Reporting from Seattle! Wednesday was a pre-conference workshop for local arts agency administrators who are also engaged in private sector initiatives (like my organization, the Regional Arts & Culture Council in Portland, Oregon is doing with its United Arts Fund, Work for Art). Americans for the Arts datahead and amateur comic Randy Cohen presented an overview of arts giving in America, supported by three recently released reports that are, I’ll just say it, discouraging.

A study conducted every 4 years by the National Endowment for the Arts tells us that the percentage of Americans attending live arts events decreased in 2008. It had been fairly steady at 40% in the 80s, 90s, and earlier part of this decade, but now stands at 35%. Now because the study tracks “benchmark” activities – theater, opera, professional dance, classical music, jazz, and art museums – it’s possible that some of the decline is simply attributable to the fact that many Americans are consuming art in different ways — poetry slams, participatory arts, contemporary music festivals and the like. We also discussed our theories on the extent to which technology is playing a role. Randy pointed out that record and CD stores have declined by 50% during the same period, but that certainly doesn’t mean we’re listening to less music, we’re just downloading it.

The annual Giving USA report, released just last week, shows that overall giving to arts, culture and humanities is down, from $13.67 million in 2007 to $12.79 billion in 2008. Yes overall giving was down during this period, but even more distressing is the fact that the arts are losing ever-more market share of all philanthropic contributions. In 2001, 4.9% of every philanthropic dollar went to the arts; in 2008 the arts’ share was 4.1%. That might sound like only a small gap, but the trend is concerning (when does it end?), and it represents a very significant sum: $2.3 billion (which is how much more American businesses, foundations and individuals would be giving today if they were still giving 4.9% to the arts).

Meanwhile, the national BCA (now merging with Americans for the Arts) has a new report that focuses on business support for the arts. Between 2003 and 2006, the percentage of businesses that contribute to the arts increased from 36% to 42%, but total cash support decreased 5%, from $3.32 billion to $3.16 billion. That was during a period of economic growth; obviously, this number is going to worsen over the next couple of years. I’ve read many reports that a majority of corporations plan to hold their contributions flat in 2009, but I’m thinking, yeah right.

Which brings us to the convention proper, which begins today (Thursday). I’ll be following the Private Sector track throughout the conference, with some dabbling in the advocacy and civic engagement tracks, to see if we can’t uncover some best practices and other forms of inspiration to combat these conditions and reverse these trends in the Portland area, if not nationally.

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During the opening general session at the 2009 annual convention in Seattle today, Americans for the Arts honored five individuals and one organization for their outstanding leadership in the arts and arts education. Congratulations to this year’s award recipients:

Bruce W. Davis, Michael Newton Award for United Arts Funds Leadership
Randy Engstrom, Emerging Leader Award
Victoria Hamilton, Selina Roberts Ottum Award for Arts Leadership
Buster Simpson, Public Art Network Award
Sheila Smith, Alene Valkanas State Arts Advocacy Award
Big Thought, Arts Education Award

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Twitter Alert

Posted by Lex Leifheit On June - 17 - 20091 COMMENT

We’re here! Many of us, anyway. And we’re tweeting. Several of you pointed out that the hashtag #aftaconvention09 is awfully long, given the 140-character limit. So many people are using the hash tag #afta09, which was given AftA’s official blessing earlier today.

For Twitter newbies: a “hashtag” is a way of adding community context to your tweets–they are similar to the tags used on other community sites such as Flickr, but included within the text a post.

I must admit I don’t know how to set up an automatic search for hashtags … I just searched for people posting about the Annual Convention and added them to my follow list. Does anyone out there know a better way?

Hope to meet many of you soon … in person!

@artagenda (Lex Leifheit)

Arts and arts ed consultant and one of the San Diego arts ed advocacy masterminds, Victoria Saunders, gave an interview to the California Alliance for Arts Education. It’s posted on CAAE’s Facebook site. This story is so great, it gave me goosebumps. She says, “I told myself, if the Visual and Performing Arts Department goes away and I didn’t do anything to try to prevent that from happening, I will regret it for the rest of my life. If we lose it and we try at least we know that we tried and that we stood up for something we believe in.”

