Ecosystems at Risk

Posted by Alex Sarian On July - 9 - 20132 COMMENTS
Alex Sarian

Alex Sarian

Two very scary, and seemingly unrelated, things happened in 2008:   1) 100,000 nonprofits around the US (many of them arts, education, & culture based) began the slow and painful process of going out of business, and 2) the Holdridge’s toad, one of Costa Rica’s most prevalent species, was declared extinct.

Let’s talk toads first:

There are two schools of thought that explain why a species might become extinct. The first holds the environment responsible, stating that the Holdridge’s toad became extinct because of “chytridiomycosis” (look it up), a disease caused by effects of climate change. In this case, the toads were not able to evolve fast enough to adapt to the fast-changing environment around them. The second option, ironically, holds the species responsible. This popular evolutionary theory called the “Red Queen hypothesis” – named after Lewis Carroll’s character who described her country as a nation in which “it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place” – argues that species biologically increase in numbers until they reach the ‘carrying capacity’ of their environment, by which point the environment is too consumed (deteriorated) to sustain such diversity. Extinction. Scientists predict that by 2050, as a result of one of the two theories mentioned above, a full quarter of the species known to us today will be extinct. Read the rest of this entry »

Wendy Hawkins

Wendy Hawkins

It is hard to imagine a more visceral and impactful medium for connecting to an audience than film.  And if our goal is to bring about social change, what better medium for getting people to step up and take action than a well-made film?

I had the pleasure last week of participating on a panel on the topic of storytelling for social change – particularly around documentary films – at the 2013 CECP Summit.  There Joe Brewster told of the 13 years he and his wife spent filming their own son and his best friend as they embarked with great anticipation on the journey of their elementary and high school education – a journey that took them to some darker places and greater challenges than they had ever anticipated for this much loved son of a middle class African American family in New York City.  American Promise is deeply moving and delivers tough messages about the role of assumptions and biases in defining the world in which these boys grow up – beyond the ability of their parents to shape and control.

Rashid Shabazz of the Open Society Foundations and Program Officer for Black Male Achievement told of the process by which he and his foundation decided that this film had the potential to move audiences in ways that other, more traditional grants might never reach. Read the rest of this entry »

Bruce Whitacre

Bruce Whitacre

As corporate giving for the arts turns a corner post-recession, arts organizations like ours, the National Corporate Theatre Fund (NCTF), view the development with cautious optimism. Every three years, Business Committee for the Arts (BCA), part of Americans for the Arts, publishes a survey of corporate support for the arts. The report – a fascinating quick read, conducted by theatre patron and research guru Mark Shugoll, reports the first positive trends in corporate support for the arts in six years, although giving is still below pre-recession levels.

This year, the survey goes deep into why companies do and do not support the arts, and what could make them give more, or get engaged in the first place. Two observations stand out to me as ah-ha moments: Arts organizations have lost contact with the CEO’s who drive these decisions, and the arts community is not sufficiently connecting and communicating its education and social engagement activity to broader community engagement and development.

A recent experience underscores my first key observation in the report – that only 10 percent of companies surveyed make supporting the arts a top priority in their contributions. While this is higher than three years ago, when it was only 2 percent (I wonder what accounts for the change), this was a bracing reminder of where we are on the corporate priority list. To celebrate the founding of several regional theatres 50 years ago, an NCTF board member connected us to a media consultant to craft profiles of CEOs in various communities talking about why regional theatres are key to their philanthropy and partnership policies. Our consultants found that media outlets wanted proven research, or at least anecdotal experiences, of employee creativity, engagement, business objectives realized through theatre, and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

Deb Vaughn

Deb Vaughn

I’ve been thinking about “scope and sequence” lately. A passionate arts specialist used the phrase repeatedly in a recent conference presentation and I started to worry it was something the education community had a monopoly on, that the arts community got left behind this time. But then I started to second guess myself: Why should only schools and certified teachers provide scope and sequence?

Is scope and sequence possible outside a school setting? Obviously, schools are ideally situated to deliver meaningful scope and sequence with mandatory attendance for (hopefully at least) 170 days a year, (generally) consistent contact with the same group of students for that time and a trained, professional educator leading the charge. But does that preclude community organizations from also offering a scope and sequence, on their own scale?

