Back to the Future (Part One)

Posted by Erik Takeshita On November - 7 - 2011

Erik Takeshita

We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We have a responsibility to those who will come after us.  

These simple yet powerful concepts have been echoing in my head the past few days in New Mexico where I participated in a roundtable discussion held at the Institute of American Indian Arts sponsored by the Open Society Foundations, First People’s Fund, and Arts and Democracy Project. The people I met and the stories I heard reinforced the power of the arts – and more importantly culture – in transforming our communities.

Six case studies were presented at the roundtable: KUYI Hopi radio (Hopi Nation), Jikaat Kwaan Heritage Center (Alaska), Penn Center (South Carolina), Tamejavi Festival (Central Valley, California), STAY Project (Appalachia) and Cornerstone Theater (Los Angeles).

Despite the differences in geographic location, populations or medium, these exemplars all shared common elements: they were place-based, holistic approaches that engaged both youth and elders, and, perhaps most importantly, put culture at the center.

Place-based: When in New Mexico, it is obvious that place matters. This is, of course, true everywhere. Place informs who we are, how we act, our thinking, our relationships. Place is more that just a setting, but rather is an active participant that informs what can and should be done. Read the rest of this entry »

Join Our First Animating Democracy Blog Salon

Posted by Joanna Chin On November - 7 - 2011

Joanna Chin

Community connections are being eroded on multiple sides. There are growing divisions amongst Americans on how to deal with our social, economic, and political problems. Technology is making it possible to never physically interact with another human being and warping the way we relate to one another. Small towns and cities alike are losing their sense of identity and facing crises involving lack of affordable housing and declining social services.

Perhaps in reaction to this erosion of community ties, there’s been an increased interest in cultivating civic engagement, placemaking, and change at a local level.

There is a growing body of evidence and examples of how communities have utilized local assets in order to begin to address this problem. We assert that the arts and culture have always had a place in this work of creating a sense of place, strengthening civic participation, and bolstering positive social change.

For this Blog Salon, we’ve dared our bloggers to answer big questions, like:

  1. Where do you see breakthrough work at the intersection of art and community, civic, or social change? What makes it effective?
  2. Looking to the future, what will it take to move and sustain arts and culture into its most potent role in community development, civic engagement, and social change?
  3. What are the principles we have to hold onto and what are the shifts that need to occur? Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Time for More “Outside the Box Surrounding the Box” Thinking

Posted by Michael R. Gagliardo On November - 3 - 2011
Michael R. Gagliardo

Michael R. Gagliardo

We spend a lot of time in the arts talking about “thinking outside the box.” It’s what we do, and it’s our catchphrase, more so than in any other profession.

When businessmen and politicians talk about this type of thinking, we tend to scoff at them – after all, we are the real creative thinkers, right?

But sometimes we create a box within a box in our own thinking. And while we gladly and proudly venture outside of our inner box, finding new ways to present our own artistic work, we sometimes get trapped inside that outer box. It’s time to do more “outside the box surrounding the box” thinking.

What does that mean? Well, look at it this way – while we tend to be innovative within our own discipline, sometimes we hesitate to venture beyond our comfort zone.

I’m talking about collaboration – specifically, collaboration with other art forms. It’s a little frightening to consider at first. I remember a very tense lunch over the summer with a director who wanted to be in control of every element of a production that I was involved in – so much so that there was a flow chart produced at the table that show the director as the “CEO” of the show. The give and take of control over a production, be it musical theater, ballet, opera, or a collaborative exhibition, is a frightening concept. Read the rest of this entry »

Architects: Why are they in the NEA Jobs Report?

Posted by Mandee Ferrier Roberts On November - 3 - 2011
Mandee Ferrier Roberts

Mandee Ferrier Roberts

They’re skewing the data. They make the most ($63,111 median income); they are the highest educated (88.5% of architects have Bachelor’s degrees or higher) and 70%  actually majored in their discipline; they’re the most likely to be foreign-born; 75%  are men (and are paid on average $12,000 more per year than the women in their field).

