GIA Conference D2: Is Darwin in The House?

GIA Conference D2:

4:30 am Pacific Time.

Considering the unfortunate length of my Day One entry yesterday, I thought it might be a good idea to post something today a bit more concise.

So, let’s focus on two sessions.

Enabling Engagement: Launching Irvine’s New Arts Strategy. Organized by Josephine Ramirez, program director, arts, The James Irvine Foundation.Contributions by Alan Brown, principal, WolfBrown; Sandra L. Gibson, independent consultant; Maria Rosario Jackson, senior research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Center and director of the Culture, Creativity, and Communities Program, Urban Institute; Steven J. Tipper, associate director, The Curb Center for Art, Enterprise & Public Policy.

Rather than give you a blow by blow account of Irvine’s planning process and resultant plan, here are a couple of links to Irvine’s website, where you can watch the same opening video we saw at the session, read more about the plan, and even review guidelines for the first grant opportunities that have emerged from the process.

New Strategy Overview Video

Exploring Engagement Fund

There’s a lot to report on here. The headline is that Irvine has taken demographic and other changes seriously and is committed to harnessing this change while strengthening arts organizations, their self-described partners in this work.

For my money, much of the discussion was around redefining what engagement means. I keep coming back to one particular thought, throughout this session and indeed the conference as a whole: who owns the arts, who owns creativity?

If there is a shift occurring, at least as expressed through this conference, it is one of reframing the long-term and traditional views on the architectures of artists and audiences. It’s a shift of shape, place, role, and rationale.

I do believe that there is something very positive occurring in the blurring of the lines between professionals and amateurs, artists and audiences, place and space. It strikes me as very much the Maxine Greene sort of moment, one of meaning making. It’s not that these things are necessarily new. Look, people have been engaged in arts through community orchestras, amateur chamber music, private poetry writing, and so very much more for a very long time. It’s just that technology and a desire to view the arts through community development and democratic engagement while recognizing a host of major demographic and other changes has created new frames for us to view the meaning of arts.

What are the downsides?

The Irvine presentation had the feel of an organization coming out of a significant planning process energized and optimistic about how they will lead the field. Now, they didn’t quite say it like that, but that’s my report. Is there a downside? Well, I have a few thoughts. First, a lot of the changes their vision is intended to propel will require a lot of innovation, and along with innovation comes a lot of risk and a willingness to experiment, which in turn requires a lot of failure. Experiment, after all, the scientific method, fundamentally embraces failure. Such change will require incentive. Is the pressure all around us, fueled by the changing and changed landscape enough to make such change possible, with some cash and support from funders like Irvine?

Does all this equal the proposition of change or die? Are we there yet?

The most interesting statement in the regard came from Steven Tepper, who said, essentially, “that such evolution does not usually come through adaptation by the existing, but through new organizations.” (Buyer beware, I have paraphrased.)  If there’s a pull quote for the conference, one that will really get people thinking, and more than a bit tweaked, this would be it.

Along with rethinking and stimulating field-wide change comes issues of assessment, leadership development, new criteria for grantmaking, and a search to better understand and present a more fluid map of artist and audience, when one can become the other, or both, or remain traditional, with the help of new technologies and new viewpoints, even within the same work of art. It’s all about fluidity.

Another interesting quote, and again, sorry, a paraphrase, from Alan Brown: “creativity in programming will be more important than quality.”

I guess it’s reasonable to have mixed feelings about all of this. I applaud the framing of change and those willing to lead. I believe that the opportunities for arts in all of this change are greater than most understand, and that by expanding engagement in art making and participation, without oversight by the art police, is long overdue. At the same time, you worry about what it will take for this to happen, and the not so subtle Darwin-esque subtext to all of this. Change or die, or shall I say evolve quickly, or die?

Lunch Keynote:

Here we had composer Mason Bates and The Del Sol Quartet.

Two terrific artists, beautifully chosen as a reflection of the conference themes. Word on the street: people loved the music but wish the focus of the presentation would have underscored the conference theme a bit better.

Let’s skip the play-by-play, and get to a few important points.

One: check out these artists. I urge you to go to their websites and look around, watch/listen/reflect. There’s a lot to consider, particularly in how they represent and challenge some old notions of what is traditional, what is classical, what is “canonical,” and more.

Two: What I said in One. Forgive me, as I started writing this blog at 4:30 am in my hotel room. Seriously, actually, two is a reinforcement of one.

Mason Bates represents change in a vitally important way. He is, in so many respects, representative of the modern American composer. He’s hip, smart, also a DJ, draws upon a palatte that is not limited, by a long shot, by what most consider to be “classical” music, and here’s the best part, he’s one of two composers in residence with the orchestra that I consider to be among the most tradition bound. It’s the orchestra considered by many to be the standard bearer of quality and tradition. Not known for relationships with the American experimentalists nor great shape shifters of the 20th and 21st centuries, in my mind, the appointment of Mason Bates should be enough for people to rethink their long held opinions of what canonical organizations are and aren’t. Oh, and yes, by the way, he can compose.

N.B., Arbiters of quality and definition will need to think at least twice.

Posted in Richard Kessler | Leave a comment

GIA – Day 2

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on……………………….”

GIA in San Francisco, Tuesday: Day 2

This day started out with a continental breakfast that included scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and croissants — a definite step up from the usual hotel continental fare — served in the Fairmont’s Venetian Room, once a high end night club in San Francisco where Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey (look her up all you Millennials out there, she was the real deal) and Tony Bennet held court.

Breakfast Roundtable on the topic of Does Art = Creativity?

Consensus of the group was that you can be creative and not be an artist, but that likely all artists are creative. Though I would think some would suggest that a very creative engineer or scientist (and certainly there are such) IS arguably an artist, but then we get into semantics and who really cares? The more interesting issue to me has to do with our employing the use of “art = creativity” as a strategy to advance our cause. We’ve been making that claim for awhile, in part to try to convince the business community that they need us and we have value to them. While they embrace the concept of “innovation”, and while we have made some progress in convincing them that creativity is linked to innovation, they still basically don’t buy the link (or at least don’t “see it”) between the arts and creativity. That makes me wonder if we should re-think that as a strategy. Perhaps it is coming close to having outlived its usefulness. I don’t know — I am only asking.

