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Tag Archives | National Endowment for the Arts

In Which I Have A Belated Realization

The lovely people at my state arts foundation sent me some information about National Endowment programs today that I thought I would share. The first is that there will be a webinar for the Challenge America FastTrack program on April 18. If you are thinking of applying and have questions, sign up!

The second thing I got was a PDF of the Our Town application guidelines webinar. I was interested to see that the program encompassed more than I originally assumed. The focus is on Creative Placemaking which means they are looking to improve quality of life, encourage creativity, support artists and engender a sense of community.

I had assumed they would support arts in public places, creation of arts districts and cultural facilities. I know some projects have included artist housing. I was pleased to learn that they would also support creative entrepreneurship, the development of creative hubs, design of public places and wayfinding systems. I hadn’t realized they were interested in cultivating an entire infrastructure. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me given the NEA is a partner in ArtPlace. There seems to be a desire to re-purpose existing spaces rather than new construction.

As you might imagine, they won’t support anything that doesn’t have arts and culture–and their practitioners–as central elements. At the same time, they also require local government at the city or county level as a partner to the non-profit. A government entity can only submit one proposal, which they define as:

“Eligible local government partners include counties, parishes, cities, towns, villages, federally recognized tribal governments, local arts agencies, local education agencies (school districts), or local government-run community college.”

Soooo….. as I got to finishing this entry, I realized that the deadline for this grant was March 1. I suspect the folks at my state arts organization didn’t realize this either when they sent the information out with a “please share” request. The Our Town link from the NEA home page isn’t working so it wasn’t immediately apparent the deadline had passed. I did find the application information page through other means.

If nothing else, it is a good resource for planning for the next cycle. (Which they indicate there will be.) This year the application window was December 1 to March 1. Unless you already had something in the works with your local government, it would have been a real crunch to get an application together. Let’s face it, few people are really going to be working on a grant application during the Christmas holidays.

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Big Data May Be En Vogue, Little Data Still Has Plenty To Offer

Apropos of my post yesterday about using big data to customize information to the interests of individuals in your community, I happened to come across an interview with Jamie Bennett who is chief of staff at the National Endowment for the Arts. (Or maybe it wasn’t coincidence and Big Data Big Brother conspired to bring it to my attention based on yesterday’s post!!!)

The interview is on a website without permalinks to its content so you may have to scroll down to February 27, 2012 or search for Jamie Bennett to find it.

One thing I realized upon reading Bennett’s interview is that I may not have been clear it is already possible to offer sophisticated interactions with patrons without access to Big Data. I had forgotten that Nicholas Hynter has the membership staff at the National Theatre in London email patrons and suggest that based on what the theatre has observed about them, the patron may want to skip the next show. Obviously, you need to have the staffing and resources to do this sort of thing, but it is certainly within reach.

Another emerging option is sites like Culture Craver, the site upon which Bennett’s interview appears. Only available in NYC at the moment and still in beta stages, Culture Craver, aims to do for arts and culture what Pandora does for music and suggest events that you might like based on comparing your history and stated preferences with those of others with similar tastes.

While the interview would naturally be oriented toward the types of situations in which services like Culture Craver might be useful, I have to admit to being surprised by an anecdote Bennett related about how self-segregating audiences can be. He mentioned that RoseLee Goldberg who runs the visual and performance art oriented Performa festival often features the same artists who appear at the theatre oriented Under the Radar festival.

(text broken into two blocks for reading ease)

She was asked to speak at the Public Theater about some of the artists that she had presented who were also Public Theater folks, and she did a poll of the audience, and said, “Who here is a visual arts person?” And there was nobody. And if you asked that same question about those artists at a Performa audience, it would be all visual arts people and there wouldn’t be any theater people. They’re consuming the same thing, and yet the audiences don’t cross-pollinate….

