Watch the National Arts Journalism Summit here @ 12pm ET

Doug McLennan, the founder of the incomparable, has asked bloggers around the web to co-host the live stream of today’s National Arts Journalism Summit in Los Angeles, at which ten new models for arts journalism will be presented. Naturally, I thought this was a cool idea and volunteered to sign up. The action takes place from 12-4pm Eastern time (9am-1pm Pacific), and you can view the Twitter stream and chat feed here as well. (Note: if you’re reading this in email or on a feed reader such as Google Reader, you’ll probably need to click through to the site in order to see the multimedia.)

The Video

Live video by Ustream

The Chat

The Tweets

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New Blogs!

Here you are with the first post-Blogger batch of new blogroll additions!

99 Seats
Mmm, I love me some good anonymous rant blog. Actually, I don’t, usually, but 99 Seats employs his/her undercover status for the greater good, offering incisive commentary on arts management, arts policy, and what 99 sees as the broken model for theater production in the US. 99 and I have traded some links in the past week, and I’m looking forward to exploring the little black box further.

Gift Hub
I’ve been enjoying getting to know Phil Cubeta’s Gift Hub, one of the granddaddies of the philanthropy blogging world if Sean Stannard-Stockton is to be believed. Cubeta has a terse, acerbic wit and a sharply defined sense of social (especially socioeconomic) justice. Throw in his religious perspective (he bills himself as a “morals tutor” for the wealthy), and it makes for an unusual yet satisfying addition to the conversation.

Tracking Righteousness
Continuing the politically-aware theater professional thread, Toronto-based multi-disciplinary performer Aaron Talbot is primarily associated with a show called Superhero Live, but has also been keeping tabs on the arts funding saga in British Columbia better than most. It’s nice to have a voice from the wilderness to the North on the blogroll, to boot.

The Wicked Stage
Theater critic Rob Weinert-Kendt is Associate Editor of American Theatre magazine. He’s been linking to Createquity for some months now (and provided this blog’s best pull-quote ever the other week), and I figured it was about time I returned the favor. Rob’s site covers a range of topics related to the stage, and his style reminds me of Alex Ross’s popular The Rest is Noise in its brief, multimedia-heavy presentation. Along with several of its colleagues in the theatrosphere (99 Seats, the Clyde Fitch Report, Parabasis, etc.), The Wicked Stage has been among the few arts blogs to have followed the recent political drama involving the NEA with any seriousness. I’m not sure why it’s the theater blogs who seem more attuned to such matters (none of my classical music peeps have mentioned it at all, as far as I can tell), but I’m glad at least some are paying attention.

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Jon Stewart on the NEA flap

Not in absolutely tip-top form, but hilarious even so:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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Around the horn: f(e)asting edition

Had a quick trip to NYC for a bona-fide Chinese wedding banquet, complete with a 12-course (!) meal and embarrassing games involving the bride and groom. In other news, I’ll be blogging the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference on October 18-21 in Brooklyn, NY. Let me know if there’s anything you want me to try to check out.

  • There are a lot of other cool conferences and panels coming up besides GIA. I unfortunately can’t make this half-day mini-conference on Wednesday in NYC, but if you go please tell me how it is — the Clyde Fitch Report will be providing coverage as well. Next week brings us the Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit in Philadelphia, PA – “no frills” registration is only $75. Americans for the Arts is putting on the National Arts Marketing Project Conference in my current home base of Providence, RI on October 30-November 2, and I will be moderating a panel on the creative economy at the Net Impact North America Conference November 13-14 at Cornell University. And too late to register for this one, but it’s nice to see Ben Cameron from the arts program at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation tapped for a conversation about innovation across the spectrum of social philanthropy.
  • I was glad to see that last week’s postings on Americans for the Arts’s economic impact study Arts & Economic Prosperity III managed to make their way around the web. One of the more interesting responses came from theater blogger 99 Seats, who brings up a great point:

    If you want to argue that art is unnecessary, then you better be ready to argue that sports are even less necessary. And, yes, many, many people argued that it was a poor use of public funds to build [the new Yankee S]tadium. But that didn’t stop it.

    99 goes on to argue that this is why we shouldn’t use the economic impact argument for the arts. I draw a different lesson from the comparison. The Yankees were able to get a billion dollars of subsidy for the new stadium because they have more local political clout than Broadway. Why do they have more clout? Well, part of it certainly has to do with class issues. Broadway is very expensive, and most people can’t afford to experience it more than occasionally. But hey, tickets to Yankee Stadium aren’t cheap either. No, I think the bigger issue is that Broadway is seen as an amenity that, despite being in New York, belongs to tourists more than it belongs to New Yorkers. Whereas the Yankees have an indisputably local appeal. (They also have broader, free or bundled distribution through television and radio than does Broadway.) They’re also only one team (or two if you count the Mets), whereas Broadway has many theaters and shows, making capture of the local imagination more difficult for the latter. Anyway, what this example tells me is that a sense of belonging and local ownership/pride builds local political clout. Can an economically-focused argument help to build these things? Maybe in some places more effectively than others. It no doubt has to be only one prong of a broader strategy.

  • Looks like Maryland arts dodged a bullet with the state’s latest round of budget cuts. Meanwhile, this site uses cool data visualizations to illustrate the vastly disproportionate impact of the cuts to arts funding in British Columbia as compared with other funding priorities.
  • Culture Monster has more on the NEA conference call debacle, with some of the first actual reporting I’ve seen from the mainstream media courtesy of the LA Times‘s Mike Boehm. Boehm correctly identifies Patrick Courrielche as more than a disinterested filmmaker (though he mistakenly lists Courrielche as Yosi Sergant’s former employee, not his boss), and picks up on the fact that the conference call participants went out of their way to deflect an explicitly political question from an audience member towards the end of the call. Boehm also looks into the charge that Courrielche may have broken the law by secretly recording the conversation (answer: maybe, but there’s a loophole that could get him off the hook) and gets the back story on a couple of health-care-related links on the NEA’s website that were recently removed. Meanwhile, ArtNet Magazine gets into the act with a great, long op-ed on the matter, and a conservative commentator (who, thankfully, sees through this particular tempest in a teapot and is not afraid to say so) provides some advice to his colleagues on the other side:

    Shouldn’t liberals be asking, why doesn’t the administration stand up for someone who’s [sic] offense was actually figuring out a way to “creatively” advance the administration’s objectives? [...] Realistically speaking, if a political base doesn’t believe that a politician or an administration is willing to stand up for that base’s principles — and the people in the administration trying to effect those principles — the base will lose heart and confidence.


  • The mainstream media repeats conservative talking points about Obama administration “scandals” with no further investigation? You don’t say. Meanwhile, the nonprofit media ascendancy continues: following in WNYC’s footsteps, public radio station WGBH in Boston has put in a bid on the city’s commercial classical station, WCRB. WGBH plans to transfer its classical programming to the new station, opening up the parent station for news and talk radio. Over on the left coast, the USC Annenberg School of Journalism in Los Angeles has formed a partnership with nonprofit story crowdsourcers Spot.Us to integrate the innovative model into its academic programs, and Bay Area financier Warren Hellman is sponsoring journalism big-time. And while not a nonprofit, this is certainly new in other ways: a (print) photography magazine in Australia was conceived, compiled, and published in barely more than a 24-hour span using HP’s MagCloud on-demand printing technology.
  • I’m getting ready for my own contribution to Barry Hessenius’s NEA mega-blog next week. For this week’s panel, which debuts tomorrow, Grantmakers in the Arts head Janet Brown has released a set of recommendations for new NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman.
  • The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance has released a new study on cultural engagement conducted by a range of consultants. I doubt I could do a better job summing it up than they did without running it through the Arts Policy Library ringer, so I’ll just link you to the press release. Also on the research front, Richard Florida points us to a study that apparently draws a link between the pre-Industrial Revolution concentration of bohemians in cities in Germany and subsequent regional economic growth.
  • Local arts news: Dallas is getting ready to unveil a new arts district (though reaction is mixed judging by the comments). Milwaukee has received a grant from the US Economic Development Association for a study that “will identify, map, link, and strategically foster the creative/innovation industry micro-clusters that both exist now and that should be a future priority within the region.” Sounds like a cool project!
  • At what appears to be a new blog called Partners in Performance, John McCann comes out with a big, bold idea:

    Let’s consolidate the numerous national discipline-specific arts service organizations into one robust, influential, and vital American Institute for the Arts. Each discipline would have its own division where areas of specific need could be addressed, yet the new Institute would provide substantial economies of scale (no need for many CEO’s, development officers, etc. etc.), and a cohesive, coordinated approach.

    This comes after a few participants in the Barry’s Blog NEA discussion discussed the Endowment’s potential (and largely untapped) role as a convener for the field, especially across disciplines. McCann’s idea has attractive elements, but a service organization for service organizations may be a more realistic interim solution. Yes, it’s adding more infrastructure, not less, but in this case I think the benefits could be substantial: more so than other arts organizations, service organizations tend to have similar and often overlapping programming such that greater coordination and cooperative planning could be of substantial benefit. Maybe down the road, further consolidation could be a possibility.

  • Looking into philanthropy’s crystal ball: Lucy Bernholz continues to decode the future, Sean Stannard-Stockton portends the continued decline of foundation grantmaking into 2010 and beyond, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy has published the entire contents of its latest (normally subscriber-only) issue online.
  • While trolling the job search listings the other day, the following entry caught my eye:

    How to Apply:
    You must use JobScore to apply, See below. Please no phone calls.

    You must answer the following question in your cover letter:

    When was FAB Alliance signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg?

    And I thought to myself, what a great idea! I posted the other week about how Generation Y was finding itself in a new kind of rat-race, one in which the lowered convenience and time barriers to pursuing certain opportunities (like jobs) was feeding a cycle of encouraging people to submit more and more applications, increasing competition for everyone. Well, this strategy effectively acts as a screening device, asking applicants to perform a basic research task on spec — albeit one that shouldn’t require more than a 10-second Google search — discouraging people who aren’t seriously interested from applying and allowing the company to filter out applicants who don’t include the information automatically. To me, this is fairer and smarter than other techniques like requiring a certain email subject line with the application, since the ability to follow directions by rote is not the same thing as the ability to search and find relevant information. (For the record, I decided not to apply for this particular opportunity.)

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Shocking(ly tame) NEA audio and transcript released

There have been some significant recent developments in the whole NEA conference call “scandal,” so rather than consign them to the next around the horn post, I figured I’d wrap them up for you here.

  • The most important development is that Big Hollywood and Patrick Courrielche have finally released the full transcript and audio from the first conference call, the more controversial of the two. (My firsthand report on the August 27 conference call, which I don’t have a transcript of but was so inoffensive I can’t describe it as anything other than milquetoast, is here.) Here’s the transcript (with the “scary” parts conveniently highlighted for you in yellow or red):
    As you can see, the highlighted portions include such SCANDALOUS passages as this question from the audience (page 44):

    MS. BAN: I think for the people that are on the inside of government to talk for a minute about Organizing For America and the differences between Organizing For America and and what we can do to help on critical advocacy issues like health care reform, cap and trade policy, if that should help move policies through the government, because this is a really important role that our creative community can also play.
    MR. SKOLNICK: Excellent point, Liz. Do Nell or Yosi, do you want to take that question?
    MS. ABERNATHY: Yeah, I can address that a little bit, and the reason only a little bit is largely because in my role at a federal agency, I’m precluded from going too far down the specific steps what people can do to advocate. But we have to, for these legal reasons, remain really separate what we do here from what OFA is doing and so they’re basically two separate goals with the same idea. We use the same techniques, organizing strategies, because basically they’re both run by people from the campaign. But and the United We Serve initiative is based on the direct service addressing needs through volunteering today bipartisan support ideas than OFA, which is obviously advocating for policy change on these specific issues. So if you’re interested in getting involved with OFA that’s run through the DNC now, I could probably put you in — I could help you with who to contact. I could get that information to Michael and he could get it out. We can’t sort of — as a representative of the corporation, I’m not capable of giving you more guidance than just sending you to the right person.

    What’s that I read? Federal employees UNDERSTANDING THE LAW and FOLLOWING IT? Sacre bleu! I think I’m going to faint! HOW could our government have failed us so!?!?! And if that’s not bad enough, further investigation of the infamous HIGHLY PARTISAN “four service areas” indicates that they include such HIGHLY PARTISAN priorities as “getting kids library cards,” “food shelters,” “weatherizing homes,” and “children nutrition”!!!! And they give an example (the only example given, mind you) of an ideal service project that involves an artist organizing people in the community to PICK UP TRASH OFF THE STREETS and make a SCULPTURE OUT OF IT!!!! Good God, somebody hold me!!!!!

    In case it wasn’t already obvious, this firsthand documentation makes clearer than ever that this was a premeditated, intentional hatchet job on the National Endowment for the Arts and Yosi Sergant specifically. Just to recap, Patrick Courrielche, a heretofore little-known filmmaker and marketing strategist who knew Sergant personally from the time when Sergant used to work for him, was invited to participate in the call and “participated” by dialing in, declining to announce himself like everyone else on the call did, secretly recording the entire thing, and shortly afterwards writing a paranoid concern-troll piece for a conservative website and sending the audio to Glenn Beck. (In fact, Lisa Derrick at HuffPo notes that Courrielche may have broken the law by secretly recording the conference call without the participants’ knowledge or consent. That would be one more law broken by Courrielche than by the NEA, if Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is to be believed.) Courrielche has since driven forward nearly every aspect of this story, slowly leaking out “new developments” and driving a hell of a lot of traffic to his website in process. And suddenly, he’s a hero of the teabagging right and quite a bit more famous than he used to be. Remember, this guy’s a professional marketing strategist. Coincidence?

  • In other news, the Washington Times dug up a partial list of the people on the conference call provided by “a participant” (gee, want to take a wild guess which one it was?). Contra another false meme about this story, the list shows that the vast majority of participants were individual commercial artists and representatives of for-profit companies — people and organizations that are not now, nor will ever be grantees of the National Endowment for the Arts. Go ahead, see for yourself. (Though the Times‘s coverage has been quite slanted overall, to their credit they did print this cold shower of a letter-to-the-editor from Kevin Erickson of the All-Ages Movement Project.)
  • The NEA finally responds with a statement from Rocco Landesman on why Yosi Sergant was reassigned. He is now listed as New Media and Special Projects Advisor. The LA Times has a further statement clarifying that the specific language that Landesman found objectionable was,

    “I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment. There’s four key areas that the corporation [the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that supports volunteerism] has identified as areas of service. Then my ask would be to apply your artistic, creative community utilities. Bring them to the table.”

  • Commentary from arts bloggers: 99 Seats, who decries the hypocrisy; Mirror Up to Nature, who thinks it’s a-gonna get worse; Issac Butler, who wonders if we shouldn’t just let the NEA be the sacrificial lamb here.
  • Commentary from people more famous than you or me: Andrew Sullivan dishes; ABC News reports; Anonymous Liberal adds perspective.
  • And finally, looking to score some cheap political points with their base, a Senator and Representative are calling for investigations. And the White House, eager as it has been to dispose of controversy as quickly as possible, is now sending a memo telling officials to avoid “the appearance of conflict.”

If you’re reading this and wondering how to help, my advice would be to get off this site and visit some of the higher-profile stories on this (especially the more bipartisan ones) and represent your viewpoint. This issue has been much slower to surface on the liberal side of the blogosphere than on the right; it is a universal issue for them but only a niche issue for progressives. As a result, nearly every story on this is just littered by eloquent contributions in the comments like “Sounds like what Hitler did before killing all the Jewish people.” (For a demographic that delights in telling artists to “get a real job,” these people sure seem to have a lot of time on their hands.) A lot of people don’t have even a basic understanding of the facts underlying this story, because they never took the time to find out. For a great example of how to fight back intelligently and with zingers, see this post (and the comments too).

(UPDATE: Just like last time, news breaks just after I post. Yosi Sergant has resigned from his position and no longer works for the NEA.)


Arts & Economic Prosperity: Cliffs Notes version

I know: you’re a busy person. You don’t have a lot of time. You’d like to read my entire 7,000-word tome on Americans for the Arts’s economic impact study, but let’s face it: it’s just not gonna happen. At least not this week. Probably not next week, either. You suppose you could take it on vacation with you to Bermuda, though frankly that wouldn’t do you or Bermuda any favors. Is there any chance, you’re thinking to yourself, he could just make a little summary post like he did for that last one?

Well, you’re in luck. The Arts Policy Library series was created for people like you–people who would like to understand every facet of every research study or book that comes out, but just don’t have the time to spare. And so on the occasions, like this one, when APL entries run well past the normal length of a Createquity feature, it is my pleasure and privilege to provide you with a summary of the summary: everything you need to know in five minutes or less.

So without further ado, I present to you the Cliffs Notes version of Createquity’s Arts Policy Library entry on Arts & Economic Prosperity III, by Americans for the Arts.

  • Arts & Economic Prosperity III, which has been widely cited in the media during the past two years thanks to Americans for the Arts’s advocacy efforts, attempts to count up the total expenditures of nonprofit arts organizations in the United States, as well as the purchases made by those organizations’ audience members in connection with arts events on items like lodging, refreshments, souvenirs, etc. These expenditures are then run through an economic model to estimate further impacts such as employment totals, household income, and government tax revenue. To estimate the national totals, the study uses an intriguing distributed research method that involved partnerships with organizations in 156 communities ranging from small towns to entire states.
  • The study, which is for the most part constructed quite carefully and with admirable attention to detail, clearly shows that nonprofit arts organizations play a significant role in the nation’s economy, more significant than we are often led to believe. For example, the numbers reported for organizational expenditures (which should be roughly equal to revenues) are quite a bit larger than the total revenues for highly visible industries like coal mining, fishing, logging, and spectator sports. Furthermore, the arts often induce additional audience expenditures on local goods and services, a feature not replicated by most other industries.
  • At the same time, the study does not show in any real sense that the arts cause the economic activity with which they are associated. Many of the supposed impacts could be and probably are the result of substitution effects rather than newly generated value or wealth. For example, the meal that patrons had before the show was going to get eaten in some form or another regardless of whether there was an arts event involved that night. Many, if not most, of the workers employed by arts organizations would likely have found jobs elsewhere or started their own businesses if their time were not spent toiling for the museum or the symphony.
  • As a result, while the study deserves to be taken seriously as an estimate of the size of the nonprofit arts and culture sector in the United States, other claims about its deeper significance have tended to be overblown. Foremost among these claims is the idea that because the arts return an amount in taxes to government that is greater than the amount that government puts in, the arts represent a good “return on investment” from a financial standpoint. This is simply not true. The argument relies on an apples-to-oranges comparison that assumes that arts organizations would simply disappear entirely were they to be deprived of the 6% of their budgets that comes from government sources, a notion that I hope we can agree is silly. Furthermore, a return-on-investment argument is only useful to policymakers in context with comparative data from other potential investments, information notably absent from A&EP III.
  • Finally, there is reason to believe that the national estimates for organization and especially audience expenditures may be skewed a bit high, even though there are several factors working simultaneously in the opposite direction. This is because the sample for the smallest cities and counties in the study exhibits extraordinarily high average per capita spending as compared to cities in other population groups and, more importantly, to the multi-county regions and entire states included in the study. While the total spending estimates do not seem outrageously out of whack when checked against data from Giving USA, they are nevertheless higher by a noticeable amount.
  • Despite these issues, I believe that the strengths of Arts & Economic Prosperity III are considerable, and offer a strong foundation for further improvement of the study. This is data that the sector needs to have, and its occasional misuse as an advocacy tool notwithstanding, the problems cited above are relatively easy to fix or mitigate in future editions. I would particularly like to see AFTA make a move toward documenting a causal relationship between expenditures on the arts and local economic growth. Something as simple as adding a few questions to the survey instruments about counterfactual scenarios (e.g., how would you have spent your evening instead if you hadn’t come here tonight) could be an important first step in this direction.
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Arts Policy Library: Arts & Economic Prosperity III

Arts & Economic Prosperity III

Perhaps no arts-related research study is cited as frequently in the mainstream media these days as Americans for the Arts’s gargantuan economic impact survey, Arts & Economic Prosperity III. Its key message, that the nonprofit arts sector is responsible for $166.2 billion in economic activity nationwide, has been hammered home relentlessly to policymakers, politicians, grantmakers, and arts managers around the country since the report’s initial publication in 2007. Americans for the Arts clearly sees the report itself, along with the general theme of economic relevance, as central to its overall advocacy strategy: as AFTA’s Director of State and Local Government Affairs, Jay Dick, put it while speaking at the 2007 Wyoming Arts Summit,

In the past, when we went to do funding for the arts, we said, “fund the arts, it’s good for the soul.” […] That’s true, [but] it doesn’t work anymore. You know, we have to have a business argument for it. So, “fund the arts because it’s good for the soul—and they bring to the jobs to the economy and they bring taxes back into the [government].” That’s what we have to do.

Not everybody, however, is convinced. For one thing, the dual role that AFTA assumes as impartial researcher and impassioned advocate renders the report vulnerable to criticism on the grounds of bias, criticism that the report itself goes to great lengths to counter. Moreover, even assuming the numbers are accurate, thinkers from Tyler Cowen to Greg Sandow have assailed the very concept of economic impact studies and their utility in advocacy discussions. Indeed, when last we paid a visit to the Arts Policy Library, the authors of Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate About the Benefits of the Arts argued that relying too heavily on economic and other “instrumental” arguments for the arts is a trap, pointing out that that economic impact studies

…receive criticism because most of them do not consider the relative effects of spending on the arts versus other forms of consumption—that is, they fail to consider the opportunity costs of arts spending. Some economists dispute the validity of the multipliers used in economic studies because they assume that spending on the arts represents a net addition to a local economy rather than simply a substitute for other types of spending.

The tension between the two approaches led journalist John Stoehr to set up a kind of debate between the AFTA and RAND texts in a 2007 article for the Savannah Morning News, a debate that in Stoehr’s mind Gifts of the Muse ultimately won.

As always, though, much is lost in a public debate about a study when most of the participants have only read the press release. The full Arts & Economic Prosperity III report contains some 314 pages of findings, facts, and figures, including 27 multipage data tables and one of the most thorough explanations of methodology I’ve ever encountered in a research report. So let’s dive in and find out what Arts & Economic Prosperity III actually has to say about the economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations in the United States. Read More »


Around the horn: term paper edition

Have you been wondering whatever happened to the Arts Policy Library series? It hasn’t gone anywhere–it’s just been in extended hibernation in preparation for the piece that’s about to be unveiled tomorrow: a 7000-word, seminar-paper-length treatise on Americans for the Arts’s landmark economic impact study, Arts & Economic Prosperity III. Well over 60 hours of research and writing to date have gone into this piece, if I had to guess. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about whether the economic impact argument for the arts holds water or not, keep an eye out tomorrow and all will be revealed.

Here’s what’s been going on elsewhere the past week:

  • While we’re on the subject of Americans for the Arts, Robert Lynch’s letter to the Washington Times was just the beginning. Now they’ve released a complete list of inaccuracies in the Times‘s coverage of the arts’ role in the United We Serve initiative. AFTA also has a group blog discussion on arts education going full-blast this week at ARTSblog, which coincidentally has a fantastic new look.
  • Seems this is the time of year for major blog upgrades: in addition to Createquity’s migration to WordPress (the background graphic is different this week, do you like it?), and the aforementioned ARTSblog and Tactical Philanthropy‘s recent redesigns, three other Createquity blogroll denizens are planning big changes: small-town arts champion Scott Walters looks for a new name, arts marketer Maryann Devine goes the teaching route (with video!) and recent arts administration program grad and consultant Erin Gore has a new domain.
  • Scott Walters has also joined Barry Hessenius’s multi-week discussion of the future of the NEA, which got off the ground last week. This week’s panel has a great lineup including Bob Lynch (President of AFTA) and Sandra Gibson (ED, Association of Performing Arts Presenters), as well as Createquity reader Anne Katz.
  • Two updates on arts funding battles previously covered here: the war in Pennsylvania is over, and while the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts appears to have survived, arts groups have been hit with the reintroduction of the sales tax on arts tickets and admission charges. PA arts advocates are not happy. Also, Aaron Talbot has his finger on the pulse of the British Columbia arts funding saga, and suggests that the involvement of celebrities (in this case Kim Cattrall) may yield results. (Way to fish for Google image search hits with that pic, Aaron.) (FYI, this brings to mind how mysteriously absent American Hollywood celebrities are from arts advocacy campaigns, other than a few exceptions like Robert Redford and Linda Ronstadt.)
  • This is pretty cool: four different city governments have teamed up for a collective branding and infrastructure-building effort called the East Bay Cultural Corridor. The press release claims it’s the first collaboration of its kind in the US.
  • Arts & real estate fun: Trinity Real Estate, which is owned by the famed Trinity Wall Street Church in Lower Manhattan, has temporarily donated an entire city block to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council as outdoor exhibition space. The idea is to ride out the market downturn with pretty designs instead of dour-looking and deserted construction scenes. It helps, of course, that Trinity is a nonprofit with a world-renowned music program, but it makes business sense as well in that undeveloped spaces blight neighborhoods and drive down prices. Will it become a trend? Meanwhile, Carolyn Jack reports from the From Rust Belt to Artist Belt II summit on a new partnership to provide artists with low-cost properties for live-work spaces in Cleveland.
  • I love it when I’m planning on writing a post and find out that someone has already done it for me. In this case, Sam Smith of Scholars & Rogues did a little mapping exercise last year on the relationship between state arts appropriations and political voting patterns. It’s not as detailed as something you would see at FiveThirtyEight, but it’s cool to look at nonetheless.
  • A new round of MacArthur “Genius” Grants is out, with several artists among the recipients as usual. And piggybacking on Dudamania, The Daily Beast has a feature on young conductors, and manages to make the field look a hell of a lot more diverse than it is. I don’t know if TDB quite counts as “mainstream,” but it’s nice to see a site with that kind of traffic pay this much attention to classical music.
  • Lucy Bernholz, who has pretty much made a career out of calling out cutting-edge trends in philanthropy, has a typically thought-provoking piece out called Decoding the future of philanthropy. The crux? “Data are the new platform for change.” Meanwhile, Gabriel Kasper, a consultant at the Monitor Institute, wonders about the role that intuition (specifically, “networked intuition”) has to play in decision-making. Two visions at odds, or two sides of the same coin?
  • In search of impact: Holden Karnofsky of the GiveWell Blog is back with another informative post on microfinance, and says that repayment rates are not as helpful a metric as they appear to be. The Boston Foundation announces a new plan that moves this venerated community foundation several steps in the direction of venture philanthropy, deciding to give larger grants to fewer recipients with fewer restrictions. Dan Pallotta loves it.
  • Remember the Awesome Foundation? Well, a Harvard Business School blog post by Umair Haque is now proclaiming that “awesomeness” is the new innovation. It’s mostly semantic wordplay, but sometimes that’s important: “awesomeness” carries with it a certain visceral connotation that innovation doesn’t quite have. And Haque singles out a few other distinctions: innovation is focused on growth for its own sake, regardless of its impact on sustainability or real value to customers, etc., whereas awesomeness is predicated on the creation of what Haque calls “thick value.” Not surprisingly, Haque hearts the Apple Store.
  • Well, speaking of innovation, here’s an idea whose time has come: the Brooklyn Creative League offers shared workspace for freelancers and independent contractors on a monthly membership basis, combining the best aspects of renting an office and hanging out at the coffee shop. And in other cool idea news, there’s a new company called Games that Give that embeds philanthropy into games like sudoku, solitaire, etc.
  • The “wisdom of crowds” is neither wise nor generated by a crowd. Discuss. (My take: yes, it’s true that most “crowdsourced” projects are driven by a small minority of the participants–but there’s still a big difference between that approach and going it alone. Ultimately, I think businesses and others will discover that a smart integration of grassroots and hierarchical structures–what might be called guided crowdsourcing–will yield the best results.)
  • Are “best practices” really always the “best”? Well, maybe not, if you’re just parroting other people’s tired old ideas. Like the one about paying entry-level (and not-so-entry-level) nonprofit workers $30,000 a year, just because that’s what everyone else does. It is an easy and tempting move to use the recession to take advantage of younger employees, but Rosetta details the effect that such practices are having on her generation.
  • This is hands-down one of the best fundraising pitches I’ve ever read.
  • So, feel free to ignore this if you’re not a music geek, but this is too cool: composer and music critic Kyle Gann reports that one of his students has figured out a technique to make super-elegant rubato figurations using notation software. It involves nesting tuplets up the wazoo: his most “basic” example features seven levels of octuplets. But it sounds amazing; just listen to the clips on the site.
  • Only in the Midwest: the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation is attempting to set the Guinness World Record for the “tallest toilet paper pyramid.” All for charity, of course. And no, I am not making this up.

On value, utility, and morals

As mentioned here recently, I’m engaging in a slow-motion blog-off of sorts with Tony Wang of Philosopher 2.0 about the nature of value and how it relates to different sectors. In my posts leading up to this discussion earlier this summer, available here, here, here, and here, I started off by showing that value and money are not the same thing, and continued on to argue that even confining ourselves to very traditional and narrow definitions of economic wealth, a number of what economists call “externalities” (costs or benefits to third parties that are not reflected in the prices of individual transactions) play important roles in determining the potential for net wealth creation for society.

Tony weighed in on the subject two weeks ago with a post entitled “The Implicit Theory of Value.” In it, he sort of shrugs his shoulders at my attempts to map out a set of causal links to a specific goal (in this case, “increased transactions for goods and services”), saying that

…if we assume utilitarianism is true and believe that we should maximize the greatest good, the question then becomes what is the good? And I think here is where we find contentious beliefs, even among reasonable and good people. Is it ok to sacrifice environmental goals to alleviate poverty? Is economic growth better than no economic growth? How should we weigh the arts against other issues like homelessness? Given $1,000,000 each person would choose to allocate money differently; some would give more to international health while others would give more to domestic education. To debate which issues are more important may ultimately prove ineffectual – if the past two millennia since Plato and Socrates and the diversity of philanthropic interests are any indication.

Essentially, Tony is saying that it’s all well and good to be able to map out a strategy to achieve a certain goal, but it doesn’t do us much good unless we know what the goal should be. And how should we determine that with any degree of logical rigor? Tony seems to think that it’s no use bothering to try; instead, he lays out a fundamentally pluralistic vision of value, arguing that decisions we make as individuals and organizations are informed by an “implicit theory of value,” a particular set of priorities, judgments, and beliefs unique to each of us:

In any conversation about social change or social justice, we necessarily assume some sort of implicit theory of value – that we believe certain things are better than others.The belief can be as simple as believing that justice is better than injustice, or as controversial as believing that removing a thousand tons of carbon is better than feeding ten children. But it is under this implicit theory of value and the corollaries that it can be maximized and that the choices we face can theoretically be measured for the value that they generate, that we can best understand the sectors.

Before we fast-forward to the discussion about the sectors, though, I’d like to spend a little more time contemplating this pluralistic framework for thinking about value, because I’m not sure if I totally accept it. To be sure, there are many things to like about this system, not least of which is that it unburdens from us the responsibility to decide what’s good and what isn’t. Effectively, utilitarianism argues for crowdsourcing morality–the more people who believe a thing more strongly, the more right it is. Yet this refusal to privilege certain values over others can get us into trouble, I think. To take an extreme example for illustrative purposes, a whole lot of people in the 1700s thought that slavery was a perfectly legitimate industry and business practice, and derived significant utility in both financial and nonfinancial terms from having slaves at their disposal. So does the fact that the collective utility of slavery was much higher then than it is now mean that it was reasonable, or at least not as wrong, at the time?

Well, perhaps not, if we consider that the slaves experienced significant negative utility from being forced to endure atrocities for their entire lives. So in fact, we can presume that the net utility for society was hurt by slavery, even if some people benefited from it. And certainly we can declare that slavery was not the optimal path to maximizing the collective utility for all human beings.

If we’re going to go that far, however, I don’t see why we have to stop there. If our goal is to maximize collective utility, why do we need a pluralist notion of what value means? Doesn’t value just equal utility? And aren’t there some absolutes, some things we pretty much know to be true about what human beings want and don’t want? Each one may not be true for all human beings, but even if we have a rough idea what percentages of people care about which things and how deeply, unless those things change drastically over time and between cultures, shouldn’t it be possible to set up policies and practices (and philanthropic systems) that maximize collective utility?

At the risk of embarrassing myself (if, indeed, I haven’t already) by treading tired old ground in the field of philosophy, I want to try to get some additional clarity on these questions before we take the plunge into what will eventually become a conversation about organizational structures — because I feel that a strong understanding of the relative value of various issues can only aid our understanding of the relative value of organizational structures within those issues.


Flashback: Reinventing the Wheel

This blog has a lot of new subscribers who have joined us in the past few months (actually, since February the readership has grown by a factor of 12), and it occurred to me that many folks may not realize that my interest in arts policy and arts management stems, more than anything else, from my experiences as a semi-professional composer and leader of two performing ensembles from about 2003 to 2007. I thought it might be fun to throw up some clips of music for you to listen to every once in a while, in case you’re interested in what I was spending my time on before I decided to become a policy geek.

Our inaugural flashback track is the first off of the debut album for my experimental rock/jazz/minimalist/metal band, Capital M, which came out in 2005. It’s called “Reinventing the Wheel” and its composition followed a month of pretty intensive study of the score to Steve Reich’s masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians. Throw on some headphones and have a listen!

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