Reminder: Createquity Writing Fellowship Deadline Coming Up

A brief reminder that the deadline for the spring 2011 Createquity Writing Fellowship is fast approaching. Applications have been steadily trickling in, but if the procrastinating ways of my peer group are any guide, I’m quite sure the floodgates will open over the weekend. Word to the wise: at 12pm Eastern on January 18, the competition closes – no extensions, no exceptions. Sounds harsh, but on the plus side the application is designed to take you all of about ten minutes if you have materials at the ready.

While I have your attention, I’ll take this opportunity to answer a few frequently asked questions about the fellowship and the application process:

I’m from [insert country here] and want to apply to the fellowship. Am I eligible?

For some reason, this is by far the most common question I’ve received. The answer is YES, you may apply to the fellowship if you’re from outside of the United States. The only caveat that I would offer is that most of Createquity’s readers are located in North America; thus, if your goal is to write from an international perspective, it will be important to present your thoughts in a way that will be accessible to people who aren’t familiar with cultural policies around the world.

What should I offer to write about?

You tell me! Seriously, I am much more interested in hearing about what gets you excited than in telling you what I think you should be writing about. The best applications will be as concrete and specific as possible in describing the issues that you feel are worth exploring through your writing.

How many Fellows will you choose?

I’m not saying. :) In all seriousness, I’m leaving this open since I don’t want to be locked into an arbitrary number. However, I do anticipate choosing at least one and probably no more than four.

Good luck to everybody, and stay tuned for the announcement on February 1!

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Around the horn: Happy New Year edition

Cities, Demographics, and People

  • A while back, I pointed folks to Scarlett Swerdlow’s suggestion that the arts community get involved in non-arts advocacy in order to forge alliances with key partners in other sectors. Well, here’s an opportunity to do just that: the Livable Communities Act, which would grant $4 billion to communities for comprehensive planning, faces an uncertain future according to Next American City…and if that money did go forward, there’s a good chance some of it might find its way to the arts.
  • Richard Florida on cities with the highest growth in college degrees per square mile over the past decade.
  • And yes, it’s true: everyone wants to live in a special place.

On the Chopping Block

  • The Honolulu Symphony: liquidated, joining the still-small ranks of high-profile nonprofits felled by the recession. A basket case apparently, but still, the death of an orchestra is no small thing.
  • The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, which has lost 29 employees since October. (via GIA News)
  • The Washington State Arts Commission: Governor Christine Gregoire has proposed elimination of the state arts agency as its own entity and reducing state funding of the arts to a bare-bones $250,000. Looks like we’ll have yet another “save the arts!” campaign on our hands this year.
  • The Arts Council of Northern Ireland will see its appropriation decline by £4.2 million over the next four years.
  • Booooo! NYC Transit is ditching the Train of Thought program (successor to Poetry in Motion) in favor of ads touting service improvements, because there’s “not enough space” for both.

Back from the Dead

  • Michael Rushton’s fantabulous Arts Admin blog. Thank goodness! Now don’t you run off and leave us again, y’hear?
  • The Local Community Radio Act finally passed Congress after 10 years of advocacy work by Future of Music Coalition. Mazel tov!

End-of-Year Reminiscences and Prognostications

  • Philanthropy futurist Lucy Bernholz offers 10 predictions for the next decade.
  • Tim Berners-Lee (the founder of the World Wide Web) claims that data analysis is the future of journalism. I can’t disagree…particularly since I believe that stories and data are two names for the same thing.
  • TCG’s Gus Schulenberg provides a helpful wrap-up of several studies, reports, and articles examining online social engagement in the context of theater or beyond.
  • Henry Peyrebrune, guest writing at Adaptistration, shares a brief history of orchestra funding in the United States.
  • Jim Undercofler offers 10 “work items” for 2011 for the field on his blog, State of the Art. Here’s the first.
  • Rosetta Thurman wonders if we’ll see a new generation of nonprofit organizations in 2011 and provides summaries of two publications and resources on the subject.
  • Assets for Artists hilariously recaps the top 10 arts stories you probably didn’t miss in 2010.

New Research & Analysis

  • Check out this cool new research report from WolfBrown, Helicon Collaborative, and the East Bay Community and San Francisco Foundations on the motivations of arts donors. Lots of good stuff in the summary, but I was particularly struck by this tidbit:

    In comparison to donors to mid-size and large cultural institutions, donors to artists and artists’ projects are more likely to be:

    • Artists themselves (professional or amateur)
    • Young adults or mid-life (18-54), without children, and of diverse cultural backgrounds
    • Interested in social justice and environmentalism
    • Interested in diversity of cultures and points of view
    • Giving less than $5,000 annually to all charitable causes
    • Interested in supporting small projects rather than sustaining institutions
  • Here was a useful rainy day project from the Clyde Fitch Report: a rundown of the social media presence of the 56 members of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. More like this please!

‘Twas the Season of Flashmobs

  • So, apparently the Thing To Do now if you’re an arts organization is to organize a “spontaneous” bursting into song or dance at a local mall or other public place in close proximity to Christmas. Marcia Adair (aka the Ominicient Mussel) did the yeoman’s work of gathering a bunch of them into one place over at Culture Monster.
  • One of said flashmob performances ended up garnering 25.7 million views on YouTube! (update: now up to 29.2 million!)
  • And in one case, the secret got out too soon, forcing the closure of an entire mall! (more video candy in the post)

Etc.

