Policy Partners

Making the case for state investments in culture

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 14, No 1 (Winter 2003)

M. Christine Dwyer and Susan Frankel, primary authors
Brendan Rawson, Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley

2002, 71 pages. RMC Research Corporation in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts. Available through the Center for Arts and Culture, Suite 500, 819 Seventy St., N.W., Washington, DC 20001, 202-783-4498.

Policy Partners is an "action document designed to promote dialogue" to advance state-level cultural policies. Each chapter concludes with a "Take Action" section "designed to turn the chapter's contents into a discussion tool for different audiences." In addition, the project Web site (noted above), Innovations in State Cultural Policy, provides complementary resources such as related publications, links, and upcoming events to help further discussion. This structure advances the sharing of ideas and learning that characterized the nine months of interviews and convenings behind this report. More than fifty leaders from the fields of the arts, folklife, humanities, and historic preservation participated. The goal of this guide is to capture that process "so that others might have similar discussions and move to action."

Providing an "action document" meant to spark continued conversation exemplifies a primary finding of this project — that “increased and sustained public investment in culture depends on the involvement of many different players.” The demands and rewards of broad, cross-field collaboration are woven throughout the entire guide. The authors emphasize that policy collaboration must be organic and rooted in the interactions of the individuals who are critical to change in specific local contexts. Given this premise, the subsequent findings and tools offered in this report will have the most direct application to state and local settings where cross-field conversations already occur. Communities where cross-field conversations, even if disjointed, reflect genuine interest in collabo- ration will benefit the most from this guide.

The document is divided into five chapters that nicely frame the guide's recommendations. Chapter 1, “Reaching Critical Mass as a Cultural Movement,” develops the case for collaboration. Becoming part of a larger effort entails a subtle transition that enables cultural leaders to become representatives of community interests rather than just agents of individual special interests. Emphasis here is given to developing and communicating unified messages. Examples come from the environmental movement and the Bush administration's “No Child Left Behind” campaign. Ways to develop messages that make large policy questions personal is highlighted. A “sense of place” and the value of culture as a "standard part of the quality of life argument" are discussed as potential building blocks.

Chapter 2, “State Policies that Increase Public Investment in Culture,” provides seven concise one-page examples of models and tools — such as targeted tax credits and earmarking discretionary funds — that have proven successful in various states. Attention is drawn to important characteristics shared by these examples, including a clearly defined formula for distributing new dollars, explicit description of the public benefits, careful crafting of policies that augment current resources, and concern for sustainability in the design of the funding mechanisms. The Action” discussion section here is particularly well linked to the chapter's contents. Wisely, the chapter cautions that the adaptability of such strategies is limited by political factors.

Chapter 3, “Engaging in the Public Policy Process,” describes the basic infrastructure necessary to change policy at the state level. The chapter begins with a strong cautionary note that “only a few states presently have in place the capacities to fully realize policy innovations in the cultural sector.” Therefore, recommendations are compiled as action steps towards building an effective advocacy infrastructure. The steps described include identifying assets, mobilizing expertise (i.e., advocacy coalitions), developing compelling arguments, and cultivating leaders. This chapter's “Take Action” section raises eight useful questions to help gauge state-level readiness for advancing policy change.

Chapter 4, “Strategic Actions by National Cultural Organizations,” focuses on leaders in national organizations and identifies eight action areas where they can help make change in state-level policy. The chapter also provides an understanding of the capacity and limitations of their ability to assist with state and local policy change.

Lastly, Chapter 5, “Cultivating Champions in the Policy Community,” discusses the need to help policy makers and opinion leaders become champions of cultural goals. It describes current efforts undertaken through entities such as the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, and the system of Federal Reserve Banks, and highlights ideas that resonate with them, such as quality of life, economic development, and social capital.

The findings and recommendations of Policy Partners are rooted in the study's core conversations in the arts, folklife, humanities, and historic preservation. We in the arts can learn much here about breaking out of our own policy “ghettos” where we are lucky to be the last, tacked-on, agenda item in the priorities of elected officials. For communities that are ready, Policy Partners provides useful, action-oriented guidance for changing statewide cultural policies.

Brendan Rawson, Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley