Kim Cook

In reflecting upon the results of the Americans for the Arts salary survey three things arise for me.  The first is the issue of wages.  The second is the issue of demographics; both of which are immediately addressed in the Executive Summary for the piece. The third issue that derives from the first two is the question of relevance.

When we address the first issue, that of wages, the question that surfaces for me is, relative to what?  When we examine our wages in relationship to each other are we perpetuating a construct in which not enough becomes normative?  I am completely alert to the fact that I am constrained when contemplating wages and wage increases for my staff, knowing that each worker will add to a cost structure that is difficult to sustain.  And, if I am not able to pay reasonably well, I am unlikely to attract and retain the talent that will help to create the mission impact my organization aspires to. Read the rest of this entry »

Jeffrey Parks

Jeffrey Parks

The threshold question for any use of public and private resources is “Why should we allocate these precious resources to create an arts district when there are so many needs in our community?”

Indeed, an arts district may not be the priority when all of the needs of a community have been analyzed.  There are specific circumstances that merit the consideration of an arts district in communities. The need will set the metrics for the success of a district.

Some of the specific needs which an arts district can support are:

  • Urban revitalization. The major strategy for this need is attracting artists and arts organization to underutilized properties.  If revitalization is the goal, the metrics may include:
    • Increase in access to the arts and cultural services for the residents of the district.
    • Increased employment opportunities for residents of the district.
    • Attracting investment, new businesses and residents to the district.
    • Enhancing property values in the district.
  • Economic development of the region by expanding arts and cultural offerings that appeal to the “creative class” in fields ranging from software engineers to medical professionals to graphic designers. If this is the goal, the metrics may include:
    • Ability of businesses to attract creative class employees, rather than moving or adding offices in distant communities.
    • Attraction of creative businesses into the community.
    • Increase in new businesses generated by local residents or graduates of local colleges.
  • Adding an arts component to an existing retail district to enhance vitality and competitiveness of an urban center. If this is the goal, the metrics may include:
    • Increased revenues for district businesses.
    • New businesses in the district.
    • Making the district a destination, with multiple attractions including shopping, art galleries, arts facilities and events.

In most communities the reason for establishing an arts district will be combination of the reasons above.  It is important to understand that districts and “creative placemaking” are not ends in and of themselves. There is a great deal of conversation about the metrics for success for these endeavors. The best way for a community to measure its success is to set goals and establish the metrics in advance. This important decision will inform everything from the type of organization to drive a district to what resources need to be marshaled to create the desired results.


Lori McKinney-Blankenship

Lori McKinney-Blankenship

I am sitting in The Room Upstairs, our living room style theatre, cross legged on a comfortable couch. To my right, my good friend Tiffany is sculpting an octopus out of polymer clay and giggling with her brilliant musician boyfriend Jordan; he just came off the stage after an intense improvisational jam. On stage now is resident artist Maggie playing folk songs on her guitar. Behind her is a beautiful space scene projected on the screen, mixed with video clips of the ocean. It’s beautiful.

To my left is Bobby, a man from the neighborhood who we first met as he collected cans to recycle. He absolutely loves it here. He has a special chair in the back; it’s a soft cushy seat, and he kicks back, totally engaged from the time the music kicks in until it finishes at the end of the night. We gather that there isn’t much more in life that is available for him; he spends a good bit of time pushing a shopping cart around. Everyone here welcomes him with open arms. In the front row is an autistic lady who rocks hard back and forth to the music and comes with her caretaker, a musician, every week. There are high school kids, college kids, a couple of grandparents, lots of 20- & 30-somethings, and a three-legged black dog. Read the rest of this entry »

Terrie Temkin

Terrie Temkin

I’m an arts buff. I love the theater, live music, dance, and the visual arts. You will often find me attending two or three plays in a weekend, or going to a museum and then on to a performance of jazz or modern dance. The more I dive into the arts, the happier I am personally, but the more fearful I am for the future of the arts. Why? I’m in my 60s, and I’m usually one of the youngest people in attendance, regardless of the genre. (Okay, so I’m not going to the rap concerts, but still….) I constantly worry about the future. Who will occupy the seats in another 20 years, especially in our classical venues?

