Miami Beach, DC

After a brief respite this summer, I’m back on the speaking/conference circuit and looking forward to seeing some new places and new folks! In a couple of weeks, I’ll be livin’ the dream and presenting at the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference about our work with ArtsWave in Cincinnati.

October 14-17
Grantmakers in the Arts Conference
Eden Roc Hotel
4525 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL
Info and registration; GIA is open to grantmakers and “national partners” only.
(I’ll be presenting at the session entitled “Collective Impact and the Arts: A Dispatch from Cincinnati” on October 16 from 9:30-11am, along with ArtsWave’s Mary McCullough-Hudson and FSG’s Victor Kuo. In addition, Fractured Atlas’s Adam Huttler will be a part of the “Technology, Data, and Metrics: Emerging Tools and Practices in Asset Management” session on October 17 from 9:30-11am.)

And on Monday, October 1 (aka today!), I’ll be reprising my “Well-Informed Arts Professional” workshop as a guest lecturer in Andrew Taylor’s “Survey of Arts Management” class at American University. Will post the slides after I’m done.

UPDATE: And here they are!

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Cool jobs of the month

Lead, Local Arts Advancement, Americans for the Arts

The leader of the Local Arts Advancement area is a strong leader who designs and executes programs that provide support and resources to those working throughout the country to advance the arts in their communities. To do so, the position designs, implements and oversees a series of programs and services to increase the knowledge, visibility, and engagement of professionals in the field of arts and culture.  The leader is a knowledge expert on the full diversity of Local Arts Agencies and the organizations and individuals engaged in local arts development—their budget trends, programs, innovations, and their diversity of structures and organizational and leadership needs.  S/he leads a team that implements innovative professional and leadership development programming, convenings, on-line resources, peer networking opportunities, strategic partnerships and other essential tools and services.

Deadline: October 8.

Kickstarter Analyst, Kickstarter

When you’re browsing Kickstarter, do you wonder what makes a project succeed? Question how one project affects the others? Feel a need to analyze the effects of social networks on projects? If those or other data-related questions run through your mind, and you’re ready to answer them, come lead those efforts as our Kickstarter Analyst.

No deadline. Thanks to Sarah Collins for the tip!

Research and Evaluation Officer, Wallace Foundation

The Research and Evaluation Officer has an integral role in fulfilling The Wallace Foundation’s commitment to using an evidence-based approach in our initiative strategies, designing and managing major research projects, and broadly sharing knowledge. The officer contributes to identifying high leverage knowledge gaps; manages important research projects to fill knowledge gaps and help shape policy in the Foundation’s fields of interest; and contributes to the development of strategy for initiatives. The officer reports to the Director of Research and Evaluation.

No deadline.

Policy Associate, Community Solutions

The Brownsville Partnership is a comprehensive community development initiative in Brownsville, Brooklyn sponsored by Community Solutions that involves government and not for profit organizations and local residents. Through this collective approach we are building a safer, healthier, and more prosperous community. Our approach combines innovations in physical and social development and a strong reliance on data to guide investments and measure progress in a neighborhood of concentrated poverty.

The Policy Associate, under the supervision of the Director of Research and Evaluation, will analyze the impact of internal CS programs in Brownsville and community-wide efforts to increase the safety, health and prosperity of Brownsville residents. The Policy Associate will also provide research and analytic support for the combined group of stakeholders working together in the Partnership and will assist in gathering and visualizing data consistently from partner organizations and other local and public sources.

No deadline.

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Around the horn: Tampa/Charlotte/Chris Stevens/47% edition

It’s been a while!


  • Bob Lynch reports out on the recent activities of the US Travel & Tourism Advisory Board.
  • Americans for the Arts was out in force at the Republican national convention, organizing a panel with a Mesa mayor who skipped his own election to be there (he was running unopposed), former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and, uh, “jazz musician” Bernie Williams.
  • Future of Music Coalition legal intern Joseph Silver looks into how the first sale doctrine, which affords consumers the right to lend or resell copyrighted works they lawfully purchase, is adapting to the digital age.
  • Shannon Litzenberger reflects on her two years as the first ever Metcalf Arts Policy Fellow and describes five models for fundraising and “friendraising” for the arts from the US, Canada, and Australia.
  • The Economist hosted a weeklong debate on the topic of “Should government fund the arts?” Such debates pop up at least once a year (I participated in one in May), but this one is notable for its distinctively English flavor and also for a guest appearance by Adam Huttler on day 4.
  • Jo Mangan has a substantive report from the first-ever International Culture Summit in Edinburgh.
  • Did you know that the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland is a comedian? As in, a real comedian, not a career politician who does some stand-up on the side?


  • RIP Louise Nippert, heiress (by marriage) of Proctor & Gamble fortune who gave many millions of dollars to the arts in the Cincinnati region over her lifetime.
  • Congratulations to Jennifer Ford Reedy, the new president of the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation (no relation to the two US Presidents). Reedy had been chief of staff and vice president of strategy for Minnesota Philanthropy Partners.
  • …and to Carolyn Ramo, new executive director of Artadia: The Fund for Art and Dialogue.
  • Sadly, arts philanthropy has lost a rising young star in Deepa Gupta, who jumps from program officer for the MacArthur Foundation to director of education initiatives and strategy for the Boeing Company in Chicago. Great news for Deepa, though, and perhaps there will be opportunities for her to be a voice for the arts in her new role.


  • Boston’s public television station WGBH has acquired Public Radio International, which produces Ira Glass’s “This American Life” among other programs.
  • It’s apparently contract renegotiation season, and the orchestra world is absolutely filled with stories of hardball negotiations between musicians and management. Witness: the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, previously lionized in these pixels for its innovative marketing, slapped musicians with a proposal for 57%-67% cuts (subsequently moderated); the Indianapolis Symphony proposes to cut wages by 45%; the Minnesota Orchestra might be headed for a lockout after offering musicians a 34% cut; San Antonio is on the brink; Philadelphia may be out of bankruptcy, but is not out of the woods. Meanwhile, perhaps inspired by their teacher compatriots, the Chicago Symphony musicians went on strike for three days even though they were offered an increase in base pay in their new contract, because it came with a corresponding increase in health care costs. The CSO players are among the best-compensated in the country. And even museum workers are getting into the act, with employees of San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum and Legion of Honor trotting out the ol’ inflatable rat in front of the grounds. Diane Ragsdale wants to know why can’t we all just get along? Well, I like this approach: the Atlanta Symphony musicians said sure, we’ll take a pay cut, as long as you administrators take one too. And here’s a novel idea: the Milwaukee Symphony just hired its principal trumpeter – and union representative – as its new chief executive.
  • For-profit NYC rock venue takes to crowdfunding site, builds audience, avoids bankruptcy. Indie bookstore in Palo Alto converts to hybrid corporate form, raises nearly $1 million. (part 1part 2part 3) Are artists and nonprofits about to get a whole lot of fundraising competition from well-loved businesses that can no longer pay the bills?



  • Here’s some more reaction to the new research report on cultural facilities, “Set in Stone,” from Joe Patti (and again) and Janet Brown.
  • Keith Sawyer has another (very lucid) take on last week’s NEA “How Art Works” convening and the accompanying system map.


  • Starting next year in Kansas City, Google will offer super high speed internet for about what you’re paying Time Warner or Comcast – and basic internet for free.
  • I’m sometimes characterized as a “numbers guy” in the arts, but the reality is that I rarely find myself performing mathematical operations more complex than arithmetic. That being the case, I can get on board with this:

    ”Why do 50 percent (probably closer to 70%) of engineering and science practitioners seldom, if ever, use mathematics above the elementary algebra/trigonometry level in their practice?” If algebra is the limit for most engineering and science professionals, why does a typical citizen need algebra? As Hacker says, much more useful than algebra is quantitative literacy: being able to estimate, judge the reasonableness of numbers, and thereby detect bullshit. Our world offers plenty of practice.

    …and here’s more from Dr. Mahan, on long division:

    I’ll illustrate with an actual example of division. For my environmental-protection lawsuit, now in the Massachusetts Supreme Court, I needed to divide 142,500 by 4655. Here is the long-division calculation, my first use of the method in 30 years: [snip] The calculation took me a few minutes with paper and pencil, some of the time to reconstruct the algorithm details and to get the bookkeeping straight — even though I already knew the answer quite accurately. I knew the answer because I had already applied a more enjoyable method: skillful lying.

