Writing Fellowship Deadline EXTENDED to 11:59pm tonight

After a couple of requests, I’m extending the Createquity Writing Fellowship deadline by 12 hours. If you were thinking about it but thought you missed your chance, now’s your shot! Full application information and instructions here.


Around the horn: Santorum edition


  • Fractured Atlas officially comes out against the PROTECT-IP Act, also known as SOPA. The same week, the Senate and House remove the most controversial provision. Coincidence? I think not.
  • The state of Connecticut is rebooting its arts agency giving strategy under new leader Kip Bergstrom.
  • The mayor of Boston is “asking” local museums and other large nonprofits to pay the city 25% of the property tax they would otherwise owe if they were for-profit institutions, leading to a bill in the seven figures for some organizations. I’m a little torn on this one; it’s well-documented that cities who have nonprofit mega-institutions occupying prime real estate lose out on some pretty crucial tax revenue (New Haven, where I went to school for six years, was one example). On the other hand, so long as this isn’t a universal practice, it will put Boston nonprofit museums, universities and hospitals at a competitive disadvantage compared to similar institutions in other cities.


  • The Danish Royal Theatre is cutting 100 jobs, including five leadership positions. What’s amazing is that’s only 10% of their staff.
  • In last week’s post on corporate vs. government influence on the arts, I made a throwaway comment about preferring to accept subsidy from BP rather than Hu Jintao. The reason is this article by the outgoing Chinese president, which states that China is in an “ideological struggle” with the West and must invest to protect its “cultural security” by doing things like limit the number of prime-time shows on television and require people on microblogging sites (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) to register using their real names. Yes, China is pouring billions into extravagant shows of cultural force in cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou, but it comes with a price beyond the yuan.


  • Peter Hutchinson is resigning as head of the Bush Foundation.
  • After being rejected by at least six different candidates, the New York Philharmonic finally has a new chief executive: Matthew VanBesien.


  • Wow. Nina Simon. In just over half a year as head of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, she’s brought the organization from barely being able to make payroll to having a $100,000 cash reserve, increased attendance 57%, and landed a glowing front-page article in the region’s daily about the museum’s sudden renaissance. Oh, and she’s 30. If she doesn’t make Barry’s List in 2012, I will eat my hat. (By the way, said front-page article has an adorable proud-face moment in the comments from her dad!) Speaking of Nina, she  finally weighs in on the controversy involving the Barnes Foundation museum in Philadelphia, and makes a persuasive–and rather unexpected–argument in defense of the critics’ point of view.
  • The Oregon Symphony has dropped its $17,000 membership in the League of Symphony Orchestras, and its executive director unloads on the League along the way: “Institutionally we are so tightly staffed that we couldn’t find the time to fill in some of the League’s massive surveys in the past few years – and to be honest, we didn’t find the data particularly useful when the results were released…No one else on staff has been to a conference in years – except (former orchestra spokesman) Carl Herko, who like me went one year at his own expense.” Ouch.
  • Michael Kaiser is looking for arts management success stories for a new national learning tour. Michael, I have a museum in Santa Cruz to suggest…



  • Interesting experiment testing violinists’ ability to pick out an ultra-valuable Stradivarius or Guarneri violin from its modern counterpart. The violinists were blindfolded while they played the instrument, and asked to guess after they were done. Tellingly, they more often got it wrong than right – reminiscent of the results of fine wine taste tests. Despite no obvious red flags in the study design, however, a professional violinist commentator isn’t buying it.
  • A researcher uses the marital patterns of movie stars to test whether couples inherently prefer to mate with people of similar educational backgrounds. It turns out that they (seemingly) do, leading to an unexpected but important insight on the role of marriage and love relationships in promoting and sustaining income inequality.
  • Derek Thompson offers an economic analysis of movie theater tickets with an assist from academics Barak Orbach and Liran Einav.
  • Bad news: a recent study looks at the unemployment rates of recent college graduates, and architecture students and arts majors are clear outliers on the economic suffering end of the scale, with 13.9% and 11.1% unemployment respectively. Humanities students are third. The phenomenon exists for those with graduate degrees as well; arts and architecture students are unemployed at a rate of 6-8%, versus rates of less than 4.5% for all other disciplines.


  • I do an end-of-year wrap up of stories from 2011, but two commentators are looking ahead to predictions for 2012: Mark Robinson (who was apparently dared into it by Clare Cooper of Mission Models Money) and Brian Newman. And here’s a round-up of 2011′s top stories from the broader nonprofit sector by Nonprofit Law Blog.
  • Nice perspective from Phil Buchanan on the historical basis for many of the hot new trends in philanthropy.
  • This gigantic list of 2012 nonprofit and social change conferences is a fantastic resource.
  • This article does a great job of summing up why Google+ creeps me the F out. I find myself trusting Google less and less these days (not that Facebook is any better, but at least it doesn’t have access to six years’ worth of my personal emails and search history).
  • Did you know that a developer in the United Arab Emirates has created a huge set of man-made private islands designed to look like the world? And that as of now only one of them is inhabited?

Two journal opportunities of note

First: a brand-new journal focusing on entrepreneurship in the arts, co-founded by Linda Essig of the Creative Infrastructure blog and Arizona State University’s p.a.v.e. program, and Gary Beckman, a professor at North Carolina State. I’m honored to serve on the editorial board for this new initiative, along with blogosphere favorites Andrew Taylor, Diane Ragsdale, and others. Here’s the announcement from Linda:

Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts (ISSN 2164-7747), the first ever peer-reviewed research journal in the field of arts entrepreneurship, will be published twice yearly beginning July 2012 in an online format.

The mission of Artivate is to disseminate new thinking and perspectives on arts entrepreneurship theory, practice, and pedagogy.  The editors, Linda Essig, director of Arizona State University’s p.a.v.e program in arts entrepreneurship, and Gary Beckman of North Carolina State University’s program in entrepreneurial studies in the arts, are committed to publishing research-based articles and case studies of interest to scholars, artists, and students in the areas of entrepreneurship theory as applied to the arts; arts entrepreneurship education; arts management; arts and creative industries; public policy and the arts; the arts in community and economic development; nonprofit leadership; social entrepreneurship in or using the arts; evaluation and assessment; and public practice in the arts.  Artivate’s diverse international editorial board includes Andrew Taylor (UW-Madison), Margaret Wyszomirski (OSU), Bill Gartner (Clemson), Lynn Book (Wake Forest), Christina Hong (Queensland University of Technology) , Ian David Moss (Fractured Atlas), Diane Ragsdale (Erasmus University), Paul van Zuilenberg (University of the Free State), Gordon Shockley (ASU) and others.

Artivate has a call for submissions with a deadline of February 15. More details available here.


Second: old friend Edward Clapp, of 20UNDER40 fame, is co-editing a special issue of Harvard Educational Review focusing on arts in education. This is the first time in nearly 20 years that HER has published a special issue on this topic. So, you know, no pressure or anything. Anyway, here’s an excerpt from that announcement:

The Harvard Educational Review (HER) is planning an upcoming Special Issue themed Expanding our Vision for the Arts in Education. This Special Issue intends to push beyond traditional understandings of arts teaching and learning to consider how education in and through the arts best suits the sophisticated demands of today’s students within the complex social and political landscapes that they inhabit.

Expanding our Vision for the Arts in Education will bring together the voices of practitioners, researchers, and youth who engage in innovative arts learning. In so doing, this issue will provide a launch-pad for ideas that will push the boundaries of what arts education looks like (or may look like) in our current educational ecosystem. Specifically, HER invites authors to submit proposals for manuscripts that address the ways in which high quality arts learning experiences of various forms can be successfully implemented to drive the learning and engagement of 21st century young people and adults in schools, through after-school programs, in formal and informal learning environments, and online in the digital world.

