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Resources From Unexpected Places-Federal Reserve Banks

Okay, I know this week I posted a piece that continued my long standing assertion that talking about the economic impact of the arts is not an effective way to garner long term support and investment around arts and cultural activities.

However, while it shouldn’t be the central argument for support, I don’t discount the value of using economic impact as corroborating data.

In that vein, I have recently been wondering if it might not be useful for the arts community to forge closer ties with the various regional Federal Reserve Banks. I have seen some publications coming from them that are valuable to non-profits and make a case for the place cultural organizations have in community development.

Last December, I used a well-written guide on managing Non-Profit Executive succession and transitions produced by the Kansas City Federal Reserve in a post I wrote for ArtsHacker.

Since then I have seen two pieces in a four part series written by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland on the importance of cultural organizations in Eastern Kentucky’s transition away coal mining. The first focuses on creative placemaking and the second specifically spotlights the work of Appalshop in Whitesburg, KY.

I am not sure how many may read the articles, but the people and businesses who closely watch the activity of the Federal Reserves are not without influence. Section headers like “The economic impact of creative placemaking;” “A Case for investment: two examples;” “Making Dollars and Sense” can resonate with the interests and concerns of these groups.

It might be worth having state and regional arts councils reach out to make contacts with the respective Reserve Banks in the different regions to explore whether the councils can provide data and stories that might be of interest to the readers of the Federal Reserve publications.

Having the Federal Reserve’s research as an additional source to corroborate statements and statistics about economic impact can help bolster non-profit organization goals.

In return, the Federal Reserve banks may be able to produce publications like the non-profit leadership succession guide that are useful to non-profits. Having issues of finance, taxation, labor law, business relations, etc tailored to the national needs of non-profits could be helpful.

If the Federal Reserve produced case studies about beneficial collaborations between businesses and non-profit organizations, the gravitas they bring could cause groups to consider exploring similar efforts.

Maybe they already produce documents like this and we are just not widely aware of it. It actually took me some time to find the third installment in the series on Eastern KY on the Cleveland Fed website. Had I not had the URL of Part 2 as a guide, I may not have found it.

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You Too Can Help Build Public Will For Arts And Culture

Long time readers will know that for the last year or so I have been a bit of an evangelist for the burgeoning effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture.

What impresses me about the effort is that it learns from the successes and mistakes of past efforts. For example, they study how the a long standing concern about smoking didn’t gain much traction until the argument was reframed around the idea that one had a right to protect one’s health from second hand smoke.

Nor is the effort afraid to cede short term satisfaction in order to meet the long term goals. First rule of building public will for art and culture is you don’t talk about art and culture. (Because the term currently has negative connotations for people.)

The effort has moved to the next step with the creation of the Creating Connections website. The site has a summary of the research to date. There are tools for getting involved, including messaging, how engage with groups so they feel like they have a stake in the outcome and questions to ask oneself about the experiences you are providing to the community.

What I was surprised to see was the inclusion of talking points about the Building Public Will effort that accompanied a Powerpoint presentation on the subject.

Basically, anyone can go out and start talking to groups about this effort tomorrow if they wanted to. I feel like that is putting a lot of trust in people not to screw it up. But that also fits into the underlying philosophy about this being a grassroots effort about active participation in the arts and culture.

So if anyone wants me to come talk to their group, let me know. I am ready! More importantly, now you have the tools to deliver the talk yourself. (Though obviously a famous blogger such as myself would have WAY more gravitas!)

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Data Is Nice, Stories Are Better

It is pretty much an accepted truth that if you want to secure funding for the arts from a government entity or foundation, you need to marshal a lot of data to prove you are having an impact, especially an economic impact.

However, in a recent interview Kresge Foundation President & CEO Rip Rapson seems to indicate that story rather than data may be more important in influencing decisions and policy.

Rapson speaks about a conversation he had with former NEA Chair Rocco Landesman about the ArtPlace initiative. (my emphasis)

And I said, well, I agree with that, but how about the data, and how about the quantitative elements of all of this? Isn’t that what will tip the scales?

And he just laughed. He wore these big cowboy boots, and he stood up, and he pounded the floor, and he said, you know what? I walk into every congressional office in the United States House of Representatives, and not one asks me about the data. They all want to know a story about what happened in one of their neighborhoods, one of their communities, one of their cities.

He doesn’t say that data isn’t important. My suspicion is that politicians especially like to have data to corroborate their decisions if anyone questions them. Rapson says one of the goals of ArtPlace is to help discover:

“Is there something between the highly rigorous, systematized generation of data about how many dollars per square inch an arts activity generates and all of these millions of points of light? When are the data important? When are the stories important? How do you aggregate the stories?”

