Live from … uh … the airport?

It had been my hope to submit reports this weekend from the Net Impact Conference, where I was invited to moderate and present at a panel today called The Creative Economy. Bearing the theme “Changemakers, Innovators, and Problem Solvers,” the conference celebrates, draws attention to, and advocates for the use of business skills in service of social good. This was the first time, to my knowledge, that subject matter relating to the creative economy was addressed at this important venue for social entrepreneurs, and I’m proud to have played a role in making that happen.

Unfortunately, thanks to a combination of the winds of fate and impressive bureaucratic indifference to my plight on the part of US Airways, I was not able to present on the panel I had been putting together since April. The first leg of my flight from Providence took me through Philadelphia, where strong winds were causing most every incoming flight to be considerably delayed. When my plane finally landed, about 20 minutes before my connecting flight to Ithaca was scheduled to leave, a US Airways representative was waiting at the gate to hand me a boarding pass for the next scheduled flight—four and a half hours later—in case I didn’t make my original connection. I booked it to my destination, but naturally the flight I was trying to make was in a completely different terminal and required the boarding of (and waiting for) a shuttle bus to get there. By the time I ran huffing and puffing up to the gate, just after the scheduled departure time, the doors had closed and the plane was getting ready to leave the terminal. The representative at the gate informed me that I had missed my chance by about three minutes, and that there was nothing she could do.

The best part of all this is that, by having someone meet me with a personalized boarding pass at the arrival gate of my flight from Providence, US Airways demonstrated that they knew who I was, which gate I was coming from, that my plane was delayed, that I was supposed to be on the flight to Ithaca, that I was at risk of missing that flight, and that it was going to be very, very close—and yet, somehow none of this translated into holding the plane three lousy minutes so that I could make my connection, even though, as I mentioned, virtually every incoming flight to that airport was delayed 30 minutes or more. I could understand if we were boarding a jam-packed jumbo jet heading to a busy regional or international hub, with numerous connections for the other passengers at risk. But this was a tiny little turbo-prop with maybe 20 seats, heading to an airport where about the only possible connection would be right back to Philadelphia.

And just to top off my day with the sweetest of cherries, my “flight in vain” back to Providence this evening took off nearly two hours late as well. The flight attendants didn’t even bother with a beverage service.

(Incidentally, almost the exact same situation happened to my girlfriend about 18 months ago, involving the same airport and yes, the same airline. Scheduled to present a paper at a conference in Chicago, her connecting flight was cancelled because of winds, and all of the flights for the rest of the day were either overbooked or cancelled as well. Defeated, she hopped a flight back to New England and didn’t present at the conference. I thought about that when booking this flight, but foolishly thought lightning wouldn’t strike twice. Well, apparently it strikes US Airways all the time.)

Anyway, my two takeaways from this experience are 1) when I speak at conferences in the future, I should leave more room between my scheduled flight arrival and the time of the event; and 2) I am never flying US Airways again. They used to be pretty decent about a decade ago, but all of my recent experiences suggest a company, from management on down, that knows full well its time is up and is just playing out the string until it’s all over. My apologies to anyone who was hoping to catch me at Net Impact, but my understanding is that the show went on and that my co-presenters, Matthew Kwatinetz and Philip Morris, did an excellent job without me. And just for kicks, here’s the slide presentation that I would have given today if I’d had the chance:

1 Comment

Around the horn: Net Impact edition

This Friday, I’m excited to be moderating and presenting at a panel at the Net Impact North America Conference at Cornell University’s Johnson School. (For those of you who have been following Createquity since the spring, this is the result of the Creative Economy proposal I submitted back in April.) If you happen to be attending, please say hi!

I’m also on the ballot for this year’s elections to the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Council. If you’re a member of AFTA, you can vote for up to six candidates for the Council here.


State Arts Funding: late 2009 wrap-up

Back in August, I posted a round-up of the struggles that various state arts councils were going through this year. The upshot is that a large number of agencies have experienced shocking declines in their state appropriations, in some cases totaling 50% or more of the previous year’s budget. (More information can be found at the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies’s most recent report, dating from July 1.) At that time, most of the damage was already done–this is the quiet season for appropriation battles–but a few dramas were still ongoing. So, to continue what I hope will become a more regular feature, I’ve followed up on some of the stories from the previous entry and added a new one below.

The Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism ended up surviving, but not before sustaining a 38% cut from the state. To quote from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s excellent coverage:

The State Budget approved by the Legislature late on Aug 30th, reduced the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism budget from $28.8 million to slightly over $18 million for both FY 10 & FY 11. This represents approximately a 38% reduction in funding. The biggest reductions were to Statewide Marketing, which received only $1 and funding for Tourism districts which were reduced to $350K from $850K. Both CCT grant accounts (Basic Cultural Resources and Culture, Tourism and Arts), from which operating support, arts projects, and arts education grants are made, were reduced. This budget became law without Gov. Rell’s signature.

Things have not been looking too rosy for the arts in Barack Obama’s birth state, as Governor Linda Lingle has ordered the layoffs of 10 employees from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts–including the executive director, Ron Yamakawa. Arts advocates claimed the loss of Yamakawa could make Hawaii’s arts council ineligible for federal assistance, which led to the reinstatement of his position. The cut staff positions would save about $500,000; it doesn’t sound like corresponding cuts to the grant programs have been proposed. Hawai’i Arts Alliance is on top of the latest developments here.

It looks like Governor Granholm’s executive order dissolving the Department of Art, History and Libraries and moving the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) under the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Strategic Fund survived lawmaker Cameron Brown’s challenge. That in itself wouldn’t have been so bad, but on top of that the Council’s funding received a brutal cut of 71%, potentially hobbling the agency for years to come. I know things are bad for everyone in Michigan, but seriously, 71%?

Oh, Pennsylvania. I stated in my previous update that the Keystone State was providing the most drama of all, and subsequent months did not disappoint. After a furious back and forth that began with the elimination of the state arts council on the table and almost saw the state sales tax imposed on tickets to performing arts events and museum admissions (but not sports games or movie theaters), the dust finally settled in October with the arts taking a body blow but remaining standing. The sales tax was averted, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts sustained a 27% loss in support, from $16.5 million down to $12 million counting both administrative and grant funding. The incomparable Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance has all of the gory details.

1 Comment

Flashback: Narciso

In 2002, just after graduating from college, I moved to Philadelphia to pursue a dual career in arts administration and composing. While holding down a couple of part-time jobs involving many file folders and mailing labels, I quickly set to work on a new choral piece, a setting of Federico García Lorca’s poem “Narciso.” I was fascinated at the time with lush, complex harmonies that seemed to hang in the air forever, so I wrote the piece in 12 parts (SSSAAATTTBBB). It would end up being my first piece to be heard outside of a school setting when it was selected the following spring for a reading session with members of the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia (at the time directed by David Tang). True to form, I didn’t think the 16 singers provided with the reading would be sufficient for the piece, so I recruited 8 more on my own. The result is the lovely recording below.  (By the way, the singers used Latin American Spanish diction in the reading, rather than, as I would later learn, the European Spanish that would have been familiar to Lorca.)

(Reminder: click through to the post if you’re using a feed reader or email and don’t see the sound file.)

1 Comment

Justice for Jazz Artists?

158858806_aa1dec10e8_o(Image by Flickr user hitchica, Creative Commons license)

A while back, an intrepid reader of this blog got in touch to inform me of the American Federation of Musicians Local 802’s Justice for Jazz Artists! campaign, which seeks to establish pension payments for jazz musicians who play at venues in New York City. The campaign has a petition, which you can still sign, and has garnered endorsements from several public officials, including New York City Council President Christine Quinn. AFM hosted a rally on September 29 to draw further support and deliver signatures to the Blue Note; you can see video here.

The official story behind the campaign is as follows:

Since 2006, the Justice for Jazz Artists! campaign has attempted repeatedly to engage New York City’s Jazz clubs in constructive dialogue to secure retirement benefits for the Jazz musicians they employ. Some have agreed to meet with Local 802. Most however, have been unresponsive.

In 2007, Local 802 in partnership with some club owners, successfully lobbied the State Legislature to forgive the sales tax on tickets for Jazz club. [sic] That was done in order to allow the sums formerly collected as admission sales tax to go toward Jazz musicians’ benefits especially for retirement, at no cost to the clubs. However, since the law’s passage, no club has volunteered to make any pension fund contributions.

A fact sheet (see page 2) explains the proposal in more detail. The basic idea is that rather than pay taxes to the state, the jazz club would pay the funds to the union instead, which would then figure out the appropriate distribution to the artists. A similar model has been in place since 1963 on Broadway.

Interested to learn more, I wrote my tipster back and eventually found myself speaking to Todd Weeks, who represents jazz at Local 802. Todd confirmed for me that the legislation pushed by 802 in 2006 and 2007 (the timeline is not clear; though the press release says the legislation was signed in 2007, this article celebrating its passage dates from October 2006) was not accompanied by any signed agreements between the union and the clubs that they were hoping to induce to pay pension benefits. The union did get lukewarm indications of support from a handful of high-profile clubs such as the Village Vanguard Jazz Standard prior to passage, hoping that this support would translate into industry-wide practice after the legislation was in place.

Not only did this not happen, but the expected support from the high-profile clubs vanished into thin air as well once the tax money no longer had to be paid to the government. Suddenly, club owners stopped returning calls. The problem is well illustrated in symbolic terms by the Times‘s coverage of the rally:

When the procession reached the front of the [Blue Note] club, Bill Dennison, a vice president of the musicians union, brought forward a petition as thick as a cereal box signed by more than 2,000 professional musicians that forcefully asked management to change its ways. The doors to the Blue Note did not open all the way. There was no dialogue. Mr. Dennison handed the stack of papers to a worker at the door, politely waved and thanked the representative and rejoined the crew outside.

The Blue Note had no comment.

I couldn’t agree more that jazz musicians deserve better pay and working conditions than most of them get. But with all due respect to the J4JA! campaign and the people behind it, it seems to me like this situation is the product of a serious strategic blunder on the part of AFM. To be sure, the logic leading to pushing for the original legislation was nothing short of brilliant. Jazz clubs are something of an endangered species in New York – judging by how many of them have closed in the past decade, it’s safe to assume it’s not exactly a get-rich-quick scheme for the club owners. Surely there is a public benefit to having places to see, hear, and experience jazz, America’s classical music, particularly in America’s largest and most famous city. So why not “increase the pie” by having the government rescind its sales tax on club admissions? It’s legislation whose time has come, and the amount gained from having an extra 8.75% to play with would be a clear win-win for clubs and musicians.

AFM’s first problem, then, is that it apparently expected the clubs to pass along 100% of this benefit to the musicians, without keeping any for themselves. That’s not the way to build a coalition. If I come to you and say, “this issue is about both of us, we have to support this legislation together, are you in?” and then add, “oh, and by the way, you don’t get anything for yourself from supporting it,” your support of my issue is probably going to be lukewarm at best. And AFM’s contention that the pension plan comes “at no cost to the clubs” is rather disingenuous, as there would be both one-time costs associated with changing business practices to accommodate the new system, and ongoing costs associated with increased paperwork (the clubs would have to submit information on who played and how much they got paid in order for the system to work, unless the bandleaders took care of that for them). As noted above, it’s not like clubs are rolling in money, so letting them keep some of the spoils seems like a potentially crucial incentive.

The bigger issue, though, is that there was really nothing to prevent the clubs from doing exactly what they’ve done – turning their backs on an agreement that was never formalized as soon as it was convenient to do so. Frankly, I’m a little shocked that Local 802 expected anything different. When nonprofits negotiate with for-profits, especially those with whom there has traditionally been a contentious relationship, you have to prepare for eventualities like this. Combined with a strategy of including the clubs in the process as described above, AFM’s support of this bill could have been very valuable to the clubs, valuable enough to serve as a useful negotiating tool.

In any case, now the union is left to argue its case in public instead. Unfortunately, it faces a collective action problem on the part of the clubs. A club acting alone to contribute to the pension fund would put itself at a competitive disadvantage relative to its peers; in a for-profit context, that’s a non-starter. So they would essentially have to collude with each other in order for it to make sense for them, which, in the absence of a strong industry association for for-profit jazz venues, seems a tall order. Even if that problem is overcome, though, there’s another: the campaign focuses on the top jazz venues in New York City, but the law (repealing the sales tax on admissions) applies to all live music and theater venues in New York State. The Blue Note and the Vanguard might thus convincingly question why, in a fluid market for night-time entertainment, they should have to pay pension contributions when Madison Square Garden and Irving Plaza get to keep the entire tax savings for themselves.

Finally, even jazz musicians aren’t unanimous in their support, as their relationship with the AFM has not always been smooth and the initial strategy would benefit only those who are famous/lucky enough to play at top jazz clubs. (See the NPR stories here and here for more on this.)

Whatever else can be said of the J4JA! campaign (and it still may find success), at best it seems like a band-aid on a much larger problem: the chronic undercapitalization of jazz venues in the country that gave birth to the art form. When a team of my business school classmates and I were conceptualizing programming for a hypothetical new arts foundation in New York, one of the programs we dreamed up was specifically designed to attack this problem:

A smaller part of the Building Infrastructure program would be aimed at existing venues and organizations. [...]  The second is a unique idea: identify key for-profit companies that provide an important service to the arts community and find themselves struggling financially because of it (think Tonic), and offer them a package of management/legal consulting services and up to five years’ worth of bridge funding to turn them nonprofit. This “offer they can’t refuse” would be primarily targeted at organizations that are at severe risk of failing, but the program could also consider comparatively healthy organizations that wish to take a more proactive approach to their situation. (Depending on how the L3C develops, that could be a viable alternative to nonprofit status as well.)

It couldn’t be clearer that the for-profit marketplace is a bad fit for jazz, which is a niche genre whose audience’s passion is not matched by the depth of its pockets.  By removing the profit incentive from the equation, it would be much easier for stakeholders to insist on minimally adequate treatment of artists, whether those expenses can be made up in bar tabs or not. Nonprofit status would not necessarily need to go hand-in-hand with sterile “institutionalization” associated with a place like Jazz at Lincoln Center; there are plenty of gritty, intimate live music spaces across the country that operate as nonprofits. Furthermore, venue subsidies are common in Europe, where many NYC-based jazz musicians travel to make up for the losses they incur in their hometown.

I’m sure there’s more to say on the subject, but this post is long enough already. What do you think, dear reader?

[UPDATE: Todd Weeks has submitted a lengthy response that provides a wealth of additional information on this topic.]


The NEA and hip-hop

So, Lee Rosenbaum (perhaps better known to the world as blogger CultureGrrl) scored an interview with NEA Chair Rocco Landesman and writes about it today in the Wall Street Journal:

In a freewheeling conversation we had on the day of his Brooklyn visit, Mr. Landesman was true to form—brashly candid. But his provocative words in both the speech and our discussion suggest that he doesn’t see what’s looming between him and the goal—political opponents, waiting to tackle him.

Rosenbaum goes on to list the litany of “controversies” the NEA and Landesman have been involved with in recent months, including the “firestorm that had erupted before his arrival over the possible partisan agenda of the new Democratic administration’s NEA.” (Said firestorm was unwittingly enabled, let us not forget, by Rosenbaum herself. She wrote a concern-trollish piece inspired largely by Patrick Courrielche’s original, borderline fraudulent essay about the conference call he secretly eavesdropped on and recorded, then found herself prominently quoted in Courrielche’s next essay to provide “legit” culture blogger cover for his case–to her dismay.)

What really cracked me up about this piece, though, was Rosenbaum’s characterization of Landesman’s idea to have the NEA fund hip-hop:

Do you think that hip-hop would be an appropriate area for NEA to fund?” I inquired.

“Absolutely. And mural painting and graffiti are art. There are popular aspects of all the arts that I think shouldn’t be ignored.”

Funding hip-hop—the best of which is rhythmically poetic, but commonly punctuated by profanity, violence and/or misogynistic sexuality—could put the previously embattled agency back in the crosshairs of the decency police. Congress had considered shutting the agency down in the 1990s over grants to exhibitions and artists that some politicians deemed obscene, blasphemous and unworthy of government support.

::facepalm:: Thank you, Captain Obvious, for explaining to us this strange new phenomenon known as the “hip hop.” Gawker, of course, picked up on this awesome paragraph immediately and let her and the WSJ (“bless its nilla heart”) have it:

Sure, rappers have rhythm. Many can dance! But, you know…bitches and hoes. Guns and malt liquor. Pussy and weed. Glocks and rocks. The WSJ thinks you know what it means. The things those people talk about.

