Wrapping up the Createquity Writing Fellowship

When I re-launched Createquity two years ago following its website redesign, I put a brash new descriptor of the site on the “About” page: “a unique virtual think tank” for the arts. I loved the idea of Createquity being a place for the exchange of ideas, not just a platform for their dissemination. For the year and a half following that change, however, the notion of Createquity as a “think tank” was mostly a fiction. Aside from a few excellent posts by Guy Yedwab, if there was a thought factory in operation here, I was the only one coming in to work.

Fast forward to yesterday, which I am pretty sure set a record for both the number of posts (6) and the number of words (over 14,000!) ever to appear on Createquity in a single day, all tackling three of the most significant works of research and policy literature from the past decade. I’m pretty sure that record will stand for some time. And I didn’t write a single one of those posts. Today, my vision of a “virtual think tank for the arts” feels quite a bit more real.

The explosion of verbosity yesterday marked the end of the inaugural Createquity Writing Fellowship. For the past five months (give or take a week), Aaron Andersen, Jennifer Kessler, and Crystal Wallis have been contributing guest posts to the blog on a semi-regular basis, enlivening this space with their diverse perspectives, wealth of experience, and bon mots.

Aaron Andersen was the very first one out of the gate with a typically strong post on markets and economies just days after the Fellowship period started. Then he became a new father, and, well, that kind of took up all his time for a while. But Aaron’s been tearing it up and putting a hella lot of words up on this blog over the past month, and each of his contributions show him in fine form. Here’s a roundup of Aaron’s pieces this past semester (post titles in bold are among the top 15 most-viewed articles ever at Createquity as of this writing):

Jennifer Kessler began the Fellowship looking for new challenges. Having recently switched from a career in performance to managing arts education programs, she was eager to delve into the arts education policy and research literature in addition to writing about her passion, El Sistema. Jennifer did just that, slogging through complex texts like the Obama administration’s recommendation for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and Arts Education Partnership’s seminal arts education literature review, “Critical Links,” so that we didn’t have to. In the midst of it all, she found out that she’d been accepted as one of the 2011-12 Abreu Fellows at New England Conservatory, and will be spending time in Boston and Venezuela next year as part of that gig. Here is all of Jennifer’s writing for the site:

Crystal Wallis brought to this opportunity a unique combination of skills and interests: a deep love for folklore and traditional arts combined with a lot of experience and comfort with spreadsheets. I thought this was an irresistible pairing, and Crystal has delivered, with posts on topics as diverse as ethnographic research methods, real-estate-based business models, and volunteer management. Crystal just recently got her Master’s degree in arts management from Carnegie Mellon, a program that has greatly impressed me with the quality of its graduates, and it’s not yet known what lucky organization is going to have the privilege of adding her to its team. I’m happy to speak on Crystal’s behalf to anyone looking for a whip-smart and seasoned manager with a great attitude and excellent writing and analytical skills. Here are Crystal’s posts:

Stay tuned for more details about the fall Writing Fellowship opportunity. In the meantime, let’s give a big round of applause to Aaron, Crystal, and Jennifer!

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Informal Arts: the informal version

This is a short overview of my full article for the Arts Policy Library.

Informal Arts is a series of case studies on the little-researched topic of adult participation in informal arts. By following twelve groups ranging from a quilting guild to a hip-hop collective, this 431-page report delves into the social and artistic value created by people actually making art.

The study found that:

  • The informal arts bridge differences. People from all walks of life participated, and people of different ages, genders, occupations, and incomes worked together artistically. The authors say that this was possible because the barriers to participation were so low.
  • The informal arts build capacity for community building. Participants reported getting better at giving and receiving criticism through their artistic activity, and some became more involved in their communities.
  • The informal arts benefit the formal arts, and vice-versa. Informal groups can be incubators for new artistic directions, and formal institutions provide training and inspiration.
  • Informal arts groups are present in many areas of Chicago, including areas like the Southside that aren’t traditionally known for artistic activity. However, even within those communities, not many people know about those groups.

I think that this report is pretty amazing in detail, and eye-opening in revealing how and why people participate in the arts. It was particularly surprising that none of the case-study groups met in a formal arts institution; they met in churches, libraries, parks, or private homes. The demographics recorded in the report defy the stereotypes of who participates in amateur arts groups.

The lesson for the arts and policy sectors to take away are:

  • The arts don’t just have an economic impact. Adults (not just children) creating art has an intrinsic value, too.
  • Formal arts institutions are not the only sources for art.
  • In a world of social media, the pro-am revolution, and “the long tail,” the number of people wanting to create art is not going to decrease, and the extent to which they want to participate will probably increase.
  • Formal arts organizations should become more involved in the informal arts if they want to thrive in the future.  They can do this by:
  1. Enabling informal arts groups to do what they do, or
  2. Directly engaging in the informal arts through sponsorship and partnership.

 

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Arts Policy Library: Informal Arts

The Arts Continuum

An illustration of the formal-informal arts continuum from "Informal Arts," 2002.

Informal Arts: Finding Cohesion, Capacity and Other Cultural Benefits in Unexpected Places (Chicago Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College, 2002) sheds light on the little-studied topic of adult participation in informal arts. The report was commissioned by the CAP in response to “The Arts & The Public Purpose” (American Assembly Consensus Report, 1997), the 1998 NEA Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, and a 1998 study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project that identified a strong relationship between arts participation and other forms of community engagement.  Given the CAP’s focus on the interaction of the arts and democracy, they approached Dr. Alaka Wali, Director of the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change at Chicago’s Field Museum to research the subject in more depth. The report, led by Wali along with ethnographers Rebecca Severson and Mario Longoni,  follows participants in a dozen groups in the Chicago area, ranging from a drum circle to community theaters to a quilting guild. While there has been a lot of investigation into the economic impact of the arts and especially of those consuming it, this 431-page report delves into the social and artistic value created by people actually making art.

SUMMARY

Both the CAP and the Center for Cultural Understanding are centered around how the arts can be used for social change and engagement. Accordingly, the areas of inquiry set out at the start of the project revolved around community development. In the words of Dr. Wali, the areas were:

  1. What, if anything, does participation in these kinds of activities lead to in terms of interaction across boundaries of race, ethnicity, gender, and class?
  2. What kind of civic skills, if any, do people acquire as a result of their participation in these kinds of activities?
  3. What is the relationship between the informal and more formal arts?

Their research consisted of fieldwork (which involved joining each group as a student), review of media coverage, census records, published literature, and sending a survey to 310 participants (conducted via email and mail with 166 responses). Through these methods, authors found that the informal arts do help participants bridge differences with their peers and gain skills that are transferred to their work and civic life. Additionally, findings indicated that while the informal arts benefit from the formal arts in terms of training, inspiration, and (very occasionally) resources, the formal arts benefit from informal arts in that they serve as incubators and they create potential audience members.

However, the study also found that the informal arts are often “invisible” because they take place in unexpected spaces and don’t exactly have marketing budgets. The authors recommended that the informal arts be made more visible by being further studied, talked about by civic and arts leaders, advocated for, and used in community development.

What are the informal arts?

By now you may be wondering what exactly the “informal arts” are. The NEA Survey of Public Participation in the Arts calls them “unincorporated arts,” while many refer to them as amateur,  leisure-time, or community arts. (Participants of case study groups described themselves as anywhere between “not ready for prime time” to “just people not professional”). The report’s official definition is that the informal arts are “creative activities that fall outside traditional non-profit and commercial arts experiences,” going on to say that they usually have no permanent home, virtually no fund-raising activities or secure income, and no selective membership.

To get a better idea, these are the groups that were studied in the report:

Informal Arts Table

Table of case study groups excerpted from "Informal Arts"

Benefits of the Informal Arts

1. Bridging Differences

Through a survey, the authors found that informal arts participants in the study were very representative of the US population as a whole across all groups in terms of income, ethnicity, age, occupation, and gender. Diversity within groups was also common, with the exception of ethnicity- groups tended to be primarily of one race.

Something significant that they had in common, though, was education—up to 80% had some college education (compared to 65.6% nationally). Another commonality was the love of or need to make art. There were more than 32 references in the field notes to artists saying they “have to” or “must” do their art, with the phrase “need to express” being used 72 times.

This common drive to make art provides a significant motivation to find other people with whom to make it, even if that means crossing social boundaries. The study devotes quite a bit of attention to how informal arts settings offer lowered barriers to participation that enable such boundaries to be overcome.

  • The spaces were accessible and felt accessible. Of all of the case studies, not one was held in a space dedicated to art. Through their interviews and survey of media, the researchers found that the places where informal arts take place are coffeehouses, police stations, office buildings, churches, social service agencies, the street, libraries, and parks. The report spoke of underlying preconceived notions of “[the space] is there for me”(public spaces) v. “[the space] is there for others” (formal arts places). Some participants learned of the activities at parks and libraries simply when they were passing through, or saw the group practicing their activity through a window or outside.
  • The activities were accessible financially. Most of the activities were free or low cost, with some participants specifically stating that they did not take classes at formal arts institutions because they were too expensive.
  • The groups exuded and fostered a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Casual attendance policies prevailed—if someone had to skip a week, or even a few months, and it didn’t adversely affect the group, so it wasn’t a big deal. Older children would sometimes be brought along to avoid having to pay for a sitter. The atmosphere at group meetings was welcoming. Participants in the drum circle invited onlookers to join in, physically going up to them and handing them instruments. In the quilting guild, Asian music ensemble, and painting class, if a new member voiced concern over not doing the activity “right,” existing members would insist that they were doing fine and use self-deprecating humor to downplay their own ability.
  • All talent levels were welcome in the groups. The painting class used the studio method in classes, in which the instructor goes from student to student, ensuring that everyone could work at their own pace. Participants could choose their own involvement level, and often the focus of their efforts—choosing which plays to produce was a group effort, and members of a painting class chose their own subjects and styles.  There were opportunities for everyone from beginners to highly skilled artists. Participants taught each other peer-to-peer by sharing tips and tricks. Finally, teachers and peers were gentle on criticism, especially at first.

2. Building Capacity

The authors found that informal arts participation built skills that are useful in community development, including consensus building, working collaboratively, and the ability to imagine and foment social change.

Although decision-making styles varied across disciplines, all involved some level of consensus building.  In the community theaters, decisions were made by the board or a director, but there was still discussion involved where everyone had their say, and eventually a majority developed.  In the South Asian music ensemble, disagreements would be voiced via email, and later key members of the group would mediate, keeping the group focused on their purpose and goals. Even the church choir director, though he had official control over the selection of songs, would frame the selection as a request, saying “Can we sing this on Sunday?”

The participants reported learning collaborative work habits in their artistic activities and carrying those skills over into their work lives and the public sphere. For example, an actor found that because he had learned not to “take over” as a result of receiving criticism in theater, he could now more effectively play the role of mediator at work. A drummer spoke of becoming more egalitarian and more willing to join community groups because of his role facilitating the group rhythm of the drum circle, in which he encouraged people who thought they couldn’t play while keeping advanced and master drummers engaged.

Researchers observed both groups and individuals advocating for causes they believed in. One member of the writing group told the group’s sponsors that the journal they published was too “heavy” and stereotypically “ghetto drama,” and she convinced them to change it. A kindergarten teacher in the drumming circle initiated efforts to help the homeless through her school and spoke up more to her supervisors after joining the group.  The authors of the study called this the ability to imagine and implement social change: a combination of the ability to form an opinion, to speak one’s point of view, and to be physically comfortable in the public sphere.

Informal arts participants frequently reported gaining other skills as well:

  • 75% of respondents to the survey indicated that their ability to give and take criticism had improved since starting arts activities.
  • 60% indicated that their problem-solving skills had improved; indeed, through their fieldwork, Wali et al. witnessed participants substituting materials, re-thinking strategies, and re-structuring roles in response to challenges that presented themselves.
  • The authors recorded participants nurturing tolerance (especially regarding differing skill levels) and fostering mechanisms for inclusion using patience, humor, structuring of space (adding more chairs, etc), respect for people’s strengths even if their skills or experiences were less than one’s own, open-mindedness, and trust of strangers.

3. Strengthening the Entire Arts Sector

Despite the difficulty in defining terms and boundaries between the formal and informal arts—“amateur” and “professional” are words that describe employment status, but aren’t synonymous with talent level, for example—the authors found evidence of mutual benefit and reinforcement flowing in both directions. The formally trained teachers and group leaders often derived benefits from teaching such as new ways of thinking about techniques or ideas and  hands-on experience in organizing and administrating. The students and less skilled artists benefited from the formal training of their teachers and gained inspiration from performances and exhibitions at formal arts institutions (50.9% of survey respondents replied that attending artistic events inspired their own artistic activities “very much”, 39.5% “somewhat”).

The benefits that flow between the informal and formal arts aren’t only felt by individuals. Wali et al. use the case of the Hull House to illustrate how the informal arts serve as an incubator for new ideas for the formal sector. Viola Spolin, the originator of American improvisational theater (a practice that culminated with Spolin’s son co-founding the legendary Second City comedy enterprise) started her career by attending classes at the Hull House with Neva Boyd, a Northwestern University sociologist who used dramatics, folk dance, storytelling and games to stimulate creative expression and self-discovery in children and adults.  In addition, informal artists are frequently audiences for the formal arts. Some 45% of survey respondents indicated that they had seen displays or attended a performance at a college facility, 37% at a concert hall or opera house, 40% at a gallery, 58% at a museum, and 49% at a theater.

Invisibility of the Informal Arts

One of the most interesting findings of the report was that informal arts activities for the most part fly under the radar. Within their own neighborhoods, the groups were not well-known, and media coverage was uneven. Activities occurring in “artsy” neighborhoods were more visible in the media than activities occurring in neighborhoods where you wouldn’t expect it. The following two maps illustrate this dynamic. The first shows the informal arts activities reported in the print media during March 2001.

Excerpted from "Informal Arts," 2002.

Now, here is a map of the three most frequently mentioned locations for informal arts, as described by participants at each of the case study sites. (In other words, this is a map of the informal arts as reported by word of mouth.)  The districts in yellow have activities as reported by word of mouth, but not in the media.

Informal Arts- Word of Mouth

Excerpted from "Informal Arts," 2002, edited by Crystal Wallis to show highlighted areas, 2011.

As you can see from comparing the two, informal arts activities were actually happening in many areas of the city, not just primarily in affluent areas, as the map of media reports would have suggested. And it’s not just that informal arts activities are invisible to the public—they are invisible to each other, too. Researchers found no widespread recognition of informal arts practice as a concept within the informal arts world.

Recommendations
The study recommends several policy interventions to assist the informal arts in conveying their benefits to more individuals and institutions.

  1. Integrate arts practice in community development.
    The researchers point out that most community development strategies revolve exclusively around physical infrastructure and economic development and ignore strategies that build on existing social structures. They say that informal arts groups are an important anchor in depressed communities, and suggest that incorporating these groups into an overall community development strategy that can foster creativity, problem-solving skills, civic-mindedness, and personal satisfaction.
  2. Enhance access to informal participation.
    Public officials and urban planners should expand resources, facilitate access and provide opportunities for informal participation and make this information as widely available as possible.
  3. Build arts advocacy coalitions across informal-formal divides.
    “If the arts are ever to be fully recognized for their contributions to the public interest, broader coalitions in support of the arts must coalesce across divides of professionalization and specialization.” Furthermore, within the study is an implied recommendation for formal arts organizations to initiate audience-building strategies and outreach efforts targeting the informal arts, for which they found no evidence at that time.
  4. Make the informal arts more visible.
    Civic leaders and leaders of arts communities should publicly recognize and remark upon the value of informal arts practice.
  5. Collect missing data on social impact of the arts.
    The study makes repeated calls for further study of informal arts and of social impact of all the arts to augment economic impact.

ANALYSIS

With its case study approach and in-depth qualitative research, this study was a landmark seven years ago and its findings are still startling and incredibly intriguing today.  The methodology of the report is primarily qualitative ethnographic research balanced by quantitative evidence from a survey. The ethnographic research style is “participant observation,” in which researchers actually become members of the groups they study. This method allows the observers to compare subjects’ words with their actions. Their written observations (which form part of a 90-page appendix to the study) combined with interview transcripts were entered into a qualitative database management system. This system allowed for an incredibly detailed look at the data, allowing researchers to find things such as that “the code ‘need to express’ was used 72 times to mark passages concerning the compulsion artists feel to create.” The authors chose they case study method because they wanted a “bottom-up” perspective rather than a top-down survey of all the informal arts activity in Chicago. By exploring in-depth the dynamics of a relatively small set of groups, they were able to reveal the complex relationships among different participants, study sites, and arts institutions.

As explained in the summary, Informal Arts started out with three areas of inquiry:

  1. Did participation in the informal arts encourage people to interact with people different from them?
  2. Did participation build any skills in the participants conducive to community building? and
  3. What is the relationship between the informal and the formal arts?

Research and findings pertaining to the first two questions are susceptible to expectation bias: that is, researchers may expect a certain outcome (i.e., that participants do gain skills as a result of informal arts participation) and as a result may err in measuring the data toward that expected outcome. Certainly, this susceptibility to bias is why the researchers’ observations are balanced by interviews and the survey. But even those methods may suffer from response bias, which happens when a respondent provides the answers to questions that they think the questioner would find desirable. Observation is in turn meant to correct this bias by confirming what participants say with what they do. However, questions about past events (e.g., have your skills improved?) or motivations (e.g., how much has attendance at artistic events inspired your activities?), can’t be confirmed through observation.

In the text of the report, there is a lot of use of the words “seems to,” “apparently,” and “likely” when referring to causation. For example, “passion to create apparently leads people to search out and join groups regardless of their location or composition,” or “the mechanism for developing these skills [that build capacity] likely lies in the regular creation of art” (emphasis mine).  On first read, it seems like the researchers may be jumping to conclusions, although it’s possible that their firsthand experience from interviews and observations convinced them of a causal connection that just wasn’t possible to generalize beyond the case study group.

In general, proving causation (especially when dealing with personal motivations) is very difficult. However, proof is a little easier when you have a control group. The report states that informal arts participation imbues skills in the participants such as collaborative work habits, consensus building skills, and the ability to imagine and foment social change. Without a control group, however, Wali et al. can’t claim definitively that arts participation caused people to obtain these skills, or that participants having these skills is not a result of self-selection. The report also says that the informal arts are a rich ground for formal arts audiences, but it can’t say that they make people more likely to attend formal arts organizations than if they did not participate.  By comparing the results of the Informal Arts survey with the contemporary NEA SPPA data, we can start to get an idea about what that might look like. For example, 40% of informal arts participants reported seeing displays in the last 12 months at a gallery, and 58% at a museum. In contrast, only 27% of US Adults reported attending an art museum or gallery at least once in the same time period. This isn’t a true comparison, however, because this study asked people where they attended arts activities while the SPPA asked people what types of activities they attended.

It looks like those who participate in the informal arts are more likely to attend formal arts institutions, but without identical questions and methodology for the two groups, we really can’t say for sure.

Even looking at this report with the most skeptical eye, however, there are findings that stand out.

  1. Informal arts participants are surprisingly representative of the US population. In contrast to the skewed demographics typically seen among ticket-buyers to traditional arts events, the study found  that people of all ages, races, incomes, and occupations participate in creating art (although they are usually slightly more educated). The importance of this takeaway to arts advocacy, if it proves consistent beyond the study, can’t be overstated: artists aren’t only weird people who make weird art that no one understands (like many who oppose funding the arts claim). They are ordinary people from all walks of life—your neighbor, your coworker, your relative—who have a need to create and express themselves.
  2. The informal arts don’t happen at arts institutions. Overwhelmingly (in Chicago at least) they occur in parks, libraries, and churches. This has some pretty big implications both for the non-profit arts sector and public policy (discussed below).
  3. The relationship between the informal and the formal arts is complex and fluid. Artists move from one end of the spectrum to the other, sometimes switching roles in the process, both by choice and by necessity. The informal groups can serve as incubators for new initiatives later picked up by formal institutions, and formal institutions in turn provide training and inspiration.
  4. The visibility of the informal arts is uneven at best and virtually nonexistent at worst. The maps indicate that there is a lot going on in economically depressed neighborhoods that isn’t noticed in the media.  Furthermore, the lack of study in this area and the dearth of formal arts institutions reaching out to these groups suggests that the informal arts are underestimated and overlooked by those in positions of leadership in the artistic and academic communities.

IMPLICATIONS

When Informal Arts was published in 2002, “amateur” participation in the arts was just beginning to gain more prominence. In 2004, Demos published “The Pro-Am Revolution: How Enthusiasts are Changing our Economy and Society” describing people pursuing amateur activities to professional standards. Two years later, Chris Anderson came out with The Long Tail, about how the internet has increased consumer choice to the point that public interest is shifting to the long tail of niche interests. For pro-am artists, that means it’s easy to sell their art and find an audience online, through sites like CD Baby (c. 1999), Etsy (2005), FineArtAmerica (c.2008), ArtFire (c. 2010), or self-publishing with ebooks. Furthermore, the 2008 NEA SPPA found that 10% of all survey respondents reported performing or creating at least one of the art forms examined in the survey, up 2% from 2002. Recently, WolfBrown’s report “Beyond Attendance: A Multi-Modal Understanding of Arts Participation” explored the new and unfolding relationships between art creation, art attendance, and media-based participation.

More and more, people are participating in the arts virtually instead of in person. The internet has become another public space in which people participate in arts activities. In this case, access to technology and the web becomes another barrier to be lowered in order to enable arts participation. It would be very interesting to follow up with these groups or even conduct an entirely new study to see what impacts, if any, this revolution has had on informal arts groups’ activities, recruitment, and structure, as well as if this trend has prompted more formal arts institutions to reach out to the informal groups.

The researchers make the argument (and I am inclined to agree with them) that the study of informal arts participation is beneficial to the sector as a whole because it illustrates how arts practice creates value in individual and civic contexts, not just economic impact. By now, economic impact is the rallying cry for arts advocates. But economic impact reports are at best incomplete and at worst misleading about art’s impact on society. The arts create many types of value, not all of them monetary, and to successfully advocate for the arts we must try to measure as many as we can. There has been some study on the intrinsic value of art to audiences (WolfBrown), and innumerable studies on how the arts help children, but not very many on the intrinsic value of adults creating art. Informal Arts not only conducted a survey, but took an ethnographic case study approach to the study of arts participation to uncover what adults get out of their participation. To my knowledge this report remains the only study on this topic to go so in-depth with qualitative research.

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. I see two primary ways for the arts sector to do this.

The first way is to enable existing informal arts groups in doing what they already do fairly well. The most common obstacle they face is a space to meet, which is available at any arts organization with a physical space. Sometimes groups need theaters, stages, or other specialized spaces (like community theaters and perhaps a choir or orchestra), but sometimes all they need is a room.  And although many of the groups in the study weren’t hurting for members, participants themselves reported having trouble finding the groups in the first place.  It wouldn’t cost much money for arts organizations to make it easy for patrons to find out about opportunities to create art in their specific discipline by calling the organization or visiting its website. In addition, if that institution were to partner artistically with informal arts organizations, it would recognize and validate that activity, encouraging the participants to continue and grow.

The second way is for the organization to directly engage in informal arts. This could mean having artists on staff give lessons, teach classes or facilitate groups (keeping in mind the financial barriers mentioned above). It could also involve reaching out to groups already meeting in libraries, parks, and churches and offering direct assistance in the form of teaching artists, funding, administration, or partnership.

__________________________________________________________

Although the field of arts research has barely begun to scratch the surface of the role that informal arts play and the ways they might impact the arts sector as a whole, it is clear is that the topic deserves more attention. Reading this report from the perspective of the formal arts sector, it’s a bit humbling to realize that the entire field plays only one part in the artistic life of the general public and our audiences. However, examining the benefits of informal arts participation as well as people’s motivations for doing it tell us a lot about the impact the arts have on society outside our walls. Given the constantly evolving patterns and definitions of participation (not to mention art), a better understanding of the informal arts will be increasingly valuable to both the arts and policy sectors now and in the future.

Further Reading:

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Critical Links: the bullet points

This is the quick-fix version of my essay for the Arts Policy Library about “Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development,” edited by Richard Deasy. I hope this will give you brief overview of what the Compendium is about, and what I took away from it.

  • “Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development” is a literature review featuring 62 arts education research studies, summarized and analyzed by leading experts across the disciplines of dance, drama, “multi-arts,” music, and visual arts.
  • “Critical Links” has two ambitious goals: first, to identify strong arts education research that explores transference (“instances in which learning in one context assists learning in a different context”); and second, to inform curricular designs and practices that will enhance the quality and impact of student learning in the arts.
  • The review examines studies by discipline (dance, drama, “multi-arts,” music, and visual arts) and found a broad range of correlations between the arts and various skills in diverse contexts. Particular attention was paid to reading and language skills, and of note were findings that appeared specifically related to a discipline, such as music linking to spatial-temporal reasoning (“the ability to visualize spatial patterns and mentally manipulate them over a time-ordered sequence of spatial transformations,” Wikipedia, modified as of June 30, 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spatial-temporal_reasoning).
  • The studies cover a wide range of different types of research methodology, including qualitative research (which takes a number of variables into consideration, and emphasizes looking at those variables in the environments where they’re found) and meta-analysis, a high-level process that compares the results of multiple studies addressing a set of related research hypotheses.
  • Regardless of the methodology, most of the studies revealed correlations between learning in the arts and academic and cognitive development.
  • However, throughout the Compendium, reviewers emphasized a need for further research to reveal the qualities of learning so that we can be better informed with how to move forward with future program design. In other words, we may see a link between engagement in the arts and improved SAT scores in a meta-analysis study, but we do not know exactly what the students were learning in their arts experiences that may have led to academic achievement.
  • To better understand what is being learned and transferred to other skill-sets suggests a need to focus on more rigorous qualitative research that asks rich inquiry questions that may point to the nature of the learning. Meta-analysis has already corroborated some of the broader claims for why the arts are important in educational settings by showing links between learning in the arts among a myriad of students to academic and cognitive development. With the knowledge of vast previous research, we can begin to look more closely at the nuances of what is being learned in the arts, and how what is being learned transfers to other areas of learning.
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Arts, Inc.: brevity version

Arts, Inc., by Bill Ivey, University of California Press, 2008

This article is a much shorter version of this. If you want the full force of my verbosity, read that one.

In Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey, former Chair of the NEA, makes the case that our artistic heritage is a set of public assets that should benefit all, but instead are often squandered by existing cultural institutions. Ivey seeks to remedy this through a Cultural Bill of Rights.

Each item in Ivey’s Cultural Bill of Rights fills a chapter in the book.

  • The right to our heritage—the right to explore music, literature, drama, painting and dance that define both our nation’s collective experience and our individual and community traditions.”
  • The right to the prominent presence of artists in public life—through their art and the incorporation of their voices and artistic visions into democratic debate.”
  • The right to an artistic life—the right to the knowledge and skills needed to play a musical instrument, draw, dance, compose, design or otherwise live a life of active creativity.”
  • The right to be represented to the rest of the world by art that fairly and honestly communicates America’s democratic values and ideals.”
  • The right to know about and explore art of the highest quality and to the lasting truths embedded in those forms of expression that have survived, in many lands, throughout the ages.”
  • The right to healthy arts enterprises that can take risks and invest in innovation while serving communities and the public interest.”

According to Ivey, we don’t enjoy these rights because of  a failure of the government to prioritize cultural life and rein in corporate greed. An East Wing/West Wing divide devalues the importance of arts and culture makes it easier to treat the arts as political footballs. Congressional hearings on indecency result in industry self-censorship such as parental advisory warnings, V-chips and MPAA ratings that have a chilling effect on creative efforts. Government takes corporate preferences more seriously than the public’s interest in culture, passing intellectual property law that favors corporate interests and keeps use of artistic assets out of public reach.

Ivey does offer practical recommendations. He suggests cultural impact should be a component of merger analysis by the FTC and DOJ antitrust division. And Ivey would require the FCC to consider local cultural impact in its decision-making. Ivey feels that the fragmentation of governmental arts policy among many small agencies and institutions leads to fragmented arts policy. He would prefer a Cabinet-level department to implement consistent, strategic, aligned policy. Ivey also suggests that we significantly reform intellectual property law, encouraging the adoption of Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons model for greater legal sharing of content, and the reinstatement of copyright registration. And he speaks against the digital divide, advocating subsidies for those not able to afford access to high speed internet. He is also a strong proponent of net neutrality.

Arts, Inc. is based on Bill Ivey’s experience, unique vantage point, and extensive research, and is dense with supporting evidence, but the suggested cure is inconsistent with the diagnosed disease. It appears to be a manifesto, but calls for adjustments to the system, rather than revolution. Ivey prescribes fixes to the arts industries as if they are machines that can be fixed with better engineering. But the arts are an ecosystem, not a machine. No engineer designs it; it emerges from collaborating and competing forces in equilibrium. Individual institutions continually optimize activities within the bounds of their ecosystems, making systemic reform difficult.

Ivey offers the Cultural Bill of Rights as a model for reform. However, it is divorced from historical views of rights, typically based on active struggle. By contrast, Ivey casts advocacy for cultural rights in the mold of the environmental movement—one that has focused on public awareness. While either model can be grounded in grassroots activism, ignoring the models of struggle dilutes his assertion that these cultural rights are rights in the way that we think of them.

Despite these problems, there are uniquely useful insights in Arts, Inc. Few writers have Ivey’s qualifications to discuss systemic issues of policy-making. He connects all the dots between the U.S. federal government, artists, consumers, corporate owners of artistic assets and nonprofit arts institutions. The breadth of knowledge and research is impressive, and many of his solutions in the final chapter are remarkably practical in contrast to the manifesto structure of the bulk of the book.

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Arts Policy Library: Critical Links

Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Development

SUMMARY

The story of “Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development,” an extraordinarily ambitious collection of research on arts education, begins in 1997, when a report published by the Arts Education Partnership’s Task Force on Research emphasized a need for a review of up-to-date research to help inform program design and policy. The National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education commissioned “Critical Links” – eventually published in 2002 – to address this need.

The Compendium is a literature review featuring 62 arts education research studies, summarized and analyzed by leading experts across the disciplines of dance, drama, “multi-arts,” music, and visual arts. To develop criteria for inclusion in the Compendium, James S. Catterall, Lois Hetland, and Ellen Winner were chosen as “researchers” by Arts Education Partnership (AEP) through a competitive selection process. They are joined by 11 other reviewers who summarize the studies, provide initial and secondary inquiry questions, and analyze each study, with recommendations for future research. While each study is presented individually in one to two pages, the original texts of the studies are not included. After each arts section (e.g., drama or dance), a reviewer delves into deeper inquiries revealed from links among the findings in the studies.

The Compendium sets out to achieve two ambitious goals:

  1. Identify strong arts education research that includes the academic and social effects of arts learning, beyond the arts learning experiences themselves. In brief, the Compendium sets out to explore transference, which “denotes instances where learning in one context assists learning in a different context.”  The foreword by AEP explains that the purpose of this Compendium is “to make a contribution to the national debate over such issues as how to enable all students to reach high levels of academic achievement, how to improve overall school performance, and how to create the contexts and climates in schools that are most conducive to learning.”
  2. “Giv[e] insight into curriculum designs and practices that will enhance the quality and impact of student learning in the arts.” Through the examined research studies, the Compendium reviewers hope to pave the way for more informed educational program design.

The Links: What Was Studied, What They Found
The studies in “Critical Links” are organized meticulously by discipline. The drama, multi-arts, and music sections examine 19, 17, and 15 studies respectively, with concluding essays by James Catterall, Rob Horowitz and Jaci Webb-Dempsey, and Larry Scripp. Notably, the dance section features only 7 studies and the visual arts section contains only four, with final essays by Karen Kohn Bradley and Terry L. Baker respectively. A final essay by Catterall called “Overview” discusses the issue of transference and makes recommendations about “where to go from here.”

Drama
The bulk of drama research examines the connection between arts education and linguistic skills, with an emphasis on reading and writing comprehension. Overall, the studies found that drama – and in particular, role-playing activities – did have a positive effect on linguistic development in the focus groups as compared with the control groups. Some of the other overarching findings from the drama research include:

  • Drama education has an impact on improving concentrated thought
  • Formal reflection on experiences in drama elicits/fosters interpersonal relations
  • Drama improves story comprehension

Example: A study by Ann Podlozny exemplifies the link between dramatic arts and verbal skills. Entitled “Strengthening Verbal Skills Through the Use of Classroom Drama: A Clear Link,” the research study focuses on whether classroom drama helps students develop verbal ability. This is a meta-analysis combining the results of 200 studies since 1950 that address story understanding (oral and written measures), reading achievement and readiness, oral language development, vocabulary, and writing. Catterall explains that “positive effects are shown in… written and oral measures of story recall, reading achievement, reading readiness, oral language development, and writing,” and hopes that “the report will encourage teachers, teaching artists, and school administrators to include drama in their classroom practice.”

Dance
The dance research included in the Compendium focuses on, and strongly suggests, the impact of dance on creative problem-solving, reading skills, creative thinking skills, self-reflection and self confidence.

Example: In a study by Dale Rose called “The Impact of Whirlwind’s Basic Reading Through Dance Program on First Grade Student’s Basic Reading Skills: Study II,” first-graders were studied for three months to determine whether their reading abilities could be improved through a dance program in which the students used their bodies to physically represent letters. These students were studied against a control group. The experimental group improved compared to the control group, especially in their ability to relate written consonants and vowels to their sounds.

Multi-arts
The multi-arts programs in the Compendium focus on the correlation between arts experiences and academic achievement. These studies suggested connections between arts programs and improved reading skills, verbal skills, math skills, and creative thinking.

Example: James Catterall’s study from 1998 called “Involvement in the Arts and Success in Secondary School” shows a clear link between arts involvement and improved academic achievement. The data came from 25,000 students from eighth to tenth grade who were participating in the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988. The outcomes demonstrated that the students who were highly engaged in artistic experiences in middle school and high school performed better in academics than their non-arts-involved peers, regardless of socio-economic status. “High arts students… earned better grades and scores, were less likely to drop out of school… had a more positive self concept, and were more involved in community service.” Nevertheless, the results do not prove causation and underscore a need for further research to unpack the nature of the association between arts and academics.

Music
The research studies on music reveal correlations between musical study and cognitive development, language development, reading, self-efficacy (the degree to which a person believes that he can attain a goal or succeed in a certain situation), math proficiency, and spatial-temporal reasoning (“the ability to visualize spatial patterns and mentally manipulate them over a time-ordered sequence of spatial transformations”). Spatial-temporal reasoning is an important skill for solving problems in math, science, and everyday life.

Example: For “Learning to Make Music Enhances Spatial Reasoning,” Lois Hetland selected fifteen studies for a meta-analysis to explore whether active instruction in music enhances preschool and elementary students’ performance on spatial tasks. The data across the fifteen studies are so consistent in determining that music-making leads to spatial reasoning skills that differences in the type of musical instruction hardly change the results. The meta-analysis suggests that “offering a wide range of music programs in preschools and elementary schools similar to the ones reviewed… will predict that nearly 70 percent of young children will ‘show spatial improvement as a result of the music program.’”

Visual Arts
With only four studies examined, the visual arts are the least-represented discipline in the Compendium. The studies had different variables and goals, and as such, very different outcomes. As Catterall explains in his book summary, “[In the visual arts studies] we see only preliminary indications of impacts: that drawing is an effective communicator of learning in history and contributes to organization and persistence in writing — training in visualization contributes to reading skills — reasoning about visual art seems to transfer to reasoning about science — and instruction in visual art increases reading-readiness among preschoolers.”

Example: Jeffrey D. Wilhelm’s ethnographic case study, “Reading Is Seeing: Using Visual Response to Improve the Literary Reading of Reluctant Readers,” examines whether the visual arts can be used to help reluctant and learning-disabled readers to become better readers. Over the course of nine weeks, he studies two seventh-grade boys who were asked to make arts and crafts that represented characters in the stories they were reading and draw pictures of visual impressions they had. By the end of the nine weeks, the boys “took a more active role in reading, and began to interpret the text rather than just passively read it.”

Among the 84 effects that the researchers found the arts to have on student participants, a few emerged across all of the disciplines, including reading and math skills, and social interaction. Moreover, it is suggested that the findings in these studies may be of most importance to developing social and cognitive skills in impoverished children who may not have access to gaining such skills in other environments. (See James Catterall’s book summary for a concise overview of the findings and implications of “Critical Links.”)

ANALYSIS

Thankfully for the benefit of readers, the Compendium already contains a great deal of independent analysis to aid interpretation of the study results. Each study summary is followed by a thoughtful and informed commentary section, and each larger essay on the specific arts areas explores broader themes such as transference from the arts to other subject areas, implications for future research, and implications for policy. The Compendium seems to leave no stone unturned (or in this case, no inquiry forgotten). Any time I had an analysis that I felt was original, a researcher said it a few pages later with far more eloquence than I ever could.

What I can offer instead is an overview of what seemed to be the most significant takeaways from the body of research investigated here. In the spirit of “links,” I’ve tried to address common issues that arose throughout the Compendium as a whole, and to highlight some of the thought-provoking findings and questions that emerged from the studies. I’ll also examine some of the potential weaknesses in the research cited in the report.

Understanding who is being studied
Many research studies used experimental designs involving control groups of students. While the students are often at the same grade level, we don’t always know if they’re at the same emotional or behavioral levels. Do the sample groups tell us what we want to know about the research, or does it tell us about the demographic/age of the participants? One study that highlights this issue is Jennifer Ross Goodman’s “A Naturalistic Study of the Relationship Between Literacy Development and Dramatic Play in Five-Year-Old Children.” The study examines how literacy is developed within dramatic play by integrating daily dramatic play into a preschool classroom of 17 children. Reviewer Bruce Wilson points out that despite the detailed observations and findings in the study, “the biggest shortcoming of this type of research is the lack of generalizability to other settings… [T]he sample included a preponderance of females… Might the relationships look different in a predominantly male or balanced-gender context?” To further investigate the external validity of these findings, it would be helpful to compare this study with others that explore literacy development in preschool-age children, in order to ensure that demographics are not overly skewing the results.

Understanding the mechanisms of learning
In every arts section, one question appeared repeatedly: what exactly is being learned in an artistic experience that transfers to development in another area? For example, a student may have been taught a movement class, which resulted in her achieving better test scores. But what we don’t know is exactly what element of the dance class led to her developing certain academic skills. This information is essential to inform how we develop better arts education programs going forward.

