Recommendations for Rocco

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.

One of the questions this week was “what should the NEA accomplish and what advice would you give Rocco Landesman?” Rocco is the newly appointed chairman of the Endowment. It isn't often that anyone officially asks me for advice, not on big things anyway. That doesn't mean I don't give advice on a regular basis. Just ask my kids. I have never met Rocco but we've talked on the phone. I think I like him. He is “louder and bolder” which has been my mantra about GIA since I took the job last January. He maybe has some things to learn about the politics of Congress which is only rivaled by the politics within the nonprofit arts world. But, he'll get it because he's smart and he has some very smart people around him. I couldn't be more pleased about his chosen senior deputy chairman, Joan Shigekawa. Joan has years of experience as a grantmaker, most recently with the Rockefeller Foundation. Then there is Patrice Powell and Bill O'Brien. Passionate, dedicated and smart.

So, what could I possibly have to tell Mr. Landesman? Especially right before our GIA conference in October where he is a keynoter. We will undoubtedly sit next to each other at a round table with a white table cloth, wondering why conference food can't be more interesting. I'll practice up now with my blog and Barry's blog so I can get it all in between the chicken and the carrot cake. Here are “recommendations to Rocco” in 12 points.

  1. Protect them from the witch hunt that is occurring and will continue as those opposed to President Obama attack whatever they think Obama thinks is good. The arts would be on that list at the moment.
  2. Fight back. Don’t be wishy-washy but be smart and strategic.
  3. Create national initiatives that complement the nonprofit arts world, not that “deliver art to the uncultured.” We are all cultured in our own way no matter where we live. There are wonderful artists everywhere and people who devote themselves to keeping the arts alive in the towns and schools across this country; add to their lives, don’t diminish their work.
  4. Support state and local arts agencies.
  5. Bring back the advancement program and fellowships for individual artists.
  6. Don’t shy away from programs that echo the needs and emotions of the country. (For some reason, those critical of artists being involved in health care or service projects, didn’t complain when the NEA got involved in recording stories of war veterans.) We need that and we need artists involved in health care and service projects too.
  7. Help your staff to get out into the field so they’re not making “beltway” decisions.
  8. Raise more money and be nice to politicians, even the ones you don’t like.
  9. Be a team player with an extraordinary passion that is infectious. Don’t, however, be an ideologue. Politics is an art, most of it theatre..apply your knowledge accordingly.
  10. Finally, think about the big issues and not projects that are more public relations than substantive. What are we doing about heath care for artists? How do we raise the perception of artists across our nation? How do we create more philanthropists in the arts? In the ecology of the artistic community, how do we connect the entertainment for profit world with the nonprofit sector in the eyes of the public?
  11. “Always trust your cape.” That’s a great song by Guy Clark. Check it out.