HER is in search of submissions that focus on the arts in education through a variety of lenses. Amongst these lenses are:

  • The lens of emerging arts mediums/disciplines—that considers how new and emerging arts mediums/disciplines (e.g.: digital art, media art, Hip Hop, film, video, digital animation, etc.), which may have long histories themselves, are just now beginning to extend the boundaries of the traditional arts education cannon;
  • The lens of traditional arts mediums/disciplines—that considers how traditional arts mediums/disciplines (e.g.: visual art, music, theatre, dance, and creative writing) can be applied in educational settings to directly address the needs of 21st century young people and adults;
  • The lens of web 2.0—that considers the relationship between arts education and open-source technology, gaming, social networking sites, and other aspects of online culture that influence student learning and youth development;
  • The lenses of mind-brain-education and Universal Design for Learning—that consider the arts as a vehicle uniquely capable of facilitating the cognitive and social development of learners whose individual differences are inadequately capitalized upon in traditional curriculum, and whose neurophysiology is evolving alongside the expansion of digital technology;
  • The lens of globalization—that considers how arts education can be employed to create dialogue in our increasingly more diversified, cross-cultural, and politicized world;
  • The lens of community empowerment and cultural organizing—that considers how arts education may be employed in a world challenged by unprecedented population growth, barriers to social mobility, and unequal distributions of power and wealth.

HER is looking for an unusual mix of content for this one: scholarly journal articles (up to 9000 words), an intriguing category of “cross-generational dialogues,” reflective essays from practitioners, and digital media content. Proposals are due February 3.

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Apply for the Spring 2012 Createquity Writing Fellowship

Createquity is now accepting applications for the Spring 2012 Createquity Writing Fellowship! Full details below the jump, but the short version is that this is an opportunity to get your writing in front of some pretty serious people in the arts and beyond, all while receiving mentorship, research assistance, and guidance on your writing from me. Think of it as your very own virtual graduate class in arts policy. This will be the third Createquity Writing Fellowship term (the second is still ongoing; check out Katherine Gressel’s public art evaluation mega-treatise published just yesterday), and it’s an intense but fun (and mind-expanding) adventure for participants. For a testimonial, try Jennifer Kessler’s reflection on her Createquity Writing Fellowship experience here.

The structure and process for the Spring 2012 Fellowship is much the same as in past editions; the main difference is that, in an effort to track better with the academic schedule, I’m shortening the fellowship term from five to four and a half months. Read on for further details and application instructions.

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Public Art and the Challenge of Evaluation

Steve Powers, “Look Look Look,” Part of the “A Love Letter for You” project, commissioned by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, 2009-2010. http://www.aloveletterforyou.com

In the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Public Art Review, Jack Becker writes, “There is a dearth of research efforts focusing on public art and its impact. The evidence is mostly anecdotal. Some attempts have focused specifically on economic impact, but this doesn’t tell the whole story, or even the most important stories.”

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.

We are much less likely to hear about systematic data gathered over a long time period—largely due to the seemingly complex, time-consuming, or futile nature of such a task. Unlike museums or performance spaces, public art traditionally doesn’t sell tickets, or attract “audiences” who can easily be counted, surveyed, or educated. A public artwork’s role in economic revitalization is difficult to separate from that of its overall surroundings. And as Becker suggests, economic indicators of success may leave out important factors like the intrinsic benefits of experiencing art in one’s everyday life.

However, public art administrators generally agree that some type of evaluation is key in not only making a case for support from funders, but in building a successful program. In the words of Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG) executive director Jon Pounds, evaluations can at the very least “help artists strengthen their skills…and address any problems that come up in programming.”  Is there a reliable framework that can be the basis of all good public art evaluation? And what are some simple yet effective evaluation methods that most organizations can implement?

This article will explore some of the main challenges with public art evaluation, and then provide an overview of what has been done in this area so far with varying degrees of success. It builds upon my 2007 Columbia University Teachers College Arts Administration thesis, And Then What…? Measuring the Audience Impact of Community-Based Public Art.That study specifically dealt with the issue of measuring audience response to permanent community-based public art, and included interviews with a wide range of public artists and administrators.

This article will discuss evaluation more broadly—moving beyond audience response—and incorporate more recent interviews with leaders in the public art field.  My goal was not to generate quantitative data on what people are doing in the field as a whole with evaluation (according to Liesel Fenner, director of Americans for the Arts’s Public Art Network, such data is not yet available, though it is a goal). Instead, I have reviewed recent literature on public art assessment, and interviewed a range of different types of organizations, from government-run “percent for art” and transit programs to grassroots community-based art organizations in New York City (where I am based) and other parts of the United States.  I sought to find out whether evaluation is considered important, how much time is devoted to it, and the details of particularly innovative efforts.

The challenge of defining what we are actually evaluating

The term “public art” once referred to monumental sculptures celebrating religious or political leaders.  It evolved during the mid-twentieth century to include art meant to speak for the “people” or advance social and political movements, as in the Mexican and WPA murals of the 1930s, or the early community murals of the 1960s-1970s civil rights movements. Today, “public art” can describe anything from ephemeral, participatory performances to illegal street art to internet-based projects.  The intended results of various types of public art, and our capacity to measure them, are very different.

In the social science field, evaluation typically involves setting clear goals, or expected outcomes, connected to the main activities of a program or project. It also involves defining indicators that the outcomes have been met. This exercise often takes the form of a “theory of change.” Since there are so many types of public art, it is exceedingly difficult to develop one single “theory of change” for the whole field, but it may be helpful to use a recent definition of public art from the UK-based public art think tank Ixia: “A process of engaging artists’ ideas in the public realm.” This definition implies that public art will always occupy some kind of “public realm”–whether it is a physical place or otherwise-defined community—and require an “engagement” with the public that may or may not result in a tangible artwork as end result. This process and the reactions of the public must be evaluated along with whatever artistic product may come out of it.

The challenge of building a common framework for evaluation

In 2004, Ixia commissioned OPENspace, the research center for inclusive access to outdoor environments based at the Edinburgh College of Art and Heriot-Watt University, to research ways of evaluating public art, ultimately resulting in a comprehensive 2010 report, “Public Art: A Guide to Evaluation” (see a helpful summary by Americans for the Arts).  The guide’s emphasis and content was shaped by feedback from Ixia’s Evaluation Seminars and fieldwork conducted by Ixia and consultants who have used its Evaluation Toolkit. Ixia provides the most comprehensive resources on evaluation that I have encountered, with two main evaluation tools, the evaluation matrix and the personal project analysis. These are helpful as a starting point for evaluating any project or program.

The matrix’s goal is to “capture a range of values that may need to be taken into account when considering the desirable or possible outcomes of engaging artists in the public realm.” It is meant to be filled out by various stakeholders during a project-planning stage, as well as at the midpoint and conclusion of a project.

Ixia’s “personal project analysis”is “a tool for process delivery that aims to assess how a project’s delivery is being put into practice.”  I will not analyze it in detail here, except to say that something similar should also ideally be part of any organization’s evaluation plan, as it allows for assessing how well the project is being carried out.

Personal Project Analysis from Ixia’s “Public Art: A Guide to Evaluation”

Matrix from Ixia’s “Public Art: A Guide to Evaluation”

Ixia’s matrix identifies four main categories of values:

  1. Artistic Values [visual/aesthetic enjoyment, design quality, social activation, innovation/risk, host participation, challenge/critical debate]
  1. Social Values [community development, poverty and social inclusion, health and well being, crime and safety, interpersonal development, travel/access, and skills acquisition]
  1. Environmental Values [vegetation and wildlife, physical environment improvement, conservation, pollution and waste management-air, water and ground quality, and climate change and energy],
  1. Economic Values [marketing/place identity, regeneration, tourism, economic investment and output, resource use and recycling, education, employment, project management/sustainability, and value for money].

