New Blogs!

Happy 4th of July, everyone. This corner won’t be heard from much this weekend, but these great blogs will keep you busy if you’re having trouble tearing yourself away from the computer.

Better Together
Grantmakers in the Arts, the national affinity group for arts funders, now has a second blog. This one, “from the desk of” GIA executive director Janet Brown, gives her perspective on fieldwide issues such as the impact of the recession, integration into community programs, and reflecting on the role that GIA plays for its constituency. GIA’s other blog collecting interesting posts and stories from around the web, written by deputy director Tommer Peterson, is available here.

copper: Cultural Office of the Pike’s Peak Region
I had the pleasure of meeting COPPeR executive director (and Createquity commenter) Bettina Swigger at the AFTA Convention last month. copper, the blog, serves as “an outlet for many discussions about our [Southern Colorado] local arts community, the intersection of politics, business, creativity and a sense of place.” Bettina wrote an awesome four-part diary about the Southern Colorado Innovation Strategy Leadership Trip to Austin sponsored by the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce; the first part is here.

Design New Haven
Mark Abraham alerted me to this very thorough and well-written ongoing account of New Haven’s “urban renaissance” following my post on arts policy in New Haven, which took a more cautionary tone. In fact, Design New Haven posted a comparison of the urban revitalization efforts in New Haven and Providence a month before I addressed cultural planning in the same two cities. A fascinating guide to a fascinating place.

Lubricity
A new blog from young trombonist and jazz writer Alex (W.) Rodriguez (Twitter handle: arodjazz), who riffs off of my recent Art and Sustainability post with this essay called Beyond the Starving Artist. Alex also contributes to jazz.com. Looks like one to watch.

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Microphilanthropy

My first post from the AFTA Convention a couple of weeks ago provoked several comments about microphilanthropy, based on Craig Dreeszen’s observation that “support for individual entrepreneurs” is a growing trend in creative economy efforts internationally. I’ve been interested in microphilanthropy for some time, but I recently came to the realization that I’ve never posted extensively about it here. Well, it’s time to fix that!

Microphilanthropy is not a new idea, though its application has been spotty up until now, with programs such as NYFA’s Strategic Opportunity Stipend, ASCAP’s Leonard Bernstein Fund, or Fractured Atlas’s microgrants generally limited in scope. One of the programs I like the best is Subito, from the American Composers Forum. The guidelines differ a bit in different cities, but perhaps the most generous version is in Philadelphia (where, incidentally, I worked as Chapter Assistant way back in 2002-03). Clicking on the “Subito Philadelphia” link on that page will download a Word document with three exceptionally varied scenarios for funding on the third page – there is functionally almost no restriction on what the funds can be spent on, as long as they are somehow in service of the proposed project. Now, platforms for aggregating small-dollar donations from individuals are starting to pop up as well, drawing inspiration from the likes of DonorsChoose and Kiva. Kickstarter is a model that looks promising—Jay Corless is using it for his Cities x Design tour with Sali Sasaki—and another Createquity reader, Kristine Maltrud, has written in to alert me to an in-development microfunding + social networking project called ArtSpark. It’s likely that such platforms will make it easier for small-scale art projects to reach new audiences and lower the costs of their fundraising, helping to equalize the playing field.

Nevertheless, I still think there’s some value to be found in setting up a microphilanthropy program at an institutional level. Online donation aggregation platforms are well and good, but by their nature will tend towards popularity contests that do little to help artists whose talents do not lend themselves to self-promotion. A diligently run, centralized microphilanthropy program, on the other hand, can potentially identify artists and projects with promising features but that lack the kind of social or technological capital necessary to mount an effective online fundraising campaign.

While a detailed exploration of what an ideal microphilanthropy program might look like will have to wait for another post, if it were up to me, such a program would take into account the following principles and assumptions:

Small amounts make a big difference.
This value meshes not only with my own experience but with those of countless other artists I know. It never ceases to amaze me what artists are able to accomplish on absolute shoestring budgets, sometimes even losing money on the work they present to the public. But just because they make it happen on such lean terms this time doesn’t mean that they will be able to next year, or that they couldn’t benefit enormously from an influx of capital. To an artist trying to scrape together a living from dozens of sources, a few extra hundred or a thousand here or there means a lot. Sometimes it’s the difference between art happening or not.

Fewer restrictions promote innovation.
Startup, temporary, and very small-scale projects are already at a disadvantage in that they are ineligible for most mainstream grant programs that require a minimum operating history, paid performers, or a minimum budget. Even grant programs that ostensibly serve “community groups” will often have eligibility requirements that prevent organizations with budgets of less than $100,000 from applying. In that kind of environment, then, it’s counterproductive to set excessive limits on who can apply or what kinds of things the money can be spent on. The whole point of supporting small, under-the-radar groups is to support innovation, and no one sitting in an office writing up guidelines can adequately anticipate the kinds of uses a burgeoning community of experimental artists will want to put money to. Moreover, the widespread adoption of eligibility criteria (especially if it’s the same eligibility criteria) can often lead to massive gaps in the institutional funding framework—like, for example, the horrible dearth of opportunities available to independent jazz musicians.

Better to help lots of people when possible.
We haven’t yet talked about the fact that many of the artists applying to a program like this (and even some who will be funded) simply won’t be very good. That’s okay. In my view, a microphilanthropy model should adopt a venture-capital-like approach – spreading the risk across a number and variety of investments, in the hopes that a few will break out and be so successful that they cover the failures or mediocre performance of the others. In this case we’re talking about artistic success rather than financial success, but the principle is the same. That argues not only for spreading grants across a fairly wide proportion of applicants, but also for selecting applicants in part on how much their project helps other artists besides the people applying for the grant. So a musical ensemble that selects scores via an open-call process and performs an eclectic mix of repertoire, for example, provides more value to the artistic community than one that exclusively performs the music of the founder. I’m not saying the latter kind of project should never be funded, but in my mind the bar for evidence of artistic potential has to be raised considerably in order to justify it.

