Public arts funding update: March

It was a fairly quiet month, all told, and no news is good news after some of the horrible stories we’ve been treated to in previous years. It looks like we actually have a chance of seeing an increase in state arts appropriations this year for the first time since before the recession, though we’ll still be way behind where we were a decade ago.


The House of Representatives passed a budget resolution based on Paul Ryan’s FY13 budget blueprint that hews closely to conservative thinking on a number of fronts. Included in the document is the following statement on arts funding:

Encourage Private Funding for Cultural Agencies.  Federal subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting can no longer be justified.  The activities and content funded by these agencies go beyond the core mission of the Federal Government and they are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.  These agencies can raise funds from private-sector patrons, which will also free them from any risk of political interference.

I find it completely amazing that conservatives actually have the chutzpah to make this argument. They are such valiant defenders of the poor that they actually deign to give a rat’s ass about the welfare of our nation’s downtrodden when there’s an opportunity to save them a couple of pennies by eliminating the National Endowment of the Arts. Oh wait, what’s that you say? The poor don’t pay income taxes? So they’re not subsidizing the NEA, or any other government agency for that matter? Which means your argument is full of shit? Got it.


Poor Kansas is still looking for ways to get back some of what it lost last year when Governor Sam Brownback vetoed the entire budget of the state’s arts commission. The House passed a bill that would add an option to Kansas tax forms that would allow taxpayers to voluntarily contribute to the Kansas Arts Commission. Given that a similar initiative in California raises only 0.4 cents per capita, I doubt that will prove an effective means of resurrecting the agency.

Utah has passed legislation that will put a question on the November ballot asking voters to consider a statewide sales tax to fund cultural agencies as well as zoos and botanical gardens. Dedicated tax streams have proven one of the most lucrative and stable sources of arts funding around, so good luck to arts advocates in moving this one forward.

The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies keeps a detailed and regularly updated list of relevant legislation and machinations by state at this link.


Chicago Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Michelle T. Boone sat down for her first interview on the job, talking through the merger with the city’s Office of Special Events, the ongoing citywide cultural plan, and other topics. The Commission’s budget declined by about 10%

Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington, DC is proposing a modest increase in local funding for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which saw its budget decimated last year primarily by cuts from Congress.


Most of the news this past month relates to fallout from cuts European governments implemented last year. In the UK, The Stage reports that more than one in nine of the 206 arts groups who lost all of their Arts Council England funding intend to close up shop; another 22% are at risk of closing. Groups in Wales were hit hard by budget cuts last year too, with the burden falling disproportionately on companies serving youth and specific geographic areas. The Netherlands’ decision to slash its cultural budget by 25% last year had previously been reported on Createquity, but I was surprised to learn via the New York Times that Portugal has completely dropped its Ministry of Culture. The same article names Italy, Greece (not surprisingly), Hungary, Spain, and Ireland as other countries that have recently ripped their culture budgets a new one.

All of this is leading to some potentially nightmarish unintended consequences for U.S. arts organizations. Because European governments are so much more active in cultural life than that of the United States, arts institutions in those countries have never had the need or the desire to build up a strong base of private contributions. So now that new funds are needed, rather than start down the long path of cultivating that presently nonexistent generosity, organizations are looking for a quicker fix: American donors.

Europe isn’t the only one feeling the pinch; Ontario, in Canada, is too. But one government arts agency that’s doing well is Brazil’s SESC, which is financed by a unique model involving a 1.5% payroll tax that has helped the entity’s budget double approximately every six years. SESC’s budget is $600 million, rivaling some of the wealthiest European nations, but its broad mandate includes recreational activities and even health clinics in addition to arts organizations.

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Won’t you be my neighbor?

We’re all accustomed to choosing seats online when booking tickets for a concert or a flight.  But what about choosing your seatmates?  Airline KLM will launch a program later this year that will allow customers to choose their neighbors on flights.  The social seating tool, called “Meet and Seat,” will use social media sites to help travelers find seatmates with common interests and even relationship status.  (Interesting to note that 45% of travelers have admitted to flirting during a flight.) Passengers interested in using the program can link an edited version of their Facebook or LinkedIn profile to their account and browse other profiles to choose their seatmate. Customers who would prefer to keep their eyes glued to their Kindles can easily opt out of the program.

Already on Andersen Cooper’s Rediculist, this social experiment could go south pretty quickly. Sales pitches and one-liners could have you writhing in your seat in minutes. Beyond all the normal pitfalls of online dating services such as inaccurate profiles and stalkers, the real question is, do we want to be more connected on airplanes?  Is there no peace and quiet to be found even on an airplane?  Personally, I’m not so sure I want to eavesdrop on a first date for three hours.

Photo credit: Daquella Manera

What about the implications of this new seating option for performing arts organizations?  Putting operational logistics and financial barriers aside for the moment, would this be good for audiences? Perhaps a blessing in a blind-date situation, audiences can only talk at very select times, which could actually work to participants’ advantage.  If the conversation is going nowhere, no need to pull out headphones or a book – the performance will start shortly.  Of course, there still could be some awkwardness if one person is engaged while the other is feeling quite cold about the encounter.

Moving away from the speed dating idea, using a social seating tool to meet new friends with similar interests and backgrounds may be a better approach.  Arts organizations are getting better at segmenting their audience and can help shape specific questions to connect “social serenity seekers” or “cultural omnivores.”  Furthermore, it might be possible to utilize this personal information (with the appropriate permissions) to shape new programs and connect with audiences online.

Regarding feasibility, there would be some significant operational roadblocks.  Matching participants at different price points is clearly a challenge.  Would ticket buyers first choose where they want to sit and then choose a seatmate, or could they browse all program participants’ profiles and opt into a higher price point just to meet Ms. Interesting? Furthermore, matching subscribers and non-subscribers would be challenging as well, but this could become a value proposition.  Subscribers could choose who they sit next to over the course of the season, thereby developing new friendships in the community and strengthening their relationship to the arts organization.

The real question is – do we want to meet the person sitting next to us at an arts event?  My guess is specific audiences would enjoy exchanging niceties and hearing a little bit about neighbors’ post-event musings if given the opportunity.  Attending an arts performance is an inherently communal experience, and enabling those who desire to connect with others could be transformative for the industry.  Because audiences are attending for a common purpose – to hear or see a work of art – this idea is perhaps even more relevant for arts organizations than it is for airlines. Now, if we could choose who is sitting behind us to keep from overhearing candy wrappers and Aunt Susie’s back problems, we truly would be in business.


Cool jobs of the month

(Yup, we’re hiring again, this time for the summer!)

Research Fellows, Fractured Atlas

Fractured Atlas is seeking Summer 2012 research fellows to play key roles in mission‐critical research initiatives. We’re seeking individuals with a background or interest in the arts who are prepared to bring hard‐nosed quantitative analysis skills to creative and strategic challenges in our field. If you get your kicks from creating awesome‐looking spreadsheets that actually work, are a social scientist ninja‐in‐training, or fancy yourself the next Alan Brown (or Nate Silver) in ten years, you might be just the kind of nerd we’re looking for.

Deadline: April 20, 2012. (Note: Fractured Atlas has a summer marketing fellowship available as well.)

Executive Director, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy

Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) develops extraordinary new leaders to enhance organized philanthropy and its impact on communities. EPIP was founded in 2001 by a small group of young foundation professionals and individual donors who sought to work and learn with peers in order to transform philanthropy and confront generational issues, using a social justice lens.

The Executive Director will lead the fulfillment of EPIP’s vision and mission in a truly creative, dynamic, and forward-thinking fashion. The Executive Director is the leader of the organization both publicly and inside the organization, and, as such, is at once a highly visible advocate for emerging professionals within the social sector and an effective project manager who ensures that the work of EPIP is done efficiently and well.

Deadline: April 5, 2012.