There was also discussion of the Richard Florida ‘creative matrix’ theory, and the consensus there was that it has now been so largely discredited and compromised that it may be of very limited use for us in the long haul. It isn’t that his thesis is wrong, it’s just that ascribing the existence of creative communities solely to the arts is a stretch. One tablemate hit it on the head when she opined that it is the “quality of place that attracts talent, and while the arts may play a role, Florida’s argument is really a human capital argument more than one focused on creativity.” Bill Cleveland changed our table debate when he posited that creativity is about condition and capacity — all kids are born creative. Still the direct link between that reality and what we know as the arts eludes us.

Breakout Session: Enabling Engagement: Launching Irvine’s New Strategy

This session — ostensibly to explain the James Irvine Foundation’s new arts grantmaking strategy — was perhaps the most important session of the conference. Not because of Irvine’s do-over of its strategy per se, but because of the fundamental questions it raises. Questions raised not in criticism, but in sussing out all the ramifications, implications and down the road impacts.

The session was jam packed with the “A” list of major foundation funders from across the country who had obviously come to see what one of the major forces in arts funding in America was thinking. The Irvine Foundation had invested well over a year and had enlisted some heavyweight consultant talent to help it formulate an updated strategy for its grantmaking. This wasn’t completely a wholesale makeover, for certain key elements of the Irvine strategy (e.g., its commitment to the Central Valley and the Inland Empire geographic territories, and its commitment to the priorities of addressing the needs of low income California residents and under or inadequately served ethnic diverse communities) remain in full force and effect. Rather it was more of a refinement. But as the devil is always in the details, refinement of the commitment is, in itself, of keen interest to others in the field because those refinements have major impact in the implementation.

The key element in the new Irvine approach — and that of others as well — is ‘engagement’. That term can mean many things on many levels. And while it has enormous appeal as indicative of our sector-wide goal to broaden and deepen the experience of people in the arts, and may be transformative in changing the patterns of our thinking, my fear is that it may too quickly become the buzzword of the month and thus end up marginalized and a cliché. The Irvine approach is to acknowledge demographic and technological change and embrace diversity that focuses on our ability to thrive together. I think I got that right — I hope so.

Several issues were raised in this session that I think are important. And while they were raised in the context of the Irvine presentation, they are by no means exclusive to Irvine. Quite the contrary, they are core to all foundations and funders, and I think the whole of the funding community is going to have to deal with each of them in the near term:

  1. The first issue is symbolized by the size of the Irvine Foundation and relates to those similarly situated (but it is by no means confined to large foundations). Irvine is a major force, not only in California, but in the entire national arts sector. It has for a decade or more bred some of the best leadership the arts have yet produced — from Cora Mirikitani to John McGuirk, and now to Josephine Ramirez. This is an important shop in our industry. Their programs and policies have an effect well beyond their grantees. Part of the reason Irvine is important is the size of the corpus of its endowment. The best analogy I can think of is the supertanker that comes out of the Oakland port headed under the Golden Gate Bridge out to sea. If that tanker wants to stop and make a course change it cannot do so in an instant — it may take it ten miles to come to a stop and then change course. Irvine, as an operation of some size, similarly takes an effort to change course. And when they do so, it’s a big deal. As we move increasingly — as a sector — to the demand that we become flexible and able to more quickly respond to changes with change within ourselves, the issue of our larger foundations (or any of our organizations) being able to somehow respond with nimbleness will be an issue. The velocity of change will likely necessitate that responses to that change can also be quick and adaptive. How we deal with the need for us to be able to quickly respond with changes in our approaches will be an issue for funders to address over the next few years. It is not inconceivable that we will need some version of rapid response mechanisms.
  2. A blog reader who is a recent Irvine grantee wrote me concerned that as Irvine continues its policy of requiring a budget threshold of at least $100,000 to qualify to apply for a grant, because her organization — having fallen on tough times and now under that threshold — will no longer qualify for Irvine support. I asked that question at this session, and Josephine Ramirez’s response was, I think, reasonable and rational. She said that because the Central Valley and the Inland Empire territories were, and remain, foundation priorities across programming, that — while the threshold remained in effect — they would on a case by case basis consider bending the rules to insure that the investment they had previously made in supporting local organizations would continue.

    The issue of having a threshold budget size or other base qualification criteria to even apply for a grant is common to most foundations — and perfectly reasonable and legitimate for a variety of good reasons (organizational stability, consistency, ability to carry out certain functions, etc., etc.). But as Irvine consultant Steven Tepper from the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy cautioned (in a video piece played at this session) “change comes from replacement of what you have been doing, not necessarily from refinement.”, and so all the same grantees who have previously been funded may not be the ones who can help the foundation reach its current goals and objectives. I think Tepper was suggesting that it may be time to change the criteria and take a closer look at funding a different cohort of organizations than might have been the norm — including smaller budget sized organizations, more ethnically diverse organizations, and groups more on the cutting edge — particularly if the articulated goals are to highlight, strengthen and sustain change as part of an expanded “engagement” of the public in the arts.

    And therein lies one of the major issues for the funding community for the future: to what extent should we re-assess the criteria we have for whom we will fund? To what extent is it finally time to consider whether or not we should re-direct at least some portion of our funding to a different cohort of arts organizations based on a wholly different set of criteria? To what extent should we move some of our funding from those groups we have traditionally funded, to those we have not heretofore funded to any meaningful extent (including smaller, ethnically diverse, cutting-edge, and younger-run organizations serving a different matrix)?

    I think its important to note that if we do make some wholesale changes in the criteria we employ, it will not be because we are motivated by some definition of equity — of what is the “right” thing to do — but rather whether or not the grants we make are to the organizations that can best facilitate the achievement of our stated goals. This will be, I think, one of the major issues for funders to deal with in the next five years. I think it probably deserves much more attention and depth of thought, including the opinions of greater minds than my own, but I don’t have more space right here. It will not be an easy decision for most boards to make, and will involve an upending of the current culture of thinking in those boardrooms.

  3. A question raised by Bill O’Brien, from the National Endowment for the Arts, in response to a presentation made by research guru Alan Brown (also a consultant to Irvine in the process of its strategy change) touched on another fundamental issue funders (and the whole arts field) will have to deal with and that is whether or not we are consciously moving away from ‘excellence’ as a fundamental criteria for what we fund, in favor of something arguably more difficult to get a handle on — and that is a healthy outcome and a process that favors healthy outcomes. In part the argument for that shift (sort of made by yesterday’s keynoter Marc Bamuthi Joseph) is that defining ‘excellence’ has been, at best, a fool’s errand — somewhat arrogant, and really in the final analysis impossible; nothing more than a subjective opinion. Of course, defining what process produces healthy outcomes, let alone what a healthy outcome is, will likely also be equally as problematic. But the issue of using ‘excellence’ as the dominant criteria for what gets funded may well be making an exit — and I suspect it will not go quietly or easily. That too is yet another major issue with which funders will grapple over the next few years.
  4. The final issue that cropped up in the session was pointed out by Maria Rosario Jackson (yet another Irvine consultant) in her video presentation of some of the new metrics she saw as important for Irvine to consider in the evaluation of its new strategy. Her thoughts on what kinds of questions we should all be asking ourselves to ascertain whether or not our grant decisions were moving us towards our stated priority goals were a real eye opener to me. She talked about a shift away from evaluation based on audience participation and consumerism, and focusing on making, doing and teaching. She posited that we need to think about gauging organizational evolution; about how organizations think about the concept of ‘place’ outside their four walls, about how well they are creating new connections to previously underserved groups. She asked whether or not we should ask: “who is connecting to whom, and how well?” These are new ways to think about measuring our success, and that is my fourth major issue for the future. How indeed are we going to measure success?

So, this was to me an exceptional session, because the presentations of some new thinking led to some very meaningful and profound questions as to where funding strategies ought to go. Congratulations to Irvine for developing a shift that may serve as a model — not necessarily of exactly where we will be going, but of something that itself will be evolving over time and which risks asking the very questions that will challenge us to keep up with the velocity of change. I think this was an important session.

I would hope to further involve these thinkers in more blog posts on the issues raised above, and on the other issues that I would suspect will come out of this dialogue.

Breakout session: Turning Museums Inside Out

This offsite session featured Lori Fogarty (Executive Director, Oakland Museum) and Jill Sterrett (director of conservation and collections, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). I went to this session precisely because it’s not the kind of session I usually attend. And I’m glad I did because it was a winner. It was a simple conversation between the above two leaders who it turns out have been friends for a long, long time, and so this exercise was hardly a stretch for them.

There is no shortage of issues for museums to deal with and many were raised in this discussion. I am including a brief sampling. But first here is startling statistic from a study the Oakland Museum did on how long the average person who came to the museum spent there in total time (irrespective of their demographic background, the size or nature of the current exhibit et. al)??

Answer: 20 minutes.

  1. A challenge to both these museums is to break down the walls between the front of the house and the back of the house as it were so as to give the public more of what it wants — which is an insider view about how the museum works — from its curating policies and practices to its trying to escape being a (self) silo structured organization with too many areas of expertise separated from each other.
  2. How do museums integrate the work of curators, designers, exhibition space experts etc. into a single approach when mounting new installations?
  3. How do museums participate in the burgeoning on-line publishing on-demand trend?

My question to them was: given that most museums have archives of works so deep that it is virtually certain the vast majority of them will never be exhibited (due to the limited wall space available in the average facility), and admitting that the archives had differing levels-of-quality pieces in their inventories, the discussion for the last five years or so has been how to use technology to increase access to that treasure trove. But, before that, the discussion centered around whether or not there were ways to exhibit that archive excess by loaning out the works and exhibiting them outside the bricks and mortar four walls of the museum itself — with, of course, the hoped-for added bonus of further branding the museum and serving as an advertisement for new audiences.

So my question was: is this second discussion still alive? The response was that that discussion was very much alive, but that the issues that have always made such outside exhibitions impossible — insurance rates, issues of exhibition climate control etc. — remain a prohibitive barrier.

If that answer means that that archived work will forever remain in some vault unseen by the public, then I don’t think that really answers the question. The question becomes what is the purpose of the art in the first place — to be seen, or to be preserved. It seems to my uneducated mind that artists create art to be seen, not to be preserved. Should the Sistine Chapel be forever sealed because the heat and oils from the bodies of the thousands of people who view the ceiling over time degrade the paint and restoration is necessary every few hundred years — resulting to some purists in a complete change in Michelangelo’s original artwork? What would he have wanted — and does that matter? I just think that issues of insurance and even safety of the integrity of the works themselves don’t a priori trump the public’s right to see them, and the value of that public access. How long shall they remain in those vaults? For an eternity? I know, I know — I am unfamiliar with the issues. But I think letting all that art across the planet sit in drawers in basements, never to see the light of day, makes no sense at all.

Don’t Quit.


Posted in Barry Hessenius | Leave a comment

Day One: The Times They Are A-Changin’. The Times They Are A-Changed.

So, how does one take a dozen pages of hastily typed notes covering approximately seven hours of a conference day, including plenary, panel presentations, and forum-type sessions?

Hell if I know. Let’s call it a blog in process.

I have to give everyone credit for how things kicked off. Right from the start, Janet Brown set a tone that was both welcoming and fun. And Janet went straight to GIA’s past president Vicky Benson who delivering a Coen Brothers inspired welcome message via video that kindly reminded everyone that this particular conference was off-limits to fundraising. Not just for those who were from the potential and obvious world of grantees, but consultants, and even funders pitching each other for project support. No deal, as the saying goes. And, fair enough.

