Theresa Cameron

Theresa Cameron

I’m so excited to welcome you to our blog salon devoted solely to arts, entertainment, and cultural districts. Wondering what exactly we’re talking about? We loosely define a cultural district as: “…a well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use area of a city in which a high concentration of cultural facilities serves as the anchor of attraction and robust economic activity.”

A few important bits of information:

  • More than 600 communities in the U.S. have designated cultural districts.
  • Some cities have formal boundary lines with specific zoning ordinances and economic tax incentives.
  • Others have more informal, unofficial boundaries that become a marketing focal point to cluster arts organizations.
  • Twelve states have enacted statewide arts, entertainment, and cultural district legislation.

Since the late 1990s, Americans for the Arts has been monitoring the growth of arts, entertainment, and cultural districts across the United States, documenting their location, and reviewing, in relevant cases, their legislation of creation. In 1998 Americans for the Arts published the Cultural Districts Handbook, a first of its kind guide for establishing and developing districts. The Handbook examined districts in 24 U.S. cities. Since the Handbook’s publication, however, the number of districts has grown. Given the phenomenal rate at which the district model has been and continues to be adopted across the country, there is a clear and compelling need for new technical assistance and training resources designed to meet the unique needs of those charged with creating, maintaining, and evaluating districts. Read the rest of this entry »

lindsay headshot

Lindsay Sheridan

Doug Kornfeld knew he won the gig the moment someone mentioned Mardi Gras. He had just presented to the jury for New Orleans’ public art City-Assisted Evacuation marking project – dubbed “Evacuspots” – with his proposal for 14-foot-high, 850 lb stainless steel stick figures with one arm reached out in the universal sign for “I need a ride!” But what Doug, an artist based in Boston, MA, hadn’t counted on was that his design would have a perfectly iconic Big Easy connection: that of someone gesturing to have beads thrown at them on Mardi Gras.

This festive figure has a serious task, though. It’s part of a new solution for hurricane evacuation developed by the nonprofit philanthropy organization Evacuteer.org in the wake of the 2005 disaster Hurricane Katrina, which left more than 100,000 residents stranded in the city with no means of escape. Through an agreement with the City of New Orleans, Evacuteer.org recruits, trains, and manages evacuation volunteers – dubbed evacuteers – to run a system that is capable of picking up and transporting 30,000 residents to state-run shelters in the event of a necessary evacuation. The system was tested once in September 2008 in advance of Hurricane Gustav. While about 18,000 residents utilized the City-Assisted Evacuation Plan, many residents had little idea of where the pickup points were since they were marked by small, unnoticeable placards with a lot of text. So Robert Fogarty, co-founder and board president of Evacuteer.org, brought up a new idea: what better way to draw attention to the spots than with a public art piece? Read the rest of this entry »

Susan Riley

Susan Riley

This summer, many teachers and administrators across the country will be attending conferences and professional development sessions that focus on the Common Core State Standards in preparation for the upcoming school year.  Before many of their toes even touch a sandy beach, these dedicated educators will cross hundreds of miles and spend many hours getting ready for a whole new way of instruction.

But where are the Arts?

What happens to our arts teachers, museum curators, performers, teaching artists and arts administrators?  Are they afforded the same opportunity as their peers for rigorous, relevant professional development in unpacking the Common Core Standards for their subject areas?  As has happened so often in the past, for many the answer is a resounding “no.” Read the rest of this entry »

David Smith

David Smith

In terms of raw numbers, the news looks pretty good. A report by the Giving Institute says contributions to the arts grew faster than any other sector of philanthropy in 2012, increasing by almost 8 percent from the previous year to a total of $14.44 billion. (Giving to educational enterprises was second place on the list with a 7 percent increase.) For the first time, the levels are now back up above where they were before the recession.

Giving to the arts isn’t just about contributions by individuals, of course, and the news looks better there, too. Americans for the Arts reports that business contributions to arts and culture groups are now up 18 percent from a low in 2009. More than 
80 percent of those contributions, moreover, are from small and mid-size businesses.

The Business Committee on the Arts has recently released its annual top ten best businesses for the arts, and this year it includes a skiing company in Aspen, Colo.; a salt company in Staten Island, N.Y.; and banks in Buffalo, N.Y., Pittsburgh, and Dubuque, Iowa. Indeed, local businesses of all sizes are regularly approached each year by arts organizations asking them to help support everything from symphony seasons to arts festivals. At the same time, businesses that are accustomed to dealing with the bottom line can be understandably skeptical about getting involved in a field so subjective and amorphous as the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

Sahar Javedani

Sahar Javedani

After a recent lunchtime trip to the food trucks, a colleague of mine began placing pennies facing heads up along the sidewalk on the way back to our offices. When I asked what he was doing, he replied, “I’m pitching pennies…maybe one of these will bring good luck to someone today.”

