflict in 2011, they revised their contract to allow for more organizational flexibility. For instance, the orchestra can now play in smaller groups, allowing them to perform in communities around Denver in minor venues.

4. Rocco steps down

It wasn’t a surprise, but it was news nonetheless: Rocco Landesman left the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) after three-plus eventful years as Chair. During his tenure, he set the agency on a technocratic course with more explicit attention paid to the instrumental benefits of the arts, particularly their economic value. His highest-profile accomplishment while in office was the creation of two new grant programs to encourage “creative placemaking,” Our Town and ArtPlace (more on that below). His most enduring legacy, however, may turn out to be his work, along with Senior Deputy Chair (and now Acting Chair) Joan Shigekawa, to develop partnerships between the NEA and other branches of federal government and to set the research office on a more strategic path. Lastly, it was during his tenure that the NEA began more explicit efforts to welcome the public into its decision-making process, offering a series of live webcasts of convenings and meetings including those of the National Council of the Arts, the body that oversees the NEA. No hints as of yet as to who may replace him, but we won’t likely know until well into 2013.

3. The Detroit Institute of Arts gets a millage

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) was in a pickle. The venerable museum was facing a financial downward spiral, and it was one of the few institutions of its kind not to receive funding from either its city or state. The solution? Advocate for a millage (a form of property tax) to support the DIA in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, in exchange for free museum admission for residents from those counties. The measure passed in an election on August 7, and will raise a whopping $23 million annually for the DIA over the tax’s 10-year duration.  There are charitable and less charitable ways to interpret this development, and arts world response seemed to be divided between them. On the one hand, here was an example of a cultural institution demonstrating relevance to its community in the most direct, unimpeachable manner possible: a majority of residents in three counties, urban and suburban, voted to tax themselves so that this institution could survive and thrive. On the other, the DIA raised and spent an enormous sum of money – $2.5 million – getting a piece of legislation passed that benefits only one arts organization – itself. No matter how wonderful the DIA may be, that precedent is a bit worrisome.

2. The creative placemaking backlash

It was just last year that the #1 arts policy story was “Creative placemaking ascendant,” so it’s not surprising to see that the movement has come back to earth in 2012, facing public relations challenges on multiple fronts. Much of the discussion has focused on the way that the NEA’s Our Town program and its private-sector cousin, ArtPlace, plan to track and measure the impact of the grants they make – a dialogue begun here on Createquity with May’s “Creative Placemaking Has an Outcomes Problem” and continuing in the fall with further back-and-forth between researcher Ann Markusen and the NEA’s Jason Schupbach and Sunil Iyengar. But creative placemaking’s PR hiccups this year went much further than that. They started small, with the revelation that much of ArtPlace’s grant funding is geographically restricted, meaning that applicants in many parts of the country face longer odds than others, and a brutal exposé by the Los Angeles Times of problems within the ArtPlace-funded Watts House Project. By the summer it seemed that criticism and skepticism was pouring in far and wide, from sources as diverse as Thomas Frank (author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?) and Roberto Bedoya, and leading to trite headlines like “Hipsters won’t save us” in mainstream publications. To make matters worse, Richard Florida decided in the midst of all this to re-release his most famous and now-controversial bookThe Rise of the Creative Class, prompting a rash of articles attacking the intellectual origins of creative placemaking work. Some of the criticism has been fair and some of it considerably less so, but there’s no sign as yet that the creative placemaking juggernaut is slowing down as a result of it.

1. Election 2012

This last item is unusual, in that it’s more about what didn’t happen this year rather than what did happen. As things turned out, the balance of power in Washington hardly changed at all and we can look forward (I guess?) to divided government for at least the next two years. By contrast, most analysts agree that if Mitt Romney had won the election and Republicans had regained control of the Senate, both of which were distinct possibilities through most of the summer and fall, what little arts policy infrastructure remains at the federal level would very much have been in jeopardy. Romney had made no secret throughout the campaign of his disdain for the NEA, the NEH, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, even bizarrely choosing to make Big Bird an issue in an otherwise well-received first debate with the President. And it doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that conservatives, fresh off a massive gain in Congressional seats during the previous midterm elections, would have felt empowered to take a hacksaw to domestic spending following even a narrow win. With these outcomes averted, it’s likely that funding levels will stay steady or suffer relatively minor cuts in the near future, though with the seemingly endless negotiations over the “fiscal cliff” and debt ceiling, anything could still happen. Election Day also saw the unfolding of some arts policy stories at a local level, most significantly the passage of an important new income tax in Portland that will fund arts grants and arts education.

Honorable mention:

Happy New Year to Createquity readers far and wide, and we look forward to what 2013 brings!

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Around the horn: Wayne LaPierre edition

ART AND THE GOVERNMENT

  • The Detroit Institute of the Arts, having convinced residents in three counties to pass a property tax supporting the institution in exchange for free admission, is facing a lawsuit on the basis that the deal doesn’t include special exhibits.

