Five Minutes, Five Questions: Marlene Ibsen of the Travelers Foundation

Posted by Patrick O'Herron On July - 17 - 2014
Marlene Ibsen

Marlene Ibsen

Patrick O'Herron

Patrick O’Herron

Past BCA 10 honoree Travelers has been a long-time advocate of the arts. In 2013 alone, 17 percent of Travelers’ overall corporate giving went to arts and culture organizations. The company’s belief in the power of arts is also held by its employees.

Marlene Ibsen, President and CEO of the Travelers Foundation and Vice President of Community Relations at Travelers, recently talked to Americans for the Arts about the Travelers Arts & Diversity Committee, a group of Travelers employees who are out in the community and use the arts to encourage diversity.

Patrick O’Herron, Business Committee for the Arts Coordinator, Americans for the Arts: Can you start by giving me a quick overview of the Arts & Diversity Committee?

Marlene Ibsen: The Travelers Arts & Diversity Committee is comprised of employees in our St. Paul, Minnesota office who are looking to provide first-hand support to the region’s arts scene. They allocate funds to various arts organizations that are committed to supporting diversity.

Though funding is a substantial portion of what they do, their work doesn’t end there. Some committee members have prior experience in the arts, and they use that background to occasionally help produce local live performances. Their passion for both the arts and their neighborhoods’ appeal makes this group a strong–and highly visible–component of our involvement in our communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2014

Posted by Randy Cohen On March - 20 - 2014
Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

There is an old quote attributed to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich:

“If any man will draw up his case, and put his name at the foot of the first page, I will give him an immediate reply. Where he compels me to turn over the sheet, he must wait my leisure.”

This was the charge given to me by a business leader who needed to make a compelling case for government and corporate arts funding:

“Keep it to one page, please,” was his request. “I can get anyone to read one page.”

With the 2014 arts advocacy season upon us, the following is my updated “Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts.”

  • Which of these would you rank as #1?
  • Do you have a #11 to add?
  • Tell us in the comments below!

You can download this handy 1-pager here.

1. Arts promote true prosperity. The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. The arts help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, art is salve for the ache.

2. Arts improve academic performance. Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower drop-out rates—benefits reaped by students regardless of socio-economic status. Students with 4 years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with just one-half year of arts or music. Read the rest of this entry »

Young Artists in Small Towns: Contexts of Creativity

Posted by Michele Anderson On February - 23 - 2014
Michele Anderson

Michele Anderson

I live in a small town, I am an artist, and I am young.

In my work helping other artists with their careers, I spend a lot of time thinking about the types of resources younger artists need in rural communities.  For the most part, this means just what you would expect: developing or identifying ways to help them find funding, sell their work, or learn new skills. But I also want to think more deeply than that: What kind of unique resources might actually motivate young artists to create art in the first place, be connected to their community and stick around to provide the strong, innovative leadership that small towns need right now?

In other words, what are the conditions of creativity and talent development in a small town, and how does this affect the $100 million-dollar question of rural America: Why do our young people stay or go?

Here at Springboard for the Arts’ rural office, working with and encouraging younger artists has become a priority. Last Saturday, we led a day-long creative placemaking workshop on the role of art in historic preservation and economic development as part of our Imagine Fergus Falls initiative. Much to our surprise and delight, this workshop attracted a powerhouse of young artists from the region, most of whom had never met one another before. Read the rest of this entry »

Historic Buildings, Embodied Energy and Placemaking

Posted by Michele Anderson On February - 20 - 2014
Michele Anderson

Michele Anderson

Embodied energy. For anyone working to save a historic building from the wrecking ball in their town, this preservation term has likely come up in the fight— it powerfully illustrates the fact that buildings are literal repositories of the energy, labor and materials that they took to be constructed.

I love this image of energy just bubbling under the surface of our old buildings. It also makes me think about the stories, relationships and imagination that our historic buildings hold within their walls. For a long time I have wondered: How might creative placemaking be a strategy in activating a building’s embodied cultural energy – even before a permanent solution is found for its reuse? And how might many small creative gestures lead us to authentic and compelling reuse of the building, and attract responsible stewards of both the building’s cultural and physical embodied energy?

In Fergus Falls, our former state mental hospital, or the Kirkbride Building, has been front and center as a key community and economic development issue since 2005. Last July, the narrative of this complex problem began to shift closer to a renaissance, as a new developer and the city finally began the complicated process of working out a purchase agreement and redevelopment plan.