Here’s an awesome slice:

We also created a Facebook fan page to help build community support and share information. Then we combed through our Facebook fans to find out who supported our cause. I discovered that one of our “fans” was the brother of one of the school board members. That was useful information. In some cases, we got in touch with our fans to find out more about why they supported our issue. That helped us understand who we could leverage to help plead our cause.

For example, one of our Facebook fans was a former head of the local taxpayer’s association and now he’s an independent political consultant. I wrote to him and asked him about his interest in this issue. He wrote back and said that he has two kids in school, one in the band, and he’s always been a supporter of the arts. We had coffee and I asked for his advice. He suggested a media event emphasizing that we needed publicity.

I don’t do media. So I asked around for advice. I contacted a colleague who specializes in public relations. We put together a brief for her, and in 48 hours, she helped us pull together a media event. She told us that it is important to have strong visuals. So the VAPA Director helped get kids there – theatre students came in costume; arts students made banners, and musicians brought instruments. The Guild of Puppetry brought some huge puppets, including one Day of the Dead character.

Read the rest of this entry »

The National Assessment Governing Board released the 2008 NAEP Arts, which presents the educational progress of eighth-grade students nationally in visual arts and music.

Theatre and dance were not surveyed because of budget restrictions and difficulty in previous years finding enough theater and dance classes to yield reliable results. In addition, the questions that assessed student creation of music were eliminated for budget reasons.

In both music and visual arts,

  • Average responding scores were higher for White and Asian/Pacific Islander students than Black and Hispanic students. The pattern was the same for the visual arts creating task scores.
  • Female students had a higher average responding score than male students. Female students had a higher average creating task score in visual arts.
  • Students who were eligible for free/reduced price school lunch had a lower average responding score and a lower average creating task score in visual arts than those who were not eligible.
  • City students scored lower than suburban, town and rural students.

Additional findings included the following:

  • Eight percent of surveyed schools do not offer music instruction. Fourteen percent of schools do not offer visual arts classes.
  • Eight percent of surveyed schools offer music instruction less than once a week. Ten percent of schools offer visual arts instruction less than once a week.
  • Fifty-seven percent of eighth-graders in 2008 attended schools where students received music instruction at least three or four times a week.
  • Forty-seven percent of eighth-graders in 2008 attended schools where students received visual arts instruction at least three or four times a week.

Although this survey is not designed to assess the frequency of instruction (unlike the 2012 F.R.S.S. in the arts will do), today’s press release began with the headline, “Frequency of Arts Instruction Remains Steady Since 1997 on the Nation’s Report Card in Music and Visual Arts.”

Read more:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Today’s Press Release
  3. Report Homepage
  4. Download Page

If you have questions, please contact Narric Rome, or 202.371.2830.

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One Dollar Too Many

Posted by Adam Thurman On June - 15 - 2009No comments yet

As the economy slams shut many of the contributed revenue sources the arts relied on, I’m concerned that many of my brethen are trying to get that boatload of cash out of our patrons.

“Let’s raise our (already high) ticket prices by $3, they can afford it.”

“Let’s do less discounting, we need the extra revenue.”

I totally understand the impulse. It is going to be really hard to keep a balanced buget for the next few years.

But let’s remember that ol’ economic rule of diminishing returns.

Every dollar we raise our prices runs the risk of making the art less accessible.

And if those of us in the nonprofit arts can’t make our work accessible, then that’s a pretty big risk we run.

So raise prices if you feel like you absolutely must . . . but do so with extreme caution. Make sure your AD’s and Board’s understand the long term impact of the decision.

Make sure they remember that sometimes, the extra dollar just isn’t worth it.

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A few days ago, we asked if you had questions for the general session speakers—Bill Ivey, Dr. Peter M. Senge, and Terre Jones—at the upcoming Americans for the Arts annual convention. Now we want some good ones to ask our Innovators. These are some of most pioneering people working in and around the arts, so it’s OK to do a little prep work before leaving your question in the comments below.

  • Arts Education Innovator: Daniel Windham and Robert L. Lynch
  • Civic Engagement Innovator: Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Maria Bauman
  • Diverse Cultures Innovator: Luis J. Rodriguez
  • Economic Development Innovator: Jon Hawkes
  • Private Sector Innovator: Akhtar Badshah
  • Public Advocacy Innovator: Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA)
  • Public Art Innovator: Edgar Heap of Birds

You can also send us your questions on Twitter @americans4arts and be sure to tag it #aftaconvention09. Your question may be asked during an Innovator session or be included in exclusive video Q&As that we will be posting online.

