Arts Advocacy Update LXXXIII: Death By a Thousand Cuts



The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Cultural Policy Listserv email blast of April 29, 2009:

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The Audience Experience: Measuring Quality in the Performing Arts
International Journal of Arts Management
, Spring 2009
One of the studies in the spring edition of the International Journal of Arts Management (IJAM) is a report on how to best measure the quality of a performance from the audience point of view. The abstract of the study states:

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Traditional measures of quality in the performing arts include critical reviews, awards, attendance data, the reputation of the director, company or lead performers and attributions of success such as festival participation or sponsorship of grants. However, the recent literature on audience values, quest for authenticity, and the personal experience suggests the need for empirical research into the capacity of the audience experience as an appropriate measure of quality in the performing arts. The authors use primary research with performing arts audiences to explore the notions of quality, audience risk, and audience experience to redefine the quality-measurement paradigm.

So, meaning no disrespect, but is the ide that the traditional measures of quality have no place in a discussion, or too much of a place in a discussion. In other words, should audience data, say, be less emphasized? I understand what the study is getting at, but I strongly smell a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” attitude that isn’t going to be helpful, either.

America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places Named
National Trust for Historic Preservation, 4/28/2009
Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and actress/trustee Diane Keaton announced the organization’s annual list of most endangered historic places on April 28 at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Included on this year’s list are the Ames Shovel Shops in Massachusetts, Dorchester Academy in Georgia, Memorial Bridge in New Hampshire, and Unity Temple in Illinois.
There is a great video that goes with this — see below:

New York Foundation Follow-Up Study Tracks Recession Impact
The Community Creativity Foundation, 4/22/2009
“In 2008, a study by the Community Creativity Foundation found that despite the large number of artists and arts organizations that find their homes in Ulster County, New York, there are significant deficits in the areas of connectivity, infrastructure and resources.” Following the beginning of the economic downturn in September 2008, the foundation conducted a follow-up study to examine the impact of the first six months of the recession on the community. The report on those findings states that roughly 80 percent of organizations cut program expenses during the downturn, and the average budget shrank 20 percent — three times the rate of the economy as a whole.
The Executive Summary of this report — which I’m going to paste in here in full — is not only applicable to this area, of course, but I think offers all communities some things to chew on. Give this a read, but more than that, a think:

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Florida School District Serves as National Example for Arts Education Cuts
Florida Weekly, 4/22/2009
“Reading, writing, math, science, social studies and foreign language classes are safe because they’re funded with state dollars. Physical education is required by law and not funded. But art, says Lee County School District Superintendent James Browder, isn’t considered a core subject by state lawmakers-in spite of years of scholarly and statistical testimony that art teaches crucial skills which, like reading, benefit from an early start. ‘I’m indignant that I have to do this to children. I’m absolutely not in favor of cutting it. It’s the wrong thing to do,’ said Browder.”
This is the kind of thing that gets my dander up:

Reading, writing, math, science, social studies and foreign language classes are safe because they’re funded with state dollars. Physical education is required by law and not funded. But art, says Lee County School District Superintendent James Browder, isn’t considered a core subject by state lawmakers – in spite of years of scholarly and statistical testimony that art teaches crucial skills which, like reading, benefit from an early start.

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Report: Arts Education in California Severely Lacking
SRI International, 4/2009
SRI International recently published An Unfinished Canvas, “a statewide study of district capacity and allocation of new state funding for arts education” in California. The major finding reported is that 89 percent of K-12 schools fail to offer a standards-based course of study in all four disciplines-music, visual arts, theater, and dance – and thus fall short of state goals for arts education. The full report details other findings and makes recommendations for the future.
This from a state where arts appropriations are, per capita, the lowest in the nation.

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Former New Jersey Governor Argues Against Arts Funding Cuts, 4/29/2009
In a blog posting, former Gov. Tom Kean says, “President Obama has put arts funds in his stimulus package at the national level to create jobs. Governor Corzine ought to follow suit in New Jersey, or at least contribute the small amount necessary to meet the legislative mandate.”
These two paragraphs are really important if you’re dedicated to fighting for the arts:

First, the arts are not frills. Studies here and elsewhere have shown that every dollar invested in the arts brings back $3 for the local economy. To the best of my knowledge, no one has challenged these findings. In other words, beyond their cultural virtues, the arts create jobs so we should be investing more not less in times like these. If you want an example of job creation, look at what’s happening around NJPAC in Newark or around the State Theatre and George Street Theatre in New Brunswick.