There is still a lot of work to be done and I admire the individuals behind the scenes who are working out the complicated web of tax credits and other things I don’t fully understand. As the rest of us wait to see if the building will finally have a new life, small acts of creative placemaking through our community’s Imagine Fergus Falls project have been helping the community step back ever so slightly from the preservation fight, and focus more on temporary animation of the space and artist-led storytelling about the building.

Our first official activity of Imagine Fergus Falls, a project funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program, was a community picnic this fall in front of the hospital’s administrative tower. The picnic featured our community jazz band, The Lakes Area All-Stars, who played from the same sheet music that was used by the hospital’s resident band, The Happy Ramblers. Our community college choir also performed. A local photographer created a lovely (and hilarious) photo booth with costumes for friends and family to pose in, and another visual artist facilitated a community history collage with photos both of the buildings history and the preservation efforts in more recent years. We even had a camera obscura booth set up in front of the tower, made from a portable ice fishing house.

This event was a hit, and a way to demonstrate to the community what we had in mind with using the arts to foster interaction about the building. But this winter, the magic has really taken hold as we have been forced to take our creative placemaking efforts indoors, and unable to do activities at the Kirkbride Building itself because, well, we would freeze there. The average temperature here in west central Minnesota has not risen above zero for several months, which makes creative placemaking in an abandoned building near impossible.

As it turns out, indoor creative placemaking, slightly removed from the place that you are focusing on, is something really special too. Read the rest of this entry »

Eileen Cunniffe

Eileen Cunniffe

In the waning days of 2013, an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer cited examples of performing arts organizations experimenting with curtain times, holding some weeknight performances as early as 6:30 pm instead of the long-accepted standard of 8:00 pm. The reasons given included appealing to younger audiences, who might want to go somewhere else after the show; appealing to older audiences, who might appreciate getting home earlier; and appealing to everyone in between, who might find it easier to hire a babysitter or just to show up for work the next day. One of the early trends from this experimentation is that some midweek performances with earlier curtain times are pulling even with or outpacing once-hot Friday evening ticket sales.

In other words, Friday is the new Tuesday—or maybe Tuesday is the new Friday? Either way, this is as good a place as any to begin the conversation about what constitutes the “new normal” for the nonprofit arts and culture sector and how arts organizations continue to respond to the changing environment in terms of audience behaviors and, in the wake of the Great Recession, evolving funder behaviors, too.

Looking back at 2013, it was in many ways a year of contradictory trends in the arts sector: two steps forward, one step back, or perhaps the other way around. Growth, contraction, innovation, struggle, resurrection, collapse. Read the rest of this entry »

A Conversation with Community Advocate John Davis

Posted by Lindsay Sheridan On October - 23 - 2013
Lindsay Sheridan

Lindsay Sheridan

John Davis

John Davis

Note: an abridged version of “Teaching Moments” from this interview, conducted by our former intern Lindsay Sheridan, was published in Arts Link, the quarterly membership publication of Americans for the Arts. John Davis is the Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts Center.

LINDSAY SHERIDAN: What is your personal arts history and educational background?

JOHN DAVIS: From a very early age, my mom was supportive of my interest in the arts. We lived in Minneapolis, and I grew up with her taking me to all the museums there. I went to college at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, so my background is in fine art and design. I studied graphic design and industrial design, but ended up taking classes in painting and sculpture. I pretty much love all aspects of the arts.

SHERIDAN: Is there an arts leader or community advocate who helped you hone your interests at a young age and develop your own career? 

DAVIS: In college I took a class on creative problem solving, and my professor was a man named Jerry Allen. I began using the principles he taught us as an approach to community development and arts administration years later in my career. I think that class and that professor were really pivotal for me. He taught us that anything was possible, and that mindset, especially when working in a rural area, is extremely valuable.  Professor Allen is definitely the first person that comes to mind when I think of people who have helped me develop a leadership philosophy.

SHERIDAN: What drove you to want to become community advocate?

DAVIS: Living in a small town, one tends to be more aware of the need for advocacy. After 25 years of living in rural communities, it’s not really a choice–one has to be an advocate. I think what that means is speaking out for others in the community and giving them a voice. It means advocating for accessibility, advocating for innovation, and advocating for the recognition that there’s value in your community, no matter what size it is. And I believe that really translates from rural small towns to metropolitan big cities.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Turn: For a Humane Tax Reform

Posted by John R. Killacky On August - 21 - 2013
John R. Kilacky

John R. Killacky

Vermont, like many states, is considering comprehensive tax reform. Committees in the Vermont Senate and House developed proposals last legislative session and systemic changes seem high on the agenda for the 2014 session. Key components focus on increasing the portion of personal income that is taxed by capping deductions, including charitable contributions.

