Get a (folk)life: How folklore research helped an arts agency

Selected by MovieMaker magazine as one of the 'Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals,' Cucalorus Film Festival screens over 150 independent and international films.

North Carolina is known nationally for its extensive network of local arts agencies, featuring 84 local arts councils in a state with 100 counties. One county, however, is conspicuously absent. The 10th most populous county in the state, New Hanover County on the southern coast, has not had an arts council since 2002. The leaders of the county seat of Wilmington asked the North Carolina Arts Council (the state arts agency) for help. The Arts Council then asked for help from someone else—the North Carolina Folklife Institute.

You might ask, what do folklorists have to do with the founding of an arts council? The answer lies in cultural asset research.  Before establishing a new organization, the North Carolina Arts Council wanted to research what cultural assets were present in the area and what particular challenges were facing the arts community.  And according to Kate Prescott of the market research firm Prescott and Associates, this kind of exploratory research is best accomplished through qualitative methods such as interviewing. Folklorists, as it happens, are some of the best trained interviewers out there. They also have a particular advantage when it comes to arts research: folklorists are trained to seek out and recognize creativity in all forms, especially that which comes from people who don’t consider themselves “artists.” By working with folklorists, the North Carolina Arts Council and community leaders in New Hanover County were rewarded with a vivid picture of the arts in their area that went far beyond numbers, bringing to life the personalities and groups that make the community unique.

The Process

Folklore research in some ways mimics folk art itself. You start off with a solid foundation or template, and then “go with the flow.” Sarah Bryan of the North Carolina Folklife Institute, along with Sally Peterson, Folklife Specialist at the North Carolina Arts Council, were selected to head the cultural asset research project. First, they conducted document research about the arts in Wilmington, tracing the city’s arts heritage to the late-18th-century founding of Wilmington itself. Then they moved on to the city’s current arts assets, starting with stakeholders from various disciplines referred to them by arts leaders in Wilmington. To make sure they were hearing from everyone in the region, including artists working outside the established arts infrastructure, members of immigrant groups, and artists working in new media, they grew that list organically through their fieldwork.

Fieldwork can be both structured and unstructured. Structured fieldwork is a simple matter of ending interviews with the question, “Who else do you think we should talk to?” Unstructured fieldwork is exploring an area through any means possible. Ms. Bryan gave examples of unstructured fieldwork such as attending festivals and talking to people, perusing community bulletin boards, and shuffling through the stacks of business cards at gas stations and talking to the attendants. Ms. Bryan made one of her discoveries while at a red lightthe car in front of her was emblazoned with “DragginFly Entertainment”, which turned out to be a gospel recording studio specializing in a new genre of gospel music, holy hip hop. This process of starting with a group recommended by people in the community and growing the list organically through informal conversations and observations lends authenticity to the interview process and encourages inclusion of artists outside the established infrastructure.

Likewise, interview questions in folklore research have a similar structure of following a template. In this study, there were two topics covered in all of the interviews—opinions about the nature and health of Wilmington’s arts community, and the interviewee’s own experience in Wilmington as an artist or someone working to support the arts. However, the questions themselves weren’t prepared; rather, the interviewer had topics in mind and questions arose as part of the natural flow of conversation.

The final component to the research process was a survey of largely open-ended questions made available to the entire community. In total, 180 responses were collected from interested citizens, artists, arts board members, volunteers, arts participants and arts administrators. They survey covered essentially the same topics as the interviews and ensured a broader community imprint on the study.

The Results

After eight months of research and fieldwork, Ms. Bryan and Ms. Peterson along with the North Carolina Arts Council staff came out with three reports: “Report on the Arts Resources and Cultural Traditions of Wilmington and New Hanover County,” the public survey results, and “Recommendations for Forming an Arts Council in Wilmington and New Hanover County” (all of which can be found here).

The report on arts resources, in particular, brings all of the cultures and traditions and personalities of New Hanover County to life. It reveals a varied history of organized cultural events at the town’s oldest theater, Thalian Hall, originally built in 1759. It also turned up an incredibly rich African American cultural history, from Jonkunnu “carnival”-style festivals, to young black women who were pioneers in vaudeville and opera, to gospel music and the new “holy hip hop” genre. The area is not only known for bluegrass, but duranguense, the Mexican version of country western music. There is a large Latino population in New Hanover County (many from the province of Oaxaca) who celebrate traditional holidays such as Tres Reyes or “Three Kings,” and still engage in traditional arts forms such as painting and embroidery. Being a coastal town, residents are experts in boatmaking and oyster-shucking. And  it’s not just traditional southern food that’s served here—the diversity of the community means that Latino (especially Oaxacan) and Greek food are also available. Finally, over the last forty years, Wilmington has become a popular place in the film industry because of its variety of architecture, locations, and low cost of doing business.

The public survey results reveal some overarching themes. Wilmington is attractive to creative workers due to its existing local arts scene, affordability, and proximity to water (both the ocean and the river), which many artists cite as inspirational to their work.  The city faces challenges, however. While Wilmington is a haven for early and late career artists, it loses mid-career artists who have to move away to find work. In addition, being a small community with limited resources, artists and organizations openly admit to struggling with competing amongst themselves instead of working together.  Residents have clear ideas of what they want an arts council to accomplish for the city. They believe that their arts assets are economic assets, but that they haven’t fully been realized as such. They want an arts council that can turn their local culture into dollars for the city. The survey also reveals a strong desire for public art in the city.

The recommendation report pulls everything together into a guidebook for what the new arts council should look like and how it should function. Incorporating feedback from the interviews and the survey, it advises that the arts council should concentrate on three core areas: securing funding, recruiting experienced staff, and building relationships both within the arts community and with other key stakeholders. It also recommends to “strike while the iron is hot” by forming a council within the next year and a half.  It provides a set of beliefs to guide the new council, as well as a budget for the first year.

The Benefits

Wayne Martin, Senior Program Director for Community Arts Development at the North Carolina Arts Council, explains the benefits that came from using folklorists in this project.

  • Authenticity

“By having folklorists trained in interviewing, we got some really eloquent statements that we were able to quote exactly. The results of the research were in the words of residents, which was a different tone than when other consultants would come in and write about a place. We were confident that the assets they reported on were valued by those in the community, lending an air of authenticity and connection we hadn’t had from other reports.”

  • Community Engagement

“The work itself was a great community engagement tool. The interviews and conversations engaged the community at a deeper level than other projects.”

  • Identifying artists outside the infrastructure

“Folklorists are trained to seek out and recognize creativity in a variety of forms. While it’s easier to just engage with artists and arts organizations, you leave out a big segment of the community who can bring a lot of depth in terms of artistic assets.”

  • Identifying Community Culture

“Folklorists understand how artistry is a window onto a community. They are able to articulate how the art that is produced there reflects the values of that community and makes it distinct.”

Moving Forward

After a two year process and eight months of research funded by a $15,000 contract, an arts council for Wilmington and New Hanover County is around the corner. The city has already agreed to appropriate funds for the council if the county takes the first step.  This month, there will be a County Commission meeting to decide that.

Folklorists aren’t usually asked to conduct this kind of cultural asset research, but the method shows great promise. Mr. Martin says that the North Carolina Arts Council has already shared their work on this project with their counterparts in Kentucky and adds that they would be happy to share with others.

Imagine the possibilities, though—what else can folklorists help us with? Stay tuned for more about how folklorist research can interact with more than just traditional arts, and can become a tool for cultural advocacy, tourism and business councils, and region-specific grantmaking institutions.

Special thanks to Wayne Martin and Sarah Bryan for their help in preparing this post.

 

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Around the horn: Japan edition

(OK, here’s the follow-up. Enjoy!)

TALKS AND SPEECHES YOU MISSED

  • Marc Vogl and Jeanne Sakamoto of the Hewlett and Irvine Foundations, respectively, hosted a Grantmakers in the Arts webinar on the subject of retaining emerging leaders in the arts field. Here is the full 40-minute presentation, and Marc and Jeanne have also put together a NextGen Arts Leadership microsite with other resources on wikispaces.
  • Andrew Taylor gave this keynote at the Arts Enterprise Summit in Kansas City last month called “The Art of the Business Model.” And he had a co-keynote with the wonderful Russell Willis Taylor at American University’s Spring Colloquium, which you can view here.
  • Nina Simon’s keynote from the 2010 NODEM conference on design for participation.

THE LETTER OF THE LAW

PUBLISHING AND THE ACADEMY

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

TRENDS AND THOUGHT PIECES

  • We focus a lot of attention on using arts and culture to reframe urban life. But what about the suburbs? Yonah Freemark imagines a more sustainable suburbia.
  • Doug McLennan writes of the walled garden problem and the economic incentives for new technologies not to adhere to the open-standards practices that have helped us make so much technological progress over the past couple of decades.
  • Crowd-curation marches on, this time at museums.

PARTNERSHIPS, MERGERS, AND EXPANSIONS

  • CultureBot’s Jeremy Barker marks the public debut of New York Live Arts, the new company formed by the merger of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Dance Theater Workshop.
  • Not a merger, but this collaboration between fellow Lincoln Center tenants the Metropolitan Opera and Juilliard does beg the question of why it didn’t happen sooner.
  • More on the Awesome Foundation’s, uh, awesome growth.

PLANNING AND EVALUATION

  • GiveWell describes an interesting method for self-evaluation: giving an independent observer a chunk of money to allocate using GiveWell and other sources, and testing how useful GiveWell was in the process. It’s kind of like a lab experiment for smart giving.
  • The Center for Effective Philanthropy has released its strategic plan for 2011-14.