After reviewing Americans for the Arts’ recent salary report on Local Arts Agencies coupled with Fast Company’s Steven Tepper’s article “Is An MFA the New MBA?”, like many, I’m reminded of my creative and critical worth on the job. Having spent well over a decade honing my inherent multitasking skills, I take some comfort in knowing how much I’ve “saved” the nonprofit organizations I’ve worked for by, in essence, tackling the work of five+ professional staff members as a simultaneous Grant Writer, Accountant, Teaching Artist, Web Designer, Program Administrator, Event Planner, etc.

When asked by my mentees on how one is able to sustain this frantic pace, I’m reminded of a college professor sharing with me the importance of self-care while handing me a copy of “Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much.” I was nineteen-years-old. Had I only known then the great adventures and challenges I’d face working in nonprofit administration! Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Bush

Robert Bush

Reading Americans for the Arts’ 2013 study on Local Arts Agency Salaries took me back. Way back to 1981 when I took my first position as executive director, and only employee, of a county arts council in North Carolina at what I thought at the time was an incredible sum of $16,000 per year, plus health benefits. Now my parents thought I was crazy for leaving the classroom with its pay (not much more than then LAA job) and benefits. I was still young enough to see the change as a great new adventure. Nearly 30 years later and a wonderful career, I know I made the right decision.

On the plus side, salaries and benefits have come a long way since the early 1980s. On the whole, salaries and benefits are better across the board. Some highly skilled positions demand a higher level of compensation, and rightfully so, than one might expect.  For example, Senior Public Art professionals are required to be a planner, have a keen aesthetic/artist eye, project manager, legal negotiator, financial wizard, and more importantly are hard to find. It is right that their compensation levels are rising. I know some of my colleagues still struggle with wages that are not commensurate with their education and skill level or the demands of what we all know can be a 24/7 job. So we shouldn’t take the survey results as any more than a snapshot in time and hopefully provide information to help boards and commissions understand how peer agencies are compensating their employees. Read the rest of this entry »

What You’re Worth

Posted by Clayton Lord On July - 11 - 2013No comments yet
Clay Lord

Clay Lord

What is a person worth?  Often, especially in the arts (but I think almost anywhere, whether out of necessity or guile), that doesn’t seem the question, really.  It seems more often to come down to what a person is willing to take.  I first started thinking about this issue back when Rocco Landesman launched his #supplydemand earthquake in that now-infamous conversation with Diane Ragsdale.  Rocco, talking about the ongoing existence of more arts institutions than there were patrons to really fully support them, sparked a lot of different conversations—but for me, at the time and, really, now still, my main question was: if there isn’t sufficient demand, then why is there still an overflow of supply?  And in the context of individuals—if there’s not sufficient money, then why are there people (usually highly educated, often educated to be something else first) to do the work?

Yesterday, Americans for the Arts officially launched a report called Local Arts Agency Salaries 2013, which provides a variety of interesting informational tidbits about the salaries and disparities at local arts agencies around the country.  It has a whole lot of information, which I hope you will read (to make it easier, we’ve broken the report into small downloadable sections based on whether you want a little information or a lot, including a summary, infographics, tables by title, and the full report).  While the report only looks at local arts agencies, it provides an interesting snapshot of wages for a variety of positions at those organizations, as well as some fodder for two important conversations.  Read the rest of this entry »

Tim McClimon

Tim McClimon

Last month, I attended the annual conference of Americans for the Arts in Pittsburgh, which was focused around the question, “Why are the arts the best kept secret when it comes to building healthy, diverse, and engaged communities?” While I was there, I presented the American Express Emerging Leader Award to Abe Flores, who is the advocacy field manager for Arts for LA in Los Angeles, CA (Congratulations, Abe!). I also participated in a panel discussion about the challenging state of private support of the arts.

During my remarks, I suggested that the arts community hasn’t done enough to align itself with the concept of creativity, which is something that is valued by many, if not most, Americans. Granted, the first part of that statement is my opinion, but the second part is based on a recent survey of Americans by Time Magazine, Microsoft, and the Motion Picture Association of America.

According to the study results, which were published in Time on May 20, 2013, 94 percent of Americans value creativity in others – compared to 93 percent who value intelligence, 92 percent compassion, 89 percent humor, 88 percent ambition, and 57 percent who value beauty.

91 percent say creativity is important in their personal lives and 83 percent say creativity is important in their professional lives. 65 percent think that creativity is central to America’s role as a global leader. In fact, 35 percent of Americans think that the U.S. is the current leader in creativity with China at 23 percent, Japan at 19 percent, Germany at 3 percent, India at 1 percent, and the U.K. at 1 percent. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »