Wow, you guys are eager beavers all of the sudden in the comments! I think I approved more this week than I did the entire summer last year. Glad to see that the content is engaging you. The first official day of the AFTA Convention was great – the discussions have mapped extraordinarily well to the topics covered by this blog. After a brief introductory session for first-time attendees of the conference, we had a plenary session featuring Bill Ivey, two rounds of breakout discussions, a fancy-schmantzy reception, and some emerging leader dine-arounds. In addition to seeing some old friends, I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of arts research heroes, including Maria Rosario Jackson and Ann Markusen, as well as Ebony McKinney, who is the driving force behind the SF Bay Emerging Arts Professionals group. My dinner group actually included three Createquity readers, including Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region’s executive director Bettina Swigger. And this was just the first day!
The opening plenary featured a great speech from the Mayor of Seattle, who had just returned from the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors (in Providence, of all places) where he was sworn in as that organization’s new President. I was surprised and pleased to learn that the Conference of Mayors is, if anything, even more hardcore about the arts than we are: apparently, the group approved three arts measures unanimously calling for the creation of a Cabinet-level Secretary of the Arts position, “full funding” (whatever that means) of the National Endowment for the Arts, and congratulating Americans for the Arts on its 50th anniversary. OK, so the AftA resolution was a bit of a gimme, but I’m a little amazed that the other two measures were able to garner 100% support. (Of course, it’s not like the mayors have a lot of say on federal policy, but it’s always nice to have fans.)
Mayor Nickels was followed by Bill Ivey, who told the inside story of being in charge of the cultural agencies on Obama’s transition team. He was actually appointed to that post in July 2008, but couldn’t share it with anyone in order to appoid the appearance of “measuring the drapes.” His role mainly involved an assessment of the two endowments (NEA and NEH) as well as a couple of smaller agencies, investigating Republican-introduced policies to decide what should stay and what should go, as well as identifying potential candidates for the two Chair positions. He did not advocate for a “culture czar” or Cabinet-level post, which probably had a lot to do with it not happening (he cited personal ambivalence about the prospect); instead, he tried to get a culture-oriented post established on the Domestic Policy Council, which he was hopeful would take place. Apparently, the $50 million for the NEA in the stimulus package almost didn’t happen in the first place, as administration officials were afraid it would be used as a wedge issue to try to discredit the bill as a whole (a prescient concern, as it turned out). For all that, though, Ivey practically had to beg the audience for applause for the $50 million.
It was more creative economy fun at my next breakout session, Telling the Massachusetts Story. While there was a bit of overlap with the workshop I attended yesterday, this session was notable as an opportunity to learn more about the creative industry work being undertaken by Jason Schupbach of the MA Office of Business Development. One of the major initiatives of that office at the moment is to target or build up “surrogate organizations” – basically, entities that can serve as advocates for the for-profit creative industries (such as advertising, design, film, video games) on Capitol Hill alongside more traditional industry associations. To that end, a new design affinity group called DIGMA, led by Yale SOM grad Beate Becker, is now up and running.
We also spent some time talking about how to advocate for the arts in a recession, and in general. Ann Markusen, who was in attendance as an audience member, made a great point that there’s a conventional wisdom in economic development that it has to be exported to be of any value. She, on the other hand, believes that sustainable jobs can be created by capturing a greater percentage of the consumption that happens in the local community. For example, she doesn’t believe that people come to Minnesota just to go to the Guthrie; but she says that a case can be made to try to get people to go to the Guthrie once they’re there instead of, say, the Mall of America. And that case rests upon where the money goes that people spend on the MoA as opposed to the money they spend on the Guthrie; i.e., how much of it stays local instead of going to corporate HQs and suppliers based around the country. Jason Schupbach wondered aloud whether, a propos of Guy Yedwab, Massachusetts needs a “Buy Your Creative Local” campaign in order to encourage companies to use local advertising talent instead of going to Madison Avenue, for example.
Finally, I attended a session entitled — what else? — “The Arts and Sustainability.” The discussion basically focused on ways that the arts could be integrated with other community priorities, especially environmental and health indicators. After an engaging if a bit tangential presentation from environmental artist Lorna Jordan, we heard from Sandra Ciske about a very interesting project measuring cultural vitality that originated from a rather unlikely source: the King County department of public health. The report and data are available at communitiescount.org. Finally, we had a presentation from a very pregnant Shannon Parry from the City of Santa Monica, CA. Shannon completely blew me away – she is one of the most articulate and intelligent presenters I’ve seen in a long, long time, and the work her office is doing in Santa Monica is absolutely remarkable. Santa Monica developed a “Sustainable City Plan” several years back that uses specific indicators and targets to drive programming and funding. For example, a specific target might be to reduce citywide water use by 20% by 2010. Shannon and her team have actually pushed the city to give arts and culture its own separate goal area as part of this system, which means that over the next year, they will be developing these same kinds of specific targets as they relate to the arts. (It’s only right, since according to the presentation 43% of Santa Monica’s residents are employed in the arts.) You can view the Sustainable City Progress Report (with arts and culture yet to be integrated) here.