Stephanie Riven

The findings in the recent 2012 National Arts Index describing the state of the arts are profoundly disturbing.

The Index reported a long list of measures that trend down for arts, music, and cultural organizations, among them: waning program budgets, attendance, funding, expenditures, and a decrease in the overall number of arts organizations themselves.

As arts professionals we have heard all of this before. It’s not time to bemoan our fate but it is time to refocus our energy to reverse these trends. Consider these three core strategies to begin the process:

1.  Setting and communicating a vision: We clearly need to seek out innovative leaders that can communicate big and bold ideas broadly, consistently, and in a wider context. Can we discard our identity as an “underdog” and provide a platform for people to speak about radical new suggestions for the future? By extending the context to include the pressing need for social change in this country, we will attract visibility, excitement, and extend our influence. In addition, we must be willing to listen when new ideas are proposed, give support and participate in implementation.

2.  Developing Collective Impact as a core strategy: Despite our diverse agendas, it’s time that we look past our differences and speak with a more cohesive, unified voice. In the process, we can learn important lessons from our colleagues in the social service and education sectors about collective impact. A commitment to collective impact would encourage us to abandon our individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to policy, practice, and the delivery of the arts and arts education.

3.  Establishing a commitment to community: Can we engage substantively with our communities and cultural partners, not just to sell tickets or extend the reach of our organizations but to improve the lives of all people in our communities? As Doug Borwick says on his Engaging Matters blog, “It is the creation and support of healthy, vital communities that provide the ultimate justification for the allocation of financial and human resources that the arts require. Communities do not exist to serve the arts; the arts exist to serve communities.” Read the rest of this entry »

Victoria Ford

My summer internship with Americans for the Arts has regrettably come to an end. If I knew an inch about marriage, I’d say this feels a lot like the ride back from the honeymoon. Which I mention only to suggest how uneasy I feel saying farewell to ten weeks worth of swimming through everything art. With people who love it so tremendously, they fight for it each day.

It’s times like this when every instruction kneaded into my writing toolbox knocks on my door and offers itself to me—mostly to make sure each emotional simile this blog post doesn’t need can be prevented, like overlooked leaks beneath the kitchen sink (they persist, nonetheless).

At any rate, the advice knocking today is this: “Kiss the beginning.” And I think it’s only right to revisit the very first question I posed this summer (presented to you in the title), to see what many experiences I’m able to offer at its side.

As I mull everything over now, though, I’ll present just a couple. These two ideas, I hope, should suffice.

So to begin with a lesson I’ve learned on this journey, which is less about art and more about being human: I am small. This is not a commentary on my physical stature, but more on my existence and each of our lives. We are unfathomably small.

It’s hard for me to grapple with this truth, because since conception we’ve been taught and treated otherwise. The idea of our singular importance persists by way of talent shows, academic ceremonies, sporting and artistic competitions, promotions, and so on. And it’s not my wish to attack the way our societies reward this measure of our own greatness. If anything, with the Olympics as a perfect example, a single person’s achievements help to heal and unite an entire nation. Read the rest of this entry »

Janet Langsam

This year’s summer Olympics has raised sports to an art form. Gymnast Gabby Douglas might have been a ballerina for all her grace and flexibility. Swimmer Michael Phelps might have been a sculptor for all his power and focus. Glued as I was to the TV, watching what to me, was performance art at its finest, I wondered why we don’t have an Olympics of the arts.

That line of thought led me to bemoan once again the absence of the arts at the “real” Olympics. The Olympics after all elevates the value of competition. It celebrates diversity and ambition, and it engages everyone…participants and audiences alike throughout the world. That kind of broad, worldwide visibility is just what we need in the arts.

Imagine if the arts were as fundamental to the Olympics as sports. That fact alone would make the arts more important than they currently are. Let’s perhaps focus on Brazil in 2016. Think about how a four-year outreach for nominations from all corners of the globe would hype the arts and at the same time uncover nascent talent throughout the world. There must be thousands of young people in art and music college programs whose careers could benefit from the exposure. Perhaps Americans for the Arts could take the leadership in this effort?