There’s a difference between growth and institutionalization.
Helping a project to happen in the first place or increase stipends to performers is one thing. That’s growth of an artistic variety. Helping to fund the hiring of full-time administrative staff or rent office space is something else entirely. That points to a more institutionalized, professional—and potentially less nimble—future. While certainly appropriate in some instances, a lot of small-budget organizations don’t really need to get drastically bigger. Many artists just want to be able to make enough to live on and do their thing (or, failing that, at least pay their colleagues), and have the flexibility to shut it all down later if they want to. I believe in microphilanthropy that is as supportive of organizational death as it is of organizational growth.

Quick to give a chance, slow to give second chances.
In keeping with the “risk pooling” concept, I support keeping eligibility requirements as open as possible and applications as simple as possible. But once that money is granted and a commitment is made, the gloves need to come off. Flakiness, dishonesty, and sloppy reporting should not be tolerated. Since this may well be one of the artist’s first grants, it might have to be a learning experience for them. Teach them how to keep accurate books and manage a budget. Teach them responsiveness and task management tools if they don’t already have them. Reporting requirements should be as strict (not burdensome, just strict) as eligibility requirements are loose. And hey, if people don’t want to put the few hours it takes into telling you how they spent your money, you don’t have to give them any more of it in the future.

Overnight success doesn’t happen in a year.
On the other hand, if grantees are respectful and wise with the handling of the funds, the default approach probably shouldn’t be one-and-out. Sourcing stable, renewable sources of capital is one of the biggest challenges for fledgling arts organizations, which is yet another reason why people with access to independent wealth have a leg up. Now, presumably after three or four years the organization will either be on the rocks or will have found other (bigger) supporters, so there should definitely be some turnover around then, but a one-time injection risks leaving the beneficiaries on no more stable footing than before.

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Public Policy and the Arts: Syllabus and Summary

As regular readers are aware, I completed an independent study on public policy and the arts for my business school program in the second half of the spring semester. What you might not have realized is that four of my recent mega-posts on this blog were actually written as assignments for that class: Deconstructing Richard Florida, On the Arts and Developing Communities, Reconstructing Florida, and On the Arts and Sustainability. Forcing myself to read the wealth of background material that went into those posts was an incredibly helpful, if challenging, exercise, and it’s one that I hope to continue in the future (more on that later this week). In the meantime, here’s a summary of my most important takeaways from my studies so far:

  • The most robust evidence for the economic impact of the arts appears to be the relationship between the density of artistic activity and rising real estate prices in an area.
  • There is some evidence for a connection between concentrations of artists and overall urban economic growth, but it is much weaker and the causal relationship has not been firmly established.
  • Almost everyone who does or researches community cultural development for a living seems to think that networks of small, community-based arts organizations are more effective in building social, civic, and economic capital in cities than mammoth, flagship institutions. I have not seen much research to back up this opinion, with one exception: two studies show that community-based organizations, especially those with culturally-specific programming, appear to do a much better job reaching very poor neighborhoods than flagship institutions.
  • Generally speaking, the more that the arts can be brought out of their shell and into broader, ongoing community stakeholder discussions, the more that both the arts and the community will benefit.
  • The internet, while making it possible for more people than ever before to reach an audience and establish a public identity, may at the same time be making it harder for artists to make a full-time living from their work over the long term. Reconciling these two impacts might well be one of the major challenges of policymaking in the 21st century.

If you have any interest in following along with my studies, and learning a lot more about arts policy in the process, I’ve reprinted my syllabus for you below. (Note: I ended up going beyond the syllabus in a number of instances in order to write the essays linked above; you’ll find additional articles referenced there.) You might also check out this collection of cultural policy course syllabi on the (now archived) Community Arts Network website.


SYLLABUS

Unit I: Exploring Creative Class Theory
Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, chapters 1-2, 5, 12, 16-17
Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Cool Cities Survey: Summary of Findings

Unit II: Creative Class Theory Revisited: Critical Responses
Rise of the Creative Class, chapters 4, 13-14, appendices A-C
Ann Daly, “Richard Florida’s High Class Glasses
Florida, “Revenge of the Squelchers
Mark Stern and Susan Seifert, Knight Creative Communities Initiative (KCCI) Evaluation: Final Report
Stern and Seifert, From Creative Economy to Creative Society
Assignment: Hyperlinked essay on Richard Florida

Unit III: Cultural Palaces vs. Watering the Grassroots: Two Conflicting Strategies
Rise of the Creative Class, chapter 10
Hilary M. Ballon, “How the Arts Transformed an Urban Landscape,” New York Times 6/8/03
Gene Sloan, “Lighting the Way in Kansas City: Modest Metropolis in the Midwest is Undergoing a Mighty Renewal,” USA Today 8/17/07
Stephen C. Sheppard et al., Culture and Revitalization: The Economic Effects of MASS MoCA on Its Community
Stern and Seifert, Cultivating “Natural” Cultural Districts

Unit IV: Art and the Community
Robert LaLonde et al, Mapping Cultural Participation in Chicago
Stern and Seifert, Philadelphia and Camden Cultural Participation Benchmark Project
Anja Wodsak et al, Building Arts, Building Community: Informal Arts Districts and Neighborhood Change in Oakland, California
Michael Powell, “A Condo Tower Grows in Brooklyn,” Washington Post 2/21/07
Assignment: Hyperlinked essay on Community-Based Arts Development

Unit V: Cultural Facilities and Creative Solutions
Duncan Webb, Demand Analysis of Small-Scale Cultural Facilities in San José
ERA Architects Inc. et al, A Map of Toronto’s Cultural Facilities: A Cultural Facilities Analysis
Jeffrey Spivak, “The Artist Dividend,” Urban Land July 2007
Simon Houpt, “Artists’ Home Finds Unlikely Saviour,” The Globe and Mail 3/24/08
The Reinvestment Fund, Crane Arts: Financing Artists’ Workspaces (note: TRF’s Don Hinkle-Brown wrote in to suggest this document instead)
Webb Management Services et al, New Haven Cultural Facilities Master Plan (hard copy only)