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Early fall public arts funding update


The big news last month was the campaign for and passage of a millage (property tax) in Detroit to support the beleaguered Detroit Institute of the Arts. Hyperallergic’s Jillian Steinhauer and ARTSBlog’s Kim Kober are celebrating the new legislation, which passed easily in Wayne and Oakland counties but only by a hair in suburban Macomb. The DIA took the campaign very seriously, spending an astonishing $2.5 million on raising awareness and getting out the vote, despite facing little organized opposition. It’s clearly a victory for hard-nosed arts advocacy, but I only wish that victory (and the resulting tax revenue) could have paid dividends for the entire arts community rather than a single institution, as it does in places like San FranciscoDenver and Cleveland. If other arts institutions follow suit, as Terry Teachout suggests, we could end up with an extremely unhelpful patchwork of government support for the arts whose lack of flexibility is written into the law. On the other hand, the voters in Detroit and environs have spoken, and it’s a meaningful testament to the DIA’s community relevance that this measure was able to pass. Indeed, attendance at the museum has jumped (at least temporarily) since the vote was taken. (Nina Simon, Diane Ragsdale, and Maria Vlachou have more.)

The first draft of the much-ballyhooed 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan has been unveiled. Conducted by Lord Cultural Resources for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the plan contains a mind-bogglingly ambitious raft of recommendations for the city’s next few decades, based on participation by about citizens in four town halls, about 20 “neighborhood cultural conversations,” meetings, interviews, and online. All in all, about 3,000 people have participated, according to the draft. This extensive process produced 36 recommendations and hundreds of potential initiatives, which, if collectively adopted, would add tens of millions of dollars to the city’s annual investment in the arts. The reaction so far has mostly focused on this level of ambition – as Chris Jones writes in the Chicago Tribune, “if half of the recommendations in the draft of the Chicago Cultural Plan — heck, even 5 percent of the recommendations — were implemented, Chicago would become an artistic nirvana without global peer.” It seems obvious that the initiatives are not intended to be implemented all together – but it seems like an effective plan would prioritize specific actions in a clear sequence, not just present a gigantic brain dump of options. There are other criticisms as well – most notably, the Chicago Reader points out that “nine of the ten priorities and 33 of the 36 recommendations are updates or restatements of items in the original Chicago Cultural Plan, commissioned in 1985.” The final version of the plan is due to be released this fall. There’s more reaction and commentary – not all of it negative – from Kelly Kleiman, Elysabeth Alfano, Tanveer Ali, and Philip Hartigan.

In other local news, the Fort Worth (TX) Arts Council has had its budget cut by 25% as a result of recent financial issues for the city.  By contrast, there’s not much going on at the state and federal level. But remember the Kansas Arts Foundation, the nonprofit that was supposed to replace the Kansas Arts Commission after the latter’s budget was zeroed out by Governor Sam Brownback? Well, it ended up raising $105,000, but surprise surprise, has not made any grants.


The real action these past few months has taken place outside of the United States, and unfortunately most of the news has been bad. Europe’s financial instability is not surprisingly having an effect on government support for culture in countries suffering from high debt, particularly Greece, Spain, and Italy. Greece’s spending has dropped 35% since 2009, and in Italy,

[T]he Uffizi Gallery in Florence is renting itself out for fashion shows, and Rome’s MAXXI Museum has been placed under state receivership. The building opened just two years ago and was feted internationally for its splashy design by architect Zaha Hadid, but after its €7-million ($8.7-million) subsidy shrank by 43 per cent, the museum could barely cover staff wages.

In Spain, the Fundación Caja Madrid has closed 48 cultural centers around the country, and analysts fear thousands of creative sector jobs are at stake. The arts are feeling the pinch in some of Europe’s richer countries as well. After suffering through a cut of 25% last year, the Netherlands culture budget is looking at potentially losing another up to another 16 million euros to meet EU debt targets, and even Finland of all places is tightening its belt (while increasing funding for sports clubs).

In the South Pacific, Australia is in the midst of a major upheaval to its arts funding system. Following a review by two “corporate advisors,” the Australia Council for the Arts is restructuring many of its programs and considering doing away with its discipline-based peer review system that mirrors in many respects that of the National Endowment for the Arts. And speaking of transition, the UK is changing culture ministers (who apparently won’t be missed) and chairmen of Arts Council England (the new guy’s claim to fame is bringing the TV show Big Brother to the Brits). Just two years after sustaining substantial cuts, Arts Council England is facing the prospect of having its administrative structure decimated, resulting in the loss of up to 150 staff members by next July. But hey, at least ACE is pioneering a new program to help encourage more paid internships in the arts!