Years ago, (naturally, way before my time) painting, drawing, sculpture, music, literature, and architecture were all a part of the Olympics, and all categories in which competitors could take home a medal. The idea—the brainchild of International Olympic Committee founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin—was to bind together athletics and aesthetics, body and soul, action and ideas, like in the old days in ancient Greece.

A major flaw in the rules was that artists’ work had to be inspired by sports, thus limiting the quality and quantity of participants. Then too, they simply couldn’t figure out how to maintain the Olympics as a competition for amateurs while at the same time extending eligibility to artists who were also professionals. So, by the time the fifties rolled around, the arts were out of the Olympic games. Read the rest of this entry »

Alyx Kellington

In loving memory of Alyx Kellington (1964-2012)

Two weeks ago the Arts Education Council at Americans for the Arts and the arts education community at-large lost a tremendously talented artist, educator, and advocate in Alyx Kellington. She passed away on July 29, 2012 near Palm Beach, FL, leaving behind an incredible career in the arts and many friends.

As the news of her death begins to settle in for so many of us, I’ve been reflecting on my last experience being in Alyx’s presence and have been asked by the Arts Education Council to share this story with you as our lasting tribute.

A few of us were fortunate to have spent 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Antonio with Alyx—she and I were hotel roommates. That first evening together we hung out at a restaurant where an amazing Dixie Land style band was playing. She spoke of her rich and diverse experience with music growing up in Austin, TX and was quite fortunate to have been exposed to such an array of musical talent at an early age.

At the Convention opening reception, I’ll never forget how happy Alyx seemed as we watched musician after musician take the outdoor stage. She grew up listening to many of theses famous acts as a child, and now here they were all together on one stage under the canopy of a beautiful Texas night.

Alyx was like a walking Texas arts and culture history lesson where I, along with several other arts education council members, learned so much from her that week.

Only knowing her as an arts educator, many of us were surprised to learn of her amazing photojournalism career that took Alyx literally all over the world. She really lit up when she talked about photography, the people she met along the way and the places where she lived. Her beautiful and captivating photojournalism work can be found archived on her website. Read the rest of this entry »

Laura Zucker

Arts for All staff can attest to the fact that the capacity to be adaptable, the knack to be nimble, is a key to continued success.

Following the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, arts education in Los Angeles County’s 81 school districts began to deteriorate to varying degrees. In the late 1990s a coalition of L.A. county arts leaders and advocates met to discuss problems, such as arts education, that could be addressed only by organizations working together. One result was Arts for All, formed as a public-private partnership in 2002 to empower school districts to build infrastructures for arts education and integrate arts into the core curriculum.

Now Arts for All is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a network of more than 100 partners including school districts, artists, arts and education organizations, corporations and foundations.

There is a shared belief in laying a strong foundation for arts education in the school districts and building their capacity to deliver arts education. The approach, which is now being adopted by others across the country, is to create a plan for the long term, collaboratively and systemically across Los Angeles County.

In the world of arts education, one size does not fit all. There is a tremendous variation in the level and quality of arts education within schools and districts across the county. The Arts for All   staff  has learned to customize programs to meet the needs at hand within distinct districts.

Sofia Klatzker, who directs grants programs for the LA County Arts Commission, is a ten-year veteran of Arts for All. She says that even though no two districts are alike, staff discovered that most district leaders believe that the arts are important to the core curriculum. “We do not have to sell the idea of arts ed per se,” says Klatzker. “We have to promote implementation.”

Throughout the decade, school district realities have shifted. For example, having a district-level arts coordinator seemed both imperative and realistic at one time. Now it is understood that someone within the district dedicated to coordinating the arts education plan implementation is important, but it can no longer be expected that the person is dedicated to the arts full-time. District level administrators now often wear many hats due to budgetary constraints. Read the rest of this entry »

Chad Barger

Just like most small to medium-sized metro areas around the country, Harrisburg, PA has not always fully capitalized on the power of its local arts scene. About eighteen months ago the Cultural Enrichment Fund (CEF), the region’s united arts fund, sought to change this.

When looking for a community partner, the organization first thought of the local chamber of commerce. As its name states, the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corporation is a blended organization—part chamber of commerce and part economic development corporation. Knowing this fact, CEF had high hopes that they would understand the power of the arts—especially regarding its workforce development benefits.

After an initial meeting it was clear that the chamber leadership did understand the value of the arts, but it was not from local advocacy efforts. They knew about the value of the arts from national conferences where topics such as Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, had been discussed. From these sessions they fully understood that attracting and retaining high-quality talent, versus a singular focus on infrastructure projects such as sports stadiums, iconic buildings, and shopping centers, is a better use of a city’s resources to spur long-term prosperity.

From this starting point it was easy for the Cultural Enrichment Fund staff to explain how the arts fit into that picture. Showing how the arts make Central Pennsylvania a better place in which to live, work, and play and explaining that a strong arts community is a key workforce development tool is something that they do every day.

The chamber executives were on board, but it was pretty clear that there was a disconnect. While it seemed that most business executives knew about the region’s thriving arts scene, it was not always being used as a tool for employee recruitment and retention by corporate human resources directors. So, CEF proposed partnering with the chamber to co-sponsor an Arts Impact Committee aimed at addressing this disconnect and the chamber quickly signed on. Read the rest of this entry »

Kim Kober

Last night, the three largest counties in Michigan passed a ballot measure to help sustain the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Two of the counties, Oakland and Wayne, passed it by more than 60 percent, while the third county, Macomb, came down to the wire at 51 percent.

The museum was founded over 125 years ago, but began to suffer financially when public funding dried up in the nineties, followed by the Great Recession over the past several years. The measure was included on the ballot for the primary elections held in Michigan yesterday and its passage adds a property tax, also known as a millage, that will cost homeowners an average of $15–$20 annually.

The resulting funds will provide approximately $23 million in annual funding for the museum for each of the next ten years, covering their annual operations. During that time, the museum will focus on building their endowment to ensure the museum’s sustainability after the ten years have passed.

Detroit arts advocates employed some creative tactics in the weeks leading up to the primaries.

Free Art Friday, led by Skidmore Studio, invites artists and arts supporters to create art and leave it around the city with a note, for others to find and keep. Last Friday, the event began with a rally at the DIA in support of the museum. Just days before that, Art is for Everyone sponsored a rally in a nearby park. Between the two events, hundreds showed up in support of the museum, and the visibility made a difference.

Mike Latvis, director of public policy at ArtServe Michigan and chair of the State Arts Action Network noted, “This is a great win for arts and culture in Michigan. Yes, it is only one organization out of hundreds, but voters representing counties totaling 40 percent of the state’s population just said yes to funding the arts.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

This post is one in a series highlighting the Local Arts Index (LAI) by Americans for the Arts. The LAI provides a set of measures to help understand the breadth, depth, and character of the cultural life of a community. It provides county-level data about arts participation, funding, fiscal health, competitiveness, and more. Check out your county and compare it to any of the nation’s 3,143 counties at

Nearly 50 percent (!) of the indicators in the Local Arts Index are now available for viewing. Haven’t stopped by lately? Take a moment to check out the “Where I Live” page to see what is new, and take a few minutes to see how where you live compares to other communities.

We’ve been releasing indicators in a series of groupings of related subjects, museums and collections-based organizations for instance, and most recently the performing arts.

Newly released this week is a group of arts education measures. And soon we’ll be releasing the ability to generate mini-reports, grouping specific indicators that you may find valuable.