Unit VI: The Economic Context of the Arts
Ann Markusen et al, Crossover: How Artists Build Careers across Commercial, Nonprofit, and Community Work
William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen, Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma, chapter 7
Chris Anderson, The Long Tail, chapters 2, 8
Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller, The Pro-Am Revolution
Kevin Kelly, “1,000 True Fans,” The Technium blog 3/4/08
Assignment: Hyperlinked essay on the Arts and Sustainability

Unit VII: Towards a Healthy Arts Ecosystem
Julia F. Lowell, State Arts Policy: Trends and Future Prospects
Susan Christopherson, Creative Economy Strategies for Small and Medium Size Cities: Options for New York State
Mt. Auburn Associates, Utilizing Tax Incentives to Cultivate Cultural Industries and Spur Arts-Related Development
Tom Borrup, The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook, chapters 2-3
Assignment: New Haven Arts Policy Brief

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Around the horn: Thriller edition

Welcome to all the new readers this month – it’s a pleasure to have you on board! And thanks to Darcy James Argue, Barry Hessenius, and Leonard Jacobs for the very generous shout-outs this past week (and to Jodi Schoenbrun Carter for her epic cheerleading a little while back). I’m honored to have you all in the audience.

  • Isaac takes on the Pro-Am predicament and writes about the delusion plaguing the theater world:
    And here’s the thing: most of the artists working in the Pro-Am circuit have very very little chance of crossing over [to mainstream success]. They are, essentially, pursuing a delusion as a result of a category erorr, namely that the Pro-Am circuit and the LORT/Institutional circuit are part of the same system. They are not, or at least, it’s more helpful to think of them as two sepearate systems. The path to working at LORT/Institutional theaters lies not in the Pro-Am circuit. it lies (largely, i know there are exceptions) in the institutional circuit, in interning at Humana, Apprenticing at Williamstown and going to UCSD or Yale (there are other paths out there, but this one is the clearest). Why is this? Because as theater has professionalized over the last fifty years, it has also adopted a Shadow Professional Certification System. It’s a shadow system because it’s largely social in nature; you don’t have to pass a writing bar exam to be a playwright, but if you want to make a living doing it, you probably need to have gone to one of seven graduate programs. And I’m not going to say there’s no relationship between Shadow Certification and Quality… there is, it’s just not 1:1.

    The same could certainly be said for classical music, though that’s starting – starting to break down a little bit, at least for composers. But the shadow system is definitely there.

  • Gotta love this title for an academic research paper: It Is Okay for Artists to Make Money…No, Really, It’s Okay.
  • There are now 1.9 million nonprofit organizations in the United States.
  • Not sure when the last time an undergraduate thesis received this much attention, but last week, budding economist (and Freakonomics‘ Steven Levitt protogee) Emily Glassberg Sands released a study to much media fanfare about gender issues in theater. She’s even going on Colbert July 2. Meanwhile, Thomas Garvey isn’t convinced. I’m inclined to wait and see.
  • And where do Levitt’s Harvard classmates live now? Surprise, surprise! The top five destinations are New York, San Francisco, LA, Cambridge, and DC. Doesn’t this look an awful lot like the list of most walkable cities in the US?
  • A not-insignificant increase in the NEA’s budget has been brewing for a while, and now the House has approved a budget of $170 million for 2010. The conference process will have the final word. This is still far below what the agency deserves, but it would represent a $45 million increase from 2007.
  • The Serve.gov initiative is up and running, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy has mucho coverage. ASCAP is leading its own initiative to get participation from the music community. Meanwhile, leave it to Sean to state what should be obvious, but isn’t: some volunteers are better than others.
  • Speaking of the arts in government, Doug McLennan of ArtsJournal somehow got a moment with Bill Ivey when he was in Seattle for the Americans for the Arts Convention, and asked him what he really thought about the prospect of a cabinet-level culture czar. (Answer: not much.) Make no mistake: this is why that initiative did not move forward.
  • Culture czars at the local level, however, may be a trend we’ll start to see more of. Via Innovation Philadelphia, here’s an interview with that city’s new chief cultural officer, Gary Steuer.
  • Leonard Jacobs points us to a new small business law under consideration in New York that could affect arts organizations and firms.
  • Crazy stuff: Bernie Madoff just got 150 years in jail, but his client Jeffrey Picower (whose foundation went down in flames in the fallout of the scandal) may have netted more.
  • Whoa – Malcolm Gladwell lays an epic smackdown on Chris Anderson’s new book Free, which trumpets the economic benefits of not charging for anything. Ironically, Anderson was caught following his own advice by lifting a number of the book’s passages from Wikipedia. I say ironically because Anderson, in fact, charges for his book (though he claims it will eventually be distributed in its entirety on the ‘net).
  • Speaking of smackdowns, Seth Godin takes on the the business wisdom of radical transparency.
  • A Johns Hopkins survey has some scary thoughts for arts organizations:
    Only 13 percent of the respondents said they were concerned about their nonprofit organization’s survival. But those numbers rose significantly among people at theaters and orchestras, which were the hardest hit of all charities in the study. Twenty-four percent of orchestra leaders and 33 percent of theater officials reported concern about their groups’ fate.

    There’s also this tidbit about the importance of government support for the arts:

    Mr. Salamon said that midsize organizations — as well as cultural charities — were perhaps suffering the most because they received less government support than larger organizations and human-services groups.

    Government money has provided somewhat of a buffer against the downturn, with 35 percent of charities in the stu
    dy reporting declines in that type of support compared with 53 percent who said they had seen a drop in donations from individuals.

