Fox at it again

I get letters:

From: Miller, Josh
Sent: Wednesday, September 09, 2009 3:38 PM
To: Moss, Ian
Subject: RE: Media Inquiry
Importance: High

Mr. Moss,

Greetings – I hope this message finds you well.

I’m a reporter who is working on a story about two NEA-supported conference calls that purportedly asked artists to create art within major areas of President Obama’s administration, such as health care and the environment.

Have you participated in either one of these calls?

Please contact me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss this matter further. Thanks in advance.

Joshua Rhett Miller
Reporter/News Editor

I thought about writing him back, but instead I decided I’d just respond here. In case you’re joining us late, this story comes from a rather hysterical rant at’s Big Hollywood blog authored by Patrick Courrielche, who seemed to think that an effort to incorporate artists into the President’s United We Serve initiative was some kind of Machiavellian plot to convince the art community to serve as pawns in Obama’s grand scheme to become dictator of America. Calling it “the making of a machine…initiated by the NEA, to corral artists to address specific issues” that “could potentially be wielded by the state to push policy,” Courrielche asks, “is [it] the place of the NEA to encourage the art community to address issues currently under legislative consideration?”

(As an aside, Courrielche seems positively shocked that the NEA is the “largest arts funder in the country.” Umm….duh? Anyway, the NEA reclaimed that title only recently from New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs. That’s right, the city of New York until recently provided more arts agency funding for 8 million people than the USA did for its population of 300+ million–and yes, I double-checked the numbers.)

As I reported back in June, this project is the brainchild of the NEA’s Communications Director Yosi Sergant, who served as the liaison between artists and Obama during the campaign and commissioned Shepard Fairey’s iconic Hope poster in that capacity. I don’t know who Courrielche is, but according to his essay he used to be Yosi’s boss. Hmm, a little personal drama perhaps? Anyway, since Courrielche had his say, the story has been picked up all over the right-wing media and almost nowhere else–because it’s a complete non-story. The sinister initiative steamrolled on with a late August conference call featuring actor Kal Penn/Kalpen Modi, which I blogged about here (that’s apparently how our friend Josh found me). Although I wasn’t a participant in the first conference call, which is the one that Courrielche wrote about, I did listen in on the second.

So here’s the scandalous dirt on that talk, exposed for everyone to see. Modi, Americans for the Arts President Robert Lynch, and a representative from the Corporation for National and Community Service led off the call with a series of introductory remarks. Lynch showed himself to be nothing more than a dirty Massachusetts hippie by paying tribute to the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who had just passed away that week. We were treated to highly charged partisan instructions like a reminder that any projects we upload should actually be uploaded twice – both on and on – so that community art endeavors would be visible within the larger pool of service projects and also collected in one place. Seriously, this is what the call was like. The closest it got to anything political was when a caller asked about the future of the Artist Corps initiative that was promised in Obama’s campaign platform (Modi responded that, while he “wanted to keep the call focused” on the United We Serve campaign, the Artist Corps concept is something that the administration still supports and wants to see happen).

If you don’t believe me, a quick look at the actual projects featured on the website will convince you otherwise. Where are the “major areas of President Obama’s administration?” Is Alison Schwartz’s dancing to raise money for Dancers Responding to AIDS just a cover to convince Max Baucus to support a public option? Is Wynton Marsalis’s jazz education programming a complicated front for clean energy? Clearly, Cultural Crossroads’s four-acre arts farm in Louisiana must be some kind of Librul breeding colony.

So anyway, now Fox wants to write an article about it – yes, the same Fox who has had the hatchet out for the NEA for at least the last six weeks. A quick look at the question I was sent tells you where they get all of their material. The NEA “purportedly” wanted to commission art “within major areas of President Obama’s administration”? It would be kind of hilarious if it weren’t so disingenuous. As usual, Fox and facts don’t mix. For one thing, as far as I can tell, the NEA as an agency has no official role in the initiative whatsoever. Their logo is not on the website; it is mentioned nowhere on the NEA’s website; and no one from the agency participated in the second conference call. Secondly, the push was not for artists to “create” work in line with Obama’s political agenda–the real push was to highlight work that artists are already doing that fits in with the overall United We Serve initiative. Finally, the push didn’t come from Obama–it came from artists: Sergant, and earlier, the group of 60 arts community activists who met with the administration in May and asked to get more involved. If there is a political agenda, it is perhaps that in involving artists explicitly in an initiative of this magnitude, maybe it will help build the arts’ public profile and help convince Congress to move this country’s level of federal arts support a notch upward from “laughably miniscule” to “embarrassingly paltry.” That’s all there is to it. Well, unless you believe that getting out of the house and helping people who are less fortunate than you is a partisan political act. Sadly, this conservative movement seems to believe that caring about anyone who isn’t yourself or directly related to you is something to condemn.

[UPDATE: And just like that, Yosi Sergant gets thrown under the bus. Way to give Glenn Beck more power than he deserves. Arlene Goldbard has more.]