Yes, there will always be a few young people who love Mozart or Swan Lake. In my own family I have a nephew and niece that are classical musicians. However, while young people will continue to make art, as people have done since the beginning of time, I worry whether there will be anyone who will support their art, who will buy tickets and attend the performances, allowing them to work at what they love.

This is an issue that too few boards seriously grapple with. Yes, you see organizations that create young professionals groups, open up their space after work for networking and wine and cheese, and experiment with “hip” programming, but is that going to convert generations of younger people into dedicated audiences for the future? I think not. After all, it hasn’t yet. And if I’m right, what will? Read the rest of this entry »

John Eger

John Eger

Economist Edward Glaeser once said, “Cities are so fascinating because they play to mankind’s greatest gift, which is our ability to learn from other people.”

They are places also where you raise your children, develop your sense of right and wrong, learn about yourself and your fellow man. Importantly, they are the places where attitudes about life and values and politics converge and where new ideas take root.

Now, perhaps more than ever, cities are places where the crucial incubators of innovation are formed. Now more than ever Art and Culture Clusters are vital to renewal and reinvention.

In the wake of globalization the challenge America faces in the wake of global competition is daunting. Globalization 3.0, first coined by The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, is here. As Friedman has written, The World is Flat. Outsourcing and offshoring have entered our lexicon of new words and we are suffering what economists are euphemistically calling a “jobless recovery.” We don’t know exactly how many jobs are lost from offshoring. But this shift of high tech service jobs will be a permanent feature of economic life in the 21st century. Read the rest of this entry »

Kerry Adams-Hapner

Kerry Adams-Hapner

Local arts agencies are like snow flakes. Each one is unique.  Geographic region, cost of living, population size, budget size, staff size, number and type of programs, reporting structures, government entity or 501c3… These factors are all variables in defining the local art agency. In turn, they are also factors affecting the salaries of agency staff members.  While each agency is unique, Americans for the Arts’ Research Report: Local Arts Agency Salaries 2013 highlights trends, commonalities and areas requiring a conscientious endeavor to improve.

There are glaring issues highlighted in the report: the ethnic diversity of agency staff, gender diversity and gender equality. As a field, there is clearly more work that needs to be done here. We must be deliberate about identifying opportunities to improve ethnic and gender equality.

Another important issue is age. The data reports that the average age of the full-time employee is 52.5 years.    Let’s continue to engage the next generation in the relevance of our work and empower them as leaders.  There are many good programs and initiatives looking to move the needle on succession planning in our field. Skill development, networking, mentorship, and hiring of young professionals are areas that all agency leaders should consider part of their responsibilities. Read the rest of this entry »

Adele Fleet Bacow

Adele Fleet Bacow

The talk that I gave at the recent Americans for the Arts national convention offered an intriguing title for the panel: “The Wedding of Public Art and Cultural Districts”. That title led me to think further about what makes a real marriage work. I resisted the urge to show in my PowerPoint presentation a photograph of me wearing my mother’s wedding gown at my own wedding 38 years ago as being too hokey. But I did appreciate the opportunity to reflect back on enduring partnerships and what makes them succeed.

We all know horror stories of bridezillas, conflicts in planning a wedding, and marriages that unfortunately don’t live up to the unrealistic romanticized notions played out in movies or idyllic honeymoon settings on a beach. What makes some relationships work and others fail? What traits do you need and what qualities should you run from screaming? Do beauty, power, money, and excitement matter? How do you make a long-term relationship keep its zest? Without pretending to be Ann Landers or Dr. Joyce Brothers, let me offer a few suggestions.

The most successful partnerships bring out the best in each other without trying to be competitive about who is on first or who has the most power. Each partner should feel like it is getting something important out of the relationship and has something to offer. Partners should be clear about their roles, responsibilities, and expectations. What tasks are easy for some and a burden to others? Parcel out the components so people are playing to their strengths. Read the rest of this entry »

Lori McKinney-Blankenship

Lori McKinney-Blankenship

Coming from a small town with a population of 7,000, my perspective and experience is quite different from others. The actual county population is 30,000, so the city number is a bit misleading, but still, Princeton, West Virginia is most definitely a small town. Our cultural district is developing in a once abandoned downtown around The RiffRaff Arts Collective, a cooperative group of visual, performing, literary, and healing artists. The concentration of creative activity pouring from our space spilled out and painted the block, and then connected with all the positive pockets of energy and possibility in the downtown. Now, the neighborhood is experiencing a major turnaround complete with government buy-in and major private investment, sparked by something as organic as a few colorful, visionary artists inhabiting a building.

It’s no ordinary building, mind you; this reborn turn of the century structure includes an old ballroom turned living room theatre and recording studio, an art gallery, and artists studios. Across the street is Stages Music School, where music is taught to induce joy and change the world. The heavy dose of positive energy is working its way up and down the street, which has been stigmatized for decades. Read the rest of this entry »

Artists of Change

Posted by James LeFlore On July - 23 - 20131 COMMENT
James LeFlore

James LeFlore

The types of cultural district that I like best are those that are the hardest to define. They’re not the type that is bolstered by a fine arts institution or even have organized events that you can rely upon for your evening and weekend pleasure.  I’ve always been drawn to the artist-made hot spots that evolve over time and transform areas of town known as a “dud” into a “hub”.

Why is it that artists are so good at being able to do that? What do artists know that is so potently effective at revitalizing old buildings and empty neighborhoods where others coming beforehand have failed, given up, and left ruins to slowly fade into darkness? The answer to artists’ effectiveness at environmental change is not a secret, but it does involve magic. First, the power they wield comes directly from their ability to harness the power of unbridled creativity. The illusion they achieve is due to their capacity to suspend reality just long enough for cool things to start happening – as if they can animate the dead. Artists are the best-trained professional I can think of in the art of improvisation; and when the chips are down we all must know how to improvise, right? Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching Championship

Posted by Erin Gough On July - 23 - 20134 COMMENTS
Erin Gough

Erin Gough

A friend of mine recently graduated from one of Pennsylvania’s state universities with a bachelor’s degree in art education. When she walked across that stage to Pomp and Circumstance, she had proven that she had learned everything she needed to teach young minds all the skills they needed to create breathtaking works of art and to think through all the important steps of the art-making process.

After completing the requisite coursework, surviving long hours of student teaching, and passing the Praxis in her course area, the State of Pennsylvania gave her a certificate that showed she was qualified to stand in front of a classroom of students eager to discover.

But what she didn’t learn was exactly where all of those requirements came from. How did her University gain accreditation?  What are the priorities of the school district that is hiring her? Who is responsible for hiring the person in the State Department of Education that can serve a resource when she has concerns about state standards or a new teacher evaluation program? Who determines how much professional education is necessary to remain certified?  Who determines how state money is allocated across and within school districts?

The answer to all these questions vary from state-to-state, but in every case, these decisions should be informed by the voices of those in the classroom every day, the teachers themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

Jeffrey Parks

Jeffrey Parks

We Americans are jaded. We have been to amusement parks that attempt to replicate Main Street. We know, or at least think we know, the genuine from the artificial. As we add the next level of development to our communities, mostly in our downtowns or retail districts, we need to keep in mind that each of our communities has a history, a heritage, and a story. While we may not realize it, that story is our most precious asset. In a world where derivative work thrives in film, television, books, and the Internet, the most original stories are right at our own doorstep. And there is an audience eager to hear our stories.

The term “authenticity” was used by virtually every practitioner who spoke at the Arts District preconference in Pittsburgh. Our experience in Bethlehem, PA is not unique, but it is informative. We renovated 10 acres in the core of an old steel plant using the five remaining 80-foot tall blast furnaces as the permanent “installation,” an artwork so authentic and with so many stories, that the sense of place is overwhelming, even with the overlay of landscape architecture, music performance venues, and al fresco dining.

The blast furnaces at SteelStacks are illuminated at night by a massive LED lighting system. They form the backdrop for an indoor stage in a contemporary performing arts center 150 feet from the furnaces, as well as an outdoor stage directly at their base.  With the oldest building (1863) on the site renovated to be the Visitor Center (and major restroom facilities for the hundreds of events that occur on the site), SteelStacks exudes authenticity, and invites the visitor to want to learn more about the stories of this industrial relic. Read the rest of this entry »

Greg Handberg

Greg Handberg

Recently I attended the Americans for the Arts preconference on Cultural Districts. Many presented information on tools and incentives that can be used to establish districts, and it got me thinking more about the difference between informal and formal types of districts.

In my work, I travel to a lot of communities assisting them with real estate development projects in the arts. Through this work I have begun to differentiate between “formal” and “informal” arts districts. I now recognize that almost every project I work on takes place within an “informal” district. Very little of my work takes place in “formal” arts districts. What’s the difference? I came away from the preconference thinking about “formal” districts as those that are established through some sort of local or state legislation while “informal” districts are established through an organized branding initiative – typically undertaken at a community (sometimes city) level – but without legislation. Read the rest of this entry »

Adele Fleet Bacow

Adele Fleet Bacow

People often ask me what it takes to create a cultural district. How hard is it to accomplish? How long does it take? Who should be involved? What do you need to know? As an urban planning consultant specializing in cultural development, I have been involved in a number of cultural district and art-related economic development projects. Here is my list of the ten basic steps to creating a plan for a cultural district and important questions to answer before you even begin. You will find a lot more questions than answers. The challenge and the reward are in finding the right answers to meet your unique needs.

1. Decide why you want to create a cultural district in the first place. What do you hope to accomplish? What problem are you trying to solve? Is there a strong interest in creating such a plan? Are people enthusiastically behind the idea who can offer momentum to help you through this process and then work to implement it successfully?

2. Who should be involved? Who are the key players in town who can offer ideas, energy, resources, and legitimacy for your process? In addition to the obvious leaders, identify hidden assets and talent. Involve the community and key players in your early planning stages.

3. Who will do the work in actually crafting the cultural district plan? Do you have staff, expertise, and partners who can put together the information and creative thinking necessary to develop a viable plan and then carry it out? Do you need to bring in outside expertise or can you tap resources and experience in your community? Read the rest of this entry »


Abe Flores

Artists and their art are as diverse as our communities, but arts administrators are not. After reviewing the Local Arts Agencies Salaries 2013 research report, one thing jumped out at me: The arts administration field has a diversity problem. It’s not shocking to me that the salaries of arts administrators are not commensurate with their skills, education, experience, and responsibility (I have friends working at a utility company as coordinators who make more than Art EDs) but the demographics, although somewhat expected, are disconcerting. Ninety-two percent of the report’s respondents who identified as Executive Directors or CEOs are white. Eighty-six percent of the overall respondents are white.

The American for the Arts national convention gave me a lot to ponder about race and demographics, particularly Manuel Pastor’s presentation and the numerous conversations I had with my fellow Emerging Leaders on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change.

Growing up in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, a working poor Latino neighborhood, I did not know any white people (aside from those on television) until I started college. Even in college, I never felt like a “minority” because there were always plenty of people with backgrounds similar to my own. It wasn’t until I began working in the arts field that the label “minority” seemed appropriate for me. In the subsequent years at many of the arts meetings, conferences, and events, I was the only Latino attending.  I found it very strange. In Los Angeles, where whites make up only 27% of the population, they made up the vast majority of the local arts administration field. I came to understand that when the cultural diversity of a community is not reflected in the individuals attempting to serve the community, the very act of communicating becomes a barrier, which limits the knowledge of needs, wants, and opportunities. Read the rest of this entry »

John Eger

John Eger

President Obama has said repeatedly that “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” According to Forbes Magazine, “If there was a central theme to the president’s remarks, it was innovation.”

Yet, although everybody is talking about how innovation is what we need and will solve our jobless dilemma, few people know what innovation is or how we get it, or critically, what our communities must do to meet the challenges of the new age.

It is becoming clear that art and culture districts are vital to ensuring vibrant economic activity in our cities. They are foreshadowing a whole new economy based upon creativity and innovation.

Fortunately, Americans for the Arts (AFTA), who as early as 1998 researched the emergence of such districts in which the arts were used as part of a strategy for revitalizing cities, has now launched an even more ambitious effort:

A plan to produce an update of the earlier report, and more importantly, a three year effort – inviting mayors and other city executives, architects, city planners, and experts in the field to “blog”, and to participate in webinars and conferences to help cities and towns across America to reinvent their community for the new age, this rapidly emerging age of  “creativity and innovation.” Read the rest of this entry »