Director of Evaluation and Knowledge, REDF

REDF’s Director of Evaluation and Knowledge leads the strategy and implementation of REDF’s evaluation and knowledge initiatives. The seasoned professional REDF seeks will have opportunities to launch new knowledge and performance management practices at REDF, influencing the work of social entrepreneurs and venture philanthropists across the U.S. and beyond. The Director of Evaluation and Knowledge ensures the quality, relevance, and coordination of REDF’s ground-breaking measurement practices, and serves as a REDF evaluation and knowledge “champion” both internally and externally.

No deadline provided. REDF (Roberts Enterprise Development Fund) is a thought pioneer in performance measurement frameworks for the social sector, particularly SROI (Social Return on Investment).

National Director, YouthTruth, Center for Effective Philanthropy

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) is a nonprofit organization focused on the development of comparative data to enable higher-performing funders. YouthTruth, a CEP initiative, is a national survey project that gathers comparative feedback from the ultimate beneficiaries of education reform efforts — students — about what is and isn’t working in their schools. YouthTruth then shares students’ feedback with school leaders, district/network leaders, education funders, and students themselves to enable more informed decisions in pursuit of better long-term outcomes for youth. CEP is seeking a highly motivated, strategic, and entrepreneurial National Director to lead YouthTruth through its next phase of growth. The Director will be responsible for the strategic and operational leadership of the project and ensuring that YouthTruth achieves the goals outlined in its sustainability plan – particularly its revenue and efficiency improvement goals over the next four years. Key responsibilities of this role include: marketing YouthTruth and representing the project publicly, overseeing district and state recruitment efforts nationally, leading efforts to innovate the way YouthTruth does its work, and guiding the overall implementation of the project. Reporting to the President of CEP, the Director will be a member of CEP’s senior leadership team, lead a bicoastal (San Francisco and Boston) team of six high performing staff, and collaborate closely with staff in other departments, including Research and Assessment Tools.

No deadline provided. Cool opportunity with a cool org to use data for the greater good.

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Around the horn: St. Patty’s edition


  • Over at NewMusicBox, Mark N. Grant has a wonderful history of American Presidents’ and Founding Fathers’ fascination with music and the arts. Did you know that John Quincy Adams studied the flute and Ben Franklin invented a musical instrument?
  • A bill to legalize crowdsourced investment in startup companies is inching closer to passage in Congress.
  • Grantmakers in the Arts has officially launched its Arts Education Funders Coalition and hired a lobbying firm to help work on arts education policy.
  • The California Arts Council is getting serious about its strategy to fund itself through selling a million arts license plates.
  • Hartford joins the list of cities seeking to increase the share of money that local nonprofit institutions pay in lieu of property taxes, a trend currently sweeping across New England. This could end up becoming an important policy story before all is said and done.



  • There’s been a lot of buzz about Pinterest, the new picture-based content-sharing/social media platform. Nina Simon explains how her museum has been using it to document (and share) its internal creative process.
  • The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre is no more.
  • Looks like the Napa Valley Symphony is down for the count after the death of its chief donor.


  • The Three Masters: a wonderfully succinct Seth Godin rubric especially relevant to artist-entrepreneurs.
  • Whoo! Phil Buchanan, the fire-throwing president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, doesn’t hold back in this list of “7 habits of highly ineffective foundation boards.”


  • Listen up kids: this casual discussion on the empirical value of the arts to society hosted by Stephen Dubner, co-author of the Freakonomics book and blog, is instructive because we don’t typically get to eavesdrop on people who are neither in the arts nor have a particular anti-arts axe to grind talking to each about the kinds of advocacy arguments we typically use. And indeed, what we hear isn’t pretty. Faced with the question of whether “a lack of exposure to the arts can lead to disastrous results for individuals,” Dubner opines,

    I have to say that what I have read [on the benefits of arts exposure] isn’t all that convincing. It seems to me a classic area in which correlation is mistaken for cause — i.e., highly productive societies have a lot of creative arts; ergo (some may claim), the arts are a contributor to that high productivity (as opposed to, say, a side benefit that’s generated because of that high productivity).