Vicky hit the high note when she suggested that the food could be greatly improved by the addition of a nice green jello dish with bright red carrots and whipped cream. Straight out of Fargo. Nice, very nice touch. And lo and behold, a couple of hours later, that dish was presented to Vicky in the flesh, prepared by the hotel chef.

The opening plenary featured Marc Bamuthi Joseph, sporting one heck of a stingy brim fedora.

“I am a grantmaker, I give and receive, I sustain culture, I am an artist, I give and receive, I sustain culture.”

Getting quickly to a sweeping review of the history of the NEA, Marc got to his point, a good way to set the tone for the entire conference and underscore the theme: Embracing the Velocity of Change.

The point: art as product, commodity, and the ways in which the funding community has coalesced around this model needed to be refocused into art as process and art as community builder. Rather than a world of winners and losers, a culture of scarcity, Marc’s work and what he argues for is that it is “not enough to place art in community without community context…No amount of Facebook or flyering can substitute for genuine public proximity and investment.”

Marc explored “Critical adjancies.” Think about the strip mall, where a locus occurs around commerce. Think of art placed into a community, where the art brings together a broad array of people through the process of art making, expression, community, and democracy. It is a model for brining together arts, audience, organizations, artists, and more, all through artistic process, with potential to grow investment, audience, creative process, and seeks to lift all boats. It is an interdisciplinary, multi-organization, multi-sector model. A big umbrella vision of arts integrated and combined with health, environment, shared values, and all with a highly intentional design.

It was a fine example of the ways in which artists are seeking to explode existing models, recognizing the changing/changed world and the need to get ahead of the change. It also recognizes the ways in which the field hurts and hinders itself. Is it even a field…?

“…art happens anywhere and can happen for anyone…”
“…import performance aesthetics into non traditional public spaces…”

Takeaway: maybe partnership and community can have life breathed into it in a way that can reshape the world for the better.

Don’t be late to class. It’s funny, but there is something about moving from one session to the next—as you walk the halls from room-to-room—that reminds me of high school. By the time you leave a session that went a bit over time, you’ve got to get to the next session and as you walk the halls you see friends, but there isn’t enough time to talk, as you’ve got to get to that next session. Just like high school. Gotta beat that bell!

Next up: The Big Shift, The Velocity of Change in America’s Aging Society, hosted by the super great Rohit Burman, featuring  Tim Carpenter, founder and director, EngAGE; Marc Freedman, founder and CEO, Civic Ventures.

Big demo changes set the stage. Kids being born today will live to 100. The population above 65 is growing. The notions of age grouping, infancy, childhood, youth, middle age, retirement, etc., are really artificial and have been evolving over time. It is a spectrum and the opportunities for engagement in and with the arts are a vital issue in how the big middle (my term, ignore at will), meaning those who are not children in school nor seniors, make the creativity part of their lives. Here the arts are part of what can make for a vital life post core working years. Forget the idea of a golf swinging retirement. People will live longer, be more active, and seek to return to or discover creativity. Moreover, there are enormous opportunities to place artists into communities of those in this big middle (my term), to help provide tools for powerful creativity throughout life. There are opportunities to retrain artists to bring their arts to new audiences, in new ways, not just for young or mid-career artists, but for aging artists as well. What is even more, the real need to make retirement communities as well as assisted living better places resides in part, in bringing thoughtful, genuine arts to these worlds.

A final note: what we continue to learn, is that the making of art and growth in arts engagement is not solely for those whom we might have viewed as being in their prime years, or for youth in schools, but a core part of what is human and possible no matter the age. Think further: It is not as simple as life-long learning, which tends to be “edutainment.”

“Arts is something people do dust off when they are older. There is a natural unveiling of one self when you get older. It is just tapping population with skills and time and passion, and what if you applied that to society’s problems.”

“What are we doing about the middle years, between youth and old age? It is a giant opportunity to distribute opportunities for creativity through the life force/course.”

“There is something that older generations can teach that doesn’t get taught in curriculum…art of medicine…art…things that are not necessarily technical.”

Takeaway: Art is not owned by the artists nor the arts institutions, and a key to the vitality of arts in America is looking at how arts and creativity are stimulated, supported, and facilitated in the growing number of adults over the age of 50.

Great session!

On the the lunch plenary. After a “random act of art,” featuring double agent conference participants who were actually opera singers, we had the enormous pleasure of a presenation by Dr. Manuel Pastor on key shifts in racial and ethnic demographics.

What can I say? You don’t often associate a demographic presentation with entertainment. But Pastor was the perfect and surprising mix of funny, self-effacing, expert, serious, insightful, and inspirational. Yup, he was all that, an admirable combination the likes of which I have rarely experienced.

Big takeway: not only are we rapidly heading to be a minority-majority nation, but even the ways in which people view their own identity is very much in flux. Case in point: across the last few census (is that really the plural of census?), many Latinos identified themselves as “others.” No matter how the census was redesigned, this number continued to rise. Reason: rather than view themselves as Latino, the might view themselves as Chicano. Identity in flux.

In addition, we are seeing a leveling off of immigration, and in some cases a decline, no matter what the media and politicians tell us. Rather, we are seeing the growth in second and third generations of immigrants.

Interesting case in point, underscoring the nature of change and the need for information: take cities around LA such as Compton, which for many years was majority African American, and known as a hotbed for rap and hip hop. Today, the high school in Compton is majority Latino.

Some leaders like chess; others like jigsaw puzzles.

In chess, to win, only two colors, some pieces more powerful/important

Jigsaw, all pieces equal, no winners and losers, multi colored…

Next Up: Equity in Private Foundation Support for Arts and Culture, a salon session moderated by Bill Cleveland, featuring Holly Sidford.

This salon focused on the release of Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy, by Holly Sidford.