The matrix accounts for the fact that each public artwork’s values and desired outcomes will be different depending on the nature of the presenting organization, site, and audience.

It is unclear how widely these tools have been adopted in the UK since their publication, and I did not encounter anyone in the U.S. using them. Yet many organizations are employing a similar process of engaging various stakeholders during the project-planning phase to determine goals specific to each project, which relate to the categories in Ixia’s matrix.  For example, most professionals I interviewed cited some type of “artistic” goals for the work. Some organizations prioritize presenting the highest quality art in public spaces, in which case the realization of an artist’s vision is top priority (representatives of New York City’s Percent for Art program described “Skilled craftsmanship” and “clarity of artistic vision” as key success factors, for example).

By contrast, organizations that include a youth education or community justice component may rank “social” or “economic” values higher. Groundswell Community Mural Project, an NYC-based nonprofit that creates mural projects with youth, asks all organizations that host mural projects (which may include schools, government agencies, and community-based organizations) in pre-surveys to choose their top desired project outcomes from a range of choices, as well as identify project-specific issues. Groundswell does have a well-developed theory of change behind all its projects, relating to the organization’s core mission to “beautify neighborhoods, engage youth in societal and personal transformation, and give expression to ideas and perspectives that are underrepresented in the public dialog.” However, some project-specific outcomes may be more environmental—for example, partnerships with the Trust for Public Land to integrate murals into new school playgrounds–while some relate to “crime and safety,” as in an ongoing partnership with the NYC Department of Transportation to install murals and signs at dangerous traffic intersections that educate the public about traffic safety.


Groundswell Community Mural Project, signs from “Traffic Safety Program,” a partnership between Groundswell, the Department of Transportation’s Safety Education program, and several NYC public elemenary schools. Lead artists Yana Dimitrova, Chris Soria, and Nicole Schulman worked with students to create these signs installed at locations identified as most in need of traffic signage.

Groundswell is just one example of many public art organizations that set goals at the outset of each individual project, based on each project’s particular site and community.  While individual organizations may effectively evaluate their own projects this way, crafting a common theory of change for all public art may be an unrealistic expectation.

The challenge of reliable indicators and data collection

The Ixia report discusses the process by which indicators of public art’s ability to produce desired outcomes may be identified, with the following questions:

  1. Is it realistic to expect a public art project to influence the outcomes you are measuring?
  2. Is it likely that you can differentiate the impact of the public art project and processes from other influences, e.g., other local investment?
  3. Is it possible to conduct meaningful data on what matters in relation to the chosen indicators?

For example, in studies seeking to measure any kind of change, good data collection should always include a baseline—i.e., economic conditions or attitudes of people BEFORE the public art entered the picture. Data collection methods ideally should also be reliable, unbiased, and easily replicated.

The “Guide to Evaluation” does not go into detail about any concrete indicators of public art’s “impact.” Therefore, the matrix seems to be most useful as a guide to goal-setting. As the Americans for the Arts summary of this report points out, “Ixia directs users to [UK-based] government performance indicators as a baseline source, but that is where the discussion ends.”

Liesel Fenner of Americans for the Arts’s Public Art Network mentioned in an email to me that while PAN hopes to develop a comprehensive list of indicators in the future, which can be shared among public art presenters nationally, “developing quantitative indicators is the main obstacle.”

According to my interviews with both on-the-ground administrators and public art researchers, many busy arts administrators find the type of data collection recommended in Ixia’s guide difficult, costly and time-consuming. It can be a challenge to get artistic staff to buy into even basic evaluation; says one community arts administrator, “artists are paid for a their leadership in developing and delivering a strong project. Many artists don’t see as much value in evaluation because, in part, it comes in addition to the difficult work that they just accomplished.”   It is also uncommon to spend precious training resources on something like quantitative evaluation techniques.

Some are of the opinion that even if significant time were spent on justifying public art’s existence by “proving” its practical usefulness, this would still be a losing battle that could lead to the withdrawal of support for public art, the production of bad art that panders merely to public needs, or both. One seasoned public art administrator asked me: “Is architecture evaluated this way? The same way public buildings need to exist, public art needs to exist. It’s people looking to weaken public art who are trying to ask these questions about its impact.”

The challenge of evaluating long-term, permanent installations

Glenn Weiss, former director of the Times Square Alliance Public Art Program and current director of Arts League Houston, posits that economic impact studies are “most possible with highly publicized, short-term projects like the Gates or large public art festivals.”   Indeed, the New York City Mayor’s office published a detailed report on “an estimated $254 million in economic activity” that resulted from The Gates, a large installation in Central Park by internationally acclaimed artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, based on data like increased park attendance and business at nearby hotels, restaurants, etc.  However, most public art projects, even temporary ones, are not as monumental or heavily promoted as The Gates, making it difficult to prove that people come to a neighborhood, or frequent its businesses, primarily to see the public art.

Visitors crowd Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates” (2005) in Central Park. Photo by Eric Carvin.

Weiss also believes that temporary festivals are generally easier to evaluate quantitatively than long-term public art projects. For example, during a finite event or installation, staff members can keep a count of attendees (some of the temporary public art projects I have encountered in my research, such as the FIGMENT annual participatory art festival on Governors Island and in various other U.S. cities, use attendance counts as a measure).

The few comprehensive studies connecting long-term, permanent public art to economic and community-wide impacts, conducted by research consultants and funded by specific grants, have led to somewhat inconclusive results. For example, An Assessment of Community Impact of the Philadelphia Department of Recreation Mural Arts Program (2002), led by Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert of University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP), cites the assumed community-wide benefits of murals outlined in MAP’s mission statement at the time of the study:

The creation of a mural can have social benefits for entire communities…Murals bring neighbors together in new ways and often galvanize them to undertake other community improvements, such as neighborhood clean-ups, community gardening, or organizing a town watch. Murals become focal points and symbols of community pride and inspiring reminders of the cooperation and dedication that made their creation possible.

Yet when asked to “use the best data available to document the impact that murals have had over the past decade on Philadelphia’s communities,” Stern and Seifert found that

this is a much more difficult task than one might imagine. First, there are significant conceptual problems involved in thinking through exactly how murals might have an impact on neighborhoods. Second, the quality of data available to test hypotheses concerning murals is limited. Finally, there are a number of methodological problems involved in using the right comparisons in assessing the potential impact of murals. For example, how far from a mural might we expect to see an impact? How long after a mural is painted might it take to see an effect and how long might that effect last?…Ultimately, this report concludes that these issues remain a significant impediment to understanding the role of murals.

By comparing data on murals to existing neighborhood quality of life data, Stern and Seifert considered murals’ connection to factors like community economic investment and indicators of more general neighborhood change (such as reduced litter or crime, or residents’ investment in other community organizing activities). The study also measured levels of community investment and involvement in murals. However, the scarce data available on these factors, according to the authors, are difficult to connect directly to public art in a cause and effect relationship. Stern and Seifert’s strongest finding was that murals may build “social capital,” or “networks of relationships” that can promote  “individual and group well-being,” because of all the events surrounding mural production in which people can participate. It was more difficult to show a consistent relationship between murals and other theorized outcomes, such as ability to “inspire” passersby or serve as “amenities” for neighborhoods. The study recommends that “more systematic information on their physical characteristics and sites—‘before and after’—would provide a basis for identifying murals that become an amenity.”

A more recent 2009 report on Philadelphia’s commercial corridors by Econoconsult also demonstrated “some indication of a positive correlation” between the presence of murals and shopping corridor success. Murals are described here as “effective and cost efficient ways of replacing eyesores with symbols of care.” However, the report also adds the disclaimer that a positive correlation is not necessarily proof of the murals’ role as the primary cause of a neighborhood’s appeal.