NEW PROJECTS AND RESOURCES

  • Foundation Source Access is a new fundraising website from Foundation Source, a company providing back-end services to many small family foundations. While at first glance it might seem redundant with other types of crowdfunding sites aimed at individual donors, this project is interesting because of the audience. The huge national foundations don’t control all that much of the nation’s institutional giving, but it’s always been difficult to tap family foundation money without personal connections because of those organizations’ lack of infrastructure. If family foundations actually use this tool to seek out grantees instead of sticking with the tried and true (and that’s a big if), it could be an important new resource for fundraisers.
  • Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist) is launching craigconnects, a project to curate nonprofits and get them wider attention.
  • TicketForce is looking to sell tickets to your Facebook events…in Facebook. (Thanks to Thomas Cott for the above two links.)
  • Travel search engine Hipmunk has a new mapping overlay feature for its hotel searches. You can now see heat maps of food, shopping, tourist opportunities, and “vice” in the area around your hotel. I tried it out in my own neighborhood and found the data a bit suspect, but it’s still an interesting and very practical application of cultural asset mapping.
  • The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies has a cool new resource called “Ask IFACCA.” Not only will they take your questions, they’ll publish some of the answers as well. Geek out alert!
  • Great to see the DiMenna Center for Classical Music (new home of Orchestra of St. Luke’s) up and running in Manhattan, especially since the genesis of the project was a 2004 feasibility study by Exploring the Metropolis.
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More trouble for NPR

So by now you’ve probably heard the latest news: James O’Keefe (that guy who secretly filmed ACORN) posed as a Muslim philanthropist to Ronald Schiller, Senior Vice President of Development for NPR and President of the NPR Foundation, and Betsy Liley, NPR’s Director of Institutional Giving. Over lunch, the clandestine camera records Mr. Schiller calling the Tea Party “racist”. Mr. Schiller, who had already given his notice that he was leaving to accept a position at the Aspen Institute as director of the Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program, made his resignation from NPR effective immediately when the video was released. He has now also resigned from Aspen. NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) also resigned after the Board decided that “the controversies under [her] watch had become such a distraction that she could no longer effectively lead the organization” (referring, presumably, to the dismissal of Juan Williams in January).

So much fallout from one video (which I encourage you to watch), filmed by a person who has been arrested for tampering with phones at a federal building, who attempted to sexually humiliate CNN anchor Abbie Boudreau, and is the subject of various lawsuits resulting from the ACORN videos (at least the Brooklyn branch of ACORN, btw, has been cleared of wrongdoing). The video also comes at a time when conservatives are agitating for the end of government funding to NPR and public radio. And with yet another two week extension with more cuts to the arts (cuts to the arts for children, even!), that threat is becoming very real.

A lot of people are asking—is what Mr. Schiller said so unreasonable? He points out in the video that federal funding actually makes up only one percent of NPR’s funding and 10% of the station economy, and that NPR is not a government program, which many people believe. He goes on to say that while he thinks NPR would be better off in the long run without government funding (which O’Keefe will no doubt run wild with), if funding were cut now, “a lot of stations would go dark.” Mr. Schiller is also careful to “take off his NPR hat” when he starts to express his own opinion that educated “so-called elite” people in America are now the minority.

There’s not much focus on what O’Keefe and his colleague say in the video—“Jews do kind of control the media,” “what Israel does can’t be excused”—but I suppose he can always say that he was playing a role.

Incidentally, there is now evidence that NPR refused the $5 million donation check offered in the meeting. NPR isn’t stupid- they’re not going to accept money from a donor with no history and who wants to get more favorable coverage on the news.

If you still believe that federal funding is essential for non-commercial radio that promotes local cultural events and offers a public space for discussion, get involved by sending a letter to congress, or just by talking with your neighbors. And maybe just keep in mind what mama said—if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

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Around the horn: Libya edition

(Note: this ATH is already quite long, so I’m going to split it up into two parts. Look for the rest of the links in a few days.)

A quick note about some upcoming speaking engagements: I’ll be on a panel next month at the annual Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium hosted by American University, speaking on the topic of “What Makes a Good Arts Leader?” I’m looking forward to sharing the stage with the NEA’s dynamic and ubiquitous Director of Public Affairs, Jamie Bennett, and my good friend Stephanie Evans of Americans for the Arts. The symposium takes place on Sunday, April 3 in Washington, DC, and my panel is in the mid-afternoon (3:45-5:00). Secondly, I’ll be co-hosting a discussion as part of Kathy Supové’s Music with a View Festival at the Flea Theater in New York on March 30, talking about some of the themes raised in my article for NewMusicBox, “Composing a Life.” Come say hi if you’re around!

ADVOCACY UPDATE

  • So, Congress reconvened and passed a two-week continuing resolution that features $4 billion in cuts – including the elimination of the $40 million arts education program at the Department of Education. Meanwhile, negotiations are taking place now on the longer-term continuing resolution that will fund the federal government for the rest of the year. The version that the House passed a few weeks ago contains a 25% cut to the NEA. Guy Yedwab has an excellent roundup of reasons to support the NEA (although I do advise leaving any return-on-investment arguments to the professionals). Lex Leifheit suggests that we get our parents and grandparents involved in arts advocacy, a la Sarah Silverman’s Great Schlep.
  • Some general commentary on the budget fight: Richard Kessler reminds us that this is not just about the arts, but rather a wholesale attempt to roll back the New Deal, and David Brooks suggests that we should be allying ourselves with other interest groups who stand to lose from cuts to discretionary funding, not fighting against them.
  • Obama is also trying again to lower the limits on the charitable deduction donors can take on their taxes. This has some in the nonprofit community worried, and it is worth noting that arts organizations are disproportionately supported by high-net-worth donors most likely to be affected by the changes. I don’t know, though – I am skeptical that the tax deduction is as significant a motivator in donor behavior as most people seem to think it is. (Most of the research I’ve seen on this suggests otherwise.) I think the impact to arts organizations would be real, but not as big as feared.
  • There are advocacy doings at the state and local levels too. Governor Walker of Wisconsin, already endearing himself so much to lefty-leaning artists through his union-busting ways, is threatening to severely reduce arts funding in that state as well. At least Chicago’s new mayor – and former ballet dancer – Rahm Emanuel has pledged support. And it looks like our friends in Kansas may have enough support in the state legislature to save their arts council. (That article is well worth the read, by the way.)
  • Don’t forget that government advocacy is not the only kind that’s important. The Meyer Foundation, which had long been an arts supporter in the DC area, has adopted a new strategic framework that leaves the arts out in the cold. Obviously many fewer people have the ability to influence the decision-making processes of private foundations than do government bodies, but those who do have that influence should not be afraid to use it.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

  • The conversation Rocco started a month ago continues. The most interesting content lately belongs to Scott Walters, who recounted his experience attending a convening of arts leaders at the NEA to discuss the issues at hand; here is more.
  • Meanwhile, the NEA released a trio of research reports re-examining aspects of the well-worn Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.  Perhaps the biggest headline comes from the fact that when you expand the definition of arts participation beyond ticket sales at the likes at the symphony, opera, art museum, etc. to include things like engagement with electronic media and personal creation, the proportion of people who engage with the arts rises to nearly 3 in 4. Thomas Cott has a great round-up of the reports themselves (which also examine the roles of arts education, age, and generation in arts attendance) as well as reactions from around the web.

ALL ABOUT ORCHESTRAS

  • Man, a lot has been happening in Detroit since we last checked in. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s season is now cancelled, but rumors fly that management is considering hiring replacement players. Now the musicians are proposing binding arbitration to resume the season without a contract, under the terms that management last proposed, and are impatient for a response. Yikes!
  • Last year, I predicted that composers would use the method employed by Eric Whitacre to create his Virtual Choir to crowdsource performances for their own pieces. It looks like this is now, in fact, happening, as Canadian composer Glen Rhodes is starting up a “virtual orchestra project” to play an original composition of his. (There’s a nice interview of Rhodes by Tara George at the above link.) Meanwhile, the YouTube Symphony, which is a live-action flesh-and-blood orchestra composed of members who auditioned via YouTube, is having another go-round under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.

PHILANTHROPY AND GENEROSITY

  • Americans for the Arts has joined up with Hyundai for a test of whether slactivism can help the arts: Hyundai’s new ad campaign, “Cure Compact Crampomitosis,” has AFTA as a charitable partner. For each person who joins the Facebook Causes page set up by Hyundai for the purpose, the car company donates 50 cents to AFTA – up to a maximum of $25k. (They are already more than halfway there.) On the one hand, I’m very glad to see a car company choosing an arts organization for support rather than any of the thousands of more traditional charities it could have picked. On the other hand, though, it seems like a pretty damn good deal for Hyundai…only $25k for 50,000 deep impressions? If just a handful of people buy cars as a result of this campaign, Hyundai comes out ahead. (In fairness, Hyundai is also matching donations made through the page, which nearly doubles the commitment as of this writing.) Well, good luck to them.
  • Is giving money to the homeless a good way to help after all? Maybe it is, if you just ask them what they want and buy it for them.