  • GreatNonprofits is recapping their Arts Appreciation campaign to rate nonprofits in the arts and culture arena. Feel free to hand out some stars to the organizations that you appreciated most in 2010. (via Barry’s Blog)
  • Beth Kanter engaged in a pretty badass campaign to get Apple to change its policy regarding charitable donations via the iPhone. She teased the company for weeks with big photos of Android phones on her blog and managed to get a New York Times story out of it. Apple appears to be standing firm, however.
  • Does knowledge capital depreciate? Interesting concept from Marginal Revolution.
  • Alastair Macaulay revels in the glory of Nutcrackers around the nation. Now if only such a broadly shared experience across communities could be possible with a living artist’s work…
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Createquity in Quotes: 2010

The quantity of available, accessible, highly relevant information is expanding at a rate far faster than the human brain was designed to handle, while at the same time we’re gaining the ability to communicate meaningfully with more people than was ever before possible. For quantitative information, our information surplus is easily solved by means of computing power, but for the trickier qualitative questions (what does it all mean?), our task is harder than ever.

What We’ve Learned So Far (January 2)

Arturo’s story is inspiring to watch from afar. And it is humbling when I think about my discomfort with facing beggars on the street. I stopped my generosity experiment because I found myself resenting having to give a quarter or a dollar to the same strangers in the subway day after day. Gloria gave a stranger off the street not just a dollar, but her home, family, and unconditional love. Her generosity experiment will last a lifetime.

Five Generosity Experiments (March 30)

Nearly all of the sweeping changes in how we do business and live our lives that have taken place during the last 20 years can be traced to dramatic advances in communication and data storage technology. Twenty years ago, there was no World Wide Web, cell phones as we know them today did not exist, word processing software was still in its infancy, and a typical hard drive held 1/10,000th of the space boasted by a comparably-priced device today. Think about that for a second. In a single generation’s time, our collective capacity to store, process, and share information has exploded beyond all recognition. This one development has completely transformed our work and our relationships, and its impact on the arts and arts organizations is no exception.

The Future of Leadership (April 13)

I think orchestras are most effective when they put forth their authentic selves. One non-traditional concert I recall enjoying was the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s annual Halloween extravaganza. The show started at 11:59pm and would feature an original film made by members of the orchestra, arrangements of popular theme music by the students, cameo appearances from the Dean and President of the college, and a hall chock-full of raucous, costumed, mostly drunk undergraduates. It was a PARTY. But it was able to be that party because it was a concert by students, for students. I can’t imagine how awkward it would have been to have a professional orchestra (playing past 11pm on those union contracts? Are you kidding?) try to replicate that fun-loving no-holds-barred atmosphere for an audience it wasn’t familiar with.

Orchestras and Authenticity (June 9)

Democracy is a wonderful thing, but grand leaps of imagination are not often achieved by group consensus. Yet one would be hard-pressed to argue that our dominant system of institutional giving is all that much better. The decisions of our corporate and foundation funders have an enormous impact in shaping the field, yet in most cases less than a half-dozen people have meaningful input into those decisions. Sometimes, a single individual might drive essentially the entire agenda for a portfolio of hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. That’s an incredible amount of influence accruing to an incredibly small number of people. And individuals, no matter how dedicated or qualified, are increasingly not up to the task of responsibly evaluating the full range of artistic activity within their jurisdictions. There simply are not enough hours in the day or days in the year for a human being to give ongoing, fair, and substantive consideration to the work of the millions of artists and tens of thousands of arts nonprofits in the United States today. For all of Chris Jones’s lauding of the “noble tradition of the corporate giving officer,” what percentage of the participants in Chase Community Giving or Pepsi Refresh have had corporate giving officers regularly (or ever!) attend their performances or exhibits?

Popularity Contest Philanthropy (August 6)

In the course of this sudden immersion into what the rest of the world thinks about and does on a daily basis, I came to realize that my former existence had been focused like a laser on about 0.00001% of everything that matters. It was like the veil had been lifted on my life: the choices I faced when I voted in an election or needed to buy produce or searched for an apartment to rent or, yes, chose a graduate school had all been determined by somebody, or more often a collection of somebodies acting in somewhat predictable ways. It became clear to me that I was never going to have control over my own destiny unless I had the capacity to see and understand the external forces that were influencing my circumstances. And if that’s true for me, it’s true for you, too.

New Article on NewMusicBox.org (September 16)

The recent NEA Survey of Public Participation in the Arts shows that in the year leading up to May 2008, less than 35% of Americans participated at least once in “benchmark arts activities,” which collectively cover the bulk, though not all, of the disciplines and genres we have traditionally considered to be part of our field. That means that nearly two-thirds of American adults went the entire year without seeing a single classical music or jazz concert, attending a single musical, play, opera, or ballet, or visiting a single art gallery or museum. Let me repeat that in case it wasn’t clear: 65% of American adults did none of these things at any time in 2007-08. (By contrast, fully 99% of American households have at least one television, and there are actually more TV sets than people in this country!)