Around the horn: Laboring on Labor Day edition

  • WOW, that was fast. Mere days after announcing a $20 million cut in funding that impinged on previously made commitments and, in some cases, money that had already been spent, the government of British Columbia, Canada not only restored the funding that had been cut but threw another $12 million on top for good measure. The Vancouver Sun reports that the government faced a “furious public reaction” to the cuts, motivating the restoration. Imagine if we had that kind of clout here! (By the way, in case you’re wondering, the total provincial government support for arts groups in British Columbia, population 4.4 million, is about the same as the federal government support for arts groups in the United States, population 307 million.) [Update: sorry, I was reading the figures for all nonprofits getting money from the gambling fund, not just arts groups. And as Aaron Talbot points out in the comments, it looks like there have been some further developments since the Vancouver Sun story that have BC arts funding still very much in the woods.]
  • Scott Walters has an Open Letter to Rocco Landesman explaining his reaction to Landesman’s views on geodiversity in more detail.
  • It’s tough times for independent music and bookstores, but the ones that have survived are “playing up their roles as community centers that serve as unique cultural spaces rather than just a place to buy a quick CD or magazine,” according to The Wrap.
  • A year and a half after I took the plunge and tentatively wrote out my intuitive objections to my first economics class for what has become one of the most popular Createquity posts ever (I’m sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the Calvin and Hobbes toon that accompanies the piece…hey, whatever works), I have to admit that I feel a certain grim satisfaction that mainstream economics finds itself so deeply under attack from more mainstream corners these days. The latest takedown comes from no less than Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman in a gargantuan op-ed for New York Times Magazine. Krugman concludes,
    So here’s what I think economists have to do. First, they have to face up to the inconvenient reality that financial markets fall far short of perfection, that they are subject to extraordinary delusions and the madness of crowds. Second, they have to admit — and this will be very hard for the people who giggled and whispered over Keynes — that Keynesian economics remains the best framework we have for making sense of recessions and depressions. Third, they’ll have to do their best to incorporate the realities of finance into macroeconomics.

    Meanwhile, I find myself drawn more and more to the cornucopia of radically alternative ways of conceptualizing markets. In the Createquity post linked above, I suggested that

    There is an alternative way of looking at the above, which is that there is no such thing as something that’s not a free market. After all, the government systems we do have in place for human services, infrastructure, price regulation, and so on, are essentially the result of consumer action. They voted people into office to institute these reforms, a power no consumer had on his or her own. One could argue that these policies are the result of the “market” deciding, in aggregate, that prohibitions against certain industries might be a good thing. That environmental protection was worth setting limits on what large companies could put into the air or water. This view requires a broader conception of market activity that goes beyond merely buying and selling. It essentially says that whatever happens is part of the larger organism of humanity, that the actions companies and consumers take to affect the market are as much a symptom of the market as a driver of it. It says that markets will always be free so long as human beings are creating and living them.

    It seems the author of The Origin of Wealth, Eric Beinhocker, is way ahead of me on this (h/t Creative Class Exchange). Beinhocker and colleagues have defined a field called complexity economics that merges micro and macro into one discipline and takes its cues from biology rather than physics. There’s much more to read and contemplate, but so far color me intrigued.

  • The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports on a new collaboration that seeks to standardize social impact measurements, the Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS) initiative. It’s a collaboration between the Rockefeller Foundation, B Lab, Deloitte, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and others.
  • Gene Takagi of Nonprofit Law Blog tries to read Sean Stannard-Stockton’s mind in determining why Tactical Philanthropy Advisors has been formed as a for-profit B Corporation (a kind of cousin to the L3c) rather than as a nonprofit. Phil Cubeta thinks he has a simpler answer. Meanwhile, B Lab (originators of the B Corporation concept) is urging the Obama administration to give tax benefits to their constituency, and the NonProfit Times reports on a war of words developing between L3C founders and the IRS.
  • Thinking about forming a nonprofit yourself? Be advised that the IRS is raising its rates for new applications effective January. Lest you think that this is aimed at stemming the tide of new nonprofit formations, however, fear/hope not: the IRS is in the process of developing a web-based “Cyber Assistant” to make applications easier for applicant and agency alike. Once it’s introduced, fees will drop up to 76% for those who use the new system.
  • Before we get on the “too many [small] nonprofits” horse again, though, let’s take a moment to consider Albert Ruesga’s admonition that
    There’s a tendency in nonprofit work to be a little too uncritical of the concepts we import from the business world. We sometimes get fetishistic about matters of “scale” and “replicability.” But there’s a k
    ind of nonprofit beauty that doesn’t scale well. And there are people whose extraordinary vision and passion we’ll never be able to replicate.

    You can read a seemingly endless (but great) interview with Ruesga, who is President and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Community Foundation, here.