So what can we assess most easily, and how?

My research revealed that quantitative data on short-term inputs and outputs of public art programs is frequently cited (sometimes inappropriately) as evidence of a program’s success in things like reports or funding proposals—for example, number of new projects completed in one year, number of youth or community partners served, or number of mural tour participants. However, in this article I am not really focusing on this type of reporting, as it does not address how public art impacts communities over time.

The good news is that there are several examples of indicators that are more easily measurable in certain types of public art situations, including permanent installations. These include:

  • Testimonies on the educational and social impact of collaborative public art projects, from youth and community participants and artists alike
  • Qualitative audience responses to public art, including whether or not the art provokes any type of discussion, debate, or controversy
  • How a public artwork is treated over time by a community, including whether it gets vandalized, and whether the community takes the initiative to repair or maintain it
  • Press coverage
  • The “use” of a public artwork by its hosts, e.g. in educational programs or marketing campaigns
  • Levels of audience engagement with public art via internet sites and other types of educational programming

Below I will summarize some helpful methods by which data is collected around all these indicators.

Mining the Press

Archiving press coverage of public art projects online is a common practice among organizations, as is presenting pithy press clippings and quotes in funding proposals and marketing materials as a means of demonstrating a project’s success. For researchers, studying articles (and increasingly, blog posts) on past projects can also provide rich documentation of artworks’ immediate effects, as well as points of comparisons. For example, the “comments” sections of online articles and blogs can generate interesting, often unsolicited feedback, albeit from a nonrandom sample.

One possible outcome of public art projects is controversy, which is not always considered a bad thing, despite now-infamous examples of projects like Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc being removed. For example, Sofia Maldonado’s 42nd Street Mural, presented in March 2010 by the Times Square Alliance, provoked extensive coverage on news programs and blogs. The mural’s un-idealized images of Latin American and Caribbean women based on the artist’s own heritage led some women’s and cultural advocacy organizations to call for its removal. The Alliance opted to leave the mural up, and has cited this project as evidence of the Alliance’s commitment to artists’ freedom of expression. The debates led Maldonado to reflect, “as an art piece it has accomplished its purpose: to establish a dialogue among its spectators.”

Sofia Maldonado, “42nd Street Mural,” 2010, Commissioned by the Times Square Alliance Public Art Program.

Site visits and “public art watch” 

As an attempt to promote more sustained observation of completed works over time, public art historian Harriet Senie assigns her students in college and graduate level courses a final term paper project every semester that contains a

“public art watch”…For the duration of a semester, on different days of the week, at different times, students observe, eavesdrop, and engage the audience for a specific work of public art. Based on a questionnaire developed in class and modified for individual circumstances, they inquire about personal reactions to this work and to public art in general” (quoted in Sculpture Magazine).

Senie’s students also observe things like people’s interactions with an artwork, such as how often they stop and look up at it, take pictures in front of it, or use it as a meeting place.

Senie maintains that “Although far from ‘scientific,’ the information is based on direct observation over time—precisely what is in short supply for reviewers working on a deadline.” This approach towards challenging college students to think critically about public art has also been implemented in public art courses at NYU and Pratt Institute, and the aggregate results of student research over time are summarized in one of Senie’s longer publications.

I have not encountered any other organizations able to integrate this type of research into their regular operations; however, there may be opportunities to integrate direct observation into routine site visits to completed permanent public artworks.

In the NYC Percent for Art program, and its Public Art for Public Schools (PAPS) wing that commissions permanent art for new and renovated school buildings, staff members are expected to undertake periodic visits “to monitor the condition of artworks that have been commissioned,” according to PAPS director Tania Duvergne. Such “maintenance checks” can provide opportunities to survey building inhabitants or local residents about their opinions and use of the artworks.

Duvergne uses these “condition report” visits as opportunities to further her agency’s mission to “bridge connections between what teachers are already doing in their classrooms and their physical environments.” At each site, she tries to interview custodians, teachers, principals and students about whether the art is well treated, whether they know anything about the artwork (and are using the online resources available to them), and whether they want more information. Duvergne notes that many teachers use the public art in their teaching in some way, even if they do not know a lot about the artwork. While observing a public artwork during a site visit every few years is nowhere near as extensive and sustained observation as Senie’s class assignment, perhaps a similar survey and observation could be undertaken with a wide range of students and staff members over the course of a day.

Project participant and resident surveys

Organizations that create community-based public art usually have specific desired social, educational, or behavioral outcomes in project participants. Mural organizations Groundswell and Chicago Public Art Group describe thorough evaluation processes in which mural artists, youth, community partners and parents are all surveyed and sometimes interviewed before, during and after projects. Groundswell’s community partner post-project survey, for example, asks partners to rank their level of agreement about whether certain community-wide outcomes have been met, such as whether the mural increases the organization’s visibility, increases awareness of an identified issue, and improves community attitudes towards young people.

Groundswell’s theory of change (most recently honed in 2010 through focus groups with youth participants and community partners) articulates various clear desired outputs and outcomes for both youth and community partner organizations. This includes the development of “twenty-first century” life skills in teen mural participants. To measure this impact specifically, Groundswell has made it a priority to continue to track youth participants after they graduate, turn 21, and reach other checkpoints, according to Executive Director Amy Sananman. Groundswell recently hired an outside researcher to build a comprehensive database (using the free program SalesForce), in which participant data and survey results, and data on completed murals (such as whether any were graffitied, how many times they appeared in news articles, etc.) can be entered and compared to generate reports.

In 2006, Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program conducted a community impact study using audience response questionnaires as a starting point.  Then- special projects manager Lindsey Rosenberg employed college students, through partnerships with local universities, to conduct door-to-door surveys of all residents living within a mile radius of four murals. The murals differed by theme, neighborhood, and level of community involvement. The interns orally administered a multiple-choice questionnaire with questions ranging from general opinions of the murals to level of participation in making the murals to perceptions of changes in the neighborhood as a result of the murals.  They then inputted the surveys into a computer database specifically created for this study by outside consultants. The database not only calculated percentages of each response to murals, but tracked correlations between these responses and census demographic data, including income level and home ownership.

This research project was different from prior MAP community impact studies in that it assumed that “what people perceive to be the impact of a mural is in itself valuable,” as much as external evidence of change.

In 2007, MAP shared some preliminary results of this endeavor with me to aid my thesis research. At the time the research seemed to generate some useful data on which murals were appreciated most in which neighborhoods, and the correlation between appreciation and community participation in the projects. However, since then I have not been able to gather any further information on this study, or find any published results. I did hear from MAP at the time of the study that only 25% of people who were approached actually took the surveys, indicating just one problematic aspect of conducting such research on a regular basis. The database was also costly.

Most recently, MAP is partnering (page 160) with the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health & Mental Retardation Services (DBH/MRS), community psychologists from Yale, and almost a dozen local community agencies and funders with core support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on “a multi-level, mixed methods comparative outcome trial known as the Porch Light Initiative. The Porch Light Initiative examines the impact of mural making as public art on individual and community recovery, healing, and transformation and utilizes a community-based participatory research (CBPR) framework.” Unfortunately, MAP declined my requests for more information on this new study.

Interviewing youth and community members can of course only generate observations and opinions, but Groundswell at least is also taking the step of also tracking what happens to participants after they complete a mural project. I am still not clear how to prove that any impacts on participants are a direct result of public art projects. Yet surveying project participants and community members about their feelings about a program or project, and how they think they were impacted by it, is one of the most do-able types of research (apart from the challenges of getting people to fill out surveys).

