Catherine Brandt

Catherine Brandt

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece by Peter Singer asserting that some charitable causes are more important and, consequently, more worthy of philanthropic dollars. In the piece, Singer singles out arts, culture, and heritage institutions as less deserving. Both Laura Zucker, executive director of L.A. County Arts Commission, and Janet Brown, President and CEO of Grantmakers in the Arts, submitted rebuttals to The New York Times. As the paper has yet to publish them, we thought we would share them with you here instead:

 

To the Editor

Re: “Good Charity, Bad Charity” in the August 11 Sunday Review section, Mr. Singer assumes that charitable giving is a zero sum game. It isn’t. People give for a wide variety of reasons, including personal passions and social connectivity, and can almost always be motivated to give more when presented with compelling opportunities to make a difference. Making that difference can be both about mitigating the evils of the world and building on our assets, particularly when the effects of either are almost never as easy to quantify as the example Mr. Singer uses. How would the net benefits of his giving equation change if the charity working to reduce the incidence of trachoma was ineffectual at reaching the people who needed its services most and the museum building its new wing instituted a local hiring program that reduced the unemployment rate and enabled more people to purchase health insurance?

~Laura Zucker, Executive Director; L.A. County Arts Commission

 

Either-Or is Harmful to Charities and Society

Peter Singer’s Sunday, August 11 NY Times article entitled “Good Charity, Bad Charity” was a shocker. One would expect something a bit more far-reaching and not quite so simplistic from a bioethicist. American philanthropy, individual to institutional, reflects support for charities that represent the entire human spectrum. People are multitasking in charitable giving, just as they have multiple passions in their lives. It is what you would expect from a diverse country with a rich history of charitable giving.

Pitting charitable sectors against each other is an unseemly answer to the betterment of a society that, hopefully, strives to both eradicate suffering and promote an informed and satisfied citizenry. As President of Grantmakers in the Arts, I was appalled by Mr. Singer’s use of a museum as an example of “bad charity.” What kind of society or civilization would not value its history enough to share it with future generations? That history, whether told through art, culture, medicine or politics, is the journey of humankind. Interestingly, a primary value of the arts and humanities is empathy, understanding and pronouncing the pain of others in order to improve our condition as human beings. The willingness to preserve artistic and cultural treasures and interpret events past and present is a valuable part of any society that deems itself caring about its world citizens. 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 »

From Penny Pinching to Penny Pitching…

Posted by Sahar Javedani On July - 16 - 2013
Sahar Javedani

Sahar Javedani

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

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

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

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 »

To Scale or Not to Scale, There Are Many Questions

Posted by Kathie de Nobriga On December - 6 - 2012

Kathie de Nobriga

In the last 15 years or so, I have worked as a consultant to many nonprofit organizations as they undertake strategic planning, and if there’s one mantra I repeat, time after time, it’s “bigger is NOT (necessarily) better.”

Everything in our culture tells us otherwise: to children we approvingly coo, “look at how big you’ve grown!” To youth we say, “when you’re big you can do what you want…,” and so on. Size is equated with success: big houses, big cars, big everything—livin’ large.

Of course growing bigger is not always healthy: witness Hummers and cancer, both products of unbridled growth.

The pressure to grow organizational budgets and programs is unrelenting, but I think it’s a crass and easy measurement of success. So I’d like to speak for staying small, for finding a sustainable and healthy size. Growth then can be measured by impact, how much difference you can make in a community, how deeply your organization is connected to the tapestry of social order, to what degree your organization can work collaboratively with others. What if we said to ten-year-olds, “wow, look at how wise you’ve become!” ?

My thinking about this subject is influenced by the work of Margaret Wheatley. In her book, Leadership and the New Science, she posits that change happens in more than one way. The way we are most familiar with is cause-and-effect: I do one thing, and something else happens as a result. Often the ‘doing’ is made more effective by mass, weight, velocity, i.e., size—tangible measures of existence. Read the rest of this entry »

Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts

Posted by Ian David Moss On December - 4 - 2012

Ian David Moss

How does scale influence impact in the arts?

In 2007, back when I was a fresh-faced grad student, I actually addressed this question head on in the eighth post ever published on Createquity. I argued pretty strongly that scale in the arts was a myth, or at least not salient to the same extent as in other fields:

“It’s not that I don’t think large arts organizations do good work, or that they don’t deserve to be supported. What I’m going to argue instead is that there is a tendency among many institutional givers to direct their resources toward organizations that have well-developed support infrastructure, long histories, and vast budgets, and in a lot of ways it’s a tendency that doesn’t make much sense (or at the very least, could use some balance).

For one thing, those well-developed support infrastructures don’t come cheap. Consider the case of Carnegie Hall… [snip]

In contrast, small arts organizations are extraordinarily frugal with their resources, precisely because they have no resources of which to speak. It’s frankly amazing to me what largely unheralded art galleries, musical ensembles, theater companies, dance troupes, and performance art collectives are able accomplish with essentially nothing but passion on their side.

A $5,000 contribution that would barely get you into the sixth-highest donor category at Carnegie might radically transform the livelihood of an organization like this. Suddenly, they might be able to buy some time in the recording studio, or hire an accompanist for rehearsals, or redo that floor in the lobby, or even (gasp) PAY their artists! All of which previously had seemed inconceivable because of the poverty that these organizations grapple with.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Pro Bono We Trust (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Tim McClimon On November - 15 - 2012

Tim McClimon

The week before Hurricane Sandy turned the East Coast upside down, American Express and other companies joined the Taproot Foundation in celebrating Pro Bono Week.

We participated by hosting a Scope-a-thon, an effort to engage our employees in helping to scope projects from nonprofits in order to prepare them to more fully benefit from pro bono consulting in the future.

We had 35 American Express employees in our New York office assist 11 nonprofits in a three-hour marathon Scope-a-thon. The nonprofits included:

  • Brooklyn Public Library
  • City Parks Foundation
  • Creative Alternatives of New York
  • GallopNYC
  • God’s Love We Deliver
  • Historic House Trust
  • Japan Society
  • Neighborhood Housing Services of NYC
  • New York Blood Center
  • Reel Works Teen Filmmaking
  • Studio Museum in Harlem

The Taproot Foundation did a terrific job of structuring the conversation around these four questions:

1. First, what hurts?
2. Next, what are some ways to fix it?
3. So, what’s the specific prescription?
4. And finally, what’s the treatment plan?

The response from both employees and nonprofits was extremely positive. 100 percent of employees said that they would participate again and refer the program to a colleague. One employee went so far as to say that it was her “best day” at American Express. Read the rest of this entry »

A Marketing Student’s Perspective on NAMPC

Posted by Trenten Derryberry On November - 15 - 2012

Trenten Derryberry

This was my first time attending not only the National Arts Marketing Project Conference (NAMPC), but also any conference. I am very happy to conclude that my experience was amazing and I would recommend this to anyone that is in any marketing field (and also if you are a student)!

I was asked to write this post-NAMPC piece to deliver a student perspective on the conference…here it goes!

Engagement, Mission, Alive, Active, Participatory, Stickiness, Contextualization, Spry, and Pray…all the words that come to my mind when I think of this past weekend (the list is endless!).

As a student, I came to NAMPC to primarily explore and listen to some of the TOP professionals in the marketing industry. What I received was something I wasn’t ready for.

Presenters sprawled from all areas of business (banks, agencies, venues, organizations, institutions)—both in and out of the confides of the performing arts, which I felt was an awesome exposure and a true springboard for discussions within the sessions.

Like I said earlier one of the reasons why I decided to attend was to listen and expand my critical thinking in an industry that I’m still learning about, that quickly changed to networking and participating within the sessions—I thought ‘when would be the next time I would be able to ask an audience engaging question directly to Alan Brown?’ So I did. Read the rest of this entry »

How the Arts Lead Me to a New Career (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Marla Sincavage On October - 11 - 2012

Marla Sincavage

About 18 months ago, my boss informed me that they had decided to shut down the New York City branch of my division and, as the saying goes, “my position was being eliminated.”

I saw this as my big chance to do something different. Just exactly what that was I had no idea; I just felt very strongly that I was meant to use this opportunity to make a career change. I had spent fifteen years working in finance, and there were things about it I liked, but I never LOVED it.

I didn’t have to think too hard to recognize that I love music. So my first logical thought (because I am a very logical person) was to look for a finance job at a music company, like Universal Music or Steinway pianos. Unfortunately, even though almost every company has a finance function of some sort, I didn’t find a plethora of finance jobs at music companies that fit my background.

But I still had this strong pull toward music, and was determined to “think outside of the box.” I must have been going on about all this to my piano teacher one day, when she said to me, “I have a friend that works at Carnegie Hall, do you want to meet with him?” Are you kidding me?? CARNEGIE HALL? As in, the Mecca of Music? YES PLEASE!!

So I met with this young man, who was very nice, and asked him on a very basic level, “what would someone with a background like mine do at a place like Carnegie Hall?” He thought development would probably be a good fit.  Read the rest of this entry »

Listening to Members to Develop Loyalty

Posted by Roger Vacovsky On June - 9 - 2012

Roger Vacovsky

Yesterday at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Antonio, attendees engaged in a session that asked them to reconsider the classic membership model and theory behind membership and subscription programs.

As we are circling around this concept of “the new normal,” we must begin to look at the fact that the changing culture of our work force has different wants and needs. With regards to membership, this new crop of individuals want the tangible, the direct benefit, and the question that will be asked after (or instead of) “Why should I join?” is, “What am I going to get for my money?”

We also know that “we’re doing it this way because this is how we’ve always done it” is OUT. If you’re membership is declining, it’s time you try something different.

Membership, in many cases, is utilized for financial reasons more so than for purposes of engagement. As membership is a revenue strain (and, as we membership folk proclaim, our job depends on that revenue), it is important to consider the ‘why’ when promoting membership.

Deborah Obalil, who moderated the session asked participants to “be honest with yourself about why you are doing it. Memberships can inspire, or fail to inspire loyalty” without a defined goal in sight.

Obalil then asked attendees to think of their own membership program with regards to what they do to inspire loyalty. The loyalty of a member to an organization consists of the following:

  • Belief in the mission
  • Tangible benefits: “what are they getting out of it?”
  • Recognition/validation “wearing membership as a badge of honor”  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 ArtsIndexUSA.org.

I unpack my suitcase in about 30 cities per year. Every community I visit has its own unique cultural character. You can see it in the landscape of the built environment, the distinctive mix of organizations—old and new, large and small—when walking the cultural districts and among the public art, sampling local culinary delights, and seeing evidence of the artists at work. So, how to capture that character using the numbers? This is one of the primary objectives of the Local Arts Index.

Last time we released an indicator about the number of artist-entrepreneurs that the Department of Commerce counts at the county level. This week, we share county-level findings about the competitive environment for old-and-new and large-and-small nonprofit arts organizations.

The “millennial” share—the old and the new

It is well known that the number of arts nonprofits grew substantially between 2000–2010 (76,249 to 113,188, according to the Urban Institute).

To explore the relative impact of “old vs. new” arts organizations, we created an indicator that measures the share organizations that are “millennial”—that is, established January 2000 or later. A larger or smaller share of new arts organizations is one element of the character of a community, showing the entrepreneurial vigor in the nonprofit sector. Read the rest of this entry »

Sahar Javedani

If you’re reading this now, chances are that you’re in a place of contemplative or active transition—and I commend you!

Many of you know that after seven years of working as a choreographer with parallel work in nonprofit arts administration and education in New York City, I recently moved to Philadelphia to start the next chapter of my life which included re-evaluating my commitment to a career in nonprofit administration.