Meanwhile, the past couple of months have featured more than their share of repression of artistic statements by conservative governments. The recent cause celebre of free speech advocates has been the all-female Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot, who were sentenced to two years in a forced labor camp for staging a 45-second guerrilla art performance at an Orthodox church. Coverage of the initial sentencing was extensive, but Jillian Steinhauer has been keeping a close eye on the aftermath of the decision. Meanwhile, officials in the island nation of the Maldives have banned mixed-gender dancing altogether and discouraged any singing and dancing at government-sponsored events, deeming such activities contrary to Islamic values. And the right-wing leadership of Hungary has actually gone the opposite route, co-opting the government-controlled Budapest New Theater so as to promote performances of an anti-Semitic play.

Finally, three very sad stories from Africa and the Middle East show how art can be grievously impacted by the absence of a functioning government. First, in Mali, a gang of Islamic fundamentalists has wreaked havoc on the historic treasures of Timbuktu. In Somalia, a comedian (yes, a comedian) was assassinated by members of an extremist group in retaliation for his biting satire of said group. And in war-torn Syria, many museums, monuments, and historical treasures are either at grave risk or are already lost, recalling the disaster that befell Iraq’s cultural heritage following the American invasion in 2003. These tragedies may seem far away, but referring to the upheaval in Timbuktu, Delali Ayivor puts it in starker terms: “Imagine a group of people who make no apologies for desecrating your history, who revel in the destruction of your identity. Envision then, the sense of helplessness, the horror as you watch them dismantle the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, The Alamo, Ground Zero, as they set fire to Yosemite, set off a blast that decimates the Grand Canyon.” Yikes.

Sorry to be depressing! I wish I could tell you that there was some good news for arts funding coming out of the international arts community during this period, but there seems to be precious little to celebrate. Just one of those accidents of history, I guess.

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Live-blogging the “How Art Works” convening

NEA Systems Map

[7:29] Oops! I ran out of juice (the electrical, not the metaphysical kind) just as things were wrapping up. Anyway, I thought Andrew Taylor did a great job of moderating that last panel and pointing out some of the more interesting features of the model as it’s been developed. At the end of the day, as he pointed out, this was developed to satisfy a federal OMB requirement for all departments to have logic models describing what they do. And since the NEA now has that, it’s mission accomplished in a sense. But I can’t help but feel that this was a missed opportunity to dig deeper than we’ve yet seen into the detailed dynamics of how arts work. Tony Siesfeld at one point put up a slide of an insanely complex drawing by a RISD student to illustrate what the model could have looked like had they tried to map everything, implying that this was something to be avoided. But honestly, I think we need that complexity – or at least, that’s where the true value of these efforts lies, since no one seems to be eager to take it on. I don’t have any gigantic issues with the model that was shown today other than that it seems, well, kind of obvious. It’s the other aspects of the presentation – particularly how the model fits into the NEA’s research agenda, and how the NEA has used it as a framework for gap analysis – that intrigue me more.

[5:08] Kushner: same mapping process will work for other countries, but values attached to different nodes may be different. (But that would require values to be attached to the nodes in the first place!)

[5:00] This panel is really elevating the conversation. Making a valiant attempt to connect the map to everything else.

[4:49] Roland Kushner: who are the audiences for this research? Are we the wrong people? Also struck by relative absence of dollars in the system. If these benefits are flowing one way, what’s flowing the other way? Also wishes that it said more about aesthetics.

[4:47] Andrew Taylor loves the fact that “Human Impulse” needs to “jump” over the system in order to get into it.

[4:45] Roland Kushner: what happens when we start to fill the holes? What do we do with it next?

[4:44] Lots of praise for the NEA’s research work on this panel, which consists of David Fraher, Roland J. Kushner, and and Kathy Dwyer Southern. They’re particularly responding to the fact that the agency is reaching out to other arms of government and trying to do work in context.

[4:36] some chatter about the “Education and training” bucket. Does it refer to education and training of artists or of the general public? Also, how does this translate between cultures?

[4:30] Questioner making the point that the map placing the arts in the center is perhaps too comfortable for artists. Anne L’Ecuyer says it’s “mapping the artistic ego.”