One study that shows a specific relationship between an “arts” activity and reading ability is Dale Rose’s “The Impact of Whirlwind’s Basic Reading Through Dance Program on First Grade Students’ Basic Reading Skills: Study II.” Over the course of three months, a group of 174 children improved their basic reading skills by learning to put their bodies in the shapes of letters. They were compared with a control group of 198 children. While this finding indicates that first graders may improve their basic reading skills through movement, Ellen Winner observes that “this study does not allow the conclusion that dance leads to reading, but rather that putting one’s body in the shape of letters improves basic reading skills in young children. Whether or not this activity is ‘dance’ (a matter dancers could debate), we can conclude that this activity is an innovative and enactive way of helping children master sound-symbol relationships.”

In other studies, however, the correlation between artistic learning and developed skill is not as clear. For example, Kathryn Vaughn’s and Ellen Winner’s study “SAT Scores of Students Who Study the Arts: What We Can and Cannot Conclude about the Association” is a meta-analysis exploring the relationship between SAT scores and student involvement in the arts. Vaughn and Winner seem to have found significant relationships between involvement in the arts and higher math and verbal scores, but as reviewer Robert Horowitz points out, “the correlation between participation in high school arts programs and SAT scores is not sufficient in itself to claim that arts study leads to improvement in academic performance.”

The SAT study is one of a few studies that reveal a possible issue with meta-analysis research itself. Meta-analysis is a high-level process that compares the results of multiple studies addressing a set of related research hypotheses. The Vaughn/Winner study asked students taking the SAT to voluntarily fill out a questionnaire about the number of years they participated in arts classes. While meta-analysis allows for broad observations – in this case, that students who took four or more years of arts classes had the strongest SAT scores – it tends to gloss over the specific qualities of the arts programs or the learning experiences, due to the necessary heterogeneity involved in the process of combining disparate studies. What did those students do in their art classes that led to better test scores? Which activities triggered the cognitive development to improve math and verbal test-taking skills? To paraphrase reviewer Bruce Wilson’s commentary about the meta-analysis study “Mute Those Claims: No Evidence (Yet) for a Causal Link between Arts Study and Academic Achievement,” meta-analysis oftentimes takes a very limited range of factors into consideration, and excludes unanticipated outcomes.

One way to address this issue is to look at the findings of the qualitative and ethnographic research methodology. As indicated in the Martha C. Mentzer/Boni B. Boswell study “Effects of a Movement Poetry Program on Creativity of Children with Behavioral Disorders,” qualitative methods of reporting on research can be helpful in understanding the nature of the learning that is happening. Such methods include anecdotal records, observational checklists from videos of the sessions, questionnaires and interviews, and student work. In the study, the use of this methodology helped reveal the learning styles and creative thinking (defined here as “originality, fluency, and flexibility”) of two boys, aged 7 and 10. With meticulous documentation and citations from earlier studies, this study captured the rather nuanced development of behavior changes. As reviewer Karen K. Bradley comments, “… since one boy improved in social behavior and the other in motor coordination, the union of creative movement and poetry writing provided a ‘stronger fabric’ for development, especially for children of different and challenging learning styles.” She continues that “the most useful data for understanding the outcomes the boys achieved came from anecdotal records. The field needs to recognize that movement analysis may offer the clearest depiction of what cognitive or behavioral changes occur through involvement in dance.”

In fact, this last sentence could be applied to every arts discipline. Analysis of what exactly is being learned can reveal what changes happen cognitively in all of the artistic disciplines.

IMPLICATIONS

The research included in “Critical Links” is so diverse, from the methodology used to the discovered outcomes, that it is difficult to make a statement about the merits of one study over another. Taken as a whole, the Compendium offers strong evidence of correlation between arts study and academic and cognitive development.

Despite the comprehensiveness of the commentary sections, two questions seemed to be missing from the conversation:

1. If visual arts, music, multi-arts, dance, and drama all possibly impact a similar skill set (e.g. reading), how do we know which arts programs are most effective at promoting these skills?

Before we even go there, it should be reiterated that the dance and visual arts studies in this Compendium are vastly outnumbered by the other studies (7 and 4, respectively, compared with at least 15). This tells us that if and when we suggest which of the arts to focus on to develop specific cognitive abilities, we first need further research in the visual arts and dance arts.

Yet there is a need to not only develop arts research within specific disciplines, but among the disciplines as well as across academic learning, as suggested in the second of Paul DiMaggio’s three fallacies in identifying the effects of the arts on communities. As described in DiMaggio’s prospectus for the “Taking the Measure of Culture” symposium at Princeton University in June 2002, the second fallacy is that of homogeneity of effects. “We …often speak as if the arts …have undifferentiated effects on people and communities, whatever these effects may be. So we ask, ‘does art education improve math learning?’ or ‘do communities with lots of artistic resources have stronger economies?’ It is unlikely that there are general answers to these questions. Effects may be heterogeneous due to interactions with other factors, so that benign effects of artistic resources or experiences are visible only in the presence of other factors that facilitate the expression of those benign effects…. [D]ecisive effects of specific kinds of arts programs on a relatively small proportion of communities will be hidden unless we know where to look for them.

In other words, we need to look at multiple and potentially confounding factors when determining the impact that any given arts activity has on an unrelated skill. We could certainly use more longitudinal studies across different academic disciplines if we are to determine how the skills that are emerging through research are being used in other contexts.

2. What is research methodology telling us about the quality of outcomes?

While it may seem that arts involvement is desirable, it isn’t usually clear how rich or textured student involvement is in other subject areas as a result of their engagement with the arts.

The most compelling studies in “Critical Links” – at least for me – were those that explored the nuances of learning that took place.  One particularly resonated with me both in terms of methodology and in terms of outcome: “’Stand and Unfold Yourself,’ A Monologue on the Shakespeare & Company Research Study,” by Steve Seidel. In it, a team of research staff looked closely at the Shakespeare & Company’s National Shakespeare Institute to identify what made the program so successful and which elements of it could be transferable. (Note that there is already an assumption that the program is successful.) The program includes a one-month teacher training, followed by two months in which teaching artists guide about 400 students in 10 schools through the study and performance of Shakespeare plays.

What struck me at first was the ambiguity of the inquiry question: “How do participants [in the Shakespeare & Company program] identify the value of their participation for themselves?” The second question seemed even more elusive: “What elements of the program seemed most critical to creating those benefits?” I wondered how the study could possibly measure these things.

This is where the unique methodology of the study shone through. Unlike other studies, this one had the resources to assess two of the four years of students’ and staff participation. By the standards of the Compendium, this is a very long time. In addition, researchers held meetings with participants throughout the year and organized yearly retreats to extract what was being observed and learned; developed rich inquiry questions “around authenticity, academic rigor, applied learning, active exploration, adult relationships, and assessment practices,” and included teacher and student responses to these questions as evidence of the impacts and success of the program.

Along with these elements, Seidel focuses “on learning in … the language itself, acting, working in creative communities, and learning about oneself and linking that to social and intellectual development.” The findings were numerous, but most importantly, the study revealed that the complexity of studying Shakespeare plays allowed participants to delve into their own feelings and emotions. As Catterall comments, “the complexity of issues and emotions in the plays promotes word-by-word, emotion-by-emotion, thought-by-thought investigation of meaning. This step-by-step approach invites those who study Shakespeare to go deeply into their own experience, a process that is linked to all types of learning.”

So, do we all need to study more Shakespeare? Maybe. But I came away from this study thinking that, while it may not be realistic to replicate this kind of work extensively, it may nevertheless be prudent to invest in more in-depth qualitative research like this: research that asks more ambiguous inquiry questions and systematically measures both expected and unanticipated outcomes.

Building on the field’s existing and expansive arts education research, we have an opportunity to unlock the deeper inquiries about how the arts shape human development. If we can use what already exists (such as the wealth of findings from studies like those included in the Compendium), and take a step-by-step approach at looking at the nuances of learning, perhaps we’ll begin to form stronger links within and beyond arts education to develop rich, holistic learning experiences that can help shape future generations of critical thinkers, and creative learners and leaders.

Further reading:

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Arts Policy Library: Arts, Inc.

Arts, Inc., by Bill Ivey, University of California Press, 2008

This is a long piece. If you’d like the very short version, you can find it here.

In Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey, former Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1998-2001 and Director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University (more expansive bio here) makes the case that our cultural and artistic heritage is a set of public assets that should benefit us all, but instead are too often captured or squandered by existing cultural institutions. Ivey seeks to remedy this through the framework of a Cultural Bill of Rights. Since the book was published in 2008, Arts, Inc. has been frequently cited by arts bloggers, and Ivey has continued to speak about the topics in the book at various seminars and conferences.

SUMMARY

Each item in Ivey’s Cultural Bill of Rights forms the basis of a chapter in the book, wherein Ivey explains why, in his opinion, we do not enjoy that particular right. He then goes into greater depth on how our government has failed to secure these rights, and closes with suggestions for how these rights could be established.

The right to our heritage—the right to explore music, literature, drama, painting and dance that define both our nation’s collective experience and our individual and community traditions.” In Ivey’s view, we do not enjoy this right because the vast majority of the cultural and artistic record of our own nation is owned by for-profit corporations, who seek to exploit whatever can be profitable and ignore or leave to molder those items with little commercial value. When perceived commercial value of a cultural artifact is low, preservation is inconsistent and ad hoc. Corporate rights owners don’t always take their de facto role as cultural archivists seriously. And intellectual property law greatly favors the owners, so when commercial value is high, costs for use can be very high indeed. Ivey cleverly illuminates the omnipresent property status of our cultural and historical record by including the rights owner and royalty fee for each photo used in the book.

The right to the prominent presence of artists in public life—through their art and the incorporation of their voices and artistic visions into democratic debate.” Ivey asserts that the sacrifices often required of artists, and the difficulty generating an income, discourage many artists from fully utilizing their skills. Even artists who appear to have “made it” by, for example, signing a recording contract, still struggle to gain the attention of their employers. And artists whose potential contribution is not immediately recognized are less likely to be supported by industries focused on immediate profit. Ivey discusses Bob Dylan’s career, and doubts that Bob Dylan would become a well-known musical artist today.