Community-based “proxies”

Groundswell director Amy Sananman has described some success in utilizing community partners as “proxies” for reporting on a mural’s local impact, effectively outsourcing some of the burden of data collection to other organizations. For example, the director of a nonprofit whose storefront has a Groundswell mural could report back to Groundswell on the extent to which local residents take care of the mural, how often people comment on it, etc.

PAPS, CPAG, and ArtBridge, an organization that commissions artwork for vinyl construction barrier banners, have described similar ideas for partnerships. ArtBridge hopes to implement a more formal process in which the owners of stores where its banners are installed can document changes like increased business due to public art. PAPS director Tania Duvergne also cites examples of “successful projects” in which public schools, on their own, designed art gallery displays or teaching curricula around their public art pieces, and shared this with PAPS on site visits.

There might be a danger in depending on community partner organization representatives to speak for the whole “community” or to provide reliable, accurate data. But if cooperative partners can be identified and regular reporting scheduled using consistent measurement tools, the burden of reporting on specific neighborhoods is lessened for the public art organization.

“Smart” Technology

Groundswell, ArtBridge, and MAP are all starting to utilize the new QR code smartphone application, which uses QR codes to direct public art site visitors to websites with more information about the art. Groundswell experimented this past summer with adding QR codes to a series of posters designed by its Voices Her’d Visionaries program to be hung in public schools to educate teens about healthy relationships.  Groundswell can then track how many hits the website gets through the QR app. In general, web activity on public art sites is an easy quantitative measure of public interest.

Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program has a “report damage” section on its website, where anyone who notices a mural in need of repair can alert MAP online. This is also a potential source for quantitative evidence of how many people notice and feel invested in murals.

Use of Interpretive Programming

Public art organizations are increasingly designing interpretive programming around completed artwork, from outdoor guided tours to curated “virtual” artwork displays. NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Arts for Transit program provides downloadable podcasts about completed artworks on its website; other organizations include phone numbers to call for guided tours at public art sites themselves (as in many museum exhibits). Both in-person and virtual/phone tours can provide rich opportunities to track usage, collect informal feedback from participants, and solicit feedback via surveys. ArtBridge recently initiated its WALK program giving tours of its outdoor banner installations. After each tour, ArtBridge emails a link to a brief questionnaire to all tour participants, and offers a prize as an incentive for taking the survey.

A Philadelphia Mural Arts Program guided tour.

Concluding remarks: What next for evaluation?

While systematic, reliable quantitative analysis of public art’s impact at the neighborhood level remains challenging and undervalued in the field, new technologies as well as effective partnerships are making it increasingly feasible for public art organizations to assess factors such as audience engagement, benefits to participants, and community stewardship of completed public art works. The Ixia “Guide to Evaluation” offers a useful roadmap for approaching the evaluation of any type of public art project. At the same time, we should not forget the ability of art to affect people in ways that may seem intangible or even immeasurable, or, as Glenn Weiss puts it, “become part of a memory of a community, part of how a community sees itself.”


Corporate vs. Government Influence on the Arts

Britain’s Independent has a short feature on the growing influence of corporate arts sponsorships in the wake of recent cutbacks from the government. While the article doesn’t offer much in the way of data or even examples demonstrating the purported trend, writer Emily Jupp does manage to get some beautifully candid on-the-record quotes from corporate representatives about the real reasons they’re supporting the arts:

“It’s not pure altruism,” says David Nicholas, a media director at BP. “Sponsorship can bring benefits to our reputation.” Even the negative publicity doesn’t seem to bother him.”Everyone has a right to protest – at least it gets people talking about BP!” But he denies that the company is trying to maintain an acceptable face. “If you want to try to put an artsy face on a roughneck in overalls, I leave that to you.”

Marco Compagnoni, a senior partner at the City law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, says objecting to big business sponsorship is “absolutely bonkers” but he rejects BP’s assertion that it’s for employee benefits. “It’s not done for the perks. Law firms aren’t munificent, activities like that are for marketing and keeping close to clients to help your business. We are doing an evening at the Leonardo and one at the Hockney because it’s a good atmosphere to talk to clients. It’s not to be nice.”

One of the most common conservative objections to government support for the arts, one that is sometimes voiced by liberals as well, is the potential for giving up undue influence and control (particularly over content). That’s never made much sense to me, because the fact is that so long as art requires significant subsidy from non-artists in order to happen, whoever’s providing that subsidy has the power to meddle unhelpfully in the artist’s affairs. So it’s really just a question of who you trust most – and least – to keep a safe distance. Is it big corporations or the government? Depends on whose government you’re talking about, I suppose. I’ll take a sponsorship from BP over one from Hu Jintao any day. The system we use in the United States – with its decentralized marketplace of tax-advantaged private foundations and individual donors making up the vast majority of subsidy – is extremely labor-intensive to maintain, but it may be the best we can do for freedom of expression.


Around the horn: 2012 edition

Happy New Year, everybody!


  • Congress has agreed to put aside consideration of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) through the end of the year, but the bill isn’t necessarily dead. Arts and technology commentators have begun to be more vocal in their criticism of the bill, which would, among other things, sanction pre-emptive takedown requests for intellectual property infringement, create an “intermediary liability” for website hosts, and essentially hand over enforcement for all of this to the entertainment industry. It’s that last provision which creeps me out the most; I’m not a copyright anarchist, but I am most definitely against the foxes running the henhouse.
  • More on droit de suite legislation, which took effect in the UK on January 1. The policy compensates artists whose works are sold by future owners. As reported last month, similar legislation is under consideration by the United States Congress.
  • Interesting interview with the head of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, an intermediary organization based in Lebanon that is funded by the Ford and Open Society Foundations as well as donors in Kuwait and the Netherlands.


  • Leveraging Investments in Creativity has hired Candace Jackson, an arts consultant, as its managing director. LINC is heading into its final phase of operation, and its concluding work will focus on evaluating its grants and putting out additional research publications.
  • The Urban Institute (which has a notable track record of research in the arts) has a new president, Sarah Rosen Wartell.
  • Arena Stage’s New Play Institute is splitting up, with two key staff members leaving the organization and taking the program’s media and technology projects to Boston’s Emerson College. More on the transition from David Dower.
  • Some strange staffing shenanigans are afoot at the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, but if the article is to be believed, they will be hiring a deputy commissioner and five program directors among other positions.


  • An heir to the Walmart fortune has opened the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, a community of 35,000 people located two hours away from the nearest large city. The museum apparently has amassed nearly a billion dollars in assets in just five years, mostly funded by the Walton Family Foundation. It offers free admission to the public and is located within walking distance of downtown Bentonville, which happens to be the location of the world headquarters of Walmart. The museum has raised eyebrows on the east coast for buying up hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of art for its collection and getting into a legal battle with the Georgia O’Keefe Museum over its attempts to purchase a 50% stake in a collection at the financially troubled Fisk University in Tennessee. But from where I sit, it’s a gigantic infusion of money for the arts in an extremely underserved part of the country…hard to argue too much with that.
  • Opera Boston, the second-largest opera company in the region, is shutting down due to a $500,000 funding gap, mere months after it won a Pulitzer Prize with composer Zhou Long.
  • Ballet San Jose has announced a unusual partnership with American Ballet Theatre that involves implementing ABT’s training curriculum in the local ballet school and performing works from ABT’s repertoire. Officials claim the arrangement is “not a merger,” however.