MUSICAL CHAIRS

IN THE FIELD

ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS

  • Interesting and entertaining perspective on collective impact and the need to support direct-service and backbone organizations simultaneously, with response by FSG’s Emily Gorin Malenfant.
  • More examples of transparency in action: Kevin Bolduc and the Center for Effective Philanthropy are revamping their flagship product, the Grantee Perception Report, in response to feedback from customers - and blogging about the process.
  • Peter Singer (author, The Life You Can Saveon donating to the arts:

    “Philanthropy for the arts or for cultural activities is, in a world like this one, morally dubious,” he writes in his book.

    He has heard two counterarguments repeatedly since the book came out in 2009. One points to the work that, say, art museums do with disadvantaged children. “I can see how that would be a worthwhile thing to do,” he said. “I’m not sure how well it compares with saving kids from dying from diarrhea or malaria.”

    Then, there are the crumbling buildings again. “I’m certainly not suggesting that when the roof of the Met starts to leak that you don’t repair it,” he said. “But I would not give a penny to the Met to buy another painting.”

BIG IDEAS

RESEARCH CORNER

  • The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP), an annual survey of arts training program graduates, has published “Painting with Broader Strokes: Reassessing the Value of an Arts Degree,” a supplementary report on the 2010 survey results by Danielle Lindemann and Steven Tepper.
  • Maribel Alvarez offers a review of Maria Rosario Jackson’s latest for LINC, “Developing Artist-Driven Spaces in Marginalized Communities.”
  • The James Irvine Fund has released a report on the its Arts Innovation Fund grants (undertaken under its previous program strategy last decade), conducted by Slover Linett Strategies. The report is accompanied by a nifty tablet-friendly interactive highlighting key findings.
  • The Future of Music Coalition is leveraging its Artist Revenue Streams data to engage in some mythbusting regarding how musicians make (or don’t make) money.
  • Arts education data in Los Angeles shows a complex picture of trends over the past 15 years.
  • Wow. Did you know that more than half of the US patent lawsuits in 2012 were brought by “non-practicing entities” – also known as patent trolls? These companies obtain patents with no intention of actually using them for inventions, but instead to “threaten young companies with lawsuits as soon as they obtain funding; or hamstring older companies, forcing them to divert cash into costly licenses for absurd patents rather than pay for costly defenses in uncertain, patent-friendly jurisdictions.” Good to know for anyone (such as Richard Florida types) relying on patents issued as a measure of innovation. Yuck.
  • As mentioned here previously, the Twin Cities is currently suffering a symphony drought, with both the Minnesota and St. Paul Chamber Orchestras shut down in the midst of labor strife. This probably isn’t the most empathetic response imaginable, but my first thought upon reading the headline “Orchestra fans getting restless” in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune was, wouldn’t this be a great natural experiment for measuring the value of orchestras to a community? I mean, you don’t realize how much you appreciate something until it’s gone, right? The evidence presented in the article suggests that some audience members are finding substitutes (“a few classical groups have noticed a spike in ticket sales”), but a substantial number are staying home. Independently organized concerts by locked-out members of the Minnesota Orchestra are selling out quickly, though obviously in an environment of substantially reduced competition. I could imagine all sorts of possibilities – a rare economic impact study that actually takes into account opportunity costs, for example, or a more scientific survey of orchestra subscribers to find out what they’re doing with themselves at night.
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Mood affiliation and group loyalty in the arts

Some food for thought as we navigate public debates about gun control, taxation, and the value of the arts (emphasis mine):

 [T]he study presents both observational and experimental data inconsistent with the hypothesis that political conservatism is distinctively associated with closed-mindedness: conservatives did no better or worse than liberals on an objective measure of cognitive reflection; and more importantly, both demonstrated the same unconscious tendency to fit assessments of empirical evidence to their ideological predispositions. Second, the study suggests that this form of bias is not a consequence of overreliance on heuristic or intuitive forms of reasoning; on the contrary, subjects who scored highest in cognitive reflection were the most likely to display ideologically motivated cognition. These findings corroborated the hypotheses of a third theory, which identifies motivated cognition as a form of information processing that rationally promotes individuals’ interests in forming and maintaining beliefs that signify their loyalty to important affinity groups.

To put that in Cowenspeak, both sides are guilty, the smart are guiltiest of them all, and the desire for group loyalty is partially at fault.

When I was in college and shortly afterwards, my hometown Boston Red Sox were locked in a dire rivalry with the ascendant New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers may have had the better pedigree, having racked up 26 baseball world championships including four between 1996 and 2000, but we surely had the better story: no World Series title in 86 years, despite a dozen or more excruciatingly close calls, bad breaks, and missed opportunities. In the early 2000s, when both teams were among the best in the sport, every Red Sox game against the Yankees, no matter how early in the season, was high, high drama. The players felt it too, getting into several on-the-field fights and various wars of words in the press. Every time one of these would happen, Red Sox fan websites and bulletin boards would light up with the indignity of it all, painting the Yankees as the “Evil Empire” and lampooning their greedy, entitled, cheating ways. I felt like I couldn’t even talk to people who were Yankees fans and avoided them like the plague (which was easier living in New York than you might think). It felt so good, so comfortable to be among a crowd of people “on my team” – people united around a common enemy, cheering and booing the same events, occupying the moral high ground with me. So comfortable that it was easy to overlook the things that my team did that were rather like the very things I was booing the enemy for – like spending lots and lots of money to try and buy a title, or relying on the contributions of stars who may have been using performance-enhancing drugs. “It’s different,” I would tell myself about these transgressions, when I bothered to think about them at all. The fact is, I was a Red Sox fan first, and nothing would (or likely ever will) change that.

