The findings in the recent 2012 National Arts Index describing the state of the arts are profoundly disturbing.
The Index reported a long list of measures that trend down for arts, music, and cultural organizations, among them: waning program budgets, attendance, funding, expenditures, and a decrease in the overall number of arts organizations themselves.
As arts professionals we have heard all of this before. It’s not time to bemoan our fate but it is time to refocus our energy to reverse these trends. Consider these three core strategies to begin the process:
1. Setting and communicating a vision: We clearly need to seek out innovative leaders that can communicate big and bold ideas broadly, consistently, and in a wider context. Can we discard our identity as an “underdog” and provide a platform for people to speak about radical new suggestions for the future? By extending the context to include the pressing need for social change in this country, we will attract visibility, excitement, and extend our influence. In addition, we must be willing to listen when new ideas are proposed, give support and participate in implementation.
2. Developing Collective Impact as a core strategy: Despite our diverse agendas, it’s time that we look past our differences and speak with a more cohesive, unified voice. In the process, we can learn important lessons from our colleagues in the social service and education sectors about collective impact. A commitment to collective impact would encourage us to abandon our individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to policy, practice, and the delivery of the arts and arts education.
3. Establishing a commitment to community: Can we engage substantively with our communities and cultural partners, not just to sell tickets or extend the reach of our organizations but to improve the lives of all people in our communities? As Doug Borwick says on his Engaging Matters blog, “It is the creation and support of healthy, vital communities that provide the ultimate justification for the allocation of financial and human resources that the arts require. Communities do not exist to serve the arts; the arts exist to serve communities.”
After reviewing the long list of downward trends provided by the Index, we as arts leaders need to create a new list that expands the core strategies described above. My list includes the following:
- Putting aside our own agendas and our individual needs to be the authority in the room.
- Taking more steps toward visionary and innovative thinking at the national, state, and local level.
- Acknowledging that “survival” is not enough.
- Taking risks to avoid the status quo.
- Making a commitment to continuous dialogue.
- Seeking collaborative learning experiences geared towards new options and potential for our sector.
This is a list that requires leadership, action, and commitment. A tall order for sure.
What would you add to the list and how can we strategize to reverse these trends in order to set an exciting new agenda for the future?