How can we support artists in the new economy?

Artists and the New Economy

Organized by Angie Kim, President & CEO, Center for Cultural Innovation.

Moderated by Alexis Frasz, Researcher, Helicon Collaborative; and Holly Sidford, President, Helicon Collaborative. Presented by Angie Kim, President and CEO, Center for Cultural Innovation; Judilee Reed, Director, Thriving Cultures Program, Surdna Foundation; and Jason Schupbach, Director of Design Programs, Visual Arts Division Team Leader, National Endowment for the Arts.

Alexis Frasz, of Helicon Collaborative, began by explaining that the research group which included Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) started with a design challenge:

What are the conditions in which artists live and work today and what will it look like for them to live sustainably, create good work and contribute to their communities? Also: Where is our support system now in terms of what we think is ideal? If it’s not there, what would we do to adjust it?

This field-wide temperature check and list of implications resulted in Creativity Connects: Trends and Conditions Affecting US Artists, released in September 2016, with support from Surdna Foundation and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. This report is somewhat of a refresh of Investing in Creativity, a 2006 paper from the Urban Institute authored by Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson. One of the major innovations of Jackson’s analysis was a framework that contained six structures that artists need to do their work. Validation, Demands and Markets, Material Supports, Training, Communities and Networks, and Information remain a focal point today.

“It’s been 13 years since that report” said Frasz, “so in addition to that framework what else do we need to know about trends that are affecting artists today and how can we update our lens so that we can really support people meaningfully today?”

A few of the findings of Creativity Connects shared in the workshop:

  • The population of artists is growing and diversifying and that’s because our country is growing and diversifying. Once again artists are part of the population, and as we become more diverse as a country the population of artists does too.
  • How artists manifest the kind of work they are doing is shifting. While work is still being stages in galleries and theatres, informal and community settings are also the norm.
  • Technology has disrupted many industries including the arts. Making, distributing, and consuming work consuming has become easier than ever. A good example of widening opportunities, include the film Tangerine. However, equity and accessibility challenges still exist. Overall, structural inequities for artists, technological and otherwise mirror those in society at large.
  • Training, in areas like entrepreneurship and partnership are vital for success in today’s world, but is not keeping pace with the challenges of today.
  • Who are these artists out there you may be asking? Highly specialized workers, with unique needs, experiences and skill sets, whose ability to live and thrive are impacted by conditions that impact much of the population such as health care, debt, affordable housing.

Finally, Frasz shared the implications of this research. Actions that could address the above challenges include:

  • Articulating the societal value of artists and creative work in health, environmental and economic arenas and develop new ways to assess value
  • Addressing income insecurity as part of larger workforce efforts
  • Reducing debt and building assets. (Also creating higher education affordability)
  • Creating 21st century training systems
  • Upgrading systems and structures (technology platforms, copyright issues, etc.)

According to Frasz, one of the ultimate goals of the report is to spur funders, intermediaries and others to make choices and investments that move beyond incremental work and efforts on the fringes to coordinated, broad efforts. Almost every member of the panel emphasized that they felt this was a huge time of change and opportunity.

Next, each panelist shared reflections on the report and its implications.

Judilee Reed of Surdna Foundation laid out a few, concise recommendations for funder stances of the future:

  1. Take an elastic view of discipline and support funding structures with a broader aesthetic expertise and greater cultural competency.
  2. Hold a complex and long view of an artistic career that takes different forms (commercial, nonprofit, community). Artists now cobble together awards that take many different forms and isolating artistic paths or issues like beauty and justice has the potential to create bifurcation and reinforce inequity.
  3. Consider how funders can bring together complementary resources to stack support for artists. Grantmakers were urged to be curious about adopting a more dynamic view of deploying resources and working across lines that embrace training, but also lending that can support entrepreneurship with real capital, start up, bridge, and equity investments – basically a larger tool box of resources.

Jason Schupbach of National Endowment for the Arts was excited about the potential to build partnerships outside of field and highlighted a few areas where the NEA could support collaboration or offer support.

  1. In response to the report the agency has changed guideless to help fund training organizations and hopes to support greater experimentation across sectors in the field. Several non-arts organizations are undertaking projects with artists in areas like community development.
  2. Schupbach also mentioned that State and Regional arts agencies who receive 40% of the NEA’s budget, have reported that they are experiencing an increase in cross-sector partnerships. The NEA has given these agencies extra dollars to host follow up roundtables on the topics in the report to discover what they may be able to do with it.
  3. There are many issues other federal agencies are working on such as student loan debt that also impact the arts field. In 2040 the majority Americans will be doing contract work. This makes labor laws another area of possible collaboration.
  4. The NEA will soon bring together various NEA funded studies on artists together in one place and then promote it as a resource. Once complete, this could help spur work on cross-sector partnerships and dynamic measurement of the value of the arts.

Angie Kim of Center for Cultural Innovation began by saying: “This is a moment when we need to be looking back to the individual. We spent about a generation really bolstering and creating institutions within the non-profit arts system and in this moment of change – generational change, attitudinal differences, cultural and demographic shifts, we can’t help but come back to empowering individuals as changemakers.”

The six domains (training, information, markets, etc) that support artists across time and space were well described in the 2006 Urban Institute report but, says Kim, the report did not describe the environment. Now the world is so dramatically different (then Mark Zuckerberg was in high school and iPhones did not exist) that this became a primary objective.

Kim, the primary force behind the new report, explained why the group of researchers and funders embarked on the new research. Markets and demands. The environment for artists has changed and in many ways expanded. “Technology” she noted “allows artists to go straight to consumer. In LA the number of galleries may be down, but sales of art are up. Artists and arts cooperatives can connect directly to their consumer base.” Intermediaries, she continued – not always bricks and mortar, but other kinds need to build.

She is considering how CCI can be a broker, convenor and conduit for funding, while visioning a shift from project support and the patronage model to investing in artists and helping artists “build sustainable assets – skills based, knowledge-based and hard assets, to own production of a sustainable career.”

One of the most compelling questions of the morning was on equity. Justin Laing of The Heinz Endowments, asked if the research study, with its broad perspective may have replicated dominant structures by leaving out the unique challenges of African American artists. He also noted that these artists, many of whom have not gone to art school, are not impacted as much by school loans – mentioned several times by panelists.

While the report does have a strong section on structural inequities, Frasz did mention it is intentionally broad to encourage wide scale change. Schupbach, suggested that Laing may be pointing out an area of future research.

Kim, also responded later in regards to Laing and a question from Eleanor Savage from Jerome Foundation about caring for activist artists that, “Debt fundamentally alters behavior. We are not investing in artists to be voices of activism. We silence. We need to unfetter productivity and citizenry.”

Reed added: “We run the risk of mimicking the perpetuation of extractive economies and shareholder value, to the detriment of real production. We have to make sure we are creating an environment for those [activist] artists to build creative practice over time and in absence of an extractive economy.”

I had a question about articulating the societal value of creative work and lessons we can learn from the health, environmental and economic sectors. While no perfect resource exists yet, I was pointed to a few resources:

Quick note:

Ian David Moss (Fractured Atlas, Createquity) gave me a scoop at lunch. Look out in the next few weeks for an article in Createquity that will examine evaluation, impact and value of the arts.

Response from the field:

An important note to take away is that internally we do a lot of research on our grantees and communities that we serve so I started to think of ways to connect it to broader research in the field that’s being done to actually provide tangible impact for things philanthropy is already working on. I was sitting there thinking we’re doing this full-scale evaluation that can highlight within our evaluation, within our communities that makes a point about what they’re trying to leverage.
— Bahia Ramos, Program Director for Arts at John S. and James L. Knight Foundation