Jody Ulich

Jody Ulich

Here’s the truth about cities: we are all competitive.  How many top-ten lists do you see every year—Most Livable, Most “Green,” Best for Families?  We all want to be on that list, and no one wants to end up falling short.  That’s why data can be so impactful for the decision-makers in a city, and it is precisely why economic impact studies are not new to the Fort Worth-area arts community.  Yet despite our long history of participating in different regional economic impact studies, we—like so many others across the country—saw our arts funding at risk and decreasing every year.  It became clear that in order for the numbers to be truly valid to our city leaders, we needed a study that reflected solely information from Fort Worth.  Those past reports—as robust as they might have seemed—never quite belonged to us, and never gained the traction we hoped that they would with decision-makers.

That is when Americans for the Arts came in with the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV ™ report, and we started to see an important shift in the thinking.  We stepped out to ask for the economic impact of Fort Worth, and only Fort Worth.  Americans for the Arts delivered and the Fort Worth community listened. We presented those findings throughout the community to business leaders and citizens – then finally to the City Council.    The Americans for the Arts data release was perfectly timed, coming out a month before our city budget was set in 2012.  Yet even then, the council still reduced the budget.

Fortunately, during that council meeting, our mayor stood up and said, “We have to stop this; we have to figure this out.”  She made a pledge to put together a task force of citizens to solve our shrinking budget, and true to her word, she put a very even-minded task force together.  Some were arts-supporters; some were business leaders who were not so sure city money should go to the arts.  Over the subsequent five months, the group went over our economic impact findings with a fine-toothed comb.  During that time they studied and talked to people in our community.  And they looked, too, at the graph showing how Forth Worth stacked up against other cities for arts funding: it didn’t look impressive.

So after months of studying the numbers presented in the Economic Impact Study, analyzing support in other cities, and listening to citizens, arts supporters, and arts organizations, our city council listened and responded—to the tune of $1.1 million, doubling our funding from last year.  It goes to show: personalizing your numbers makes a difference, and it never hurts to get the competitive fires burning, either. Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Research: Fuel for Policy and Advocacy?

Posted by David Pankratz On September - 23 - 2013
David Pankratz

David Pankratz

What do musical chairs, speed dating, and crowd sourcing have to do with arts research? Well, on Day 2 of Americans for the Arts’ National Convention in June, co-hosted by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC), Randy Cohen, AFTA’s Vice-President for Research and Policy, and I, found out.

Context:  We knew that arts researchers and policy wonks from arts service organizations, academia, consultancies, and foundations would be among the 1,000 convention attendees coming to Pittsburgh. Randy and I also knew that opportunities for researchers and wonks (and geeks, too!) to gather in one place and explore issues connecting research, policy, and advocacy were, at best, rare. So we invited 40 such folks to do just that!

Format:  In the lobby of Bricolage, a small, progressive theater in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, four groups of 10 chairs each were divided by topic–Producing Arts Research, Evaluating Policies, Disseminating Research, and Leveraging Research for Advocacy. As participants arrived at 8:00 am, they scoured the room and chose, on a first-come, first-served basis, which group to sit in (the Musical Chairs portion of the program). Each participant then engaged in five animated, 5-minute conversations with others in their group (i.e., Speed Dating). According to Randy’s phone, the decibel level in the room rivaled that of a rowdy night club. Leaders of each group then shared highlights of those conversations with all the convening’s participants (Crowd Sourcing). Read the rest of this entry »

The Health and Vitality of the Arts

Posted by Randy Cohen On September - 20 - 2013
Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

This week Americans for the Arts released its 2013 National Arts Index report—the annual measure of the health and vitality of the arts industries in the U.S.  This year’s report provides the fullest picture yet of the impact of the Great Recession on the arts—before, during, and after. The Index losses during 2008-09 were swift and measurable:  the two-year drop from 2007-09 far exceeded the five-year gains made between 2002 and 2007 (-5.4 percent vs. +3.6 percent, respectively).

The Index is set to a base score of 100 in 2003; every point difference is a 1 percent change from that year.  The National Arts Index score effectively leveled-off in 2011 at 97.0, down just a fraction from a revised 2010 score of 97.2.

  • During the economically robust years of 2002-06, over half of the indicators increased annually.
  • Between 2007 and 2009, however, less than one-third increased.
  • While the arts rebounded in 2010 (43 percent of the indicators rose), there was slippage in 2011 (just 38 percent increased).

arts index photo

The Index is composed of 78 national-level indicators—the latest annual data produced by the federal government and private research organizations—and covers the 12-year span of 2000-11.

Why do an Index? 