    The (by far) best-rated response comment adds, “I suspect it’s an even simpler correlation: anyone employed in purveying X is pretty sure that X is essential to human flourishing. It’s so obvious that the plethora of research proving it doesn’t even require a cite.”

  • Americans for the Arts’s Animating Democracy project has a new website bringing together much of its output over the past decade and a half into one place.
  • The Wallace Foundation has been pumping out the publications recently: the latest edition is a report from a convening of foundation-supported arts groups to share learning about building audiences.
  • Speaking of GEO, the organization is out with a new study suggesting that grantmakers aren’t walking the walk when it comes to best practices in dealing with grantees.
  • GiveWell has another takedown of published data involving bogus assumptions. This one isn’t quite as dramatic as the DCP2 debacle, but still serves as a warning that not everything you read on the Internet can be trusted.
  • A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts details the growing financial pressures on municipal library systems, with Los Angeles and Philadelphia facing particularly severe cutbacks in recent years. Yet usage of libraries is up, and in Philadelphia at least, that’s being driven by computer use, which has increased 80% in half a decade. Makes Bill Gates’s famed technology investments in libraries in the 1990s seem downright prophetic.
  • For you German readers out there, Maria Davydchyk has a new book examining the transformation of cultural policies in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Soviet Union.
  • Tina Mermini takes a look at the UK’s latest stats on private investment in arts and culture in that country.
  • Also in the UK, Hasan Bakhshi at Britain’s National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts appears to be leading some breathtakingly daring research on the impact of creative industry policy using randomized controlled trials.
  • ArtsWave’s Ripple Effect Report is the inspiration for the “world’s first game-sourced movie,” a 10-minute film by digital media company Possible Worldwide that celebrates the beneficial effects of the arts on local neighborhoods in graphic novel style with the help of thousands of user-submitted images.
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Parklets: Coming Soon to a City Near You

The original PARK(ing) Day parklet. Credit: Rebar

In the last year, parklets have taken San Francisco by storm. At the start of 2011, San Francisco had four of these sidewalk-adjacent, itty-bitty public spaces created by repurposing parking spots. Now there are more than 20, with dozens of others in various stages of review. Other cities, including New York, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Vancouver have taken notice of this phenomenon as a cheap, flexible way to enliven their streets with small seating areas and green spaces. Their importance for even non-design-oriented arts organizations is twofold: 1) their evolution from guerilla art action to policy success can serve as a blueprint in other arenas; and 2) parklet programs in development present opportunities for local arts organizations to shape these urban interventions to serve their communities.

While urban planners laud parklets as revolutionary uses of public space, their short evolution from the original PARK(ing) Day in 2005 to a celebrated piece of city policy in 2011 is perhaps just as astonishing.  PARK(ing) Day began in San Francisco, when the design collective Rebar paid a parking meter, set up some sod, a tree, and a bench, and used the space as a park until the two hours on the meter ran out.  Then, they rolled up the sod, and the space went back to its original car-oriented purpose.  By 2011, it had turned into a decentralized worldwide event, in which thousands of individuals and groups created 975 informal parks for a day across six continents.  In San Francisco, the Pavement to Parks program now officially supports the development of more permanent parklets with a permitting process and guidelines. Among other things, the guidelines stipulate that all parklets are sponsored and managed by a private partner, all seating must remain available for public use, and at least some of the seating must be permanent.

The first official parklet in San Francisco, at Mojo Bicycle Cafe on Divisadero. Credit: Jeremy A. Shaw

Although there has been a great deal of support for parklets, thus far, most in San Francisco don’t quite fulfill their promise. Arts organizations have a fantastic opportunity to improve upon their current form. The requirement for a local business steward means that parklets often end up serving as little more than well-designed outdoor seating areas for cafes or restaurants, albeit technically open to the public. In a review of 19 parklets, John King, the San Francisco Chronicle’s architecture critic, found that fifteen are managed by a cafe or restaurant, two are managed by other businesses, and one is adjacent to a private home. The 19th? An example to us all: the art gallery Fabric 8 is managing its own parklet, which will host art installations that rotate each year. The current installation, by Erik Otto, is available for purchase and can be moved to another location at the close of its exhibition at Fabric 8.