The Huff Po covered the release of the report: Arts Funding is Supporting a Wealthy, White Audience. How’s that for a conversation starter?

When philanthropy began in 19th century, it was about focused on elites and Western European preservation. Those early patterns persist, but today more and more artists and organizations today advancing principles of social justice, yet 55% of foundation support goes to less than 2% of cultural orgs (with budgets of $5 million and up.

Okay, despite the wonderful facilitation by Bill Cleveland, this session was a mess. It was a close to a philanthropic Tower of Babel as I’ve have heard in a long time. And, while presenters took great pains to be objective, forthright, and avoid throwing bombs, there is simply now way you can avoid a difficult conversation about “canonical organizations” versus the new world of arts, artists, and arts organizations. As much as there was a call to avoid the binary way of viewing things, this session was a pretty tough slog.

Only 10 percent of grants go to marginalized populations, less than 2 percent advance social justice goals. The larger the arts portfolio, the less a commitment to social justice. 84 percent of all the arts organizations have budgets under 500K.

Artists are also marginalized…well educated, but make less money, hold two and three jobs, and are out of work more regularly than the average American worker, although this is changing due to the economy.

In a nutshell, the theme here was philanthropy out of balance. Naturally, it’s a touch subject, leading to criticism and defense of symphony orchestras (one of those pesky canonicals), for example.

It was a good start to a complicated conversation, which might be best summed up by at least one two very thoughtful framing-type comments:

There are large conceptual questions: how private should private foundation money be? What is the democratic responsibility of a private foundation? This will not be settled quickly…we need to spend more time reinvigorating a discourse that is a lot more vigorous than we have now. Trustees and staff hiding behind..we must reinvigorate a critical discourse that creates new meanings that matches new realities…

Conversation around mission has been around tools, but mission should be more broad…say to pursue happiness…and to see what comes…what would that then become…to find new new tools…and a different way of looking at systems.

Okay, last but not least, and my apologies for the long entry, but hey, it was seven hours of conference sessions.

My final session for the day was Building Advocacy Networks, organized by Sofia Klatzker, senior manager, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, with Joe Landon, executive director, California Alliance for Arts Education.

I won’t give you too much of a run down of this session. Let me simply say that the work of these two organizations, in advocacy for arts education, including policy, organizing, media relations, and more, is the most thoughtful, pioneering, and impressive work in this arena that you will find anywhere.

If you want to understand how and what this work is all about. Learn more about both of these wonderful organizations.

The Times The Are A-Changin’. Hey dude, they’re not just changing… they’ve changed. We better embrace it.


Posted in Richard Kessler | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day 1 Report

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on………………………..”

GIA in San Francisco, Monday: Day 1

As I live in Marin just across the bay from San Francisco, I got up early and in very San Francisco style made my way over to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill via first the Larkspur Ferry and then, on arrival, hopped onto the California Street Cable Car and very easily and quickly (and I might add comfortably) arrived at the hotel in time to work the lobby a bit and then file into the breakfast plenary session.

First news: The conference is sold out and this is officially the biggest turnout for a GIA conference in its history. Probably partly because its in San Francisco – which has an enormous appeal to people, and because so many California based arts people come to conferences IN the state, but very likely mostly due to the fact that Janet and Tommer and the GIA people are enjoying incredible success in their hard work to re-invent and re-brand the organization for the new century as dynamic and relevant. Kudos and congratulations to them.

Note: The Velocity of Change theme of the conference is further broken down into three primary areas of expansion: 1) Equity and Social Justice – from funding to program focus; 2) Changing Technology; and 3) Changing Demographics. As Janet put it in her opening: We’re trying to get some sense of the space between what we “know of the past and fear of the future”.

Opening Keynoter / Performance

Mark Bamuthi Joseph – a very articulate and poised young voice in performance, arts education and artistic curation. He is an artist, a performer, and a lecturer in the arts – spoke of the role of philanthropists in the sustainability of creativity in America. His essential point was that ‘art’ must be more than an ‘object’ or an ‘outcome’, but also a “process and opportunity” for the development of real communities – and so philanthropy ought too to be more than about funding ‘objects’ or ‘outcomes’ but about ‘process’. His point was that the inter-relationship of the arts within a community is the “hidden metric” of the health of that community, and that funding for just art outcomes or finished art objects is too much an ‘egosystem’, and too little of an ecosystem.

To buy into his conclusion you have to accept the proposition that art needs to be more than its finished product, and while he made a cogent and convincing case, I think the conclusion remains open. While I would certainly agree with the premise that art can certainly be about (and perhaps even the notion that ideally it “should” be about) its relationship to wider community, I’m not certain I can subscribe to the argument that it absolutely has to be about community. Art is art and defining it is personal and – when trying to define it for others – a risky enterprise. Still I found him to be compelling, passionate, very smart, and his comment on the velocity of change, that “at best all you can do is anticipate its direction” to be spot on.

The Breakout Sessions

Note: With dozens of sessions being offered in different time slots over the course of a day, picking which ones to attend is a bit like Russian Roulette in that you don’t know up front which ones are likely to be great and which ones not as satisfying as the written description led you to hope. Often times there are several that are excellent – but all scheduled at the same time and you cannot be at all of them.

Session on Arts Journalism – Five Action Plans for the Future of Arts Journalism

This turned out to be my favorite session of the day – a home run.

Joan Shigekawa, Senior Deputy Chairman of the NEA recounted the Endowment’s review of their Arts Journalism Institutes program in association with Columbia, Duke and USC – a program which recruited new and current reporters and provided training in the arts coverage – the goal of which has been to try to improve the quality (and I would suppose the ‘quantity’ too) of Arts journalism.

Joan noted that there are five designated areas of arts journalism the program recognized:

  1. Simple Factual coverage – e.g., coverage of the scheduled dates, times and places of performances.
  2. Casual coverage of artists, gallery openings, comings and goings, etc.
  3. Arts News – including investigative reporting – e.g., the New York City Opera funding crisis.
  4. Criticism – reviews and the like.
  5. Academic and scholarly treatises on the arts or some facet thereof.