Hilarity aside, though, I find articles like this one incredibly annoying. Landesman’s opinions about the National Endowment for the Arts are in no way controversial except to those looking for controversy. Since he’s not careful about his word choice, though, anyone looking for controversy (which describes pretty much the entire right wing at this moment) can find it easily — or in Rosenbaum’s case, create it. I mean, seriously, get a load of this weasel-word concern-trolling: “could put the previously embattled agency back in the crosshairs of the decency police?” Is that what CultureGrrl wants? Because she just sounded a pretty serious dog-whistle to the right-leaning readers of the Wall Street Journal. Landesman just started his job – the Sergant affair happened the day before he took office – and this is the time when his image is being defined in the public imagination, which means that the framing of his comments by mainstream media writers has a huge influence on how he’ll be perceived from here on out. So if things blow up later, sure, she can act all innocent and say, “don’t look at me, I just asked him a question,” but doing so would reflect a leaden misunderstanding of political media in the 21st century.

UPDATE: Sssh, don’t tell Lee, but the NEA already funds hip-hop! From 2009 alone:

Dancing in the Street, Inc. (aka Dancing in the Streets)
New York, NY
To support the third annual Hip-Hop Generation Next. The full-day block party at Coffey Park in Red Hook, Brooklyn, will feature a variety of artists. [link]

Diversity of Dance, Inc. (aka Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts)
Brooklyn, NY
To support Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts, a series of school-year residencies and a residential summer dance institute. Students will receive rigorous dance training from professional dance educators through classes in technique (ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop, African dance, and tap), composition, and repertory, as well as participate in master classes with guest artists. [link]

Henry Street Settlement
New York, NY
To support the Abrons Arts Center Dance Ensemble and the Abrons Arts Center Junior Dance Ensemble. Students will study ballet, jazz, hip-hop, tap, salsa, and flamenco, and participate in choreography workshops. [link]

Su Teatro (aka El Centro Su Teatro)
Denver, CO

To support performances of Representa!, a hip-hop theater play and related outreach activities. The new work will be created and performed by spoken word poet Paul Flores and rapper Julio Cardenas. [link]

Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz
Washington, DC
To support BeBop to Hip-Hop. Professional musicians will introduce students to the latest recording technologies and software and teach students composition, music theory, arranging, improvisation, lyric writing, turntable scratching, and sampling. [link]

Leave a comment

Around the horn: fall back edition

Whose brilliant idea was it to put the end of daylight saving time in the middle of Halloween night? Can we do that every year?