[4:10] Ximena Varela questioning subsuming of economic impact into the larger “benefit to society and communities” category in the main map.

[4:03] John Borstel making useful analogy of the map to anatomy – understanding how all the parts work together.

[3:37] Creating a taxonomy or “menu” of arts benefits also seems like a solved problem. Gifts of the Muse explored this territory seven years ago, and I see it is heavily cited in the report. I also like Alan Brown’s “Architecture of Value.”

[3:35] My thoughts: I’ll be interested to dig into the report further, but from this presentation I’m surprised that it doesn’t get into more detail. The result is, as the first questioner pointed out, a very highly abstracted framework that seems like an anticlimactic result for a year’s work.

[3:30] OK, break time. Next panel: Impacts on Individuals, moderated by Anne L’Ecuyer, with panelists John Borstel, Shahin Shikhaliyev, Ximena Varela.

[3:24] Regarding the virtual research network, sometimes NEA feels like they’re a step behind the field – they’re especially wanting to tap into international dialogue about arts research.

[3:20] Joan Jeffri, commenting from the audience, commends everybody on job well done, makes plea for continuing to involve graduate students.

[3:17] Sunil ending with a couplet for Joan Shigekawa via Frost: “We dance around in a ring and suppose. But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”

[3:16] Sunil: The “dark horse” of the report is the appendix listing resources and data sources, available online here.

[3:13] Cross-cutting projects to support capacity building include research grants, an online data repository, and a virtual research network.

[3:11] Sample NEA research projects for second-order outcomes of the arts (societal capacities to innovate and express ideas; outlets for creative expression; new forms of self-expression): The Arts, New Growth Theory, and Economic Development; Analysis of Arts Variables in the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey; Study of Design Patents and Product Innovation. Shortage of high quality research in this domain.

[3:09] Sample NEA research projects for direct and indirect economic benefits, benefit or art to society & communities, benefit of art to individuals: NEA-NIH-NAS Public Workshop and Paper Series on the Arts and Aging (completed); National Children’s Study Arts/Music Supplement; Arts and Livability Indicators; Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account

[3:07] Sample NEA research projects for arts participation: An Average Day in the Arts (completed); SPPA 2012 First Look, Summary Report, and Monograph Series; GSS Arts Supplement Report and Monograph(s)

[3:05] Sample NEA research projects for arts infrastructure and education and training (input variables): Artists and Arts Workers in the United States (completed); How the United States Funds the Arts (3rd edition); Understanding Arts Education Access by School and School District Characteristics

[3:04] NEA says that they’ve taken the map and painted upon it the NEA’s research projects over the next five years. “Arts participation” has five projects, “arts infrastructure” has four, “benefit of art to individuals” has 10.

[3:01] NEA has a five year strategic plan whose research goal is to promote knowledge and understanding about the contributions of the arts. Emphasizing “contribution” again. Also distinguishing between evidence of the arts’ value vs. impact. Value is primarily internal, impact refers to effects on arenas outside the arts.

[2:59] Over to Sunil Iyengar, Director of the NEA’s Office of Research and Analysis, who will talk about how this work fits in to the NEA’s research agenda.

[2:57] Audience member/choreographer expresses gratitude for having art at the center. Alludes to shift in funders’ perspective.

[2:55] AFL-CIO’s David Cohen delivers a provocative question: what happens if you take out the word “art” and replace it with “science”? Points out the very high level of abstraction. Siesfeld does say that they tried it with “sport.”

[2:53] Obligatory “more research is necessary” message delivered: Siesfeld calling the map “a beginning, not an end.”

[2:48] Key findings of the project, as reported by Siesfeld:

  1. System map reflects several key “truths” reaffirmed throughout this collaborative research project:
    • Nice to see that art is at the center.
    • The human impulse to create is a key driver/input.
    • Benefits are not always equally distributed and not always positive.
    • Art makes important contributions to quality of life. Not a cause per se, but can enhance or detract.
  2. System map provides “negative capability” – can imagine the system without having to resolve apparently contradictory aspects. E.g., is it high art or low art? In the map, it doesn’t matter. You could look at symphonies or mashed-up music, can test the same things.
  3. The system map does provide an integrative & holistic framework for organizing research and measurement for arts impact.

