What I love most about local arts agencies is that you can’t define them, pigeonhole them or even tell anyone what a “typical” local arts agency does. I recently received the December 2009 copy of Americans for the Arts’ Monograph. Written by community arts developer and long-time friend (just for full disclosure), Maryo Gard Ewell, it is entitled “Effective Community Arts Development: Fifty Years, Fifty Tips.” And it does, in fact, go on to list fifty tips for successful community arts development.
This week my colleague and friend John McCann reminded me that leadership is a critical element to successful sustainability for organizations. I couldn’t agree with him more. I’ve always been fascinated by the study of leadership. I even wrote an “almost” dissertation on the subject. I say “almost” because it was a master’s program that required a final paper and not an official dissertation. It was still really long with lots of footnotes. The title was “Characteristics of Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership.”
Is the nonprofit arts community undercapitalized because there isn’t enough money or demand for the product or have we focused on developing product at the expense of creating an environment that can support it? That environment includes more than audience development and public support. It includes an infrastructure that feeds the industry both internally, serving the needs of the organization, and externally, promoting that product on multiple levels to the public.
(Thank you to all the GIA members and nonmembers who made our conference in Brooklyn a huge success. As always, GIA is working to make your lives easier and more informed. I was humbled and empowered at the same time by your stories, your confidence and your commitment.)
So it seems that the Big Government blog and Big Hollywood blog have been making big noise in the blogosphere about the NEA, the White House and artists. They have turned a small conversation to encourage “volunteerism in America” into a conspiracy of grants for political support. Of course, anyone who has any real working knowledge about the NEA knows how distorted and false these allegations are.
Barry Hessenius asked me and several others to answer some questions about the role of the National Endowment for the Arts. He's running this multi-week huge series in his blog at WSTAF's site. There are interesting ideas and thoughts by many people lots smarter than me. You can read it at Barry's Blog.
In the work done by Helicon Collaborative this spring for NW area funders and for GIA’s summer Reader, Holly Sidford reported that grantees wanted arts funders to provide leadership. One of the areas where leadership is needed most, in my opinion, is in management evaluation and development for grantees. As I wrote last week, we are a field with no certification or degree requirements for management.
Recently, I attended a meeting of Seattle-based funders and Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser. One of Kaiser’s points as he travels around the country on an “Arts in Crisis” tour, is the need for greater competency in management of nonprofit arts organization. His point that we spend a great deal of resources training artists in this country but very little on the training of managers rang pretty true to me.
August 28, 2009 is the deadline for early bird registration for the GIA conference in October. Join our “community of practice” and register today.
“Community of Practice” is a term created by anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in the 90s. Wenger defines it as “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” There is, of course, more to this than one sentence, but that’s the essence of it.
In the total scheme of things, last week was darn exciting for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Rocco Landesman was confirmed by the Senate as the new Chairman and Joan Shigakawa, past Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) board member most recently with the Rockefeller Foundation, was appointed Senior Deputy Chairman. To top it off, I was in a meeting with Anita Decker at the NEA when she received the Senate committee confirmation notice.