It’s one thing to be a die-hard fan of a sports team. My mood affiliation with other Red Sox fans creates instant community whenever I visit Boston again, and provided for some of the most thrilling moments of my life when they finally won it all while vanquishing the Yankees in dramatic fashion in 2004. But more and more, lately, I see us following political developments with all of the nuance of the guys in the bleacher section wearing body paint on their chests. Defeating the other guys takes precedence over all other priorities, including careful consideration of facts on the ground. I know I don’t have time to thoroughly research every political issue that comes  up on my radar. So instead I rely on filters to do the hard work of reporting and interpreting the news for me. I imagine most other people are in the same boat.

As mainstream, reporting-driven news media loses power and influence, it’s becoming easier and easier to process information inside a bubble with its own facts, talking points, and agendas – a bubble made up of like-minded people as surely as the sports bar outside the ballpark. This has been true on the right for years with talk radio and Fox News, and increasingly on the left as well. Social media like Facebook, providing as it does an ideal platform for advocacy via images, video, and sound bites, only turns up the volume. Bright spots like Nate Silver’s election projections aside, it’s hard to find filters who share your values (especially when those values are distant from the political center) yet allow those values to remain subordinate to the pursuit of facts and truth.

We see this phenomenon in the arts as well. I’m not just talking about descending upon Capitol Hill to root, root, root for more NEA funding, or circulating online petitions decrying cuts in arts education. To my mind, any time we attempt to universalize the “uniquely human” experience of the arts or its capacity to “heal the soul” – any time we imply that people are living a spiritually impoverished existence because they don’t regularly get to the gallery or the symphony – any time, in short, that we assume that people we don’t know are just like us – we are committing the sin of mood affiliation. And if you think you’re too smart to fall into that trap, the study quoted above suggests that you’re wrong – because the smartest people are the ones least likely to see the trap coming.

Why is that? If I may be permitted a bit of speculation here, I’d say it’s because smart people can rationalize anything, and I would guess are more likely than others to trust our own instincts and reasoning. If we can always rationalize new information to fit a predefined narrative about who’s right and who’s wrong, well then, we never have to be wrong. And it sure does feel nice to be right all the time.

That’s why, officially, Createquity takes no position on the value of the arts. I wouldn’t have created this site and be doing what I do if the arts hadn’t had a profound impact on my own life. But I can’t rely only on the experiences of the other people at the ballpark with me to know what it’s like for folks who root for the other team – or who don’t follow sports at all. Posts like our Arts Policy Library analyses and our Uncomfortable Thoughts pieces are intended to provide a perspective on the arts that is independent of a rooting interest, other than an interest in reality. That’s a high standard to hold to, but I hope you’ll hold me and the site to it.

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The Art School as Artwork

"The University of Trash: at the Sculpture Center Photo by Graham Coreil-Allen

“The University of Trash: at the Sculpture Center
Photo by Graham Coreil-Allen

Artist-founded and administered schools have existed for over a century. In 1875, a group of artists pinned a notice to the bulletin board of the National Academy of Design inviting students and instructors to attend a meeting, effectively founding The Art Students League in New York City. In 1919, the German architect Walter Gropius started Bauhaus, an institution that merged fine arts and applied arts in pursuit of the “gesamtkunstwerk” (total work of art). His manifesto declared:

Let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future that   will unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting, and which will one day rise heavenwards from the million hands of craftsmen as a clear symbol of a new belief to come.

And in 1933, the scholar John A. Rice began the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It was owned and operated by its faculty, which included artists, musicians and poets such as Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Charles Olsen. The school believed in an interdisciplinary approach to education and combined communal living and farm work with classwork.

Over the past five years or so, there’s been a resurgence of artist-operated schools.  However, what differentiates these new exploratory educational practices from their historical predecessors is that the schools themselves are also the art, framed as participatory, collaborative community projects. Rather than using physical materials to construct a work that may comment on a social condition, the artists use language, thought and action to construct social spaces. Their art schools destabilize one’s notion of a school by placing it in a museum, a house, a park or a gallery while asking participants to work collaboratively, creating a shared sense of space. There’s precedent for this: Joseph Beuys first coined the term “social sculpture” in the 1960’s to describe interdisciplinary and participatory action-based work. Let’s take a look at some of these art schools as artworks:

 

The Bruce High Quality Foundation's "Teach 4 Amerika" school bus Photo Credit: Matt Kowal

The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s “Teach 4 Amerika” school bus
Photo Credit: Matt Kowal

The Bruce High Quality Foundation University

Founders: The Bruce High Quality Foundation, a mostly anonymous New York City-based arts collective. Most of the Bruces met while studying at Cooper Union.

