What Are “The Arts” Anyway?

Posted by Howard Sherman On February - 22 - 2013
Howard Sherman

Howard Sherman

Art. The arts. Fine arts. Performing arts. Visual arts. The lively arts. Arts & entertainment. Arts & culture. Culture. High culture. Pop culture.

The preceding phrases are all, on a very macro basis, variations on a theme. However, were you in a research study, and I showed you each of them, one at a time, I daresay they would provoke very distinct associations, very clear delineations of what each encompasses in your mind. Those responses would also likely change depending upon the order in which I showed these to you.

I could also take any two and combine them in a Venn diagram and the overlapping segment would be quite clear. But incorporate a third or fourth and you might find one of these categories the odd man out.

Why do I bring this up?

Because as the “arts community” fights its valiant, essential, and never-ending battle to convince the public at large of the value of “the arts,” I cannot help but wonder whether those on the receiving end of such messaging each hear very different things when these words are presented to them.

I’m prompted to these thoughts by a variety of “real world” examples and experiences, some quite personal. I’m hoping that perhaps someone will want to test my assumptions.

Visit the websites of a few newspapers. The New York Times “Arts” section is a big tent, where theatre, dance, and opera fit in alongside movies, TV, books, and pop music; only on Fridays in the New York edition do they distinguish between performing arts and fine arts, by dividing them into two printed sections.  Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Education Needs Your Love…and a Little Celebration

Posted by Ken Busby On February - 19 - 2013
Ken Busby

Ken Busby

Last week we celebrated Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day. Two weeks ago, the Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts met in Mesa, AZ to determine how we can best serve local arts agencies that are providing arts education programs.

How are these seemingly disparate events related you might ask? Let me tell you!

Arts education needs all the love you can give! And you can’t just let the good times roll without there being a few consequences. If we don’t work together to keep the importance of arts education at the forefront of people’s minds, they will fall by the wayside.

There was much discussion at our meeting in Mesa about arts integration, how to help local communities be stronger advocates for the arts, ways to highlight effective programs as models for other communities, and trends in the field and where we need to be heading if we are to keep the arts at the core of learning.

One thing that is clear in 2013—for arts education to be a real focus for educators and politicians at all levels, we as local arts agencies, we as arts teachers, and we as arts advocates are going to have to continue to work collaboratively and stay ahead of the curve in terms of research and best practices, and continue to demonstrate the value of the arts in developing a 21st century workforce. Read the rest of this entry »

Best Practices in Public Art Project Selection

Posted by Lester Burg On February - 13 - 2013
Lester Burg

Lester Burg

One of our most enjoyable tasks as public art administrators is telling an artist they have been chosen for a commission. Getting to that point is a long process, which differs across the country, but our goal is the same—select the best artist for the site and have those involved feel good about the process.

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) oversees commuter rail and subways. MTA Arts for Transit (AFT) commissions permanent public art when stations are rehabilitated or constructed. Our selection process has worked well over the past 26 years, with 243 completed projects and 50 in process. With hundreds of stations in diverse communities, we have deep experience in the selection process for projects large and small. The process is the same for all.

Artist selection is different from buying widgets and we are fortunate to have internal colleagues who sanction and understand our need for arts professionals to participate in artist selection (MTA is a state agency). Over the years, we have learned to leave little to chance and to tightly organize the panel meetings, so that everyone feels satisfied the process was thorough and fair.

Artists respond to a “Call for Artists” that describes the project and submittal requirements which include digital selections from their portfolio of existing work and their credentials. These are posted at www.mta.info/art and promoted through arts organizations, or in publications for major projects. Most agencies use a similar approach. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Eat Cake (or Not)

Posted by James LeFlore On February - 12 - 2013
James LeFlore

James LeFlore

In the Public Art Network (PAN), we all share and discuss our favorite recipes for success, i.e. “best practices.” And to make a comparison to the art of baking a delectable cake (imagine your favorite style here), there should be no surprise when you go off the recipe or use a stale batch of ingredients that your cake will come out of the oven tasting like the mess you put in it.

Agree with me or not, but I am starting to think that the majority of the general public sees the value of public art in a comparable manner to that of a slice of cake. Some are truly in love, seeing public art like a treat to be consumed in celebration of all the shared experiences of our lives. Others just have no sweet tooth for public art, they may be under a strict diet, or worse they blame cake and/or art for the destruction of our children’s future-children.

Maybe public art isn’t particularly suited as an entrée or even a side dish, but is good being a dessert—the last and memorable item on the menu.