THINKING CAPS

  • I’m still making my way through Animating Democracy’s excellent Impact Arts site, but I can already tell it’s going to be a tremendous resource for me as well as the field.
  • A new cultural policy think tank is in the house, and it wants your input: the Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability. Headed by Paul Nagle, ICSCS (pronounced “Isis”) is an affiliate of the British think tank DEMOS and takes a radically democratic approach to its work. Nagle has two guest posts on the IT Foundation blog that are well worth reading.
  • Is extending copyright to fashion designers a good idea? UCLA economist and sociologist Gabriel Rossman says no.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

  • Muhammad Yunus, the grandfather of microfinance, is being forced out as the head of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in what many see as a politically-motivated vendetta.
  • Ex-Senator Chris Dodd is going to lead the Motion Picture Association of America, taking over for the legendary Jack Valenti.
  • Former Hewlett Foundation Performing Arts Program Director Moy Eng will be the new head of the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, CA.
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Well, well…

Two weeks ago, I noted the increasing pressure on state arts agencies, and in the process took two national arts service organizations (the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and Americans for the Arts) to task for not providing a single, easy-to-find place on their websites where concerned arts advocates could go to get the latest information on what’s happening across the country. That post quickly became the 6th-most viewed on Createquity ever, so it’s fair to say that this is an issue people care about.

Well, it looks like we have before us a case of “ask and ye shall receive.” Five days after my original post, NASAA uploaded this very helpful roundup of major state arts agency budget and restructuring proposals to its website. Not surprisingly, they have better information than I did: in addition to Kansas, Arizona, Texas, Washington, and South Carolina, several other states are facing significant restructuring proposals and/or reductions including Connecticut and Georgia (again). Also, in Texas, apparently the Governor’s budget includes money for the state arts council even though he proposed eliminating it in his State of the State address, so things aren’t quite so dire as might have seemed from news reports.

And now we hear this from the State Arts Action Network, an affiliate of Americans for the Arts:

[A brand new area of our website,] the state arts appropriations update section, officially launching tomorrow (February 24), features a clickable map that will take visitors directly to individual state pages featuring the most recent and proposed budgetary numbers for the arts. In addition, each state page will feature links to your SAAN organization(s), the state arts agency, and to either individual state action alert pages or the Americans for the Arts advocacy alert page.

This project is a high-priority one for Americans for the Arts and we are constantly updating the pages, so if you don’t see the information you are looking for just yet, check back in a day or two and you’ll have plenty of information to take in.

We hope that you find these new tools useful as you continue to advocate on the ground for state budget allocations throughout the country.

The page looks good, and if you click on the page for Kansas, for example, you can see that a House committee voted to override Governor Brownback’s executive order to eliminate the state arts council last week. Not the final word, of course, but at least there’s evidence for legislators fighting back. My only request would be for a news feed on the general, 50-state page that automatically updates with the latest changes to the state pages, so that I don’t have to hunt and peck to keep on top of things. But it’s a great start.

While we’re on the subject of arts advocacy for the 21st century, the general point I was making in calling for these integrated, big-picture resources was that we should be moving in the direction of fostering a sense of shared responsibility among arts advocates in every state for what happens to the arts in every other state. Along those lines, I just loved this note that I got last week from Lisa Carnevale, executive director of Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts. Lisa writes:

Friends:

In the midst of this national fight against severe cuts and possible elimination of funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, we need to you contact your national networks!

As you have heard, Congress is poised to make significant cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts’ budget (as well as National Endowment for the Humanities and a zero out of Corporation for Public Broadcasting (NPR/PBS) funding).  Yesterday, we heard two members of Congress have introduced amendments that would further cut, or terminate, funding to National Endowment for the Arts for the remainder of FY11.

While normally we would urge you to follow the links to send a letter to Congress, here in Rhode Island, our Congressional delegation already “get it”.  Our most effective call to action would be to help further support our delegation when they stand against these cuts. Let’s reach out through our networks to put pressure on other members of Congress to ensure they stand against this as well!

Forward this email to your friends nationwide and ask them to send a letter or call their Congressional delegation!

You see what she does? She knows that Rhode Island’s two Representatives are already in the tank for arts funding. She could have declined to send any advocacy note at all, or just mechanically passed along the call to action to contact one’s own reps even though it wouldn’t have made any difference. Either choice would have been a total waste of Rhode Island’s advocacy network. Instead, she puts it to use by asking members to notify people in other states about the situation so that they can take action there. Any folks reached by this campaign who might not be already plugged in to their own state or national arts advocacy networks represent a win for arts advocacy. Well played, indeed.

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Audiences at the Gate: Reinventing Arts Philanthropy Through Guided Crowdsourcing

Image by Flickr user Mordac

Image by Flickr user Mordac

(This article originally appeared in 20UNDER40 anthologyi edited by Edward P. Clapp, and has been republished with permission.)

Spurred on by major technological advances, the number of aspiring professional artists in the United States has reached unprecedented levels and will only continue to grow. The arts’ current system of philanthropic support is woefully underequipped to evaluate this explosion of content and nurture its most promising elements—but we believe that the solution to the crisis is sitting right in front of us. Philanthropic institutions, in their efforts to provide stewardship to a thriving arts community, have largely overlooked perhaps the single most valuable resource at their disposal: audience members.

We contend that by harnessing the talents of the arts’ most knowledgeable, committed, and ethical citizens and distributing funds according to the principles of what we have termed guided crowdsourcing, grantmaking institutions can increase public investment in and engagement with the arts, increase the diversity and vibrancy of art accessible to consumers, and ensure a more meritocratic distribution of resources. We envision an online platform by which a foundation may crowdsource philanthropic decisions across a wide-ranging network of aficionados, aspiring critics, artists, and curious minds, bolstering its capacity to give fair consideration to the full range of artistic talent available and ensure that the most promising voices are heard.

* * *

I. Choking on the Fire Hose: The Arts’ Capacity Catastrophe

In 2009, a play I directed off-off-Broadway was one of the best reviewed shows in New York at any level. It got the kind of reception that you’re told means your career will start to take off. The talent pool is so huge and the number of spots for artists so small, though, that even my really well reviewed, lines-around-the-block show doesn’t really help. I got paid $250 for six weeks of work on that show, and I made one connection with [an off-Broadway theatre]. If I am lucky (and that means really lucky, they have a lot of artists who they develop), in 3-5 years they will produce a show of mine. If they do, my pay for whatever mythical show that might be would probably be between three and five thousand dollars, and it would be for a project I had probably been working on and off on for several years. I’m in the process of leaving pursuing professional theatre to only focus on projects I care about because both the financial realities and the lifestyle created by those realities is not one I want to subject myself, my upcoming marriage, or my (a couple years down the road) child to.1

—Theater Director, age 30

An Embarrassment of Riches

The muse works feverishly in the 21st century. In the United States, more than 2 million working artists identify their primary occupation as an arts job, and another 300,000 or so earn secondary income from the arts.2 Yet those numbers only hint at a far bigger phenomenon: the ranks of those who create art, whether or not they earn any money from it, have ballooned to some 20 million adults in 2008.3 Many of those in this latter category fall under the rubric of what Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller have called “Pro-Ams,” serious amateurs and quasi-professionals who “have a strong sense of vocation; use recognized public standards to assess performance; …[and] produce non-commodity products and services” while “spend[ing] a large share of their disposable income supporting their pastimes.”4 Thanks to historically inexpensive production and distribution technology, more artistic products can reach more people more easily than ever before: as of January 2009, for example, users were uploading the equivalent of 86,000 full-length movies to YouTube every week.

The human brain—not to mention the human lifespan—simply cannot accommodate a considered appreciation for so many contenders for its attention. Even if a music lover kept his headphones on for every minute of every day for an entire year, he wouldn’t be able to listen to more than an eighth of the 115,000 albums that were released just in the United States in 2008.5 Because we do not possess the capacity to give equal time to every artistic product that might come our way, we must rely on shortcuts. We may look for reviews and ratings of the latest movies before we decide which ones we’d like to see. We often let personal relationships guide our decisions about what art we allow into our lives. And we continually rely on the distribution systems through which we experience art—museums, galleries, radio stations, television networks, record labels, publishing houses, etc.—to narrow the field of possibilities for us so that we don’t have to spend all of our energies searching for the next great thing.

Every time we outsource these curatorial faculties to someone else, we are making a rational and perfectly defensible choice. And yet every time we do so, we contribute to a system in which those who have already cornered the market in the attention economy are the only ones in a position to reap its rewards.

The Arts’ Dirty Secret

We regard the market’s lack of capacity to evaluate all the available art as a systemic and rapidly worsening problem in the arts today. Artists take time to learn their craft and capture attention; while the market may support an “up-and-coming” artist to maturity if she is lucky, making the transition to “up-and-coming” requires nurturing that the market will not provide. Before an artist becomes well known, the “market” she encounters is not the market of consumers but rather the market for access to consumers. This market is controlled by a small number of gatekeepers—e.g., agents, journalists, literary managers, venue owners—who each face the same capacity problems described above. Even the most dedicated and hardworking individuals could not possibly keep up with the sheer volume of material demanding to be evaluated.