Furthermore, according to Ivey, the public little understands and values artistic professions, which hinders the engagement of artists with their communities. Or, as Ivey quotes an art student friend from college, “Every family wants a Picasso hanging on the wall, but no family wants one standing in the living room.”

The right to an artistic life—the right to the knowledge and skills needed to play a musical instrument, draw, dance, compose, design or otherwise live a life of active creativity.” Ivey presents a long list of reasons he has perceived why each one of us does not have equal access to artistic tools that provide us with a means of expression:

  • Access to high quality training for the underprivileged is irregular and often dependent upon the limited resources of charitable organizations. Even free guitar tutorials on YouTube are not available across the digital divide.
  • Universal arts education usually exists through primary school at some level, but then generally becomes elective.
  • There aren’t enough art educators, and it is difficult for professional artists to teach in-residence without educational certifications.
  • We conflate happiness with wealth creation, and so pursue skills suited to wealth creation rather than happiness.
  • Participation has been reframed as attendance, rather than personal artistic expression.

The right to be represented to the rest of the world by art that fairly and honestly communicates America’s democratic values and ideals.” Ivey opens the chapter noting that post-September 11th, many Americans were shocked to learn how lowly our nation is esteemed in some parts of the world. He draws a connection between this perception of the United States and the poor representation of our culture that is offered abroad. He notes that one of the most popular depictions of the U.S. in Morocco at the beginning of the 21st century was the television show Baywatch, because it was broadcast for free across the Middle East, due to a unique and pioneering distribution model.

Ivey says that this sort of misrepresentation happens because our official diplomatic apparatus, the State Department, places little to no priority on cultural diplomacy, viewing it as a soft power approach that ended with the Cold War. As a former NEA Chair, Ivey speaks candidly about an East Wing/West Wing divide in federal government. Arts and culture are represented in the East Wing, alongside social functions, typically presented by the First Lady and her staff. But the serious work of government happens in the West Wing. Ivey shares interesting anecdotes of his own lack of authority and resources, as a “small agency head,” compared to Ministers of Culture in other countries. As a result of de-emphasized cultural diplomacy, commercial interests, often assisted by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, have a near monopoly on sharing U.S. culture abroad.

The right to know about and explore art of the highest quality and to the lasting truths embedded in those forms of expression that have survived, in many lands, throughout the ages.” In this chapter, Ivey speaks of what is typically characterized as fine art or “high culture”: French cinema, classical music, gallery art, Shakespeare, ballet, etc. Per Ivey, we don’t enjoy this right for several reasons: commercial arts industries, like cable television and movie theaters, have little interest in offering something different, foreign, or strange (these are considered niche market products); moreover, fine arts are perceived to have an aloof and sneering attitude, and do not engage younger audiences on their own terms1.

The right to healthy arts enterprises that can take risks and invest in innovation while serving communities and the public interest.” Here Ivey takes aim at both commercial and nonprofit arts organizations for playing it safe. Commercial interests play it safe to maintain large audiences. For example, Ivey says Clear Channel scientifically picks songs least likely to offend or irritate so as to reduce channel changing, with bland pop music the inevitable result. This science is applied to hundreds of stations, all programmed together. To take another example, publishers need take care to distribute products that won’t be banned for indecency by the world’s biggest retailer, Walmart.

If some artist or new artistic product proves successful, then risk aversion leads commercial cultural interests to copy the success as rapidly and profitably as possible until the original idea is completely played out. In the same vein, “bankable” talent becomes more important to risk-averse institutions than matching the right talent and artistry to the content or audience.

Nonprofit institutions are also guilty of risk aversion, according to Ivey. They want to limit the risk of losing philanthropic revenue streams and audience members, and so may make similar, safe choices in programming. Some nonprofit organizations may operate more to preserve an art form with a declining audience than to create risky content for a new audience, anyway. This is more likely if a nonprofit exists to maintain elite forms of entertainment.

The Failure of Government

Ivey pins our failure as a society to enjoy these cultural rights largely on the government. The East Wing/West Wing divide mentioned above that devalues the importance of arts and culture makes it easier to treat federal arts funding and obscenity or explicit content in the arts as political footballs. Even though the First Amendment makes direct regulation of artistic expression difficult and rare (with the exception of FCC fines for broadcasters), Congressional hearings on perceived indecency or obscenity tend to result in industry self-censorship such as parental advisory warnings, V-chips and MPAA ratings that have a chilling effect on creative efforts. Government also takes corporate culture industries’ preferences more seriously than the public’s interest in culture, leading to frequently extended copyright terms and intellectual property law that increasingly favors corporate interests and keeps use of artistic assets out of public reach.

Bridging the Cultural Divide

Ivey ends the book by acknowledging, for the first time, what he sees as good news and positive trends. Citing Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, Ivey notes that creativity is again seen as a positive economic driver. Economists are increasingly interested in happiness beyond Gross Domestic Product. Corporations are taking greater notice of stakeholder benefit, not merely shareholder benefit. And influential work like Gifts of the Muse has informed conversations among arts leaders and foundations on whether we’d benefit from a greater focus on the so-called “intrinsic” benefits from the arts, such as increased creativity.

In addition to the digital divide, Ivey posits a cultural divide that cuts across class and other group identifications and separates people from artistic expression. Professionals with 80-hour work weeks, for example, don’t have enough time for arts in their lives. To help resolve this, Ivey suggests a new Arts and Crafts movement that would encourage craftspersonship and could serve as a correction or counterpoint to industrial production of cultural goods. Ivey notes that the Arts and Crafts movement linked an “aesthetic with humanitarian sensibilities,” and suggests this is an antidote for our increasingly shallow cultural participation and divided society.

Ivey also offers a list of practical recommendations that are more specific and concrete than the Cultural Bill of Rights. He suggests that cultural impact should be a component of merger analysis by the FTC and the Department of Justice antitrust division. And Ivey would require the FCC to consider local cultural impact in its regulatory decision-making. This sensible idea could be implemented at the agency level2. Ivey feels that the fragmentation of governmental arts policy among many small agencies and institutions, such as the NEA, NEH, Smithsonian, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, programs within the Department of the Interior, the Kennedy Center, cultural attachés in the State Department, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Commission on Fine Arts, the Department of Education, etc, lead to fragmented arts policy arenas with narrow foci that cannot help establish the Cultural Bill of Rights. He would instead prefer a Cabinet-level department, parallel to Ministries of Culture in other nations, to implement consistent, strategic, aligned policy. Ivey notes the potential for abuse by a Cabinet level department, but believes that this could not make the situation worse than it currently is.

Ivey also joins the chorus of those suggesting that we significantly reform intellectual property law. He encourages the adoption of Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons model for greater legal sharing of content, and notes growing discomfort with digital rights management (DRM) in the digital publishing industries. Additionally, Ivey would like to introduce “statutory rates” common in music publishing to other forms of cultural property, so that rights to utilize other work can be legally and consistently and reliably obtained3. And he recommends that copyright registration be reinstated, so that an additional step is required to enforce one’s copyrights.

Finally, Ivey speaks strongly against the digital divide, and advocates subsidies for those not able to afford access to the information superhighway, so that our next generation of artists is not determined by the affordability of high-speed internet. He is also a strong proponent of net neutrality, and makes it clear that concerned citizens must be careful observers of both Congress and the judiciary, because intellectual property law is developed as much in court as in legislative session.

ANALYSIS

Arts, Inc. is a long book, based on Bill Ivey’s considerable experience, unique vantage point, and extensive research. It is also a slow read. It is dense with supporting evidence, which is welcome, but Ivey is not afraid to repeat a point, in detail, if it can be applied to the topic at hand. For example, he repeats his concern several times, at length, that copyright law is harmful to future artists who wish to build upon past work of others. And with every chapter except the last focused on the terrible state of affairs for arts and culture in the United States, it becomes polemical and pedantic pretty quickly, despite several interesting stories from his time as NEA Chair.

Ivey has written what appears to be a manifesto, but ends with a call for adjustments to the system, rather than revolution. I can’t help but come to the conclusion that Ivey has too many axes to grind, including his apparent belief, based on some experience with lobbyists, that high school band teachers are an entrenched special interest who will ruthlessly cut off at the knees any other form of music education in high schools, therefore limiting a child’s ability to create other forms of music.

Machine vs. Ecosystem

Most of Ivey’s recommended solutions are practical things that a somewhat unified and motivated government could accomplish, but it is not self-evident that such changes would guarantee the whole Cultural Bill of Rights. In Chapter 2, Ivey states, “If America’s arts system can be viewed as a giant machine connecting artists, heritage, and our expressive lives, fair use is the lubricant that smoothes the give-and-take of creativity.” Ivey prescribes fixes to the arts industries as if they can be applied by fiat; as if they are machines that were designed by an engineer, and can be fixed with better engineering. But I believe he is wrong. Arts are an ecosystem, not a machine. No engineer designs an ecosystem; one emerges when collaborating and competing forces and the actors therein find a sustainable equilibrium. No one designed the current set of inter-related systems of arts and culture generation and propagation. They emerged as a result of various incentives, initiatives, and interplay of different collaborators and competitors.

Individual institutions might themselves be machine-like, and subject to tweaking. But each individual institution, typically lacking the ability to change the environment alone, continually optimizes its activities within the bounds of its ecosystem, making collective acts of systemic reform difficult. Further, each participant in a system at equilibrium is primarily concerned with survival, not intentional restructure of the system. Ivey laments that both for-profit and nonprofit arts institutions are risk averse, but this is the natural consequence when institutions fear for their survival in a highly competitive environment. Equilibrium, after all, does not imply plentiful resources for all members. Equilibrium can be highly competitive (and in nature, often is).

The arts and culture landscape that Ivey wants requires systemic change, and systems simply cannot be adjusted and redesigned like a machine. Systemic change requires either immense cooperation and coordination among the most powerful members of the system (which might be arts consumers in this case), or revolution, or breakdown of the system into a disequilibrium that may be seized upon and exploited.