But first the performing arts…There are two windows into the performing arts in these recently released indicators: popular entertainment and the lively arts. How do they describe your community, and how do they compare and contrast to other communities like yours?

Do some members of your community spend their dollars on attending popular entertainment (the national average is $20.43 per capita) and do others also attend the live performing arts? These two do not necessarily conflict and they may well complement each other, so the answer to both questions is very probably “yes.”

There is a long-held practice of associating “active arts participation” with the traditional live arts—ballet, symphony, opera, theater—which are normally produced and presented by nonprofit entities. But we can also gain a sense of local engagement through attendance and expenditures on popular entertainment that includes rock, hip-hop, and country as well as comedy and other forms of stage entertainment. Read the rest of this entry »

Jessica Stern

I’m not going to lie, I really don’t know much about visual art. It’s embarrassing as an “arts” administrator because my brother is an accomplished artist, my mother is a wildly creative interior designer, and my father fashions some of the most impressive urban development project management documents around.

Now, I could tell you all about Romantic-era composers, and go on about West African beats and argue why their current grooves are an aural history lesson of the slave-trade and post-colonialism, but when it comes to visual art, I just really don’t know a lot.

What I do know is, 1) generally speaking, I like visual art a lot and 2) I love seeing art by people who don’t consider themselves professional artists.

Enter reason #17 or so why I love my job: The ongoing charge to recognize businesses that make a special effort to unleash the inner artist in their accountants, actuaries, techies, and administrators.

So, naturally I was overjoyed to receive an invite last month to attend the opening of The Standard’s 2nd Annual ARTS (Artists in Residence at The Standard) Show.

The Standard, a financial services company, is one of Portland’s largest private employers, with approximately 2,200 individuals working in the state. This 106-year-old Oregon-born company was founded originally as a life insurance company with a goal to “champion the needs of the local community.” That value of being a community champion still rings true and The Standard is continually recognized for its charitable work, in addition to being a great supporter of arts and culture.

Always on Business for Culture & the Arts’ (BCA) list of the Top Business Donors to the Arts, The Standard ranked as the #1 Business Donor to the Arts in 2010 in the Portland Metro Area and #2 in the state of Oregon. Last year, in BCA’s cumulative study of 10 years of data, The Standard ranked #6 in the state of Oregon (having contributed over $1.8 million to arts and culture in 10 years).

Whether it’s through volunteerism, employee team scavenger hunts or direct giving, in addition to insurance, this company does something exquisitely: they honor their employees.

But back to ARTS…I’m familiar with programs that other Business Committees for the Arts run in other cities like On My Own Time (Denver) and art@work (Kansas City), but I hadn’t realized that some companies take it upon themselves to highlight the artistic talents of their staff. Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Joelle Lien

Like in many other states, arts and education leaders in Utah are concerned that children in elementary schools are not receiving high-quality, regular instruction in the arts. As a result of these concerns, a unique and comprehensive set of arts education collaborations is taking shape in the state.

Due in large part to the visionary leadership and financial support of philanthropist Beverley Taylor Sorenson, partnerships between colleges of fine arts and colleges of education, as well as with the state office of education, school districts, and various arts organizations are thriving and growing at an amazing pace.

As a result of these collaborations, people whose paths may otherwise never have crossed are instead working closely together to ensure that Utah children receive an education that includes high-quality arts learning and art-making experiences.

Building Relationships

Faculty and administrators within and across universities throughout Utah are working together as never before, collaborating in planning, teaching, researching, community engagement, and advocacy. In March, deans of Utah’s colleges of fine arts and university arts educators met for a statewide “Arts Education Summit” to share successes at their respective institutions and to develop strategic goals for expanding and improving elementary arts education.

Out of that meeting came action items that included the development of a “wiki” for comparing arts education curricular requirements across universities, as well as a plan to expand the reach of the summit to include stakeholders in colleges of education. Then, in July, deans of colleges of fine arts and education met to discuss topics based the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities’ Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools report.

Topics of discussion included how university arts and education programs can: build collaborations, expand teaching opportunities for the arts in K-12 schools, influence policymakers to reinforce the place of the arts in schools, widen our research focus to include evidence gathering on K-12 arts education, and prepare pre-service teachers to provide high-quality arts instruction in their future classrooms. Read the rest of this entry »

Joan Goshgarian

“It’s easy for me to be passionate about producing beautiful photography. It’s a lot harder to get excited about the mundane details of running my photography business. This conference was an excellent source of information on legal details that are an important part of any artist’s business. Although it would be impossible to get all the answers in one day, I now have a better idea of the questions to ask. I also made connections with other artists and organizations that can help me strengthen my business.”  ~ Becky Field, Photographer, Concord, NH

So begins the feedback from the attendees at the Arts, Culture, and Law Conference that the New Hampshire Business Committee for the Arts (NHBCA) sponsored in June along with the New Hampshire Departments Cultural Resources and Justice, the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits, and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) School of Law. The conference was designed for members of the arts and cultural industry, artists and organizations and board members, as well as legal professionals interested in cultural issues.

I was involved with this conference because the NHBCA started the Lawyers for the Arts/New Hampshire program in 1991 with our member law firms to offer arts-related legal assistance on a no-fee basis to artists and organizations.

In 2002, the NHBCA established a relationship with the UNH School of Law (then known as the Franklin Pierce Law Center) in Concord to refer these artists and arts organizations to the on-site clinic at their school.

The clinic is student-staffed and faculty-supervised, and in general assists people in civil matters who are unable to pay. In addition, UNH School of Law is a specialist in intellectual property matters and has a history of assisting those with issues in a variety of creative fields. Since the inception of the Lawyers for the Arts hundreds of artists and arts organizations have used this service.

In conjunction with the beginnings of the Lawyers for the Arts program, the NHBCA member law firms also created a booklet “Incorporation and Tax Exemption for New Hampshire Arts and Other Nonprofit Organizations: An Introductory Guide.” They responded to our request for this publication because we all have a demonstrated belief in and commitment to the importance of the arts and entire nonprofit community in New Hampshire. Read the rest of this entry »

What do we tell our children?

It’s one of many questions being asked this summer in light of the recent event in Aurora, CO, where a dozen were murdered and 58 wounded during the theater tragedy which took place at midnight this past Friday.

Crosses as memorials in Aurora, CO.

And it’s a familiar question, one I remember—with little ease—almost eleven years ago, when our country was as similarly wounded and roused as we are now.

The potency of this moment in each of our lives is something I can’t ignore. No longer is this a question addressing the eight-year-old shadow of myself from 2001, as much as it is one I’ve begun to ask myself.

How do we carry this? What can I do?

Without a doubt, I am not alone. Take a walk down the street and look closely: Many have dressed themselves in the burdens of pain caused by this tragedy. All compelled to create something in response, to take some sort of action—be it, in this case, the candlelight vigil, the countless crosses erected into the ground and decorated by floral arrangements, the memorial t-shirt designed to raise money for the grieving families of each victim.

I suppose it is, to some degree, it’s our 21st century style of memorial making. It is our process toward confronting what we tell our children, just as much as it is a way to tackle what we will leave our children with in tragedy’s wake.

Erika Doss, the author of Memorial Mania, puts it eloquently:

“Today’s growing numbers of memorials represent heightened anxieties about who and what should be remembered in America…shaped by the affective conditions of public life in America today: by the fevered pitch of public feelings such as grief, gratitude, fear, shame, and anger.” Read the rest of this entry »

A mosque is destroyed in this video capture from “The Times of Malta.”

The door of the Sid-Yaha, one of Timbuktu’s three 15th-century-era mosques, was supposed to open on the day of reckoning, signaling to all that the end had arrived. Instead, it has been broken down as part of a larger campaign of destruction.