This tremendous competition for gatekeepers’ attention frequently forces aspiring artists into a position of having to assume considerable financial risk to have even a shot at being noticed. An increasing number are receiving pre-professional training in their work; degrees awarded in the visual and performing arts jumped an astonishing 51% between 1998 and 2007.6 Others are starting their own organizations; the number of registered 501(c)(3) arts and culture nonprofits rose 42% in the past ten years.7

Yet all of this increased training and activity comes at a steep price, one all too often borne by the artist herself. Master’s degrees at top institutions can set her back as much as $50,000 per year; internships that could provide key industry connections are frequently unpaid. Artists in the field have been known to incur crippling consumer debt in pursuit of their dreams; the award-winning film documentary Spellbound, for example, was made possible because the co-creators maxed out some 14 credit cards to finance production. Indeed, a daunting investment of direct expense and thousands of hours of time not spent earning a living are virtual requirements to develop the portfolio and reputation necessary to translate ability into success. However one defines artistic talent, it is clear that talent alone is not enough to enable an artist to support herself through her work.

It’s not just those with education debt that have a hard time being a full-time artist, but really anyone without a safety net. I know I can count on one hand the number of composers I know in our age bracket whose parents didn’t pay for their undergraduate education (at least the vast majority of it).8

—Composer, age 27

If traditional gatekeepers lack the capacity to identify and provide critical early support to artistic entrepreneurs with little pedigree but plenty of potential, there is a real concern that to compete for serious and ongoing recognition in the arts is an entitlement of the already privileged. For a sector of society that often justifies philanthropic and public subsidy by purporting to celebrate diverse voices and build bridges between people who see the world in very different ways, this is a grave problem.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Grantee

Grantmaking institutions have a critical role to play in the market for access. Grants represent a very different kind of support from sales of tickets, stories, or sculptures. They may prove crucial for demonstrating proof-of-concept for a new venture—or simply for the development of a style, portfolio, and audience. Most important, they provide a temporary financial cushion that can allow the artist-entrepreneur to manifest her true vision rather than see it continually undermined by scarcity of equipment, materials, staffing, or time. They can make the difference in production values that ensures a serious reception from critical eyes and ears, and allow the artist an opportunity to use time that might otherwise need to be spent earning income to perfect and promote her work. In short, grants are a seemingly ideal vehicle through which to address the fundamental inequities created by the pinched market for access.

Sonically, anything you do is going to be compared to established artists whose studio budget has more zeros on the end of it than yours. And the sonic quality of the recording itself is often the first thing critics (and listeners) hear and respond to.9

—Jazz Musician, age 34

Sadly, the lack of evaluative capacity biases the philanthropic market for the arts just as it skews the commercial market. In a perfect world, foundation and agency employees would have the time and money to find grantees by continually seeking out and experiencing art in its natural habitat. In the real world, a notoriously small number of staffers at a given foundation or panel of experts from the community is often hard pressed simply to review all of the art that comes through the door.

Not surprisingly, then, grantmakers take defensive measures to protect against being overwhelmed by an inundation of requests. First, they explicitly narrow their scope through eligibility restrictions. Nearly half of foundations that support the arts refuse to accept unsolicited applications at all, and even those that do frequently consider applications only for particular art forms, geographic regions, types of artist, or types of projects.10 Until 2009, to cite an especially dramatic example, the Judith Rothschild Foundation in New York only made “grants to present, preserve, or interpret work of the highest aesthetic merit by lesser-known, recently deceased American [visual] artists.” Many grant programs additionally refuse to consider organizations without a minimum performance history or a minimum budget level, and a majority will not award monies directly to individuals, for-profit entities, or unincorporated groups.

Funders also narrow their scope implicitly through their selection process. The selection is usually made by some combination of the institution’s staff, its board of directors, and outside experts called in for the purpose (often in the form of grant panels).  Because so few individuals are involved in the decision-making process, triage strategies are unavoidable. Application reading may be divided up among the panel or staff, with the result that only one person ever reads any given organization’s entire proposal. When work samples are involved, artists’ fates can be altered forever on the basis of a five-minute (or shorter) reception of their work.

These coping mechanisms are perfectly understandable, given the sheer volume of art produced and imagined. But the unfortunate result is that institutional money is distributed with hardly more fairness than commercial money—and this is especially troublesome because of institutional grantmakers’ power beyond their purses as outsourced curators of other funding streams.  After all, for most individual donors and consumers alike, the art that they even have a chance to encounter is likely to be art that has already passed the muster of multiple professional gatekeepers. The capacity problem that hampers grantmakers’ ability to choose the most promising artists in an equitable way thus compounds itself as it reverberates through the rest of the artistic ecosystem.

The shortage of capacity and its consequences on the diversity, liveliness, and brilliance of the arts world are not going away. With the proliferation of digital distribution networks making it easier than ever to put creative work in the public eye, the defensive mechanisms that funders employ to limit intake are only going to become more and more strained. A solution is needed, fast. Fortunately, there is a cheap, practical, and responsible way for institutions to better cope with their lack of evaluative capacity: they can use crowdsourcing to harness the passion and expertise of a broader range of people dedicated to the arts.

* * *

II. Calling for Backup: Crowdsourcing (to) the Rescue

Typically, institutions select the members of their staffs and grant panels on the basis of passion for and experience with the arts, on the theory that these qualities promote discerning judgments about the merit of applicants. But such traits are by no means limited to this narrow group. Tapping the thousands of dedicated and knowledgeable devotees of specific art forms who engage in robust discussion of the arts every day would allow foundations and agencies to go a long way towards addressing their own capacity problems—and towards opening the distribution of arts philanthropy to a broader range of deserving artists.

Our proposal draws inspiration from the phenomenon of crowdsourcing, which is the practice of outsourcing some function to the public or a significant part of it. Crowdsourcing has its roots in the open-source software movement, which designed and built complex software through the collaboration of anyone with the time, interest, and ability to contribute to a project. The best known example of this practice may be Wikipedia, which draws on the knowledge and editorial acumen of a huge pool of often anonymous volunteers to create a crowdsourced encyclopedia. Rather than relying on a handful of experts, crowdsourcing enlists dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people to do the work—and, in its purest form, to ensure the quality of the end result. The following pages explore some of the ways the commercial and philanthropic sectors have deployed crowdsourcing to direct money to worthy causes, to harness dispersed talent, and to build community.

Directing Donations

Online philanthropy markets that allow individual donors to contribute to charitable causes and micro-entrepreneurs around the world—websites like Kiva, DonorsChoose, Modest Needs, and GlobalGiving—illustrate the practice of crowdsourcing funding decisions across a large number of donors acting independently. Some of these websites aggregate small donations to fund larger projects using a mechanism for voting with dollars. For example, at Modest Needs, donors purchase points that can be allocated to specific, prequalified projects described on the site (such as the cost of a replacement water heater for a single mother). When a project has received enough donor points, the amount requested is sent to the applicant.

Similar online giving models have been employed at a smaller scale in the arts. For example, ArtistShare allows “fans to show appreciation for their favorite [musical] artist by funding their recording projects in exchange for access to the creative process, limited edition recordings, VIP access to recording sessions, and even credit listing on the CD.” Kickstarter allows individual donors to make pledges to creative projects—in the arts, journalism, design, and technology—with defined funding targets and timing. If enough pledges are received by the deadline, the project is funded; otherwise, the funds are returned to the donor.

These online mini-markets facilitate individual support for artists by providing donors more direct access to the artistic process and environment. In cases where the projects funded can be appreciated online, supporting them is not so different from buying a ticket. An alternative model of crowdsourced philanthropy that has gained more recent prominence allows individuals to exert influence on how other people’s philanthropic contributions are spent. Two recent major initiatives by corporate foundations employ this “voting without dollars” concept. JP Morgan Chase’s Chase Community Giving program gave away $5 million in early 2010 to nonprofit organizations based primarily on the votes of Facebook users. Similarly, PepsiCo diverted the $20 million it might have spent on ads during the 2010 Super Bowl to the Pepsi Refresh Project, a new monthly initiative that invites “ideas that will have a positive impact” to compete for grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000. Visitors to the site vote to determine the grant winners.

Aggregating Ability

In the examples above, the “crowd” need have no particular expertise to participate fully. (Indeed, one frequent criticism of these models is that a “one person, one vote” or social-network-based approach to philanthropy can all too easily degenerate into a popularity contest with little connection to the merit of the potential recipients.) But crowdsourcing has also proved very effective at harnessing dispersed talent. In the for-profit design world, Threadless, an online T-shirt company, produces designs created and voted on by users of the website. The winning designers receive cash prizes, and the shirts nearly always sell out, generating $17 million in revenue for Threadless in 2006.11

Philanthropic foundations, too, have begun to take advantage of the expertise of passionate people from across the country and the world. Philoptima allows would-be donors to offer “design prizes” to anyone who proposes an innovative solution to a problem chosen by the donor, and “implementation prizes” to any non-profit that submits a promising plan to carry out the solution in its community. (The first design prize on this young site was offered by a new grantmaker seeking to create “a discipline-wide typology of the environmental sector.”) Since 2006, InnoCentive has partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to give global development organizations access to high-quality R&D resources; Rockefeller selects the nonprofits and contributes award money to a network of scientists to solve a specific “challenge” posed by the nonprofit.

Building Community

By engaging and connecting a broad cross-section of individuals, crowdsourcing also has the potential to create a robust community and locus for lively discussion. The Yelp Elite Squad, chosen by Yelp employees from among the popular local search site’s most active contributors, benefit from invitations to exclusive offline events in addition to greater exposure for their reviews. In the nonprofit sector, several websites that make grants emphasize the creation of a forum for the discussion of social issues. Ashoka’s Changemakers initiative is a “community of action” that collaborates on solutions through discussion forums, issue groups, and competitions that reward innovative problem solving. Another site, Netsquared, connects nonprofits, grant-makers, and individual social entrepreneurs both on- and offline to foster social change. The organization sponsors in-person meetings for social innovators and engages its community in a grants program for social action projects. The finalists of its grant-making challenges are shaped by these discussions and chosen by community vote.

Putting it All Together: Guided Crowdsourcing

The very best examples of crowdsourced community—the models that illustrate the potential of the concept at its fullest—augment the tools of crowdsourcing with just enough top-down hierarchy to promote an environment of shared opportunity and responsibility. We call this model guided crowdsourcing. So far, this technique has not been explored in depth by foundations, arts-focused or otherwise, but it has been developed robustly elsewhere.

As mentioned above, Wikipedia is perhaps the oldest and most famous large-scale example of crowdsourcing on the web. While the site is most often identified with the crowdsourced labor used to generate its principal product, some 14 million encyclopedia entries in 272 languages, Wikipedia is also home to a fiercely dedicated user community that has self-organized into a meritocracy. Though the site is open to editing and revision by anyone, a small army of experienced volunteer “administrators” boast additional powers, such as the ability to make edits about living people. These users are chosen by “bureaucrats,” who themselves are selected by community consensus, and disputes among editors are resolved by a volunteer-run Arbitration Committee. These responsibilities not only keep the community’s most passionate members fully engaged; it also puts them to work to improve the community and its project.

Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign used guided crowdsourcing to establish a seamless continuum between motivated volunteers and professional staff. As part of routine campaign operations, professional field organizers would assign new volunteers, who had been recruited online, progressively more difficult tasks to test their fitness for roles carrying greater responsibility. As the campaign progressed, many early volunteers rose to full-time staff positions, providing a clear path of upward mobility for the most dedicated and effective community members. This fusing of top-down leadership with grassroots openness enabled the campaign to achieve its own capacity breakthrough by establishing a viable presence in districts, towns, and whole states that had been considered off-limits by previous Democratic contenders for executive office.

Taking its cue from these successful efforts to shape a broad-based grassroots effort with gentle guidance from the top, a foundation could invent an entirely new model of arts philanthropy—one that matches the explosion of artistic content with an explosion of critical acumen to evaluate it.

* * *

III. Philanthropy’s Finest: The Pro-Am Program Officer Paradigm

We propose that a grantmaking institution supplement its work with guided crowdsourcing by creating an online grants management platform that will also serve as a social network, multimedia showcase, and marketplace for individual donors. By redirecting some portion of its grantmaking budget through this website, the foundation or agency can leverage the critical faculties of passionate and thoughtful arts lovers to address its capacity problem. A sophisticated set of algorithms will empower the website’s community to identify the most qualified and dedicated voices among its own ranks and elevate them to increased levels of influence on a continually renewing basis. In this way, those whose artistic judgments carry the most weight will have earned that status from their peers and colleagues.

How It Works

The process begins when an artist or artist-driven organization (nonprofit or otherwise) applies for a general operating support grant from the sponsoring foundation’s arts program—all forms of art are welcome. Rather than being sent to a program officer for review, the applicant’s materials—proposal narrative, samples of the artist’s work, a list of upcoming events or classes open to the public—will be posted online. This information will be incorporated into each applicant’s public profile on the site.

Members of the public will also be invited to create and maintain profiles. Once registered, they can view materials submitted by grant contenders and share reactions ranging from one-line comments to in-depth critiques. In order to jumpstart the conversation, ensure an initial critical mass of reviewers, and strike a constructive and intelligent tone, the foundation should reach out in advance to knowledgeable arts citizens (perhaps including some of the very gatekeepers mentioned above who might otherwise serve on grant panels) to encourage their participation on the site. The goal is to engage a broad range of art lovers in a robust conversation about the proposals under review—and about the arts more generally—thereby ensuring a better-considered distribution of grant money.

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

Technology now allows us to systematically identify and reward these qualities in a reviewer. On the website, a reviewer increases her “reputation score” by winning the respect of the community. Each user can rate individual comments and reviews based on the qualities outlined above; higher ratings increase a reviewer’s standing. To keep the conversation current and make room for new voices, the ratings of older reviews and comments will count for less over time. The reputation algorithm can also reward seeking out unreviewed proposals and commenting on a breadth of submissions. A strict honor code will require users to disclose any personal or professional connections to a project they review, with expulsion the penalty for violators. Reviews suspected of being at odds with this policy can be flagged for investigation by any site user, and the site’s administrators will take action where deemed appropriate.

Every quarter, the professional staff of the foundation will review the reputation scores of community members and choose a crop of users to elevate to Curator status. Selection will be based primarily on peer reviews, but the staff will have final say and responsibility over who is given this privilege. A clear set of guiding principles will be developed and shared to ensure that the choice is as fair and transparent as possible. Curators receive an allowance of “points” to distribute to various projects on the site, usually limited to the discipline or area of the Curator’s expertise. Curators are identified by (real) name to other users so as to foster a sense of accountability, and their profiles show how they have chosen to distribute their points. So long as a Curator maintains a minimum reputation score by contributing new high-quality reviews, he will continue to receive new points each quarter.

As a project accumulates points from Curators, it receives more prominent attention on the site. It might show up earlier in search results, appear in lists of recommendations presented to users who have written reviews of similar projects, or be highlighted on the home page. But since Curators maintain their reputation (and aspiring Curators gain their reputation) in part by reviewing proposals that have failed to attract comments from others, the attention never becomes too concentrated on a lucky few.

When it comes time to award the grants each quarter, the collective judgment of the Curators is used as the groundwork for the decision-making process. This approach ensures that organizations cannot win awards simply by bombarding their mailing lists with requests for votes, because the crowd exerts its influence indirectly through Curators selected on the basis of sustained, high-quality contributions. While it is still ultimately the responsibility of the foundation’s board of directors to choose recipients, we anticipate that adjustments will be made only in exceptional cases—that, essentially, the heavy lifting will have been done by the crowd.

Meanwhile, the very best contributors—the stars of the site—may be engaged by the foundation as paid Editors. Editors are part-time, contract employees who are sent out on assignment to see and review specific public events in their area associated with proposals on the site. Their reviews are highlighted prominently to give their expert work maximum exposure. This system allows the foundation to send trusted reviewers to distant events without having to pay exorbitant travel costs; meanwhile, the writer receives a financial incentive for exceptional ongoing service to the site and the arts community.

Of course, artists, administrators, and contributors won’t be the site’s only audience. Since work samples will represent an important part of many applications, the platform will also be a convenient way for the public to discover new artists and ensembles, guided by the judgments of a myriad of devotees. Each proposal uploaded will give passersby the opportunity to contribute their own money in addition to any comments they may have. As such, the site has the potential to become the first effective online donor marketplace for the arts. The sponsoring foundation could even give donors the option of tacking on a small “tip” to each donation to help defray the site’s (minimal) operating costs.

It is worth emphasizing that, despite the many roles website users will play in the grant process, they will not replace the foundation staff. One or more program officers will need to be in charge of the website and accountable to the board of directors for its successful operation. They will oversee the website to ensure that the ongoing discussion remains frank, thoughtful, and passionate—but not vicious or counterproductive. Such a desirable culture will not develop automatically; fostering it will mean setting and continually revising rules and procedures, reminding users of the funding priorities established by the foundation and engaging in dialogue about those priorities when appropriate, selecting Curators wisely on the basis of peer reviews, expelling users who violate the standards of the community, and developing a method to evaluate and report on the grants made through the site, both to the board and back to the users. Furthermore, we do not anticipate that this model would or should supplant a foundation’s or the field’s traditional grantmaking entirely. “Leadership”-level awards to major service organizations or institutions with a national profile do not face the same kinds of capacity challenges as grants to smaller producing and presenting entities or individual artists, and may require a greater level of expertise in evaluating factors such as financial health and long-term sustainability than a nonprofessional program officer may be able to provide. Thus, we see this approach as one element in a broader portfolio of strategies to optimally support the arts.

Few good ideas come to fruition without resources, and this one is no exception. The platform should be sponsored by a major foundation or institution with a substantial initial investment (we suggest at least $1 million) to signal seriousness of purpose and ensure a meaningful level of support to the artists and organizations involved. Although it would be possible to pilot the system in a limited geographical area or with only certain disciplines at first, the concept can only reach its true potential if a certain critical mass is achieved—enough to make it worth artists’ while to ensure representation on the site and worth reviewers’ while to contribute their time and curiosity to making it thrive.

We anticipate that this system will be highly sustainable. Once the infrastructure is in place, the website will be inexpensive to maintain, and may well prove cheaper than more traditional methods of distributing funds. The powerful incentives provided to both artists (access to a source of funding coupled with real-time feedback on their proposals) and reviewers (the opportunity to gain notoriety, influence, and even material compensation for doing something they love) should be sufficient to maintain interest on all sides.

Finally, the greatest beauty of the site is that there is ample opportunity to experiment with various approaches until just the right formula is found. If the original algorithm for calculating reputation scores turns out to be ineffective, it can be changed. If the rules against reviewing the work of friends turn out to be too draconian, they can be adjusted. If the foundation decides it wants to give Curators actual dollars to distribute instead of abstract points, that is an easy fix. Meanwhile, if the system proves successful, the sponsoring foundation could invite other funders to contribute their resources to the pool, making even deeper impact possible.

Program theory for guided crowdsourcing platform

Figure I: Program theory for a guided crowdsourcing platform for the arts.