Regulating Preference

Just as Ivey writes as though the arts ecosystem were actually a machine that could be fixed, he writes about individual institutions and arts users as if their behavior and preferences could and should be changed to match his.

Ivey believes that the division of the market for arts products into smaller and better-defined niches, or the “long tail,” is bad for our cultural consumption. He believes this promotes a focused insularity of cultural preference, and does not expose consumers to new artistic forms or ideas. He contrasts this model with the radio stations and DJ’s of his youth, who would take on a curatorial role and introduce listeners to a diverse variety of content. However, he does not address the trade-off between breadth and depth. Niche focus allows for a greater depth of exploration and expression and risk-taking within that niche than would have been possible on Wolfman Jack’s border-blasting broadcasts, or the Ed Sullivan Show, which Ivey uses as an example of curated culture for a mass audience. Ivey desires that cultural institutions take more risks, so we should acknowledge that catering to a particular niche may facilitate managed risk-taking. A modern classical music ensemble can take more artistic risks with daring compositions than a larger symphony orchestra can, because the modern music ensemble has sought out a niche audience that supports the risks inherent in new classical composition.

As noted above, in Ivey’s desire for a new Arts and Crafts movement that might reconnect aesthetic and humanitarian values, he points out over-worked professionals as people who are on the wrong side of the cultural divide. But these over-worked professionals cannot be compared to exploited workers of the industrial revolution. A career working 80-hour weeks as a lawyer, doctor, investment banker or management consultant is one that is chosen and striven for, not one that is imposed upon a person. It requires a fair amount of cultural chauvinism to assert that these professionals, who have made choices that we hope are consistent with their values and preferences, are on the “wrong” side because their preferences do not match an artist’s preferences.

Rights

Ivey offers the Cultural Bill of Rights as a model for reform. However, it is divorced from historical views of rights, which are typically based on active struggle. Ivey does not even discuss whether his Cultural Bill of Rights is more likely to be granted or rather demanded and asserted. This is a strange omission in a discussion of “Rights.”

Ivey believes that fair use greases the creative gears and supports the rights of artists to create while borrowing from other artists, while intense copyright restrictions inhibit such creativity. The principle of fair use is described as too vague and inconsistently applied, and in any case, fair use is only used as a defense once legal proceedings are threatened or under way, making it an expensive principle to apply in practice.

Ivey wants an expansion of this; he clearly advocates for a wider freedom within the scope of law to encourage and empower artists. Yet he spends no time on the artistic vitality of illegal reappropriation of cultural products for creative endeavors, e.g.: unauthorized samples in hip hop; exposure of friends to new music through mix tapes, burned CD’s or shared mp3 files; or unauthorized video mashups and parodies so prevalent on YouTube. He seems uninterested in, or possibly unaware of, the emergence of creative internet memes (transmittable and mutable ideas or cultural artifacts) from open, authority-flaunting internet playgrounds like 4chan. The artistic reappropriation that Ivey champions (e.g., collage, pastiche, remix) is happening in spite of legal limitations.

The best review of Arts, Inc. that I’ve read was published in voiceXchange, a peer-reviewed online journal published by graduate students in the University of Chicago’s Department of Music. Eric Martin Usner points out, “As so many studies of popular culture have shown, law and control/ownership actually do much to inspire creative circumvention of ‘official,’ mainstream, or hegemonic arts through creative ‘piracy’—cultural disobedience.” Usner further notes that the heritage of civil disobedience, from Thoreau to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Gandhi and Vaclav Havel is relevant in any discussion of rights. Ivey doesn’t spend much time with the history of other struggles for rights, e.g., the Civil Rights Movement, gay marriage, and the Declaration of Independence. In these struggles, rights were demanded from and asserted against powerful institutions long before they were ever granted by powerful institutions, and typically focus on the prevention of harm to one part of society by members of the dominant culture. By contrast, Ivey casts advocacy for cultural rights in the mold of the environmental movement—one that has focused on public awareness and changing hearts and minds, with a fair amount of success. While either model can be grounded in grassroots activism, ignoring the models of struggle dilutes his assertion that these cultural rights are actually rights, in the way we think of them.

Ivey recognizes that a centralized Department of Culture to administer our cultural rights could potentially have too much power to encourage a homogenized or sanitized U.S. arts scene. He makes the argument that it wouldn’t be worse than the current situation, where art gets homogenized and sanitized by corporate interests. He writes, “The introduction of a central cultural authority in the United Sates could backfire, opening new opportunities for control that might make it more difficult, not easier, for Americans to achieve rich expressive lives. But, as we’ve seen, there’s plenty of poorly directed cultural interference going on right now4.” Ivey sensibly anticipates concerns about a more powerful governmental authority involved in arts and culture, but simply asserts that the government won’t be worse, more parental, or more homogenizing than for-profit arts industries. He doesn’t support this assertion. Much of the book is an exploration of how we are not able to trust corporate or public institutions to protect and perpetuate our artistic heritage, yet he believes part of the solution is a new government institution to consolidate others.

Useful Scope

Despite these problems, there are uniquely useful insights in Arts, Inc. The wider public debate (i.e., outside of the arts blogosphere) over copyright law in the United States rarely takes utility for future artistic endeavor into account, despite some current relevant cases in classical music and theater. And among arts and culture writers, few have Ivey’s qualifications (and interest) to discuss structural, systemic issues of policy-making. Ivey has written a book that connects the dots all the way from the U.S. federal government to artists to consumers of art to children first exposed to the joys of artistic creation to corporate owners of artistic assets and nonprofit arts institutions. The breadth of Ivey’s knowledge and research is truly impressive, and many of his proffered solutions in the final chapter of the book, labeled “Conclusion” in the table of contents, are remarkably practical in contrast to the manifesto structure of the bulk of the book. I highly recommend this chapter, even if you choose to skip the rest.

IMPLICATIONS

The Cultural Bill of Rights is difficult to compare to human rights or civil rights, as these are often very much about not being harmed by members of the dominant culture. The Cultural Bill of Rights, for example, will not prevent anybody in this country from being lynched, so it is worthwhile to examine whether they are potent as “rights,” or whether they are redundant with free speech rights. If Ivey’s Cultural Bill of Rights seeks to protect us from active repression of (or chilling effect on) our artistic expression, then it is redundant with free speech rights, and Ivey ought to add his influence to ongoing free speech advocacy. But if the Cultural Bill of Rights means that we have a right to be encouraged and subsidized to be more artistic and expressive, and I think this is Ivey’s intention, how should such rights be balanced against other priorities? For example, how can Ivey’s cultural rights be granted precedence over the arts industries’ rights to profit by artistic expression as best they can?

Instead of answering these larger questions, Ivey has assumed the supremacy of artistic expression, and offered solutions for his cultural rights in the style of environmentalism. This sets up the arts as something we really should appreciate more, and should protect, even if we don’t really want to, or we’ll be sorry later. In other words, the heritage and capacity for artistry that Ivey says we’re entitled to is the broccoli that we’re supposed to be eating instead of the potato chips that the cultural industries are feeding us. The recommendation to use the organizing tools of environmentalism is consistent with the tone of Ivey’s recommendations for governmental and bureaucratic reform. But this is at odds with the tone of aggrieved complaint throughout the bulk of the book. Despite Ivey’s best efforts to write a manifesto of articulated grievance and demand for change, I’m left with the conclusion that you can take the bureaucrat out of Washington DC, but you can’t take Washington DC out of the bureaucrat. Ivey is calling for new policy, not revolution. This is perhaps consistent with his view of the arts as a machine (which can be tweaked) rather than a system (which is more likely to be changeable in a period of disruption or disequilibrium). An arts advocate should decide whether she or he accepts some central premises of Ivey’s:

  1. We are entitled to and have a right to a life of artistic participation and expression.
  2. The current arts system is not delivering our cultural rights.
  3. These rights can be reclaimed, though, through adjustments to the culture machine.
  4. The best way to reclaim them is through grassroots organizing to change hearts and minds, as with the environmental movement, so that politicians are forced to take notice, so that policies can be improved.
  5. Once government policy is improved, our access to our cultural rights will be improved.

If you can agree with all of the above, then you can agree with Ivey’s prescriptions. If however, you believe that the arts are an ecosystem rather than a machine, or if you believe that a more powerful governmental presence in arts and culture will not be a positive change, then you must seek other solutions.

FURTHER READING

Eric Martin Usner’s review in voiceXchange, cited above, focuses on Ivey’s call for a more expressive life for all people, as well as some analysis of the concept of cultural rights.

Jason Baird Jackson at Indiana University responded to Arts, Inc. just this March, from a folklorist’s perspective, with more in depth analysis of Ivey’s perspective on intellectual property.

Video of a panel discussion of Arts, Inc., hosted by the Center for American Progress. Ivey was on the panel with Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), and moderator Sally Steenland, Sr. Policy Advisor for Faith and Progressive Policy at the Center for American Progress. The discussion focused on the theme of cultural assets as public goods.

Bill Ivey introduced many of the themes of Arts, Inc. back in a 2005 column in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “America Needs a New System for Supporting the Arts”.

USA Today published exactly the reductive, brief review you’d expect from USA Today.

The Curb Center for Art, Enterprise & Public Policy at Vanderbilt University (Ivey is the Director) has a page about the book with well-chosen pull quotes.


NOTES

1. Ivey suggests that the nonprofit arts institution model in which most fine arts are presented are designed to preserve the art for privileged, wealthy elite audiences, rather than a larger audience. According to Ivey, the nonprofit tax exemption was established as wealthy elite business leaders began to convert frontier towns into cosmopolitan cities, and nonprofit institutions were built so the elite could continue to enjoy their symphonies and provide a marker of European sophistication to their new cities. The implication is that this exclusivity has extended to the present day, keeping the majority of citizens on the outside of the fine arts world.