I have observed a trend emerging in best practices. Public art has shown how we as cake makers can produce more and better recipes; how we can enlist more cooks and serve more customers; but before we eat more, let’s ensure we are all healthy and hit the gym.

So, first we need to define our trouble spots that require the most work. Here are a few of my proposed exercises (best practices) for the field, just to get us going:  Read the rest of this entry »

The Arts Are Patriotic, Too

Posted by Robert Lynch On February - 5 - 2013
Robert L. Lynch

Robert L. Lynch

Imagine this scene: there is a band playing as you walk in. As the musicians wrap up their piece and take their seats, a large choir pops up, featuring top-notch a cappella performers. This performance segues into rousing solo performances from vocalists backed up by beautiful orchestrations. Great writers are celebrated. Poetry is recited. And the whole celebration is capped off with—what else?—dancing.

If you were in Washington D.C. last week, or anywhere near a television, you might recognize this event, not as an arts festival, a cabaret, or a musical, but as our Presidential Inauguration. It’s probably not the first thing most people noticed as they watched the pomp and circumstance of a centuries-old tradition play out, but it is certainly what struck me most: at our most essentially American moments, when we want to celebrate most fully and most impressively, we inevitably employ the arts.

What I saw was:

  • The presentation of our National Colors through military music and choreography.
  • The spectacular Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
  • Myrlie Evers-Williams reciting the words to a great, moving spiritual at the center of her comments.
  • The story of the Dome of the Capital—of architecture, art and fine craft—completed in the middle of the Civil War as an artistic symbol of our Union. And the story of the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome—a piece of art cast, assembled and put in place by slaves in 1863.
  • Musicians James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson, and the Marine Band each singing our national treasures: the great patriotic songs of our country.
  • Poet Richard Blanco reading “One Today”; references again and again to a movie, “Lincoln;” handcrafted crystal vases gifted to the president and vice president at lunch; the gifts given to all members of Congress, a portfolio of essays related to the Statue of Freedom—in the words of Nancy Pelosi: “Freedom stands on the Dome of the Capitol.”
  • And so many more examples, from the arts and music performances in the parade and balls, to Speaker John Boehner’s story of a team of mother and daughter seamstresses who made the huge flag that hung over Ft. McHenry and inspired our national anthem.  Read the rest of this entry »

Creative Alchemy (or How Arts & Culture Voters Can Change Los Angeles)

Posted by Danielle Brazell On February - 1 - 2013
Danielle Brazell

Danielle Brazell

It’s election season in the City of Los Angeles. Eleven candidates are vying for the mayoral seat and a whopping 40 are vying for eight city council seats. Because of these changes in representation, the political landscape in Los Angeles will shift significantly.

We—as artists, as creative entrepreneurs, as arts administrators, curators, audience members, parents, and students—have the opportunity to leverage our collective voice to help chose who will represent our values.

Although forbidden by IRS regulations to endorse specific candidates, nonprofits can initiate a public dialogue about the role arts and culture play in building healthy, vibrant, and prosperous communities. And, for the past seven years, Arts for LA has been doing just that.

Our nonpartisan candidate survey is a way for prospective leaders to map out their vision for our city. Just four questions—and the 100 word responses from each candidate—have provided a window into what those running for office in the City of Los Angeles would do to invest in creativity:

  1. What was a meaningful arts and cultural experience you had growing up?
  1. What do you believe the role the City should play in the development and support of the region’s cultural infrastructure?
  1. How would you champion modifications to, or expansion of the City’s current funding stream for local arts and culture?
  1. What three things would you do to deepen the City’s investment in its creative economy (cultural tourism, in-direct and direct jobs, nonprofit, and for profit)?  Read the rest of this entry »

Getting to Know Our Staff: Kristen Engebretsen

Posted by Tim Mikulski On January - 29 - 2013

In December 2012, Kristen Engebretsen, arts education program manager at Americans for the Arts, spoke with “V for Vitality” host Susan Brender for a podcast on WomensRadio.com.

Brender, a former producer for MSNBC talk programs and CNBC’s The Charles Grodin Show, asked Kristen about how she ended up working at our organization, what it’s like to be a dancer, the importance of federal funding for the arts and arts education, and how the arts help communities both economically and through the intrinsic value of the arts.

You can listen to Kristen’s full interview below via SoundCloud.

John Bryan

John Bryan

Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class is now 11 years old, and the notion that left-brained corporate types can benefit from right-brained creative types is acknowledged as gospel.

Although Florida’s work has resulted in blue-chip value for “creative thinkers,” there is no empirical evidence to show whether business executives claim any workplace value for their own personal artistic pursuits.

Indeed, do the personal artistic pursuits of business workers add value to the corporate workplace? The exploration of this question is one line of research that has been spawned by a recent gathering in Virginia.

On November 27 in Richmond President and CEO of The Conference Board Jonathan Spector and Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch convened 16 corporate executives and 16 artists for an eight-hour “Creative Conversation”—a day of envisioning a new transaction model between business and arts. The forever-held model is straightforward: businesses give money to the arts so that the arts can enrich their communities.

Richmond’s event explored the possibility of an opposite transaction model. Can corporations benefit by reaching out to and engaging practicing artists? Participants included executives from Fortune 500 companies such as Altria, Dominion, and MeadWestvaco; leaders from service organizations such as J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College and Leadership Metro Richmond; and CEOs from specialty companies such as The Martin Agency and Richmond Times-Dispatch. Read the rest of this entry »

Presenting Our Vans Custom Culture Grant Winning Schools

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On January - 15 - 2013

Learning in the arts enables every individual to develop the critical thinking, collaborative, and creative skills necessary to succeed in today’s ever-changing world. Vans and its national charity partner Americans for the Arts envision a country where every child has access to—and takes part in–high quality learning experiences in the arts, both in school and in the community.

Americans for the Arts is pleased to announce, as a component of its ongoing partnership with Vans, the winners of the inaugural year of the Vans Custom Culture Grant Program. This new grant program seeks to increase both visibility for and resources available to schools across the country who are engaged in working to sustain the arts as a vital part of education.

The grant program is supported by funds from Vans Custom Culture—an art competition whose winners design a shoe that is produced and sold by Vans. (Make sure your school registers to enter the shoe design competition to win up to $50,000 for its art education program!)

Vans Custom Culture Grants are available to public high schools (grades 9-12) that have allowed arts education to thrive in their school community. The grants are intended to encourage the inclusion of the arts as an integral component of an excellent education, and to support activities that are consistent with local and national learning standards for arts education. Read the rest of this entry »

500 Artists, Gardens Celebrate Florida’s 500th Birthday

Posted by Xavier Cortada On December - 17 - 2012

On Easter Sunday 1513, Ponce de Leon landed his three ships on the eastern shore of the peninsula where I live.

Claiming the land for Spain, he named the place La Florida, (for the Spanish word “flor” or flower) because of the lush landscape and because of the day the explorers arrived, Pascua florida, Easter.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of this encounter, I am working through the Florida International University College of Architecture + The Arts to develop FLOR500, a participatory art, nature, and history project that encourages participants to explore Florida’s natural wonder:

Indeed, I wanted to create an art project that allowed our inhabitants to understand the multicultural origins of our state, its fragile biodiversity, and its threatened coastlines. So I took the father of the Fountain of Youth mythology and his historic milestone as a point of departure to explore ways of rejuvenating “the Sunshine State.” Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Education Must Exist Beyond Evaluation, Measurement, and Standards

Posted by Rob Schultz On December - 11 - 2012

Rob Schultz

I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m only passingly familiar with many of the theories and practices of arts education. Teaching visual art classes is in my distant, hazy professional background, but my career since then has been in managing community arts education programs and the capable, expert staff who deliver them.

It’s certainly been interesting reading and discussing various approaches to comprehensive arts education over the years, how best practices are defined at any one particular time, and how new approaches redefine what we thought we already knew.

I can appreciate how valuable these theories and practices are and what results they achieve in students of varying ethnic, age, and socioeconomic diversity. Of course, there’s also been an ever-increasing focus on standardization and evaluation, in large part I suppose because of the need to meet “proof of effectiveness” requirements demanded by grantors and others in the business of providing financial support to the arts education field.

All of us were pleased when, in 1994, the National Arts Standards were adopted and our field proudly saw that the arts had been recognized and earned a place at the public education table. More recently, the Common Core State Standards arrived on the national scene, and so now we grapple with ways to make their integration and implementation a reality.

A colleague on the Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts, Talia Gibas, recently wrote an excellent essay on the value of “shared delivery,” whereby a child is taught through three processes: a generalist classroom teacher who integrates the arts on a daily basis; an arts specialist who “hones in on skills and content specific to their art form;” and a professional teaching artist who deepens engagement. Read the rest of this entry »

Collective Impact and the Wisdom of Slow Culture

Posted by Bill Cleveland On December - 7 - 2012

Pomegranate Center works with communities to imagine, plan, and create shared public spaces designed to encourage social integration and build local identity.