If passed, this revision to the tax code would negatively affect the work of nonprofit organizations statewide.

Vermont’s robust nonprofit sector comprises nearly 4,000 human, social service, educational, religious, and cultural organizations, ranking us No. 1 per capita in the nation. The Vermont Community Foundation reported in 2010 that these agencies generate $4.1 billion in annual revenue and represent 18.7 percent of our gross state product.

Nonprofits deliver critical services that government alone cannot provide: sheltering, caring for, and feeding those less fortunate; early childhood education; and cultural enrichment are just a few examples. Nonprofits include schools, hospitals, churches, libraries, community health clinics, workforce development centers, mentoring programs, homeless shelters, food banks, theaters, and galleries.

Some focus on specific populations: providing safe spaces for women, LGBT youth, refugees, the disabled, and migrant workers. They range from small, volunteer-run groups to huge universities. Although more than 80 percent of Vermont’s nonprofits operate with budgets of less than $250,000 each year.

By delivering mission-related programs, nonprofits improve lives and transform communities. Investing in early intervention is more cost-effective than dealing with societal dysfunction later in life. Food and shelter vs. homelessness, after-school tutoring vs. illiteracy, involved children vs. disengaged teens, job skills training vs. unemployment, community vs. isolation — consider the alternatives. Read the rest of this entry »

Branding Your Neighborhood, Town, or City

Posted by Cally Vennare On June - 24 - 2013

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 »

Tim Storhoff

Tim Storhoff

For this Blog Salon, I really had to stop and think about what would make Tallahassee a better place in general and for the arts.

While Tallahassee has been the butt of many jokes in films and television, it’s actually a very vibrant place with a lot going on. In addition to being the state capital, it is the home to Florida State University and Florida A&M University, both of which have accomplished performing and visual arts programs, and annual events like the Seven Days of Opening Nights Festival regularly bring in world-class artists that otherwise would not be found in cities of this size.

After talking with a coworker and comparing Tallahassee to similarly sized cities, however, it all made sense. We’re missing a river.

A natural landmark like a river or a lake near the center of a city creates an important focus point for developers and provides key elements to that city’s sense of place. Tallahassee is very spread out with a few different pockets of activity, but it lacks a centralized, pedestrian-friendly area to define it.

I’ve previously lived in Fargo and Iowa City. While smaller than Tallahassee, they both have pedestrian-friendly downtown areas near a river where businesses, restaurants, and the arts are thriving. Digging a river in Tallahassee would probably be a poor choice. Thankfully efforts are already underway to create a centralized destination district that can bring together the city’s various communities through arts and culture.  Read the rest of this entry »

Does Your Community Know Its Story?

Posted by Michele Anderson On April - 16 - 2013
Michele Anderson

Michele Anderson

What is the one issue in your community that causes the most uncertainty, disagreement, or fear? The one thing that turns everyday citizens into mad-genius poets in their desire to cut through the noise and be heard?

Chances are that this issue might also be the very thing that could bring your community to the next level. But only if some time is taken right now for all community members to be invited to step back, interact, and express themselves about the issue.

Oh, and somehow, to have fun doing it. That’s important.

This is not the job of your city council, or your newspaper’s online forum. This work of imagining the possibilities, making the hard questions beautiful (and even fun), looking at the story from a distance, and then examining it in microscopic detail, is the work of artists. And the good news is that every community has them if you look for them.

For the last two years of managing Springboard for the Arts’ first satellite office in Fergus Falls, MN, I have been increasingly interested in the unique role that our region’s artists can offer to the important process of framing key issues in their communities.

While the rural communities in West Central Minnesota are grappling with many challenges, none have embodied the potential role of transformative leadership from artists more than the controversial fate of the Fergus Falls State Hospital, or “The Kirkbride Building.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Defining, and Scaling, Our Terms

Posted by Andrew Taylor On December - 5 - 2012

Andrew Taylor

Before we can have a useful conversation about taking cultural enterprises or community arts efforts “to scale,” we need to define what we mean by that. “Going to scale” usually means serving more people in more places with the same service structure. But that can happen in a number of ways.

First, a single organization can successfully increase its reach or impact by expanding. Second, other individuals or organizations can replicate successful projects or programs to serve more people in more places, while the original organization remains much the same. Finally, you can scale through a hybrid of the two approaches above, where a successful program provider creates a “franchise” to license or sell or support multiple instances of the same program.

In the commercial world, scalability of a project or business has mostly to do with economics, and the interplay of fixed and variable costs (sorry, we have to go there…but I’ll be brief). It all begins with the fixed investment required to build the project or process…how big the machine or system or service network needs to be to launch.