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One of the things I’m most excited to use this space for is to highlight wins. My most recent post here was ages ago and many of you offered comments, notes and feedback on what is working for you.

Art School in Los Angeles

Art School in Los Angeles

This post is inspired by one such comment by Celia Castellanos in East Los Angeles.

Today I am proud to highlight and focus attention on a remarkable accomplishment taking place in a city that I feel is easily misunderstood.

From the outside LA is easy to see as an urban sprawl of endless strip malls and continual consumerism. But when you are here long enough, or fortunate enough to have a seasoned cultural guide the landscape takes on a whole new dimension.

There are many unmarked diamonds hidden beneath and behind all the common diorama. It’s okay if you don’t believe me. I hated this place when I moved here. Because I was ignorant. My favorite “curated guide to Los Angeles” lives at Kristin’s List.

But I digress.

Read the rest of this entry »

On June 10, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which sets the initial funding level for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), approved a $15 million increase for the NEA in its FY 2010 spending bill, setting it on a path towards final House consideration. Chairman Norm Dicks (D-WA) has once again championed the arts and culture and proposed an increase in funding.

Currently funded at $155 million, this increase would bring the agency’s budget to $170 million. In his statement, Chairman Dicks referenced the Arts Advocacy Day hearings the subcommittee held as demonstrating that “the endowments are vital for preserving and encouraging America’s arts and cultural heritage.”  On Arts Advocacy Day, Americans for the Arts presented a panel of witnesses before Chairman Dicks’ Appropriations Subcommittee calling for a significant increase in funding for the NEA.  Witnesses included Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center Wynton Marsalis, singer-songwriter Josh Groban, legendary singer Linda Ronstadt, Reinvestment Fund CEO Jeremy Nowak, and Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch. Watch video from that panel here.

The FY 2010 Interior Appropriations bill will next go to full committee and then to the House floor for final consideration where your help may be needed to defend against floor amendments attempting to cut this increase. We must now put pressure on the Senate to match this funding level. Please take two minutes to visit the Americans for the Arts E-Advocacy Center to send a letter to your Members of Congress letting them know that the arts are important to you!

The recently posted Americans for the Arts strategic plan re-asserts the role of local arts agencies in our organization. My recent travels, emails, and tasks around the office remind me of the challenge and opportunity we face in serving the local arts agency community well. In completing a statistical report for the U.S. Urban Arts Federation (the directors of the arts agencies in the 60 largest U.S. cities), we are reminded that more and more, there isn’t just one entity providing the service – one organization may provide most of the funding to artists and arts organizations, while another manages cultural planning. Yet another may manage the bulk of the cultural facilities in a community or coordinate advocacy and public policy development. We asked Urban Arts Federation members if other public agencies, offices, and departments supported the arts, whether it was with cash, and if so, whether that cash was managed through the arts agency. The answers were all over the map. Conferences where I got to meet with local arts agency leaders in Georgia and California this spring confirmed that this complexity is not unique to urban areas.

We are no longer in the age (if we ever were) of a stand-alone agency that takes care of all of a community’s needs. This decentralization is generally great news in terms of making art more widely available in our communities. A challenge for us – how do we understand and document the full picture of support for the arts on the local level? What professional development and training opportunities will best position our members to develop partnerships and leverage relationships to increase resources? We know each community is different – so what kind of strategic analysis necessary to size up what will work best? When is it worth it to try to centralize activity?

We’d love to hear from you about the ecology of support in your community and how Americans for the Arts can both provide the training you need to excel in your environment, and the research and information you need in order to do your job well.

By now, I’m sure you have read the previews here about the 2009 Annual Convention, but now we want to hear from you. Whether you are joining us in Seattle next week or not, we are collecting questions for our speakers.

Today we are looking for what you would like to ask our plenary session presenters Bill Ivey and Terre Jones and keynote speaker Dr. Peter M. Senge. I want to ask Terre Jones how arts groups that don’t have green spaces like Wolf Trap can excel in environmental sustainability?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or send us a message on Twitter @americans4arts and be sure to tag it #aftaconvention09. Your question may be asked during a session or be included in exclusive video Q&As that we will be posting online.