* * *

Summing Up

Our guided crowdsourcing model is designed to integrate many virtues of existing crowdsourcing concepts: giving small-scale projects access to new pools of capital; aggregating the expertise and labor of users; and creating a social space for strangers who share a common interest. When combined and applied to the arts, this triple crowdsourcing carries several special advantages:

  • First, it addresses the lack of evaluative capacity in the philanthropic market, enabling a more meritocratic distribution of grants and thus a more vibrant and socioeconomically diverse artistic community.
  • Second, because of the structural role of grantmaking institutions, the website indirectly addresses the lack of capacity in the commercial market: the path to commercial success will be made a little less arbitrary through the work of our volunteer curators.
  • Third, the robust community we hope to facilitate will double as a feedback mechanism for artists and artist-driven organizations, enhancing the production of art even before grants are awarded.
  • Fourth, the site will serve as an incubator for critical talent, identifying and empowering new commentators who can establish a reputation as informed adjudicators, while providing a new outlet for more experienced voices at a time when the job market for critics is rapidly shrinking.
  • Fifth, by rewarding contributions that can serve as examples of critical analysis at its best, the site will encourage a more thoughtful and articulate public conversation about the arts. In so doing, it facilitates the establishment of a new breed of Pro-Am curators to match the convergence of amateur and professional in artistic creation and performance.

We expect that, if successful, this model will result in a more equitable distribution of philanthropic funds that always takes into account the actual work product rather than reputation alone; be based on the opinions of acknowledged leaders in the community who continually earn their standing among their peers; and fairly consider the efforts of far more artists and artist-driven organizations than would ever be possible otherwise. If really successful, the model could actually increase the size of the philanthropic market by providing what amounts to the first functioning donor marketplace for artists and arts organizations.

While guided crowdsourcing cannot guarantee all aspiring artists a living, by empowering a new and unprecedentedly large group of thoughtful consumers of the arts to help decide whose dreams deserve to be transformed into reality, it can provide more equality of opportunity than could ever be possible under the current status quo—and guarantee the rest of us richer artistic offerings than ever before.

It’s time to appoint the next generation of arts program officers: us.

* * *

NOTES:

i. Clapp, E. P., ed. 20UNDER40: Re-Inventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2010: 81-97.

1. Anonymous. Personal communication. February 21, 2010. All of the individuals whose views appear in this article are critically acclaimed emerging artists under 40 years of age, and are quoted with permission.

2. Gaquin, D. Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, 2008: 1; See also National Endowment for the Arts. Artists in a Year of Recession. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, 2009, and; Davis, J. A. & Smith, T. W. General Social Surveys: 1972-2008. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center, 2009.

3. Williams, K. & Keen, D. 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, 2009: 43.

4. Leadbeater, C. & Miller, P. The Pro-Am Revolution. London: DEMOS, 2004: 21-22.

5. This calculation is based on a conservative estimate of 40 minutes in length per album.

6. Kusher, R. J. & Cohen, R. National Arts Index 2009. Washington, DC: Americans for the Arts, 2009: 62.

7. Ibid: 49.

8. Anonymous. Personal communication. February 20, 2010.

9. Anonymous. Personal communication. February 22, 2010.

10. Foundation Center. “Foundation Directory Online” (n.d.). As of April 2010, only 1.3% of arts funders in the database accept applications with no geographic restrictions.

11. Howe, J. “Join the Crowd.” The Independent (London), (September 2, 2008): 2.

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Around the horn: Egypt edition

Stand Up and Represent

  • First it was the state arts agencies; now the NEA is under attack. It turns out that the federal budget for the current fiscal year was never actually finalized, but instead was paid for bit by bit. As a result, the Republican House has called for a $22.5 million, or 13%, reduction in the NEA’s budget for the current fiscal year. As in, the one that is going on right now, for which grants are already being made. This would be the largest reduction to NEA funding in 16 years. (Not surprisingly, Republicans have since offered amendments to cut things even further…including one amendment from Scott Garrett (R-NJ) to eliminate the agency.) On top of this, President Obama’s budget for FY2012 (which begins October 1 of this year) calls for nearly as deep a cut – despite the fact that other cultural agencies (including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Smithsonian) did not receive proportionate reductions. This NEA is brimming over with smart, capable leadership and has been moving in some really exciting directions lately; it would be a shame to see that momentum blunted by capricious political winds outside of its control. You can take action here; please do this, especially if you do not live in New York City, Boston, DC, Chicago, LA, or San Francisco. Your voice matters.
  • If you don’t like the economic impact-focused arguments at the link above, feel free to use Arlene Goldbard’s alternative letter instead. Arlene makes the moral case for arts support like no other.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Barry Hessenius offers an important perspective on the pragmatic side of arts advocacy. No vote occurs in a vacuum or truly on its merits in politics; everything is a horse trade. It’s ugly, but it’s what those people in the Middle East are taking to the streets for.
  • Other perspectives on this: Adam Huttler fires a shot across the bow of our single-issue, NEA-funding-focused advocacy model and argues for more strategic alliances with and awareness of non-arts-specific goals. Arlene Goldbard and Guy Yedwab suggest that if we want to make a good long-term case for public arts support, the term “arts” might not be the most helpful and we might want to make sure  the work we do actually serves the public. And Matthew Guerrieri has this awesome find of a clean energy industry economic impact study that promises substantially fewer jobs created per dollar spent than in the arts.
  • Finally, the greatest threat to our public arts infrastructure may not be rabid conservatives, but apathetic progressives. I’ve been frustrated for a long time by the lack of reciprocity between the arts community’s support for the liberal establishment and the liberal establishment’s support for the arts. This week, we have Jonathan Chait, Matt Yglesias, and Kevin Drum coming out as anywhere from mildly to strongly opposed to direct federal funding for the arts, and Tyler Cowen (though not exactly a liberal himself) denying that there’s a liberal case to be made. These are important voices, folks…a lot more important than Bob Lynch. They are thought leaders in the progressive community who don’t get the rationale for why the arts should have a role in federal policy. We need to educate them.

You Say You Want a Revolution

  • Is this a game-changer? Kickstarter is letting organizations “curate” pages of crowdfunding campaigns. For-profits, nonprofits, and government are all represented among the current curators.
  • I haven’t written too much about the crisis facing the Detroit Symphony; here is the latest news, some analysis from New England Conservatory’s Tony Woodcock, and more from Greg Sandow.
  • Diane Ragdsale says in order to solve the supply/demand problem, we need to be able to identify mission-failing institutions and help them die. Sound familiar? By the way, here’s Diane’s manifesto on arts philanthropy and sustainability.
  • Meanwhile, Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre goes for a more flexible business model. And a California legislator introduced a bill to create a flexible purpose corporation to compete with B-Lab’s Benefit Corporation and the L3C. Finally, Andrew Taylor writes on the intriguing economic set-up of Carnegie Hall’s upcoming Spring for Music orchestra festival.
  • Shocker alert: Rosetta Thurman no longer identifies as a nonprofit professional. Don’t worry Rosetta, as long as you don’t adopt Dan Pallotta’s positions on compensation, you’ll still be okay in my book. :)
  • Turns out the connection between the arts and regional economic growth goes back a long way:

    [C]ities in which printing presses were established 1450-1500 had no prior growth advantage, but subsequently grew far faster than similar cities without printing presses.

Someone’s Gonna Pay

Figuring Out the Details

    Revolutions Can Be Fun Too

    • Cool article about the Knight Foundation’s program supporting Random Acts of Culture.
    • OKTrends considers the questions to ask on a first date. Want to know whether that hot chick will sleep with you? Ask her if she likes the taste of beer. How about that hot dude? Ask him if he’s ever imagined killing somebody. (I’m not making this up.)
    • Congratulations to my friend and colleague Ron Ragin, whose performance on “Baba Yetu,” better known as the theme to the best-selling video game Civilization IV, helped the composer win two Grammys over the weekend. Here’s Ron bustin’ out the pipes for a PBS special on Video Games Live.
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    Cool jobs of the month: February

    Here are a few opportunities you may not have known about:

    Research Manager, Center for Effective Philanthropy

    CEP is currently seeking an experienced and dynamic Research Manager to lead and support multiple quantitative research projects. With responsibility for designing, executing, analyzing and writing research projects, the Research Manager will manage complex projects designed to provide information related to the performance assessment of philanthropic foundations. Additionally, the Manager will collect and interpret large sets of data using a variety of analytical and statistical methodologies. This position will be responsible for providing guidance to junior research staff in research methodology and analysis as well as reviewing findings and presenting results for both internal and external constituencies. Reporting to the Vice President – Research, the Manager will be a senior member of the research team and will work collaboratively within and across departments.