Sample Course Offerings: “BYOU (Build Your Own University),” “Drawing Extensions,” “The Language of Love: Intro to Italian” and “XXXTreme Performance Studies”

Cost: Free

The Gist: Embracing a collaborative learning model where “students are teachers are administrators are staff,” the BHQFU claims to be “a community of scholars” and “a ‘f*** you’ to the hegemony of critical solemnity and market-mediocre despair.”

 

Artists at Mildred's LanePhoto by Naya Peek

Artists at Mildred’s Lane
Photo by Naya Peek

Mildred’s Lane

Founders: Artists Mark Dion and J. Morgan Puett

Sample Course Offerings: “Attention Labs with The Order of the Third Bird” and “PondHouseSpringHousePond”

Cost: $3000 (includes room and board)

The Gist: “Life is a studio” in this northeastern Pennsylvania communal art space where participants live and “collaboratively work with internationally renowned artists” who direct each session. An iteration of the working-living-researching-making environment is included in the Museum of Modern Art Education Department’s MoMA Studio, and, through discussions, meals and other interactions, “invites visitors to explore inventive forms of domesticity, tactile qualities related to textiles and the natural states of food.”

 

PIckpocket Almanack at Artissima 17Photo by Joseph Del Pesco

PIckpocket Almanack at Artissima 17
Photo by Joseph Del Pesco

Pickpocket Almanack

Founder: Contemporary art curator Joseph del Pesco

Sample Course Offerings: “Celebrating Dilettantism,” “Revolutionary Experimental Cinema in the Bay Area” and “Do-It-Yourself, Together”

Cost: Free

The Gist: “An experimental school-without-walls,” commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2009-10, curriculum used existing lectures, screenings, workshops and other public events in the Bay Area as its starting point, and then took them “out of context” for a new “thematic frame” and “unexpected discoveries.” Discussions happened online.

 

Anton Vidokle's "Exhibition as School" including "Night School" archivesPhoto by Knoxville Museum of Art

Anton Vidokle’s “Exhibition as School” including “Night School” archives
Photo by Knoxville Museum of Art

Night School

Founder: Artist and e-flux founder Anton Vidokle

Sample Course Offerings: seminars led by Boris Groys, Martha Rosler and Liam Gillick

Cost: Free

The Gist: Part of Vidokle’s series of temporary school projects, this iteration was hosted by New Museum in 2008. The program included a lecture series open to the public as well as additional workshops and discussions for a core group of 26 accepted applicants.

 

Portrait Drawing Round Robin at the University of TrashPhoto by Peter Walsh Projects

Portrait Drawing Round Robin at the University of Trash
Photo by Peter Walsh Projects

The “Skool of Refuse and Appropriation” at The University of Trash

Founders: Michael Cataldi and Nils Norman

Sample Course Offerings: “How to Stay Free,” “Supersede Yourself” and “Freeing the Airwaves from Corporate Control”

Cost: Free

The Gist: free and open to the public during summer 2009, the temporary, makeshift university as exhibition hosted lectures, workshops and screenings. Resources included stages, a low power FM radio station, internet, hammocks and a grill, and participants were invited to “teach a class, hold band practice, contribute to zine library or propose any project!”

 

School of the Future

Founders: Artists Cassie Thorton and Chris Kennedy

Sample Course Offerings: “Mutant Student Groups Think Tank,” “Compost Brigade,” “Philosophy Yoga,” and “Gender, Identity and Making Mustaches”

Cost: Free

The Gist: The “un-school” was first an “outdoor intergenerational free school” run by artists, activists and teachers in industrial north Brooklyn.  It has since become “an archive of lessons learned and a network of radical educators who question our current forms of education.”

 

A Trade School class in LondonPhoto by Canning Town Cara

A Trade School class in London
Photo by Canning Town Cara

Trade School

Founders: OurGoods co-founders Louise Ma, Rich Watts and Caroline Woolard

Sample Course Offerings: “Pilates in a Chair,” “Caviar: Demystified,” “Portrait Photography “ and “Baudrillard Camp: Media Theory vs Literary Criticism”

Cost: Participants pay for classes by bartering goods and services

The Gist: “Trade School celebrates practical wisdom, mutual respect and the social nature of exchange” and has been endorsed by socially-engaged-art heavyweight Pablo Helguera. They recently participated in Parsons’ Art, Environment, Action!“creative teaching laboratory and environmental ‘artshop.’”

 

Mike Perry's "Wondering Around Wandering" Photo by Meredith Jenks, courtesy of the artist's website

Mike Perry’s “Wondering Around Wandering”
Photo by Meredith Jenks, courtesy of the artist’s website

Wondering Around Wandering

Founder: Graphic designer and artist Mike Perry

Sample Course Offerings: “IMAG(in)ING the CITY,” “Never Nude!” and “Mega Zine”

Cost: Free

The Gist: Graphic Designer Mike Perry created a free three-month “exhibition and community event space” to coincide with the launch of his monograph. Perry and other designers conducted workshops, screenings, gatherings and open discussions where visitors could “explore freely and create their own unique experiences.”

