Dispatches from the East: Museumscapes of Asia

National Museum of Cambodia. Photo by kfcatles.

National Museum of Cambodia. Photo by kfcatles.

A heat map of museum activity in Asia would show the whole region aglow. At first glance, if you’ve been getting your story from mainstream American media, you might think Asian institutions are becoming just like us, or beating us at our own game: the National Museum of Cambodia recently put its collection online thanks to a grant from an American foundation, and the Mumbai airport recently unveiled the largest airport gallery in the world. Other stories might give the opposite impression: a museum in China was shuttered after nearly its entire collection of 40,000 artifacts was found to be fake; in some public museums in Southeast Asia, staff are government employees who have been demoted to what is seen as an undesirable role.

So what’s really happening? I have spent the last two years as Programs Director at a private ethnology museum in Laos, but I’ve been following these developments for much longer. During the three years I lived in China after college, I became interested in museums as a platform to share my growing appreciation of Asia with a wider audience. My interest deepened back in the U.S., as I researched China’s recent cultural policy changes and their impact on museums for a master’s degree in China Studies and then wrote more broadly about museum issues in Asia for a museum studies certificate. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the story is as complex as the continent, a medley of unique political systems, museum governance structures, geographies, human resource policies, levels of development, and education systems.

I can’t tell that whole story in a single post, but I do want to share some of what I have seen unfolding in museums across developing Asia.

The boom

Over the past several years, prominent news sources have reported the growth of museums in Asia: The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Economist. The focus is often on China. In 2011, at the People’s Consultative Congress, former President Hu Jintao announced China’s plans to become a world leader in the arts and to make cultural industries a pillar industry by 2015. To make good on its plans, Beijing earmarked more money for the construction of new museums and to make public museums free. But the government alone isn’t driving the growth. Affluent businessmen are opening their own museums to house the private collections they’ve amassed at auctions. All over China, even in sparsely populated regions, new museums go up at the astounding rate of about 100 a year.

But other places are beginning to share some of the spotlight. Further south in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country and fourth largest by population in the world, similar conditions for art museum growth exist: economic prosperity and strong competitiveness in the international art market, with Indonesian artists beginning to break local price records. Indonesia also has one thing to credit for the creation of new museums in general that China doesn’t: rapid political decentralization. Each province in the country must have a museum, and new provinces come into existence at a surprisingly frequent rate.

Thailand’s strong national interest in archeology and the sheer volume of artifacts being discovered motivate the building of new museums, although fewer than in China and Indonesia. Alongside these more traditional (albeit brand-new) institutions, a robust network of grassroots, community-based museums adopting unconventional practices has sprung up as the result of local training opportunities.

Though India has also seen a relatively modest increase in the number of museums, it has a growing network of international partnerships. Recent agreements signed with the Tate and the Metropolitan Museum may go further in raising the level of museum practice in the country through the loan of objects that will help keep exhibits fresh, research collaborations, and joint learning programs for staff and fellowships.

In Asia as elsewhere, museums come into being for a variety of reasons and through a variety of actors. Burgeoning economic prosperity is often the impetus for museum growth. Yet slower economic development does not preclude it. Because many national governments, occupied with meeting other development benchmarks, have been slow to invest in arts and culture for purposes outside of economic growth, other parties have stepped in. Organizations owned in whole or in part by foreigners, or grassroots artist cooperatives such as San Art in Vietnam or the Cemeti Art House in Indonesia, may fill the art-for-art’s-sake gap. Their unaffiliated status translates to more flexibility in hiring, fundraising, interpreting their collections, and setting their own budget and agenda. Private museums are still much less common in Asia than public ones, but they, too, are part of the boom.

Audience, outreach, and local impact

Tourism and the local audience

Tourism contributes significantly to the economies of Asian countries. This can be helpful in keeping up foot traffic for museums – but whose feet, and at what cost? Many Asian museums have geared themselves toward foreign visitors, for at least two reasons: money and education.

It’s not uncommon for museums to offer free entry for locals. These patrons’ lack of financial contribution, however, may lead to their neglect. In a country like Laos, in which tourists make up a large part of museum visitation, locals may be put off by the fact that the majority of guests are not like them – a familiar refrain for American museums struggling to reach out to underrepresented groups. When tourism drives the local economy, the tourist is king, and the quality of service provided to locals may receive little attention, if any at all, in programming and promotion.

In addition to having more money, tourists also tend to be better educated. One of the biggest shifts in my own thinking about exhibit design after moving to Laos was about assumed literacy and comfort with self-guided discovery. The same Asia that is home to economies such as Singapore, Korea, and Shanghai, envied for their top-ranking academic performance, also suffers from development-stunting education systems. Literacy statistics for Asia—especially South and Southeast Asia, which is most of the continent in terms of both population and landmass—look deceptively high when the reality is that they only measure basic, not functional, literacy. As museums in Asia have added less familiar objects to their collections and adopted the Western model of explaining them with labels, some have risked losing connection with their local audience. What good are labels and panels if your audience can’t read well enough to understand the signage?

Going local

But the story may yet have a happy ending. I have noticed several hopeful signs that Asian museums may be paying more attention to local communities. Last November, I met Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the director of the encyclopedic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai, India, at a conference. I was impressed with the recent push in India for museums to appeal to all segments of society. Mukherjee was clearly interested in this topic: he questioned speakers at the end of every session, challenging museum directors from the West to rethink their audience.

It turns out Mukherjee’s commitment to orienting museums towards their communities is working for him back home. At the CSMVS, local participation increased by almost 50% over a three-year period, thanks to a mix of dynamic exhibits and unconventional programming. In the United States, we take for granted that a museum will display objects from other countries. By contrast, typical museum collections in Asia consist primarily of artwork or objects from that country’s own heritage and history, given their focus on preservation and guardianship of national heritage. India stands out in Asia for its ability to host blockbuster exhibits of artwork and artifacts from around the world. Both the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert have brought shows to the CSMVS, and other notable exhibits have featured paintings of Rubens and Van Dyck.

