Around the horn: Newt edition


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


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


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


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




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


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

Cool jobs of the month

Research Fellowship, Fractured Atlas

(Work for me! Work for meeeeeeeeee!)

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

Deadline: December 28, 2011.

Presenting and Artist Communities Director, National Endowment for the Arts

 The selectee will be responsible for the following tasks:

  • Serve as Agency’s nationally recognized expert and authority for the fields of Presenting and Artist Communities in discussions throughout the agency including collaborations with other Divisions.
  • Maintain good relations with leaders in the Presenting and Artist Communities fields and related fields and keep abreast of their perspectives on current and future trends.
  • Review proposals from the Presenting and Artist Communities fields, manage panel review process for applications, propose funding amounts, present grant recommendations for consideration by the Chairman, Senior Deputy Chairman, Deputy Chairman for Program & Partnerships, and to the National Council on the Arts.
  • Select experts in the Presenting and Artist Communities fields to serve as pre-screening and panel reviewers.  Chair advisory panel meetings.
  • Ensure accomplishment of Division’s objectives through combined supervisory, technical and administrative direction of subordinates, including the planning/assigning of work, setting priorities and evaluating performance.

Deadline: December 22, 2011, but position may be filled before then.

Arts Education Director, National Endowment for the Arts

The selectee will be responsible for the following tasks:

  • Serve as the Agency’s nationally recognized expert and authority for the field of Arts Education.
  • Provide national leadership and direction concerning Agency Arts Education funding, programming, policies and partnerships.
  • Maintain good relations with leaders in the Arts Education and related fields and keep abreast of their perspectives on trends and innovative developments.
  • Study and analyze the implications of research, findings and trends in the Arts Education field in order to formulate and recommend appropriate funding, programming and policy.
  • Review proposals from the Arts Education field, manage panel review process for applications, propose funding amounts and present grant recommendations for consideration by Senior-Level staff.

Deadline: January 9, 2012, but position may be filled before then.

Program Assistant, Cultural Development Corporation

Cultural Development Corporation (CuDC), a non-profit organization dedicated to making space for art, is accepting applications for the position of Program Assistant. This entry-level position provides support to CuDC’s Programs team, assisting with: the delivery of capacity-building services to artists and arts organizations; performances and exhibitions in the Mead Theatre Lab and Flashpoint Gallery; production of the Source Festival; creation of arts space.

No deadline provided.

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Cultural equity and the San Francisco Arts Commission

It’s not too often that we get genuinely tabloid-worthy headlines in arts policy, but if trainwrecks are your thing, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better (worse?) than the mess that is the San Francisco Arts Commission these days. Let’s start with the San Francisco Chronicle article:

Under its former director, the San Francisco Arts Commission failed to properly track spending and had a fearful workplace, according to a city controller’s audit released Tuesday.

The report lays bare financial and management problems that festered in the $10 million city agency under Luis Cancel, former director of cultural affairs. Appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Cancel resigned this summer when he came under fire for clocking in from Brazil and mistreating staff.


Among other conclusions, auditors found that the Arts Commission was spending money that violated the city’s reimbursement policies - money held in accounts by Intersection for the Arts, the commission’s nonprofit fiscal sponsor.

(Wait, did I just read that right? The San Francisco Arts Commission, an agency of city government, was using one of its own grantees as a fiscal sponsor? Nothing against Intersection, which does great work, but…huh?!)

Anyway, things just get more bizarre from there. According to the audit in question:

Surveyed employees consistently reported that they did not feel that they could report misconduct or a human resources issue without retaliation. Over one-third (35 percent) of respondents indicated that they felt that staff could not report misconduct without fear of retribution. One response stated, “I certainly don’t feel safe or comfortable lodging a complaint,” while another stated, “historically, we’ve all been terrified of retribution (since 2008) because we all witnessed it in action.”


Employees reported little to no relationship between the duties they perform and those in their official job classification descriptions. A large majority (62 percent) of respondents indicated that job classification specifications often do not match the employee’s responsibilities and workload. For instance, one response identified a case in which a person hired as an intern continued to work for SFAC for over three years, taking on responsibilities that far exceeded those of an intern, with no change in classification or compensation to reflect the increased responsibilities.

Yikes! So when I tell you that there’s a huge uproar in the San Francisco artist community about the San Francisco Arts Commission, you gotta figure it’s about the gross financial and employee mismanagement of the previous administration, right? Think again.

Among the [audit's] 12 recommendations, two, dealing with the Cultural Equity Grants (CEG) program, are the most controversial. They say that the program should:

  • Cease funding and administering four of its eight initiatives, on the grounds that the program’s enabling legislation authorizes only the “Cultural Equity Initiatives Program (CEI), a Program for Commissions to Individual Artists (IAC), the Project Grants to Small and Mid-size organizations (OPG), and the Facilities Fund (CRSP). The other four are recommended for elimination because they are not cited by name in the city Administrative Code: Native American Arts & Cultural Traditions (NAACT), Innovations in Strengthening the Arts (ISA), Arts & Communities: Innovative Partnerships (ACIP), Arts for Neighborhood Vitality grant categories (ANV)
  • Ensure that no recipient receives more than one grant at a time, on the grounds that 14 of the 172 grant recipients received multiple grants in FY 2010-11. The guidelines say no recipient may receive more than one grant for the same project, but the Controller finds “some risk that the same recipient may use multiple grants for one project” sufficient grounds to limit eligibility further. Over the last five years, the Galeria de la Raza, a long-lived and highly respected, Latino visual arts organization deeply rooted in San Francisco’s Mission District, received 12 grants totalling just under $237,000, an average of $47,000 a year.

That’s from an article last week by Arlene Goldbard, a Bay Area blogger and longtime champion of the community arts. Her lengthy and excellent post goes on to defend with great passion the CEG program, which despite its small size has been an important national model in reaching immigrant and other underserved communities through arts funding. To Arlene and others in the California arts community who have been contributing their opinions on the anonymous pop-up blog Cultural Equity Matters, the Controller’s audit, which was ostensibly intended as a means of helping SFAC clean up its act, is only making things worse. Artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña goes so far as to call the report a “racist” attack on community arts funding, and even Goldbard criticizes the report for seeming “to have been written by a computer—or human beings impersonating a computer’s pristine disinterest in human events” and “respond[ing] with bureaucratic solutions that would be identical for any city agency, whether it regulated a fleet of trucks or cleaned the streets.”

I’m not in the middle of this thing, and I can’t speak to the motivations of those who instigated the inquiry. From a disinterested vantage point, though, my sense is that some of the criticism being leveled against the Controller’s audit is unfair. Sure, it’s bureaucratic; but look, these people are accountantsThat’s like criticizing the San Francisco Mime Troupe for not properly considering the upsides of corporate personhood. On first glance it does seem strange that CEG is singled out, but given that it’s SFAC’s only major competitive grant program it’s perhaps not that surprising. I do think there’s a legitimate argument to be made about whether the audit should have sought to micromanage program operations at all, but once you get into considering specific financial transactions I can understand how it would be hard to know where to draw the line. In any case, the good news is that nowhere in the audit do the authors make a normative statement that CEG as a whole should get less funding, or that the specific organizations receiving multiple grants from CEG did anything wrong; it’s pretty focused on some narrow technical and legal concerns about how the program is operated and administered.

After initially saying that she supported the report’s recommendations (including eliminating those four “illegal” grant categories), interim director JD Beltran has sought to quiet the storm, publicly standing behind CEG and promising that no funds will be cut from the program (emphasis in the original):

The SFAC’s responses to the audit indicated that all programs will be made legally compliant.  It is most important to note, however, that our responses in no way indicated that any funding to the community through our grant programs would cease or decrease.…The report does not suggest or dictate agency policy, it simply recognizes shortcomings in certain agency fiscal, administrative, and staffing practices, and its findings also observed issues in the Cultural Equity Grants Program.

The SFAC remains steadfast in its mission, policies, and full support of its highly valued programs, and especially its groundbreaking Cultural Equity Grant Program.

So at this point, it looks like CEG is likely not in any real danger; that’s the good news. The bad news (although it may ultimately be for the best) is that this whole debacle has laid bare some things about cultural funding in San Francisco that are not, well, so equitable. The Cultural Equity Grants program gave out less than $2.4 million to 172 recipients in the most recent fiscal year, according to the report, or a bit under $14,000 per organization. By contrast, according to Goldbard, the San Francisco Symphony and Opera each received over $600,000 in government funds in the last fiscal year alone through San Francisco’s other city arts program, Grants for the Arts. On top of this, SFAC has an annual contract with the Symphony to “produce a concert series that is intended to appeal to youth, families, and the diverse demographics of the City.” It turns out that in FY11, the size of this contract ($2 million) makes up nearly a quarter of the Commission’s annual budget, and represents almost as much money as that spent on the entire Cultural Equity Grants program!

The dustup with the Arts Commission takes place at a time when cultural equity has been occupying, if you will, a large chunk of the national conversation about the arts, ever since the publication of Holly Sidford’s report Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change. Grantmakers in the Arts even has a whole blog salon going on about it right now. I’m not suggesting that the concerts that the City of San Francisco produces with the San Francisco Symphony are unworthy of public funding, or that $2 million is not a reasonable amount to pay for the Symphony’s services; I have no reason to make such presumptions. But it does seem to me a perfect example of how large-budget, historic cultural institutions have privileges of access at their disposal that few arts organizations founded within our lifetimes (including, therefore, hardly any organizations founded by or primarily serving racial and ethnic minorities) could ever dream of. Sure, Galeria de la Raza got 12 grants in 5 years from SFAC. But most of those grants had to be won with the approval of a panel of fellow citizens, with panel discussion taking place in public (CEG has one of the most radically transparent review processes in the country; see page 11 of the pdf). The San Francisco Symphony, to my knowledge, does not have its contract up for public review by a panel of citizen peers every year. It just gets the money.

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue with such things. The SFS offers world-class artistic programming. Of course the city should be honored, grateful even, to be able to offer that programming for free to its citizens, especially people who are less likely to take in the orchestra’s regular subscription series. But here’s the thing: the Symphony is able to offer that world-class programming in large part because it offers its artists and administrators a lot of money to come from around the world to San Francisco. And it’s able to offer people that kind of money in large part because, like the marquee orchestra in every city, it has friends in high places.

I’ll end with this rant from Maria X. Martinez, posted on the aforementioned Cultural Equity Matters blog:

[T]his report points out 2 small grants (we are talking very small) that do not use peer review…really? In my 15 years of civil service, I have only seen one department employ an open peer review: the SF Arts Commission. Hundreds of millions of dollars in grants are awarded by CCSF without one peer at the table, and we put a light on the tiny-by-comparison small grants within the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund? How many peers were at the table when deciding to bail out and guarantee to keep the Asian [Art] Museum afloat with a $99 million loan this year? [...]