[2:46] Whoa, Siesfeld just spoke of gentrification and artist colonization in Oakland as a “net positive.”

[2:43] Discussing system “multipliers” – factors that hit the system and influence it: markets/subsidies, politics, technology, demographics/cultural traditions, and space & time.

[2:38] Siesfeld taking the position that this is a model of “contribution, not attribution.” There are many factors that can improve quality of life, art is one of them.

[2:38] Siesfeld notes that lots of attention is being paid right now to the economic benefits of the arts.

[2:37] Here’s a link to the report, which includes the map in question.

[2:33] OK, now we’re getting to content. Map has arts participation at the center, with arts creation as a subset of participation. It divides first-order benefits into society/communities (economic & civic) and individuals (cognitive & emotional).

[2:28] The process took nearly a year, and the map went through a number of revisions based on feedback from practitioners. Initial version was very simple, looking almost like a heart, but gradually got more complex as more elements were added.

[2:22] Siesfeld quoting Hewlett Foundation ex-president Paul Brest on theories of change. Initially they thought about doing a traditional theory of change, but quickly decided that what was being described was far too complex for TOCs’ left-to-right structure. So they wanted to incorporate non-linear elements, and thus went with systems mapping.

[2:18] Tony Siesfeld from Monitor Institute is now presenting the map (which, to be clear, is a conceptual map rather than a geographic map). The goals of the project are to “establish a measurement framework for assessing arts’ impact over time” and advance our understanding of relationship between the arts and key domains such as creativity, sustainable communities, health and wellness, economic prosperity. It’s also designed to flow into a research agenda by identifying which areas of the map have lots of research available, and which have less.

[2:15] The systems map so far has been variously referred to as “both too complex and too simple” and “productively inaccurate.” Reminds me of the maxim that “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” In any case, interesting to see the crew downplaying things a bit.

[2:03] Starting off with introductions from Sherburne Laughlin, Phyllis Peres, Peter Starr, and Rocco Landesman. Two simple questions: 1. What is art? 2. What exactly happens when art happens?

I’ve gotten away from event blogging for the most part, but I thought I would emerge from semi-retirement for this one since it’s the most public forum to date at which the National Endowment for the Arts has shared its plans for research. If you want to follow along, you can do so at the Twitter hashtag #HowArtWorks or watch the livestream here. Keep refreshing for updates, which will appear in reverse chronological order.


NEA to announce research agenda, systems map

I’m on my way to American University to take in this event:

 On September 20, 2012, the National Endowment for the Arts releases a new report, based on research commissioned from the Monitor Institute, entitled How Art Works. Built upon a wide-ranging literature review, and extensive interviews, workshops, webinars, and exchanges with arts leaders, community leaders, thought leaders, and policy makers around the country, the report suggests a framework and a “system map” to guide research, policy, and strategy for the agency. This public forum, hosted by the Arts Management program at American University, seeks to explore this new report, its implications for the NEA’s strategy and research, and its resonance or potential for the larger fields of arts, culture, heritage, and humanities.

The forum, which takes place from 2:00-5:30 PM Eastern time today, will be livecast on the web here. You can also follow along with the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #HowArtWorks.


“Discovering Fiscally Sponsored NYC Dancemakers”

Discovering Fiscally Sponsored NYC Dancemakers

That’s the title of a new study published this month by Dance/NYC and produced by yours truly, with (lots of) help from Fractured Atlas Research Fellow Carrie Blake and Dance/NYC Director Lane Harwell. The study examines data from over 250 dance-related projects fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, The Foundation for Independent Artists/Pentacle, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York Live Arts, and The Field. Building off of Dance/NYC’s previously released research, “Discovering Fiscally Sponsored NYC Dancemakers” also compares findings where possible to corresponding figures for nonprofit dance organizations,  as reported via the Cultural Data Project.

So what did we find? Not surprisingly, sponsored projects are for the most part quite small in scale. Aside from the Foundation for Independent Artists program, which is an unusual Model A full-service fiscal sponsorship that includes complete financial and payroll management, each fiscal sponsor’s projects averaged less than $16,000 in expenses for the most recently completed fiscal year. (Note that we had to work some statistical magic to get those figures from the available data, so they should be treated as estimates rather than hard counts. All relevant assumptions are included in the methodology section of the report.) It appears that in the New York dance world, at least, the grassroots level of the field is making heavy use of fiscal sponsorship.