Mukherjee has also experimented with museum buses, which carry objects from the collection to neighborhoods throughout Mumbai and offer free access to locals. The program began as outreach to schoolchildren, but has since expanded its focus to reach suburbanites. The CSMVS has also begun to partner with NGOs to do programs with marginalized communities, such as sex workers and HIV patients.

The push in India for accessible art goes beyond the CSMVS, and it includes public art. Leading that initiative is Rajeev Sethi, the designer behind the T2 terminal at the Mumbai airport I mentioned at the start of this post. Though the idea of art in airports is not unique, the initiative is much broader. Sethi envisions the whole country as a museum and advocates bringing art dug up from museum basements “back to lived spaces—railway stations, bus stops, public parks, hospitals” – to serve a richer pool of stakeholders than he believes the Western view of museums supports.

Faced with a rapidly growing consumer class, museums in Indonesia are also trying to adapt their approach to their public. Until a few years ago, Indonesian museums were run by the Ministry of Tourism, where they enjoyed relatively high levels of financial support and attention. Their main audience under this ministry was foreigners or traveling Indonesians, which meant that exhibits changed infrequently — it matters less if your information is static if you have few repeat visitors. Museums were seen mostly as places of leisure, and money was poured into them to attract tourists.

In 2010, control switched to the Ministry of Education and Culture, which has a budget predominately allocated to education, and funding levels dropped. But this move also prompted museums to begin to think of themselves as serving the people of Indonesia and having an important role in informal education. A series of locally focused initiatives began then that included a Museum Visit Year campaign and revitalization projects. Most recently, in 2013, thirteen museums in Jakarta took their collections to that most public and popular of institutions, the mall. They hosted a museum week cosponsored by the Jakarta Post and the Ministry that featured an expo-style layout of booths with exhibits. Visitors were able to see exhibits and objects they might otherwise not have seen. The organizers hope to make this an annual event, and there is optimism that over time the event will bring more visitors to the museums in their own cities.

Human Resources

The Role of the Curator

Staffing has traditionally been a challenge for private and public museums alike in Asia, limiting the vitality and even sustainability of these institutions. With a glut of museums opening quickly and then having virtually no visitors, or even closing, China‘s example has shown that the success of new museums often depends on having the right people running and staffing them.

Museum professionals in the West take for granted that decisions about the collection and interpretation of objects—a principal function of a museum—will be made by a curator, someone with specialized content knowledge and appointed for that specific purpose. In China, curation has only emerged as a distinct role over the past ten years. In that time, though, it has taken off: it’s not uncommon for established museums to have hundreds of exhibits a year. Flexing its new muscles in this area, the National Art Museum in China sponsored its first international Asian Art Curator Forum last September, which gathered eighty curators from thirty countries.

However, less developed countries in the region still have a long way to go. In the most extreme cases, such as some government museums, curators may actually be seen as unnecessary, since exhibits may only change every five years. More often, where turnover is somewhat higher, curation may be outsourced to independent consultants.

It’s not just curators, either. Several roles in Western museums, such as marketing, fundraising, digital media, and visitor services, simply do not have counterparts in Southeast Asia, where job categories reflect an institutional focus on preservation or research on new archaeological finds.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, museum workers in parts of developing Asia come to the museum with very different training than what might be typical for young museum staff in America.  For example, those in parts of Southeast Asia may have studied history, art history, biology, anthropology or archaeology only up to the university level – and in some cases, maybe only at the high-school level. It’s highly unlikely that they have specialized museum education or experience interning or volunteering at a museum, so training happens on the job. For example, in Cambodia and Myanmar, the respective National Museums are charged with the professional development of the entire country’s museum staff after they are hired. What’s more, government museum staff may lack not only expertise but even interest. Because civil service positions are often coveted for their benefits rather than actual job responsibilities, motivating public museum workers can be especially challenging and those who are motivated may find themselves isolated.

This, too, is beginning to change. Thailand has taken a leading role in providing professional development in Southeast Asia through its involvement in regional networks such as the SEAMEO SPAFA Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts and with the support of members of the royal family through the Princess Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre and Museum Field School. Students from throughout Southeast Asia attend these programs, where instructors include regional experts and museum professionals from the U.S., Australia, and Europe. Add that to its relatively strong economic performance within mainland Southeast Asia and open government, and Thailand offers a possible vision of the future for museums in the region.

Leapfrogging into the 21st Century

We sometimes think of museums in the West as in search of their second life, a return to some – perhaps nonexistent – point in the past when they enjoyed widespread popularity. For the majority of museums in Asia, the second life they are building is really a first life: until recently, many of them were essentially public storage facilities and archives.

Development economists talk about technology leapfrogging, in which emerging economies bypass earlier stages of technology use. For example, rural villages may skip entirely over having landlines in their homes to use smart phones, or skip over dial-up Internet and start with wireless. With increased opportunities to collaborate on shared challenges, leapfrogging may catapult Asian museums directly into the future, perhaps with Western museums along for the ride. Institutions around the world can benefit from grappling together on issues such as cultivating first generation audiences, stretching limited institutional resources, enriching visitor experience, representing underrepresented or misrepresented groups, motivating reluctant staff to rethink the role of museums in society, promoting social inclusion and diversity, and creatively seeking funding.