Fabric 8's first parklet, by Eric Otto. Credit: Fabric 8

Arts organizations in San Francisco and elsewhere should follow Fabric 8’s example and push for parklets that support public programs rather than supplement local businesses. A California Planning and Development Report already contains the kernel of a great idea–the creation of a sponsorship program to cover the $5,000-$10,000 in parklet start-up costs for worthy organizations that can’t afford it. Other possibilities include the coordination of parklet design to enhance (or generate!) arts districts, the development of a single permit to utilize all of a neighborhood’s parklets for a mobile arts event, the formation of new arts-business partnerships for parklet stewardship, or the creation of parklets specifically for performance. Parklets represent a version of place-based community development that even small arts organizations can deploy to achieve great impact.



SOPA/PIPA and the Decentralization of Protest

In January, in response to a flood of protests from the Internet community, both houses of Congress indefinitely postponed voting on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA).  As many of you are aware, the contents of these controversial bills–which sought to regulate Internet content in the name of fighting piracy–are at least as important as they way they were stopped, by an enormous Internet protest that took the form of major website blackouts, activism on social networks, and petitions sent to representatives.  Many observers, including Jonathan Wiseman of the New York Times, have commented that this outpouring was part of a larger war between old and new economies, and thus also old and new ways of wielding political power.  With over 70 members of Congress coming out against SOPA/PIPA after the Internet backlash, it’s clear that the new economy won this battle.

Arts organizations, in general, have divided themselves along similar lines in their stance on SOPA and PIPA.  Supporters include several major players, mostly entertainment industry unions and associations with a great deal of traditional lobbying power; opposition includes a wider range of arts and culture organizations, including Fractured Atlas, McSweeney’s, Dance/USA, and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture.  And just as corporate giants like Viacom have been dealt a surprising loss, so too have groups like the Actors’ Equity Association that represent artists on a national stage.

The fact that we are witnessing a dilution of the lobbying power of arts unions, and thus a loss of a certain amount of political pull for the arts writ large, may seem troubling.  It shouldn’t–Internet activism, like the Occupy Wall Street movement, is uniquely decentralized, placing a high premium on visibility, and thus precisely the kinds of creative protest that artists excel at. The campaign by the culture-jamming publication Adbusters that launched the Occupy Wall Street movement is only one of many examples of artists effectively using decentralized media to get their message across, whether by glitterbombing anti-gay public figures, or returning weighted business reply mail envelopes to drive up the costs to banks.

Artists and arts organizations can continue to build on these efforts by recognizing that the decentralized power of the Internet means that a great deal of our strength lies in the ability to spread, and shape, the messages produced by others.  Ideas and instructions for how to produce viral videos and memes abound, but anyone who has attempted to produce one knows even the most interesting pieces need a great deal of luck to catch fire online (though that doesn’t mean we should stop trying).  Still, we may be better served by recognizing even highly politicized pieces like glitterbombing as the efforts of artists and lending our support through social networks and other media.  In this way, we can further link the vibrancy of Internet culture—which also tends to be virulently anti-censorship—to that of the arts.  After all, as Occupy Wall Street shows us, the power of decentralization grows as a function of inclusiveness and openness.  The more voices we recognize and empower, the more we are amplified as a group.


Around the horn: Linsanity edition

Quick announcement: Createquity Writing Fellowship alumna Katherine Gressel is curating an art show! And raising money for it!

OK, back to regularly scheduled programming…



  • Rob Stephany is the new director of the Economic and Community Development program for the Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh. The program will coordinate with each of the Endowments’ program areas – including arts and culture – on place-based investments.
  • Outgoing Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest offers a rundown of outcome-oriented philanthropy’s growth in the decade he has spent at the top of the one of the nation’s largest funders.
  • What good has organized (i.e., foundation) philanthropy accomplished in 100 years? GiveWell’s Holden Karnofsky analyzes a hundred case studies from Joel Fleishman’s book The Foundation: A Great American Secret to find out.


  • The Chicago News Cooperative, a nonprofit news site launched with major support from the MacArthur Foundation, is suspending operations, at least in part because the IRS apparently isn’t sure that newspapers can be nonprofits. Or at least that’s the reason given by MacArthur, whose legal counsel wasn’t satisfied with the fiscal sponsor relationship that CNC had with local public television station WTTW. Regardless, there’s some egg on the face of MacArthur, who invested $1 million in what is currently looking like a failed experiment. Meanwhile, a lot of us are anxiously awaiting the IRS’s long-anticipated arrival into the 21st century, in which real journalism will hopefully be recognized as a genuine public good.
  • The Metropolitan Opera is the latest arts institution to adopt dynamic pricing.
  • Following up on our post about bad public art, John Metcalfe shines a light on a European conceptual public artist whose prankster aesthetic seems to involve annoying as many people as possible.
  • Brandon Reynolds takes an in-depth look at Kansas City’s jazz district, a creative placemaking initiative that hasn’t been very successful thus far.
  • Some good news for a change: Hawaii’s symphony orchestra is back from the dead. And there’s a new “fire arts” festival in Pittsburgh.


  • It’s been a big couple of weeks for Big Data. First, the New York Times ran an article trumpeting the increasing importance of statistics and number-crunching in daily life (and the opportunities that abound for those fluent in such matters), to which Fractured Atlas’s Adam Huttler responded with a post about FA’s data initiatives in the arts. Michael Rohd had an interesting post on the artist as data scientist, making the point (which I completely agree with) that stories and emotions are data too. Joe Patti comments on the creepy side of Big Data, especially when the subject is us. And bringing it all back to the Grey Lady, their data artist in residence (yes, that’s his actual title), Jer Thorp, gave a well-reviewed speech at TEDxVancouver that is worth a watch.
  • Great article on Data Without Borders, a startup nonprofit that connects data scientists with nonprofits in need, founded by yet another New York Times staffer. They’ve been getting a lot of (well-deserved) attention, and while still very young, could end up being the most significant fieldbuilding organization since GiveWell.
  • Theatre Bay Area and its indefatigable Director of Marketing and Communications, Clayton Lord, are out with a new book on intrinsic impact in live theater. The anthology’s centerpiece is a study commissioned by TBA from WolfBrown of theatrical performances in six cities, using WolfBrown’s unique methodology for understanding intrinsic impact (basically, the emotional or cognitive effects that arts experiences have on individual participants). There are also four original essays and a number of interviews with leaders in the theater field. While the book is only available for purchase, the folks at TBA are rolling out a series of excerpts and supplementary material that can be consumed for free; check out this interview excerpt with Diane Ragsdale as an example.
  • A new study purports to demonstrate a positive impact on test scores for Chicago public school children receiving arts education.
  • Helicon Collaborative is out with a new paper looking at the characteristics of arts organization “bright spots” in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Adrian Ellis revives the supply & demand conversation in a big way with this expansive article for the Grantmakers in the Arts Reader.
  • The NEA hosted a roundtable on arts education standards and assessment last month; you can read a brief report here or watch the webcast here.
  • Welcome Joanna Woronkowicz, new program analysis officer at the NEA’s Office of Research and Analysis.
  • The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Kevin Bolduc writes about the progress of the Charting Impact project, which asks nonprofits to fill out a simple form describing their intended and actual results.
  • Cogent article from the Foundation Center’s VP for Research Larry McGill on the value of being transparent about limitations in data quality.
  • Interesting field experiment attempting to measure the effect of social pressure on charitable giving. Cool research design, although as several commenters point out, it would have benefited from a more sophisticated control.
  • There’s a Journal of Art Crime?

Cool jobs of the month

Just under the wire…thank goodness for leap years!

(Work for Nina Simon! For free, but…still!)

Internships (many), Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History

I’m personally most excited about the two types of interns who will be reporting to me:

  1. Community Research interns, who will start developing a methodology for us to use to understand how people in Santa Cruz connect with arts and culture experiences and what role the museum can play in satisfying their interests. This could be a serious research opportunity for someone interested in impact assessment, community attitudes towards the arts, and the role museums can play in transforming communities.
  2. Special Projects interns, who will do, well, whatever you want. This internship is for the truly self-motivated person out there with a brilliant idea for making museums more participatory, welcoming, community spaces who just lacks an institution at which to try it out. Our internships have generally gotten more structured. This is the Pigpen in the family–the internship for the wild-eyed but highly effective person who wants to make something amazing happen.
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Upcoming Speaking (and Singing!) Engagements

A bunch of speaking opportunities have come up over the next six weeks that’ll have me covering a wide range of topics, many of them for students and emerging arts leaders. Especially if you live in the New York City metro region, you’ll have a number of chances to see me in public in the near future. I also have some exciting things lining up for the summer, and I’ll be sure to share those with you when the time comes. In the meantime, though, here’s my speaking schedule for late February through March:

Sunday, February 26
State of NYC Dance Symposium
Gina Gibney Dance Center
890 Broadway, 5th Floor
New York, NY
10am – 5:30pm
More info; event is SOLD OUT
(I’ll be speaking on the “Data on NYC Dance” panel from 11-12:15 about Fractured Atlas’s research on fiscally sponsored dance projects with Carrie Blake.)

Saturday, March 10
“Innovative Strategies in Arts Leadership”
organized by Emerging Leaders of New York Arts and the Pratt Institute Arts & Cultural Management Program
Gina Gibney Dance Center
890 Broadway, 5th Floor
New York, NY
6:30 – 8pm, reception to follow
Info here

March 23-25
Arts Enterprise Summit
Claremont Graduate University
160 East 10th Street
Claremont, CA
Info and registration
(I’ll be giving a workshop on “The Well-Informed Arts Professional” from 1:30-2:45pm on Saturday the 24th.)

During this time period, I’ll also be guest lecturing on “Arts, Economics, and Community Development” for Maria Guralnik’s “Making the Case for the Arts” class at Purchase College this coming Monday, and participating in a student colloquium at NYU on the subject of “Social Entrepreneurship in the Arts” on March 30. Unfortunately, those events aren’t open to the public, but wish me luck anyway!

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that C4, the collaborative chorus that I founded in 2005 and rejoined this past fall, isperforming twice next week in New York City. The concert is called “A Loss for Words” and features all music with either no or nontraditional lyrics, all composed within the past 25 years. You can learn more and buy tickets (powered by Fractured Atlas’s ticketing system) here.

PS – this post was inspired in part by my recent discovery that a couple of panels that I’ve participated on in yesteryear were recorded and were subsequently posted to the web for public consumption. If you’re curious, here are a few that I didn’t know were available. If I find more, I’ll post them here or create an archive elsewhere on the site.


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Public arts funding update: February

For whatever reason, this is about the time of year when things start to heat up in budget land, for the federal government and states alike. From February through May, we’ll find out a lot about where the NEA and state arts council budgets stand for fiscal year 2013, and what the corresponding ramifications might be for their grantmaking. Createquity will keep you up to date on it all with monthly updates throughout the spring.


The President’s FY13 budget request is out, and (as has been widely reported) it includes a modest increase for the National Endowment for the Arts to about $154 million. This is a welcome turnaround from last year, when he kicked arts advocates in the nether regions by proposing (and thus setting up as the best-case scenario) a 13% cut to the agency’s budget, but color me unimpressed nevertheless. The arts community had big hopes upon President Obama’s inauguration that he was finally going to make cultural funding a priority, but at the end of his first term things are pretty much the same as when he came in. We had the best opportunity in decades for a game-changer at the beginning of 2009, and BHO passed it up.

But that’s yesterday’s news, and our cultural policy is what it is. AFTA’s Narric Rome points out some of the easily-overlooked details in the NEA budget request, including the fact that (if funded) the Our Town creative placemaking program’s budget will nearly double to $10 million; the travel budget is being cut by 25%; and Donald Trump (of all people!) is buying out the NEA’s current office building to convert it into a hotel, necessitating a search for new digs.