  • New study alert: TDC looks at capitalization in Philadelphia’s nonprofit cultural sector. One of the co-authors is the former executive director of Yale SOM’s Program on Social Enterprise. Short version: arts orgs have weak financial health, but demonstrate strong financial literacy; they know what they’re doing but are having a hard time anyway.
  • New technology alert: a cool tool called Mapumental will help you find where to live in a city (London, for the moment) based on commute time, housing prices, and “scenicness.” Courtesy CEOs for Cities.
  • Bet we’ll see more of this in the future: Netflix crowdsources its R&D function, awards $1 million to team that improves its recommendation algorithm by 10%.
  • Greg Sandow posts a wrap-up of a great classical music event as organized and envisioned by students. When he says the students “loved this concert,” I believe it.
  • Awesome.
  • Okay, we’re going to try something new here at Createquity: an embedded slide show. This is from Andrew Taylor’s lecture in Austin last week, “Considering the Creative Ecology.” (Original link here.)
  • Trista Harris, executive director of the Headwaters Foundation, recently posted some job search tips for next generation leaders looking for program officer positions, a subject near and dear to my heart of late. Her first piece of advice:
    Don’t ask, don’t tell policy for your age- If you are a younger applicant, please take your graduation date off of your resume. Regardless of how much relevant experience you have, many hiring managers will write you off as a youngster if your undergraduate or graduate degree was received after Y2K.

    To which my response is: seriously? You can get away with that?

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Creative Providence

On Friday, I attended the unveiling of Creative Providence, a cultural planning effort conducted primarily by Dreeszen & Associates over the past two years. A nice-sized crowd came out for the catered event at the Hotel Providence to see the Mayor of Providence, David Cicilline, Craig Dreeszen, Robert Leaver of New Commons, and Lynne McCormack of the Providence Department of Art, Culture and Tourism explain the plan’s strategies and action steps.

I was impressed at the level of public engagement with the plan, and so was Craig Dreeszen, who said that there are “many more things that are right than wrong” with Providence’s cultural community. The plan involved the participation of a staggering number of residents: ten people on the planning team, a 33-member working group, a 20-person steering committee, 200+ attendees at the first Claiborne Pell lecture at which a progress report was given, 200 people involved with six planning “studios,” 150 participants in two community forums, 275 faces in 25 focus group discussions, 18 one-on-one interviews, and more than 2000 respondents to a joint online survey with the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. (Apparently this level of collaboration between a city and state agency on a cultural plan is unprecedented.)

The six goals of the cultural plan are as follows:

  1. Position the Department of Art, Culture, and Tourism as a leader in creative economic development
  2. Build community and foster neighborhood vitality through increased access and diversified cultural participation
  3. Educate and inspire the next generation of creative thinkers
  4. Foster sustainable [there's that word again] cultural organizations
  5. Create conditions for creative workers to thrive in Providence
  6. Raise public awareness of the creative sector

Robert Leaver spoke briefly, noting that while the plan represented a major shift from where the city was at at the start of the process, it still has not gone far enough for some artists. The Mayor followed with a presentation of ten action steps, all of which he claims can get done in the next 18 months. Here they are:

  1. Reorganize the Department of Art, Culture, and Tourism to focus on economic development issues
  2. Push branding of Providence as the Creative Capital
  3. Explore the possibility of creating a Downtown Cultural Authority
  4. Strengthen neighborhood vitality by increasing public access [not sure what the exact target is here -IDM]
  5. Develop policies toward the preservation of public art
  6. Partner with arts educators to enhance current collaborations
  7. Develop youth summer employment porgrams in partnership with Workforce Solutions
  8. Continue to work toward fostering sustainable cultural organizations by networking with local and national stakeholders
  9. Develop affordable arts spaces
  10. Appoint a Creative Providence Leadership Council

I’m really glad I went to this event. One thing I’ve learned in the course of my cultural policy studies is that there are people thinking about this stuff almost everywhere, even in smaller cities. It’s always heartwarming to me to be around it in person, though, especially in a city where I’ve spent a lot of time the past two years. I wish the folks involved with Creative Providence the best as they attempt to turn vision into reality, the hardest (but most important) part of any cultural plan.

The full planning document (along with a huge number of other resources) can be downloaded here.

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New Haven arts policy study

I’ve mentioned previously in this space that I was working on a policy memo for the Arts Council of Greater New Haven as part of my independent study this spring on public policy and the arts. Today, I turned in the final version. I won’t bore you with the details, but here are the highlights of what I wrote.

In the late 1990s, the Wolf Organization (predecessor to the company now known as WolfBrown) completed a regional cultural plan for greater New Haven. The plan was extraordinarily ambitious, recommending a total of 27 strategies under ten general goal headings. While some of the recommendations were followed, including the completion of a cultural facilities feasibility study by a group including Duncan Webb, the establishment of more robust communication channels between different city agencies and entities, and the establishment of the Greater New Haven Arts Stabilization Project, the substantial cumulative investment required (totaling an incremental $2.2 million a year) proved too big a challenge for many of the biggest ideas. (The cultural facilities plan, meanwhile, called for an investment of $261 million, including the construction of a new 2300-seat performing arts center downtown.)

In my paper, I argued that three key factors held back the further development of New Haven’s arts resources in the decade since the completion of the plan, factors which are now exacerbated by the current recession. They are:

  • Undercapitalization of philanthropic resources. Looking at Foundation Center data, I found that more than half of private foundation support for New Haven-area arts activities came from outside of Connecticut in 2007 and 2008 (mostly from New York). Furthermore, 88.5% of these grant funds were concentrated with just five institutions out of more than 100 arts and culture organizations I identified in the area: the Yale Repertory Theater, the Long Wharf Theater, the New Haven Arts & Ideas Festival, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and the Neighborhood Music School. With no anchor private-sector employer to collect and distribute wealth to the local area, the mechanisms for increasing the level of local philanthropic support for the arts are limited.
  • The Yale factor. New Haven is blessed with having one of the greatest research universities in the world in its midst, including its four professional arts schools, but the city’s arts community does not benefit from this resource nearly as much as it could, due to low visibility of non-Yale cultural events on campus. Furthermore, when graduates leave the area (as most do), New Haven loses the opportunity to benefit from their wealth-generating potential. In short, its best prospective engine for opportunity creation keeps leaving because of a lack of opportunity.
  • Living in the shadow of New York. Having America’s largest city a commuter train ride away makes it hard for New Haven to compete on its own terms. This applies to artistic talent and audiences every bit as much as employers. Artist networks organize around star economies, which means that non-world-class cities find themselves at a disadvantage.