Having just reviewed state-wide grant applications for arts learning funding, I can tell you that in Oregon, at least 75% of arts organizations offer educational programming that represents significant scope and sequence. In fact, I would say that it is nearly impossible to provide meaningful arts education without scope and sequence. With the exception of a pure field trip model where students are bused in and out of a performance, every arts education activity includes some scope and sequence. Read the rest of this entry »

Kristy Callaway

Kristy Callaway

Sally Gaskill

Sally Gaskill

Happy 100th Birthday to the U.S. Department of Labor! Our rotund and reluctant mid-wife, President Taft, on his last day in office, signed legislation creating and delivering the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), giving workers a direct seat in the President’s Cabinet for the first time.

DOL’s mission: “To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”

DOL has created one hundred buckets in which all jobs/industries are categorized. The data presented are obtained from employer or establishment surveys. Performing Arts shares its bucket with Spectator Sports and Related Industries. And Related Industries includes: Promoters of Performing Arts, Agents and Managers of Artists/Entertainers, Independent Artists, Writers and Performers. Another subset includes Musicians, Singers, Producers, Directors, Public Relations, Ushers, Lobby Attendants, and Ticket Takers. You can similarly search job/industry categories for Architecture & Engineering, Arts & Design, and Media and Communication.

One can drill down into occupations to learn job descriptions, functions, work environment, education/training/experience, compensation, number of jobs in nation, and outlook (future growth projections) of said job. Read the rest of this entry »

Cally Vennare

Cally Vennare

How do you utilize the arts to foster civic identity, cultivate tourism, and brand your city, town or neighborhood?

Four arts leaders. Four diverse markets. Four distinct audience segments. While the cities and circumstances may differ, their authentic and creative approach to problem solving, consensus building, and collaboration did not. Here are their key insights and takeaways from last week’s 2013 Americans for the Arts Convention.

Andrew M. Witt, St. Johns Cultural Council (St. Augustine, Florida)
“Be real. Find the asset in the community that is going to be of interest to someone not in your community and sell that in a realistic way. The worst thing that can happen is to not meet (customer) expectations. If you don’t, they’ll tell 10 people; if you exceed expectations, they’ll tell 2 people. So you have to deliver on the promise you made.”
Learn more about the work of the St. Johns Cultural Council here.  

Robert Vodnoy, Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony (Aberdeen, South Dakota)
“The lesson in all the different stories that I told you is: the general impulse of the community is to have civic pride and not want to touch the stories that are problematic. Or to sanitize them. But I think the cultural tourist is more interested in the whole story. So I think the challenge is to get the civic identity to embrace its complete self, and not to walk away from what is actually a rich story just because it’s a little ‘icky.’ It’s a tougher story, but it’s a much more interesting narrative. Embrace the dark side.”
Learn more about the Aberdeen University/Civic Symphony here. Read the rest of this entry »

Narric Rome

Narric Rome

Ever since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) authorization formally ended in 2007, Congress has been trying to reauthorize it, but with very little success. You remember NCLB? It passed Congress with whopping margins of 381-41 in the House and 87-10 in the Senate and President Bush signed it into law with big smiles from education champions like Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and House committee leaders John Boehner (R-OH) and George Miller (D-CA). That was then.

Since then, NCLB has been attacked each year by education advocates on all sides and the Obama Administration has gone so far as to grant waivers to 37 states allowing them to opt out of many of the law’s regulations, which will remain in place until the law is reauthorized. It’s been sad as education leaders, in and out of Congress, proclaim the “urgent” need to end the labeling of failing schools, to curb the “unintended consequences” that have been a fundamental problem with NCLB. Years have passed without even a floor vote on replacement legislation.

I’ve known Capitol Hill staff who were hired to work on the reauthorization (now referred to as the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA)) who have given up waiting and moved to jobs off the Hill. Read the rest of this entry »

Doug Israel

Doug Israel

After years of school budget cuts due to the economic downturn, and a decade of No Child Left Behind-inspired education policies, there is a movement afoot in districts across the country to reinvigorate the school day with a rich and engaging curriculum.