After that, it’s all about incremental revenue. Projects can scale if the incremental revenue from additional users is large enough to surpass the fixed costs quickly, and leave them in the dust (the customer pays you $10 and they only cost you $1, for example). When incremental revenue is slim (customer pays you $10, but cost you $9 to serve), a project can’t capture its fixed costs quickly, can’t surpass those fixed costs dramatically, and therefore can’t scale very well. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to the Argument in My Head

Posted by Laura Zabel On December - 3 - 2012

Laura Zabel

I believe deeply that the best solutions are local.

The work I admire most is deeply rooted in the community it serves. And it often takes years and years to know a community well enough to provide what it needs, to have the right network to make the work accessible to the people who want it and the cultural intuition to make the work resonate.

And I also believe you can always go deeper and always have more impact.

Springboard for the Arts has been in Minnesota for over 21 years and there is still so much more to do here—more ways we can reach new communities, more partners to work with, more issues to understand.

When it comes to cultural experiences I can’t think of an arts organization that should be worried about market saturation (said another way, I think we’ve got a long way to go before we’re reaching everyone, even in our own backyards). Not to mention the great benefit to remaining organizationally small, nimble, and responsive.

And yet. And yet…I also believe deeply in sharing. I know that by collaborating and sharing models that work, or ideas that inspire, we have the capacity to do much more together than we could ever do each toiling away in our own silos. And so, at Springboard we’ve decided we want both. We are both deepening our local presence AND scaling nationally.

We’ve spent the last two years talking, strategizing, experimenting, and piloting. And we’ve decided it’s not replication we’re after—it’s movement building. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art and Transportation Partnership Adds to St. Paul Culture

Posted by Tim Mikulski On August - 24 - 2012

Although federal transportation funding has recently moved away from including public art projects, there is still state and local funding available to help bring the arts to more people in your community via murals and roadside/town square-type public art work.

In this video from MinnPost.com, the presenter walks viewers through the city of St. Paul as murals are playing a large role in the installation of a new light rail system. Americans for the Arts member Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts, also appears to help explain the project:

Are there similar marriages between public art and transportation in your community?

Tell (or show us via web links) us about them in the comments below!

Clayton Lord

For the next few weeks, I have the good fortune to be traveling with researcher Alan Brown to eight cities across the country as we present the findings from Counting New Beans: Intrinsic Impact and the Value of Art, the two year study and resulting book just published by my organization, Theatre Bay Area.

This week, we visited Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul and spoke to nearly 200 artists, arts administrators, and funders about the work. It was energizing, exciting work—as a field, it is clear that we are, many of us, anxious to learn how to talk more effectively and accurately about the power of the art we make, and this research, which attempts to quantify the intellectual and emotional impact of art, was provocative for many in the audiences.

In Chicago, I met an acoustic consultant named Evelyn May who believes that impact assessment (surveying your audiences about how impacted they were by your work) might be an extremely useful way to understand small but important changes you make in the physical space.

While May was particularly talking about things like rattling vents, squeaky floors, etc, I was caught up in thinking about whether you could survey audiences before and after, say, configuring your space in various ways to see what configuration was most impactful. Read the rest of this entry »

State Arts Funding: Good News! There Isn’t That Much Bad News

Posted by Justin Knabb On February - 16 - 2012

Justin Knabb

While state legislative sessions are just getting underway in the new year, perpetual campaigning for the election is no doubt leaving everyone already feeling cranky and cynical (or is that just me?).

But take heart, advocates! Despite the cornucopia of GOP candidate positions on public arts funding—ranging anywhere from mild tolerance to total abhorrence—President Obama just proposed an increase in NEA funding!

And on the state level, while some familiar faces are making waves, several states are receiving some great surprises and proposals for steady funding:

Connecticut
Last month, Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) announced the launch of a $3.1 million local-level creative placemaking initiative in July. Gov. Dannel Malloy’s FY13 budget recommends eliminating all direct art support and redirecting those funds to a statewide marketing campaign that would include tourism. The state’s budget office indicates that arts organizations will be able to compete for $14 million in funding with other programs in the DECD.

Florida
The state legislature is proposing an increase to Florida Division of Cultural Affairs Cultural and Museum Grants. These grants were appropriated $2 million for the current fiscal year, and for FY13 the House and Senate are currently recommending $3,025,000 and $5,050,000, respectively.

Kansas
After zeroing out the state arts commission last year, Governor Sam Brownback reversed his decision and proposed $200,000 for the upcoming fiscal year. However, these funds would be for a new Kansas Creative Industries Commission, a merger of the Kansas Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission, housed under the Department of Commerce. 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

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

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.