Some organizations already facilitate this dialogue. Through the Asia-Europe Foundation, an international nonprofit based in Singapore with nearly forty member countries, the Asia-Europe Museum Network ASEMUS collaborates on the mapping of Asian collections, supports staff exchange, and hosts a biannual conference. Though no formal US-Asia museum-specific organization exists, the American Alliance of Museums, which has been involved in supporting international programs for over twenty-five years, is expanding its international museum work and now includes a US-China Exhibition Exchange. And a number of individual programs have been building valuable bridges. The Asia Society has hosted several events bringing together museum leaders from the West and Asia, such as the 2012 US-China Museum Directors Forum and last November’s Arts + Museum Summit in Hong Kong. The Asia Foundation sponsors the Asian Art Museum Fellowship in Asian Art, and the Asian Cultural Council supports artistic exchange between artists and arts professionals in the US and Asia.

How could we embrace even more collaboration? One possibility would be to create an international non-Western certificate track in graduate museology programs designed for American students who would ultimately either work in Asia or specialize in Asian art at museums in the West. In addition to general courses in museum studies, the track would involve coursework in cross-cultural leadership, non-Western heritage practices, and language study. Through partnerships with museums in Asia, students would have summer internships in the region; after graduation, some would have the opportunity to go back to work for the host institution as a visiting specialist. Local staff would then have the opportunity to receive training from the visiting specialists in their own countries from individuals with knowledge of the local context. American universities that already have satellite campuses in Asia might be a good place to start.

Another idea might be to set up an organization similar to PUM Netherlands Senior Experts, a nonprofit that provides consulting services to small and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets. PUM’s 3,200 volunteer specialists are matched with assistance requests and deployed abroad for up to several weeks to work on discrete projects; host organizations just pay for local accommodation and food. The advantage of this model over a traditional museum consultancy firm taking on international work would be its affordability, allowing even financially-strapped museums to participate, and focus on overall self-sufficiency.

As attention focuses on the museum landscape in Asia, it’s important to realize that the changes taking place there are as diverse as the region itself. In some places, evolution is rapid; in others, measured. But across the continent, I have been impressed by the sparks of life that characterize many new museum projects and programs. Asia is home to some of the most remarkable economic growth stories of modern history, including Singapore, South Korea, China, and India. As momentum builds across the region, I look forward to the changes it will bring to the museum and cultural heritage landscapes here.

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Around the horn: death and taxes edition



  • After nearly 30 years as CEO of National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Jonathan Katz is set to make his exit soon.
  • Margit Rankin has resigned as Executive Director of Washington State’s Artist Trust. The Trust plans to “focus on internal efficiencies and statewide reach before hiring [her] replacement.”
  • Carolina Garcia Jayaram was recently appointed the new CEO of United States Artists, and will be taking the Los Angeles-based organization back with her to Chicago.
  • Miguel M. Salinas, formerly Program Director at the Adobe Foundation, is moving into the newly-created position of Program Officer for Local Grantmaking at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. His portfolio will include arts funding for Northern California’s Monterey County and surrounding region.
  • Ken Cole of the National Guild for Community Arts Education will be taking over the role of Vice President of Learning and Leadership Development with the League of American Orchestras.





  • The state of the nonprofit sector is pretty grim, according to the Nonprofit Finance Fund: more than half of surveyed organizations reported they were unable to meet demand for their services, and are operating with three months or less of cash on hand. You can dig into arts-specific data using this interactive tool. Some nuggets: only about a third of arts nonprofits reporting an inability to meet demand, and arts orgs are significantly less likely to regularly collect data long-term data on impact than the nonprofit sector as a whole.
  • A new NEA analysis of monthly census data reveals that the unemployment rate for artists continued to drop slightly in 2013 (7.1% vs 7.3% in 2012) and has recovered considerably from its Great Recession peak of 9.5% – though it remains much higher than the 2006 low of 3.6%. Two interesting sidebars: 1) Some findings about those for whom the arts are a secondary job, including the fact that 20% are teachers in their day jobs – and 20% are artists in a different capacity. 2) Although artists are classed as professionals, their 2013 overall unemployment rate was much closer to the total population’s (6.6%) than to other professionals’ (3.6%).
  • This handy infographic breaks down the differences between US and UK philanthropy. The gold for sheer size goes the US, where the average person gives almost three times as much and the non-profit sector represents almost seven times as large a share of GDP, but the authors caution their fellow Brits against imitation in the full paper.
  • Nifty data crunching suggests that films passing the Bechdel Test — a standard, albeit depressing, measure of gender bias — are actually a much better return on investment than Hollywood execs claim.
  • Think there’s no way to judge creativity? Think again: new research suggests that people can be trained to accurately identify “subcomponents” of creativity. Interestingly, the control group  didn’t deem the same works “creative” as the group that received the training. Control group members did, however, tend to identify the same works as other control group subjects, implying they were all reacting to another, unknown component of the art.
  • Speaking of assessing creativity, education leaders who bemoan American students’ consistent “underperformance” relative to counterparts in other countries may have a glimmer of hope: the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted its first test of creative problem solving and found that American students did much better than they did on standard reading, math, and science tests. The bad news? They still trailed students from several countries like Singapore and Australia, both of which happen to put heavy emphasis on arts education. Hint, hint…
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Early spring public arts funding update


In the recently released federal budget for fiscal year 2015, President Obama proposes a meager increase in allocations for the arts compared to last year. Federally-backed museums will enjoy the bulk of that increase, while funding for NEA and NEH is essentially unchanged after factoring in inflation. Speaking of those agencies, President Obama also announced his plan to appoint William “Bro” Adams as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Adams is currently President of Colby College; he is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Maine Film Center and the Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation.

Democratic Congressmen have introduced a revised version of a droit de suite bill that would require payment of royalties to the creators of visual art when it is resold at public auction. The bill, American Royalties Too (ART), is less generous than its stalled predecessor – reducing the rate from 7% to 5% and adding an overall cap of $35,000 – but may gain momentum from a December report from the Copyright Office supporting resale royalties. California’s royalties bill, recently declared unconstitutional in federal court, may offer useful lessons for how not to implement the policy.