According to figures self-reported by the sponsored projects, it also appears that the sponsored projects in the study group are more efficient than the corresponding nonprofits, by various measures. Compared to nonprofit dance organizations in all budget categories, sponsored projects spent the greatest share of their budgets on programs (83% vs. 72-83%), spent the least on fundraising for every dollar they raised (4 cents vs. 5-20 cents), and spent the least on marketing for every audience member they brought through the door ($0.28 vs. $0.53-$9.15). (The samples for these analyses varied according to which sponsors provided us with the relevant data; full details are in the report.) Furthermore, and perhaps most notably, the sponsored projects paid their artists proportionally more than nonprofits in the $25,000-$99,999 budget category: 48.6% to 32.2% of their budgets, respectively. Although the study was not designed to prove fiscal sponsorship’s value or lack thereof, it’s worth noting that these observations are consistent with one of the foundational theories behind fiscal sponsorship, which is that it saves small enterprises money and allows them to focus more of their energies on their programmatic work.

Artist Expenses graph

It should be noted that these findings come with some caveats. Most importantly, it’s difficult to know whether the differences noted above between the sponsored projects and the nonprofit organizations are more a function of corporate form or budget size. Due to the lack of representation of the smallest dance nonprofits in the Cultural Data Project, Dance/NYC had previously studied only nonprofits with budgets of $25,000 or more. By contrast, most of the fiscally sponsored projects under study had budgets falling under that amount. So we don’t know whether the sponsored projects seem more efficient because they don’t have to be nonprofits, or if there’s something about the under $25,000 budget range in particular that lends itself to greater efficiency – or both.

We are also dealing with incomplete samples for many of these analyses, due to the heterogeneity in data collection practices and standards among fiscal sponsors. The report includes a data collection comparison chart that details the overlaps and gaps between each sponsor’s data and the Cultural Data Project. Hopefully this resource can serve as a starting point for further collaboration.

Nevertheless, what “Discovering Fiscally Sponsored 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.

I hope more people will take advantage of the emerging data sets covering fiscally sponsored projects, one of the few windows we have into the poorly understood, creator-driven grassroots of the arts ecosystem. Fractured Atlas alone sponsors nearly 3,000 projects in all disciplines around the country, and we redesigned our annual report last year to better align with the CDP with exactly this sort of analysis in mind. The possibilities for better understanding our sector are just beginning to reveal themselves.

Further reading:


Burning Man is Dead; Long Live Burning Man

Burning Man 2010. Photo by Robert Scales.

Burning Man is an arts event like no other. During the week prior to Labor Day, thousands of people collectively produce an alternative society in the Nevada desert, one driven by ten principles, such as radical inclusion of all attendees and their lifestyles, anti-corporate decommodification, and participation in cultural production. Thousands of artists spend much of the year producing interactive performances, fire art, and large-scale sculptural projects for their theme camps, the creative communities at the heart of the event. The all-volunteer Department of Public Works (DPW) arrives on the desert playa weeks in advance to implement the Black Rock City plan, complete with roads, lighting, sanitation systems, and an airport. The DPW also builds the wooden Man, which stands 50 to 100 feet tall at the center of the camp before it is ritually burned on the second-to-last night of the event. Repeat attendees—also known as “burners”—return time and again to have life-changing, inspirational experiences and otherwise participate in the community.

Burning Man has seen growth that would make many arts nonprofits green with envy: attendance more than doubled from 25,400 in 2000 to nearly 54,000 in 2011, and last year, for the first time in its 25-year history, the event sold out. (The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits attendance each year as part of its permitting process, and the limits change.) Cultural and structural changes arrived with Burning Man’s popularity, reflected in its evolution into a favorite retreat for Silicon Valley techies, transition to official nonprofit status, and switch to a controversial ticket lottery. It’s easy to see Burning Man’s growth as evidence of its success, but its conversion from grassroots art community to arts institution has led many to ask a familiar question: can Burning Man go mainstream with its values intact?

Black Rock City from above in 2011. Photo by Simone Paddock.