  • Blair Benjamin has published the results of his self-evaluation of the Assets for Artists program in Massachusetts. Speaking of Blair, his second annual “headlines you missed” feature is worth a laugh. My favorite: “Alice Walton’s Plan to Demolish and Replace Her Brand-New Museum with a ‘Super Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’ Promises Wider Selection and an Even More Unbeatable Admission Price”
  • Robert Flanagan, a Stanford professor who wrote a report on the economic health of symphony orchestras back in 2008, has expanded that research into a book. Sarah Lutman has the details.
  • I’ll sign on to this: “We need a national consensus policy to guide our research efforts into the decade.  As good as our research is, and as capable as our researchers are – it is basically piecemeal.  We need an over-arching policy as to what we need to know, on what timeline and to what purpose.  And we need at least some modicum of cooperation so we can pursue research in some linear pattern.  Somebody please convene a national summit to deal with our currently all over the map research efforts.  At least create ways  researchers (can and will) talk to each other on some regular basis.”


  • PhilanTopic has a thought-provoking roundup of predictions for 2012. A couple that stuck out for me:

    In fact, we’d be surprised if there isn’t at least one [Occupy Wall Street]-related protest at a high-profile philanthropic conference or event in 2012. (And the folks in Davos can pretty much count on it.)

    [E]xpect to see calls for greater accountability in philanthropy emerge as a movement in its own right in 2012. Adopting the slogan “private dollars for public good,” a social media-empowered generation of young Americans will use the cheap and ubiquitous tools at their disposal to push for more diversity on foundation boards, more transparency in foundation decision-making, and more democracy in the allocation of tax-advantaged philanthropic resources.

    I hope they’re right.

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Createquity in Quotes: 2011

Of course, not all commentators will make equally valuable contributions to the discussion. Just like art, providing critical analysis and consistently thoughtful, informed, and credible feedback requires considerable skill and practice. In short, we want to be able to open up the process to anyone without having to open it to everyone. What qualities would we desire in those who influence resource allocation decisions in the arts? Certainly we would ask that our critics be knowledgeable in the field they review. We would also want them to be fair—not holding ideological grudges against artists or letting personal vendettas influence their judgment. We’d want them to be open-minded, not afraid to dive into unfamiliar or challenging territory when the time comes. And finally, we’d want them to be thoughtful: able and willing to appreciate nuance, and mindful of how what they are experiencing fits into a larger whole. Technology now allows us to systematically identify and reward these qualities in a reviewer.

Ian David Moss and Daniel Reid, Audiences at the Gate: Reinventing Arts Philanthropy Through Guided Crowdsourcing (February 22)

So why would anyone form a nonprofit? A nonprofit still makes sense, in my view, if its focus is not on a specific artist or group of artists. Any organization that provides infrastructure - presenters, community arts organizations, arts education providers, local arts councils, service organizations, and the like – is a good candidate for the nonprofit form. Rule of thumb: if an organization would have no reason to continue on if its founder(s) left tomorrow, it probably shouldn’t be a nonprofit.

Ian David Moss, Supply is Not Going to Decrease (So It’s Time to Think About Curating) (March 24)

The reason stories work for us as human beings is because they are few in number. We can spend two hours watching a documentary, or a week reading a history book, and get a really deep qualitative understanding of what was going on in a specific situation or in a specific case. The problem is that we can only truly comprehend so many stories at once. We don’t have the mental bandwidth to process the experiences of even hundreds, much less thousands or millions of subjects or occurrences. To make sense of those kinds of numbers, we need ways of simplifying and reducing the amount of information we store in each case. So what we do is we take all of those stories and we flatten them: we dry out all of the rich shape and detail that makes up their original form and we package them instead in a kind of mold: collecting a specific and limited set of attributes about each so that we can apply analysis techniques to them in batch. In a very real sense, data = mass-produced stories.

Ian David Moss, On Stories vs. Data (March 29)

Do you see where I’m going with this? This process of getting attention presents us with a HUGE class issue. Is it any mystery why our arts organizations have trouble connecting with less affluent members of society? It’s not because they can’t afford the tickets. It’s not because they can’t get to the venue easily. It’s not because the genre as a whole isn’t “relevant” to them. Okay, I lied – it is all of those things. But I don’t think any of them are the main reason. I think the main reason is because these less affluent populations don’t know anyone in their communities who is a professional artist with those organizations. Because how could you be, if you grew up poor and couldn’t afford conservatory training and weren’t given lessons in school and anyway now you have to work two jobs to put food on the table and feed the kids? We talk a lot about cultural equity in the arts, and we typically frame it in terms of audience access: who has the opportunity to see one of these amazing artists perform, or witness their creations? But as more and more of us turn to creative expression as a way of affirming our identities in an increasingly connected world, I think the most important cultural equity issue of our time isn’t who gets to see the amazing artist, it’s who gets to be the amazing artist.

Ian David Moss, TEDx Talk (May 15)

If subsidized arts workers are labeled as something like freeloaders in public discourse, then farmers, homeowners, hybrid vehicle buyers, the airlines, and the oil & gas industry are freeloaders too. Ayn Rand is very popular again among conservatives, so where is the conservative outcry against oil & gas subsidies? Instead, we are offered a redefinition of the “free market capitalist system” as something that requires government subsidy. Oxymorons rule the day when the free market must be subsidized, and arts created explicitly in the public interest, without a profit to distribute, must stand alone.

Aaron Andersen, Federal arts funding: a trace ingredient in the sausage factory of government spending (June 1)

Over the last five years, the El Sistema “model” has become a sensation around the world as more musicians and arts leaders have visited Venezuela and felt inspired to adapt the program within their communities. Others have learned about El Sistema on programs like 60 Minutes and through the popularity of Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel. I had the opportunity to visit El Sistema in Venezuela in 2007, and everything about it was intoxicating: the enthusiasm of the teachers and administrators to save disadvantaged children through music, the level of the musicianship, the camaraderie of the students and teachers, the music-festival spirit of the program (it felt like my experiences at summer music festivals, only this program is all year long), the concert hall designed specifically to advance the education and performance opportunities of El Sistema participants, the participatory nature of every rehearsal and performance.

—Jennifer Kessler, El Sistema: The Movement (June 3)

So what are the implications of Informal Arts for the role of the nonprofit arts institution? None of the case study activities took place at a formal arts institution. I think that suggests that the majority of our arts institutions are viewed as places to consume art rather than to create it. Should they seek to change that perception to become viewed as places to create as well? The answer to this question will vary from organization to organization depending upon the resources and mission of each. But to ensure the future of any art form, there must be practitioners and consumers. And since practitioners often become consumers (and bring their friends with them), I believe it is in the long-term interest of arts organizations—large and small, presenting and producing, of all disciplines, including service organizations and arts councils—to encourage adult creation of art at the informal level.

—Crystal Wallis, Arts Policy Library: Informal Arts (July 6)

Those elements are clearly important, but the reality is that the arts ecosystem is far more complicated. It includes social service agencies, churches, and others that might provide arts programs. It includes not just for-profit firms that present arts programming directly, but also the companies that manufacture shoes for the ballet dancers, sell the strings for the guitars, and design the postcards for the show. It encompasses a huge range of patron roles from major donors and Board members, to passersby taking in a work of public art or ambient sound installation, to people who experience the arts only in their own homes. Arguably, it even includes Google, Facebook, Staples, and the IRS – entities with which almost every arts organization interacts, even if those entities are not arts-specific at all.

Ian David Moss, An Ecosystem-Based Approach to Arts Research (October 17)

Is our advocacy goal a widely seen news piece outlining all sides of the issue? Or, do we want a successful budget outcome? I think it’s the latter. And when it can be achieved with a quiet effort, making sure to begin modeling this new way of thinking about the arts in our meetings with decision-makers, that is preferable to another big public debate. Because the big fight in the default way of viewing the arts is very losable. And in our efforts, we’re forced to expand a precious resource: the time and energy of staff and key supporters who have to work so hard to convince public officials that they won’t suffer consequences in the next election.