The arts are a fundamental component of a healthy society, based on virtues that touch the individual, community, and the nation—benefits that persist even in difficult social and economic times:

  • Aesthetics: The arts create beauty and preserve it as part of culture
  • Creativity: The arts encourage creativity, a critical skill in a dynamic world
  • Expression: Artistic work lets us communicate our interests and visions
  • Identity: Arts goods, services, and experiences help define our culture
  • Innovation: The arts are sources of new ideas, futures, concepts, and connections
  • Preservation: Arts and culture keep our collective memories intact
  • Prosperity: The arts create millions of jobs and enhance economic health
  • Skills: Arts aptitudes and techniques are needed in all sectors of society and work
  • Social Capital: We enjoy the arts together, across races, generations, and places

These are the reasons it is important to understand how the arts thrive, enabling them to deliver these valuable benefits. The health and vitality of the arts, therefore, should be of pressing interest to anyone who cares about healthy communities. Read the rest of this entry »

That Gut Feeling: Arts & Economic Prosperity in Chattanooga, TN

Posted by Dan Bowers On September - 17 - 2013
Dan Bowers

Dan Bowers

One thing I’ve learned during my years in the field of arts administration is that when it comes to the arts, decision makers are often willing to discount their intuition.  They ignore that gut feeling they have that the arts really do make a difference in their community, because it can be difficult to prove.  However, there is another lesson here as well: facts proven by valid research are extremely powerful and difficult to ignore.

That’s why last year, when a seven out of nine City Council members were newly-elected to the local government, ArtsBuild was there to welcome them with more than just an ask, and more than a promise that any funding to the arts would provide a real and tangible return on investment.  We came armed with the proof—our customized Arts & Economic Prosperityreport from Americans for the Arts.  The payoff?  Just a few weeks ago, we received word that the City Council approved an increase of $49,000 for ArtsBuild over the City’s 2012 funding.

With the economy still growing hesitantly, $49,000 is no drop in the bucket. This is a 22 percent increase in our allocation from the City from last year.  Clearly, these dollars will make an enormous difference to the arts community in Chattanooga.  This decision by the City Council, however, is symbolic of something larger: an understanding that the arts are more than just window dressing for our City.  This investment demonstrates that the arts are integral to creating the kind of place where we all want to live and work.  Read the rest of this entry »

Nancy Rubino

Nancy Rubino

Amy Charleroy

Amy Charleroy

In a recent survey conducted by the College Board of nearly 1000 K-12 principals and superintendents, more than 75% of respondents said that nationally, arts education should be given a greater priority level than it currently holds in American schools. They also indicated that they believe that the primary benefits of arts education are that they strengthen students’ creative thinking abilitiesbolster cognitive development, contribute to a well-rounded educational experience and enhance students’ emotional well-being. However, when asked what factors could most effectively work in favor of keeping arts programs in schools, school leaders responded the arts curricula need to clearly address state educational standards (in the arts as well as in other subjects), college admission requirements, and the Common Core standards. These two sets of answers at first seem unrelated, or at least as if they reflect completely different sets of priorities, but they are both true: the arts do provide significant and wide-ranging benefits including those cited by the administrators surveyed; recent research credits arts participation with bolstering creative thinking skills, increasing graduation rates, and improving students’ overall engagement with school. On the other hand, arts educators also know that the security and continuity of their programs often relies on their ability to draw connections between the activities of their classrooms and the content and skills emphasized in non-arts subjects. These kinds of connections don’t need to feel forced or artificial: arts experiences do authentically engage students in habits of problem solving, presenting their own original ideas, and analyzing and interpreting the ideas of others – all skills central to the Common Core, and to studies across the curriculum. Read the rest of this entry »

Bigger than Baseball: The Power of Economic Impact Data

Posted by Lydia Antunes Black On August - 16 - 2013
Lydia Black

Lydia Antunes Black

When we partnered with Americans for the Arts to conduct an Arts & Economic Prosperity ™ customized economic impact study for Lee County , we were expecting to gain numbers—quantitative benchmarks against which we could eventually measure our progress.  We did get numbers, and plenty of them, but the value of the data exceeded all of my expectations.  Our community’s Arts & Economic Prosperity story is about funding and advocacy.  But above and beyond that, it is about the new ways we found of connecting to one another within the nonprofit arts sector and nationally through the data collection process. It’s about how we learned an entirely new language that has allowed inroads into business and government through the analysis and report.  Our community’s story is about rallying the many groups doing important work on the ground, and helping to bring us together through our shared goal of supporting the arts in Lee County.  This report belongs to us all.  That is why, despite our organization growing from 300 members to 1000, or turning around a deficit into a balanced budget, the customized Arts & Economic Prosperity report is still the piece I am most proud of in my tenure as Executive Director.