  • NEA Chair Rocco Landesman’s Art Works blog is shaping up to be the must-read of the holiday season. Not just because of what he writes there, but because of the chance it offers for conservative anti-NEA agitators to take their special brand of bile directly to the source — an opportunity they have wasted no time in seizing. Last week, the conservative Power Line blog linked to the article with some snooty remarks about Landesman’s oft-repeated claim that President Obama is “the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln,” as well as his comparison between Obama and Julius Caesar (note that this all comes from one paragraph out of 46 in the speech). The 79 responses to Landesman’s inaugural post (a reprint of the speech he gave at the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference two weeks ago) are thus the oddest mix of arts organization representatives begging Landesman to come to their city, and conservative after conservative after conservative repeating, like dutiful fifth-grade schoolchildren, the same points made by Powerline: that many other Presidents supposedly wrote good books, that Lincoln didn’t even write a whole book, that Landesman is just “bootlicking” Obama, etc.–as if this were all even remotely relevant to the point of his speech. (The teabaggers like to decry “Obamabots,” but it sure seems to me like they invented the form.) Anyway, this past week Landesman actually took the bait, coming back with a post in which he admitted that he probably made a boo-boo about the author thing and he didn’t mean the Caesar comparison seriously and can we please get back to talking about Art Works? Oh man, this one ain’t gonna die for a while.
  • Meanwhile, Fox News isn’t showing any sign of letting up on its not-so-subtle campaign against the NEA. Isaac has the details. Thankfully, actual policymakers clearly could care less what Fox thinks, as Congress just passed a $12.5 million increase for the agency for FY10, bringing funding to its highest nominal level in 16 years (though still far below its inflation-adjusted peak).
  • Speaking of Fox, apparently GE has been looking to unload its ownership stake in NBC and one of the early bidders was…Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation! That would have been interesting. As it is, it looks like NBC will be sold to cable oligopolist Comcast instead, which frankly may not be all that much better an outcome.
  • Now, this is the kind of culture war I can cheer for: Hong Kong is duking it out with Singapore to become Asia’s top cultural attraction. The numbers mentioned in the article are rather staggering: $1 billion to invest in Singapore’s cultural infrastructure ten years ago. $2.8 billion this year to build an entire “arts and culture neighborhood” on 40 hectares of reclaimed land in Hong Kong. Remember, these are city-level investments. Both cities see pumping up their arts scenes as essential to attracting a competitive, global workforce and maintaining their international profile over the long term.
  • How about our own “World City”? Alas, internal politics are turning New York’s grand plans for a performing arts center at Ground Zero into a grand mess.
  • At least Philadelphia has Gary Steuer. The city’s Chief Cultural Officer reports on a fascinating arts leadership convening model and awareness campaign from Canada this week, and has another post explaining the complexities of municipal cultural planning and implementation.
  • When I linked to the discussion of new models in theater a couple of weeks ago, I neglected to mention an important one: the Stolen Chair Theatre Company’s Community Supported Theatre concept, which was recently awarded a $20,000 grant by The Field’s Economic Revitalization for the Performing Arts program. The Stolen Chair idea is similar in many ways to the enhanced-participation paradigms proposed by Chris Ashworth and Scott Walters, but the difference is that theirs has actually made the transition from idea to implementation; the pilot phase starts this coming season. You can listen to artistic director John Stancato talk about the project on this podcast.
  • Speaking of new models, Darcy wonders why jazz bands don’t include opening acts in their touring the way that indie rockers do. As always, the answer comes down to the moolah.
  • And Barry Hessenius has a monster of a response to my (semi-)live-blogging of the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference two weeks ago. Barry declares it a new day for GIA and looks forward to the organization taking a more proactive role steering its members in a positive direction for the field.
  • Hollywood composers are considering unionization. The Society of Composers and Lyricists would affiliate with the Teamsters local 399.
  • Man, these community foundations are on fire with their online giving campaigns. This is the second story I’ve heard in the last couple of months of a fundraising effort that reached its goal so fast that the website had trouble processing donations. In this case, it’s the Pittsburgh Foundation that ran out of matching funds in all of 23 minutes!
  • The Animating Democracy project, led by Barbara Schaffer Bacon and Pam Korza, has released a triumvirate of new research studies on the social impact of arts and civic engagement initiatives. Included among these are the reflection paper that Maria Rosario Jackson presented during the GIA Conference, as well as a literature review by top-notch Penn academics Mark Stern and Susan Seifert. (h/t APInews)
  • I couldn’t help but laugh at this lede, from an article entitled “West Fest long on vibe, hazy on record attempt”:

    An attempt to top the Guinness world record for largest guitar ensemble, with 3,000 players performing Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” at Sunday’s West Fest concert in Golden Gate Park, fell short by about 2,950 participants – and some of those may have been playing ukuleles.

    A Crimson Grail it was not.

1 Comment

New Blogs!

Here’s a spooky Halloween edition of new blogs for you to check out:

Arts Admin
It doesn’t sport the most earth-shattering name ever dreamed up, but Michael Rushton’s blog is a great find. It’s extremely active, typically with several posts a day, and many of those are quite substantive in scope. Rushton is the director of the Arts Administration program at Indiana University and regularly mines events at school for blog content.

Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy
Philadelphia’s “Culture Czar,” Gary Steuer, used to work for Americans for the Arts before he got lured away to be the head of Philly’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. His blog, which is quite new, has quickly established itself as a consistently fascinating source for creative economy talk, often featuring information that is unavailable or hard to find anywhere else.

Chris Ashworth
Chris Ashworth is a theater artist and computer programmer who has a fun and creative blog on arts marketing and related topics. A few of his recent notable posts include this proposal for a new business model in theater, and this somewhat controversial piece on public funding and the arts (which features a shout-out for Createquity’s Arts Policy Library write-up of Gifts of the Muse).

Judd Greenstein
Composer, record label proprietor, and all-around great guy Judd Greenstein has a section of his website devoted to funny, cogent, and often quite lengthy essays about music, politics, and what it all means. I don’t usually link to sites that aren’t “blogs” in the strict sense, but Judd’s “why?” page is basically a blog without the RSS feed, and so I encourage you to check it out (and to listen to his music, which is great).

1 Comment

Final thoughts on the GIA Conference

(crossposted at the GIA Conference Blog)

It’s been a pleasure covering the 2009 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference for you all, and I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse into sessions you may have missed or the conference as a whole (if you didn’t have the chance to be among the 351 attendees). Before I go, I thought I would leave you with some final reflections on my experience in Brooklyn last week:

  • I didn’t get a chance to mention my Monday night dine-around in Bushwick. Bushwick is a largely Hispanic neighborhood in Northeast Brooklyn that has slowly been invaded by artists and young hipsters as the Manhattanesque housing prices in nearby Williamsburg push them further East on the L subway line. We ate at a trendy restaurant called Northeast Kingdom, during which we met with representatives from local nonprofit organizations (both arts-oriented and not). Afterwards, we crowded into art gallery opening taking place in someone’s dining room(!) and visited a black-box theater (the only one in the neighborhood) where we apparently interrupted a rehearsal in order to get a welcome and tour from the proprietors. It was a strikingly different experience from the comfort of the Brooklyn Marriott and brought me back to my days as a bandleader earlier in the decade. I was familiar with some of the people who were leading us around from other events I’ve attended, and know that they’re concerned about issues of gentrification and cliquishness as a result of artists moving into an area. It seemed like no one really has good answers, though. I will say, though, that I’m impressed that this excursion was a part of the conference and that as many funders joined in as they did. These underground, emergent, barely-organized scenes should be part of the arts conversation too.
  • Speaking of emergent arts communities, we spent a lot of time in the off-site session talking about the economic impacts of artist concentrations, particularly in terms of real estate values. Though the discussion rightly focused much attention on how this connection could be used for advocacy purposes to encourage governments and businesses to invest in the arts, what was missing, it seemed to me, was any kind of proposal to help artists actually share in the neighborhood wealth they create. The reason this does not currently take place in a hot real estate market like New York is because most artists are too poor to be able to buy their own space in the first place, and therefore are also too poor to buy property to rent out to others. Here’s a thought that occurred to me during the session: why not create a REIT or other kind of pooled fund in which artists could make small investments, smaller than a monthly rent check? The fund could then purchase buildings and properties in the vicinity of artist concentrations, profit directly from higher real estate values created from the artists’ activity, and return those profits to the artists. If anyone knows of a program like this already in place, either in this country or elsewhere, I’d love to hear about it.
  • I was actually pleasantly surprised by the degree of racial and gender diversity in evidence at conference–especially the number of women of color. It seems that the field has really put its money where its mouth is in terms of opening up the gates beyond the old boys’ club, at least at the program staff level. It’s not only the right move, but a smart move in light of the country’s changing demographics.
  • Which brings us to Ben Cameron’s final speech, which I did not do justice to when I wrote it up earlier (his fast and fluid elocution made comprehensive note-taking a challenge). Luckily, Tommer from GIA forwarded me his complete notes, from which I will quote extensively below. As mentioned earlier, demographic change and the drive to greater social equity was, in fact, cited as one of the central issues for the next 10 years in arts philanthropy, along with technology, globalization, and the blurring of the line between professional artists and amateurs. The full list of anticipated interventions is as follows:
    • Data gathering, tracking and evaluation
    • Leadership development and mentoring
    • Advocacy
    • Arts education
    • Innovation/ experimentation
    • Networks and collaborations
    • Convenings
    • Efforts to articulate and substantiate the value of the arts in and for their communities

    And here’s the full list of key collaborators in this work:

    • Artists
    • Other funders
    • The media, including TV, radio and the press
    • Youth groups
    • Social service agencies
    • Non-arts government agencies (transportation, education, economic development)
    • And many “outliers” in different groups, including casinos, libraries and energy corporations
    • Non arts sectors, citing especially the value of other sectors to nurture and stimulate true innovation

    I found this paragraph from Cameron’s notes particularly interesting:

    Funders were self-critical as well, citing frequent isolation, the need for renewal. Moreover, there were recurring conversations about the philanthropic exchange—conversations about inadvertent burdens funders place on grantees, the degree to which funders are proscriptive vs. responsive, and the need for increased candor and transparency in these times.

    I’m really glad that these conversations are happening at the funder level–it shows that people are really thinking about the issues described in a serious way. It was my sense throughout the conference that attendees are very much aware of the need to institute new ways of operating in order to more fairly and accurately reflect the times, but that putting words into action will be the real challenge. As Cameron stated in his speech, “the hunger to ‘shatter the box’ was palpable in many rooms, even while we are clearly at an early point in figuring out what that will mean and how we can achieve that.” Funders are often seen as a cautious group, but dealing successfully with some of these societal shifts may well require taking more risks than might initially feel comfortable. If funders can overcome the fear of what the bosses will think, or what the board will think, or what the lawyers will think if we decide to do things differently, those risks can be evaluated with their upside in mind in addition to the downside.

  • With that in mind, it’s immensely encouraging to see that GIA itself is not afraid of taking a few risks, like (oh, just to take an example) asking an unknown blogger to bring the conference’s discussions to the public for the first time in its history! If you’ll permit me a moment of introspection, it’s sort of amazing that this experience happened at all. Two years ago, I was just another student in his first year at business school, and nobody in the world of arts philanthropy (save a couple of people I had spoken to or worked with here and there) knew who I was. The blog I’ve been writing since this time is the sole factor that made my attendance at this conference possible. It’s not just about the content — it’s about the fact that, prior to this decade, someone like me would not have had any means of sharing ideas about arts policy and arts philanthropy with people who actually work in the field on any kind of systematic basis. In the past, the platform to do so has only come with joining the field oneself. When people talk about how “technology” changes/will change the way we work, that’s what they mean. It’s not just about being able to do the things we already do more efficiently — it’s about changing whole organizational practices, behaviors, and cultures to take advantage of new opportunities that simply didn’t exist before. With that in mind, then, I want to express my deepest thanks to Tommer Peterson and Janet Brown for understanding this and for inviting me to play a small role in inaugurating this exciting new era for arts philanthropy.
1 Comment

Around the horn: Go Phillies edition

Gradually getting back on schedule here, so the regular round-up is on Tuesday this week, then returns to Monday next week. Here’s the goods!

  • A propos of recent discussions on emerging leaders, the Council on Foundations has released a first-time report looking at Career Pathways to Philanthropic Leadership. Among the highlights:
    • Nearly four out of five new foundation CEOs or executive directors were hired externally rather than from within the organization.
    • Nearly two-thirds had an executive-level position (CEO or VP) in their immediate prior position.
    • While gender diversity was pretty good, only 20% of successful candidates were non-white.
    • Most troubling, a full 85% of interviewees “expressed significant skepticism about the willingness of trustees, search consultants, and other hiring decision makers to be influenced by leadership development efforts (such as fellowship programs that train new leaders) as they contemplate hiring decisions about executive candidates.” Ouch!
  • Amelia Northrup from Technology in the Arts has a preview of Google Wave and what it means for arts organizations.
  • What a fascinating story: a group of guerrilla artists conducted an operation removing those ubiquitous advertisements on construction sites in New York City (most of which, they claim, are illegal anyway) and replacing them with original art. But as soon as they were done, guys in pickup trucks showed up and put up more advertisements. Who are these mysterious pickup truck advertising men, and why won’t they talk to the media? And is unsanctioned, uncurated guerrilla art any better for the public space than the ads? Great read. (h/t Steve Dahlberg)
  • The group of community arts activists behind the Art and the Public Purpose cultural policy framework are getting the word out. Arlene Goldbard has a longer explanation on her blog, and Nick Rabkin writes of it in the Huffington Post.
  • Maybe I’m just a sucker for personal retrospectives on blogs, but if you are too, go read Andy Horwitz’s reflections on six years of CultureBot.
  • Great discussion on diversity in the arts going on, tipped off by Michael Kaiser and expanded upon by Adam Thurman of the Mission Paradox blog. I have to say that Adam’s take seems compelling to me. Your thoughts?
  • Bloomberg is running with the Carnegie Hall stagehands story, and now reports that Joyce Theater stagehands (who are paid much less than Carnegie’s) have voted to link up with the same union that represents the Carnegie workers.
  • Createquity contributor Guy Yedwab has been blogging furiously at CultureFuture this week, and has some interesting thoughts on the relationship between cultural policy and political power.
  • Watch out: there might be more cuts to the New York State Council on the Arts on the way.
  • Is this the next big thing or just more talk? Inquiring minds, etc.
Leave a comment