Would not our brain trust…be better spent by auditing WHY La Galeria, for example, has to spend their extremely limited, precious time and energy to apply for 12 small grants over the course of 5 years (not to mention the overhead for SFAC to award and administer those same small [12] grants)? This study chooses, rather to focus on a very small percent of organizations for a very small amount of money who are awarded by their peers (!) because they are deserving.

Oh dear, we must get our priorities straight.

[UPDATE: The San Francisco Arts Commission staff has released a statement in support of the Cultural Equity Grants program.]


Around the horn: Blago edition


  • Americans for the Arts’s Narric Rome provides a vital update on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind), and what it all means for arts education, as it makes its way through the Congressional committee process.
  • Proposed copyright legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is mobilizing a lot of opposition from the “geek” community - and within the arts.
  • A transportation bill making its way through Congress is potentially bad news for public art.
  • This isn’t good: citing “budgetary constraints,” the NEA will no longer accept consortium grant proposals in FY13. It’s one organization, one grant from here on out.


  • The European Commission is betting big on culture, with a €1.8 billion ($2.4 billion) commitment to film, visual, and performing arts over six years under the name “Creative Europe.” ARTINFO is calling it “the world’s largest-ever cultural funding program,” although that seems doubtful once you take the six-year time horizon and inclusion of film into account. For example, in 2007 alone, Germany allocated more than 1.2 billion euros to culture. (via quiet.quiet.quiet.)
  • Arts Council England is cracking down on unpaid internships among its grantees (they’re already illegal in the UK). Good for them.
  • The Toronto Arts Council is facing a 10% cut.


  • It’s giving season, and that means the advice is flying fast and furious. The Wall Street Journal is out with its annual special section on philanthropy, which features some stupid debates like “Should Charities Act Like Businesses?” (Umm, you mean like Lehman Bros.?) This year, as in the past, I plan to entrust my non-arts giving to GiveWell, which conducts the most comprehensive and intellectually honest research on giving opportunities I’m aware of anywhere, a veritable wonky wet dream. GiveWell just released its top recommendations for 2011, and they include two disease control charities, Against Malaria Foundation and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.
  • Philanthropy futurist Lucy Bernholz is out with her annual forecast for philanthropists and social investors, Blueprint 2012. Here’s Lucy on the importance of open data as the building block for the future.


  • The National Endowment for the Arts is convening a multi-agency task force to fund and promote research on the arts and human development, and has already published a white paper on the subject. This level of engagement with other agencies of government, centering on Health & Human Services, is unprecedented for the NEA’s research department, and has the potential to turn into a big deal if they stay on it. Sunil Iyengar has more.
  • Whaddya know? Two of the ten happiest jobs in the United States, according to the highly respected General Social Survey, are authors (#4) and artists (#7). In fact, every single one of the top 8 exist largely or entirely within the nonprofit and public sectors.
  • Speaking of happiness, a new study from the co-creator of the “Mappiness” iPhone app, who happens to be a Ph.D. candidate at the London School of Economics, attempts to determine the association between various kinds of (self-reported) activities and (self-reported) happiness for the app’s UK-based users. Clay Lord did some honest-to-goodness journalism and found out that four out of the six happiest activities are arts-related. (#1 on that list, of course, is “intimacy/making love.”) Linda Essig has more.
  • WESTAF has published the proceedings of a symposium called “Engaging the Now” featuring the participation of leading arts research lights Ann Markusen, Julia Lowell, and Steven Tepper among others.
  • Theatre Communications Group has published the latest version of Theatre Facts.
  • Alex Tabarrok on the problems of regression-based studies regressing to the mean. (Translation: small sample size can be a problem even when your sample size isn’t that small.)


  • Adrian Ellis is stepping down as executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center to return to his consulting firm, AEA Consulting.
  • And the arts journalism attrition continues: the Denver Post has offered buyouts to a number of longtime staffers, including at least two arts critics.


  • Things that make you go hmm: Knoedler & Company, a 165-year-old New York art gallery that was one of the most prestigious in the country, abruptly ceased operations last Wednesday. The next day, a lawsuit was filed by a collector claiming that Knoedler & Company sold him a fake Jackson Pollack for $17 million. ARTINFO has more.
  • Well, it was just a matter of time: Occupy Wall Street Occupied Lincoln Center, with composer Philip Glass joining in a protest outside a performance of his own opera, Satyagraha.
  • Videos from the National Arts Marketing Project conference are now available on Livestream.
  • The blog series from the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Council on notable trends in the field continues with Gabi Jirasek’s entry on the Grand Rapids Lip Dub project and Ebony McKinney’s analysis of arts incubators.
  • Some blog salons going on now: Grantmakers in the Arts is having a discussion of Holly Sidford’s recently published cultural equity manifesto “Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change” from December 6-16, and Americans for the Arts is hosting its first ever local arts agency salon December 5-9.
  • Rachael Wilkinson writes up some of the crowdfunding options available to artists. It’s worth noting that Fractured Atlas has partnerships with both IndieGoGo and RocketHub that allow fiscally sponsored projects to receive tax-deductible contributions through those platforms. For for-profit crowdfunded concepts, a bill making its way through Congress would loosen the investor regulations that currently apply.


  • The Pittsburgh Steelers have a unusual way of selling season tickets: fans can buy a “personal seat license” that gives them theright to buy season tickets for that particular seat. These PSLs are like real estate – they are durable goods, so therefore they increase in value over time. And boy, are they a hot property - Freakonomics reports that on average, prices have increased over 700% in ten years. And you thought dynamic pricing in the arts was bad! (Actually, could this be applied to the arts?)
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Around the horn: Siri edition


Lots of movement these past couple of weeks!

  • Shannon Daut, formerly Deputy Director of Western State Arts Federation in Denver, CO, will be the new leader of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.
  • Vincent Stehle has been announced as the new director of Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media.
  • Fidelma McGinn, Executive Director of Artist Trust, is leaving to become Vice President of Philanthropic Services for the Seattle Foundation.
  • Lawrence Tamburri is out as CEO of the financially troubled Pittsburgh Symphony, and has been replaced by a board member.


  • The DC Office of Human Rights has challenged the practice of offering discounts on performances to professionals under the age of 35.
  • Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer is speaking out against a wide-ranging state secrecy law in South Africa that she and others say will be a blank check for censorship.


  • Dance/NYC has released a report on the state of dance in New York City.
  • The Otis College of Art and Design is out with its second study of Los Angeles’s creative economy.
  • NPR’s Patrick Jarenwattananon takes a look at the Future of Music Coalition’s Artist Revenue Streams survey from the perspective of jazz musicians. (includes video)
  • The Foundation Center’s Director of Research, Larry McGill, has a great post on Philanthropy News Digest talking about the limitations of measurement in the social sector. The comments are also well worth reading.
  • Assets for Artists is conducting an evaluation of its program, and good for them, they’re offering $100 a pop to low-to-moderate-income Massachusetts artists who are willing to participate in their de facto control group. This is the way to do it, folks.


  • Jeanne Ruddy Dance, a part of the Philadelphia modern dance scene for 12 years, is shutting down.
  • The Future of Music Coalition takes a hard look at the joint venture between Groupon and Live Nation offering heavily discounted last-minute concert tickets.
  • This month’s article on classical music entrepreneurship got quite a lot of attention, and is now one of the most-viewed Createquity blog posts all time. One of the groups profiled in that piece, Classical Revolution, got its own writeup in Toronto’s Globe and Mail. And the LA Times‘s music critic Mark Swed shared the experience of another group that sounds like it could have been included, wild Up.
  • I’m hearing more and more about the Trey McIntyre Project, a dance company that purposefully transplanted itself in Boise, Idaho, after a nationwide search for a community to adopt. (Baltimore’s Single Carrot Theatre is an example of an ensemble with a similar immigration story.) TMP received a $450,000 ArtPlace grant to “limit its touring to remain in Boise, where it will engage the community to make dance and dancers ever present,” aiming to “generate local identity and pride equivalent to that fostered by the university football team.” More about that project here.
  • As someone with little experience in the visual arts trenches, I found this article on the economics and ethics of artists being asked to donate work to benefit auctions illuminating. (Thanks, Katherine!)


  • Will someone please offer Michael Wilkerson a blog? The American University arts administration professor participated this past week in yet another blog salon from Americans for the Arts (this one focusing on the private sector), and offered two blowout posts: one proposing a national dedicated revenue stream that would more than double the federal money available to directly support the arts; and a second questioning the good that proposal would do because of the fundamental assumptions embedded in how arts support is distributed.
  • Great job-hunting advice from the Mission Paradox blog.
  • The Foundation Center’s CEO Brad Smith compares Occupy Wall Street and the Giving Pledge as social movements in this lighthearted post.
  • Cool story from a while back about a foundation that lets all of its staff members (even the receptionists) participate in grantmaking. (You need a subscription to Chronicle of Philanthropy to view.)
  • Did you know that Zappos (the online shoe retailer that was recently bought by Amazon) offers its new employees a chance to quit after an initial weeklong training period and pocket $4,000? Ian Ayres and Akhil Amar suggest that law schools offer their students a similar “anti-incentive” to quit after their first year, in order to help save everyone a lot of time and money.
  • Very smart analysis from Isaac Butler and Matt Yglesias about geographic redistribution in the arts vs. the rest of the economy.
  • Are you ready for the neuroeconomics revolution?
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On Michael Kaiser and Citizen Critics

Michael Kaiser is so hit or miss. Last week he published this truly unfortunate commentary on the slow death of professional arts criticism, and the rise of citizen critics as a result:

[T]he growing influence of blogs, chat rooms and message boards devoted to the arts has given the local professional critic a slew of competitors….Many arts institutions even allow their audience members to write their own critiques on the organizational website.

This is a scary trend.

He goes on to add:

Anyone can write a blog or leave a review in a chat room. The fact that someone writes about theater or ballet or music does not mean they have expert judgment.

But it is difficult to distinguish the professional critic from the amateur as one reads on-line reviews and critiques.

No one critic should be deemed the arbiter of good taste in any market and it is wonderful that people now have an opportunity to express their feelings about a work of art. But great art must not be measured by a popularity contest. Otherwise the art that appeals to the lowest common denominator will always be deemed the best.

Responses are all over the original post and the blogosphere; Andy Horwitz has one of the best over at Culturebot. You don’t need to think too hard to guess at my reaction; after all, I’m on record as saying that I think citizen critics (though I prefer the term “curators”) are the potential saviors of the artistic marketplace. However, that’s not to say that everyone’s opinion matters equally in every context. I believe in experts, I just think that newspaper editors shouldn’t be the only ones who get to decide who the experts are. Much more on all of this here and here, but in the meantime try the short version below:

What we need…is a way of broadening out the selection and adjudication process to a greater number of people without sacrificing the qualities and expertise that make professional program officers [or critics -IDM] special. To do this, we’ll still want to access the crowd, but rather than treat everyone the same, we’ll need to differentiate between good members of the crowd – the ones who are generous with their time, consider differing viewpoints thoughtfully, and demonstrate personal integrity – and bad members of the crowd – “one-issue” voters, poorly informed fly-by commenters, and vendetta-carriers. Put another way, we want to give anybody the opportunity to participate meaningfully without having to give that opportunity to everybody.

In other words, we need to curate the curators - something that, gee whiz, it turns out the internet is pretty good at.

Many have already pointed out the irony that Kaiser wrote his commentary on a website, the Huffington Post, that relies for much of its content on unpaid bloggers (of which Kaiser is one, I can only assume). But I also found it ironic that Kaiser’s post drew an approving two-part response from Rocco Landesman, who cites the NEA’s recent collaborative grant program with the Knight Foundation as a positive example of bucking the trend. Rocco writes:

Very often there is no one even vestigiall­y qualified as an expert and what little opinion we get is from “cost effective” freelancer­s or a gaggle of blog posts. [...]

Here at the NEA we are trying to do something about this. In partnershi­p with the Knight Foundation­, whose domain is both journalism and the arts, we have made grants in our new Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge. Each of the winning grantees (in Charlotte, Miami, Detroit, Philadelph­ia and San Jose) has presented a sustainabl­e business model for a new way of delivering arts criticism.

And yet one of the projects (out of five) awarded a grant in the first round of the program is the Detroit iCritic van, which parks outside of arts events and offers exiting audience members the opportunity to record a video about their experience and share it with the world. Several of the other initiatives also afford citizen journalists a prominent role, with few restrictions on access. If this isn’t the democratization of arts criticism, I’m not sure what is.

Following the field dialogue on participation is so interesting. I really do think people want it both ways: they want the good things that can come from decentralizing power, access, and speech (thoughtful praise and constructive criticism, freeloading on volunteer labor, the moral high ground of inclusiveness) without having to accept the accompanying challenges (mindless or malicious attacks, declining revenues, having to listen to people you didn’t really want to invite to the table).

That particular drama has played out for centuries, really – it speaks to the fundamental dilemmas of collectivism. But the difference now is the way in which recent communications technologies, and the cultures that have built up around it, make everything more open by default. The social web connects strangers to each other around shared interests and foments dialogue, dialogue that filters down into everyday practice and informs collective actions that previously took place in isolation. And so you have these formerly untouchable institutions who are all of the sudden the ones asking for a place at the table…because the conversation is happening, and the world is moving on, with or without them.

I think what sometimes gets missed by those who lament our shifting reality is the inexorable fact that there’s no going back. There just isn’t. Newspapers are never again going to be a dominant force in our lives, and the bizarre economics that briefly made it possible to subsidize full-time professional arts critics via want ads and real estate listings are not likely to return. It’s like complaining about the oversupply of artists – y’all had better get used to it, because it’s not going away. I’m confident that our emerging content delivery systems will figure out ways to match up the opinions of smart people with the consumers who demand them. But I doubt very much that it will look anything like the models of the past. I suggest that rather than pine for the good old days, we instead consider what kinds of systems and structures can accept these new voices as a necessary input and still produce meaningful guidance for consumer and society alike.


Cool jobs of the month

Chief Executive Officer, Arts Council of New Orleans

The Arts Council of New Orleans, a private, non-profit organization serving as the City of New Orleans’s official arts agency, is seeking a full-time Chief Executive Officer. The CEO will report directly to the Board of Directors and will oversee the professional staff of the Council. The role of the CEO includes shaping the vision for the Arts Council; insuring the quality and effectiveness of all programs; identifying and securing support for institutional, operational, and programmatic functions; and in general, building partnerships and internal capacities of the Arts Council as the key New Orleans arts and cultural leadership entity in the post-Katrina era.

No deadline provided.

Program Officer for Arts Education, Margaret A. Cargill Foundation

The Margaret A. Cargill (MAC) Philanthropies is looking for talent! MAC Philanthropies encompasses three different grantmaking organizations: Akaloa Resource Foundation, Anne Ray Charitable Trust and the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. Collectively, these organizations are dedicated to providing meaningful assistance and support to society, the arts, the environment, and all living things. This exciting, fast-growing organization is located in Eden Prairie, MN. The Arts Education Program is one of three programs of the Arts & Cultures Program at the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. The overarching goal of the Arts Education program is to have more educators who are confident and competent to teach the arts and to exist and remain in K-12 schools. The Foundation has chosen to focus its efforts to target a particular phase of teacher professional development in the arts during pre-service training and the first several years of entering the teaching profession. The program will pilot its grantmaking in two states, Alaska and Wisconsin. The Program Officer is responsible for implementing and managing a new grantmaking program in Arts Education at the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, in collaboration with and under the supervision of the Program Director of Arts & Cultures.

No deadline provided.

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Connecting El Sistema Programs in the US

Who knew little kids playing Tchaikovsky in Latin America could inspire national institutional partnerships in the United States? Last month, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced a new Masters of Arts in Teaching degree, in partnership with the Longy School of Music and Bard College, to position high-level musicians as socially-conscious, engaging teachers in El Sistema-inspired programs in the U.S.

As a program that began with a few young musicians playing classical music in a garage in Venezuela in the 1970s, the phenomenon of youth orchestras known as “El Sistema” has captured the hearts and imaginations of renowned artists and arts organizations around the world. Today, over fifty organizations in the US self-identify as “El Sistema-inspired,” presumably because they have some combination of rigorous musical study, a social justice mission, or a community development mission. As these music for social action programs emerge and evolve, they are grappling with questions about how to collectively support this new movement, what informs this type of work in our communities, and what this new hybrid leader of advocate, educator, administrator, and musician looks like.

Organizations around the country are exploring partnerships as a way to achieve greater impact than they alone can accomplish. Bard College and The Longy School of Music saw a need to support musicians in well-rounded careers as extraordinary musicians with strong teaching skills, and recently announced that the two schools are in the process of merging. The Los Angeles Philharmonic saw a need to supply El Sistema programs with high-quality teachers, and has partnered with Longy and Bard to train teachers and host conferences that bring together leaders in the El Sistema movement to discuss the needs of emerging programs. The New England Conservatory continues to support 10 people each year in a rigorous program (Abreu Fellows) that prepares them to start and/or support El Sistema programs in the US.

As a current Abreu Fellow, I’m seeing this connectivity in the spirit of El Sistema first-hand. In September, the Fellows joined about 35 music teachers and El Sistema program leaders from around the country in a professional development workshop called “Enacting a Teaching Practice through El Sistema Philosophy,” a joint initiative of New England Conservatory, the Longy School of Music, and the Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS) in Boston, where first-year Abreu Fellows Rebecca Levi and David Malek direct an El Sistema program. This was not your garden-variety conference: we embodied the learning by making music together, singing with the children’s choir at CLCS, playing in the children’s orchestra, and learning how to play in a bucket band. By the end of the workshop, many of us felt so connected that we ended the evening harmonizing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” outside of a restaurant.

Cross-pollination from different fields is happening institutionally, as well. When Harvard University hosted a session at the Kennedy School for Public Policy with El Sistema leaders in the US to discuss possible implications of El Sistema-inspired programs on policy, the Abreu Fellows turned the group of 40 public policy grads and arts education leaders into a choir. This is the change that is happening through the inspiration of El Sistema: creative entryways into experiencing excellence, community-building, performance, and most importantly, fun.

As Doug Borwick says, “As more established arts institutions come to understand the need to establish community relevance as part of their long-term prosperity (or survival) the more necessary it will be to develop models of work with communities that produce impressive results.” The good news is, we’re just at the beginning, and the conversations and rich connections are well on their way to making relevant music for community development programs a reality. Through these connections, we’re establishing an infrastructure for the next step: gathering information to better understand the impact that these programs can have.


Around the horn: European debt edition


  • AFTA’s Narric Rome shares the latest on how arts education has fared in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind) reauthorization, which Jennifer Kessler reported on earlier this year. Mostly good news, from what it sounds like.
  • Looks like net neutrality advocates dodged a bullet when the Senate rejected an effort by Republicans to turn back regulations that were put in place last year.
  • It’s official: the zero-budget Kansas Arts Commission will be receiving zero dollars in matching funds from the NEA. Kansas is now contemplating selling arts license plates a la the California Arts Council.
  • Jonathan Arbabanel gives the insider scoop on what’s happening with the newly-merged Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
  • Did you know that, by law, artists in California earn royalties from future sales of their work? It sounds like a great idea, but Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman make a compelling argument at the Freakonomics blog that it’s actually not good policy for most artists.



  • You’ve no doubt heard of the ArtPlace grant opportunity (letter of inquiry due today!), but the initiative offers just as much money in loan financing via the Nonprofit Finance Fund. There is a separate process to get in on that action, and the deadline is December 1.
  • Mitch Nauffts reports on Bloomberg Philanthropies’s emergence as one of the nation’s top foundations.
  • The Richard and Rhonda Goldman Foundation, a significant supporter of the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area, is spending down and has distributed its last set of grants.
  • More on the Irvine Foundation’s new arts strategy, from arts program director Josephine Ramirez and foundation president Jim Canales.
  • Whoa, I’d heard of composer Ann Southam via Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar, but I had no idea she was loaded.


  • Two Austin art museums, the Austin Museum of Art and Arthouse, have merged.
  • Yet another orchestra is facing significant financial troubles: this time, the Dallas Symphony. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, by contrast, is doing great under the strong leadership of Deborah Borda, with Walt Disney Concert Hall averaging 95% of capacity.
  • Well, this is a novel negotiating tactic: the NYC Opera’s unions have offered to perform for free this season in exchange for health care and power over future venues. City Opera rejected the offer.
  • Americans for the Arts’s Amanda Alef scored an interview with the collective voice that is the Occupy Wall Street Arts and Culture Committee.


  • Mandee Roberts takes issue with the fact that architects are included in the NEA’s recent report on artist professions and income.
  • The NEA’s Sunil Iyengar takes on Holly Sidford’s report for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, “Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change.” So does the League of American Orchestras’s Jesse Rosen, and Andrew Taylor.


  • Applications for art and design college degrees in the UK are down 27% from last year, and officials worry that the rising cost of higher education is squeezing out lower-income students.
  • As the cost of postsecondary education ratchets up ever higher, Cooper Union is considering charging tuition to undergraduates for the first time since 1902. (h/t Xenia via the Createquity Tipster)
  • The value of the worldwide underground economy (broadly speaking, enterprises that are not registered or licensed and don’t pay taxes to the government) is approximately $10 trillion, according to an economist at Johannes Kepler University in Austria. If it were a country, it would be the second-largest economy in the world after the United States.


  • Farewell for now to Sean Stannard-Stockton, who is taking a sabbatical from his excellent blog Tactical Philanthropy. Hope we’ll see him back again soon.
  • Chicago Artists Resource has a great behind-the-scenes interview with Thomas Cott of the celebrated email newsletter You’ve Cott Mail.


  • Congratulations to the folks at Animating Democracy for a fabulous blog salon at ARTSBlog, which took place over the past week. Doug Borwick makes a good point in noting the creeping influence of creative placemaking on the discussion there.
  • Arlene Goldbard was also at the Beyond Dynamic Adaptability conference, and she had some things to say about the WolfBrown white paper on participatory arts that was presented there.
  • Speaking of conferences, the Independent Sector Conference (about which I’ll have a report here shortly) wasn’t the only social sector gathering that met recently. Bunmi Akinnusotu offers a brief but informative dispatch about the 2011 Net Impact Conference in Portland, OR.
  • Imagine my surprise to find this article on the Fast Company website (h/t Mission Paradox) by a former classmate of mine from undergrad, Adrian Slywotzky. Adrian recounts a fascinating pro-bono study by consulting firm Oliver Wyman (in which he is a partner) called the Audience Growth Initiative that looked at audience churn at nine major symphony orchestras.
  • Fantastic advice from Seth Godin on how to get hired at a small company (a term that describes virtually all arts organizations).
  • Bad Culture has posted Part II of its interview with longtime Bay Area cultural policy wonk John Kreidler. (Part I is available here.)
  • Is Wikipedia, arguably the most successful crowdsourcing experiment in history, running out of steam? I sure hope not, but the encyclopedia has a huge backlog of editorial work (adding sources to articles, etc.) that is apparently stretching the capacity of the site’s volunteer contributors.
  • Thank you, Beth Kanter, for highlighting the fact that curation (of content or otherwise) is an art form all its own.
  • Coolness: Life in a Day, the YouTube project showcasing user-uploaded video all recorded on July 24, 2010, is now available in its 90-minute entirety – on YouTube, of course.
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Dispatch from the Bay Area, Part II: Beyond Dynamic Adaptability

On October 24, I was invited to be one of three official bloggers for the one-day Beyond Dynamic Adaptability conference in San Francisco, along with Clay Lord and Adam Fong, whose contributions you can read at the links above. (Disclosure: that means I was paid to write this post, but no one associated with the conference or its sponsors has seen or approved it prior to publishing.) “Beyond Dynamic Adaptability” may seem like an unwieldy name (especially following “Embracing the Velocity of Change,” sheesh!), but it makes sense once you know that it is the sequel to another well-received conference in 2010 that was known as the slightly-less-tongue-twisting “Dynamic Adaptability.”

Beyond Dynamic Adaptability was all about the changing nature of cultural participation, a hot topic on just about everyone’s minds these days. In keeping with the theme, the conference itself was organized in such a way as to invite participation, especially towards the end of the day with two-hour “fishbowl” sessions in which “panelists sit in a circle in the center (the ‘fishbowl’) and discuss the topic, with an empty chair for interested audience members to jump in to the conversation.” In addition, artistic practice was more deeply infused into this conference than just about any other I’ve seen, even the performance-happy GIA conferences. A cadre of Bay Area superstars curated the Art Bar, an imbibing-friendly home for performances and readings in an actual bar at the hotel, which at various points apparently involved such shenanigans as Alan Brown getting interviewed by a drag queen and conference participants performing haikus about their experience. Jessica Robinson Love and her team at CounterPULSE also curated and produced several performances sprinkled amidst the morning sessions, one of which was a multimedia extravaganza featuring percussion instruments, portable lighting, and a giant inflatable fish dangling from the ceiling, and another involving 70 arts administrators being trained in African dance. Anyway, let’s just say that on any number of levels, this wasn’t your typical arts conference.

Since Clay and Adam focused most of their attention on the fishbowl sessions, I’ll devote time instead to the opening keynote panel, featuring Ben Cameron from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Josephine Ramirez from the Irvine Foundation, Dante Di Loreto (the executive producer of Glee), and Nina Simon from the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, and moderated by John Killacky (executive director of the Flynn Center in Burlington, VT and former arts program officer for the San Francisco Foundation).

The panel began with a snippet from Cameron’s much-viewed TEDx speech from 2010, which posits that we are undergoing an “Arts Reformation” to parallel the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, whose arts giving Cameron heads, has been funding innovation for quite a while now, focusing on new pathways to program leadership that are discontinuous from previous practice – a hard left turn rather than a soft right. Cameron shared that, contrary to common belief, in his experience, the big champions of change are audience members and the biggest obstacles often come from the ranks of board and staff. Yet without money, any talk of innovation is nothing but hot air. Speaking of innovation, in describing the new artist fellowships that Duke is offering over the next ten years, Cameron proudly declared that the foundation “ripped off” (that’s a direct quote, folks) what he considered to be the best elements of various existing artist support models, such as Creative Capital, United States Artists, and others. (Not to skip ahead too much, but it does make me think of the opening plenary of the Independent Sector Conference which I attended a week later, in which speaker Andrew Hargadon argued that innovation is more about synthesizing existing ideas than generating new ones.)

Josephine Ramirez spoke next about the Irvine Foundation’s new arts funding strategy, which is most directly concerned with audience engagement, focusing in particular on new ways of making arts and art-making happen. Ramirez also shared some of her own previous history creating spaces for active participation as Vice President of Programming and Planning at the Music Center in Los Angeles, which included innovations like hosting dances on the plaza, holding flute choir rehearsals in the lobbies, and singalongs in the backroom theater in Walt Disney Concert Hall. As part of her presentation, Ramirez projected the “audience involvement spectrum” from a new white paper commissioned by Irvine and written by Alan Brown and Jennifer Novak-Leonard of WolfBrown (confessing that she wished it had been called the “audience/participant involvement spectrum”). Createquity readers may remember this white paper from a blog post back in June, which shared a solicitation from the report authors for ideas of participatory arts programs that could be shared as one of the case studies in the document.

