DAY ONE

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on………………”

Rocco’s Speech:

The Chair of the Endowment’s activism to involve the agency on a number of front s seems to be working.. This morning he recounted successes in getting other federal departments and agencies to include the arts in funding programs and policies including a recent $100 million NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability)from HUD that the arts might apply for part of, and ongoing dialogues and conversations about embedding the arts within programs as far ranging as aging and mental health to transportation, agriculture and commerece. I heard him make the promise of pursuit of making these federal intersections work, and he is delivering on that promise. Impressive.

He also talked about the Our Town program ($5 million earmarked for ‘placemaking’ efforts in 35 communities), and plans to move forward with pursuing joint initiatives with major foundations in the future to complement, extend and leverage private funder efforts and forge symbiotic relationships. Expansion of collaborative and cooperative projects between government and the private funding sector should have begun a long time ago.

National Capitalization Project:

Janet Brown announced and introduced this really bold effort from GIA to address the undercapitalization of arts organizations throughout the field. Some time in the planning stages and involving many funders in the process, the report makes specific recommendations to funders about improving the capitalization of arts organizations. Janet cautioned that release of the report is a beginning of what will likely be a long process that involves changing the way people think and our approaches on a number of fronts long held dear; that the recommendations are not edicts, but suggestions and that it recognizes the diversity of the field.

In further explannation, Clara Miller CEO of the National Finance Fund, clarified that capitalization means the accumulated resources (assets less liabilities) of an organization, but not current income. Adequate capital is what allows for change and growth. But it seems to me that the other side of this coin – the business models that govern operating income – will be an implicit part of this conversation, because you can’t discuss moving towards adequate capitalization for an arts organization without talking about their revenue streams. And if you talk about their income and its’ sources you have to talk about the business model. As I have argued before, that model is broken.

The project’s rcommendations will require funders and grantees alike to change the culture of funding, and to: 1) shed bad habits; 2) promote common principles; and 3) collaborate.

This is precisely the kind of strategic change that the times demand and I applaud its’ launch. As evidenced by the discussions in the breakout sessions involving all conference attendees immediately following the plenary presentation, there will be many questions that will arise, a lot of discussion and no shortage of issues that will have to be addressed. It will require some sea changes in protocols and attitudes on the part of both fubders and grantees, but it seeks to address the fundamental issue of the sector’s long term survivability.

Joi Ito Lunch Keynote:

Mr. Ito – venture capitalist, CEO of Creative Commons, part of the “Next Establishment” according to Vanity Fair, gave a thought provoking keynote with a host (to me anyway) of brain candy tidbits:

  • The most successful investment he ever made was in Last.fm – a web startup created by passionate musicians.
  • Pre the internet the cost of creating and sharing information was expensive, now it’s cheap.
  • Content that was once the exclusive domain of universities and museums is now widely available.
  • Keys to transformation via the web are: equal access; at little to no cost; and simplicity and ease of use – plus the ability to participate without permission.
  • The venture capital model of backing many ideas is that the cost of failure is low and thus risk becomes affordable.
  • Too much planning can, at times, stifle the innovation.
  • In some cases more money from fewer people is a better model than less money from lots if people.

As is always the case at arts conferences, the network time with colleagues is where new ideas get generated, and I have enjoyed the re-connecting, the ensuing exchange of knowledge and the brainstorming over do-able projects. Energy and ideas are in the air – you can sense it. And that is what makes for a really successful gathering,

More tomorrow.

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