In my last two years in New York City I had aligned myself with an organization that channeled some of my greatest strengths (dance education, career/professional development, nonprofit administration) into one role. After years working at least three simultaneous jobs, I convinced myself that I had “arrived.”

What followed was one of the greatest learning periods of my life.

Holding the reigns of running my own program within a larger organization confirmed that I was indeed entrepreneurial, self-driven, motivated, an excellent networker, etc. These talents were coupled with equal frustrations in communications, core values, and logistics within the organization.

I will refrain from going into detail, but I do feel compelled to share some valuable books that encouraged me along the way. Read the rest of this entry »

Making Change Outside the Office

Posted by Carlos Velázquez On April - 5 - 2012

Carlos Velázquez

In a recent article about Chicago-based artist Eric J. Garcia, whose politically charged work he calls a “weapon to strike at injustice”, he added a caveat for aspiring artists: “Oh-all of this is done on our off-time when we’re not at the day job that pays the bills.”

His words came back to me when reading the prompt to this salon, a quote from Diane Ragsdale on arts sector reform:

“If our goal..is to hold onto our marginalized position and maintain our minuscule reach—rather than…actively addressing the social inequities in our country, and reaching exponentially greater numbers of people—then…I would suggest that it may not merit the vast amounts of time, money, or enthusiasm we would require from talented staffers and artists, governments, foundations, corporations, and private individuals to achieve it.”

I am glad to know that the arts sector is not confining itself to simply holding onto its miniscule reach, and that emerging artists and arts leaders, many working in art and humanities-based nonprofits, are taking the lead.

My position is that they are using the organizational skills, social vocabularies, and leadership experience gained in nonprofit environments well beyond the scope of the workday, to be wielded as “weapons” addressing social inequalities. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brunch Conversation (or 2030 Vision in Arts Leadership)

Posted by Jonathan Elliott On April - 2 - 2012

Jonathan Elliott

This post began as a series of thoughts on the future of human resources in the arts, and opened up into a personal conversation gone global.

Also, it involves something I am deeply passionate about: brunch.

Once a year, my friend and I—let’s call her Kay—get together for brunch. It’s important for us to check in with one another, to swap ideas about careers, arts management dilemmas, and our Netflix queues.

Kay and I have been friends for twelve years; we’ve both just turned thirty, we both hold MAs in Arts Management, and we both work in jobs we love, for arts organizations on opposite coasts.

Kay took a big bite out of her bagel and lox and said to me, “I’m leaving the industry.”

I blinked three times, as she took a deep breath and told me that, while she loved working in arts marketing, and while it was a fulfilling and affirming line of work, she had desires in life that she and her husband couldn’t reconcile against the current job offerings and future of the industry. I leaned back in my chair, which is the universal sign between the two of us for “game on.”

What happened next was a long debate about what we have in our lives and what we want, and our accomplishments and what’s going to happen next. Read the rest of this entry »

Leadership Genesis: It’s In Our Best Interest

Posted by Jeanie Duncan On December - 12 - 2011

Jeanie Duncan

Do you recall your first formal leadership development experience? Mine was in 2000 — I was sponsored by a foundation to participate in the Leadership Development Program at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). I was 30, and I had been working for nine years, building a career in the nonprofit sector.

In the early years of my career, I received leadership training from various bosses, mentors, and other seasoned professionals in the form of advice, best practices, and – most often – “in the moment” life lessons. My ‘classroom’ occurred while wearing many hats, trying new things, taking risks, and making my best efforts to exhibit courage in the face of fear. Progress and discoveries came as much by failure as by success.

Today, universities have more formally developed student leadership offerings; many are requirements for undergraduate study. Students graduating and entering the for-profit workplace often begin on a development track and are exposed early on to corporate leadership training, assessments, and coaches.

These kinds of critical opportunities, while assumed and plentiful in the corporate environment, are glaringly absent in the nonprofit sector. And even if available, many leadership programs are cost-prohibitive for many small to medium-sized organizations. 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.