To address these issues, I recommended the following strategies:

  • Conduct aggressive outreach to university communities. Two benefits to this: in the short term, it drives more ticket purchases and participation from the student community in local happenings; in the long term, it helps develop a cultural connection to New Haven that might be influential in convincing some of them to stick around after their studies are finished. For the universities (especially Yale), it makes sense to play along because of their interest in promoting New Haven to prospective and current students as a fun, attractive, interesting place to be.
  • Work to build cultural capacity in underserved communities. Right now, most of the mainstream cultural activity going on in New Haven, as is true in many places, is concentrated downtown and in the affluent suburbs (but mostly downtown). New Haven has a very complicated history of class and race relations, and the arts are by no means separate from that legacy. There are, however, a few organizations in the area (such as our friends at Music Haven) that work to integrate town and gown in meaningful ways. By encouraging greater concentration of resources in such directions, the New Haven arts community could build a broader base of political support over the long term for public support of the arts, which at the moment stands at a meager $25,000 for the local office of cultural affairs. Not to mention that it’s a good thing to do in general.
  • Partner with other creative economy initiatives in Southern Connecticut. Rather than trying to be in competition with NYC, I suggested that New Haven try to be in symbiosis with it – the northeastern anchor of the metropolis. I theorized that New Haven would benefit from the (meaningful) rebranding of the stretch of Connecticut shoreline from Greenwich to Union Station as a “cultural corridor,” due to the beneficial clustering effects of creative economies. Unlike in New Haven, there is a lot of private wealth concentrated in places like Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport, but unlike those places, New Haven has a head start on cultural infrastructure. Finding a way to combine forces, then, would probably help New Haven’s arts community more than hurt it.
  • In the meantime, lower costs. Given that we’re in a recession and steps to increase the supply of resources available to the arts will all take time, the arts community should take a look at ways to increase efficiencies and thereby lower the costs of making or presenting art for everybody. The main techniques that have caught on in other areas include the creative use of tax incentives to drive clustering and innovation, reappropriation of unused space for temporary or permanent artistic use, and collaborations such as sharing mailing lists or office space (or back office functions altogether). I also suggested instituting a micro-granting program for individuals or very small organizations with the goal of encouraging continued activity in the sector during the recession.
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Around the horn: Solstice edition

I briefly caught a performance of Henry Brant’s Orbits for organ, soprano, and 80 trombones at the Guggenheim on the way back from Seattle yesterday. Totally wild stuff. I only really dug isolated moments of it, but those moments were killer. Saw blogmaster Alex Ross in the audience as well, scribbling notes as he is wont to do. We just barely got in to the first set after waiting in a line crammed full of young adventurers in the rain for about 35 minutes. The people who got there a few minutes after us had to wait another hour for the second performance, due to capacity limitations. Who knew that late ’70s avant-garde noodling would prove so popular three decades later?

  • Andrew Taylor published a commentary on amateurs vs. professionals a few days after I explored the same subject with On the Arts and Sustainability. The money quote is this:

    To my mind, this is one of the core and vexing questions of the on-line world for the arts (and for other industries…but that’s not my table): what is the role of the expert and the excellent in a distributed world? How do we preserve space and return value to those who are extraordinary (by whatever measure you pick)?

    I don’t think that’s a professional/amateur question — although that’s the frame we tend to use. In fact, I think the professional/amateur debate in the arts is clouding the deeper conversation.

    I can get on board with that, although the issue as it relates to the arts goes beyond the question of returning value to people or not. After all, there are certainly excellent, high-profile artists who capture quite a lot of value. The question is about the excellent but low-profile artists who capture a mere fraction of that value, and how to match the value returned in exchange for excellence with the costs (including opportunity costs) of producing it.

  • Looks like there’s now an emerging arts leaders’ journal: 20Under40 is soliciting essays on the future of arts administration and arts education. (h/t Connie Chin)
  • Speaking of submission solicitations, the Geospatial Revolution Project wants your ideas on how geospatial data (mapping projects, GPS, and the like) will change our lives forever. Here’s the blog and the facebook page.
  • The Annals of Radical Transparency continue with what must be the first-ever Twittered foundation board meeting. (h/t Sean Stannard-Stockton)
  • More good stuff from Guy Yedwab (are you reading his blog yet?): this time, a unique idea for sourcing designers, writers, and directors for theater shows from the audience. You’d have to figure out some mechanism for gracefully turning unhelpful people away, but this is basically the model on which Obama campaign operated, and that was only one of the most successful enterprises in history.
  • BusinessWeek reports on the L3C phenomenon, going over a number of different hybrid models for organizations straddling the line between nonprofit and private enterprise. Apparently there are now 53 L3Cs registered in Vermont and several in other states.
  • NYFA has shared office space available for $200/mo for affiliated arts organizations.
  • Nice: the Irvine Foundation has a new initiative for providing risk capital to arts organizations.
  • Via the Clyde Fitch Report, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs budget has been cut, though not as badly as originally feared.
  • Greg Sandow laments the decline in arts participation as shown by the recent national NEA study, but Laura Zabel of SpringboardArts wants to know why comedy shows (among other things) weren’t included.
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AFTA Convention Wrap Day 4

My final day in Seattle began with a “peer group” session called Meet the NEA that was really another panel. I wasn’t able to catch the entirety of it, but the panelists did say that the agency would take a “hard look” at the policy around individual artists (it should be noted that the Endowment is currently prohibited by law from doing so, due to the 1996 kerfuffle in Congress that also resulted in the agency’s budget being cut by 40%). Nevertheless, I didn’t get the sense that this is a front-burner issue for them (and frankly, I don’t think it should be). We also heard from NEA Communications Director Yosi Sergant (check him out, he’s the guy who got Shepard Fairey to do the “Hope” poster for the Obama campaign and ran the Artists for Obama initiative), who is on a mission to get artists to participate in the President’s national community service initiatives. Specifically, Yosi wants artists who are already doing work in the community, whether it be in the form of using art to raise money for charitable causes or incorporating art into the charitable work itself, to register their projects to the new serve.gov website. By highlighting the service that is already taking place or ready to go, whether it gets funding from the NEA (or anyone else) or not, Yosi says the case for public funding of art will be immensely strengthened. I defer to Yosi’s expertise about what the people holding the pursestrings want to hear, so I suggest that if you have or know of projects that fit the description, you follow his advice. (Note: this is not about devaluing art that is not explicitly service-oriented in nature—the point is rather to make sure that artists are given proper acknowledgment for the role they can and will play in a major national priority of the President’s.)

After skipping the closing plenary to post the previous day’s convention wrap (ah, the tyranny of the blog) and a lovely lunch with several of my fellow Emerging Leaders, I attended a fantastic session on Building Affordable and Sustainable Spaces. Rather than the traditional panel Q&A format, four presenters gave information about their activities in turn. The action kicked off with Philip Morris (no, not THAT Philip Morris) of Proctors in Schenectady, NY. Schenectady was once a booming regional industrial center, but as anchor business GE laid off some 45,000 employees over the course of decades, the area became extraordinarily depressed, to the point that in 2002, the downtown area suffered from an 85% vacancy rate. Proctors, a historic vaudeville theater, was the only institution left standing. Since previous attempts to revitalize downtown had failed and Proctors was the sole survivor in both instances, Morris suggested to city leadership that Proctors lead the revitalization effort this time. Expertly building political consensus around his agenda, Morris and his team succeeded in getting a Metropolitan Development Fund established, to be capitalized with a .5% increase in the sales tax. These resources were used to renovate Proctors itself, begin a 10-year, $2 million effort to restore building facades, institute a sidewalk snowmelt program for the block (to ensure that downtown events would be accessible during the wintertime), and deploy a wide range of financial incentives to attract arts and entertainment investment in the area. In seven years, this effort has yielded a new movie complex, five architects, 30 artists, eight restaurants, and three media companies; downtown now has an 85% occupancy rate instead of an 85% vacancy rate. During this time, attendance at Proctors has almost quadrupled, and the six new movie screens draw an additional 200,000 visitors a year. It gets better, though. Morris, who it seems is something of an expert on green building, accessed state funds to build a $10 million district energy system that now provides green power to five institutional customers in the neighborhood as well as Proctors itself. He is currently partnering with a private company to build a 5-megawatt co-generating wind turbine to sell power wholesale, with the profits accruing back to Proctors. Morris now runs a total of five corporations, three for-profit and two nonprofit (including Proctors). This is a crazy story and definitely worth further investigation. In the meantime, Proctors’ website is here.

Nancy Duxbury followed with a presentation on cultural economic development in “edge cities” — smaller satellite cities or suburbs that cluster around a major metropolitan center. Nancy went through her slides rather quickly so I wasn’t able to take as detailed notes as I would have liked, but the presentation was quite interesting and alerted to me to the good work being done at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. Many edge cities are experiencing rapid growth, including some migration of creative types from center cities due mostly to high costs of living downtown and the availability of affordable spaces farther away (this is by no means a universal phenomenon, however). As a result, there is a potential in such cities for cultural economic development; however, any efforts in that direction must successfully differentiate the city to help it escape from the core metropolis’s gravitational pull. Duxbury also recommended regional partnership with neighboring edge cities to promote clustering. Challenges for edge cities include managing rapid growth and development; the “head start” core cities have in infrastructure, established support, and activity; the tendency of edge cities to draw local and amateur participation, leaving higher-profile, professional artists to the core; and insufficient parks and recreation framework. There are lots more resources available at www.cultureandcommunities.ca.

We next heard from Cathryn Vandenbrink of Artspace Seattle. Artspace is a remarkable Minneapolis-based nonprofit real estate developer that sources potential live/work spaces for artists and actually takes them from the design phase all the way through to completion. Vandenbrink mentioned that whereas Artspace used to be invited into communities by artists, more and more it’s local governments who are doing the inviting, due to the positive track record of the organization for creating community catalysts. She also noted that 25 years ago, when Artspace first began identifying unused warehouses and factories for repurposing into artists’ housing, the luxury condo loft movement had not yet begun; the commercial sector caught on to the possibilities because of artists’ investment. Artspace developments (of which Vandenbrink highlighted two in Seattle) require a substantial dialogue and negotiation with the community. When commercial storefront tenants are brought in to the development, Artspace tries to avoid chains like Quiznos, FedEx, and so forth, going for local differentiation instead. Projects receive only 5-10% of their funding from private sources (such as foundations); over half of the money comes from federal and state low income housing tax credits, with another 10% from federal historic tax credits.

Finally, Matthew Kwatinetz of Heartland LLC, who organized the panel, gave a presentation on cultural economic development. Matthew framed economic development as an intervention within markets to correct market failures and reconcile profits with community values, increasing economic activity while maximizing public benefit. Cultural economic development fits this framework because the nature of artistic work has both economic value and public benefit. Artists build social capital through the relationships they create, as freelancers, with a wide variety of organizations and individuals, and of course the power of artists to create real estate value is well-known to readers of this blog. The Philanthropic Collaborative even did a social return on investment (SROI) comparison for different kinds of philanthropic causes and found that arts and culture had one of the highest ROIs, double that of science and technology. (I haven’t had a chance to review this study’s methodology, so don’t take this as gospel, but it’s good to know about nonetheless.) But how can the arts create economic value when they have to be subsidized in order to survive, one might ask? Well, the dirty secret of “for-profit” enterprises is that they often rely on direct and indirect subsidization too. Did you know that “anchor” tenants in a mall, such as Macy’s, often don’t pay a thing for their space because the mall developer counts on them to bring foot traffic to the rest of the mall? Could Macy’s be as successful, as “profitable,” without the developers subsidizing their cost structure? Did you know that movie theaters are often given their land, building, and rent for free because of the people they bring to the immediate area? Artists clearly provide this same service, but do you see them getting free rent? Nope, you see condo developers advertising the same arts organizations that they’re forcing out of the neighborhood.