Tom Finkelpearl, head of the Queens Museum and former director of NYC’s Percent for Art program, will be the city’s next cultural-affairs commissioner. Among his innovations at Queens, Finkelpearl hired a community organizer to build ties between the museum and the borough. Mayor de Blasio used the announcement to wax lyrical about the importance of access and the power of the arts to strengthen neighborhoods; we’ll get a sense of how this translates into arts policy when his capital budget is released in a few weeks.

The city of Atlanta has proposed an ordinance that would make it much more difficult to display public art on private property- or “areas of private property which are visible from the public right of way or other public spaces.”

And how’s this for a nonprofit/for-profit smackdown? Maryland’s General Assembly, eager to keep production of Netflix’s political drama House of Cards in the state, tried to swipe $2.5 million from the state’s arts fund to secure additional tax credits for filming. Lawmakers argued the decision came down to simple economics, claiming the show “contributed $250 million to the economy and 6,000 jobs during the past two seasons.” (Too bad the research on the economic impact of tax incentives for film and TV suggests those benefits are less attractive than they seem.) In the end, the legislators held firm – or maybe they just didn’t have their act together – and now, we’re all waiting to see whether a change of venue is in the cards for House of Cards.

(Update: According to an email newsletter from Americans for the Arts, the $2.5 million did end up getting transferred from the arts fund after all. “Governor O’Malley originally allotted $7 million in his budget proposal, which then grew to $11 million.  The amount proved to not be enough….To raise more money, the General Assembly authorized applying the Special Fund for the Preservation of Cultural Arts, a fund of $2.5 million on reserve for supporting local arts organizations, toward film incentives. The Senate pushed for the amount to be raised to $18.5 million and requested $3 million from the general fund, which the House rejected. The final agreement stood at $15 million.”)


Lots of news from Britain this time around: Maria Miller, the UK Culture Secretary whom some accused of not being especially interested in culture, has resigned amid a scandal over her expenses. She will be replaced by Sajid Javid, the current Treasury Financial Secretary. As the EU eases copyright law to make it easier to transfer purchased music from one of your personal devices to another, most countries are simultaneously levying a tax on device manufacturers; the money would go to a fund to support young musicians. In Britain, the potential tax is being fought strenuously by manufacturers. Meanwhile, the UK has closed a tax loophole on domestic music, book, and app purchases; the move could raise as much as half a billion dollars, which retailers may pass on to consumers. In more local news, the Mayor of London has released a revised cultural strategy, which includes support for smaller arts organizations and your friendly neighborhood busker.

Italy has pledged to spend €135 million to restore 46 heritage sites in the southern portion of the country, following an earlier distribution of €222 million last September. On the other side of the Adriatic in Athens, the Greeks are not so lucky: their cash-poor government is thinking about selling off public landmarks near the Acropolis to private investors. Protestors have been staging angry demonstrations to tell the pols to leave their built heritage alone.

Good news for Dubai’s 137 million metro riders: now they can add a little culture to their wait.  Thanks to a new public art project launched by the Prime Minister of UAE, four metro stations throughout the city will be transformed into museums.

And the government of South Korea is digging a little deeper into cultural exchange through a new project set to introduce Korean culture into emerging markets around the world. The NEXT Project to Dispatch International Cultural Exchange Experts by Region sends staff abroad as both representatives and students of the host cultures and are responsible for managing each regional Culture Centre.


Finally, the entire Anglophone world suddenly seems to be slashing taxes on live performance. New York State passed a theater tax credit to induce Broadway producers to prepare for touring shows upstate. (Producers and tour operators had lobbied for the incentives, which are already offered in states like Illinois, Louisiana, and Rhode Island.) Within days, Senator Charles Schumer proposed a more ambitious national tax rebate of up to $15 million per production – benefits already extended to film and TV. Both initiatives appear to be driven by the Broadway League. Meanwhile, the UK opened a consultation period for its own plan to provide generous credits for live performing arts; the exact policy objectives of the subsidy remain unclear. This last plan opens out into the world: as long as at least a quarter of the expenditures are in Europe, costs may be incurred in any country.

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Around the horn: campaign finance edition



  • Vice President of Paul G. Allen Family Foundation Susan Coliton resigned last week after 15 years with the foundation.
  • Judi Jennings, executive director of Kentucky Foundation for Women, is set to retire June 30, also after 15 years of service. Barry Hessenius has an exit interview with Judy.
  • The Bay Area’s Kenneth Rainin Foundation announced the promotions of Shelley Trott and Katie Fahey to Director of Arts Strategy and Ventures and Associate Program Officer for the Arts, respectively.
  • The beleaguered Minnesota Orchestra faces continued challenges following the end of a 16-month player lockout: President and CEO Michael Henson announced he is stepping down, prompting the resignation of eight board members and speculation regarding the possible return of the orchestra’s former music director Osmo Vanska.





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Models and Trends in International Arts Exchange

Photo courtesy of Adam Fagen.

Entry to the Kennedy Center for the Arts. Photo courtesy of Adam Fagen.

While living in China, I befriended a Japanese classmate who spoke no English. I spoke no Japanese, but we both spoke Chinese—and more importantly, we both played guitar.  Our connection to music served as the foundation of friendship. She taught me to play Japanese rock songs, and I memorized the lyrics to harmonize with her.  Years later, I stayed with her family in Hiroshima and learned Japanese well enough to correspond with her via email. Along the way, I also amassed nearly 24 hours of Japanese music which I share with others every chance I get.

This was one of my many experiences with informal international cultural exchange since first venturing abroad after college. International arts exchanges reflect centuries of artistic exploration and the possibilities of an increasingly interconnected world. They can come in a variety of forms: formal or informal, undertaken by individuals or organizations, funded by private foundations or the government. This article examines how the more formal of those models have come to exist and the ways they are supported. (Note: while not all cultural exchanges can be considered arts exchange, for the purposes of this article I will use the terms interchangeably.)