As we all know, the NEA isn’t the only recipient of federal arts funds. Mike Boehm of the LA Times rounds up the other figures: the Smithsonian gets a 5.6% increase including both its operating and capital budget; the National Gallery of Art gets an 11.2% increase; the Kennedy Center is cut by 2.4%, the Institute for Museum and Library Services essentially gets level funding. The National Endowment for the Humanities’ budget is once again tied to that of the NEA, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting stays flat.


Finally, some good news from the state arts council front! After three years of financial carnage, from which Michigan did not escape, ArtServe Michigan scored a threefold increase in the governor’s budget request for the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and from a Republican no less! Granted, a threefold increase is a lot easier to achieve after your budget has been cut by 81% as Michigan’s was three years ago, but every little bit helps. This also is a success story for the power of data visualization and storytelling, as I’d be willing to bet that the very effective infographic on the promise of the creative economy that ArtServe put out in December had something to do with the victory. Florida is also looking at a welcome potential boost after several tough years in a row.

Unfortunately, some states still can’t seem to catch a break. South Carolina’s governor Nikki Haley has once again called for the South Carolina Arts Council to be eliminated, despite failing to kill it last year; there is now a proposal in the legislature to direct a portion of the state admissions tax to the arts council. And New Hampshire conservatives continue to apply pressure to the state’s Department of Cultural Resources, whose budget is practically nonexistent at this point.

Finally, we have an interesting situation in Kansas, which as you may remember was the first state to have funding for its arts council completely eliminated last year. Governor Sam Brownback is now proposing the restoration of a $200,000 pittance in state subsidy, with the caveat that it will go to a Creative Industries Commission under the Department of Commerce.

Barry Hessenius (former director of the California Arts Council) has an extensive interview with Craig Watson, current director of the California Arts Council. Because of the dire state of California’s finances, Watson reports that more general funds for the agency are unlikely this year, even though governor Jerry Brown is a huge supporter of the arts. For that reason, the CAC is pressing ahead with its campaign to sell one million arts license plates, a strategy that (if successful) would increase the Arts Council’s budget to over $40 million.

Americans for the Arts’s Justin Knabb has a helpful roundup of what’s going on with other states over at ARTSBlog. And if you’re curious about where everybody ended up last year, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies just put out its annual summary (membership or purchase required).


We close with a few cautionary tales about the public arts funding. As I wrote earlier this year, it’s entirely possible for governments to have a pernicious influence on an arts ecosystem. Western Europe has managed to sustain cultural norms by which governments generously fund the arts while maintaining a largely hands-off orientation towards content (case in point: Arts Council England’s new £37 million “Creative Places and People” fund), but that doesn’t mean we can count on that always being so. Hungary’s recently elected national conservative government, for example, is making waves for “systematically replacing key figures in cultural institutions, staging pro-government exhibitions, rethinking permanent museum displays and replacing historic statues to fit its political agenda.” On the other side of the political spectrum, Venezuelan demagogue Hugo Chávez has received criticism for trying to appropriate the legendary El Sistema youth symphony program that preceded his presidency by 24 years. (Doug Borwick rightly points out the amazing fact that an arts program would be popular enough to be seen as propping up the political fortunes of a sitting president.)

Don’t get me wrong. I do think there is a role for government arts funding in the United States, especially at the state and local level, and I think that role could and should be expanded substantially in this country. (Hence my frustration that the opportunities to do just that three years ago were not taken by the current administration.) In a way, though, I think the fact that we’ve had to get by without much help from the government has been good for the long-term development of the field. It’s forced us to be much more creative and resourceful about finding allies, building partnerships, and cultivating earned revenue than we might otherwise have been. And in a political environment in which the “culture wars” are expanding beyond cultural organizations, perhaps it’s to our advantage that arts groups simply don’t have that much left to lose from government. That said, with diversified revenue streams in place, increased government support can only make us even stronger – and, more importantly, help to even out the inequities in arts production and access that market-driven alternatives tend to exacerbate.

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