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 »

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 »

Nancy Goldman

Nancy Goldman

When coming out in the early ‘90s, I began promoting live comedy shows featuring gay and lesbian comedians for gay and lesbian audiences.  At the time it was uncommon to be out at work or to see gay depictions in media.  These performers were doing much more than telling jokes and making us laugh; they were making us feel normal, validating our experiences and shaping our identities.  Coming together for these comedy shows gave us a time and place to discuss the issues impacting our lives and to socialize, and solidified our sense of community.

So, you might ask, what were these comedians doing in states like Texas, Arkansas and Kansas, performing in clubs filled with straight audiences that were easily surpassing their two-drink minimums? I’d suggest that they were planting seeds of social change.

In his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire poses the question, “Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society?” For the past 50 years, stand-up comedy has provided an outlet for marginalized populations, and an opportunity to dispel stereotypes and reclaim lost power. Immigrants, most especially Jews in the 1950s, then Blacks in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and women in the ‘70s, have used the stage to hold a mirror to society, both reflecting and retracting social norms. These performers were invested in promoting positive examples of their communities, and were determined to increase tolerance by raising awareness and social consciousness.  Above all, they must have believed that we should all be doing better as a race and society and that improvement was possible.  Freire (2000) thought this is essential to effecting change. “In order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation, which they can transform.”  For me, these comedians were not only catalysts of change, but agents of hope. Read the rest of this entry »

November 2013 Elections Recap

Posted by Jay Dick On November - 8 - 2013
Jay Dick

Jay Dick

Depending on where you live, the past several months might have inundated you with campaign ads (Virginia), or left you wondering – what election?   Off year elections are like that, with some people hardly even noticing there was an election.  While not as dramatic as even year elections, there were a fair amount of changes that should positively impact the arts overall.

In 2013, there were two governors up for election (New Jersey and Virginia) along with the New Jersey legislature and the Virginia House of Delegates and a smattering of special elections to fill vacant legislative seats.  Further, and probably most surprisingly, there were 433 cities with a population of over 30,000 that held mayoral elections this year.  Of this number, 74 were in cities with a population of over 100,000.  Lastly, six states—Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Washington—voted on a total of 31 statewide ballot measures.

I won’t go into the details of each race, as there are many online sources to get this information, but rather I will focus on each of the winners as they relate to the arts.  As I can’t overview every race, I will also focus on newly elected officials, not incumbents who won re-election.  But, I will say this, I am very happy to see so many pro-arts winners! Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Collaborations with Local Businesses, or Doing Business with…?

Posted by Nick Dragga On October - 16 - 2013
Nicholas Dragga

Nicholas Dragga

I have a love/hate relationship with collaborations. On the one hand, I think they are the greatest thing- the key to our future. They offer opportunities to further Ballet Lubbock’s mission through unique and hopefully unexpected projects to diverse audiences, act as a gateway to more arts participation on all levels, and ideally, bring in some much needed cash. When everything aligns properly, we can create something that truly is greater than the sum of our parts- something that neither we nor our collaborator could ever do alone.

On the other hand, I often wonder, “is this worth it?” This “collaboration” is a LOT of time and energy. I have to jump through so many hoops for this corporate “partner,” compromise my product, and take the time of my dancers, artists, and staff to ultimately help this business sell their products…and all for $500…or maybe even $5,000.  Ugh.

If money is what I’m after, then spending time with individual donors would be more fruitful. If engagement is what I’m after, than bringing OUR uncompromised product to the community would be easier, and often times, more meaningful. Sometimes I think these “new faces” brought in by our business collaborator see us as the hired entertainment – which may possibly do more harm than good in building our brand.

But, the flaw in my logic seems obvious. There is a distinct disconnect between my objectives and my strategies and outcomes. I was not collaborating; I was doing business with people. Of course doing business with people is a great and wonderful thing, but different than collaborating. 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 »

Evaluating Our Arts Footprint in a Growing City

Posted by Sarah Rucker On April - 17 - 2013
Sarah Rucker

Sarah Rucker

What city carries the nickname “the Violet Crown?” What about “Live Music Capital of the World?”