2. However, agency-level policy-making is subject to changing politics of different Presidential administrations. The application of local impact assessment to media company mergers would likely have been treated very differently by George W. Bush’s administration than Barack Obama’s.

3. It should be noted, however, that at the time Arts, Inc. was written, statutory rates established by the Copyright Royalty Board were being challenged as too high for webcasters such as Pandora.com and Live365.com. This was not resolved until after Ivey’s book was published. Congress intervened and passed laws giving the digital royalty clearinghouse SoundExchange a window of time in which to negotiate new, superseding rates.

4. Ivey makes reference to the writing of cultural theorist Michel Foucault on governmentality: “invisible, sometimes internalized mechanisms of control that extend the reach of official authority and limit individual autonomy.” He believes Foucault would see governmentality in the way corporations and foundations exercise control in the arts industry, thereby excusing Ivey’s own advocacy for a greater official role for government. It’s an interesting, but in my mind, weak, argument.

 

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Around the horn: Independence edition

Whew! I think this past month might just have been the craziest ever for me. Two research contract proposals, a final report, visits to Chicago, DC (twice), San Diego, LA, and Boston, a birthday, committee work for the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leader Council, editing Arts Policy Library pieces by the Createquity Writing Fellows, at least one almost-all-nighter, concert at which a band I’d supported on Kickstarter wore a costume theme that I picked out, presenting on my cultural mapping work in public for the first time (and getting quoted in the Wall Street Journal for it) – I’m getting tired just writing about it. Forgive me for not cranking out too many extended thought pieces recently…unfortunately the blog, much as I love it, doesn’t pay my rent. But to tide you over, here are some tasty links!

(By the way: I’m starting to think that I might standardize the section titles in the round-up. Any thoughts?)

ARTS AND THE GOVERNMENT

  • Rhode Island is the newest state to recognize the L3C.
  • Tim Mikulski reports on the activities of a new coalition that is revising the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.
  • What would a Republican campaign for higher office be without a little copyright infringement? It’s really kind of inconvenient for them that most of the karaoke klassics out there were written by hardcore liberals.
  • The IRS’s list of nonprofits whose status was revoked apparently contained some errors – apparently George Washington University and the University of Michigan were included, for example. Whoops!

THE ART OF GIVING

  • The Irvine Foundation has announced its new strategy for the arts focusing on audience engagement. The WolfBrown white paper written about on this blog last week is clearly a part of this. You can watch the video and join the discussion on Irvine’s website – Rocco Landesman has already kicked things off.
  • Meanwhile, former San Francisco Foundation program officer John Killacky has something to say to his erstwhile colleagues in the grantmaking world.
  • Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest is back blogging, this time as a guest for Grantmakers in the Arts. In his first post, he points out that despite a major focus (and seeming agreement) within the funding community in recent years on the value of general operating support, there is little evidence of a pronounced upward trend in GOS grants. Change doesn’t come easy in the foundation world, I guess.
  • Brian Newman wonders if the crowdfunding phenomenon exemplified by Kickstarter is, uh, crowding out donations from institutional funders.
  • Finally, GiveWell offers a perspective on why we should expect giving effectively to be difficult.

MERGERS AND CLOSURES

  • Arthouse at the Jones Center is exploring a merger with the Austin Museum of Art.
  • Another orchestra down: The Seattle area’s Bellvue Philharmonic is no more after this weekend.
  • Diane Ragsdale pays tribute to the now-defunct Florida Stage. The post also features a great and lengthy comment from National New Play Network Executive Director Jason Loewith.

APPOINTMENTS AND PROMOTIONS

  • Lisa Philp will be the new Vice President for Strategic Philanthropy and Director of GrantCraft for the Foundation Center.
  • Blogger, longtime executive director of the Center for Arts Education, and my former boss’s boss Richard Kessler will be the new Dean of Mannes College The New School for Music.
  • Stellar Technology and the Arts blogger Amelia Northrup has taken on a new position as Strategic Communications Specialist at TRG Arts. Not content merely to share the news, Amelia goes out with a bang by sharing some fantastic tips for organizing your job search.

RESEARCH AND READINGS

  • According to the latest Giving USA report, charitable contributions were up in 2010, but only slightly: 2.1%. The arts, however, fared better than most, seeing donations rising 4.1% after inflation. You might recall that Giving USA got some egg on its face earlier this year when evidence surfaced that its econometric models drastically underestimated the extent to which individual giving dropped during the recession. Now they say they’ve included another variable in the model that explains the drop, so this year’s estimate should (hopefully) be more trustworthy.
  • With all the talk about eliminating or reducing the tax deduction donors receive for their charitable gifts, kudos to Sarah Lutman for digging into the Congressional Budget Office’s recommendations on the subject.
  • Theatre Bay Area has published a report on social media use by arts organizations, authored by our friend Devon Smith of Threespot Consulting. Devon has her own account here.

ACROSS THE POND

  • Going England one further, the right-wing government of The Netherlands is set to cut its arts funding by 25% and more than triple the tax on tickets to concerts. Sadly, the powers that be have chosen to let smaller arts organizations bear most of the burden – an especially heavy one since unlike here, government funding makes up the vast majority of revenue for most. Recommendations to phase in the cuts were ignored.
  • Michael Kaiser reports from a trip to England (part I; part II); Michael Royce checks out the arts scene in Berlin (part I; part IIpart III).
  • Weirdness: a Chinese firm has contracted Albert Speer & Partner to build an exact replica of the Austrian village of Hallstatt – in Guangdong Province.
  • Weirdness: Norway is apparently training its own diplomats how to explain black metal.
  • Weirdness: a city in India has no municipal government – and is apparently doing pretty well. Marginal Revolution and Matt Yglesias provide interesting commentary.

BIG IDEA CORNER

  • Meant to mention this last time around – National Arts Strategies is launching a cool-looking initiative designed to help CEOs become more effective leaders. Andrew Taylor provides his customary brief summary.
  • Lee Streby has an extraordinary three-part exploration on what he would do if he were building an orchestra from scratch. And speaking of orchestras, Greg Sandow has been musing on how we might objectively evaluate the quality of their performances.
  • Sasha Anawalt, Doug McLennan, et al. set up a five-day “pop-up newsroom” called Engine 28 last month to cover live theater convenings and events in LA. The LA Times has more.
  • Dollars and sense: Assets for Artists is looking to expand beyond Massachusetts. Gary Steuer draws the line between arts education and economic development. Barry Hessenius on a different kind of arts endowment – and how we might fund it. And since I’m always a sucker for people questioning the premises behind microeconomics, here’s Justin Wolfers recounting how being a father has made him question the neoclassical model; and Seth Godin on why coordination, not competition, is the next frontier for economics.
  • If you’ve ever played the mobile/tablet game Angry Birds, you know how addictive it can be. Now the company that makes Angry Birds, Rovio, is launching a totally visionary location- and accessory-based scavenger hunt in which visiting various special places in real life activates Easter egg features in the game. This is some seriously creative shit that arts marketers should be paying close attention to.
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Cool job of the month

Program Officer, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The Program Officer will work in collaboration with the Performing Arts team and under the guidance of the Program Director to provide professional, operational, and programmatic support. Responsibilities fall into three categories: 1) research, identification, and analysis of potential grantees; 2) ongoing support and assessment of current grantees and special projects of importance to the regional and national arts ecosystems; and 3) assistance and support for Program and Foundation strategies.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities

Planning and Strategy

  • Collaborates with the Program Director in planning grantmaking strategies that will have strong impact in areas important to the Foundation.
  • Invites, reviews, and responds to inquiries and proposals. Offers professional advice and field expertise to applicants and grantees.
  • Works with grantees to develop and modify strategies to effectively use available resources while fulfilling Program goals.
  • Develops briefing papers and Program-related reports that broaden the Foundation’s understanding of new approaches, best practices, and issues relating to the performing arts.

Grantmaking

  • Manages a diverse portfolio of grants; assesses progress and responds to financial and programmatic reports. Establishes and maintains effective relationships with current and prospective grantees.
  • Ensures that sound financial controls are in place for each grant and that funds are spent wisely and according to grant agreements.
  • Manages evaluation of grants and participates in assessments of Program strategies. Develops guidelines for measuring the success of grants and Program strategies.
  • Drafts summaries of grant applications for triennial grant dockets for Board review and approval. Reviews, writes, proofs, and edits the docket memorandum.

Foundation Support

  • Organizes and coordinates Foundation-sponsored meetings of grantees and field experts.
  • Represents the Foundation at appropriate external meetings, conferences, and site visits.

For the full job description, see the link here. No deadline given.

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South Carolina Legislature overwhelms, overrides Governor’s veto of Arts Commission budget

Deja vu all over again. In the fiscal 2011 budget process, South Carolina’s former Governor Mark Sanford vetoed line item funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission, only to have his veto overridden by wide margins. History has just repeated itself. Governor Nikki Haley issued a similar line item veto yesterday, zeroing out $1.9 million in funding for the SCAC. Today, the South Carolina House overrode that veto by a vote of 105-8, and the Senate voted for override, 32-6. South Carolina will not become the second state without a state arts agency, at least not in fiscal 2012.

Governor Sanford was tainted by scandal when his veto was overriden, so some observers wondered if the SCAC was as likely to gain the 2/3rds supermajority votes required in both houses to survive Governor Haley’s veto. It wasn’t even close. It is perhaps interesting to note that FY2012 grantees were already announced, pending the outcome of the budget bill and veto process. Advocates could call their State Representatives and State Senators knowing precisely who and what they were fighting for, including approximately $250,000 in arts-in-education funding. Still, funding levels are 16% lower in this budget (which begins July 1st) than the previous one, when the SCAC received $250,000 in one-time stimulus funds, and 55% lower than in 2008. New in FY2012, the SCAC is required to spend 70% of its funding on grants.

Also worthy of note, the news was distributed widely across Facebook and Twitter before the SCAC’s website and others could be updated.

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