Arts participation and the bottom of the pyramid (October 5)

I think that the people who had transformative arts experiences as youth of the kind that Gary talks about [i.e., as audience members] – where they heard Verdi or saw a Matisse and were hooked right then and there – just got lucky. They were in the right place at the right time and were bringing to the table just the right cocktail of personal background, talent, and curiosity to have a magical moment. I bet if you polled arts professionals more broadly, though, the vast majority would report having their minds first blown by the arts during an active state of engagement.

The Myth of the Transformative Arts Experience (December 27)

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

  1. The Top 10 (U.S.) Arts Policy Stories of 2009
  2. Popularity Contest Philanthropy
  3. On Vision, Ripples, Expression, and the Mysterious Other
  4. Economists Don’t Care About Poor People
  5. eighth blackbird and the Ethics of Pay-to-Play
  6. Interview with Helena Fruscio, Director, Berkshire Creative
  7. Playwrights’ Outrageous (Mis)Fortune
  8. Outrageous Fortune: a composer’s perspective
  9. The Top 10 Arts Policy Stories of 2010
  10. Economicsitis: A Response
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The Top 10 Arts Policy Stories of 2010

Painting the Street in Cincinnati

"Paint the Street" event hosted by ArtsWave, image by Rrrrred

Everybody likes a Top 10 list, right? Especially the nerdy ones! So here’s my contribution: the second annual list of the top ten arts policy stories from the past year. You can check out the 2009 edition here.

10. Intrinsic Impact Research Marches On

WolfBrown’s groundbreaking work on measuring “intrinsic impact” (the intangible, hard-to-define effects that arts experiences have on patrons) got a major boost in 2010, with a large project to bring the research to 15 theater companies in five cities around the country. Led by Theatre Bay Area, the endgame of this project involves a web-based toolkit that will allow rank and file arts organizations to adopt some of these methods themselves, without having to pay WolfBrown a pretty penny first. Audience surveys are already underway, and the final report and toolkit will be up and running by the end of next year.

9. Fine Arts Fund Reinvents Itself

In January 2010, a longstanding Cincinnati-based fundraising and grantmaking organization known as the Fine Arts Fund announced the results of a very interesting research study examining the attitudes of members of the public toward shared responsibility for (and benefit from) the arts. The political science perspective used in the study may have been a first for the field of arts research, and the results suggested that the field would be better off if the economic-impact- and arts-education-focused arguments that have characterized arts advocacy efforts over the past couple of decades were discarded in favor of a focus on vibrant neighborhoods and connected, engaged communities instead. Not satisfied with simply releasing a study and going about its business as usual, Fine Arts Fund took the additional, and frankly astonishing, step of wholly transforming its name (to ArtsWave), branding identity, and grantmaking priorities to bring them in line with these findings. (Disclosure: Fractured Atlas will be working with ArtsWave in early 2011 as part of this last initiative, though it had no role in the research or the strategic planning process that led up to this point.) ArtsWave’s very public metamorphosis shows that even an 83-year-old institution can still be on the leading edge.

8. Dance Theatre Workshop and Bill T. Jones Merge (And They’re Pretty Much the Only Ones)

Two years after the stock market crash of 2008 led numerous observers to predict a rash of mergers and closures in the nonprofit sector, the greatest carnage in the ranks of arts organizations has come not from the market but from the IRS (see item #7). While virtually every arts nonprofit has suffered stress in the wake of the economic recession, most have survived intact, with only a few exceptions such as the Honolulu Symphony, NYS Arts, and the Baltimore Opera — and that last one might even have been a good thing. DTW’s romance with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company is without doubt both the most high-profile and the most interesting arts merger to come out of the recession so far, as the choreographer-led company joins forces with a presenting/service organization to create New York Live Arts. In the process, Bill T. Jones gets a dedicated space, and DTW gets access to greater financial resources. It looks great on paper, but then mergers often do…

7. IRS Revokes Exemption for up to 300,000 Nonprofits

This story went virtually unreported this year, but those who continually bemoan the rise in the number of nonprofits in this country had a bone thrown their way this year. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 required that all nonprofits, even those with budgets of less than $25,000 per year who had previously never been asked to file annual returns, complete the 990-N “postcard” form requesting basic information like addresses and website URLs. Those who failed to file for three years in a row risked having their tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS. Well, it turns out that nearly half of the 714,000 organizations in this budget category in fact failed to file, and after a number of temporary delays and reprieves, an unknown number were thrown overboard (the IRS will publish a complete list early next year). While most of these were likely dead organizations (indeed, some of them may never have been alive in the first place), an examination by yours truly of some of the organizations “at risk” for revocation in the San Francisco Bay Area revealed that a disproportionate number were arts organizations, and their ranks included a few that were observably still active.

6. Net Neutrality Has a Bad Year

This is a story that is very much still being told. For several years now, technology activists have been raising awareness of the issue of “network neutrality,” warning that without legislation to codify existing practices, there will be nothing to prevent internet service providers in the future from selectively crippling or blocking entirely websites that compete with their own business interests. Many see net neutrality as particularly important to the arts, given their usual position outside of (or even in opposition to) the corporate sphere. With the 2008 election of President Obama, a supporter of net neutrality legislation, there was hope that such legislation might become a reality with the current Congress. But things got complicated in 2010. First, a federal court ruled earlier this year that the Federal Communications Commission did not have authority to tell Comcast that it had to treat bittorrent transmissions on its networks the same way as everything else. While not the final legal word, it provided a strong negotiating hand to anti-net-neutrality forces. Then, Google, one of net neutrality’s staunchest supporters in the corporate arena, got into negotiations with Verizon, one of its most trenchant opponents, and came out with a compromise that left most neutrality advocates unsatisfied. Finally, just last week, President Obama’s FCC announced new guidelines that hew fairly closely to the Google/Verizon compromise, prohibiting discrimination on “wired” services but leaving the increasingly important mobile universe a veritable Wild West. (This hasn’t stopped Verizon from making noises about a legal challenge right out of the gate.) We’ll have to stay tuned to see what happens next, but with a Republican House and little evidence of broad-based passion for net neutrality among the populace, the chances for a legislative solution (the surest means to the outcome that advocates desire) seem slim for the moment.

5. State Arts Agencies Continue to Struggle

After a disastrous 2009, this year saw little respite for beleaguered state arts agencies. Despite a few success stories, such as in Rhode Island where the governor tried to cut the budget of the state arts council by over 50% only to have the cuts fully restored by his own legislature, these remained the exception rather than the rule. States and territories suffering double-digit cuts in 2010 (i.e., to their FY 2011 appropriations) included Arizona (down another 28.9% after a brutal 54% cut last year), DC, Georgia (which nearly had its council eliminated but “escaped” with only a 66% massacre), Kansas, Louisiana (where Gov. Jindal finally succeeded in squeezing nearly half the money out of the coffers), Missouri (where state officials are raiding a fund intended to provide dedicated support to the arts and humanities), New Hampshire, New York (with the largest total dollar decrease of the year by far), Northern Marianas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania (already reeling from an exhausting and only partially successful advocacy campaign last year to save the agency), South Carolina (another state council to overcome near death in 2010), Texas (28%), Virginia, and Washington. Only Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, South Dakota, and Wyoming saw increases of a comparable magnitude.

4. Culture Wars Simmer

Ever since the 2008 election, there have been signs that the American right wing might return to the hostile stance it had adopted toward public subsidy of the arts starting in the late 1980s and continuing through the 1990s. Some of the evidence is in item #5 above: massive cuts or threats to zero out funding to arts councils by Republican governors in “red” states like Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina; last year’s brouhaha over former NEA Communications Director Yosi Sergant’s attempt to involve artists in President Obama’s United We Serve initiative comes to mind as well, as do Glenn Beck’s occasional editorials on artwork associated with perceived enemies. With the election of a majority of Republicans to the House of Representatives has come new pressures on the funding of NPR, which got into an unfortunate fight with conservatives over the firing of right-wing commentator Juan Williams a few months ago. The most dramatic confrontation yet took place just last month, when a conservative news service publicized a gay-themed exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery that included a video by deceased artist and AIDS victim David Wojnarowicz with images of a crucifix covered with ants. After the controversy found its way to the ranks of Republican House leadership, the director of the Smithsonian ordered the video removed, even though the footage in question occupies only 11 seconds of the four-minute video, which itself was not a centerpiece of the exhibition. The action, unlike previous skirmishes, has produced a gigantic backlash in the visual arts community, with dozens of museums and other institutions around the world showing Wojnarowicz’s work in protest. The Andy Warhol Foundation, a major supporter of the exhibition, has also threatened to deny future funding requests from the Smithsonian. The situation seems to be under control for the moment, but don’t be surprised if things start heating up again in 2011.

3. The UK Tries American-Style Arts Funding

Feeling pressure from the economic recession, the new conservative government in England imposed cuts of 100 million pounds on the primary grantmaking agency for high-profile arts organizations on the island. The UK’s arts system has been described as a “hybrid” between the near-total private-sector dominance of American arts funding and the near-total government support seen throughout continental Europe. These cuts, totaling more than 22% of Arts Council England’s appropriation, represent a clear move toward the American side of the equation, especially when coupled with ACE’s decision to require prospective grantees, for the first time, to submit applications for funding (previously they had simply been selected by the agency though a noncompetitive process). The development is significant not only for its implications for England’s arts scene, but also as a potential bellwether for the rest of Europe, where politicians have been making noises for years about cutting back historically generous government support of artists and arts organizations and moving in the direction of greater privatization.

2. The NEA Charts a New Path

We knew that when Rocco Landesman arrived last year to take over the reins of the National Endowment for the Arts that, whatever the results, they would certainly be interesting. On that score, the agency has delivered in 2010. “Creative placemaking,” the role of the arts in revitalizing local communities economically and otherwise, is emerging as Rocco’s signature issue, with a raft of urban-focused Mayors’ Institute on City Design grants given out in 2010 and more coming in 2011 under the rubric of a new program called Our Town. The NEA has pursued a public engagement strategy beyond any in the agency’s previous history, webcasting the meetings of the National Council on the Arts (the NEA’s equivalent of a board), accepting questions via Twitter during panel discussions, and inviting a huge bevy of service organizations to take in the announcement of its strategic plan for 2012-16. It’s gone on a hiring spree, bringing marquee names like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s Jason Schupbach into the fold. A revitalized research department is pumping out new publications at a rapid rate, incorporating new media elements into some of them, and embracing its role as a convener, having brought together an A-list group of practitioners to consider how to measure “livability” this summer. What may turn out to be Rocco’s most far-reaching project, however, is his efforts to make inroads with heads of other federal agencies around ways in which the arts intersect with their work. Given that the budgets of departments like Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation dwarf the NEA’s and that the Endowment has continually been vulnerable to attacks on culture-war battlegrounds, this attempt to break down silos and “embed” the arts in other arms of the federal government is one of the smartest gambits we’ve seen in a long time.

1. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Passes

For years, the high cost of health insurance, especially for freelancers in our employer-centric system, has been identified by researchers and advocates as one of the biggest impediments to a thriving artist workforce. In 2010, after decades of failed attempts, Congress finally passed a comprehensive health insurance reform bill designed to counter some of the worst excesses of insurers while sharply reducing the ranks of the uninsured. To do this, everyone will be required to purchase insurance, even healthy individuals (although this mandate is currently being challenged in the courts). Fractured Atlas has a primer on the implications of the health care reform act for artists here; the short version is that by 2014, insurance companies won’t be allowed to discriminate or charge you a higher rate based on your gender or health status, take away your coverage after you get sick, deny you coverage based on a pre-existing condition, or set annual or lifetime limits on benefits. Although you will be required to buy insurance, if your income is in the low 40s or below, you’ll qualify for government assistance in paying for it. And if you’re a small business (like a theater company or gallery), you’ll likely be eligible for tax credits for giving your employees health insurance. While the full impact of the law won’t be known for years, if not decades, its provisions should disproportionately benefit artists and faciliate a significant improvement over the status quo.

Honorable mention:

  • Low Power FM Radio bill passes
  • Americans for the Arts introduces the National Arts Index

And as a bonus, here are my picks for the top five new (in 2010) arts blogs:

5. NYFA Blog (Michael Royce)
4. ArtsAppeal (David Zoltan)
3. 2am Theatre (various)
2. Your Town Performs (Craige Hoover)
1. Jumper (Diane Ragsdale)

(Note: had Devon Smith started 24 Usable Hours a couple of months later than she did, it surely would have made this list.)

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Apply for the Createquity Writing Fellowship

Createquity.com, a blog and unique virtual think tank promoting next-generation ideas about the role of the arts in a creative society, is seeking talented arts policy writers and researchers for the inaugural Createquity Writing Fellowship. Read More »

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Announcing the Createquity Writing Fellowship

I started this blog in October 2007 primarily as an exercise for myself. I knew that I had an interest in arts philanthropy, and I had a number of thoughts on how to do it effectively that I wanted to write up and share with the world so that they could serve as a reminder to myself in case I ever got a job in that field. I also wanted to provide a way for my friends back in the NYC music scene to experience business school vicariously through me, since I knew that was a path that most of them wouldn’t ever take for themselves. I wasn’t sure that I could fit blogging into my schedule, though, and I was worried about being able to continually come up with new material after I burned through my initial set of topics. After balancing on the fence for a while, Createquity was finally born when an advisor of mine at business school (thank you Nancy!) encouraged me to create accountability for myself by setting a date when the site would go live and announcing it to all of my friends. That way, the threat of public embarrassment at disappointing other people’s expectations would motivate me to get off my ass and make this happen.

I had no idea then that Createquity would one day become as widely read as it is now. I frankly could not have imagined that there were more than a handful of people who might be interested in the same set of esoteric subjects that interest me. Nonetheless, today somewhere in the range of 1000 people, including a number of folks who I respect very much and a whole lot more who I have never even met, have now come to rely on this blog for engaging, well-written, and edifying content.

I don’t exaggerate when I say that I have Createquity to thank, either directly or indirectly, for much of the work I find myself doing today. This past year, I’ve been invited to contribute to blog salons, facilitate roundtables, give radio and video interviews, conduct workshops, present at conferences, serve on steering committees, and work on some pretty exciting projects, all made possible either wholly or in part by the profile this blog has created for me. It’s been a wild ride, and I’m truly grateful for the personal and professional opportunities that have come my way.

I’ve written a fair bit in the past about the concept of “emerging leaders” and my own experience early in my career as someone who felt that I wasn’t being given a voice equal to what I had to contribute. One essay in particular lays out my philosophy about the need for us to continually welcome new people into the club:

Most of all, [leadership is] about opening up the important conversations and decisions about our future to everyone, not just the select few who have always had those conversations and have always made those decisions. Generational transfer is all well and good, but if the only result is fewer gray hairs and balding heads among the power elites of our field, we will have completely missed the point of our moment in history.

Now that that dynamic has turned around for me, I want to be sure that I strive to take my own advice and model the behavior I’ve been advocating for from our field’s leaders. I know from participating in projects like Edward P. Clapp’s 20UNDER40, some of the panel discussions I’ve attended or participated in, and the sheer number of people who read this blog, that there are others out there who, like me three years ago, have something to say and no meaningful venue in which to say it. I’m also keenly aware that Createquity’s success, and therefore my own, was possible because people who did have a voice in the field, people like Tommer Peterson and Moy Eng and Stephanie Evans and Barry Hessenius, were generous enough to share some of their spotlight with me.

That’s why, today, I’m creating the Createquity Writing Fellows program. The full announcement is here, but the short version is that, from February through June, one to three individuals will serve as featured contributors to the site. They’ll receive the benefits of exposure to Createquity’s audience, which is highly specialized and includes some of the most powerful movers and shakers in the nonprofit arts sector; the opportunity to pursue writing assignments aligned with their interests; and extensive (but friendly!) editorial guidance from me. Assuming all goes well, we’ll do it again and new Fellows will be selected each semester from now until we decide not to do it anymore. Following the fellowship semester, the writers can either continue contributing to the site as interest and time permit or move on to other projects. Thus, over time, we should hopefully build up a corps of qualified, trained correspondents covering a range of issues, which will make the site much more interesting and fun for everyone involved.

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Once again, thank you to all who have followed along with this adventure, whether it’s been for three months or three years. And if you know anyone who would be interested, please do share the announcement with them at your earliest opportunity.

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The Myth of the Transformative Arts Experience

Punchup mirage

"mirage" by Flickr user Punchup

For a long, long time (as in, literally, months now), I’ve been meaning to respond to an essay by Philadelphia’s Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer lamenting what he sees as “the greatest sacrifice arts workers make” – the inability to recapture one’s first, “innocent” experiences of the arts, the ones that presumably convinced the person in question to pursue a life in the arts in the first place. Here’s the crux of his argument, succinctly:

No, I think the more significant – and unique – sacrifice arts workers make is that we lose the capacity for full, innocent and glorious enjoyment of the very art that our passion for drove us to make our life’s work in the first place.  What do I mean by this?  Think about your earliest experiences with the arts, your first encounter with Matisse, or Chuck Close; your first time in the audience for Sondheim, or Verdi; that time you first saw Baryshnikov on stage, or Judith Jamison. Remember that childlike joy – even if you were not a child – that total immersion in the art where the whole world disappeared and you were unaware of time, of the person chewing gum next to you? Now tell, me when was the last time you felt that?  Sure, you are still passionate about the art form or all art forms, you still go to museums, or opera, or theatre, but something has been lost. Admit it.

Culturebot’s Andy Horwitz had more to say here. Gary’s essay drew a strong and enthusiastic response from more than two dozen arts professionals on his own blog and Huffington Post, with much agreement that the arts experiences those individuals were having were by and large uninspiring. Most commenters seemed convinced that this phenomenon was the result of their own position, a casualty of getting so caught up in day-to-day drudgery that they could no longer take a step back and let the art work its magic like it always did before.

Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that at all. I don’t think the problem is with us, or our jobs. I think it’s with the art. Or to put a finer point on it, I think the problem is with our expectations for what art can do for us.

My memories of my earliest experiences with the arts are a bit fuzzy, but I can tell you with certainty that they were not that special or amazing. I recall being taken to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts a couple of times and finding it utterly boring. I had some mild enjoyment of and fondness for The Nutcracker, but otherwise classical music left me cold. During my tween years, my older sister was involved in a few dance performances and a family friend participated in a play or two; I attended them or watched videos, but remember being more confused than inspired.

I didn’t really experience the arts’ magical properties until much later, when I was a senior in high school. I’d had no formal musical training up to that point, although my violin-maker downstairs neighbor did teach me how to read music at the age of 12 when I was looking for cool songs to program into my computer’s internal speaker. But previous music appreciation classes and a lot of singing in the shower had been enough to convince me to try giving music more of a role in my life, at least for that year. So all at once, I enrolled in a music theory AP class, joined the high school Glee Club, and started composing on my own (to the point where I decided to spend my independent senior project – a five-week stretch of no classes during which most students completed an internship – composing and recording a primitive “rock symphony”).

That year completely changed my life. First of all, I loved singing in chorus. Hearing the music come together from the inside, over time, was a totally different experience than listening to the finished product from a seat in the audience. I felt like I gained a much deeper understanding and appreciation of each piece by virtue of so intimately being a part of it than I ever could as a spectator. But even more than that, I loved being a composer. I loved the process of imagining a sonic landscape, articulating it in a common language, working with other people to bring it to life (I found that music was a wonderful vehicle for helping this socially anxious soul make new friends), and most of all, hearing my creation in my own ears, given breath by a community of people who were inspired to share their time and talents with it.

For me, that was magical. But none of it involved being in the audience for anything. It involved doing art: actively involving myself in the creation or production of an arts experience. (Not to say that all of my early experiences with that were magical either. I acted in a school play around the same time and hated it. Why? Because I sucked at acting, that’s why. I enjoyed music in no small part because I was good at it, and part of the magic no doubt lay in self-validation.)

When we limit our discussion of arts experiences to ones in which we participate passively, I imagine that the bar for something “transformative,” something magical, is far higher. It does happen, don’t get me wrong. But how often, really? The first truly transformative live arts experience that I can remember in which I was solely involved as an audience member did not occur until I was 21 years old – long after I’d already decided that the arts were going to play a big role in my life. I was traveling in Europe for a couple of weeks on a summer fellowship, and happened to catch a Japanese guitar-bass-drums trio called Altered States at an experimental record store in Rotterdam. They played a two-hour, 100% improvised set of jazz-rock fusion that was unlike any music I had ever heard before, and I can honestly say it changed my life in profound ways. Some months later, I saw renowned Polish conductor Jan Szyrocki perform with the Szczecin Technical University Choir at Yale in a concert that just blew me away and totally reframed my concept of what was possible in choral music.  Since then, I can report that I’ve had deeply moving or inspiring arts experiences like that as an audience member at a rate of perhaps one every other year. To be sure, that’s a lot more than I experienced during my teenage years – but it’s also only one out of every several dozen events I attend!

I think that the people who had transformative arts experiences as youth of the kind that Gary talks about – where they heard Verdi or saw a Matisse and were hooked right then and there – just got lucky. They were in the right place at the right time and were bringing to the table just the right cocktail of personal background, talent, and curiosity to have a magical moment. I bet if you polled arts professionals more broadly, though, the vast majority would report having their minds first blown by the arts during an active state of engagement. Laura Zabel, now executive director of Springboard for the Arts, just recently wrote a lovely thank-you note to the Tulsa Ballet for visiting her small town in Kansas when she was growing up and getting her hooked on the arts. Not by performing, mind you – though they did that as well – but by welcoming her into their production of the Nutcracker.

Getting out and seeing a show now and then is always nice. But getting to be in the show – that’s what’s truly transformative about the arts.

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Around the horn: Frequent Flyer edition

The NYC launch party for 20UNDER40 is taking place at Bar 13 (13th and University near Union Square) on Monday, December 13 from 6:30-8:30pm. Fractured Atlas is co-hosting. See you there?

News and announcements

Readings and research

  • The NEA’s research department has released a trio of documents of relevance to its initiatives and focus on “creative placemaking.” The first is a white paper by Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa that reviews literature on the role of the arts and creative industries in promoting livability and economic development outcomes in local communities; identifies common themes in successful efforts to use the arts to transform neighborhoods and cities; and presents 15 in-depth case studies to illustrate those themes in action. Here’s Markusen presenting the report at the recent National Council on the Arts meeting. The second is a set of notes from the agency’s convening this past June on defining metrics for livability. And finally, the Endowment has published a research report examining the unique role of outdoor arts festivals in attracting nontraditional audiences and defining the character of a place. (The last one definitely features the best cover photo of any NEA research report past or present.)
  • The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies is working on an international database of cultural policy profiles. It will be based on the Council of Europe’s Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, available here.
  • UNESCO has been active lately. The international agency for culture has released a summary of its email discussion and symposium on the intriguing topic of “funding culture, managing the risk.” Not sure how new this is, but this is a pretty rad index of cultural industry mapping reports and studies organized by region of the world.
  • Animating Democracy has a new research study out mapping the grantmaking landscape for the arts and social change. And AD’s co-founder, Barbara Shaffer Bacon, has written a lovely eulogy for the sadly defunct Community Arts Network, whose trove of resources on community arts is luckily still available in archive form here.
  • Rebecca Novick has a very interesting article on the travails of midsize theater organizations in the Theatre Bay Area magazine.
  • The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has published a wide-ranging report on the technology needs and usage patterns of the performing arts field, conducted by Callahan Consulting for the Arts.
  • Melanie Beene, head of Community Initiatives, writes about how fiscal sponsorship is maturing as a field in the Grantmakers in the Arts Reader. (If you haven’t already discovered it, the GIA Reader is a great resource for arts policy and funding material, with freely available archives going back over 10 years.)
  • Americans for the Arts has published the results of a 2009 survey of 554 self-identifying emerging leaders in the arts. The entire report is only available to AFTA members, but the executive summary as well as this blog post on the subject by the report’s author, Stephanie Evans, are open to the public.

Interviews and Conversations

Adventures in advocacy

  • Is this idea so crazy it’s brilliant? Barry Hessenius argues that arts organizations should join local Chambers of Commerce en masse, thereby forcing the business community (and the Republican party) to pay attention. Key graph:

    There are some 10,000 nonprofit arts organizations in California. If 20% of those arts organizations were to join their local Chambers of Commerce (dues are modest and local chapters welcome arts organizations) and get involved on the statewide committees and move up the ranks to chair some of those efforts – thus moving up the ranks of the organization – in just a couple of years the arts could constitute a formidable bloc within the state Chamber – and in so doing we could begin to seriously impact the policies and positions the Chamber takes. If 40% of all the arts organization would join their local chambers, and work into postions of authority, we could virtually take over the whole structure by 2016.  That’s only five years from now.

  • Leonard Jacobs passes along the news that NYS Arts, the main arts advocacy vehicle in the Empire State, is closing down.
  • The CBC reports that some prominent artists and administrators in Canada are now backpedaling from an economically-focused arts advocacy strategy. What’s interesting about it is that Kevin Stolarick, who has worked with and for Richard Florida for over a decade, is quoted extensively in the article saying that framing the arts in terms of their economic impact has been a “trap.” Florida, of course, is the great popularizer of this line of thinking, although his focus is much wider than the nonprofit arts specifically.