  • A couple of months ago, I was asked to speak on a panel for the Arts & Business Council of New York in connection with an internship program that ABC/NY runs for college students. At one point during the discussion, I gave a bearish assessment of the job prospects faced by new graduates that apparently took some attendees by surprise. But sure enough, the statistics are out, and recent college graduates are getting absolutely killed by this recession. 31% uninsured. One-third living with their parents. 24% don’t make enough to pay their monthly bills. Ugly, ugly numbers. No wonder more and more of them are turning to post-graduate internships.
  • Very cool: the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, based in England, has gone back and digitized a report the foundation published in 1959. Mark Robinson has the details.
  • Is this the future of product development?
  • If you don’t follow Lisa Hoang on Twitter (@lisa_hoang), you are seriously missing out. Lisa trolls for arts stories all over the web and comes up with lots of stuff that even ArtsJournal misses. Here are two of her recent finds: Uganda is mapping its cultural industries with the help of UNESCO and Chicago is designating a new creative industries district.
  • Mmm….deep fried butter.

New Blogs!

I needn’t have cut the list short to three last time – there’s a lot of great new (or new to me) stuff out there. Here’s a sampling for you:

blog by arwen
Arwen Lowbridge used to be the Managing Director at Fractured Atlas and now is an independent consultant and performing artist. In addition to her musings about arts management on her new blog, you can read some of her old postings at the Fractured Atlas blog here.

Collective Arts Think Tank
Only one post so far, but man is it a doozy. A collaboration between The Chocolate Factory, Dance Theater Workshop, The Field, The Lost Notebook, Performance Space 122, and thinaar, CATT seeks to provide definition to big-picture conversations already happening among these arts practitioners. Its epic “First Letter to the Field” about which I wrote on Monday, is full of fascinating thoughts on the state of the arts.

An interesting blog about the economics of entrepreneurship, sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation. That might seem a little outside of this blog’s purview at first, but think about it this way: most arts organizations double as small businesses. If we can understand the patterns, behavior, and value of small businesses, we’ll understand a lot more about the arts.

While doing research for my state arts council update over the weekend, I ran across several state- or region-specific blogs associated with arts advocacy organizations or the councils themselves. This is one of the better/more frequently updated ones. Hosted by Artpride NJ, NewJerseyartsblog sprinkles original content like a “Feeling the Pinch?” series in with the usual announcements and press releases.

Wild Caught Stories
A project of the Center for the Study of Arts and Community, Wild Caught Stories is an unusual group blog concept that involves a sequential response to questions by six authors, all noted creative community building professionals. The question under consideration for the current volume is “What is your gift?”

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Meet me at Barry's

I’m honored and delighted to be participating this month and next in Barry Hessenius’s six-week group blogging exercise on the future of the National Endowment for the Arts and federal cultural policy, billed as “likely the longest scheduled blog discussion ever attempted in our field.” This truly gargantuan enterprise, which officially launches on September 15, will involve the voices of some 40+ “panelists” from past NEA administrations, the funder community, arts service organizations, academia, the private sector, artists, and “emerging leaders” (under which umbrella you’ll find little ol’ me, in Week 4). Each of us will write responses to a particular series of questions for our assigned week, and continue to respond to our fellow panelists’ remarks throughout the week. I expect to pop in occasionally to add to the discussion during the other weeks as well. The list of participants is truly a who’s who of national arts leaders (many of them overlapping with Barry’s just-released ranking of the top leaders in the nonprofit arts sector), and it’s a truly exciting to have the opportunity to engage with them on such a substantive level. But that’s not the most exciting part — the most exciting part is that, since this is after all a blog panel, you will have the same opportunity as me to engage with the field’s leaders and help shape the debate. Barry reports that his blog has 10,000 subscribers, and I’m told that the new leadership at the NEA will be following along closely – so come, make the most of this chance to make your voice heard. Bookmark or add Barry’s Blog to your RSS reader to catch the action.

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Around the horn: Lion of the Senate edition

  • Well, as we learned over the weekend, a lot of state arts councils are in bad shape. Now we learn via the Clyde Fitch Report that NYS Arts is organizing pre-emptive lobbying for the New York State Council on the Arts (currently the best-funded state arts agency in the country) in anticipation of further cuts in FY10. Good for them for being on the ball. Miami-Dade County is struggling to internalize the prospect of $11 million in cuts to the arts infrastructure there. Unfortunately, it’s too late for British Columbia, whose arts organizations just had some $20 million in grants rescinded, in some cases after they’d already paid the bills with them.
  • Meanwhile, Europe proves once again that things are just different over there: Siemens pledges to keep corporate giving (including much arts sponsorship) at $72 million despite cutting 17,000 jobs last year and seeing a 28% decline in orders.
  • A number of observers predicted that once the recession got bad, we’d start seeing a lot of mergers in the nonprofit sector. Well, apparently it’s not happening. As attractive as mergers can sound on paper (and in many cases they do seem to make a lot of sense), the all too frequent reality seems to be one of political landmines, substantial upfront costs, and entrenched resistance.
  • Rocco Landesman is suddenly everywhere! View new profiles with the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.
  • So here’s something awesome: a bunch of people from the Field, Chocolate Factory, and other organizations have gotten together for a new blog called Collective Arts Think Tank. Their first essay, “Letter to the Field: What’s Working, Not Working, Recommendations” is excellent and thought-provoking. One of my favorite ideas is this one:
    There is a common refrain among artists and arts administrators: “we have to learn to do more with less.” Meaning, when resources get tight, we still need to produce at least the same amount of work as when there was more money available, if not more.

    We advocate the opposite philosophy: do less with more. Meaning, make work that is fully realized, fully-resourced, and created in an appropriate amount of time.

    This also speaks to a problem of supply and demand. If there are hundreds of small theaters and ensembles in New York, and all of them are half-full, then we are overproducing, substituting quantity for quality. Doing less with more may also mean that venues produce fewer shows, artists produce fewer works, and audiences remain hungry longer. We think that’s a good thing.

    Don’t miss the 30-something comments as well.

  • Our friend Sean Stannard-Stockton has big news: he’s taken all of the work he’s done over the past three years to help build the online philanthropic community and leveraged it into a new company, Tactical Philanthropy Advisors. Meanwhile, Sean hasn’t let up on the blogging: since last week’s Around the Horn, there’s now a three-part post on the definition of tactical philanthropy as distinct from strategic philanthropy (here, here, and here). Sean also clued me in to this cool article about the origins of Kickstarter, the arts microphilanthropy platform that’s rapidly gaining in popularity.
  • Speaking of friends, my blog buddy Tony Wang and I are going to be engaging in a kind of co-blogging exercise over the next month or so on the subject of value creation across sectors. He has a post up today responding to my recent series on the meaning and origin of value, and you can expect a continuation of the conversation on my side next week.
  • Some Generation Y muscle-flexing for you: congratulations to 26-year-old Amelia Lester, the new managing editor of the New Yorker. By the way, Seth Godin says, the way we hire people is all wrong – in ways that just happen to mirror observations made by professors of mine this spring. Seth advocates for the five-minute interview, which, while it makes a lot of sense from the business’s perspective, would seem to be a bit hellish for applicants.
  • Gene Takagi has lots of resources on media organizations and the nonprofit option.
  • A trend I expect we’ll see more of: Wikipedia is now assigning different levels of trust to contributors and color-coding edits to articles on the basis of who makes them.
  • Um, am I the only one who had no idea Americans for the Arts was running public service TV ads? Check them out here. The breakfast cereal one made me cringe a little, but the museum piece is actually pretty funny.
  • And I thought I had seen everything: now there’s a dating site for budding philanthropists. Way to put the passion in compassion! I guess this gives a whole new meaning to embedded giving.
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State Arts Funding Update

Any way you slice it, it’s been a rough year for state arts councils. According to the National Assembly of State Arts Associations (NASAA), states have reduced their funding for arts agencies an average of 7% (14% if you take out Minnesota, which recently enacted a kickass new arts tax that tripled the money available). Many, if not most, states are facing tremendous budget deficits, and it seems you can’t swing a dead cat these days without hitting a news story about how South Dakota or Michigan or Pennsylvania or wherever is threatening to cut arts funding drastically or zero it out entirely. So we fret and worry or get all up in arms, and but all too often the story disappears and we rarely find out what happened in the end. So as a service to Createquity readers, I’m going to try to aggregate recent stories about state arts funding battles here in one place, so you can be aware of what’s going on in your state and let your friends in other states know what actions they can take to help. Hopefully, this will help us become more informed as a community and empower us to take action collectively to protect state arts funding across the country, instead of fighting a myriad of isolated battles.

I’ve tried to gather the most current information in each of these cases, but it’s quite possible that I’ve missed something. If you can help make the list more complete or up-to-date, please share in the comments.


Governor Jodi Rell’s reorganization would move Connecticut’s Commission on Culture and Tourism under the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development. Cuts of more than 50% have also been recommended for the Commission under the General Assembly’s proposed budget, which as far as I can tell would not merge the agency with Economic and Community Development. Finally, the Governor is pushing to eliminate line items for arts organizations in the state budget, affecting a number of larger institutions in the state. The Arts Council of Greater New Haven is on top of the developments here.

Another instance of potential elimination of a state arts council through reorganization comes, surprisingly, from a Democrat, Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan. In fact, Republican lawmaker Cameron Brown (who just happens to be running for Secretary of State next year) last week introduced a resolution to block Granholm’s executive order dissolving the Department of History, Arts and Libraries and moving its functions to other departments. (The rather unfortunately-named Michigan Council on Arts and Cultural Affairs, or MCACA, would become part of the Michigan Strategic Fund.) Even if Brown’s resolution succeeds, however, Senate resolutions put forward this year would still abolish the Department and put its functions under the Secretary of State’s office (a solution Granholm does not support either). This after MCACA had its current year’s budget slashed 3.74% unilaterally as part of another executive order in May. ArtServe Michigan has more.


Perhaps the most dramatic story this year has been that of Pennsylvania, where in some versions of the state budget under consideration the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts’s $14 million budget would be eliminated. The ripple effect is already taking a toll on Philadelphia, which has announced that it may have to close its own cultural affairs office (just re-opened last year) if other state funding doesn’t come through, and where the possible elimination of Pennsylvania’s tax credit has forced M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie to Canada. The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance has done a great job organizing the resistance, and you can follow the action on Twitter with the hashtags #savePAarts and #PAbudget.


The Arizona Commission on the Arts saw its state appropriation reduced 54%, necessitating an overall budget cut of approximately 42%.

After initially making noises about cutting the Colorado Council for the Arts’s funding in half, Democratic Governor Bill Ritter settled for a 25% decrease for next year. The Council will receive about $300,000 less from the state than in the current year.

The Florida Division of Cultural Affairs will receive $2.8 million in Fiscal Year 2010, less than half of last year’s appropriation and a shocking 94% decline from three years ago. Florida is another state whose lawmakers threatened to zero out arts funding, and only the promise of $1 million in NEA money (which Florida would not have been eligible to receive without a state arts council) saved the division from extinction. Meanwhile, a Republican lawmaker has also introduced a bill to repeal Florida’s law mandating that 0.5% of construction costs go to public art; this bill did not come to a vote.

Things were looking pretty good in Barack Obama’s home state when Governor Quinn originally proposed a flat funding level at $15.3 million – but by the time the Legislature was done with the Illinois Arts Council, that level had been cut 51% to $7.8 million. The executive director of the IAC says things don’t look much better for next year either.

The Indiana Arts Commission’s funding was cut by $1 million (20%), cuts that apparently blindsided the agency and forced an emergency session to redo the FY 2010 budget. There has also been a 5% holdback mandated for the current year’s funds.

I can’t figure out what the hell is going on in Louisiana. The back story is that Governor Jindal (remember him from this year’s State of the Union response?) decided to cut a full 83% from Louisiana’s Decentralized Arts Fund and 31% from its Statewide Arts Grants. A firestorm of protest ensued, and the state’s Legislature responded by reinstating the arts funding at 100% of prior levels. However, Jindal threatened to veto the reinstatement, and “political maneuvering has delayed the review of this portion of the budget until it’s too late for the Legislature to override the veto without calling a special session.” This was all as of mid-May, and unfortunately, I can’t find any information about what happened next (the website for the Louisiana Partnership for the Arts, the state’s arts advocacy organization, is disappointingly bereft of information on the conflict and the latest newsletter is more than a year old; the Facebook page is in similar shape). But knowing Jindal, I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that the vetoes went through.

The Maryland State Arts Council sustained an 18% cut for FY10 and also lost 14% of its original FY09 appropriation. And just this month, Governor O’Malley cut another $2 million out of a newly established arts fund that gets its money from a tax on instant bingo machines. Cumulatively, the cuts come to about 30%.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council’s funding has been reduced by 23.4% for next year, to $9.7 million. Believe it or not, this actually could have been a lot worse – the State Senate Ways & Means Committee initially recommended a cut of 57%.

The Missouri Arts Council actually got $5.6 million withheld out of the current year’s budget as the state sought to close a shortfall in February, an amount exceeding a third of the Council’s state appropriation. For next year, it looks like MAC will face about a 10% reduction (not sure if that’s a reduction based on the original FY09 budget or the revised one).

The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts will have its state appropriation cut 31.7% in FY 2010, precipitating an overall budget cut of about $320,000 from what was already one of the smaller state grantmaking agencies out there.

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, one of the best-funded agencies in the country, saw its appropriation slashed 25% to $14.4 million. Governor Corzine actually had to circumvent a law to do so, as New Jersey’s arts council is funded by a dedicated hotel-motel occupancy tax that is supposed to self-destruct if the appropriation falls below $16 million. The idea was that this would be a “poison pill” designed to create a strong incentive for keeping arts funding high. I haven’t been able to find confirmation of whether the tax has, in fact, been abolished as a result of the deep cuts.

The Ohio Arts Council’s budget was cut an astounding 47% for FY10-11, to $13.2 million for the two years. The state had already taken back $3.62 million from its original FY08-09 appropriation.

The South Carolina Arts Commission’s troubles started early: by this March, the agency had sustained no fewer than three cuts to its original FY09 appropriation totaling a cumulative 25.9%. The SCAC has been getting an additional $585,000 in “one-time” funding for each of the past three years, and it is not confident about a renewal in FY10.

The Washington Arts Commission lost 26% of its state funding for FY2010. It could have been worse: a bill introduced by a Republican lawmaker in February would have eliminated the Commission’s Art in Public Places program; it seems, however, that the bill did not go anywhere.


South Dakota’s state arts council looked like it was going to get axed earlier in the year by Governor Mike Rounds, but an outpouring of advocacy efforts led to a 0.5% increase in the state tourism tax that allowed (among other things) the arts funding to be reinstated.

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Wanna have a phone chat with Kal Penn?

Well, you can, if you sign up to participate in Americans for the Arts’s conference call with Penn (who now goes by his birth name, Kalpen Modi) on the subject of President Obama’s United We Serve initiative. The call is tomorrow, Thursday, August 27 at 3pm Eastern time. Americans for the Arts has partnered with the NEA and the Obama administration to bring you, where you can not only register for the call but also upload your service-oriented arts project to, find volunteers for your project and opportunities to volunteer yourself, and sign a petition supporting the creation of a national Artist Corps.

FYI, though Modi is best known for his role as a pot-smoking dunderhead in the Harold and Kumar movies, he is a graduate of UCLA, has taught two courses in Asian American and media studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently pursuing a certificate from Stanford in international security. Underestimate him at your peril.

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Around the horn: town hall edition

  • Barry Hessenius is out with his second annual list of the 25 most powerful and influential leaders in the nonprofit arts sector. Bob Lynch (president of Americans for the Arts), who took the top slot last year, has to share it this time with the Curb Center’s Bill Ivey, who has increased his clout thanks to his new book and the role he played in shepherding arts policy for the Obama transition team. Dick Deasey, Sam Miller, and Claire Peeps, among others, are off the list, while Rocco Landesman, Claudine Brown, and Michael Kaiser all make big debuts. I’m pleased to say that I’m one of two “Barry’s Picks” (given to “younger leaders who…are very likely to grow into major contributors to the arts in this country over time”), along with my former colleague from the Hewlett Foundation, Marc Vogl.
  • In a recent series of posts here, I’ve been arguing that money and value are not the same thing, and that one component of “value” is happiness. Can money buy happiness? The conventional wisdom says no, but it turns out the answer isn’t quite so black and white. This excellent article from the Boston Globe explains why:

    Dunn and others are beginning to offer an intriguing explanation for the poor wealth-to-happiness exchange rate: The problem isn’t money, it’s us. For deep-seated psychological reasons, when it comes to spending money, we tend to value goods over experiences, ourselves over others, things over people. When it comes to happiness, none of these decisions are right: The spending that make us happy, it turns out, is often spending where the money vanishes and leaves something ineffable in its place.

    Any attempt to put these findings into practice, however, has to contend with the subtle but powerful ways money itself channels our thinking, and the ways it plays on human attitudes about sharing and scarcity. Recent studies have suggested that merely thinking about money makes us more solitary and selfish, and steers us away from the spending that promises to make us happiest.

    This line of thinking, it is worth noting, is very much in line with a couple of the arguments that Richard Florida lays out in The Rise of the Creative Class: namely, that the so-called “experiential lifestyle” is on the rise, and that having a network of like-minded individuals in one place greatly enhances those individuals’ experience of that place.

    There’s much, much more to contemplate in Drake Bennett’s thought-provoking article, and I highly recommend you just go read it.

  • This week’s BLOGGER ON FIRE is Sean-Stannard Stockton, with a great series telling the story of his blog Tactical Philanthropy, all leading up to some major new developments (the nature of which he hasn’t yet revealed). You can read the series entries here, here, here, here, and here. I’ve also been greatly enjoying Sean’s “Friday Afternoon Mental Health Break” videos, which I think are exceptionally well-curated and often have an artistic component. This past week’s video is from the Peery Foundation, which has been making waves among the philanthropy Twitterati lately for its unusually open working style (including the live-tweeting of a Board meeting). The video is great–a fluff piece, basically, but a really effective one.
  • FSG Social Impact Advisors cofounder and Harvard Business School professor Mark Kramer tells about a philanthropist with an unusual story of success, Thomas Seibel, and uses it to outline a vision of “catalytic philanthropy.” And Lucy Bernholz gives a preview of the paper she and colleagues from Duke have been working on how technology will change philanthropy. Lucy is one of the most visionary thinkers on the subject out there, so attention must be paid.
  • Seth Godin outlines what it’s really like to live on $2 a day in an impassioned pitch for the Acumen Fund.
  • Detroit’s Community Foundation Challenge, an effort to raise $3 million for arts organizations in the area, is both a success and a failure: a success in that it exceeded all expectations and ended up raising an additional $750,000 on top of the original goal; a failure in that technical difficulties caused numerous donor headaches and caused some people’s credit cards to be charged multiple times for the same donation. But hey, go Detroit!
  • The New York Times‘s Economix blog is finished with its cost-benefit analysis for high-speed rail, and concludes that even taking environmental benefits into account, a hypothetical Dallas-Houston line would have a net cost to society of $375 million a year. Obviously these projections are based on lots of assumptions and other lines may make more sense, but it does seem possible that America is no longer built for rail in quite the way that Europe or Japan were. Our country’s decision to invest big in highways instead of trains looms large 50 years later.
  • And via Freakonomics, Yahoo wants to try out a new model whereby people can opt to pay a penny per email message in order to ensure getting past the spam filters. Before all you net neutrality folks get up in arms: the penny goes to charity. Could this be a huge new market for embedded giving? (Though I fear it won’t last if it’s successful, as more and more providers will be tempted to skim a portion for themselves.)
  • More beating the drum for newspapers to become nonprofits. Though it should be noted, in no way are newspapers not already “allowed” to become nonprofit organizations. There are plenty of nonprofit media outlets already (NPR being only the most obvious example). They just need to decide they’ve had enough and do it. Meanwhile, the Knight Foundation, established by the family behind the Knight-Ridder news service, is funding an intriguing experiment in “networked journalism” (I’d call it distributed journalism) that will bring together hyper-local sources and mainstream media.
  • On the heels of last week’s news about the Netflix Prize, the Foundation Center’s PhilanTopic has a nice interview with Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation. PhilanTopic’s Mitch Nauffts also has a good take on the case for optimism in the midst of recession.
  • The Ford Foundation has released its report on the internal restructuring that came with Luis Ubiñas’s ascension to the President’s office. It looks like the foundation’s arts support will be hyper-focused on cultural facilities, particularly in “diverse communities,” in the near term.
  • I found this comment from Andrew Taylor on Les Paul’s death interesting.

    What’s extraordinary about the interview — beyond the obvious energy, passion, and persistence in the face of so many physical challenges — is his motivation for his inventions. He created all of these extraordinary tools and techniques not to serve a market, make a fortune, or even change the face of music. Rather, he was compelled to invent solutions to get the sound he wanted in the way he wanted it.

    Food for thought on the collateral benefits of creativity for its own sake.

  • No more Radiohead albums? The greatest active band in the universe is planning to release songs individually from now on.

New Blogs!

Only three this time, but I didn’t want to hold them up until I found another. If you know of a great arts policy, philanthropy, or other blog that isn’t already in my blogroll, do tell me about it!

Beth’s Blog
One of philanthropy’s most oft-cited bloggers, consultant Beth Kanter writes about the intersection between the nonprofit sector and social media. Though her blog is ecumenical when it comes to cause or topic area, Kanter has a background as a classical flautist, arts administrator, and consultant to arts agencies including the NEA and NYFA, so she definitely “gets it” when it comes to the arts. Oh, and the social media coverage is pretty great too.

Philanthropy 411
Another philanthropy consultant, Kris Putnam-Walkerly of Putnam Community Investment Consulting, has been blogging since February at Philanthropy 411. Kris’s posts are a bit few and far between, but they’re usually worth the wait. Her most recent effort involved collecting a list of 90 Foundations that Tweet (a list bolstered considerably in the comments to that post).

Real Clear Arts
I’m assuming this title is a takeoff on the political website Real Clear Politics, but I could be wrong. In any case, Real Clear Arts is the work of Judith H. Dobrzynski, an independent journalist and former staff reporter for the New York Times. Another province in the ArtsJournal empire, RCA has good coverage of arts policy at the federal level as well as topics in arts management and the business of the arts.

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Value generators II

For those of you just joining this discussion, I’ve been ruminating for the past couple of months on the nature of economic growth and its relationship to the (as it turns out, quite vague) concept we call “value.” You can read the first two essays on this topic here and here. In the first, I explained how I reached the conclusion that value is an entirely separate concept from money, even though money is often used as a proxy for value. In the second, I responded to some reader comments to clarify what I was after, and posited that value comes from two concepts: 1) productivity, and 2) happiness. When we left off last time, we were talking about the crucial role of externalities in this discussion, and as a first step toward demonstrating that any intelligent policy or strategy regarding economic growth must fully account for those externalities, I proposed to map out the way in which one of the most common measures of economic health, the volume of economic transactions, can be increased.

I’ve chosen to limit the conversation for now to transactions for goods and services, even though I think it’s a crappy measure of value, because I want to demonstrate how even in this most familiar territory to economists, externalities play a huge role. The umbrella concept of “social good,” under which concepts like environmentalism and public health reside, is usually thought of as fundamentally separate from a country’s, a system’s, a world’s economic health. But as you’ll see below and as I’ll explore in more detail in the next post, they are in fact inextricably linked.

The diagram you see above is what’s known as a “theory of change” (or, in some corners, a “logic model”), a tool commonly used in the philanthropic sector. In this case, I’ve applied it to the concept of increasing economic transactions for goods and services, which is more or less the idea behind GDP. In a policy-level theory of change, the basic process is first to identify the goal that we want to achieve, and then walk back the logical steps leading to that goal. We continue this process iteratively until we finally arrive at actions, concrete steps that we can take today or tomorrow that will set us along the path to achieving the goal. It’s an incredibly powerful tool that has uses in all sorts of contexts. In this case, I’m using it to think about the nature of value.

I’ve identified seven antecedents to increased transactions for goods and services, as follows:

More people want goods and services. Pretty self-explanatory, this is about increasing the demand for stuff by increasing the number of active buyers in the market. This could take place through a population increase, by means of people living longer (which I guess can also lead to population increase), and through bringing people in to the market who weren’t buying before, principally by activating the purchasing power of the “bottom of the pyramid” — the 40% of the world’s population that currently lives on $2 or less a day).

Greater capacity to provide goods and services. The supply-side corollary to the above. It doesn’t do much good if more people want goods and services if capacity doesn’t exist to produce those goods and services. There’s both a human dimension and a, shall we say, non-sentient dimension to this. First, we can increase capacity to produce things by putting more people to work. If there are more people in the world (because of a population increase) or more people work who weren’t working before (e.g., women, children, the elderly), that increases the world’s productive capacity. But it’s not just about humans: if we can make machines to do our work for us, or take better advantage of natural resources, or come up with new operational processes and organizational systems that increase efficiency, all of these things increase productive capacity as well.

Greater variety of goods and services available. Most consumers do not have an infinite taste for any given product, especially products that are durable and not essential necessities of life. No matter how useful they might find the product, they’re only going to want so many. But if there are new kinds of products to choose from, the consumer might well buy some of them, thus increasing the net total of transactions. New products with market appeal will generally fall into one of three categories: complements to existing products that make them more appealing or useful (think a protective case for your iPhone, or a bar to go along with a new music venue); substitutes for existing products that make the older editions obsolete (think new versions of old software, or the updated car designs that come out every year); or entirely new concepts that often feature some sort of disruptive innovation and have little precedent in previous products (think the television or the phonograph).

People buy more previously available goods and services. Sometimes increasing transactions is as simple as making sure people know that the available goods exist. That’s where marketing comes in, though at its extreme (or most professional) it can take on the more sinister role of artificially inducing demand by preying on humans’ psychological quirks. [That's one reason why this model is incomplete: by making increased transactions the sole stated goal, it endorses several socially undesirable practices (like this one, or child labor) as legitimate intermediate outcomes. We'll address this in the next post.] The other way in which people might buy more previously available goods and services is if those goods and services suddenly become more useful–either because someone figured out a new use for them, or because a new product, desirable in itself, uses the old product as a complement. (Think old TV shows, which found a new life because of cable television and specifically Nick at Nite.)

Buying and selling becomes easier and/or faster. Sometimes, even if there’s a buyer and a seller, making a transaction can be costly or difficult. If someone in Peoria has a copy of an out-of-print book and you’re in San Francisco looking for that book, you’re not going to find it. Or at least that was the case before Amazon Marketplace and eBay. Now, it’s a few clicks of a mouse and we’re off to the library. Technologies like these increase the velocity of money–the frequency at which transactions can happen, and thus the overall number of transactions.

People spend money instead of hoarding it. Assuming money is the currency of transactions, it doesn’t serve the goal in question when people who could engage in transactions elect not to because they are afraid of running out. When that happens, trade dries up and the possibilities start to contract, as we’re seeing in this latest recession. Clearly, confidence–on the part of consumers, investors, and firms alike–is important, as is liquidity (the ability to access quickly and easily what financial assets you do have).

Impending market disruptions are avoided. I chose my wording here carefully, because just avoiding market disruptions doesn’t lead to increased transactions. You have to avoid market disruptions that would have happened had you not taken steps to avoid them. Now, we obviously don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in the future, so the easiest way to think about this problem is in terms of risk. The list of possible catastrophes that could result in a major hindrance of market activity is endless, but some of the more obvious risks include war (including nuclear war); natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes; terrorism (physical or electronic); environmental problems, most notably global warming; and systemic financial risk of the kind that we saw in the recent banking crisis. Taking care of (or just mitigating) a problem with a high severity and high risk will provide the greatest benefit to the ultimate goal, increased financial transactions.

This theory of change for economic growth is just a first cut – the result of maybe a couple hours’ worth of thinking about the question systematically. If you have thoughts about how it could be improved, I welcome your input. I can already name a couple of deficiencies: it only goes three levels deep, which leaves out quite a lot of detail — and even then, of course, it only considers a very narrow conception of economic growth. But you can already see how, even using pure GDP as the end goal, traditional economic growth strategies (cut taxes! deregulate!) only address a small portion of the relevant levers. Issues that we’re accustomed to thinking of as totally separate from economic development, including fighting global warming, working towards peace and security in the Middle East, increasing the life expectancy of our citizens through better health care, and extending a helping hand to the world’s poorest citizens, are all directly linked to economic growth. And if economic health is more than just the volume of transactions, if it’s in fact about improving quality of life, then these supposedly “external” considerations are all the more important.