*

Some of these education-as-art projects, most notably the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, have been posited or lauded as progressive and practical alternatives to the increasingly expensive Master of Fine Arts (MFA) education from accredited art colleges and universities. The Bruces explain:

Something’s got to give. The $200,000-debt-model of art education is simply untenable. Further, the education artists are getting for their money is mired in irrelevance, pushing them into critical redundancy on the one hand and professional mediocrity on the other.

Could programs such as these eventually replace our current institution-centric paradigm? I find the premise somewhat disingenuous and unrealistic. Many of the participants of the alternative art schools are either current MFA candidates, or have already received an MFA. And many of the lecturers or faculty are also faculty at universities—they’ve hardly rejected the academy. What’s more, the rigor of the course offerings for the art-school-projects wildly fluctuates, from seminars on Marxism to analyzing the dim sum offerings in Chinatown. Although the latter is interesting and arguably, the ability to differentiate between dumplings is a far more practical skill than being able to pontificate on the finer points of Foucault, it’s also not something one could receive credit for in graduate school. Finally, regardless of the intellectual and instructional level of materials, in all of these programs, there’s no consequence for failing to complete the homework or not engaging in a discussion. No degree is withheld, because there are no degrees.

And of course, this is the point. These art schools offer a re-imagining of our arts educational system. Yet, so many of the artists involved in these projects have formal arts degrees and continue to have positive relationships with traditional academic institutions—as faculty, guest lecturers and even students, that it’s difficult for me to trust that they genuinely believe in their institutions as replacements for the current model. Their true purpose is not as higher-ed replacement, but as an exploration of art’s value in a learning environment.

In this sense, these art schools as art projects are the purest form of education— the reward for one’s efforts is not a certificate, but instead, learning. In fact, that’s why these new alternative art schools are most intriguing. Unlike their historical predecessors, they aren’t meant to replace the art college/university model. In part, that’s why these new art schools are also artworks. They are social sculptures where pedagogy is a means to another end—participatory, socially engaged, community based art projects, education as exhibition.

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Around the horn: moment of silence edition

Going to be off the grid for the next little bit. Comments will be a little slow in getting posted. Back after next week!

ART AND THE GOVERNMENT

  • Who should be the next chair of the NEA? Barry Hessenius and Ray Mark Rinaldi trot out some possibilities.
  • Penn Hill Group, which is working with Grantmakers in the Arts on federal arts education policy, has published a report that “provides an initial analysis of the people, process, politics, and policies that are crucial to the consideration of federal education and job training policies in the next Congress and Administration.”
  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who’s had an uneasy relationship with the city’s arts community, has been kicked out of office by a judge for a minor corruption charge. The judge’s decision is pending appeal.

MUSICAL CHAIRS

IN THE FIELD

  • Take that, Roger Ebert: video games are art! New York’s Museum of Modern Art announced recently that it is buying up 14 classic games for inclusion in its permanent collection, including Tetris, Pac-Man, and Myst. If it’s good enough for MoMA, it’s good enough for me. Too bad advances in technology are disrupting video game store economics.
  • Probably the most thorough English-language overview of the music scene in China that you’re going to find.
  • I’m scratching my head a bit wondering how a midlevel employee who didn’t work in the finance department of the Woodruff Arts Center was able to embezzle $1.5 million out of the organization over a five-year period without anyone noticing before now. That’s a lot of per diems to lose track of.
  • Who earns nearly $1 million a year for an arts organization and is still a relative bargain? Hint: he’s Venezuelan and directs a major orchestra. Culture Monster’s Mike Boehm runs the numbers.

BIG IDEAS

RESEARCH CORNER

  • Slightly old news, but here goes: The NEA is partnering with the Bureau of Economic Analysis to measure the contribution of the arts to the national GDP. The arts were already counted as part of GDP, but we didn’t have a good way of isolating their contribution – the relevant figures were only counted once every five years, and categories were unhelpfully broad (combining performing arts with sports and recreation, for example). The main short term significance of this, as I understand it, is that it will be a boon to researchers doing economic impact analyses of the arts and creative industries. Congrats to the NEA research team on making this happen – I know they’ve been working for a while on it. Meanwhile, more recently, the NEA updated its very helpful “How the United States Funds the Arts” publication for 2012.
  • Does Generation Y have unrealistic expectations about how much money they’ll be inheriting from their parents?
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Cool job of the month – no, seriously people

I’m biased, but I think this is the coolest job we’ve posted in quite some time – possibly ever! Fractured Atlas is hiring a full-time Program Specialist to work on one of our data + technology projects, Archipelago, out of our brand-new Washington, DC office. Your boss will be yours truly – and I can’t wait to meet you! Read on and check out the link for more details.

Program Specialist, Archipelago, Fractured Atlas

Fractured Atlas is seeking a full-time Program Specialist for a newly-created position.  The Specialist will manage components of Archipelago, Fractured Atlas’s cultural asset mapping tool, along with the organization’s participation in the Initiative for Sustainable Arts in America.  This position reports to the Research Director.

This is an exciting opportunity to join a cutting-edge nonprofit organization working at the intersection of culture, technology, design, and data. The successful candidate will be a creative “doer” who takes pride in delivering to the highest standards of performance time and time again.