Ramirez was followed by Di Loreto, the executive producer of Glee. The show has accumulated a base of rabid fans who recreate the choreography to the week’s shows in their own homes (we were treated to this rendition at the event). Di Loreto maintains that the fan community grew organically and was not actively cultivated by the show, at least at the beginning. In this way audiences can leverage new technologies to become part of the show, although it’s worth noting that creations from earlier generations, such as the Star Wars movies and Star Trek TV shows, have inspired similar creative fan communities. Echoing a theme I’ve written about before, Di Loreto asserted that it’s “so much more fun” to be on stage than participating from afar, and that the content needs to be “truly exceptional” in order to reverse that equation.

It’s fair to say the show was stolen, however, by Nina Simon, who is currently the executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History but is better known to readers as the author of the Museum 2.0 blog and her book, The Participatory Museum. Simon is simply an electrifying speaker, and her firsthand stories from her experience as a first-time museum director provided inspiration aplenty. At the time that she took over the Museum of Art & History, the institution was struggling to survive. Few in the community outside of the museum’s in-group even knew where it was (even though it’s in the center of downtown), and Simon and the rest of the staff took 20% pay cuts to help get through the first year. Given the museum’s heavy reliance on and need for volunteers, Simon instituted a novel volunteer recruitment strategy: as soon as visitors to the museum walk in the door, they are greeted by a friendly staff member and invited to leave a suggestion. After they do so, Simon follows up and, if she likes the idea, asks the visitor to lead the suggested initiative. She has steered the museum toward a model in which the museum turns around suggestions from the community to implementation in 72 hours. (The highlight was when the roller derby team got in touch – that was about the coolest collaborator the museum could have asked for!)

Simon reports that her strategy of radical openness requires that she let go a certain degree of control and her own urge to take herself and her institution seriously. When interns create fliers with tons of typos, she doesn’t care.  But it’s been successful: the museum raised $240,000 in the past 6 months.

The positive energy created by the new innovations has been infectious on a number of levels. Simon made a video of a champagne party with her staff to celebrate the first $50,000, and the museum took in a bunch more money as a result. The museum’s board has been supportive as well – as Simon dryly noted, “if you can save a financial situation, they will accept anything.”

A recent initiative involved inviting audience members to help create the labels for items shown on the museum. “It’s ridiculous to imagine that our staff knows everything to know about what’s in the museum,” Simon said, citing a recent surfing exhibit as an example. Simon’s total focus is on the audience – not the artists whose work is featured in her museum. She will not apologize for this. A rearrangement of a space within the museum to a more lounge-like atmosphere led to a public spat with the artist whose work was on the walls, who disparaged the new environment as a “petting zoo.” After seeing that visitors were now spending more time with her artwork as a result of the changes, the artist and Simon reconciled and the former now runs the bike valet for the museum on a volunteer basis. (Did I mention this is Santa Cruz?)


Simon’s assertion that she cares more about the people who walk through the door of her museum than the artists whose work is displayed there drew some shocked murmurs from the audience, and provides a useful frame for understanding the rest of the conference. Given the theme of participation, it was impossible for me to avoid thinking about how Beyond Dynamic Adaptability itself worked (and didn’t) to put the audience at the center of the experience, as Nina Simon does in her museum – and whether this was ultimately a good thing.

In her opening welcome address, conference organizer Rebecca Novick explained that the structure of the sessions would begin on the traditional side of things and gradually get more and more “participatory” as the day wore on. Performances with giant inflatable fish hanging from the ceiling notwithstanding, the morning’s sessions were pretty traditional, with speakers on a stage, audience members in a darkened theater, and barely any time for questions. In fact, the first audience question of the day was not asked until over three hours into my conference experience. And yet this portion of the day was the most memorable and enlightening for me, with solid presentations from not only the panel described above but also Alan Brown and Rebecca Ratzkin on the nature of audience engagement; and Jessica Lustig on the history and successes of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.

By contrast, during the afternoon’s highly participatory “fishbowl” session, I found it difficult to keep from checking out, even though the session’s facilitator was the same person – Nina Simon – who had so energized me in the morning! Two crucial things were different about this session compared to the panel described above. First, instead of a darkened theater, the fishbowl took place at the center of a hotel ballroom, which rendered participants awkwardly difficult to see and hear (since someone’s back was invariably towards you). Second, as facilitator of the conversation, Simon naturally took a back seat to her fellow presenters, who struggled at times to grapple with the broad discussion question of “How can we invite audiences to become active collaborators?” in a coherent and concise manner. As advertised, an extra chair was placed the midst of the center circle for an audience member to join the discussion, but it remained empty – instead audience questions were taken from where people were sitting in the room. I am curious how the session might have gone differently if the “open talk show” format had been followed.

Regardless, the day’s events left me with more questions than answers about effective formats for artistry and participation, and the overlap (and balance) between the two. For me, the morning panel was successful largely because of Nina Simon’s unique talent as a performer of her own ideas, which was deployed in a context designed to take maximal advantage of that talent. Similarly, many of the most successful sessions I experienced at Grantmakers in the Arts were effectively one-person shows: great speakers taking on interesting, on-topic subject matter. That’s not very participatory, but it worked. At the same time, as an audience member there is rarely anything so frustrating as to be sitting in a mediocre session with something to say, but without an opportunity to say it. I am left thinking that perhaps participatory formats end up being a sort of insurance strategy: they ensure that the experience won’t be a disaster, but they make it hard for genius to shine through. Does that mean, strangely enough, that incorporating audience participation into your programming is actually less risky than the traditional way of doing things?