Funding and Context for International Exchange

International cultural exchange’s long history is intertwined with the history of trade and conflict. Since the end of World War II, formal exchange initiatives and policies in the United States have been directly tied to the prevention of and recovery from international conflict.

In 1945, Senator J. William Fulbright proposed that surplus from the sale of war property be used to support educational, cultural, and scientific exchange, arguing nothing could better humanize international relations and promote goodwill among countries. The Fulbright Program, the State Department’s flagship international educational exchange program for students, scholars, professionals and teachers, was born a year later. The program was designed to promote mutual understanding between countries and work toward meeting shared needs. In 1961, the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act led to the creation of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (BECA) under the US Department of State to oversee government funded international exchange programs. Today, the Cultural Programs Division of BECA awards grants to individuals and organizations through 46 discrete grant programs, about a third of which are related to the arts such as DanceMotion USA, American Music Abroad, and smART power. Grantee organizations may also solicit funds from the BECA directly for international project expenses, or seek funding from an independent nonprofit whose pool of money for funding exchange comes from the US government.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, government funding for cultural diplomacy weakened. But a decade later, shaken out of a false sense of amity by 9/11, the federal government reaffirmed the diplomatic value of international exchange by nearly tripling BECA’s budget from $233 million in 2001 to $600 million in 2011.

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 8.15.17 PM Source: US Department of State
Figure 1 Government support for international educational and cultural exchange from 2001 to 2011

As government support for international exchange has waxed and waned since the end of World War II, so has private foundation investment, which has declined in recent years. The Robert Sterling Clark Foundation’s 2008 look at trends in international arts exchange giving shows a drop in foundation support from the heyday of the 1990s, when arts exchange funding made up 1% of total arts giving by major funders.

Despite inconsistent funding streams, a number of factors make international exchange programs more relevant today than ever before. Demographics are changing and international partnerships may help arts organizations engage new audiences. As the arts sector around the world professionalizes, we can learn from international counterparts’ approach to their work and vice versa. New learning theories and a better understanding of the creative process leave us primed to grow by crossing national and intellectual borders. To top it off, technology has made exchange across disparate parts of the globe easier. If a 21st-century citizen is a global citizen, arts organizations must begin to see how their work can and does transcend their immediate surroundings and seek integration into a larger, richer community.

This doesn’t mean they have to send staff on the next available flight to India to bring back tablas for inner city youth. International exchange is only meaningful insofar as it aligns with organizational mission. With exchange encompassing a seemingly limitless range of activities, examining what’s being done and done well can offer valuable lessons. The examples below offer a sampling of approaches to international exchange, with varying objectives, lengths, and target audiences.


International Collaboration as Mission

Some organizations’ missions give preeminence to international exchange and build all activities around it. The Silk Road Project, for example, has international collaboration written into its DNA. Musicians from over 20 countries perform with and compose for the Silk Road Ensemble. Blending musical traditions from different cultures, they experiment with the creation of new music for their unique makeup of instruments and engage artists and audiences in the United States and abroad by raising awareness of different musical traditions around the world. With funding from corporations, the government, foundations, and even Sony Music, Silk Road’s education programs extend the benefits of their multinational and multicultural focus to provide “a gateway to greater understanding of the world” for youth.

International Youth/Artist Collaboration

I first heard of the Battery Dance Company when the ensemble was in Bangkok last year working with young hip-hop dancers as part of the Dancing to Connect (DtC) program, sponsored by the US Embassy in Bangkok through funding from the Department of State. Through DtC, Battery Dance Company teaching artists travel overseas to work with young dancers for a week, collaborating on original modern dance choreography that culminates in a joint public performance. DtC has put on programs in 25 countries to date, and trains outside teaching artists in its methodologies through the Dancing to Connect Institute. International work has become so central to its work that the company is putting together a resource on cultural diplomacy. Funding sources for DtC vary, with the Battery Dance Company often receiving in-kind corporate sponsorship for airfare or accommodations.

International Community/Community Collaboration

While DtC asks professional dancers to work with amateurs, Museums Connect asks museums to facilitate exchange between their peer communities. A BECA grant program administered by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), Museums Connect brings together museum audiences with similar interests in disparate communities using a matchmaking tool provided by AAM. The process is reminiscent of online dating: museums first submit an organizational profile and collaborative project ideas to AAM. All profiles are posted online, allowing each museum’s project coordinator to browse for institutions with similar or intriguing project ideas, missions, or audiences. Project coordinators then reach out to prospective partner museums; if both sides agree to the “match,” they craft a grant proposal focused on connecting their respective audiences around a topic of common interest. If funded, proposed collaborations play out through a range of practices carried out by the participants in pre-identified groups from within the museum’s larger community that include but are not limited to travel, shared online prompts to spur artistic work, conference calls, and virtual exhibits. After the infrastructure for collaboration is set up, the communities take over the project.

The matchmaking process is critical to Museums Connect’s success, as these ambitious projects, which typically run over the course of a year, could easily stress institutions with limited capacity, particularly those in foreign countries.

International Institution/Institution Collaboration

One standout example that seeks to build capacity and inspire creativity over a longer period of time comes from the Netherlands’s Tropenmuseum and Indonesia’s Gajda Mada University. The Tropenmuseum’s parent organization and main source of funding, the Royal Tropical Institute, specializes in international and intercultural cooperation, leaving the museum well poised to take on a number of international partnerships. In the case of Gajda Mada University, the Tropenmuseum is helping to establish a graduate museum studies program, not by building a satellite museum, or committing staff as permanent full-time lecturers, but by building local capacity. Dutch museum staff and local Indonesian professors collaborate over five years, with Indonesians taking increasing ownership of the program over time. The strength of this model is its potential to add value to cultural institutions across Indonesia. The Tropenmuseum’s extended engagement allows its staff to build long-term relationships in Indonesia and tailor its support to local needs.  