Deadline: January 2, 2013.

 

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Applications Now Open for the Spring 2013 Createquity Writing Fellowship

Are you smart? A good writer? Interested in how the arts fit in to the bigger picture? Why not join this blog? The Createquity Writing Fellowship was designed to continually bring new voices into national and international conversations about the future of the arts. So far we’ve introduced eight bright, (mostly) young writers to the world, and we’re just getting started. You could be the next to join them, all while receiving mentorship, research assistance, and guidance on your writing from yours truly. Think of it as your very own virtual graduate practicum in arts policy. Details and application instructions, as always, are available at the Createquity Writing Fellowship page, and applications are due January 8. Please spread the word far and wide, and I look forward to reading your submissions!

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Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts – Take Two

(The following post is part of a weeklong salon at ARTSBlog on the subject of “Does Size Matter?” The entire salon is worth checking out, and former Createquity Writing Fellow Katherine Gressel has an entry as well.)

How does scale influence impact in the arts? In 2007, back when I was a fresh-faced grad student, I actually addressed this question head on in the eighth post ever published on Createquity. I argued pretty strongly that scale in the arts was a myth, or at least not salient to the same extent as in other fields:

It’s not that I don’t think large arts organizations do good work, or that they don’t deserve to be supported. What I’m going to argue instead is that there is a tendency among many institutional givers to direct their resources toward organizations that have well-developed support infrastructure, long histories, and vast budgets, and in a lot of ways it’s a tendency that doesn’t make much sense (or at the very least, could use some balance).

For one thing, those well-developed support infrastructures don’t come cheap. Consider the case of Carnegie Hall… [snip]

In contrast, small arts organizations are extraordinarily frugal with their resources, precisely because they have no resources to speak of. It’s frankly amazing to me what largely unheralded art galleries, musical ensembles, theater companies, dance troupes, and performance art collectives are able accomplish with essentially nothing but passion on their side. A $5,000 contribution that would barely get you into the sixth-highest donor category at Carnegie might radically transform the livelihood of an organization like this. Suddenly, they might be able to buy some time in the recording studio, or hire an accompanist for rehearsals, or redo that floor in the lobby, or even (gasp) PAY their artists! All of which previously had seemed inconceivable because of the poverty that these organizations grapple with.

The literature on scaling impact in the social sector tends to take for granted that scale is a good thing—that services are provided more effectively when centralized under a strong leader and when efficiencies can be exploited across functions and sites. This logic makes sense when the goal is to solve a systemic problem that is evident in many different  contexts, such as physical places. If you’ve come up with a solution that works in Chicago, why wouldn’t you want to bring it to New York and DC? Arts service organizations, in fact, can likely benefit from economies of scale. Fractured Atlas has certainly been able to accomplish a lot more because its focus is national and cross-disciplinary than would have been the case otherwise, and scale has no doubt been a motivating factor behind Americans for the Arts’s many mergers.

But when you get to talking about arts producers and presenters, which I think is what most people mean when they say “the arts,” the conversation about scale becomes very different. What problem, exactly, is being solved here? It seems like the whole point of the nonprofit arts is to add to the aesthetic diversity that would otherwise exist in the marketplace for creative expression. If the point is diversity, how is that goal served by attempting to scale up institutions? The very commercial marketplace to which the nonprofit arts strive to provide an alternative loves scale – it thrives on it, because scale begets market power, which begets revenue, which begets profit. (Profits worth talking about, anyway.)

Leaving our cultural lives in the hands of commercial entities, many theorists have worried, will result in a boring sameness, an attempt to feed the world’s aesthetic appetite with the equivalent of TV dinners every day.* Our sector takes it on faith that there are forms of artistic expression that have clear cultural value and relevance even if replicating them widely is not practical. I suppose if you believe that these forms are specific and identifiable in nature (e.g., classical music, plays by Henrik Ibsen), then scaling them to help them compete with commercial cultural products would make sense. But if you believe, as I do, that their value comes in large part from the diversity they add to our collective palate, it’s much better to spread the subsidy around.

On a purely theoretical level, my view hasn’t changed that much in the five years since I wrote that thought piece. However, having become more closely involved with several grantmakers (including serving on a couple of grant panels) since then, I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for what large organizations can accomplish with scale. The scale that institutions traffic in does not have to do with the creation or presentation of work, but rather the audiences reached by that work. There are arts consumers – plenty of them, in fact – who simply will never frequent a show or exhibition by a smaller, experimental group or venue unless they personally know someone in it. But give that experimental group an institution’s stamp of approval, and those audience members are all over it. That’s got to count for something, and speaks volumes of the curatorial role that large institutions have in the broader ecosystem.

That said, one thing I still don’t see much of on the part of arts funders is a willingness to consider the transformative potential (or lack thereof) of grants. Some years ago, the Hewlett Foundation developed a simple yet very clever rubric for grant selection called Expected Return. One of the ways in which Expected Return is clever is that it accounts for the proportion of a project’s success in an ideal world that can be attributed to the grant you made. The less of the budget you’re responsible for, the less of a difference you’re really making. As I wrote then and still believe now, “Foundations concerned with ‘impact’ should remember that it’s far easier to have a measurable effect on an organization’s effectiveness when the amount of money provided is not dwarfed by the organization’s budget.”