Letting my Gemini nature get the better of me, I spent the last session hopping between a conversation with economic development innovator John Hawkes and a panel on public-private partnerships with organizations from Seattle and Portland. Then it was off to the closing reception for some Martinelli’s and last-minute schmoozing, and with that, it was over. Thanks to everyone at Americans for the Arts and the various Seattle hosting organizations for making this event possible—it was very well done and I will definitely be attending in the future.

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AFTA Convention Wrap Day 3

Whew! Extremely full day yesterday. Started with waking up far too early to catch Peter Senge’s keynote address. Senge is the founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning and focused his talk at the mile-high level, really probing into why the work we do is important. The speech received mixed reviews from the people I talked with; I’m not sure I came out of it with anything new, but I at least found his address engaging. Rather than go through his speech blow-by-blow, I’ll simply list a number of quotes that I found notable:

  • “If you live [art] every day, you don’t need a name for it.”
  • (talking about ancient cultures) “Because if you didn’t do your dances, the universe was not in harmony.”
  • He didn’t like the word “sustainability,” because it’s a “negative vision.” It says “survival is our goal.” On the other hand, “it’s the theme of the conference, so we have to work with it.”
  • Talking about living within our means as a planet and recounting a conversation between the head of an association of school superintendents and a 12-year-old girl. Adult: “So, what do you think about the future?” Girl: “We figure you drank your juice and then you drank ours.”
  • “Even if climate change were fixed tomorrow, we’d still have the same problem.” [i.e., overconsumption]
  • “There’s only one acid test for a vision statement. It’s ‘how did it guide your actions today?’ If you don’t have an answer, there’s a technical term for what that vision statement is: ‘bullshit.’”
  • “To create, you must understand constraint.”
  • He ended by quoting biologist Humberto Maturana, who said “I want to contribute to a work of art in the domain of human existence.”

I had originally signed up for one of the ArtVenture tours after this, but decided to ditch it in favor of the Grantmakers in the Arts featured sessions. The morning’s panel discussed how arts funders are adapting in the face of the recession, based on the findings of two studies recently conducted by Helicon Collaborative, and a survey of the impact of the recession on artists by Artist Trust. GIA Deputy Director Tommer Peterson also presented the findings from a snapshot of arts funders that is part of an annual collaboration with the Foundation Center. In brief:

  • Foundation assets declined 22% in 2008 in unadjusted dollars (from projections and the survey).
  • There is a further decline of 9-12% projected in 2009.
  • 67% of funders said they would reduce their grantmaking in 2009; another 25-40% (depending on how you read the undecideds) plan to reduce further in 2010.
  • Some of the recession strategies being employed by funders include repurposing endowment grants for operations, accelerating payouts to grantees for multiyear grants, removing restrictions from grants, and dipping into the corpus for additional money.
  • Arts funding is not dropping at a greater or lesser rate than other fields, at least among the survey respondents, and in previous recessions the arts have not seen a major difference relative to other priorities. Moreover, in previous recessions the arts have bounced back relatively quickly, though this is no run-of-the-mill recession.
  • With that said, because of the way foundations spread out their grantmaking commitments, the worst years may be in 2011-12 (and that’s if things get better soon).
  • For now, earned income seems to be holding steady or declining only a little bit. State funding is through the floor; localities are suffering too. Among foundations, community foundations are getting hit the hardest, then private foundations, and corporate funders surprisingly are holding up the best.
  • Most foundations are cutting grant budgets and administration by the same percentage. The admin cuts have so far come mostly in the form of reduced travel and office expenses, but we may see more layoffs now that Ford and Robert Wood Johnson have taken the plunge.
  • Artists (we’re getting into the Artist Trust portion of the presentation now) are definitely suffering from the recession, seeing substantially fewer opportunities. The most widespread personal impact is on morale.
  • When asked what kinds of interventions would help, artists said they would most appreciate small micro-grants, business training, low-cost access to materials and supplies, access to affordable space, and convening/networking opportunities. So basically, more resources, lower costs, and convening/networking.
  • Affordable health insurance is also big, as many artists are dependent on a spouse with a day job for coverage, and are now afraid that the spouse may lose his or her job.
  • A survey of the impact of the recession on arts organizations in Puget Sound found that most organizations are taking an “informed” approach to dealing with economic realities, while about a quarter were “proactive” and about 15% in “denial” – not understanding that they face a structural change, rather than a cyclical change.
  • Arts organizations, as well, are facing significant financial losses, with endowments down 20-35%, corporate contributions down 20-50%, and foundation and individual support down 10-25%. Capital projects are getting suspended or delayed, and staff are hit hard.
  • There’s a general belief that the recession is simply exacerbating challenges that were already percolating in the background, such as the question of relevance in the face of changing demographics, access to technology, changes in audience behavior and funding patterns, etc.
  • Grantees wanted four things from funders: flexibility, candor, advocacy, and leadership. Ideas suggested by grantees included the financing of a regional capitalization initiative, the creation of a “sunsetting fund” to help organizations go out of business gracefully, and brokering cross-sector partnerships.
  • The What Are Arts Funders Doing? report interviewed a group of 22 funders to get a qualitative sense of the state of the field. This mostly confirmed the picture that the other studies had already shown. Projected cuts in 2009 grants range from 0 to 85%, and most anticipate further cuts in 2010-11. New applicants, unfortunately, are mostly getting shut out. However, support for artists is firm in a conceptual sense and not taking a hit relative to other priorities.
  • Cautious growth strategies in 2003-07 were rewarded in 2008-09.
  • Funders’ self-articulated priorities include taking their own medicine (asking the same questions of themselves that they ask of grantees), gaining a greater understanding of capitalization and hybrid models, developing the next generation of leadership, promoting dynamic adaptability, and reshaping the policy agenda.
  • An audience questioner pointed to a similar study, which I haven’t yet had time to read, on arts organizations in the Mid-Hudson Valley in New York.

After some schmoozing and lunch, I split my afternoon time between the second GIA session, which centered around a presentation by Bill Cleveland on how arts organizations can access federal funding outside of the normal channels, and the Career 360 sessions. And then it was Emerging Leader time: a networking session during which I met lots of Gen Y folks doing remarkable things back home; a “guerrila panel” held at a gallery-cum-lounge called Grey, for which panelists sat on bar stools on the upper level and talked to an audience seated on couches below; and a nighttime reception at the same location. I even ran into some old classmates from high school who I hadn’t seen in 11 and 13 years, respectively (god, that sentence makes me feel old), one of whom was attending the conference. A long, but full day.

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AFTA Convention Wrap Day 2

Wow, you guys are eager beavers all of the sudden in the comments! I think I approved more this week than I did the entire summer last year. Glad to see that the content is engaging you. The first official day of the AFTA Convention was great – the discussions have mapped extraordinarily well to the topics covered by this blog. After a brief introductory session for first-time attendees of the conference, we had a plenary session featuring Bill Ivey, two rounds of breakout discussions, a fancy-schmantzy reception, and some emerging leader dine-arounds. In addition to seeing some old friends, I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of arts research heroes, including Maria Rosario Jackson and Ann Markusen, as well as Ebony McKinney, who is the driving force behind the SF Bay Emerging Arts Professionals group. My dinner group actually included three Createquity readers, including Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region’s executive director Bettina Swigger. And this was just the first day!

The opening plenary featured a great speech from the Mayor of Seattle, who had just returned from the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors (in Providence, of all places) where he was sworn in as that organization’s new President. I was surprised and pleased to learn that the Conference of Mayors is, if anything, even more hardcore about the arts than we are: apparently, the group approved three arts measures unanimously calling for the creation of a Cabinet-level Secretary of the Arts position, “full funding” (whatever that means) of the National Endowment for the Arts, and congratulating Americans for the Arts on its 50th anniversary. OK, so the AftA resolution was a bit of a gimme, but I’m a little amazed that the other two measures were able to garner 100% support. (Of course, it’s not like the mayors have a lot of say on federal policy, but it’s always nice to have fans.)

Mayor Nickels was followed by Bill Ivey, who told the inside story of being in charge of the cultural agencies on Obama’s transition team. He was actually appointed to that post in July 2008, but couldn’t share it with anyone in order to appoid the appearance of “measuring the drapes.” His role mainly involved an assessment of the two endowments (NEA and NEH) as well as a couple of smaller agencies, investigating Republican-introduced policies to decide what should stay and what should go, as well as identifying potential candidates for the two Chair positions. He did not advocate for a “culture czar” or Cabinet-level post, which probably had a lot to do with it not happening (he cited personal ambivalence about the prospect); instead, he tried to get a culture-oriented post established on the Domestic Policy Council, which he was hopeful would take place. Apparently, the $50 million for the NEA in the stimulus package almost didn’t happen in the first place, as administration officials were afraid it would be used as a wedge issue to try to discredit the bill as a whole (a prescient concern, as it turned out). For all that, though, Ivey practically had to beg the audience for applause for the $50 million.

It was more creative economy fun at my next breakout session, Telling the Massachusetts Story. While there was a bit of overlap with the workshop I attended yesterday, this session was notable as an opportunity to learn more about the creative industry work being undertaken by Jason Schupbach of the MA Office of Business Development. One of the major initiatives of that office at the moment is to target or build up “surrogate organizations” – basically, entities that can serve as advocates for the for-profit creative industries (such as advertising, design, film, video games) on Capitol Hill alongside more traditional industry associations. To that end, a new design affinity group called DIGMA, led by Yale SOM grad Beate Becker, is now up and running.

We also spent some time talking about how to advocate for the arts in a recession, and in general. Ann Markusen, who was in attendance as an audience member, made a great point that there’s a conventional wisdom in economic development that it has to be exported to be of any value. She, on the other hand, believes that sustainable jobs can be created by capturing a greater percentage of the consumption that happens in the local community. For example, she doesn’t believe that people come to Minnesota just to go to the Guthrie; but she says that a case can be made to try to get people to go to the Guthrie once they’re there instead of, say, the Mall of America. And that case rests upon where the money goes that people spend on the MoA as opposed to the money they spend on the Guthrie; i.e., how much of it stays local instead of going to corporate HQs and suppliers based around the country. Jason Schupbach wondered aloud whether, a propos of Guy Yedwab, Massachusetts needs a “Buy Your Creative Local” campaign in order to encourage companies to use local advertising talent instead of going to Madison Avenue, for example.

Finally, I attended a session entitled — what else? — “The Arts and Sustainability.” The discussion basically focused on ways that the arts could be integrated with other community priorities, especially environmental and health indicators. After an engaging if a bit tangential presentation from environmental artist Lorna Jordan, we heard from Sandra Ciske about a very interesting project measuring cultural vitality that originated from a rather unlikely source: the King County department of public health. The report and data are available at communitiescount.org. Finally, we had a presentation from a very pregnant Shannon Parry from the City of Santa Monica, CA. Shannon completely blew me away – she is one of the most articulate and intelligent presenters I’ve seen in a long, long time, and the work her office is doing in Santa Monica is absolutely remarkable. Santa Monica developed a “Sustainable City Plan” several years back that uses specific indicators and targets to drive programming and funding. For example, a specific target might be to reduce citywide water use by 20% by 2010. Shannon and her team have actually pushed the city to give arts and culture its own separate goal area as part of this system, which means that over the next year, they will be developing these same kinds of specific targets as they relate to the arts. (It’s only right, since according to the presentation 43% of Santa Monica’s residents are employed in the arts.) You can view the Sustainable City Progress Report (with arts and culture yet to be integrated) here.

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