Now it may be ringing bells…or strumming guitars, I should say. Austin, TX, is my home and has been for 12 years. It’s true that I’m one of the University of Texas alums who remained after graduating, despised by those born or have lived here for over 25 years and have seen the population double. However, my roots were growing here before I was born.

My parents moved here in 1969 and my brother was born in Austin in the summer of ‘71. My father worked at the Vulcan Gas Company nightclub, and consequently I grew up listening to 50s blues, 60s soul, and 70s rock. Though raised on the Gulf Coast, I knew I wanted to live in Austin before my sixth birthday. Enough about me, let’s flash-forward.

Austin has experienced a diverse history of politics, social change, and a lot of music. But where are we now, in this amazing century #21?

With hundreds of thousands of visitors coming each year for events such as Austin City Limits Music Festival and SXSW Music, Film & Interactive Festival, we need to find the balance of celebrating the history, promoting the local talent and embracing the changes this city has undergone.

Incorporating the past, present, and future into one’s work is often key in the arts and community life.  Read the rest of this entry »

Making A Space For the Near Northside in Houston

Posted by Jimmy Castillo On April - 16 - 2013
Jimmy Castillo

Jimmy Castillo

I live in the Near Northside of Houston, TX. That’s where my wife and I were born and raised.

Our families saw the first transformation of the neighborhood from a community of predominantly German and Italian immigrants that worked at the nearby rail yards in the early 1900’s into the one that emerged during and after World War II. It was then that residents fled to the outlying suburbs and the working poor Mexican-Americans from the rented shacks in Frostown began to occupy the wood-frame cottages and rail yard jobs that the previous residents left behind.

By the time I was born, the neighborhood was Mexican-American, working-class, and a little rough. Although we both spent some time away, the Near Northside is where my wife and I have decided to settle and raise our family.

The area was originally developed in the 1890’s as a Neartown neighborhood around all of the railroad and warehouse jobs in North Downtown near Allen’s Landing. The older streets are still laid out in a grid with commercial structures facing the major thoroughfares and rows of old one-story houses behind.

There wasn’t very much development in the area in the last half of the 20th century; with the exception of the construction of I-45, Highway 59, and the Elysian Viaduct; all of which have cut through the neighborhood creating new boundaries and changing the flow of community life.

Fortunately, we have everything that we need all centralized within a five-block stretch of Quitman St. Davis High School, Marshal Middle School, and Carnegie Neighborhood Library (not a real Carnegie Library) all meet at the same intersection which is across the street from the local supermarket, Fiesta.  Read the rest of this entry »

Assessing Cultural Infrastructure

Posted by G. Martin Moeller, Jr. & Scott Kratz On April - 2 - 2013
Scott Kratz

Scott Kratz

Most of the world’s great cultural capitals emerged organically through a virtuous cycle in which creative people flocked to prosperous cities, where they helped to create or expand prominent cultural institutions, which in turn attracted more creative people, and so on.

During the modern era, however, the historically strong correlation between economic vitality and cultural resources diminished somewhat. In some cases, new centers of economic activity developed with unprecedented speed, making it difficult for cultural institutions—which tend to have long gestation periods—to keep up. In the U.S. in particular, the migration of substantial wealth to the suburbs often left venerable urban institutions impoverished, while depriving nascent cultural organizations of the critical mass necessary for success.

The past couple of decades have been marked by a revival of interest in cultural infrastructure and a growing belief that museums, performing arts centers, libraries, programmed civic spaces and other cultural facilities can themselves foster social and economic progress.

The poster child of this trend is the Guggenheim Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry, which has been credited with the revival of a small, rather run-down industrial city in Spain. Careful analysis of economic and other data suggests that the influence of this one project is often overstated, but there can be no doubt that it was a significant catalyst for urban revival, not only because of the museum’s mission and content, but also because of its exhilarating architectural form.  Read the rest of this entry »

Emily Peck

Emily Peck

Last week, I left snowy New York City to spend some time in sunny Ft. Lauderdale at the invitation of the Broward Cultural Division to talk with arts organizations about the many ways they can partner with local businesses.