We all feel we’re better musicians as a result of the Silk Road Project. We were taken to musical areas we didn’t know well, and have widened our own musical worlds. We have more tools with which to express ourselves. Most importantly, I feel more human, more connected to others. – Yo-Yo Ma

These examples offer entry points for even small organizations to mobilize themselves toward international work or think more globally in the creation of programs. In moving forward, arts organizations should keep a number of things in mind:

  • Design exchanges with an eye toward mutual success. In order for exchanges to work, both parties must be able to clearly articulate how they benefit from the arrangement.
  • Exchange requires resources. Any articulation of benefit requires a realistic picture of the level of engagement appropriate for each organization. Existing available time and capacity must be taken into account for fear of compromising quality.
  • The impact of the exchange may not be uniform. Because partner communities and organizations start at different point from which “progress” is measured, each side may define impact differently.
  • No matter how sexy the opportunity, exchange must align with mission. Underestimating the importance of institutional fit can derail even the most interesting programs.

The kinds of exchanges possible today extend far beyond the goodwill-building for conflict resolution and avoidance imagined post-World War II. As noted in the Rapporteur’s report on the 2012 Salzburg Global Seminar on public and private cultural exchange-based diplomacy,

 The more autonomous and intertwined global cultural discourse of our day [is one in which] exchanges are not a corollary of state power, however soft and benign, but where transnational cultural interactions can constitute a “third space” of vibrant creativity—a realm of curiosity, meaning, collaboration, enterprise, and learning that is not directly beholden to either political or commercial interests.

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Cool jobs of the month

Arts and Cultural Affairs Commissioner, City of Boston

The City of Boston seeks an Arts and Cultural Affairs Commissioner, reporting directly to the Mayor. For the first time in twenty years, the Commissioner will be a Cabinet-level position.

Deadline: May 9. Salary is $110,000-127,000.

Associate/Senior Associate, Slover Linett Audience Research

We are currently seeking candidates for an Associate/Senior Associate position based in Chicago. The Associate/Senior Associate is responsible for leading research and consulting projects across all parts of our work. We are open to hiring at either the Associate or Senior Associate level, depending on the candidate’s experience. The position will report to a Vice President based in Chicago. The Associate/Senior Associate will direct qualitative and quantitative audience research projects and work closely with the Vice Presidents and Partners to design and execute planning and/or facilitation processes. Our studies are sometimes part of a larger, multi-mode research effort designed to inform strategic change in an organization and sometimes part of a single-mode, ongoing program to track audience trends and changes over time. Projects are generally staffed with an Associate/Senior Associate and a Research Analyst, with the Vice Presidents and Partners involved in proportion to the needs of the project.

No deadline.

Research Analyst, Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF)

The Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF), a nonprofit arts organization with regional and national programs located in Denver, Colorado, seeks a Research Analyst with a specialization in quantitative research methods and an interest in arts and culture. The Research Analyst at WESTAF reports to the Senior Associate Director, and is responsible for collaborating on the development of the Creative Vitality Suite™. The CV Suite™ is a research and technology project that provides high-level data on the economic impact of art and cultural activities. The Research Analyst will be part of a larger research and policy team that includes specialists in public administration, arts administration, data visualization, data design, data curation, and social science research.

No deadline.

Research Manager, AMS Planning & Research

AMS Planning & Research Corp., a leading national consulting practice serving the arts and entertainment industry, is seeking a qualified professional for full-time employment as a Research Manager in our Southport, Connecticut office. Responsibilities include: primary and secondary industry and consumer research, writing, reporting and presentations. Minimum five years of relevant experience; arts and cultural employment is a benefit, B.A. required, advanced degree in market research, business or arts administration is desirable. The position has opportunity for growth in responsibility and breadth. Send resume and compensation history to ams@ams-online.com. No phone calls please.

No deadline. This opportunity was sent to us by email, but if they update their website with the listing we’ll post the link.

Multiple positions, GiveWell

GiveWell started as a group of finance professionals trying to do as much good as possible with their personal donations. Since 2007, it has been a full-time independent research group. We publish our charity recommendations, research, and the full details of our analysis publicly at www.givewell.org. We’re actively hiring because we are capacity constrained. Filling any of the roles below would make a substantial difference to our research.

No deadline.

Program Associate, Effective Philanthropy Group, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The Effective Philanthropy Group is a hybrid team that works both internally within the Foundation and externally in the field to support effective philanthropic practice. There are five pillars to our work that span from primarily internally focused to primarily externally focused. These five pillars are Strategy, Evaluation, Organizational Learning, Organizational Effectiveness, and Philanthropy Grantmaking. While the title for this position reflects the overall group, this Program Associate’s specific role will be to provide administrative and project-related support to both the Program Officer for Philanthropy Grantmaking and the Strategy and Organizational Effectiveness Officer. The Program Associate will report to the Program Officer for Philanthropy Grantmaking.

Deadline: April 24.

Director of Advisory Services, Nonprofit Finance Fund

The Advisory Services department of the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) is seeking a full-time Director of Advisory Services in their San Francisco office. The Director will work with national leadership to identify specific market needs, in San Francisco and across California, develop and maintain funder relationships, originate new client relationships, and advance consulting products and services to respond to the continually evolving needs of nonprofit organizations and funders. The Director will oversee delivery of NFF’s full range of consulting services in the Bay area to ensure quality, timely execution, and customer satisfaction.

No deadline.