    Responsibilities will include but are not limited to:

    • Manage or support all aspects of quantitative research projects related to the performance assessment of philanthropic foundations, including the conceptualization, design, analyses and presentation of results
    • Design survey instruments and research questions, as well as conduct interviews to collect research data
    • Plan, conduct and interpret the analyses of large-scale (100-1,000+ sample) datasets using a variety of methods, such as t-test, chi-square, analysis of variance and linear regression
    • Review findings and author reports in partnership with the Vice President of Research. Contribute to strategic decisions related to the framing of reports
    • Ensure that research projects meet department and organizational standards, and are completed in a timely manner
    • Provide coaching, mentoring and training to junior staff on all aspects of the research process. Contribute to the continued learning of the research team
    • Present research internally and externally, including representing CEP at local and national speaking engagements and conferences

    Qualifications/Requirements:

    • At least two years of research experience in roles demanding exceptional analytical skills
    • Demonstrated experience with quantitative methodologies, including t-test, chi-square, analysis or variance and linear regression. Knowledge of advanced statistical methods preferred
    • Demonstrated experience developing surveys and interview protocols
    • Excellent project management skills, with the ability to work collaboratively in teams and manage multiple projects with complex deliverables in a fast-paced environment
    • Excellent attention to detail and organization skills, with a focus on accuracy
    • Aptitude for learning new methods of analysis and data-analysis programs
    • Experience mentoring or teaching research and data analysis skills
    • Belief and interest in the work of the nonprofit sector and the effectiveness of foundation philanthropy
    • Advanced degree in related field (e.g. economics, education, sociology, political science, psychology, sociology). Doctorate preferred

    CEP is based in Cambridge Massachusetts, with a second office in San Francisco, California. This position is located in CEP’s office of about 25 staff in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    To Apply:

    Please upload a resume and thoughtful cover letter, outlining how your skills and experience meet the qualifications of the position and stating how you heard about this opportunity, in Word format and addressed to Ellie Buteau, at http://jobs.cgcareers.org/application.aspx?id=1741. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

    Note: CEP is also hiring a Research Analyst and Director of Communications at the same link. It’s a fantastic organization.

    State Programs Associate, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
    (note: this job has a deadline of yesterday, but it’s still up on their website – might still be worth a shot if you have your materials ready to go.)

    NASAA is recruiting a state programs associate to document the variety of strategies that state arts agencies use to advance the arts and to serve the public and state government. The individual in this position:

    • researches state arts agency programs, policies, services and special initiatives;
    • analyzes information to identify trends and exemplary practices; and
    • communicates information to multiple audiences.

    Responsibilities include:

    • Conducting qualitative research (including interviews, document analysis, literature reviews and mining website and newsletter resources)
    • Cataloging state arts agency grant guidelines into a national database
    • Writing articles and reports
    • Answering information requests
    • Maintaining website resources on key issue areas
    • Creating tables, charts and graphics
    • Securing and organizing important documents (such as advocacy tools, impact reports and strategic plans)
    • Assisting with projects that facilitate member dialogue and information exchange

    This position requires both research and communications expertise. Qualifications include:

    • Bachelor’s or master’s degree
    • At least one year of full-time work experience
    • Qualitative research and analysis experience
    • Superior writing and verbal communications skills
    • Ability to distill complex material
    • Keen attention to detail and accuracy
    • A commitment to public-sector service
    • Fluency with MS Word and Excel are required. Experience with MS Access and Adobe products is desirable.

    This is an excellent early career opportunity for candidates interested in research, philanthropy, government or policy analysis as well as the arts or humanities. Experience with associations, government, journalism, legislative research or grant seeking is a plus.

    This is a full-time position, including benefits. NASAA’s offices are located in downtown Washington, near Metro. Apply by February 14, 2011. Send a letter of interest, a resume and a writing sample to nasaa@nasaa-arts.org with “SPA Search” as the subject line. Please state in your letter where you found this job posting (name of website or job board). No faxes or phone calls, please. EOE.

    NASAA is also looking for interns.

    Director of GrantCraft, Foundation Center (NY Office)

    Summary

    The Foundation Center, the nation’s leading authority on philanthropy, seeks a dynamic, entrepreneurial and creative individual to direct the Center’s efforts to empower philanthropic foundations with the knowledge tools they need to be more strategic. First and foremost among these is GrantCraft—a project of the Foundation Center and its partner the European Foundation Centre (EFC)—designed to provide “practical wisdom for grantmakers”.

    Reporting to the President, and working closely with the Foundation Center’s senior management team and our partners at the EFC, she/he will inspire, motivate, and lead a small but high-performing team overseeing the execution of the plan for GrantCraft: oversight of the GrantCraft web site, creation of various training guides and other assets of GrantCraft, and new and ongoing product development and other content creation for GrantCraft. In addition, the Director will work with foundations, donor coalitions and foundation affinity groups to help meet their needs for custom knowledge services that facilitate cooperation and working at scale on important social, environmental and economic issues.

    The Director will participate in overall Center planning activities and interface with other departments on a regular basis and will be a member of the Center’s senior staff and may take on other responsibilities as needed. Of particular importance will be understanding other Center products and services created for grantmakers and maximizing the synergy between GrantCraft and those areas of the Center. The Director will also work closely with the Development department on fund raising and grants administration for GrantCraft and other knowledge services efforts.

    This is a very public facing role and requires consummate customer relations skills.

    Key Responsibilities

    The Director of GrantCraft will have ongoing responsibility for the following:

    • Execution of the overall vision and strategy for GrantCraft
    • Work with our European Foundation Centre partner to develop and maintain specific operating plans with specific milestones, goals, objectives and resource commitments
    • Work with organizations in other regions of the world interested in translating/adapting existing GrantCraft content and/or producing new, culturally-relevant material
    • Oversee the main GrantCraft website working with Center web services team
    • Oversee GrantCraft products and services, content creation and production, working with Center design staff and other outside consultants
    • Work with the Educational Services department to offer webinars and train the trainer events around GrantCraft materials related to core competencies of the Foundation Center
    • Work with Regional Associations of Grantmakers and other philanthropy-support groups to produce guides and other content appropriate to the training needs of their constituents
    • Attend conferences and exhibitions to promote GrantCraft where deemed necessary
    • Work with the Center’s Marketing and Communications department to promote the GrantCraft brand via social media and other means to expand the user base
    • Manage all data licensing and other intellectual property considerations for GrantCraft working with other Center staff and Center attorneys
    • Work closely with foundations around the globe to understand their knowledge management needs as they move to collaborate with other foundations, governments and the private sector
    • Working closely with the Foundation Center’s Business Development Unit, design custom web portals, data visualization tools and other services designed to meet foundation knowledge needs.

    Ideal Experience

    The Director of GrantCraft should have the following experience and qualifications:

    • Eight to ten years experience working in philanthropy as a grantmaker and in donor collaboratives
    • Demonstrated success working in a collaborative fashion across organizations
    • Extensive knowledge of the grantmaking communities, and knowledge of current trends in fundraising, philanthropy, nonprofit management, and knowledge management
    • Demonstrated ability to cultivate and build relationships with partner organizations; success in attracting financial resources for various endeavors; the credibility and experience to connect an organization like the Foundation Center to resources and opportunities
    • A record of success in working with teams of diverse, strong, creative people to achieve common goals; ability to work effectively with staff in other departments and with peers in other organizations
    • Excellent writing, analytical and verbal presentation skills; skill in handling multiple projects and deadlines simultaneously; ability to plan, organize, budget, and follow through with senior management.

    Personal Characteristics

    Ideally the individual should be:

    • Committed to and passionate about the Foundation Center’s and GrantCraft’s mission and purpose
    • Excited about the power of data, research, knowledge and web-based technologies to transform the practice of philanthropy
    • Able to manage effectively in a fast paced environment, be extremely well organized, clear thinking, and decisive
    • A doer, with strong leadership and management ability; one who understands the subtleties of working with, as well as motivating and directing, a diverse group of personalities and cultural backgrounds; a skilled listener, able to consider multiple points of view
    • A builder of relationships, who is engaging and persuasive; a skilled networker, who can enthusiastically represent the Center to important constituencies
    • Capable of fostering a team-based work environment that models core values of respect and appreciation of diversity
    • Experience living and working outside of the United States strongly preferred; fluency in languages other than English preferred
    • Willing to travel on a regular basis, as needed, including internationally.

    Background on the Foundation Center

    Founded in the mid-1950s, in the midst of McCarthyism, the Foundation Center opened its doors to the public with seven thousand records on American foundations stored in file cabinets. Since that time its product line has evolved from print resources to CD-ROMs to a database containing some 2.3 million grants and over 100,000 U.S. grantmakers. Its website receives over 50,000 visits daily. The Foundation Center’s most popular searchable database Foundation Directory Online currently has over 11,300 paid subscribers and is used by thousands of individuals each year free of charge at the Center’s five locations and at its 450 funding information centers (public libraries, community foundations, and community colleges) spread across the U.S., Mexico, and, most recently, Korea, Nigeria, Brazil, Australia and China. A newly developed companion mapping tool,Philanthropy In/Sight, contains not only this data but a growing body of foundation and grants data from around the world. This global data platform for philanthropy will soon be available for free at these 450 sites, as well.

    Beyond these services, the Foundation Center also conducts robust research studies annually, both original and commissioned, on foundation funding trends, and operates an online news service dedicated to philanthropy http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/, a highly blog a highly bloghttp://pndblog.typepad.com/pndblog/, and a searchable online database of more than 5,000 publications supported by foundation grantshttp://foundationcenter.org/gainknowledge/pubhub/. More recently the Center has launched a web site devoted to foundation transparency, http://glasspockets.org and a website targeted to grantseekers, www.grantspace.org.

    Under new leadership since late 2008, the Center has begun a new and innovative chapter in its history and has issued a strategic plan for its future. This plan has as one of its central tenets an effort to build tools for donors of all kinds, both locally and globally, in order to increase understanding of the impact of philanthropy, facilitate collaboration among donors, and gather more and better knowledge about global philanthropy. One important piece of the plan is the recent acquisition of GrantCraft, formerly a project of the Ford Foundation, by the Center in partnership with the European Foundation Center. During 2011, the Center will be integrating this project into its suite of products and is searching for a Director to lead this effort.

    About GrantCraft

    GrantCraft was originally created in 2001 as a project of The Ford Foundation. The goal was to increase the collective knowledge of the field and improve the practice of philanthropy by gathering and sharing thoughtful information about the craft of grantmaking.

    GrantCraft’s signature approach has been to tap the “practical wisdom” of experienced grantmakers from a diverse group of foundations. Since its inception GrantCraft has grown to become a valued resource for learning and sharing grantmaking strategies in the U.S. and in other countries. GrantCraft has produced more than 30 guides, myriad online surveys and other reports, and brought that content to life through workshops and original teaching material and case studies. Its highly popular web site provides free access to these guides in downloadable versions and also sells hard copies of the same material in an online store.

    Other

    The Center offers a competitive salary and an excellent benefits package. The Center is an equal opportunity employer.

    Additional Information

    A parallel position is currently available at the European Foundation Centre, in Brussels, Belgium, the Foundation Center’s partner in GrantCraft. The position description for this position can be found at http://www.efc.be/AboutEFC/Pages/StaffPosition.aspx.

    To Apply

    Interested candidates should submit a cover letter, resume and salary requirements to:

    Dee Dee Dickey
    Director of Human Resources
    The Foundation Center
    79 5th Avenue
    New York, NY 10003

    E-mail: jobs@foundationcenter.org (Please put the title of the position you are applying for in the subject line.)

    For more information on positions available at the Foundation Center please visit our website:http://foundationcenter.org/about/jobs/

    See a related story about GrantCraft here.

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    Okay, it’s official: State arts agencies are in trouble

    This week has been a bad one for beleaguered state arts agencies. First, after much sabre-rattling, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback followed through with his threat to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission on Monday, with the plan to transfer its responsibilities to a new nonprofit and provide a token $200,000 one-time appropriation to help with the transition. (This is down from $1.1 million the agency received two years ago.) Worse, unlike other governors who have tried to do the same, he did the dirty deed by executive order, meaning that the bar is much higher for arts advocates to reverse the decision. They basically have to convince the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature to override the Governor’s order within 60 days of the decision.

    Sadly, Kansas is not the only one on the chopping block. In the Lone Star State, Governor Rick Perry’s budget includes no money for the Texas Commission on the Arts at all. In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley actually made elimination of the state arts commission one of her talking points for her State of the State address. In Washington, Governor Christine Gregoire has proposed elimination of the state arts agency as an independent entity and drastically reducing funding. And in Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer wants to eliminate state appropriations to the Arizona Arts Commission.

    State arts agencies form a relatively small portion of the typical arts organization’s revenue stream. If they went away, it’s likely that the arts landscape would be more similar to than different from what it looks like today. But still, as this article in Miller-McCune points out, much would be lost. Besides the revenue itself, state arts agencies tend to be a source of particular support for community arts work, arts education, and smaller organizations run by a new generation of artists and administrators looking to get their first leg up. [Update: also, arts activities in rural areas; see Janet Brown's comment below.] In many cases, they also funnel money to local arts agencies in order to have an even more targeted impact. So while they are not the be-all and end-all of the arts world, they do have an important role to play. And as Janet Brown eloquently puts it, it’s much harder to get the infrastructure re-established than to retain what’s already there.

    State arts agencies have survived numerous similar elimination threats over the past several years, and before that as well. Since their initial creation in the late ’60s in the wake of the establishment of the NEA, all 50 state agencies (along with six territorial agencies) have managed to survive each year, albeit sometimes only by a hair. Indeed, the NEA’s innovative decentralization strategy involving partnerships with state and regional arts agencies has been an extremely effective weapon in such advocacy campaigns, because elimination of state arts councils necessarily means forfeiting federal matching funds as well – making justification on the grounds of saving the state money come off as rather hollow.

    But this year, things seem different. Part of it is that this has been the latest in a long trend of diminishing arts funding from states. According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the appropriations for the current year have declined more than one-third in nominal terms from the appropriations of ten years ago, from $410 million in FY2002 to $272 million in FY2011 — and if you adjust those numbers for inflation, the reduction is nearly 50% in today’s dollars. Part of it, too, is that several of the agencies facing pressure this year are already significantly hobbled, having staved off massive cuts or elimination last year or the year before. Arizona, Kansas, and South Carolina all fall into this category. It’s as if the governors in those states (political conservatives, all) have adopted an “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” approach, betting that the local arts advocacy infrastructure can’t survive a war of attrition.

    And unfortunately, they’re probably right. We’ve invested a lot as a field in bolstering support for the National Endowment for the Arts. But there currently exists no formal, nationwide advocacy infrastructure for state arts agencies [update: actually there is, see below], which still collectively spend nearly twice as much on the arts as the NEA even after suffering massive losses. As of today, the Arts Action Fund, which is run by Americans for the Arts, makes no mention of state arts agencies on its website, even though its mission statement says nothing about an exclusive focus on federal funding. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, despite having a section of its website devoted to advocacy, is similarly mum on the predicament of individual members. Instead, it’s up to arts leaders in individual states to fend for themselves. The result of this decentralized approach to advocacy is that it is very difficult for the likes of Kansas and South Carolina to benefit from the efforts of their peers in places like New York, California, Massachusetts, and Illinois, and the geographic balkanization of our arts communities only continues. If we’re going to have a hope of retaining this vital layer of public infrastructure to the arts and restoring it to its former strength, we’ll need to start getting a lot more organized about it.

    For further reading:

    • Leonard Jacobs argues that the root of state arts agencies’ current troubles is not fiscal conservatism, it’s right-wing ideology. I half agree with him (the unfortunate fact is that nearly all states face ruinous budget crises right now, and Christine Gregoire, Washington’s governor, is a Democrat), but it’s worth pointing out that Leonard predicted a return of GOP hostility to public arts funding earlier than just about anyone, and quite presciently so.
    • Matthew Guerrieri proposes a fanciful hardball tactic for Kansas arts organizations: threaten to move to Nebraska instead. Hey, it’s worked for film subsidies.
    • Arlene Goldbard argues passionately for a new approach to advocacy and messaging about the arts.
    • The Wichita Eagle’s editorial board has come out in support of the Kansas Arts Commission.

    UPDATE: It turns out that there is a nationwide infrastructure for state arts advocacy: the State Arts Action Network at Americans for the Arts. Jay Dick, who heads up that effort, got in touch with me to correct the error. He also informed me that the Arts Action Fund is indeed federally focused, being a federal PAC. Alas, the SAAN homepage also makes no mention of current state arts advocacy campaigns, but if you live in one of the states whose agency is under threat, you can find and get involved with the relevant state arts advocacy group here. According to Jay, they need all the help they can get.

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    New Blogs!

    Hello there! It’s been a while since we last updated the blogroll. Since then, Arts Admin has gone and come back, as has Theatre Ideas. Future Leaders in Philanthropy is now located at networkflip.com, and smArts & Culture also has a new URL. Oh, and several blogs that we’d previously added have been inactive for six months or more, and I’ve removed them from the site. But the real point of this post is to shower attention on our new additions, as follows (you may recognize three of them from the list of top new blogs from 2010):

    ArtsAppeal
    David Zoltan’s blog about arts management, fundraising, and policy is well-written, engaging, and informed. He’s been keeping up an admirable pace over at ArtsAppeal since this past September, and shows little sign of slowing down. David is part of a bevy of Carnegie Mellon arts administration alums and students who, along with nearly half a dozen applicants to the Createquity Writing Fellowship, have collectively raised my esteem for that program quite a bit over the past few months.

    Jumper
    Former Mellon Foundation Associate Program Officer and current Ph.D. student Diane Ragsdale has been hitting all the arts policy high points in her new weekly ArtsJournal blog, Jumper. Check out these two recent posts on the question of oversupply in the sector and the search for new business models, as well as this one on funding partnerships that was written partly in response to a comment of mine. While Diane’s essays always make for interesting reading on their own, what makes Jumper especially remarkable is the fact that it has managed, over a very short period of time, to become a hotbed of action in the comment section – a very hard feat to pull off for any blog.

    FlowingData
    I have my Fractured Atlas colleague Kirsten Nordine to thank for pointing me in the direction of this fantastic data visualization blog by Nathan Yau, a UCLA Ph.D. candidate in statistics. Yau posts frequent examples of infographics, interactive data toys, and the like to his site and makes sure to present topics in a completely accessible way. You will definitely learn something from reading this blog.

    Museum 2.0
    Nina Simon’s rise to prominence in the museum world has been rather meteoric, and her excellent Museum 2.0 blog is at the root of it all. This four-part series on Paul Light’s book Sustaining Innovation provides an example of the seriousness with which she approaches her craft. Nina’s oft-cited book The Participatory Museum can also be read online. She’s a real-deal Gen Y nonprofit thought leader.

    YourTownPerforms.com
    Sadly, YourTownPerforms hasn’t been updated in the last two and a half months, but assuming Craige Hoover ever comes back, you can bet that it will be with something well worth reading. Craige is the founder of a consulting shop called Cultural Arts Solutions and the Seaside (FL) Repertory Theatre, which he led until last year. His posts shine an incisive light on local arts-led development initiatives and cultural plans, such as this one about Nashville (Hoover is from outside Nashville) and a cool series on “Great Arts Towns.” He also brings a perspective on new urbanism which will be most welcome in creative placemaking discussions.

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