In the case of factual coverage, social networking and the internet itself have allowed organizations to do that for themselves. The same is largely true for the casual coverage as well. And they found that academic and scholarly coverage was soaring and on the rise. Thus, the agency came to the conclusion that the real problems were with numbers 3 and 4 above; that is where the quantity and quality of the coverage was lacking and its absence most felt.

So the Endowment (represented by Bill O’Brien – Senior Advisor / Program Innovation at the NEA) sought a partnership with Dennis Scholl at the Knight Foundation to address that challenge, and the resultant program was a contest as it were inviting participation in bold, new brainstorming sessions in the eight Knight centered cities across the country leading to submission of ideas for funding. Knight’s own research had shown that journalism schools were training students for “jobs that weren’t going to be there” and so they were quick to support a search for the best, big ideas for the future of arts journalism.

After hundreds of submissions, the quality of which were impressive, they settled on Five Ideas and – working with the local arts agency in each territory as the fiscal sponsor – awarded each $20,000 to bring the ideas to working plans, and based on those plans there will be another $80,000 available to each to implement the ideas. Here are those ideas:

1. Charlotte North Carolina: “Arts News Alliance” – a collaboration between media outlets (including the daily newspaper The Charlotte Observer and the local NBC Affiliate) and the University of Charlotte to recruit and train a collective of citizen arts journalists – from high school students to adults – who will then be invited to publish (and be paid) across media platforms. The Charlotte Observer has already committed to a two page weekly spread (“Arts Alive”).

2. Detroit Michigan: (This one is my favorite). The interactive “ iCritic” – a mobile prototype video booth where audience members can record their video reviews of cultural events. Those reviews will be posted on local websites and shared on social media channels. Attending the performances of both established and emerging groups, iCritic Detroit will crisscross the city and weave together diverse geographic and ethnographic communities, creating a video tapestry of the city’s cultural life. iCritic Detroit also will provide a much-needed platform for residents to talk about the vibrant art scene growing in their city, provide an App. for residents to track the location of the booth, follow popular “reviewers” over time, and integrate social media with the postings. The project managers envision being “hyper local” in their focus and want to get the smaller arts stories told as well as the major ones.

3. Miami, Florida: ArtSpotMiami will be an online arts journalism marketplace where citizen journalists pitch news stories about the local arts scene to the public and the public pays for the ideas they like to be produced. ArtSpotMiami will use the software created by the Knight-funded site – a crowd-funded news site (ala Kickstarter) for citizens, professional journalists, and news publishers – to create the site’s platform.
Once the financial goal for a story idea is reached, the citizen journalist will team up with local news organizations such as WLRN and The Miami Herald to produce the story. Academic institutions including the University of Miami’s Motion Picture Program at the School of Communication and mentoring programs such as those provided by Creative ED., will provide digital media training to the new journalists. In addition to media training, the citizen journalist will be paired with a member of the media to learn how to produce for major market audiences.

4. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Combining Forces to Increase Cultural Coverage. Drexel University faculty, students and other contributors from the university’s respected online arts and culture journals will produce stories for the Philadelphia Daily News. The paper has agreed to expand its pages to accommodate the additional coverage. will also use the material. This project envisions training for quality journalism contributors wherein writing, style and content are all held to the highest journalistic standards. The envision that they will be training future arts journalists.

5. San Jose, California: The Silicon Valley Arts Technica is a three-part endeavor lead by The Bay Citizen that features a mapping component that visually highlights arts events, a mobile app that will allow people to add reviews, images, and comments, and a series of investigative reports probing the divide in arts funding between San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

The mapping initiative will aim to address one of the biggest challenges facing the arts in Silicon Valley/ San Jose: the lack of a flourishing culture district. The Bay Citizen will work with Civic Center to develop maps that by highlighting arts events and venues throughout the city will indicate what areas have potential as arts hubs. In conjunction with mapping existing cultural assets, Civic Center will solicit feedback from San Jose residents about what kinds of art projects and venues they’d like to see in their region.

Runner up ideas included a Yelp for the Arts site; and use of a Comic Book for coverage of the arts (which prompted me to think that somebody must have an animation idea out there that would work). This NEA / Knight Foundation was a very cool project.

The Plenary Lunch Keynote

Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Geography and American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, spoke on demographic trends and transitions – particularly the black, white, Latinor and Asian / Pacific Islander changes in the demographic composition of California and the United States.

Here is some data to consider:

  • From 2000 to 2010, there was a 43% growth in Latinos; an 11% growth in Blacks and a1% growth in whites.
  • In the cohort group of those under 18 years of age – almost all the growth was in the Latino community.
  • Surprisingly (to many) is the relative stability of immigration – one explanation being that the fertility rate in Mexico has declined, and the economy has improved leading to fewer immigrants from Mexico to the US.
  • By 2042, the US will be a minority nation (with no ethnic group being a majority of the population).
  • The immigrant gap is increasingly suburban centered as more immigrants locate in the suburbs than in the urban areas.
  • The median age of whites in America is 41 years. The median age of Latinos is 27 years.

As the ethnic populations have grown and the white population growth has declined, it would have been very interesting if there had been corresponding charts over the same periods of time showing how much the grants to the various ethnic communities had grown, declined or stayed the same. While the ethnic demographic data is interesting and has ramifications for what we do, I think the comparison of that data to the patterns of what we fund would be very telling.

Session on Support for Artists and Small Arts Organizations

The James Irvine Foundation had a program from 2004 to 2009 that aggregated nine community foundation partners to leverage matching grant funds to small arts organizations and individual artists which grew that support by $44 million in new money. 90 new donors were recruited from community foundation donor directed funds the resulted in a 28% growth in donor advised giving (and resulted in existing donors giving more) – all during the height of the recession and economic downturn.

