Recently I was interviewed for a piece on the Keep Arts in Schools website and thought it might be useful to adapt that conversation for this blog conversation. The focus was on the establishment (ore re-establishment) of my office and the specific case-making needed to support the value of arts education from a public policy perspective. I am going to focus here just on my comments about case-making, but encourage people to check out the full interview.

The cultural sector benefits from strong support among elected officials. Mayor Michael Nutter – my boss – was elected in 2007 on a campaign platform that included a strong commitment to arts and culture. This support is also shared by City Council, which ultimately must vote on the cultural budget as part of the overall City budget. The Philadelphia business community is strongly supportive of the arts, but like many other cities has lost most of our corporate headquarters as a result of mergers and consolidation. We have strong support from most of the companies that are headquartered here, as well as from regional headquarters of companies based elsewhere.

Business understands that a thriving cultural sector and creative economy helps them attract and retain workers. It makes this a city where their employees want to live and work, and also fosters the creativity that is increasingly important in business. This does not mean there isn’t always more work to be done educating political and business leaders – it is a continual task. Read the rest of this entry »

I picked the topic title above from the list provided by Americans for the Arts because I don’t believe what it suggests is necessarily true.

We have seen some clear changes in program direction and focus from a handful of large and visible private foundations. The Ford Foundation is probably the poster-child for this topic. The bulk of these program changes have been the result of long-term planning efforts and/or changes in leadership, and not responses to the economy. The fact that some of these announcements coincided with the recession has muddied the waters a bit.

At the same time, we are also seeing both new foundations with a strong commitment to the arts come online, and program shifts in private foundations that strengthen the position of the arts and artists in their priorities.

It is also problematic to define “trends” from observations of activity among foundations. By and large, they communicate very little with each other (despite the efforts of GIA and others) and decisions are made independently and privately. While we look at the field of arts funders as a group, each is guided in their funding priorities by their individual missions, and those missions were often established a generation or more ago. In many important ways, foundations that fund the arts are more diverse and eclectic in their approaches than they are similar. Read the rest of this entry »

We’ve noticed a lot of chatter about finding a new way to talk about what we’re passionate about. We all want a value proposition that works to create support for the arts.

We followed the long exchange on the artsjournal pages and noticed that Michael Kaiser put it on his wish list for the holidays. And of course, this conversation is designed to answer the question:  how do we make the case for supporting the arts in 2010? What is the message that works with private sector supporters?

We understand this interest—and we share it. My blogs this week will offer a research-based answer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Everyone is feeling the pinch of the recession. In our small community in Northeastern North Carolina, as well as the rest of the nation, we are faced daily with headlines of higher unemployment and other general discouraging news. We’ve lost hundreds of jobs in the paper and automotive industries, banking and tourism industries have been severely impacted, and we hear of increasing numbers of our people needing assistance from food banks in our region. That said, in North Carolina, a gradual shift is taking place as we once again reinvent ourselves to face the new global economy–an economy where creativity and innovation will provide the competitive edge to our future global competitiveness.   Read the rest of this entry »

Where Hope Lives

Posted by John R. Killacky On March - 8 - 20104 COMMENTS

Responding to the economic meltdown last year, the San Francisco Foundation downsized and began reconsidering what a community foundation needs to be in the present environment. As a result of this rethinking, in addition to the arts portfolio, I now have multiple tasks including managing programs for LGBT organizations, diversity in philanthropy, and a new initiative supporting mergers, closures, joint ventures, and back office collaborations.

During this process of transition, I found myself having to be comfortable with ambiguity, as the importance of the arts was weighed in relation to the enormous safety net issues of food, clothing, shelter, job losses, and mortgage foreclosures. Funding cuts decimated education, health, and human services; the arts should not be exempt.

Looking at any community holistically, an argument can be made for how essential arts and culture are to its vitality.  Yet, this can only be argued when a community has affordable housing, jobs, access to heath care, quality schools, parks, and libraries.  As the very tenets of civil society are being rewritten in the current recession, and the social safety net is ruptured, support for the arts is understandably imperiled. Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes I think the arts and business are — to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw — two constituencies divided by a common language.  Both seek community health and vitality, both want to enable and encourage a better quality of life for citizens and neighbors but arts rhetoric centered on intrinsic arguments often crashes into the reality that the majority of our fellow citizens do not focus on the arts in their daily lives and our “soft sounding” arguments about the importance of art to a “well lived life” do not persuade our neighbors the arts are a public responsibility of a functioning society.  Arts’ instrumental arguments are rarely more effective, often stumbling on competition with other more compelling ideas about how to bolster an economy.

Although no one is specifically “anti-arts” many assumptions and misperceptions undermine our effectiveness in building public will to support the arts and the sector. Fighting against a shared civic responsibility to support the arts are deeply held public opinions such as: the arts are a product or experience to be purchased and should compete, succeed or fail, in the marketplace of “entertainment” options. Many feel the arts are a “private choice” — why should the many pay to support the tastes of the few? Read the rest of this entry »

Now is a time for Investment rather than Contribution.

Looking across the arts landscape it is clear that now is the time for investors who care about their communities to look at the arts community as the solution to quality of life issues.

I know many think of “need” when they “give.” But, the marketplace is changing. There aren’t enough dollars to solve all the social problems brought on by the current economic condition, so I’m seeing more donors become “investors.” Everyone has limited charitable dollars, so now is the time to look ahead to the end of the recession to see what impact you can have on the future by making a charitable investment now.

This concept isn’t confusing to most private sector donors – they do the same thing in their businesses. As the recession approaches the bottom (the worst), many private sector businesses will begin investing to be ready for the return of market activity. In the arts community, now is the time to be working on strategic plans, tinkering with rusty business models, and building collaborations across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. All of this work is strategic, not transactional. In other words, unlike development activity in better economic times, the results may not be an immediate check, but rather a cost savings, marketing opportunity, or new revenue stream that will build over time.

The Cultural Alliance is a United Arts Fund and, like everyone else, we struggle to be relevant and meaningful even during good times. In tough times like these, our challenge is greater–it is difficult to stand next to battered women or hungry babies and ask people to give to the arts. While we think it makes sense, it is not always an easy sell.

We did some research and found that during the great depression, the corporate community created the York Symphony Orchestra that still performs to this day. Their thinking, that symphonic music would help York survive terrible times, is a thought we embrace today.

It’s good for business if the community is one where people move to work and live. Businesses who feel they have a cultural or creative community to offer their employees will stay and/or relocate here. But in times when just keeping the doors open is a struggle, where is the value proposition for arts and culture.
Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve always said, “Money follows good ideas.” But, as we all know, that’s an oversimplification. We wish raising money was as simple as having a good idea, explaining that idea and waiting for the “investor” to respond, like pitching a movie script or TV pilot.

In reality, creative ideas drive the nonprofit arts sector but often, that’s not what gets us funding. While funders are attracted by inspirational and innovative ideas, what seals the grantmaking “deal” is often far from that big brilliant idea. It is organizational consistency, communication, and solid business practices that represent the maturity of the organization that will implement the creative project. But it’s even more than that. There are both internal and external forces at play.

Internally, an organization needs to have strong leadership with vision for the future and management skills for the present. The product must be unique and high quality. It’s very helpful to have enough depth in administrative staff to keep good records, write excellent grant applications and final reports with a program staff that understands evaluation. Read the rest of this entry »

In the past decade raising money from low-dollar online donations has nearly tripled and continues to steadily climb among generation Y. In this volatile economic environment it is important to engage and nourish young patrons to give, no matter how big or how small, and plant that seed for a sustainable and prosperous funding future. This series of blog posts will explore a few funding strategies using new media resources and online tools to engage young benefactors and make every penny count.

Following the recent success of the Haiti relief efforts, many organizations are looking to reciprocate these strategies in their own campaigns.  Raising over 20 million dollars, the American Red Cross was able to engage the American people in low-dollar giving using social media channels and a mobile texting campaign.  With the widespread adoption of social media in the private and public sectors, people’s ability to act and support communities in need like Haiti has only been increased.  One of the most effective and successful techniques in promoting your cause or product is to encourage your supporters and constituents to share a link or button to the donation page via website, blog, Facebook or Twitter status updates.  This is a quick and easy way to gain credibility (through re-posts and re-tweets) in your diverse networks while also creating a sense of urgency.  Read the rest of this entry »

Only One Message for Money?