Arguably, the answer is no. Burning Man’s overwhelming success has, at the very least, challenged its principles of radical inclusion and decommodification. The most recent controversy erupted when the sold-out 2011 event forced a change in the ticketing structure for 2012. Burning Man replaced its first-come, first-serve system with enough space for all with a lottery system that limited attendance to the lucky or cunning. Scalpers who put in multiple lottery entries quickly popped up selling tickets for up to $5,000, and organizers were left scrambling to find a solution that inhibited those who would profit from the event. In an attempt to help preserve Burning Man’s unique art theme camps, extra post-lottery tickets were distributed to key members who weren’t fortunate enough to receive tickets in the early rounds. Despite the Bureau of Land Management’s allowance of an extra 10,000 attendees in June, the fact that the ticketing debacle created a hierarchical attendance system has left the community scarred, and wondering what will happen in 2013. The news that Krug Champagne staged a marketing photo shoot at the 2011 event just made matters worse, and points ominously to the potential for further corporate exploitation.

A Burning Man ticket from 2010. Photo by Flickr user Stargazer 95050.

In another sense, though, Burning Man is stronger than ever, with attendees taking its participation principle to new heights beyond the boundaries of Black Rock City. Like Occupy Wall Street, Burning Man encourages creative participation in all its forms, and attendees are free to remix its governing principles in their daily lives. Aside from the massive number of self-organized, regional Burning Man gatherings that take place each year, a cursory scan of cultural events strongly influenced by Burning Man include: FIGMENT, a participatory arts festival in six U.S. cities; the Lost Horizon Night Market, a one night-only presentation of installations in rented trucks; the Post-Yule Pyre, a massive, annual fire fueled by discarded Christmas trees; Balsa Man, a tongue-in-cheek, tiny version of Burning Man created as an independent homage to the original; and countless other events large and small.

The tiny Balsa Man burns in 2011. Photo by Flickr user foxgrrl.

What sets Burning Man’s evolution apart from other parables of expansion is the strength of its community even as it moves into the mainstream. Though scattered throughout the world, burners seem to place a premium on remaining connected to one another, and it is in this communal space that Burning Man really lives. In this way, the decentralization of the Burning Man community and their independently-run projects reinforce the relevance of its core ideas and the central event even as it evolves. Interestingly, this potency seems at least partly based in the same combination of hyper-local, temporary space and globalized Internet communications that powered Occupy Wall Street in its early days. (It’s no accident that several live streams of Burning Man exist, and that volunteers often provide their own wi-fi, despite the event’s other emphases on disconnecting from mainstream culture.) Without a similar risk of eviction from Black Rock City, attendees can continue to use Burning Man itself as a touchstone for continued expansion beyond the reach of any single event.


Meet the fall 2012 Createquity Writing Fellows!

Congratulations to Talia Gibas and Jacquelyn Strycker, who are the fall 2012 Createquity Writing Fellows! You’ll be seeing posts from them starting this month and running through mid-January. Here is a little more about each.

Talia GibasI love a writer who’s not afraid of taking risks, and Talia Gibas is just that. You would think that, as manager for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s Arts for All program, which works to restore arts standards to the core curriculum in K-12 public schools, Talia would be ready to seize upon any piece of evidence that purports to be good news for the arts. But as the daughter of two scientists, she wants to make sure that we’re using the research we have properly, writing, “I think we waste opportunities when we make claims without paying attention to and learning from the broader education field. Sitting in our own echo chamber is silly – but undeniably comfortable.”  Talia is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Harvard Graduate School of Education, previously was a program assistant at the Getty Foundation, and runs triathlons in her spare time. Her last name is pronounced with a hard G and a soft i, in case you were wondering.

Jacquelyn StryckerBesides winning the title for the most badass action hero name in Createquity history, Jacquelyn Strycker is uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between Createquity’s focus on the how the arts fit into the social sciences and the more humanities-oriented perspective that traditionally characterizes arts writing. Originally from New Jersey, Jacquie is director of operations for the MFA Art Practice program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. A printmaker by training, she is also an artist herself with a studio in Brooklyn and serves as director of summer-long projects for the radical participatory public art group FIGMENT NYC.

Please join me in welcoming Jacquelyn and Talia to Createquity!


Gone fishin’

I’m taking a vacation from Createquity, my first in the nearly five years of writing this blog. While I’m gone, feel free to check out the great resources in the blogroll section of the site, hang out in the stacks of the Arts Policy Library, take the wayback machine via the archives, and stay tuned for brand new posts starting after Labor Day.

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