The experience of the East Bay and San Francisco Foundations was representative of the whole program. Their goal was to put more money in the pockets of artists by encouraging arts organizations to seek funds to match grants to them by the project. The amount of the grant to be matched varied but was relatively small (+/- $2500 to $5000 or so). Each organization participant had 90 days to get the match. Key to the success of the project was providing ‘coaching’ in how to make those “asks” and in working with those organizations so they became more comfortable in making the ask in the first place and in making them better at making the ask. The program was later expanded so that individual artists could apply directly with a 4 month period to make the match.

In the aggregate the project had these positive results:

  • $700,000 raised in matching funds.
  • 159 projects commissioned.
  • 249 artists supported.
  • 4600 individual donors participated
  • donations ranged from $2 to $10,000.
  • the median gift was $100. The average gift was $233.

One participant grantee was Shotgun Players – a small theater company which grew its operating budget during its participation in the project from $550,000 to $850,000 from 2004 to 2011. They learned how to ask more of their donor base, move that base to higher donations and expand the size of the base itself.

Laura Zucker of the Los Angeles Arts Commission unabashedly appropriated the idea (and she argues we don’t really “steal” from each other nearly often enough – I love that). She pointed out that individual donors to nonprofit organizations in general far exceed the amount individuals proportionately donate to arts organizations. While the Irvine Foundation provided the initial grant money to be matched in the case above, that option wasn’t open to Laura, nor was the option to appropriate money from her general grants fund, so she applied for and got an NEA grant for $60,000 and got that grant matched locally to yield a final pool of $120,000. She lengthened the period of time to make the match for applicants under her program to four months, provided coaching and technical assistance to grantees and focused on changing the ‘culture’ of organizations in fundraising – and in particular the latent “fear of asking for money” so rampant with arts organizations (requiring applicant staffs and boards to participate in learning sessions). The program is half way thru the four month match period.


My overall impression of this first (long day) was that despite the bad news of the last year – all the cuts to state arts agencies, all the organizations struggling to stay alive, all the money that is no longer available, the drop in audience attendance, the competition for ever scarce individual donations – there is ample evidence of just how resilient the arts sector is, and there are a lot of success stories too. Take the above Irving program. Jonathan Katz relayed that while several state agencies were threatened with elimination, and while the overall funding to state arts agencies has dropped over the decade precipitously from $460 million to $268 million – nonetheless 14 state agencies saw increases in their budgets for next year. There was a certain positive energy in the room today, and one comes away cautiously optimistic that there is earnest work going on to try to make things better. New ideas are being sought, risks are being taken, and collaboration at a new level is the new norm.

Hope remains alive in the arts then.

Don’t Quit.


Posted in Barry Hessenius | 3 Comments

Does Mass Change with Velocity? 5:00 in the morning before the Conference

It’s Columbus Day morning in San Francisco. A great city to visit is what I always think upon arrival and when departing for home.

So, it’s 5:00 in the morning, and since I am on eastern time, I thought, what the heck, I might as well post something, perhaps some preliminary thoughts on the 2011 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference. This year’s conference theme is “Embracing The Velocity of Change.” To be honest, I’ve never paid a ton of attention to any conference theme. Every conference has one these days, but how much one thinks about the theme is a good question. But since the conference hasn’t really started yet – don’t worry, it will in about two or so hours – it’s worth thinking a bit about this particular theme and what it says about how this community is viewing the world in which it lives.

Can any of us remember a time where so many things were changing all at the same time? I am not so sure it’s the velocity of change that I find most remarkable, but rather the sheer mass of what’s been tossed up into the air, all while we wait for it to fall to the ground so we can begin to understand what it all really means. That’s right, it feels to me like we’re trying to understand things while they are still up in the air. Think about it: the economy, the politics, the technology, the Arab Spring, nations on the verge of default, at least one decade long war, and more. It’s a time where business models are challenged, relevancy is called into greater question than ever before, the charitable contribution is scrutinized, and issues of equity rise no matter who you define the term or to which particular context you place it. You have a Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. You have those calling for an expansion of K-12 curriculum while creating and implementing policies that accelerate the narrowing.

It’s quite the crazy kaleidoscope. And, it never really stops turning or churning.

So, there’s your backdrop to this brand of yearly national convening of Grantmakers in the Arts. What are folks feeling? What’s coming up in the plenaries, presentations, salon sessions, and while people sidle up to the bar?

Those are the things I hope to be able to share with you as a conference blogger. Of course, as just about every blogger in this situation will tell you, you can’t be at every session, and even if you could, you’ve got to see the forest for the trees. Wish me luck.

Back at you later in the day, this Day One at GIA, and all the days until it’s over.

Click here for a bit of physics: Does Mass Change with Velocity?

Posted in Richard Kessler | Leave a comment

GIA in San Francisco

Good afternoon.

And the beat goes on…………………………..”

Grantmakers in the Arts Conference – Embracing the Velocity of Change:

I had a great time at GIA’s Chicago gathering last year, and I have been waiting in eager anticipation for this conference all year. Having been a major funder at one point in California when I was at the helm of the California Arts Council, and having had the pleasure to know and work with a lot of arts program officers at foundations of all sizes and stripes over a decade or more now – AND as this conference is in my own back yard – it is been on my radar screen as something I have been looking forward to covering.

So Welcome to San Francisco to all the delegates from around the country. The weather promises to be pretty good this week, and there are lots of things going on. Monday is Columbus Day, Fleet Week ends Tuesday and the Blue Angels Navy pilots performed yesterday and might again. Looking at the schedule, the conference organizers recognize that people want to get out and see the city (and don’t want to spend three solid days in windowless conference rooms), and there are off site sessions, dine around hosted dinners in every section of the city from Chinatown and the Mission to the Wharf to the Castro’s gay ghetto, and a dinner at the fantastic Oakland Museum across the bay. Downtown is northern California’s Museum corridor, theater is alive and well throughout the Bay Area, and art abounds in every neighborhood in the City. I hope some of you can stay over – the extraordinary Napa Valley Vineyards are an hour and half away, Carmel, the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur two hours away, Stanford’s and Berkeley’s beautiful campuses close by, Sausalito and Tiburon waterfronts a quick ferry ride and more restaurants and shops than you could possibly seek out in a month.