Parents, students, and educators have been beating the drum about the narrowed curriculum and are making the case to expand access to arts, music, foreign languages, science, and other core subjects that have been marginalized in schools in recent years. Now candidates to be mayor in the country’s largest school district are weighing in on what arts education would look like under their leadership. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Shugoll

Mark Shugoll

There is no doubt that the arts have faced, and continue to face, challenging times. Subscription numbers trend downward, putting increased pressure on each show to be a hit and sell lots of individual tickets. Total contributed income has been decreasing at many arts organizations, or at least has not grown fast enough to match increased costs and growing artistic ambitions. Words rarely associated with arts organizations in the past are becoming increasingly common: declaring bankruptcy, downsizing, and even going out of business.

In this challenging new reality, there is at last a ray of hope. In the recently completed triennial BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts conducted by Americans for the Arts, corporate giving is up for the first time in nine years. From 2009 to 2012, arts giving from corporations is up 18 percent. Before we all get too excited at what sounds like a huge number, remember arts giving is up 18 percent over three years, an average of a more modest 6 percent per year. And arts giving has only recovered to 2006 levels (although the survey does not adjust giving for inflation).

But the upward progress cannot be denied on almost any measure in the survey: the percent of businesses contributing to any philanthropic cause is up from 52 percent in 2009 to 64 percent today; the percent of all businesses giving to the arts is up from 28 percent in 2009 to 41 percent today; the percent the arts receive of total philanthropic contributions is up from 15 percent to 19 percent; the median contribution to the arts is the largest it has been in 6 years, up from $750 in 2009 to $1,000 today. And there is hope that these trends will continue as slightly more businesses today say they expect their total philanthropic giving, as well as their arts giving, to increase rather than decrease in 2013. Read the rest of this entry »

8619_10151402651177805_379340572_nNot everyone can join us here in Pittsburgh at the 2013 Annual Convention and preconferences, but we’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to follow all the action online. The best place to take part “virtually” is the Convention Homepage.

You’ll find links to the three livestreamed general sessions, our Flickr photo feed, ARTSblog posts written about the Convention, and the Twitter feed. You can also follow everything on Twitter directly by searching with the #afta13 hashtag.

Check back often for new photos and content!

Nadine Wasserman

Nadine Wasserman

As part of the Annual 2013 Americans for the Arts National Conference, the Public Art Network (PAN) Preconference, presents the opportunity for public art professionals to explore all aspects of their field from invigorating communities to behind-the-scenes negotiations such as planning, fund raising, and working collaboratively with artists, architects, engineers, fabricators, city planners, and so on.

Like any worthwhile artistic production, good public art requires delicate negotiations, collaborations, and most importantly flexibility and adaptability. One of the many panels at PAN this year took a look at how the end result can often be very different from the initial prospectus. The panel, titled “Between the Lip and the Cup: How Projects Change from Initial Process to Final Installation,” was made up of four different professionals: Cath Brunner, Director, Public Art 4Culture, Seattle, WA; Stacy Levy, artist, Sere, Ltd., Spring Mills, PA; Natalie Plecity, Landscape Architect, Pittsburgh, PA; and Janet Zweig, artist, Brooklyn, NY.

The panel used examples to demonstrate how changes and unpredictable circumstances are inevitable at all phases of a project but they can be successfully managed in order to create the “best” outcomes for all stakeholders.
Ms. Zweig talked about two of her projects. One was for Maplewood, a neighborhood in St. Louis.  Her first proposal to create a digital sign proved cost prohibitive so she revised her plan. In the end her signs were made of recycled materials taken from bungalows that were scheduled for demolition in the neighborhood. One of the signs was intentionally installed backwards so that drivers passing by could read it in their rearview mirrors. Serendipitously, it was this aspect of the project that created a buzz and got the neighborhood the recognition it was seeking. Read the rest of this entry »

Nadine Wasserman

Nadine Wasserman

Each year as a highlight of the Public Art Network’s preconference, a panel of jurors presents its selection of exemplary public art projects from the previous year. The 2013 Year in Review jurors were Justine Topfer, Curator, Out of the Box Projects & Project Manager, San Francisco Arts Commission, CA; Norie Sato, Artist, Seattle, WA; and John Carson, Artist and Head of the School of Art, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.From 350 submissions they selected 50 that were completed in 2012.

Since 2000, PAN’s Year in Review uses an open call submission process from which the panel selects up to 50 projects that represent the most compelling works from across the country. This year’s jury prefaced their presentation by explaining that although they had different points of view they agreed on all of the choices and were careful to recuse themselves during the deliberations from those projects where there had conflicts of interest.

In their introduction, the panel explained that this year they noticed an increased number of projects using light and technology, an interesting trend towards multiple or groups of artists working on one project, and the use of different funding sources with an increase in the number of projects initiated and funded by private developers. They also noted that there were fewer land-based projects and that in general it seems that the field is getting broader. Read the rest of this entry »

Jordan Lohf

Jordan Lohf

The powerful impact the arts can have on social change and business objectives was showcased for corporate giving officers from around the country last week thanks to a deepening partnership between Americans for the Arts and the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP). Held in New York City, the annual CECP Summit brought together over 250 of the senior-most giving officers from 130 of the world’s largest companies to hear exciting new research, discuss successes and challenges, and gain fresh perspectives and insights on how they can better impact workplaces, communities, and society while also advancing business.

With similar interests in data and research, and a shared belief that the arts can not only raise the quality of life, but also advance corporate strategies, CECP, with the help of Americans for the Arts, infused the annual summit for the second year with memorable arts performances, which I heard brought up in conversation again and again by summit attendees. This year, music, theatre, dance, and film provided an artistic beat to the summit, providing great examples of how art can be used to solve problems across sectors and industries.

Ahead, Together, this year’s conference theme, was a perfect metaphor for how the arts can advance society, build community, and drive economies.  President and CEO of Americans for the Arts Robert L. Lynch spoke to this idea at the opening reception when he said, “Business and arts partnerships show the powerful intersection among creativity, economic success, and community health,” a statement well-supported by the fact that 26 previous honorees of the BCA 10: Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts in America were represented at the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

Robert L. Lynch

Robert L. Lynch

Just a few weeks ago, President Obama nominated two talented and accomplished individuals to lead the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. Transportation Department. Penny Pritzker of Chicago and Mayor Anthony Foxx of Charlotte were nominated to serve as Secretaries of Commerce and Transportation, respectively. I’m pleased to say that both have impressive connections to the arts and arts policy and this is encouraging because their agencies have been important to supporting the non-profit arts sector.

Americans for the Arts is working with both agencies to further an arts agenda. For example, I serve on the U.S. Travel & Tourism Advisory Board, which reports to the Commerce Secretary, on strategies to further our national, and international, travel and tourism sectors. The arts and culture are a major reason for tourists to visit the United States and through the Board’s advocacy subcommittee, which I lead, we are working on recommendations to strengthen the ease of travel; the security of our visa system; the support for our institutions, venues, and events; and the visitor experience. From a business sector perspective, our Arts & Economic Impact IV study shows that the nonprofit arts have a $135 billion a year economic impact, support 4.1 million jobs, and return almost $10 billion a year in revenue to the federal Treasury. The Commerce Department has many programs that our arts leaders and creative industries are pursuing and utilizing to support their businesses. Read the rest of this entry »

Gregory Burbidge

Gregory Burbidge

The greatest biodiversity in the world occurs at the fringes between two ecosystems. That’s what I heard last month when hearing a panel discuss the intersection of arts and natural resources. The panel included a nature photographer, an education expert from Zoo Atlanta* and a landscape architect amongst others. It was fascinating to hear about people’s work at the spaces between the arts and other fields. It was a technical and ecologically specific fact, but one that likely resonates with all those working at the fringes of very different worlds.

Planning for Diversity
Last summer, the board of our metropolitan planning organization, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), voted unanimously to add arts, culture and creative industries into their scope of regional planning. Arts and culture were brought into a dialogue with transportation, land use, aging services, natural resources, workforce development and other regional planning priorities. The integration of arts into the functional areas of planning means the incredible resources and tools available at the commission are now being leveraged to help create solutions to the challenges that exist within the cultural community.

The creativity of my colleagues never ceases to astound me. While I thought it might be a challenge to talk about the fringes between the worlds of watershed protection and the arts, my peers who work to protect the Chattahoochee River Corridor, for example, were full of ideas about where these intersections occur. Land use planners, those who work with lifelong communities and transportation experts have all articulated what is unique about bringing arts and culture to the table, and what their field will be able to do with these new tools that they would not be able to accomplish otherwise. Diversity thrives where the fringe between ecosystems overlap.

Biodiversity in the Arts Ecosystem
The biggest challenges exist for our work not when we discuss where the creative industries meet other sectors but where we try to find the common ground within our own sector where areas of the creative industries overlap. Read the rest of this entry »