—Margy Waller, Uncomfortable Thoughts: Is Shouting About Arts Funding Bad for the Arts? (October 24)

I’m not suggesting that the concerts that the City of San Francisco produces with the San Francisco Symphony are unworthy of public funding, or that $2 million is not a reasonable amount to pay for the Symphony’s services; I have no reason to make such presumptions. But it does seem to me a perfect example of how large-budget, historic cultural institutions have privileges of access at their disposal that few arts organizations founded within our lifetimes (including, therefore, hardly any organizations founded by or primarily serving racial and ethnic minorities) could ever dream of. Sure, Galeria de la Raza got 12 grants in 5 years from SFAC. But most of those grants had to be won with the approval of a panel of fellow citizens, with panel discussion taking place in public (CEG has one of the most radically transparent review processes in the country; see page 11 of the pdf). The San Francisco Symphony, to my knowledge, does not have its contract up for public review by a panel of citizen peers every year. It just gets the money.

Ian David Moss, Cultural equity and the San Francisco Arts Commission (December 12)

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

  1. Supply is Not Going to Decrease (So It’s Time to Think About Curating)
  2. Audiences at the Gate: Reinventing Arts Philanthropy Through Guided Crowdsourcing
  3. Emerging Ideas: Classical Music’s New Entrepreneurs
  4. Kansas Arts Commission vetoed by Governor
  5. Okay, it’s official: State arts agencies are in trouble
  6. Get a (folk)life: How folklore research helped an arts agency
  7. On Michael Kaiser and Citizen Critics
  8. Re-envisioning No Child Left Behind, and What It Means for Arts Education
  9. Uncomfortable Thoughts: Is Shouting About Arts Funding Bad for the Arts?
  10. An inside look at Colombia’s “Sistema”


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The Top 10 Arts Policy Stories of 2011

GR Lipdub

Grand Rapids LipDub - photo by Rob Vander Sloot

Each year, Createquity offers a list of the top ten arts policy stories of the past 12 months. You can read the 2009 and 2010 editions here and here, respectively. In addition to the main list, I also identify my favorite new arts blogs that started within the past year. The list, like the blog, is focused on the United States, but is not oblivious to news from other parts of the world.

For the most part, 2011 saw the continuation of trends that had already been set in motion in previous years. The economy continued to be an issue for arts organizations worldwide, affecting government revenues in particular. The NEA moved in directions foreshadowed by its actions in 2010. And the culture wars, while not translating into meaningful policy change for the most part, were waged in the background once again.

10. Federal cultural funding dodges a bullet

The newly-elected Republican House of Representatives made a lot of noise this year about cutting funding to arts and culture, particularly the Corporation for Public Broadcasting after a forced scandal involving NPR’s then-vice president of development. Democrats refused to take the bait, however, and even amid multiple standoffs over the federal budget this year, cultural funding survived largely intact. The NEA escaped with a 13% decrease from last year’s originally enacted funding level, and CPB and the Smithsonian actually saw increases. Notably, the Department of Education’s arts in education budget was also saved (albeit with cuts) despite an Obama administration recommendation for consolidation under other programs. That said, the saber-rattling this past year leaves little doubt about the prospects for arts funding under a Republican Congress and President in 2013 and beyond, and it will surprise no one if the same battles are fought all over again in 2012.

9. Grand Rapids LipDub shows how creative placemaking is done

By now you’ve heard the story: city gets named on a top ten list of “America’s dying cities”; college-aged filmmakers galvanize the community to organize a coordinated response. The result: “the greatest letter to the editor of all time,” also known as the Grand Rapids LipDub. Involving thousands of people and requiring a near-total shutdown of the city’s downtown area, the video went viral over Memorial Day weekend and has received nearly 4.5 million views as of December 31. But more than the feat itself, the video is notable as an incredibly effective example of cost-effective creative placemaking. The mayor of Grand Rapids was very smart to give this $40,000 production (mostly raised through sponsorships from local businesses) his complete support: it is just about the best advertising for his city one could possibly ask for, conveying a completely unforced and compelling charm while fostering community pride among local residents along the way.

8. Crowdfunding goes mainstream

Just two years ago, Kickstarter was a novelty and no one had heard of IndieGoGo. Now, these and other “crowdfunding” platforms that connect creatives with fans and financial backers have become an indelible part of the artistic landscape, particularly for grassroots, entrepreneurial projects. This July, Kickstarter alone reached the milestones of 10,000 successful projects and $75 million in pledges over slightly more than two years, numbers that compare favorably with major private foundations’ support for the arts. Meanwhile, crowdfunding is fast becoming a, well, crowded market, with new entrants lured by the profit-making potential of serving as banker for the creative economy. RocketHub, USA Projects, and the Power2Give initiative are just three of the more significant new entrants of the past two years, and similar platforms are popping up to serve technology startups and the broader charity market.

7. Orchestra unions take it on the chin

The recession has been not been kind to arts organizations of any stripe. But it’s been particularly hard on orchestras, those most tradition-bound of arts organizations, forcing musicians’ unions to cough up big concessions. The resolution of the Detroit Symphony’s six-month strike in April had minimum salaries dropping nearly 25% and a partial incentive pay system introduced. The same month, the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy, seeking to avoid its unfunded pension obligations, and won 15% salary reductions from its musicians in October. The Louisville Orchestra also filed for bankruptcy late last year, hasn’t played since May due to negotiation impasse, and has started advertising for replacement players. The NYC Opera, after abandoning its longtime home at Lincoln Center, is threatening to turn its orchestra into a freelance outfit and cut its choristers’ pay by 90%.  The New Mexico, Syracuse, and Utica Symphonies all bit the dust, costing musicians hundreds of jobs.  The craziest story was perhaps the resignation of two-thirds of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s board because musicians took too a few days too long to accept a 9% pay cut. Breaking with tradition, the League of Symphony Orchestras this year sounded the alarm bells with a plenary session titled “Red Alert” at its national conference.

6. Another tough year for state arts agencies

The big headline, of course, was Kansas (see below). But state arts agencies, having already suffered big losses in 2009 and 2010, slipped backwards once again this year. More than twice as many saw decreases as increases, and in total appropriations dropped 2.6% as of August. Horror stories included Arizona Commission on the Arts, which lost its entire general fund appropriation (the agency stayed alive thanks to business license revenues); the Texas Commission on the Arts, which lost 77.7% of its funding; the Wisconsin Arts Board, whose budget was gutted more than two-thirds by controversial governor Scott Walker; and the South Carolina Arts Commission, which made it through with a 6% shave only because the state legislature overrode Governor Nikki Haley’s veto of the entire agency’s budget. Nevertheless, as in previous years, a few states and territories had clear victories: the Ohio Arts Council avoided a cut proposed by the Governor and instead achieved a $1 million increase, and the Utah Arts Council and Institute of Puerto Rican Culture saw increases of 50% or more. Still, state arts agency appropriations remain 40% below their 2001 peak levels – and that’s not even taking inflation into account.

5. Western Europe blinks on government arts funding, while South America and Asia embrace it

Already reeling from the UK’s decision to institute major cuts from Arts Council England and broader pressures on financial markets, Europe continued to see a move toward a leaner, more American-style cultural policy. The wave of change caught up the Netherlands this year, as Holland cut a quarter of its cultural budget. Meanwhile, as with the economy more generally, the balance of power is starting to shift toward former Third World nations. Hong Kong announced that it had hired starchitect Norman Foster to design a $2.8 billion, 40-hectare cultural district in West Kowloon; Abu Dhabi is building a $27 billion mixed-use development on Saadiyat Island featuring two gigantic museums and a performing arts center; and Rio de Janeiro has doubled its cultural budget in anticipation of the 2016 Olympics. Singapore and Shanghai are also seeing gigantic government investments in the arts.