As revenue from public funding sources gets harder to come by, as audiences trend downward, as the arts struggle to gain market share of all philanthropic dollars, and as the economy refuses to track better, the arts funding community becomes increasingly more important in terms of allocation of the remaining scarce resources, and because of that reality, those decisions have greater policy impact for the future of the sector. Today there were Pre-Conferences in SF and down in San Jose. This IS San Francisco, and so the choice of Preconference themes are, not surprisingly – Social Justice and Technology – two threads in which the Velocity of Change (the conference title) is unquestionably at warp speed. It may be enough to try to get a handle on that change, even if impossible to fully embrace.

I will be blogging on this conference for the next three days (posted here and cross-posted on my blog site and I hope to hit the highlights of the plenary sessions, attend and report on several of the key presentations and salon discussions (alas, one can’t attend but a taste of what is scheduled), and try to relay some of the dialogue going on about a host of issues, as well as some of the trends in thinking, picked up in conversations around the hotel – both public and private.

One of the most important developments – to my mind anyway – in the arts funder community in the last couple of years is that velocity of change as applied to foundations’ increasing willingness to both work in collaboration with each other on mutual goals that benefit the entire ‘sector’ (if only in a given area sometimes), and the willingness of those collaborations to intersect and interact more directly with the grantees at all stages of the process – pre-application to post grant reporting. There has been a trend towards that kind of connection that even five years ago was far less frequent and apparent. To be sure, this kind of thinking is new to many foundation boards of directors and, as such, a kind of paradigm shift in the culture of thinking as to the role of philanthropy in the arts. Moreover, the direct relationship of foundations and public funders in some of the earliest of these approaches to cooperation and collaboration is new to everyone, and still embryonic in what it might become. We talk frequently about thinking outside the box, about taking risks, about facilitating collaboration – and I think that that advice is being heeded by this subsector of our community. That kind of thinking is going on, risks are being discussed, and real collaboration is on every one’s agenda. Remember, the funding community has been, by its legacy and nature, relatively conservative and even somewhat risk and innovation averse. That seems to be changing. I will be on the lookout this week to try to get some sense of the velocity of that change.

That is, I think, exciting and portends a range of possible positive outcomes as the field itself continues to contend with dire and draconian circumstances that have changed dramatically the landscape of arts provision in America over the past half decade. So it will be interesting to try to suss out what the thinking is among the arts funders as to where things are going, what the biggest issues are, where there might be solutions and where the obstacles seem even more daunting.

Don’t Quit.


Posted in Barry Hessenius | Leave a comment

Meet the bloggers: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer is the Executive Director of the Queens Council on the Arts. As a lifelong Queens resident, she is a firm believer in the power of the arts to mobilize and transform community. She is a blogger who writes style notes for people who change the world at and works with social media and web properties to create investable spaces for nonprofits. She is the author and illustrator of Rabbit Mooncakes, a multicultural picture book for children published by Little, Brown & Company. Her second book, Little Ghost Dumplings is in development. Hoong Yee is a graduate of Oberlin College, attended the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria and received a Masters of Music in Piano Performance from the Manhattan School of Music.

Posted in Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer | Leave a comment

Meet the bloggers: Richard Kessler

Richard KesslerRichard is currently the Dean of Mannes College The New School of Music. Previously, he served as executive director of the Center for Arts Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting arts education as an essential part of K–12 education in the New York City public schools. His accomplishments as CAE’s director included securing two multi-million-dollar federal grants to build art and music programs in middle schools that previously offered no arts education. He has served as executive director of the American Music Center and was vice president of Artsvision, an arts education consulting company.

Earlier in his career, Richard was a Naumburg Award-winning chamber musician. He commissioned and premiered work by prominent composers such as Arvo Pärt, Ned Rorem, Aaron Kernis, and Elliott Goldenthal. During this period, he was also active as a teacher, conducting residencies, master classes, workshops, and arts education programs for organizations such as Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and Juilliard. Richard was a faculty member of the Manhattan School of Music from 1988 to 1993. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from The Juilliard School.

Posted in Richard Kessler | Leave a comment

Meet the bloggers: Barry Hessenius

Barry HesseniusFormer Director California Arts Council, President California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, and Executive Director of LINES Ballet. Author, consultant, blogger and public speaker. Barry published his work Hardball Lobbying for Nonprofits in 2007 (Macmillan & Company, New York). He conducted a two phase study with reports released in 2007 and 2009 for the Hewlett Foundation on the issue of generational management & succession in the arts. He authored several other studies including the California Arts Advocacy Handbook, the Local Arts Agency Funding Study for the Aspen Institute and the City Arts Agency Tool Kit. He is author of the most widely read blog in the nonprofit arts field – BARRY’S BLOG

A founding member and Vice-Chair of California Arts Advocates and the United Statewide Community Arts Association, he was also been a board member of the National Association of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), the California Alliance for Arts Educators (CAAE), California CultureNet, the California State Summer School for the Arts, the California Travel Industry Association (CalTIA), and a member of the State Superintendent’s Task Force on Arts Education. Barry is currently on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Architectural Foundation.

Read a full bio here.

Posted in Barry Hessenius | Leave a comment

Welcome to GIA 2011 Conference Blog!

GIA is pleased to have three influential bloggers covering the 2011 conference. Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer is executive director of the Queens Council on the Arts and blogs at Barry Hessenius is a writer, consultant and author of Barry’s Blog, News, Advice and Opinion for the Arts Administrator. Richard Kessler is dean of Mannes College The New School of Music and blogs at Arts Journal’s Dewey 21C.

Posted in Welcome | Leave a comment