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Around the horn: Flight 370 edition


  • Seems that New York City’s recent bill forcing schools to report out on the availability of arts education in its schools comes not a moment too soon: an audit from the state comptroller found that roughly half of seniors graduated from high school without having met arts education requirements.
  • Denver is out with a bold new seven-year cultural plan, “Imagine 2020.” Among other things, it seeks to “increase the visibility of local and creative talent” by inventorying and ranking the availability of the arts in all neighborhoods, and supporting micro-art projects that can create new gathering spaces across the city.
  • A federal court has ordered Google to remove the infamous “Innocence of Muslims” film from YouTube after an actress who appears on screen for only five seconds – and was told she was appearing in an adventure movie – asserted that posting the film against her wishes violates her copyright in her performance. The injunction is preliminary; Google is appealing.




  • The Future of Music Coalition has been quizzing musicians on their knowledge of current copyright law, and the results are mixed, suggesting “there remains widespread confusion about the difference between musical composition and sound recordings” and musicians are generally unaware of “the changes in the digital landscape that have altered the way that money flows back to creators.”
  • After managing to squeeze twelve years out of what was intended to be a three-year program, the USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program ended with its final fellows last November.
  • Getty Images has released 35 million photos to be used freely for non-commercial purposes, bowing to widespread, often ignorant infringement of its images. There are a few catches: the interface is clunkier than for paying customers, Getty can track usage data, and they reserve the right to put ads in the embedded image viewer. Now that we’ve liberated images and music, are books and movies next?
  • Yes, data-driven decisions can come from cocktail napkins: Nina Simon offers a nifty example of how a simple measure of “success” can help draw comparisons across programs.
  • The new performing arts center planned for the World Trade Center site, in the works for over a decade, faces an uphill battle to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for construction with former mayor and big-ticket arts champion Michael Bloomberg no longer in office. The project will have to compete with several recently-opened theater spaces of similar size as well as the nearby 9/11 Memorial & Museum.


  • An example-driven look at how grantmakers are building innovation into their programs to tackle large social problems in Stanford Social Innovation Review pairs well with this examination by four Boston Consulting Group strategists of what nurtures the “evolvability” of big companies like Google and Netflix. Meanwhile, Andrew Taylor poaches more lessons from the for-profit world by examining what the “Minimum Viable Product” familiar to tech start-ups might mean for the arts.
  • March 20 was both the first day of spring and the UN’s International Day of Happiness, co-sponsored this year by Grammy winner Pharrell Williams. The designation of the day was inspired in part by Bhutan’s embrace of Gross National Happiness as a critical indicator of the country’s health. Culture is one of the pillars of GNH, so Createquity readers have special reason to celebrate.
  • The Future of Digital Longform Project is out with a whopper of a report on how “long” (i.e. 5,000+-word) pieces of nonfiction are evolving, what “designing a story” can mean, and how and if writers can hope to make money from these efforts.
  • Digital platforms continue to creep into the edusphere, with the College Board announcing a plan to (finally) counter the overpriced SAT-prep industry via a partnership with Khan Academy, and EdX, the only major non-profit MOOC provider, expanding its list of course partners to include NGOs and nonprofits ranging from the Smithsonian to the IMF.



Around the horn: Crimea edition


  • And, we try again: as expected, the FCC is proposing new net neutrality rules. They are similar to the previous rules, which were recently invalidated by a federal court, but depend on a different legal rationale. Those who are concerned the rules (old and new) do not go far enough to protect content creators they have their chance to persuade the Commission – the public comment period has just opened.
  • Even as the Detroit Institute of Arts contemplates privatization, the private Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC is planning to cede most of its collection of 17,000 artworks to the National Gallery of Art and other museums across the country. The move, following years of financial crisis, would also see the Corcoran’s building and College of Art and Design taken over by George Washington University.


  • The Marin Community Foundation has named Larry Best to the business-card-bending position of Program Director for Arts & Culture, and Social Justice & Interfaith Understanding. His predecessor, Shirin Vakharia, has become Program Director for Community Health and Aging.


  • The Boston-based Barr Foundation has joined the ArtPlace America coalition, bringing 2014 commitments to $28 million – just in time for Artplace’s announcement of this round’s finalists.
  • Continuing the trend toward transparency in artist earnings, cellist Zoë Keating has shared a breakdown of all her income from music sales and streams in 2013. Of the $75,341 she made, 92% was from sales; a single track bought on iTunes was worth 160 Spotify streams, which was in turn worth seven YouTube streams.


  • Heads up to the country folk: a new rural arts blog salon and webinar series put on by Americans for the Arts shines light on how rural communities can and have used the arts for economic growth.
  • The art world was abuzz recently with the news of an artist/vandal who destroyed a work by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei in the middle of a museum – mimicking Ai’s own actions in photographs posted in the gallery. Are Maximo Carminero’s actions a harbinger of participatory disaster? Nina Simon weighs in on how to bring clarity to the messy transition towards museums as “living” institutions.
  • For those prone to screw up targeted marketing, NewMusicBox breaks down how not to become the Abercrombie and Fitch of music.


  • The Dallas Museum of Art’s unusual membership program, instituted in January 2013, provides free membership to individuals willing to let the museum track their activities as they enter and explore the galleries, offering points and rewards along the way. In addition to reducing barriers to joining, it has given museum leadership valuable insight into visitor behavior. The information is then used to attract new donors. So far, it seems to have worked out well for everyone involved; is this the future of memberships?
  • In an interview, Deeksha Gaur, Director of PR and Marketing at the Woolly Mammoth Theater in DC, talks about the digital audience engagement innovations that have been called “a glimpse at the theater of the future.”
  • Grant panels meet American Idol? Back in 2013, the Arizona Commission on the Arts shook up its grantmaking by identifying and supporting arts-based entrepreneurial ventures via an “Art Tank” competition in which applicants had six-minutes to “pitch” their proposals to experts and a live audience. Executive Director Bob Booker offers interesting reflections on the process. Meanwhile, Barry Hessenius considers what might happen if arts funders acted more like venture capitalists: more active involvement with grantees beyond funding, and greater weight on leadership in evaluating proposals.
  • Writing the next great American novel? Consider finishing it on a train. Amtrak, in a move that’s left authors everywhere drooling, quietly launched a residency program that allows writers to travel its long-distance rail routes for free while working. While undoubtedly cool, the initiative has caused some to wonder whether the resident writers have an obligation, explicit or implied, to make sure Amtrak benefits from the arrangement.