We discussed how to build a successful and meaningful partnership by thinking of the needs of business first, and how to look beyond the usual suspects when thinking about potential business partners.

We were joined by local business leaders from Florida Power and Light and Merrimac Ventures who spoke about how partnering with the arts helped their business engage new customers, reach new audiences, and enhance the quality of life for their communities. For more tips on creating partnerships check out our Building pARTnerships on Your Own toolkit.

This type of training session is just one way you can use the resources of The pARTnership Movement in your community. Here are some other ideas:

  • Tell your story: Promote great arts and business partnerships on twitter (#artsandbiz), Facebook, and YouTube. Don’t forget to let us know, too!

Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Network Year in Review program is the only national program that specifically recognizes public art projects. Up to 50 projects are selected annually through an open-call application process and selected by two to three jurors. The projects are available on CD-Rom in our bookstore and include a PowerPoint, data and project list, and hundreds of project photos.

Our 2013 Public Art Year in Review nomination process is open through April 5, so be sure to nominate a project as we continue spotlight former honorees on ARTSblog.

Today’s project is Your Essential Magnificence by James Edward Talbot which was honored in 2012.

"Your Essential Magnificence" by James Edward Talbot

“Your Essential Magnificence” by James Edward Talbot (Photo by Philip Rogers)

Read the rest of this entry »

The Strength of Diversity: The Strength of the Arts

Posted by Robert Lynch On March - 12 - 2013
Rep. John Lewis (r) receives the 2009 Congressional Arts Award from Robert Lynch (l)

Rep. John Lewis (r) receives the 2009 Congressional Arts Award from Robert Lynch (l) during Arts Advocacy Day.

One of our great American leaders, Congressman John Lewis, has been celebrated in the news quite a bit recently. It is the 48th anniversary of the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL. The march was led by a young John Lewis—his skull was fractured, and for that sacrifice an enormous gain for civil rights and for voting rights was realized.

Congressman John Lewis is also a great arts leader. For years he has personally led the fight for fair tax treatment of artists. Many times over the last several decades, he has brought his powerful story of how the arts and the Civil Rights Movement were invaluable allies to Americans for the Arts gatherings.

He has pointed out that the arts—from folk or gospel or classical music performed in jails or the streets or in concert halls, to the visual arts in portrayals of the struggle through posters and placards—were a key to motivation and hope as the Civil Rights Movement progressed. We all honored him last week as he, Vice President Joe Biden, and others reenacted that famous bridge crossing.

During the State of the Union Address, President Obama highlighted the civil rights of the broad face of America when he honored the battles and sacrifice at Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. And during this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama honored the transformative power of the arts and arts education for everyone when she said, “[The arts] are especially important for young people. Every day they engage in the arts, they learn to open their imaginations and dream just a little bigger and to strive everyday to reach those dreams.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Eat Cake (or Not)

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

James LeFlore

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Up For Air: A Pep Talk for the New Year

Posted by Carrie Brown On February - 11 - 2013
Carrie Brown

Carrie Brown

So it is the start of a new year; a time to refresh, refocus and re-energize. The City of Austin Art in Public Places Program recently held a staff retreat where we did just that. In the last two years we have grown from two to seven staff members and with our full team assembled can effectively tackle the work before us.

But there is more to it than just having enough resources to “get it done.” As public art administrators (or as I like to say “jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-all!”), we also need periodic inspiration and creative endurance. The challenge is finding the time. At our staff retreat, we began the day with Show-and-Tell of our favorite projects and artists and current creative endeavors—and how refreshing it was!

Show-and-tell got me thinking about not only what inspires me, but why, and the importance of spending time figuring it out.

Here are a few things I came up with:

As a person of short stature (my cousin’s daughter once asked if I had “grown all the way” after learning that I was in fact, an adult), I have always been drawn to objects that challenge one’s sense of scale—like the proposal for deer-shaped power lines or a three-story bear. To me, these massive objects are breathtaking and at this large-scale diminish the relevancy of our individual size. Read the rest of this entry »