“And the beat goes on……………”


The CapitalizationProject will have to confront the thorny issue lying underneath the surface: the assumption that to get where the project seeks to go there will have to be, at least some wholesale restructuring of the built (or overbuilt) infrastructure – whether or not that happens consciously or as an indirect consequence. In short, any number of precariously financed organizations with shaky revenue streams will simply have to be left to die off on their own. That isn’t necessarily, however, even a new thread in the discussion of the financial healthof the sector. We’ve been talking for a long time about the extent to which the sector is overbuilt, how supply exceeds demand and how we, during seemingly endless good times when funders were flush, just kept funding the long march of new incarnations of art. To be sure, much, even most, of what came just this century was indeed worth funding, and some of it was brilliant, But sustainable? No. Probably not even if the crash had not come. Arts funding in the second decade of the century will have to be much more strategic and smarter; happen more in concert and leverage identifiable results IF we want to do more than survive.

Unquestionably, the decisions as to funding in the current economic climate are already hard and painful, for funder and grantee alike. Such decisions will be made in consideration of local and indivdual circumstances and criteria; no one size will fit all, and there will be champions for both those that get the help they need to survive or grow and champions too for those that do not. But one thing will remain unalterable: there are insufficient funds to support every organization irrespective of its value, artistic merit, community impact, legacy or favorite son status. IF there is to be any serious attempt to try to address stabilization in the area of capitalization, some very hard choices will have to be made. That’s really nothing new though.

Of course the need to address stablization in the area of capitalization may remain an open question for many – including those that favor gravitating towards the venture capital model that may not prioritize long term capitalization stability as absolutely essential – at least not from the outset. And one of the open questions at this conference centers on to what extent funding might move towards a venture capitalist model – at least as the same may pertain to a specific subset of Millennial generational projects. I suspect that conversations around venture capital (or other) models to re-set the bar for next generational funding will be a very lively topic in 2011.

Personally, my sympathies lie with the same fragile organizations that seem dear to Arlene. And I hope that funding, at the least, strikes a balance between preservation of the traditional and the tried and true – those institutions in which there has been substantial investment and which start the derby towards capitalization ahead of the pack – and those closer to the edge and whose work is, for lots of reasons, just as important and critical to our future. Adequate capitalization, it seems to me doesn’t necessarily imply arrival at some arbitrary plateau, but is a point relative to each organization, and therefore each will strive to get where it needs to get — judged on that criteria, and not according to an absolute. I think the proposal as presented allows for that “fairness” and the result that some of those small and newer organizations doing exceptional work will benefit from this effort.

Alas, of course, not all the art that ought to have the chance to find its’ audience and niche to survive can or will. I lament along with Arlene that the money wasted on needless, mindless wars that do nothing to make us one iota safer could fund the arts for a thousand years, but remind you all – that war has far better trained and funded lobbyists and advocates than do the arts and that lamentation by itself isn’t terribly productive. If we want that to change we better pick up the pace and play the game better. The advocacy sessions at this conference were sparsely attended, and the majority of the funding community continues to not just shy away from supporting advocacy efforts, but to run as quickly as is possible from mention of the mere word as though any kind of association with the concept will subject them to arrest, if not actually damn them forever. Please folks, that attitude must change if you want public funding for the arts at the state and local levels to remain part of the revenue stream model. And imagine the extent to which your own funding plans and goals will be negatively impacted and the increased pressures on you were it to disappear or shrink expoentially.

(E)merging Ideas: Thoughts Heard “Round the Table”

I roamed around looking for the ‘right’ conversation to join this morning, and finally settled on the one organized by Matty Sterencock from the Herb Alpert Foundation, and was glad I did for it was a lively and intelligent discussion. First thought out there caught my attention: We should be more interested in developing the “muscle” of innovation. In the context of sustainability, I wondered whether or not we should spend more of our capital facilitating that “muscle” and less on the sustainability of the organization and the shell of its structure? And in that context I wondered if we might better develop the oranizational muscle if we invested more in the key people at the organization than the organization itself. As someone pointed out, too little investment in the people often resulted in disruptive personnel turnover that inhibited the follow thru on new ideas and as such was really anti-innovation.

The conversation quickly turned to the question of where the real innovation today is happening – in the private or in the nonprofit sector? And whether or not the nonprofit model allows enough entrepreurialism to remain conducive to innovation?

Joe Smoke from L.A. noted that as a city agency his mission is to “support arts & culture” – not to just support nonprofit arts & culture, and thus his agency now gave grants to “for profit” organizations that otherwise qualified. And that led to a further discussion on the whole idea of allowing “for profits” access to grant support and then back to where real innovation was centered. Enough ideas during this hour for a whole day’s worth of meetings and discussion.

Other random thoughts that caught my attention:

  1. The problem with the 501 c 3 model is that it assumes, at the moment of genesis that the life or the organization should be in perpetuity – Ian David Moss
  2. Part of the criteria for funding ought to be a “twilight” plan (exit strategy). Joe Smoke
  3. I have no idea in what context this was said, but someone recounted an arts administrator who described her job as the “tactical, incremental reversal of previous incorrections”

At an advocacy session I learned that the name of one of the Massachusett’s advocacy groups is Massachusetts for the Arts, Science & Humanities (or MASH). How about Californians for the Arts, Science & Humanities (or CA$H)?

Two other lessons from Advocacy sessions:

  1. Figure out early what you have to trade for the support you need – because it won’t come gratis.
  2. NEVER use the word “cultural” on any ballot measure – it confuses some, and others (that aren’t even remotely under the same banner you intended) will read it so broadly as to include themselves – at your expense.
  3. BTW – Aaron Dworkin’s presentation reminded me that the passionate and talented artist makes the best advocate for his or her art, and we need to figure out how to involve more artists as advocates when making the case for more public support and in particular more arts education support.

Concluding thoughts after I return home and can debrief my mind.f

Safe journeys home for all of you.