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 »

Has Endowment Become a Dirty Word?

Posted by Leah Hamilton On December - 13 - 2012

Leah Hamilton

Endowment. Much like the word “elite” or “patronize,” the term “endowment” seems to have acquired a negative connotation.

The traditional endowment model was sold as a core strategy of sustainability for an organization; the interest provided reliable budgetary support, and the principle was the legacy of dedicated arts patrons. But organizations began to use the fund’s annual draw in place of fundraising.

Then, when times got tough, the principle became a financial lifeline. When this happened, a new trend emerged; funders began to redirect their initiatives towards innovation and creative placemaking instead of endowment.

But, as with most trends, there are exceptions to the rule.

Springfield, MO is nationally recognized as a collaborative community, as highlighted recently by Mayor Robert Stephens on the Huffington Post. With consistent job growth in the city as well as lower than average unemployment rates, Springfield’s collaborative nature has helped the community weather the recession.

In the arts community, more than 30 local groups share The Creamery Arts Center. The 35,000-square-foot building, once home to the Springfield Creamery Co. and later the first distribution center for O’Reilly Automotive, includes administrative offices, as well as an exhibition hall, board room, arts library, arts classroom, film editing bay, a shared costume shop, and set design/fabrication studio. 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:

Does Size Matter? (or Welcome to Our Blog Salon on Scaling Up)

Posted by Joanna Chin On December - 3 - 2012

Examples of scaling.

The notion of scaling up has gained currency as arts organizations, artists, and funders seek greater impact from their efforts and investments. The idea of sharing something that is effective so that the benefits can be experienced by more people is attractive, especially when something is producing good results.

One Story of Successful Scaling

A significant example of scaling up for the public good came to us just last week through a news update from one of Animating Democracy’s early grantees. Since its PBS broadcast in June 2008, Katrina Brown’s film, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North has spawned a nonprofit, the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery, which has engaged thousands of people from all backgrounds in honest, productive dialogues about race, privilege, and the history of slavery, based on the story of Katrina’s ancestors’ role in the slave trade in New England.

The news update cites a breathtaking array of ways the organization is reaching people—from a workshop for members of the Connecticut General Assembly and its staff to sharing the film and related work with thousands of attendees at the 77th Episcopal General Convention. Using the film’s narrative, the Center has reached across education, government, faith, and cultural sectors to make a difference on pervasive and persistent issues of race and class in America. Read the rest of this entry »

The Arts as a Management Tool (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Giovanni Schiuma On April - 5 - 2012

Giovanni Schiuma

When we think about creativity, we need to think of it as something we do every day—like thinking. We cannot avoid thinking and creativity is the same. We cannot avoid being creative. So when we ask the question: How does the corporate world value creativity? (and vice versa), our focus should not be creativity but something else. Culture.

Organizations need the arts. They need culture in their business. We are living in a transition time and this time calls for new models, a new management mindset, and new management tools. 21st century organizations are managed and organized for the 20th century business landscape.

But we are in a completely new landscape.

Today’s organizations need new competencies because they are dealing with new challenges, and these challenges I summarize in what I call the five e’s:

1) Experience. More and more, we are living in an experience-based economy. When we buy a suit, when we buy a product, when we buy a service, what we are basically buying are experiences. And so an organization needs to know how to build and how to shape those experiences. Read the rest of this entry »

The Subversive Tack: Arts + Sustainability

Posted by Tara Aesquivel On April - 4 - 2012

Tara Aesquivel

Sometimes it feels like I lead a double life. Okay, pretty much every day.

Persona A: I’ve been a performing musician for most of my life; I have degrees in music and arts management; I devote what other people call “free time” to EAL/LA and Inner-City Arts, and; most of my social outings at arts events.

Persona B: I grew up in rural Missouri, where my grandpa was a farmer; I’m really concerned about the purity of our food supply; I try to buy clothes only made from natural fibers, and; my full-time job is with the Urban Sustainability program at Antioch University Los Angeles.

Deeply and intuitively, I know these two personas are not dissonant and they must have developed from the same place within me.

I have yet to eloquently describe how and why, but being around sustainability folks has given me some big clues. (Guess what? They’re mostly into the arts, too.)

One of these folks is Jenny Price. Whatever brief glimpse into Jenny’s bio I could share would be an under-representation of her awesomeness, so I’ll encourage you to read some of her work instead. Read the rest of this entry »

Alex Sarian

Alex Sarian

Arts education organizations and professionals (otherwise known as teaching artists and consultants) are no strangers to the repercussions of budget cuts, financial meltdowns, and the continued sluggish economic climate.

However, in true “arts ed” fashion, the field is slowly boasting several small success stories that offer a model for sustainability. Many administratively-savvy folks around the country are proving that smaller cultural organizations can still compete with the best of the larger, more visible organizations. In part two of our blog discussion (I’m working with fellow Arts Education Council Member Jessica Wilt) we’ll highlight several.

These success stories can however be few and far between. When will the old ways of doing business be a means to an end?

Some teaching artists and organizations haven’t quite made the effort to learn from others’ successes on how to adapt to the “new reality” or more importantly—learn from failures.

How can we prevent playing a continuous game of arts education Russian roulette? Read the rest of this entry »

Developing Community through an Integrated Arts Approach

Posted by Jim Sparrow On November - 16 - 2011

Jim Sparrow

Some of the greatest growth in formal arts institutions has taken place in the last 40 years. Why?

As we look at budget growth, sustainability, and growing gaps in earned revenue vs. contributed, was something flawed in this growth?

The Rockefeller Institute report on the performing arts from 1961 identified trends that sound eerily familiar today. Decreasing audience and demand, continued struggles with aging infrastructure, need for increased revenue, and new earned income were all outlined.

Ironically many of the traditional arts organizations used as baseline examples in 1961, had guaranteed weeks and production schedules that were much less then they are today. There were no 52-week orchestras nor were there guaranteed contracts, production or administrative staffing at levels that are even close to today — even with adjustments for today’s inflation.

So why have we grown in many cases without apparent demand, but in spite of it?

The recommendations from that report advised focus in key areas, growing access and infrastructure to build appreciation and understanding and using foundations such as the Ford Foundation for growth as part of a Great Society vision for the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

Towards an Arts-Based Renaissance of Business

Posted by Giovanni Schiuma On November - 14 - 2011

Giovanni Schiuma

Today’s business organizations are challenged to deeply transform themselves and find new ways to create value in a more sustainable way.

The traditional management systems and business models need to be reinvented acknowledging the fundamental human-based nature of the organizations and of the economic ecosystem

In the new business age the capacity of an organization to survive and growth is increasingly tied to its ability to engage and inspire workforce.

Business issues such as productivity, adaptability, and innovativeness are more and more affected by how people within organizations are motivated to give the best of themselves in their daily working activities and are moved to exercise their imagination and creativity to face and solve emergent and unpredictable problems.

In addition, today’s economic recession and tension for continuous change are creating organizational contexts in which stress and negative feeling proliferate. This prompts managers to identify new ways to handle emotional- and experiential-based dimensions in order to shape organizational atmosphere which can be conducive of positive and energizing experiences for improving business performance.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Art Bloom

Posted by Xavier Cortada On November - 11 - 2011

When I started out as a professional artist in the mid-1990s, I would engage others in painting collaborative murals to amplify their voices.

I would bring people together in public spaces to address important social concerns: street children in Bolivia’s main plaza; former gang members in a Northern Philly barrio; Greek and Turkish Cypriots at the UN Green Line; Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland; AIDS workers in South Africa; kids jailed in Miami’s adult prisons and psychiatric facilities, etc.

Years ago, I remember telling a journalist that I could never see myself painting flowers.

As I type this, there is still some paint on my right forearm. It’s from painting wildflowers. I guess I’m not a good fortune teller and can be a little careless when cleaning up… Read the rest of this entry »

What Can We Do…Now? Cultural Asset Mapping in Los Angeles County

Posted by Erin Harkey On November - 7 - 2011

The Los Angeles County Arts Commission was recently awarded a grant through the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town initiative to produce a cultural asset map in the unincorporated community of Willowbrook, CA.

Located just south of Watts and west of Compton, Project Willowbrook: Cultivating a Healthy Community through Arts and Culture will capitalize on the county’s over $600 million investment in health services and infrastructure. This includes the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Medical Center Campus Master Plan and the Wilmington Streetscape Plan that will link the campus to the nearby Rosa Parks Metro Station.

The arts commission and primary project partner LA Commons will use community engagement activities to identify artists, organizations, programs, and artworks, with the understanding that “art” and “culture” should capture both the formal and informal ways that people engage, this information will be compiled in a final report. The report will provide recommendations on long-term, sustainable strategies that will integrate art into development and achieve overall community objectives. Read the rest of this entry »

Join Our First Animating Democracy Blog Salon

Posted by Joanna Chin On November - 7 - 2011

Joanna Chin

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

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

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

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

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

More Questions Than Answers: The Role of Cultural Organizations in Arts Education

Posted by Katherine Damkohler On October - 24 - 2011

Katherine Damkohler

With school districts across the nation failing to include arts instruction as part of their curricula, many cultural and arts organizations have decided to step in to fill this gap by providing arts education programs for nearby schools.

These amazing organizations have taken action to ensure that our children have at least some exposure to the arts. However, could these activities actually be detrimental to the long-term sustainability of in-school arts programs?

For instance, the prestige of a regional organization might lull a principal or school board into thinking that a part-time program is sufficient and they no longer need to hire a full-time arts instructor.

While organizations may be aiming to enrich a student’s education, are they also helping schools justify their choice to eradicate arts instruction?

What is an arts organization to do? What role should they have in arts education? They wield enormous power, which if used correctly can be very effective in supporting a child’s artistic education. But how should they go about catalyzing arts education reform? Read the rest of this entry »

Five Trends to Watch in Corporate Social Responsibility

Posted by Tim McClimon On August - 8 - 2011

Tim McClimon

Much has been written about the current state of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and depending on your point of view, its waxing or waning influence inside the world’s largest corporations.

While it may be true that some companies have de-emphasized their CSR programs while they were fighting for survival or focused on maintaining some semblance of order, I think corporate social responsibility will continue to grow in importance inside most major publicly traded companies – particularly those who are interested in enhancing their reputations with stakeholders (and isn’t that just about every company?).

Here are five trends in CSR that I think are worth watching in 2011 and 2012. These aren’t new – most of them have been around for years – but I think they will gain more attention in the coming year.

1. Responsibility as a company value

While you would expect to see words like “responsibility,” “sustainability,” “respect,” and “citizenship” in mission statements and corporate values at companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Tom’s of Maine, and Starbucks, these concepts are showing up in statements of companies like Adobe, PepsiCo, and Walmart as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Alec Baldwin: A Critical Time for Arts Funding

Posted by admin On July - 5 - 2011
Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin speaks at Arts Advocacy Day 2011.

Hello. I’m Alec Baldwin.

Over the past few months, you may have seen me on television doing a series of commercials for Capital One.

What you may not know is that I am donating all of the proceeds from this work to cultural charities, including some of the organizations with which I’m involved: Guild Hall of East Hampton, The New York Philharmonic, Roundabout Theater, the Hamptons International Film Festival, and of course, Americans for the Arts.

But these spots are not about me getting money and then giving it to charity. Actually, Capital One is partnering with me.

That’s right. Capital One has partnered with me to help the arts by letting these advertisements serve as a platform through which I can raise awareness about the need for public funding of the arts and arts education.

In these tough economic times, I don’t want people to forget about the arts and arts education. People need to understand what’s at stake. Read the rest of this entry »