A little later he gives an anecdote that illustrates how people overlook the arts in their lives and just how invested they are in their practice. He speaks of a very conservative wardperson in Minneapolis who thought the arts were a waste of time. (my emphasis)

“He actually hauled me in front of the city council committee to explain why in heaven’s name we would accept a grant like this.

So, I said, well, Walter, could we have the very first conversation in your ward, and he kind of grumbled and said all right, all right. So, we had it. It was at his Ukrainian church where he went every Sunday. We were able to identify the woman who sewed the vestments, the man who had done the mural painting on the altar, the three women, who every year created the Ukrainian Easter eggs. We got the choir director. You get the drift.

And Dziedzic walked in and saw these13 people in his congregation, and I said something to the effect of “I want to introduce you to your arts and cultural community, Walter.” And they all talked about how art became central to the way this Ukrainian church practiced, and of course he was toast; he became the biggest single advocate of how arts and culture sort of shaped community life. Now, I could have brought him all sorts of data, I suppose, but, having him sit with 13 or 14 of his congregation members talking about Ukrainian eggs and choral concerts, was really quite wonderful.

So in trying to convince people of the value of the arts in their lives, it may take focusing on impacts on a very granular level. Not just things that happen in the district or town that they identify with, but how it manifests directly in places they are deeply invested and care about.

A program that served 1000 school kids may not be as important as the joy it brought a single kid.

While the implications of that single sentence could lead to a whole debate about influence, wealth disparities, urban vs rural funding, etc., remember that not all the hearts and minds you need to influence are politicians, funding organizations and individual donors. Just shifting the general perception for a greater number of people in a community can be a victory.

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Are You A Cultural Omnivore If You Take Very Careful Bites?

Here is an interesting insight from Stanford University Graduate School of Business (h/t Marginal Revolution blog). According to some latest research, cultural omnivores may be as rigid in their thinking as those they disdain as monoculturalists. (Though I guess they don’t use that term.)

That is, those dubbed “cultural omnivores” — because they eat Thai for lunch, play bocce ball after work, and stream a French film that night — are the very ones opposed to mixing it up. No hummus on their hot dogs, forget about spaghetti Westerns, and do not mention Switched-On Bach. Those offerings are not considered culturally authentic. They are a hodgepodge to which these folks would likely wrinkle their collective noses — as they did in 1968 when Wendy (nee’ Walter) Carlos electrified J.S. Bach. Today’s cultural elites approve only if the experience is authentic, which means eating pigs’ feet at a Texas barbecue passes the test and slathering a taco with tahini does not.


Today, a higher status accrues to those who are perceived as open to new experiences, and those who oppose experimentation are dismissed as narrow-minded monoculturists, or worse, rednecks, Goldberg notes. Therefore, the elites resist anything that undermines their identities as social and cultural leaders, and that means they are more likely to maintain boundaries.

So I guess the way to read that is that today’s snobs are just snobby about a wider range of things?

While there are probably boundaries that cultural omnivores maintain, I suspect it isn’t as simple an example of hummus on hot dogs. My guess is that Korean Taco food trucks are acceptable to a wide range of cultural omnivores even though on paper the concept is as strange as hummus on hot dogs.

The article does suggest that there is a small segment of people who are open to change so perhaps they normalize things like food trucks for the wide range of omnivores.

If this research is accurate, the larger question this raises for me is what constitutes an “authentic experience” for cultural omnivores? Recent research cites finding that people want to have an authentic creative/artistic experience.

In the context of the Stanford piece, I become a little more concerned that perception of what an authentic experience is may not match the reality of an authentic experience. (And not only in respect to silly manifestations of preconceived notions of authenticity.)

When a performing arts group presents a chamber music concert in an edgy, new, boundary breaking format, do the musicians need to be conservatory trained or will the music ensemble from the local community college be acceptable?

If you say the former, why does an unorthodox approach require such a high level of training in order to be deemed acceptable? If the effort fails (succeeds), will you be more satisfied with the experience knowing the performers were highly trained?

I do think it is important that people who invest time and study to render an authentic experience of a certain genre or culture be in a position to delineate themselves from people providing a superficial representation of those things and labeling it authentic. Though the discussion of who gets to call themselves authentic practitioners is an entirely different can of worms, especially in regard to cultural and ethnic practice.

But as I am reading the Stanford article, it almost sounds as if it could be just as problematic trying to provide an acceptable authentic experience to people who describe themselves as cultural omnivores as it is to those who consider themselves to be purists of a certain genre of artistic expression.

New audiences may feel the experience is just as elitist when they overhear others expressing disdain for a show they liked as they would when people glared at them for clapping between movements of a musical work.

The Stanford article says Big Data will provide needed guidance, but I am not sure how many arts organizations will have the resources to access and interpret the data effectively. (I would happily be wrong if in 5 years there was an app for that.)

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