In the world of commerce scaling up has a long history. In the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries, mass production spawned the industrial revolution. In the twentieth century, scaling applied to retail businesses like fast food and electronics manifested as chain stores and franchising.

The intention with these enterprises is to maximize profit by providing reliable and affordable products and services through economies of scale. In terms of profitability, mass production, chains, and franchising have been stupendously successful.

On the nonprofit side, given the significant gap between community needs and resources it is understandable that policymakers and funders are going to eager to find ways to extend the benefits of what they see as effective ideas and practice. Slow Food USA, Link TV, and KIPP charter schools are good examples of how innovative nonprofits have shared and spread the wealth.

The downside, of course is that one-size-fits-all predictability and sameness can have a sterilizing effect on the delicate strains of quirk and diversity upon which vital culture depends to multiply and thrive. For people like me who are concerned with community cultural development, or in the current vernacular, creative placemaking, this is no small thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Michelle Alexander (photo by Nicholas Wray)

On June 1, the Arts & Business Council (ABC) of Sacramento launched Flywheel, the region’s first creative economy incubator.

For 25 years, ABC of Sacramento has run the Business Volunteers for the Arts program, facilitating over $1 million in pro bono services to artists and arts organizations. Sacramento’s arts scene has grown exponentially over that time, but the region still lacks a pathway to give emerging artists the tools, community, and exposure to establish themselves as sustainable businesses.

By curating a diverse group of the region’s top emerging artists, creative start-ups and arts organizations, ABC has been able to develop a pathway to sustainability for local talent, while also establishing our region as a hub for the arts!

Our first group of artists represents a cross-section of the capital region’s creative scene:

Small Enough to Succeed

Posted by Doug Borwick On December - 6 - 2012

Doug Borwick

I have, for most of my life, been suspicious of the “growth is good” assumption that we often make in this country or did as I was growing up. (Sometimes when I replay in my mind the famous Gordon Gecko speech from Wall Street, it’s not greed I hear him praise but growth.)

At the risk of appearing to trivialize something that is incredibly serious, cancer is a demonstration (an extreme one to be sure) that not all growth is beneficial. Less hyperbolically, the quest for resources to support program growth as well as the need for expanding infrastructure to sustain it often creates a situation in which the mission out of which the program sprang gets left in the dust. The attention required to amass funding and personnel gets in the way of focusing on the reason the program was created. But that is a systemic (and management theory) issue that I am sure others participating in this Blog Salon will address.

Some in the for-profit world have been questioning the merits of “bigness” for years. Right-sizing, just-in-time production, and Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept (for focus on a core) and “Stop Doing List” (one of my favorites) all address the issue that big is not necessarily better, even in financial terms. In the not-for-profit arts world, the recent University of Chicago study, Set in Stone arrives at a similar conclusion about the dangers of facilities creep.

My principal interest is in effective community engagement in the service of creating healthier communities. This work is relationship driven and relationships cannot be mass-produced. However, as I discussed in a blog post some time ago–The Magic of Small Groups–megachurches, in creating and nurturing small subsets of the whole, have discovered a volunteer-labor-intensive path around that problem. Read the rest of this entry »

An Artist Reflects on Growth through the Eyes of His Community

Posted by Regin Igloria On December - 6 - 2012

Regin Igloria

Staying small sounds a bit counter-intuitive to creative types, especially artists.

Take into consideration the many years of art school where teachers keep telling students to “work bigger” so that they can “see that piece done on a much larger scale.” Sometimes it speaks beyond the formal issues of a piece: understanding that the effectiveness of its meaning and concept can be directly related to the size of the audience it has reached.

I’ve been thinking about this topic of scale my entire career, not just as a studio artist, but as a teacher and arts administrator who constantly has to create opportunities for others in the field while maintaining some sense of respect for my own creative ambitions.

My full-time paying gig is serving as the Director of Artists-In-Residence at The Ragdale Foundation, where artists, writers, and composers are offered time and space to get important work done.

As administrators, we are constantly balancing the working conditions of the artists, especially when it comes time to “gather round the dinner table.” Yes, sometimes the space where we consume our food is more important than the size of the studio where we make work.

We’ve kept the number of residents to about a dozen residents per session, so everyone can sit family-style at one large table rather than in separate clique-y style cafeteria tables. This is just one example of how to keep the residents engaged with appropriate peers (Author’s Note: You can read about the various types of programs through the Alliance of Artist Communities.) Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.

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