  • Registration for “Creativity and Innovation in Public Education,” this year’s Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) Cultural Symposium, is full – but the event will be livestreamed on March 4. E-participation is free.
  • Anupama Sekhar offers a personal account of her experience at January’s 6th World Summit on Arts & Culture in Santiago, Chile.



  • Seeking an opportunity to relax, kick back, “hear and think about what is heard”? Join the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (yes, it exists) at a three-day symposium in Portugal. If you’re already of the acoustically ecological persuasion, consider submitting a presentation or artwork on anything from noise control policies to “the study of soundscapes as social and political intervention.” Proposals are due March 15.
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Createquity Office Hours is coming to California

Attention West Coast Createquity fans – we’re having our first-ever Createquity Office Hours in your time zone next month! As a reminder, Createquity Office Hours is an informal gathering in which we turn a bar into Arts Nerd Central. Come with your questions, ideas, requests for career advice, whatever — it’s a great way for us to get to know some of you a little better and, more importantly, for you all to meet each other. Two events are coming up on March 12 and 16. Our San Francisco Office Hours on the 12th will feature former Createquity Fellow Dan Thompson as well as newly-minted Contributing Editors John Carnwath and Jackie Hasa. At the LA Office Hours on the 16th, you’ll get to see Associate Editor Talia Gibas as well as Createquity Fellowship alums Jena Lee and Hayley Roberts. (I’ll be at both meetups, as usual.) If you’re free those nights and in the area, come out and say hi!

Createquity Office Hours: San Francisco
Wednesday, March 12
1408 Market Street
San Francisco, CA
RSVP here by March 10

Createquity Office Hours: LA
Sunday, March 16
Hyperion Public
2538 Hyperion Ave
Los Angeles, CA (Los Feliz neighborhood)
RSVP here by March 14

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Around the Horn: Sochi edition


  • Joan Mondale, wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale and known to many as “Joan of Art” for her arts advocacy efforts, passed away February 3.
  • After April 6, cracking jokes in the UK will become a little easier. A new UK regulation allows for the use of parts of original copyrighted material if used for parody, caricature, or pastiche.
  • Over at ARTSblog, Ciara McKeown argues municipalities are commissioning too many permanent public art pieces, and suggests public art programs “generate goals that are not defined as permanent or temporary, but that are about people and experiences.”
  • Well, this is one way to make it as a DIY band: Canadian electro-industrial rockers Skinny Puppy have invoiced the Pentagon for $666,000 for the unauthorized use of their music during interrogations at Guantanamo.
  • Confused about the ins and outs of all those visual art lawsuits of the past few years? Daniel Grant has a detailed overview over at Hyperallergic.


  • Geoffrey Canada, the charismatic face of one of the most ambitious and widely watched education and anti-poverty initiatives in the country, is leaving the Harlem Children’s Zone after two decades at its helm. He will be succeeded by Anne Williams-Isom, the organization’s current Chief Operating Officer.
  • The William Penn Foundation has found its new leader: Peter J. Degnan, Vice Dean of Finance and Administration at the Wharton School. The foundation’s new structure (his title is “managing director”) will allow him to “focus on aligning interconnected organizational functions, including strategic grantmaking, knowledge-building, and community engagement.”
  • Ron Ragin will jump coasts from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to become the first arts program officer for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
  • The National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University recently appointed Kate D. Levin, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, as its first fellow. As part of role, Levin will be responsible for raising the center’s visibility and providing input on its research. Levin will continue in her new position with Bloomberg Associates, a consulting firm founded by the former Mayor that advises local governments around the world.




  • We’ve mulled whether computers can generate art, but a related question is whether computer programmers are artists when they dabble in code. A novelist makes an eloquent case that they are.
  • Been a while since your last nerdgasm? Read up on social physics, which explores how ideas flow, evolve, and (we hope!) improve within communities — and asks whether “our hyperconnected world may be moving toward a state in which there is too much idea flow.”


  • Following up on the first-ever official count of the arts’ contribution to the GDP, the NEA has released more detailed estimates for individual industries, including a breakout of performing arts groups by tax-exempt status. (Most of the $526 million added by dance comes from non-profits; most of $407 million from circuses is pure capitalism.)
  • Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) released a study claiming that, contrary to the insinuations of Republican lawmakers, NEA doesn’t simply represent a “wealth transfer” from poorer to wealthier citizens. Michael Rushton, however, argues that the study doesn’t succeed in the argument because it looks at wealth at the level of the community, preventing firm conclusions about the wealth of individual attendees of NEA-sponsored arts. The comments on Rushton’s article contain a lively methodological debate if you like that sort of thing. In other news, NCAR officially launched its inaugural report (originally reported by Createquity back in December) on the health of U.S. arts and cultural organizations; the event was webcast by HowlRound TV.
  • A new study from the College Art Association shows that visual arts professionals – scholars, curators, publishers – don’t understand fair use, and they avoid or abandon projects because of it. The CAA is working toward a Code of Best Practices for Fair Use to assuage the anxiety; such a code proved helpful to documentary filmmakers.
  • Anyone who works with schools should carve out a few hours to play with this: DonorsChoose.org, which in 13 years has allowed teachers to raise more than $220 million in funding for their classrooms, is making its 20+ million project records on proposed and successful projects available via a free, interactive data analysis tool.
  • Are too many of our research and evaluation efforts in the arts theoretical rather than directly applicable to practice? Nina Simon thinks so, and the comments from Peter Linett, Jay Greene, Carlos Manjarrez and others are worth checking out as well.
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