The Lee County Alliance for the Arts works hard to support itself, a truth supported by the fact that earned revenue accounts for more than 80 percent of our operating budget.  For that reason, we carefully considered our decision to spend those dollars on an economic impact study.  But there is no doubt in my mind that the return on investment has more than made up for it.  Today, we are still reaping the benefits of our commitment.  Before the study, we were not speaking the same language as our business and government leaders. With the economic impact findings, we are now able to prove, with hard numbers and data, that the arts community is a socio-economic driver and an important partner in the economic revitalization of Lee County.  We, the nonprofit arts community, are part of the solution. Read the rest of this entry »

Wonky In Pittsburgh

Posted by David Pankratz On May - 8 - 2013
David Pankratz

David Pankratz

I am new to Pittsburgh, having arrived here from Los Angeles on New Year’s Day 2013 to join the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC) as its Research & Policy Director. It’s one of the few such positions in a local arts agency in the U.S., reflecting GPAC’s ongoing commitment to strategically integrating research, policy, and advocacy.

Overall, even though, alas, Pittsburgh’s signature dish (pierogies) is no replacement for Southern California’s fish tacos–sorry!–and Burghers’ sense of direction seems to rely more on landmarks long gone than concepts like east, west, north, and south, I’ve had a very happy landing here, in part, because it’s a dream locale for an arts policy wonk like me.

Pittsburgh is a policy wonk’s paradise for several reasons–its many assets and accomplishments, challenges, and policy windows.

Assets and Accomplishments
–Our state (Pennsylvania) is the birthplace of the Cultural Data Project, thanks in part to Pittsburgh-based foundations, while GPAC is a standing member of the PA CDP task force, which helps give direction to the use of CDP data by arts & culture organizations (and researchers).

–GPAC participates in national arts research initiatives on a regular basis, for example, TRG Arts’ Community Database Network, the Local Arts Index, and AEP IV, for which GPAC created its own customized reportArts, Culture & Economic Prosperity in Allegheny County. The “Prosperity” report found, among other things, that our county’s arts & culture industry generates $410 million in household income annually which, in turn could be used in many ways–for house payments for 44,000 families or  to buy 505,849,383 pierogies. Read the rest of this entry »

A Nation at Risk: 30 Years Later

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On May - 1 - 2013
Kristen Engebretsen

Kristen Engebretsen

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves…We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.” ~ from A Nation at Risk

Last Friday I attended an event at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looking at the impact of the report released back in 1983, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform. According to the Fordham Institute’s website:

“Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk was released to a surprised country. Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. This report became a turning point in modern U.S. education history and marked the beginning of a new focus on excellence, achievement, and results.”

The report language itself called for many sensible reforms, including more instructional time, higher standards for courses and content, stringent high school graduation requirements, and demanding college entrance requirements.

But the sound bite that came out of the report was that we have a “desperate need for increased support for the teaching of mathematics and science.” And, “We are raising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate.” Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Discount the Back-Up Singers

Posted by Charles Jensen On April - 9 - 2013
Charles Jensen

Charles Jensen

This week, hundreds of advocates are gathering in and around Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, to communicate to our national elected officials the value and impact of the arts on local communities, on families, on individual lives.

This is an important day, not just for the arts community, not just for our Senators and Representatives, but for the people served by us, those who cannot be in Washington having these conversations.

I’ve worked within and outside of advocacy over the course of my career in the arts, so I understand why arts administrators are willing to make the commitment to travel to Washington, or even to their own state legislature, to promote the value of the arts. I know there is confusion about what roles arts nonprofit staff can take in the name of “advocacy” without jeopardizing their 501(c)(3) status with the IRS.

And I know our arts leadership, those most likely to speak with legislators, are also our busiest, most called-upon experts, and often feel that devoting several days to the work of advocacy is the best they can do under their current circumstances.

But, friends, it’s not all. The work happening in Washington this week is the chorus of the song we sing all year long: the arts build communities. The arts turn around lives. The arts stimulate the economy.  Read the rest of this entry »

10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2013

Posted by Randy Cohen On April - 8 - 2013
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 »

Join Arts Advocacy Day from Your Desk (or Couch)

Posted by Tim Mikulski On April - 8 - 2013
Tim Mikulski

Tim Mikulski

As Congress returns to work in Washington, DC, this week they will face more than just angry tourists who came to see the not-quite-in-bloom cherry blossoms.

Today, advocates are receiving training from experts and tomorrow 500 arts advocates from across the country (and even Japan!) will take to the Hill on behalf of their local arts and arts education programs.

The good news is that you don’t have to be here to participate (although we’d love you to come next year!). In fact, you can pick and choose your ways to support the arts over the next two days.

1. Send a letter to your member of Congress! Head over to our Action Center and send an email stating your case for funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, arts education programs at the U.S. Department of Education, and encouraging their participation in the House Arts and STEAM Caucuses.

2. Watch the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy live online! At 6:30 p.m. EDT join us live as we stream Yo-Yo Ma’s lecture and performance tonight via our YouTube channel. You won’t want to miss his inspiring story!   Read the rest of this entry »

Research & Red Flags in Child Development

Posted by Kristy Callaway On March - 22 - 2013
Kristy Callaway

Kristy Callaway

While my blog posts are usually much more lively (even controversial), for this Salon I wanted to provide a few seminal resources.

Teaching the arts to a three-year-old is much different than a six or a 16-year-old. Here are some resources to help parents and educators alike understand some child development milestones so that they are creating appropriate experiences for early childhood arts experiences…

First, some basics of child development:

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) leads the way toward excellence in high-quality early care and education. NAEYC provides a list of empirically based principles of child development during birth through age eight. Below is a gross abbreviation, please visit their website.

1. Domains of children’s development—physical, social, emotional, and cognitive—are closely related. Development in one domain influences and is influenced by development in other domains.

2. Development occurs in a relatively orderly sequence, with later abilities, skills, and knowledge building on those already acquired.

3. Development proceeds at varying rates from child to child as well as unevenly within different areas of each child’s functioning.  Read the rest of this entry »

The (In)Efficiencies of Scale (Part Two)

Posted by Michael Hickey On January - 25 - 2013

Michael Hickey

(Editor’s Note: Michael continues his response to our Animating Democracy Blog Salon from December 2012 in this post. It was originally published on his Man-About-Town.org site January 13, 2013.)

The Means of Production

When you “produce” something, that’s a very different process from “creating” something. Production is about assembly, and scaled production means you can bring all the pieces together in an orderly, timely fashion. Again, this works best when both inputs and outputs are standardized.

Automobiles, microfinance, and high school educations all share this in common. In my comments to Ian’s blog post, I noted that the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with it’s $300 million annual budget, “produces” quite a bit of art: that is, it has assembled a stunning diversity of work created by others. But the process it uses to produce this art is highly standardized, as is the way that we consume it.

When it comes right down to it, the Metropolitan Museum of Art actually creates very little art itself. The same is true for the other captains of the NYC cultural sector (Lincoln Center, MoMA, the Guggenheim, Carnegie Hall), and the rule holds true in other sectors as well.

Therefore: Greater scale = Greater standardization. Read the rest of this entry »

Eugene O’Neill’s Grant Writer Walks Into A Bar….

Posted by Bill O'Brien On December - 7 - 2012

Bill O’Brien

…and spots the dramatist hunched over in a corner booth, scribbling in his notebook. He walks over to the playwright, drops the first draft of Long Day’s Journey Into Night on the table and says, “That’s great, Eugene—but how am I supposed to prove economic growth or improved health and well-being with this?”

Obviously, this never happened. But if it did, it would be a great example of the conundrum we sometimes find ourselves in when we try to “scale up” societal benefits via the power of the arts. Identifying positive outcomes we’d like to pursue on policy levels at 20,000 feet can sometimes feel far removed from the missions being pursued by artists on the ground.

Trying to harness the power of the arts to provide broad public benefit in a strategized way is a good idea. The idea that our greatest American playwright should bend his art-making towards these aims is not. So if we’re trying to organize a way to share specific impacts of the arts so more people can benefit, how should we proceed?

In an art-science post called “The Imagine Engine!” on the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Art Works blog this spring, I stated that it may be possible for artists and scientists to “borrow freely from each other’s methods and practices and share insights with each other that they might be unable to find on their own.” This fall, through a program we’ve established via a partnership with the Department of Defense, we’re beginning to see evidence suggesting this hypothesis may be true. Read the rest of this entry »

STEM to STEAM with Drexel’s ExCITe Center

Posted by Sahar Javedani On November - 12 - 2012

When I began working at Drexel University earlier this year, one of the most interesting developments that fell on my radar was hearing of College of Engineering’s Professor Youngmoo Kim’s directorship of the Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center:

Professor Kim’s background in music includes performing with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and Boston Symphony Orchestra coupled with his Ph.D. degrees in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT and Masters degrees in Electrical Engineering and Music (Vocal Performance Practice) from Stanford University.

The mission of the ExCITe Center focuses on harnessing the talents of professionals working in the fields of research, education, civic engagement, and entrepreneurship as interdependent ingredients for creating transformative regional development. Read the rest of this entry »