And so on…

  • Another wise post from Brigid Slipka. To paraphrase: if you want to increase high-impact giving, trying to convince the average donor to do their own research is a losing battle. Your audience, instead, should be the gatekeepers to givers: ministers, corporate giving managers (who organize employee donation drives to specific charities), and the like.
  • Very good sentences: “when Americans insist on total liberty against external molestation, it motivates both good responses and bad ones.  It supports a libertarian desire for freedom against government abuse, but the same sentiments generate a lot of anti-liberal policies when it comes to immigration, foreign policy, torture, rendition, attitudes toward Muslims, executive power, and most generally treatment of “others.”  An insistence on zero molestation, zero risk, isn’t as pro-liberty as it appears in the isolated context of pat-downs.  It leads us to impose a lot of costs on others, usually without thinking much about their rights.” – Tyler Cowen @ Marginal Revolution
  • Academics like to rag on Wikipedia, but a new pilot initiative will make updating and improving the quality of pages part of college students’ required coursework. The democratization of who gets to be an expert continues apace.
  • Visualization fun with the budget here and here.
  • Guy Yedwab asks, could art survive without alcohol?
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Two interesting job openings

I occasionally get notices from cool organizations looking for new employees, so I decided I’d start posting them here for anyone who’s interested. I won’t post any old job, but if you want to send me an announcement that would be of particular interest to Createquity readers (meaning, in practice, program-related or executive positions at arts councils, think tanks, consulting firms, grantmakers, or service organizations), feel free to send them along.

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Arts Marketing and the Social (Media) Conference: Observations from #NAMPC10

The 2010 National Arts Marketing Project Conference took place in San Jose between November 12 and 15. I attended on behalf of Fractured Atlas and presented during the Monday morning session, “Big Lists, Low Costs: Using List Cooperatives as Powerful Research and Advocacy Engines.”

This was a well-done conference. Unlike some that try to pack so many concurrent sessions into the same time slot that each attracts only a handful of attendees, NAMP presented only three conversations at any given time, making for a generous distribution of the 600+ conference participants at each one. The speakers that I saw were, for the most part, highly dynamic and engaging, including the “two Chips” – Heath and Conley – whose keynotes bookended the conference. (My only quibble is that the list was not terribly diverse, a lost opportunity of sorts for a field that is currently fretting about reaching new audiences.) Furthermore, I have to say that Twitter was used far more effectively at this conference than at any other I’ve been to. The usual experience goes something like this: hashtag gets set as an afterthought a few days before the event; the tiny minority of Twitter-savvy attendees robotically report notable quotables from this or that keynote speaker and then all retweet each other; conversation ceases the moment the conference does (if not before). In contrast, NAMP conference organizers set the stage long in advance, choosing a hashtag (#NAMPC10) far in advance, encouraging conference speakers (many of whom, of course, are leading social media experts) to tweet the conference and their sessions as they were announced, and — most importantly — paying for free wifi in the plenary halls/breakout sessions as well as in attendees’ hotel rooms. This allowed even attendees without smartphones or who are less comfortable using Twitter on a phone to participate in the conversation.

The result was that the true potential of Twitter as an alternative back channel – an alternative dimension, almost – for conversation at conferences was on full display at NAMP. The event generated more than 5,000 tweets in four-plus days, and unlike the drip, drip, drip at your typical arts conference, following along this time was a dizzying experience at sessions and social events alike. In several cases, the Twitter chatter became part of the live session experience, both in planned ways like when it was incorporated into the questions asked of keynote speakers or projected onto giant screens during lunch, and in unexpected ways like when panelists reacted in person to comments on Twitter about the session and vice versa. Session feedback was both immediate and decisive, as anyone following the stream could figure out what the “must-attend” events were during a given time slot and which ones were going off the rails. As a panelist, it was actually fairly nerve-wracking to know that anyone in the room could be reporting your words to the world with whatever commentary they liked in real time, but as an attendee it was kind of thrilling.

The conference both generated and inspired media in a number of other formats as well. Portions of the event were recorded and broadcast on livestream.com (a media sponsor for the conference), and three of the videos will remain archived at that link for the next six months. A crew of bloggers typed up a storm about the conference at Americans for the Arts’s ARTSBlog, and a number of interviews (both audio and video) were posted on the NAMP social media page. The coolest byproduct, though, was the series of video blogs from the team at Technology in the Arts, three of whom were in attendance. A real test of endurance, these videos (about half an hour’s worth each night) were filmed, edited, and posted after a full day’s worth of sessions and receptions. Here’s Day 1 and Day 2, the two “full days” of the conference; TiA also put up a NAMP-focused podcast featuring session organizer Ron Evans last week (in which they discuss the above-mentioned Twitter phenomenon), and more are apparently on the way.

So congratulations to NAMP for practicing what it preaches on the social media front. Of course, the big question is whether all this effort made a difference in the bottom line, since that’s the foremost question for many arts organizations when they think about social media (and all the effort it takes to seed a good conversation). We’ll never know for sure, but for what it’s worth this year’s 600 attendees represented a 20% uptick from the previous year — and with a substantially younger attendee base than I usually encounter at arts conferences, to boot. Considering the not-inconsiderable registration fees and the still-lingering effects of the recession, that’s not too shabby.

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