I’ve begun asking myself, “Why have we drawn that circle? Does it have meaning? Is there something that the arts all have in common with each other? Is painting part of the same cohort as theater? Is dance the same cohort as music?” I believe it is. I’m still working it out in my mind — to have a well-spoken philosophical rationale for this, but I believe it is something. I think creating a real community within that, and not saying, I’m a contemporary dance company and I have nothing to do with classical dance, let alone a museum, I think harms us, and if we saw ourselves as a larger community and worked together that way, I think we’d all benefit tremendously from it. So, figuring out a way to conceive of ourselves as a sector and operate as a sector and realize that more is more. If somebody comes to see something at another theater, that’s ultimately good for my theater, because it’s creating a new audience, it’s building an audience, it’s building an informed community.

Bennett doesn’t lay all the blame on audiences for not being more adventurous. Arts organizations are responsible for propagating these distinctions and communicating them to patrons in various ways. With all the surveys I have read about arts attendance, I don’t recall any findings that definitively observed a significant degree of inter-and intra-disciplinary self-segregation among arts organizations, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening or at least that audiences aren’t moving in this direction.

If it is the case, then services like Culture Craver, perhaps in the form of smart phone apps, might become increasingly valuable for arts organizations. Something that says, “hey you trusted us for 25 theatre performances, trust us when we say you’re likely to enjoy this dance piece” can help diversify audiences if they aren’t.

I am just thinking back to the post I did early last month about how members of Gen Y trust the online opinions of total strangers over that of family and friends when I wonder if this isn’t an area to which we should pay close attention.

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Stuff To Ponder: What About Engaging Arts Organizations?

Taking up where I left off yesterday, one of the last things I mentioned was that arts people might have an easier time shifting their perceptions to be more inclusive of what constitutes artistic practice and works of art than the general public might.

The thing is, while arts people may be more able to make the shift in thinking, they may not think it is necessary unless the necessity of doing so is pointed out to them. There is a lot of effort being made on a national, regional and local level to communicate the benefits of the arts to the general public but there isn’t a complementary effort to let the arts community know what their role is.

You can help in that effort by passing on or retweeting this post! ;)

But really, I recently realized the effort to get the general public to invest in the arts is a little one sided. Americans for the Arts will run ads telling people there are things they can do give their kids more arts experiences but most of the burden is on the parents to go online to the Americans for the Arts site and seek out arts organizations in their community. There may be an assumption that whatever arts organizations are doing to generate public awareness of themselves will be enough.

While Americans for the Arts had some requirements if you wanted to partner in their last kids and the arts campaign, what perhaps they should have also done is gone to the arts organizations and said, listen, we are going to run a slew of ads in your area encouraging people to take their kids to performances and museums and sign them up for classes. We are going to tell them to look for this little smiley guy logo. You can benefit by putting this logo on your website, in your ads and on the side of your building like the Safe Place logo they have on fire stations so people can easily identify organizations that offer these services.

The NEA starting a long term campaign communicating a “its all art and you should be reaching out” message to arts organizations through various channels would help to get arts organizations on the same page with them. That way the arts groups can start providing a public message complementary to the NEA’s and begin to shift themselves and the community to a more inclusive mindset.

Heck, what might actually be effective is a national campaign like the one Dominos recently ran that acknowledges people’s complaints about arts experiences. It could simultaneously address public sentiment and let arts organizations know they have a responsibility in the relationship as well.

Of course, lacking the unified will of a corporation, the campaign can’t make concrete promises of improvement across the arts sector. And honestly, unless it was incredibly well-designed and coordinated, it could alienate the general public, arts organizations or both.

But it would also be the first time that these issues were acknowledged and addressed nationally. Those of us who regularly read blogs and attend conferences are likely well aware of the need for change. But many arts people, including board members, aren’t participating in these conversations and may not be as aware of the shifting realities. This would put the topic front and center.

There isn’t just a need to do a better job of communicating our message to our local community, we need to apply the same techniques to communicating among ourselves. Which may in turn increase the number of organizations effectively communicating with their local communities.

There are already a few communication channels being used to rally arts organizations and their supporters to contact their legislators prior to crucial votes. Those are a good starting point to mobilize arts organizations but the message needs to come from different sources: blogs, television, radio, YouTube video, tweets, Facebook. In other words, the same channels we are urged to use to engage our communities can be used to engage arts organizations.

Whatever the message is needs to be light and encouraging rather than declarative and directive. Just like our audiences, arts organizations should be hearing more from their national, state and local leadership than OHMYGOD! THEYAREALLAGAINSTUS YOUMUSTMOBILIZENOW!

There should be Van Goghurt commercials made to encourage arts organizations to do better and point out resources organizational leaders can consult.

The nonprofit arts world in the U.S. is so decentralized it is hard to effectively communicate with most of the organizations. If the government provided higher levels of funding, more organizations might have closer relationships with central funders and it would be easier to provide training and information in best practices. For many it is not worth the effort required to apply, so they remain unidentified and out of touch with service organizations.

Instead of providing a few arts organizations with the funds to improve community participation, maybe foundations/funders should focus on establishing stronger channels of communication and relationships between service organizations/arts councils and arts groups, as well as between the arts groups themselves. Once that is achieved, instead of many individual organizations trying to re-invent the wheel alone, they may become better aware of the practices of those around them which will hopefully translate over time into a community engaged with the arts rather than with specific arts organizations.

As it is now, the best engagement practices developed by the exemplar organizations being funded will only be disseminated to a few hundred people attending a conference or reading a report. Better engagement and communication between arts groups and the arts councils/organizations that serve them could multiply the impact.

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Arts Presenters 2012 Edition

I have been attending the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference this past weekend. I am sure I will have more to say on the subject in future entries, but I wanted to post a few reflections and impressions while they were fresh.

First, I wanted to give some congratulations and props to Mario Garcia Durham, the new President and CEO of APAP on this, his first conference with the organization. I had met Mario a handful of times before in his capacity as the Director of Artistic Communities and Presenting at the National Endowment for the Arts. I was always set at ease by his open and welcoming manner when I had consultation sessions with him.

I took it as a good sign that he invited the Emerging Leadership Institute participants and alumni (of which I am one) up to his suite to discuss what we felt was the future for the field. We didn’t have a lot of time with him, but it was a promising sign. I also thought it was a promising sign that he got a standing ovation at the start of the conference from the membership. (And even more promising that he decides to discard a long speech he had prepared at another gathering!)

For this conference, I decided to break out my laptop and do a little live tweeting from different sessions. I had a great time doing it and could really see the utility of the activity for the conference, and somewhat by extension, for Tweet Seat programs that have been emerging at various arts events. I will say though that I really felt that I ended up missing many aspects of the sessions I was attending. Not only in terms of not entirely absorbing points people were making, but also some of the nuances of what they were saying. Even though my brain and multi-tasking abilities may not be on par with those of the younger generation, I can’t help but think they would indeed suffer from the same situation.

I was also surprised given the size of the attendance that more people weren’t tweeting from the various discussions going on, at least not on the official hashtag, #APAPNYC. Didnt see much on the counter-conference hashtag #APAPSMEAR, either. Many people used the hashtags to promote their showcases, but didn’t really seem to overdo it.

I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more people tweeting from the sessions because there were often a number I wanted to attend running concurrently and with a few exceptions, no one was reporting what was transpiring in those rooms.

On the other hand, there were a fair number of people following along. I appreciate all those who signed up to follow my twitter feed. Between those who started following me and those who were tweeting themselves, I found a number of new interesting people to follow in turn.

One interesting thing I noticed was a change in the underlying theme of the discussions at the conference. In the past it has often been about declining attendance and funding. This year it seems to be more focused on social and cultural trends, perhaps thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movements. People were talking about loss of identity, disenfranchisement, fragmentation and polarization of society.

Questions were raised about what role arts organizations would have in addressing this and place in the community rather than how to get more people through the doors. One of the major speakers at a few of the sessions was John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, PA who has attracted a lot of national attention for his efforts to revitalize his town and reverse the decline by the use of art and community efforts. As part of one effort, they took the bricks from a demolished garage to make a communal bread oven.

I will try to post more on the conference in the weeks ahead as I am able to digest the experience.

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