 

*Defenders of pop culture will no doubt cite the many creative achievements of the entertainment industry as evidence against this point – and they are certainly right to celebrate The Wire, Radiohead, and The Lord of the Rings. But for every groundbreaking artist who succeeds in the market economy, there are dozens more who don’t, and plenty of mediocre talents gumming up our headphones and screens instead.

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Unpacking Shared Delivery of Arts Education

Venn diagrams. Photograph by Demetri Mouratis

When some brave soul writes an updated history of arts education in the United States (any takers?) I think he or she will describe the early-to-mid-2000s as an ambitious era. The arts education sector, mirroring the broader arts field and the constantly reforming field of education, is having larger and broader conversations about impact, outcomes and sustainability. In the process it’s moving toward large and broader models of best practice such as the idea of  “shared delivery”  (also known as “blended delivery” and the “three-legged stool model”). Shared delivery has been in vogue for the last few years. It was a central topic of conversation at the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference in 2008. Americans for the Arts identifies shared delivery as a key component to a broader approach called “coordinated delivery” – which, in turn, was identified as a major arts education trend in 2010. My own initiative, Arts for All, upholds shared delivery as integral to the vision of ensuring high quality arts education for all students in Los Angeles County.

In the K-12 public school setting, shared delivery envisions students receiving arts instruction from three distinct parties: 1) generalist elementary school teachers, 2) arts specialists, and 3) teaching artists and/or community arts organizations. Under this model, the three collaborate to provide visual and performing arts programs to children. The generalist teacher integrates the arts throughout daily lessons across subject areas, the specialist hones in on skills and content specific to his or her art form, and the teaching artist supports one or both while engaging directly with students and providing the perspective of a working arts professional. The model posits that each of these three roles is of equal importance. While there are different attempts to represent this idea graphically (try here, here and here (page 17)), all fall back on a basic visual of three concentric circles:

Shared delivery does not reflect what I or, based on anecdotal evidence, the majority of people within my age bracket received in terms of arts education. My fifth grade generalist teacher was a woman named Mrs. Gonzalez. I saw her every day, and she taught me math, reading, science, history and so forth. My school had a visual arts specialist, Ms. Peters, whom I saw once a week. Art never really came up during my math/reading/science/history lessons, and math/reading/science/history never really came up during my art lessons, so if Mrs. Gonzalez and Ms. Peters worked together behind the scenes, their collaboration wasn’t readily apparent to me. The only visiting teaching artists I recall encountering in elementary school were members of a theater company who performed an abridged version of Macbeth during a school-wide assembly in our cafeteria. Afterwards they sat on plastic chairs and answered questions. They stayed for about an hour, and we never saw them again.

Were I the beneficiary of a true shared delivery model of arts education, those actors would have come into my classroom and taught me theater for a number of weeks or months alongside Mrs. Gonzalez, who would in turn be learning theater techniques to use in other subject areas, all the while also working with Ms. Peters to draw connections to visual art. I may have had a teaching artist work with me and my teacher in third or fourth grade so that I understood the elements of visual art by the time I got to Ms. Peters in fifth grade. I would have had a lot more art in my life, period.

Shared delivery is ambitious and, on a broad scale, largely theoretical. As with much in arts education, the roots of the model stretch back to budget cuts in public schools beginning in the 1970s, when broad anti-tax sentiment gripped the country. In California, this sentiment manifested in a state-wide ballot measure capping property tax rates, at a time when California’s school districts received the bulk of their funding from local property taxes. When the measure passed, schools braced for a huge – according to this 1978 estimate, more than 33%– drop in revenue. Similar cuts impacted state and local education budgets across the country; according to the Center for Arts Education, New York City had a robust curriculum in all four art forms before the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis pushed it to the brink of bankruptcy. How many visual and performing arts teachers were laid off as a result across the country is difficult to determine, but it appears that schools took a pretty big hit from which they never fully recovered. In 2007, per SRI’s analysis of arts education across California, 61% of the state’s schools did not have even one full-time equivalent arts specialist on staff.

Concurrent with these cuts, the field of teaching artistry was formalizing. As described in NORC at the University of Chicago’s 2011 report, “Teaching Artists and the Future of Education,”

Artists slowly began entering schools in the 1950s. Their roles were initially limited to introducing students to the excitement of live performance… That began changing in the mid-1960s… Artists in the Schools became one of the first programs of the new National Endowment for the Arts. By the mid-1970s, Young Audiences, Urban Gateways, Lincoln Center Institute of Arts Education, and other organizations in major cities were sending artists to schools to teach workshops and residencies.