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The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund has just announced a two-year Arts Recovery initiative–a $2.5 million dollar program designed to help stabilize small and mid-sized arts organizations as they face unprecedented financial challenges. The effort is an expansion of the Arts Fund’s current grantmaking programs, but will come to fruition through dedicated fundraising and support from large corporate institutions in the region.

Do you know of other new programs that show strong ties between businesses and arts organizations in your community?

The dynamos at the Oregon Arts Commission put out this poster declaring the rights of all students to learn creativity, creatively. An excerpt:

When in the Life of an Oregon Child it becomes necessary to advance beyond Reticence, beyond a lapse in Personal Vision, or a loss of Innate Genius resident in the growing Mind, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth that confident station to which the process of Discovery shall entitle each Young Citizen, a respect for the Benefit of all Oregonians requires that we declare Certain Principles of learning that impel this Life.

We hold early Creative Experience to be indelible, and that all children need be offered, equally and abundantly, certain Rights that secure access to the formative Encounters of Art—and that among these are making original Work, savoring creative Practice, and the Pursuit of one’s own generous Vision and articulate Voice…

The opener goes on, in no less a dramatic fashion than the Declaration of Independence itself.

The best part, IMHO, are the themes:

  1. theme one: arts education allows for expression and creativity.
  2. theme two: arts education addresses multiple larning styles which may be missing in other academic areas.
  3. theme three: arts education developet critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

…and more. There are ten in all. And they are elegant and compelling. Well done, Oregon!

The full read:

Kids are incredibly capable…..especially given the chance and the opportunity. I often am reminded of how fortunate I am to be doing what I do – which is both being an artist, and working with kids, university students, and teachers in engagement with the arts. As such,  I am privileged and  I witness to young people’s capability on nearly a daily basis. 

I recently attended the season finale of the San Diego Youth Symphony, which featured Andy Leu, Young Artist in Residence for the university center I run called Center ARTES.  This was Andy’s last performance with the orchestra before going off to college. He is however, for anyone who reads this and living in southern CA, going to perform Sunday June 14th at 6:00, at the magnificent Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad CA.

The orchestra concert was amazing and to see kids perform with such dedication, feeling, passion, technique, and finesse is inspiring.  No doubt these kids are fortunate to have a dedicated and talented conductor, Jeff Edmonds, who pushes them, inspires them, and supports them. They also have parents who have encouraged and supported them, as well as probably had a few arguments related to practice time!

Having returned energized by the orchestra, I am able to expand on my last week’s blog focus that described the teaching and encouragement of passion in children as a must.  In one of those serendipity moments that occur fairly naturally when our eyes remain open, I was fortunate to connect a talented, passionate, and kind-hearted actor, Kim Rhodes to Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian.  Anyone reading this blog with children in elementary school will immediately know this actor, for she plays Carey Martin, the mom to Zack and Cody, on the Suite Life of Zack and Cody.  What they don’t know is her deep commitment to kids and their pursuit of an education. Read the rest of this entry »


If you’re looking for creative ways to relieve stress and increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace, listen to BCA’s Forum for New Ideas podcast. You will hear from Jonathan Spector, CEO, The Conference Board, a global membership organization of Fortune 1000 companies that helps businesses strengthen their performance by creating and disseminating knowledge about management and the marketplace; Krista Pilot, Senior Vice President, Dan Klores Communications; and Randy Cohen, Vice President of Local Arts Advancement, Americans for the Arts.

Speakers from the New York City, May 5th forum spoke on a number of up to the minute workplace challenges and how the arts can be used as a catalyst to overcome them. They discussed ways business can work with the arts to encourage employee engagement and benefit their bottom line.

Here is a brief excerpt from Jonathan Spector’s presentation: “Employee engagement in an economic time like this are obviously extremely important, its on the minds of all executives, and the arts can play a role on the dimension of creativity and innovation and using that to increase the way that we engage employees.”

How have you worked with businesses to encourage creativity in the workplace? 

Have you been involved in any innovative partnerships with business that have shown results?

Listen to all of the Forum For New Ideas speakers.

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ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices


Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.