The perpetrators of these demolitions are the Ansar-Dine, a group of Islamic radicals who have seized control of much of the vast northern region of Mali, which is, in itself, a huge nation.

Timbuktu has long been a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the 1400s, it was the premier destination for Islamic advances in medicine, culture, and education. But Mali, like many formerly-colonized nations, has had a rocky road to sovereignty, and as the country plunges into chaos, it is its most important cultural sites that are taking the brunt of the damage.

This is the way of western Africa: the entire region is in a constant cycle of civil unrest, then peace, civil unrest, then peace.

The Ansar-Dine—who are suspected of having links to Al-Qaieda—are led by a former Tuareg rebel who, ironically, decided to destroy these mosques after they were placed on UNESCO’s list.

The Dine claim that the mosques are sacrilegious and idolatrous, a claim that has been overwhelmingly refuted as not in keeping with the Islamic faith. In addition, the Dine have destroyed seven tombs that are also of great cultural value.

The United Nations has already called for the Dine to cease their campaign to no avail. The Dine claim they will not stop until they have destroyed each and every vestige of Timbuktu’s great past. Meanwhile, the Malian government is trying to get the International Criminal Court to consider charging the Dine of war crimes, a charge that some see as extreme in the absence of loss of lives and that others celebrate as a redefinition of a war crime.

I believe that the Ansar Dine should be charged with war crimes. I don’t see this situation as unworthy of the label, I don’t even see it as a redefinition; I see it as clarification, as a statement. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by Rick Lester On July - 19 - 20122 COMMENTS

Conventional wisdom: A higher price (P1) results in a lower quantity sold (Q1), whereas a lower price (P2) results in a more sales (Q2).

Harry Truman famously expressed a desire to consult only with “one-armed economists.” Our 33rd president wasn’t fond of counsel that began, “On the one hand, this…” and was followed by “On the other hand, that…” Truman wanted straight talk without equivocation.

So, here is a bit of economic straight talk from the data vaults of TRG Arts. Forget everything you learned in that Econ 101 class you took in undergraduate school. You can also forget what you learned at business school. It doesn’t apply to tickets.

Competitive Freedom

Conventional wisdom holds that higher prices reduce demand. For instance, in the consumer universe of unlimited hamburger availability, McDonald’s will sell many at $1.00 and many fewer at $10.00. And, at $100, demand goes to zero.

But, supply and demand curves do not apply to the world of selling tickets.

Those curves depend upon an “open market” of goods and prices. Corn, wheat, and hamburgers are sold in huge open markets. There are vast numbers of buyers and sellers who are free to compete for the exchange of goods and services.

Price subject to desire.

This condition of competitive freedom does not exist when selling tickets.

For example, nonprofit organizations are run by volunteer boards who set, approve or use their clout to influence prices—prices that these same board members pay when they attend the performances presented by their organization. That’s just one reason why the best seats are frequently undervalued. Read the rest of this entry »

Ladies and gentlemen, put on your party hats as July marks six months since the official launch of The pARTnership Movement!

Introduced in January, The pARTnership Movement is an initiative from Americans for the Arts to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can boost their competitive advantage.

To commemorate this momentous occasion, we are celebrating in a BIG way on a BIG screen in the BIG city. This week (July 16–July 22) this pARTnership Movement video is being  featured on MTV’s 44 ½ HD video screen, located in the heart of New York City’s Times Square:

So, what we have accomplished over the past six months?

Well…a LOT! We have launched our website which includes a list of the eight reasons to partner with the arts (también en español!) and examples of successful pARTnerships across the country.

If you are interested forming a pARTnership locally, we have provided you with tool kits such as the pARTnership Starter Kit, Building a pARTnership on Your Own, pARTnering with Small or Midsized Businesses, and Bringing the Arts into the Workplace. These resources provide you with all the necessary information to successfully engage in a pARTnership. Read the rest of this entry »