Posted by Ramona Baker On March - 8 - 20101 COMMENT

A psychologist friend of mine specializes in couples’ therapy. She once told me that money is a much more personal and challenging issue for couples than the intimate details of their sex lives.

Money and the meaning of money in our lives are dramatically different from person to person based on our exposure and experiences.

For some people, money is associated with guilt, shame, and secrecy. For others it is associated with plenty, pleasure, and luxury. Some connect money to their sense of safety and security, or lack thereof. Money can be used to meet basic needs or to establishing dominance over another.

Some people see their own personal value and worth reflected in a paycheck while others enjoy budgeting for a house, a car or a new electronic game.

If money is indeed so personal and has so many individual meanings — why do we believe that simply explaining that nonprofit arts need money will compel businesses, foundations and individuals to contribute? We know that one size doesn’t fit all and yet we seem to believe that one message will work for everyone.

Art Grows the World

Posted by Larry Thompson On March - 8 - 20102 COMMENTS

Are you sitting down?

If not, take a seat, but before you do, look at the chair.

Why did you choose that chair? Was it look, feel, comfort factor?

All of the above?

We like the way it looks. We love the way it feels.

That is exactly what art and design is all about.

That’s why it matters in today’s world. Now go to your window.

Open it. I want you to toss out the myth of the “starving artist.” And that’s what it is—a myth.

Artists and designers and other visual pioneers aren’t just leading us into the future, they are creating it right now. We have moved past the Industrial Age, through the Knowledge Age and into the Creative/Conceptual Age. This is the age in which art and design and the gamut of creativity set the parameters for our future, determining the bottom line in terms of economics. The bottom line has always, and will always be economics. But what drives the bottom line? That is what has shifted.

Read the rest of this entry »

From Wikipedia
In economics, disintermediation is the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: “cutting out the middleman”. Instead of going through traditional distribution channels, which had some type of intermediate (such as a distributor, wholesaler, broker, or agent), companies may now deal with every customer directly, for example via the Internet. One important factor is a drop in the cost of servicing customers directly.

Disintermediation initiated by consumers is often the result of high market transparency, in that buyers are aware of supply prices direct from the manufacturer. Buyers bypass the middlemen (wholesalers and retailers) in order to buy directly from the manufacturer and thereby pay less. Buyers can alternatively elect to purchase from wholesalers.”

Yes, indeed disintermediation has come to the arts.  Just consider the changes in arts consumerism on the broader scale: Read the rest of this entry »

Lately I’ve been saying, in conversations and speeches, that this is a time of great opportunity for the arts. People look at me like I’m crazy. How can there be any hope for the arts in the middle of the worst recession in 75 years? The difficult economic times have affected every aspect of our lives, personally and professionally. In general, there is a sense that we are losing ground while working even harder to catch up.  There doesn’t seem to be an answer or a solution, or an end, to the myriad local and global problems we face.

So let me be clear – I agree that it’s a terribly anxious and disquieting time for the arts, and for every person, every organization and business, and every community in this country. There are critical issues for the short term that we must all deal with. As director of a small nonprofit organization, I lie awake at night worrying just like everyone else. The rent demands to be paid, tomorrow (or actually, yesterday).  But, as important and as pressing as those short term issues are for us all, it’s precisely because the times are extraordinary that it’s a time of great opportunity for the arts.  We must turn focus and vision to the long-term opportunities ahead for the arts, and for all of us, locally and globally. The 21st century world demands new ways of thinking and doing. So what’s going to get us out of the mess we’re in?  Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship-all qualities inherent in and integral to arts participation and involvement. Read the rest of this entry »

People have been asking, “What’s the difference between Americans for the Arts Annual Convention and the Half-Century Summit?”  If you watched the video above, you’ll know that they’re the same thing only this year, there’s so much more to offer.  Find out more about Americans for the Arts Half-Century Summit at, and to create an animated video like the one above, go to