4. Cultural equity #Occupies the conversation

It started small: just a poster in the magazine Adbusters, a ballerina dancing on the Wall Street Bull. But by the time October rolled around, Occupy Wall Street was a household name, changing the national conversation from one obsessed with austerity and the national debt to one that took a serious look at who benefits and suffers from our nation’s economic policies. Around the same time, the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy, a philanthropy watchdog organization that promotes social justice, published Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change by Holly Sidford, a broadside against the longstanding funding practices in the arts that make it hard for organizations representing communities of color to build a strong base of support. It didn’t take long for people to make the connection within both the arts community and the Occupy movement. And when news of the San Francisco Arts Commission possibly cutting its Cultural Equity Grants program hit during a national Cultural Equity Forum hosted by Grantmakers in the Arts – well, let’s just say it’s the most digital ink this topic has had spilled on it in a long time. I suspect, like so many times before, this particular conversation will dissipate without leaving behind any lasting change on a large scale. On the other hand, it’s a good bet that pressure will only continue to build on longstanding cultural institutions to justify the massive resources they have built up over the years.

3. Irvine Foundation gets engaged

About a year ago, I posted a comment on the myth of transformative arts experiences that struck a chord with readers. In it, I told my own “getting hooked on the arts” story and observed that “none of it involved being in the audience for anything….Getting out and seeing a show now and then is always nice. But getting to be in the show – that’s what’s truly transformative about the arts.” It turns out I’m not the only one who’s been thinking along these lines: in June, the James Irvine Foundation announced a wholesale change to its arts strategy that emphasizes audience engagement, including active participation. To support the new strategy, Irvine set up a new Exploring Engagement Fund that serves as “risk capital” for organizations to experiment with new programming strategies that are designed to increase engagement. Irvine is certainly not the first funder to focus its attention on audiences – the Wallace Foundation, for example, has made cultural participation a priority for years, and many have been happy to fund efforts to place cultural programming into context (“talkback sessions” and the like). But Irvine takes the concept much farther by explicitly encouraging programming that places the audience at the center of the experience, offering participants the opportunity to create, perform, or curate art themselves. It’s really quite revolutionary given the history of arts funding, and a lot of eyes will be on this initiative as it develops.

2. Kansas Arts Commission loses its funding

Proposals to eliminate state arts councils have become a dime a dozen in recent years. Just since 2009, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Texas, and several others have staved off threats of demise of varying seriousness. Experienced arts advocates, while taking each individual case seriously, tend to brush off the trend as a whole, seeing it as an inevitable part of the game. Except this year, the unthinkable happened: for the first time since the state arts council network was created in the 1960s, one of them actually had to close down shop completely. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, fighting negative media coverage and his own legislature tooth and nail, followed through on his vow to destroy the Kansas Arts Commission and transfer its activities (but not its funding) to the nonprofit Kansas Arts Foundation. In doing so, he actually cost his state more money in federal matching funds than it saved in direct expenditures. National and local advocates are optimistic that this decision will eventually be reversed, but until then, Kansas has the dubious distinction of being the only state without a functioning arts council.

1. Creative placemaking ascendant

When Rocco Landesman was chosen to lead the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009, he almost immediately signaled his interest in the role of the arts in revitalizing downtown public spaces. Two-plus years into his term, “creative placemaking” has emerged as his signature issue, and the lengths to which he and Senior Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa have gone to promote it have been remarkable. Beyond the NEA’s Our Town grants, the inaugural round of which were announced this past summer, the big news this year was the formation of ArtPlace, a consortium of major foundation funders designed to extend Our Town’s work into the private sphere. Headed by former CEOs for Cities head Carol Coletta, ArtPlace has already distributed $11.5 million in grants and has an additional $12 million loan fund managed by Nonprofit Finance Fund. Its recent solicitation for letters of inquiry drew more than 2000 responses. Our Town’s future at the NEA is by no means assured, but by spurring the creation of ArtPlace, Rocco has guaranteed that creative placemaking will be part of the lexicon for quite a while.

Honorable mention:

And here are my choices for the top new (in 2011) arts blogs:

  1. Lee Streby
  2. New Beans (Clayton Lord)
  3. ArtsFwd (Karina Mangu-Ward and others)
  4. Creative Infrastructure (Linda Essig)
  5. ArtPlace blog (various) – note the RSS feed on this one is impossible to find, it’s here.



Around the horn: Newt edition


  • Sadly, this is what passes for a victory in arts funding these days: the NEA survived the 2012 budget appropriations process with only a 6% cut from last year. This represents full funding of President Obama’s request; yes, that’s right folks, our fearless leader demonstrated his steadfast support of the arts this year by proposing a $9 million cut to a budget that his own handpicked agency head has already described as “pathetic.” The arts in education budget from the Department of Education survived, despite a proposal by the administration to consolidate the program. Other federal cultural agencies, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Smithsonian, saw their funding hold steady or increase slightly.
  • Grantmakers in the Arts is launching a new Arts Education Funders’ Coalition that “will work with an education policy firm in Washington DC to develop opportunities and policies that will enhance arts education at the federal level.”
  • A bill has been introduced in Congress that would impose a new royalty in the amount of 7% of any sales of artwork over $10,000 by living artists or other works not yet in the public domain. The royalty would apply to sales at auction houses and the proceeds would be split evenly between the artist (or his or her heirs) and a new federally-administered fund that will help museums purchase works by living artists. To date, I’ve mostly read arguments against the proposed legislation, some of which are more compelling than others, but I still think the best reason to oppose it is that it seems most likely to help established names at the expense of emerging artists.
  • The passage of a constitutional amendment in Minnesota tripling the state’s arts funding was heralded at the time as unmitigated good news. But since then, the additional funds have brought their own set of headaches with them.
  • Jan Brennan writes about Denver’s newly merged cultural affairs agency, Arts & Venues Denver.


  • More on the recently-announced €1.8 billion “Creative Europe” funding program.
  • Emilya Cachapero reports on the aftereffects of Palestine’s entry into UNESCO, and the United States’ legislatively-mandated decision to stop funding the agency as a retaliatory action. The funding cut amounts to $35 million annually, or 22% of UNESCO’s budget.


  • The director of the program that awards the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grants, Daniel Socolow, is set to retire.
  • Daniel Kertzner, arts program officer for the Rhode Island Foundation, has been promoted to Vice President of Grant Programs for the community foundation.
  • The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance has a new executive director, Jeannie Howe. Former director Buck Jabaily is leaving to become co-founder of Baltimore Open Theatre, which sounds pretty cool.
  • Also in Baltimore, Ben Stone is the new executive director of the city’s Station North cultural district.
  • Theatre Bay Area has a new managing director, Dana Harrison, who formerly played a key role in managing the Burning Man festival.


  • The Fayetteville (NC) Museum of Art is shutting down.
  • The contract dispute between the New York City Opera and its musicians is getting ugly.
  • With Occupy Wall Street in the rear view mirror, the local musicians’ union in New York City is reviving its Justice for Jazz Artists campaign, which I reported on back in 2009. Two years later, the union has not met with any success in convincing owners of the major jazz clubs in NYC to honor verbal agreements to pass the proceeds from a tax break (which was passed five years ago with lobbying help from the clubs in question) to a musicians’ pension fund.




  • Judith H. Dobrzynski reports on the new Art & Finance Report from Deloitte Luxembourg and ArtTactic.


  • Andrew Taylor points us to a cool story about the role that South African taxi cab drivers played in curating music consumption in the 1990s.
  • Off-topic, but…it’s ludicrous that the penny is still around. I remember calls for them to disappear back when I was a teenager. Can we get some movement on this, finally?
  • I named Craige Hoover’s YourTownPerforms.com one of the top 5 new arts blogs in 2010, and the thanks I get is that he disappears for over a year. Luckily, he’s back, hopefully for good this time.