These teaching artists brought with them what NORC calls a “new kinds of arts pedagogy” that “modified the more hierarchical pedagogy of the conservatories, rooted in European classical tradition, to find an approach based on the principles that the arts are for everyone.” As “quasi-outsiders” in the public school system, teaching artists could experiment with new ways of teaching the visual and performing arts, many of which went on to become best practices. Given the loss of arts specialists, teaching artistry also allowed many students who otherwise may never had access to a certain art form to learn directly from a professional. Schools, in turn, clearly saw the benefit.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009-10 42% of elementary schools across the country reported partnerships or collaborations with cultural or community organizations, 31% with individual artists, 29% with museums or galleries, and 26% with performing arts centers.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the standards-and-accountability movement took full force across the United States, with states defining or redefining what students should know and be able to do in each grade level and in each content area, including the arts. National visual and performing arts standards were developed in 1994 (with a revision due out later this year), and every state except for Iowa and Nebraska has adopted its own standards for the arts at the elementary or secondary level, or both. The quality of the state standards varies, but for the most part, they represent newly codified aspirations regarding what public school students should know in all art forms.

Alongside those aspirations came a realization that meeting the standards required changing how teaching artists and classroom teachers (both generalists and specialists) interact. A simple “service provider” arrangement, in which schools select and arts organizations deliver from a list of pre-designed programs, left classroom teachers and teaching artists operating in silos, with the teacher essentially “handing off” responsibility for arts instruction to a short-term visitor. As noted in the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s Partners in Excellence handbook, this approach “does not take full advantage of the expertise of both the artists and the educators to create in-depth, pedagogically sound arts experiences for children and professional enrichment for teachers.” The field’s definition of best practice shifted accordingly to include much higher levels of collaboration between teaching artists and classroom teachers. The teaching artist or arts organization’s goal is not to deliver a certain number of lessons to students, but to make sure something is left behind when the artist walks out of the classroom – be it lasting effects on students, a long-term increase in teachers’ skills, a changed school culture, or all of the above. Teachers, therefore, learn alongside students so that they can, in theory, carry on the arts instruction when the teaching artist is not there.

Hence, the shared delivery model engages not only students but also teachers, and posits that a number of individuals, and a lot of planning time, are needed to ensure that students learn what we want them to learn in dance, music, visual art and theater during the school day. The need for collaboration and planning is not unique to the arts in schools – numerous education initiatives (and even President Obama’s education platform) recognize that classroom teachers don’t have enough opportunities to work and reflect with their peers across subject areas. Shared delivery of arts education does, however, envision a lot of different visual and performing arts cooks in the proverbial education kitchen. Those cooks need to be paid and that kitchen needs supplies. Done well, shared delivery may have a fantastic return on investment, but collaboration takes time, and time takes money. As noted by SRI,

While integrating arts instruction into other subject areas may be pedagogically powerful and may maximize students’ instructional day, the collaboration necessary to make it successful appears to require a substantial amount of teacher time… This time came either from teacher contract time dedicated for planning or professional development or through schools paying to have two adults in the classroom – or both.

Shared delivery isn’t cheap, which begs the question of whether it’s realistic. Many schools, not to mention arts organizations, are gearing up for their fourth consecutive year of budget cuts. We can’t argue that having three parties work together to provide arts education during the school day is more economically efficient than just having one or two – it’s not – and we are particularly vulnerable if we assume the need for multiple parties is unique to the arts. Granted, “shared delivery of math instruction” sounds pretty weird: imagine if Ms. Gonzales, while teaching my class about variables and basic algebra, had been collaborating with a math specialist whom we also saw once a week, and we’d had periodic visits from a friendly community partner from, say, a local investment or research firm, and that partner led us through hands-on projects that allowed us to see how using letters to stand in for numbers applies to real-life, day-to-day careers and decisions – hold up, that sounds amazing.

The real costs/benefits of this approach have yet to be known, but in my mind, the promise of the shared delivery model is not that it allows us to “restore” arts education in a cheaper or easier way. True shared delivery is such a far cry from what most of us received growing up that its relevance to a (possibly mythical) “golden age” for arts education within classrooms is dubious. Instead, it aspires for an entirely new vision of how all students receive arts instruction – and perhaps, by extension, how education works in general. The promise of the model is that it acknowledges deep and meaningful learning, whether in nuclear physics or dance, happens when different experiences, concepts and skills overlap. You can’t expect to learn everything from a single source any more than you can consider yourself an expert on a topic by hunkering down alone and reading a textbook. Colleagues in other subject areas are aware of this; several math and science grant programs run through the Department of Education and National Science Foundation feature an emphasis on partnerships similar to what I described above, with the latter going so far as to aim to “promote institutional and organizational change in education systems — from kindergarten through graduate school.”

We may not be entirely alone, then, in the scale of what we hope to achieve. We even may be ahead of the curve in recognizing how deeply those concentric circles need to overlap in order to be effective, and in developing best practices for how that overlap happens. In order to take the model further, we need to pay more attention to the all-too-neglected shared spaces between the arts specialist and community arts provider, and between the arts specialist and generalist. We also need to be meticulous in documenting and discussing how the circles come together and stay together over time, and assertive in sharing what we are learning with colleagues from other subject areas. As complex as it is, the very notion of shared delivery reflects how far we have come as a field: from trying to “catch up” to other subjects in schools, to pioneering collaborations between teachers, schools and communities that those other subjects may very well learn from.  With luck, future students will thank us for our ambition.

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