And I don’t think they’re necessarily artists.

Alright, alright, I take that back. Let me put it this way: they’re not just artists.

There’s more to architecture than what—literally—meets the eye. Of course, mating great design with practicality is an architect’s goal, but last time I checked, I didn’t have to concern myself with public safety or meeting codes when I created that painting or wrote that song.

I am of the opinion that the primary goal of architecture is not purely in the design, but in the usability of the space (with the best architects being those who can successfully balance aesthetics with pragmatics). The most “haute” of architecture (think David Fisher’s forthcoming rotating skyscraper) still must be able to be inhabited. If a building can’t be, it’s a sculpture. It’s an interesting fine line. Read the rest of this entry »

Charitable Giving Reform Becoming a Taxing Issue

Posted by Gladstone Payton On November - 2 - 2011

Gladstone Payton

On October 18, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee held a hearing titled “Tax Reform Options: Incentives for Charitable Giving” partially in response to the ever-changing dynamics regarding proposals for tax reform, job creation, and deficit reduction swirling around the Nation’s Capital.

Lowering and capping the value of tax deduction to charities for the top wage earners under the tax code has been proposed by the Obama Administration in recent years to help raise revenue to help curb national deficits, pay for the health care reform and fund the now scaled-down American Jobs Act.

Since being removed from the jobs bill, treatment of itemized deductions such as the charitable deduction has become part of the growing dialogue about tax reform, sparking heated debates on whether a cap on such deductions would have a negative effect on the giving patterns of donors to charity and giving rise to the committee hearing.

The nonprofit arts sector (including Americans for the Arts) has been working closely with such organizations as Independent Sector, the Alliance for Charitable Reform and the Council of Nonprofits to ensure that any changes to charitable giving not be negatively impacted especially during the economic downturn. Read the rest of this entry »

Embracing the Velocity of Change (Part 5)

Posted by Barbara Schaffer Bacon On November - 1 - 2011

Barbara Schaffer Bacon

Our Paradox, Now Available on YouTube!

With bold headlines generated by the release of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change, the appetite was high at the Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) Conference for an opportunity to address the charge of being elite so often leveled at the arts. Do we want to own it or change it? And, what about the progressive label? Don’t artists generally lean left?

The session “Too Progressive, Too Elite: Public Value and the Paradox of the Arts” turned out to be that opportunity. Marete Wester, my colleague and director of arts policy at Americans for the Arts, and I organized the session based on our own interests in exploring the truths and challenges inherent in these labels–but we wanted a fresh conversation. So, why not start with art!? After all, connecting art and dialogue has been Animating Democracy’s cause and mantra for over ten years. GIA’s own Tommer Peterson signed on and spent the summer conducting 45 interviews on the theme.

A Night at the Opera, a short play by Tommer and KJ Sanchez of American Records Theater Company, was performed to open the salon session held at Emerald Tablet, a community arts center in San Francisco’s historic North Beach neighborhood.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Art Inside #OccupyWallStreet

Posted by Amanda Alef On October - 31 - 2011

The art of signs used at #OWS (photo from

Throughout history art has been fundamentally intertwined with social movements and political activism and it continually serves as a critical avenue through which to question, comment on, and influence change in the world around it. And this time around is no exception.

While the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to gain momentum, the arts have become a unique tool in the movement’s development and have played a central role in the creative expression of the movement’s message.

On any given day the artistic pulse of the movement can be witnessed through the countless cardboard signs on display throughout downtown Manhattan’s Zuccoti Park, as well as the emergence of a screenprinting lab, daily open stage performances, and the constant presence of musicians who add song to the movement’s message.

Only fourteen days after protesters began occupying, the formation of the Arts and Culture Committee emerged as a subcommittee of the movement’s general assembly. This collection of painters, graphic designers, musicians, art students, and more, represents the creative voices of the movement and have been working to support the peaceful occupation of Liberty Square and to foster participation in the creation of cultural work that amplifies the movement’s message. Read the rest of this entry »

Embracing the Velocity of Change (Part 4)

Posted by Marete Wester On October - 27 - 2011

The Fairmont Hotel's Venetian Room Circa 1950

The historic Fairmont Hotel has sat atop Nob Hill in San Francisco for over 100 years; built and rebuilt after surviving earthquakes, fires, and numerous redecorating efforts for nearly eleven decades.

Pristine marble floors, crystal chandeliers, and towering Corinthian columns trimmed in gold punctuate some fun historical facts: the Cirque Room was the first bar in the city to open after prohibition; the International Conference held there after World War II led to the drafting of the Charter for the United Nations; and the Venetian Room  supper club, which has featured artists from Marlene Dietrich to Vic Damone, was where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

The Venetian Room seemed an unlikely place to host an early morning discussion that was all about the future. Nevertheless, the “Funding & Changing Business Models” session I facilitated at the recent Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) conference ended up filled with energetic and motivated funders, including state and local arts agencies, small family foundations, as well as regional and national foundations. As the group swelled two deep around, a cry went out to “Change the Model!” and we started moving tables (mindful of all the crystal). It was clear this was a hot topic. Read the rest of this entry »

Embracing the Velocity of Change (Part 2)

Posted by Pam Korza On October - 25 - 2011

Pam Korza

“Sing the song so you can stick here with gravity.” ~ L. Frank Manriquez

The marriage of two now staple Grantmakers in the Arts preconferences—Individual Artists and Art & Social Justice—was a perfect energizing union of kindred artist-activists, field movers, and supporters as well as a highlight of the Bay Area as a perpetual vanguard of arts and social change.

Starting with the grey bay morning right, we shared breakfast in the funky garden alleyway alongside SOMArts—comforting, hot, fruity oatmeal and other treats from Nick’s Wheely Good Breakfast truck!

Rhodessa Jones, our creative through line for the day, embodied arts for change. With opening creative verse and video, Jones conjured the power of her enduring Medea Project which engages incarcerated women and women with HIV and AIDS.

Jones’ partner at the University of California, San Francisco HIV/AIDS clinic, Dr. Eddie Machtinger, underscored the unique role that her work plays in the evolution toward wellness of these women. Most striking was his deep and declared commitment to the project and to proving “with scientific evidence” the role of arts in their transformation. A model of sustained and effective cross-sector partnership! Read the rest of this entry »

Embracing the Velocity of Change (Part 1)

Posted by Marete Wester On October - 24 - 2011
Marete Wester

Marete Wester

Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA)—a national association serving arts and culture funders—recently held its 2011 conference, Embracing the Velocity of Change, October 9-12 in San Francisco—and Americans for the Arts was there.

For close to twenty years, Americans for the Arts has been pleased to represent the 3,000-plus field of local arts grantmaking agencies in communities both large and small at GIA.

Our history of support of GIA is part of our ongoing commitment to sharing information and deepening the understanding between local arts agency grantmakers and their natural partners in the private funding community.

Collectively, local arts agencies fund more than $1 billion annually in public funding and more than $100 million annually in private funding, providing support for the arts and arts education in communities across the country. The GIA conference is an annual opportunity for us (along with arts funders across the country) to present session ideas for juried selection. Read the rest of this entry »

Occupy Philanthropy

Posted by Mandee Ferrier Roberts On October - 21 - 2011
Mandee Ferrier Roberts

Mandee Ferrier Roberts

I admit I don’t know much about politics. Being the president of my high school drama club wasn’t exactly training for a career in political science. But after attending Arts Advocacy Day 2011, I realized I needed to be promoting and working for positive arts policies in our nation. That’s why I decided to intern at Americans for the Arts—and I was hoping to gain at least a little bit of political knowhow through osmosis!

Every day for the past couple of weeks as I walk to work, I pass by one of the camps for Occupy DC. It’s got me thinking a lot about what the people are protesting—social injustice and the uneven distribution of wealth. I know I’m worlds away from becoming the next great economy wonk, but I am an emerging leader in the nonprofit arts field. How can I connect the dots? I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Arts Management. In fundraising class, we’ve been learning about donor models, as shown in the graphic below:

Basically, the largest individual dollar amounts are donated by smallest number of people.

Sound familiar?

This model for nonprofit fundraising may already be out-of-date, in favor of the Fundraising Trapezoid/Dodecahedron/Polygon (it’s only a pyramid because ideally, donors should move up the ranks as their relationship with the organization progresses), but it still begs the question: Is there a “1%” that controls how nonprofits treat their constituencies? Read the rest of this entry »

The Power to Give

Posted by Scott Provancher On October - 20 - 2011

Scott Provancher

My colleagues and I at the Arts & Science Council (ASC) have been closely following the national and regional trends that affect the health of the arts industry.

In particular, several trends have caught our attention: 1) arts giving in America continues to lose market share to other charities; 2) recent analysis showed that 85 percent of cultural patrons (ticket buyers, visitors, etc.) are not donating to the organizations they patronize; and 3) the traditional fundraising campaigns of the arts community seem to be making little progress in reversing these challenging trends.

A little over a year ago these trends were the topic of ASC’s annual board retreat. As one of the largest united arts agencies in the nation, we owed it to ourselves and the field to be a leader in addressing these issues both at a local and national level. Our board wholeheartedly agreed and we left the meeting with a firm commitment to develop and invest in innovative ideas that could change how the arts engage new donors in the future.

A year and a half later, ASC launched a new website called, which we believe will change the way we do business forever. Read the rest of this entry »

The Overlapping Line of Boxing and the Arts

Posted by Tim Mikulski On October - 19 - 2011

Several months ago Merryl Goldberg, a long-time ARTSblogger, wrote a post called “You’re the Arts Department Chair and You Box?!” about her experiences as a novice boxer at her local L.A. Boxing gym.

Not that long after it was published in mid-March, Merryl was contacted by L.A. Boxing about taping her story for their YouTube channel.

This is her video…

Merryl is currently considering a project that connects athletes and artists/arts administrators to speak out together on the importance of both worlds.

Do you have an examples of a crossover between sports and the arts? Post them in the comments below or email them to! We’d love to hear from you.

Celebrating ‘Artober’ in Nashville

Posted by Jennifer Cole On October - 17 - 2011

With economic gloom dominating the news, it’s invigorating to focus on joy and beauty. At the end of September, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and the Metro Nashville Arts Commission launched Artober Nashville, the city’s most expansive celebration of the arts and everything creative.

Mayor Karl Dean received a lesson in African Drumming from Tulip Grove second graders Jaidyn MacAdoo during his visit to the school for the launch of Artober Nashville on September 29.

Artober Nashville showcases all artistic genres through more than 250 galleries, music venues, cultural organizations, and neighborhood festivals and more than 550 activities in October. The hope is that Nashvillians will experience “Arts. Everywhere.”

During the month, the city will showcase the International Bluegrass Music Festival and the International Black Film Festival, and additionally, our Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony hosts a free day of music, the Frist Center displays Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum; and the Rep, the Opera and Ballet will stage unforgettable classics. Read the rest of this entry »

Jeff Hawthorne, director of community affairs for the Regional Arts & Culture Council in Portland, OR, passed along a link to an excellent video featuring Grammy Award-winning jazz artist Esperanza Spalding.

In the video, posted by Portland Center Stage, Spalding stresses the need for all forms of the arts in the lives of children as they help kids become better citizens in their community and in the world at-large.

Esperanza Spalding and CAN from Portland Center Stage on Vimeo.

How have the arts made you a better citizen? Tell us in the comments.