Second, it is true that in these tough times, everything in the budget deserves re-examination. The problem is that the arts have already suffered more in recent years than almost anything else. The arts in real dollars are getting much less than they got 20 years ago. This means that the small art organizations, always vulnerable, are in real danger of becoming Corzine casualties. Once they close their doors we have lost them forever.

Los Angeles Cultural Organizations Receive Mixed Funding Results, 4/21/2009
“Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposed $7 billion budget would decrease arts funding from $10 million to $9.1 million. Eight positions in the Cultural Affairs department would be cut, and funding for artists’ teaching residencies at schools and community centers would drop from $300,000 to $150,000. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Music Center, and the Museum of Natural History are in line to receive roughly $60 million of the county’s $22.8 billion plan.”
City libraries, according to the article, “also face a rough budget cut, from $79 to $71.4 million; 115 positions would be lost, and money for new books and materials would drop 19 percent.”

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New York Times Company Foundation Suspends New Grants
Crain’, 4/24/2009
“The New York Times Company Foundation will suspend new grant awards and matching gifts because of the financial strains brought on by the recession. The foundation is funded by contributions from the Times Co., which said earlier this week that it lost $74.5 million in the first quarter because of falling ad revenue.”
Not shocking but obviously terrifically sad.

Key Impact Findings
On average, the budgets of the 20 non-profit arts organizations and commercial creative enterprises in Ulster and Dutchess Counties that participated in this study shrank at an annualized rate of 20% between September and December of 2008 – a decline more than three times steeper than the economy as a whole.

Sharp reductions were reported in all major revenue areas including public funding, private support and earned income.

Over the past six months, arts organizations have offset approximately 41% of their revenue shortfalls with expense reductions. The remaining 59% gap was covered by a combination of reserve fund spending and short-term borrowing.

Roughly 80% of the organizations cut their program expenses; a similar number reduced staff costs through layoffs, pay cuts, shorter working hours and increased employee benefit cost-sharing.

Organizations are increasingly relying of stop-gap solutions such as “one shot” emergency fundraising and deferred maintenance of physical plants.

Most of the arts leaders interviewed for this study spontaneously expressed deep discouragement at “the unraveling of years of hard won progress.” Many show signs of stress due to the daily pressures of crisis management and extra workload.

Trends and Risk Factors
A significant number of the Ulster and Dutchess County arts organizations will find it difficult to sustain their current level of operation into 2010 without substantial infusions of capital.

Many smaller arts organizations, more accustomed to operating with lean budgets, entered the recession in better financial shape. However, even the strongest organizations risk major distress if the current rate of systemic revenue decline continues or accelerates through 2010 and beyond.

Risk factors that threaten to deepen the systemic impact of the crisis include:

An anemic initial federal response
The threat of further cuts of NYSCA’s budget
Ongoing budgetary pressures on local governments
Board and staff burnout
Reliance on potentially unsustainable practices such as emergency fundraising, volunteer staffing and deferred maintenance

Two overarching recommendations apply equally to funders, community leaders and arts organizations:
Develop a regional arts “anchor”: Neither the Dutchess County Arts Council (which provides the region’s arts communities with important resources and services), nor any other entity is presently structured or funded to serve as the regional anchor that the creative ecosystem urgently needs. Funders, community and arts leaders are strongly urged to come together to address this problem.

Look beyond the crisis. The recession is provoking a re-examination of assumptions, values and policies by all elements of America’s cultural infrastructure, from the largest funders to the smallest arts organizations. In a time of transformational change, the skills and insights of artists will be hugely important to the region’s economy and its communities. Arts leaders, funders and community leaders should start planning now to leverage these opportunities.

Key recommendations specifically for funders:
Join forces to create an emergency arts loan fund.

Temporarily shift grant making toward general operating support and multi-year funding; such changes will provide organizations with maximum flexibility and will facilitate planning.

Develop a common application format to ease the grant preparation workload for arts organizations.

View the arts as essential partners of, rather than competitors with, “safety net” social service providers.

Encourage collaboration and the sharing of programs, resources and ideas.

Key recommendations specifically for community leaders:
Personally engage with the arts through participation, volunteerism and support.

Look upon the arts as a broad civic resource and seek out creative, visible opportunities to integrate them into community life.

Focus on the skills of the region’s artists as an economic resource able to contribute to the development of a creative, collaborative, communicative workforce.

Encourage in-kind partnerships that benefit both arts groups and communities.

Key recommendations specifically for arts organizations:
Do everything possible to remove barriers to cooperation and collaboration.

Look for opportunities to partner with larger, more stable community institutions.

Make deep reflection about organizational mission and ideals a priority; be ready to question familiar ways of thinking and functioning.

Relentlessly focus on programs and activities that are “mission critical”.