December 5, 2006
Executive Director's Column
Much is now being written about how the recent mid-term Congressional elections have changed the prospects for future policy. In his Legislative Memo of November 13, NASAA Legislative Counsel Tom Birch noted how some of the changes affect support for the arts and reminded us how important it is that the arts community establish and maintain good communication with our elected officials and their staffs. Tom’s observation about how frequently members of Congress have previously served in their state legislatures highlights the fact that effective advocacy begins at home. State arts agency leaders, especially council members, must play a leadership role in educating both state and Congressional decision-makers about the value of the arts in their jurisdictions.
Important as it is for NASAA to adapt to the changing environment, and to be opportunistic in advancing the influence and resources of its member agencies, it is also important to move steadily ahead in building the basic relationships and systems–the infrastructure–that enable state arts agencies to provide the highest level of public benefit. Let’s take stock for a moment of how the relationship between the state arts agencies and the National Endowment for the Arts is progressing.
I have mentioned this before, but I want to reiterate that NEA Chairman Dana Gioia has affirmed that American Masterpiece guidelines for NEA FY 2007 will no longer be restrictive as to art form. This programmatic flexibility, added to the flexibility of using these funds for a variety of administrative purposes, should increase the ability of state arts agencies to use their partnership agreement funds to address their most important needs. When Chairman Gioia announced at the NASAA Leadership Institute in Alaska that the NEA request to Congress for its FY 2008 includes substantial funding to expand the Big Read initiative to communities in all states, he also shared his intention that the percentage portion to state arts agencies of any budget increase would not be restricted to that NEA initiative. This step, too, would position state arts agencies to use their (hopefully increasing) federal funds to address their highest priorities.
I want to underscore that that “flexibility” is a central theme in all NASAA conversations with the NEA. NASAA works with the NEA to find ways that partnership agreement funds can be structured to provide state arts agencies the greatest flexibility in support of the programs and services most central to their strategic plans, with the least possible administrative burden. The effect of NEA initiatives on state arts agencies has also been a major area of discussion between states, NASAA and the NEA. Some recent initiatives have incorporated a state arts agency role, but even those initiatives that don’t pass through states do affect a shared constituency. (Almost three quarters of direct NEA grantees also receive support from a state or region.) NASAA’s role in conversations with the Endowment has been–and will continue to be–to represent the plurality of state arts agency perspectives and to encourage the NEA to include state arts agencies early on in its consideration of program alternatives. Planning and advocating together is our surest route to collective success.
Chairman Gioia’s announcement that he plans no new major initiatives at this time, but will seek to establish some of those that are already operative, added energy to a purposeful conversation among national arts service organizations that was already in progress. The Cultural Advocacy Group (CAG) is a coalition of national arts and humanities service organizations that works to unify the voice speaking to Congress on behalf of the federal cultural agencies. Currently, Tom Birch serves as the convener of this group. Several of the groups with arts interests have met among themselves, and now with Gioia, to discuss leadership roles available to the NEA that could win wide support. One topic is “capacity-building,” a term that could be applied to former NEA programs such as Advancement, which provided consultation to emerging groups; Challenge, which required a multiple match and stimulated new funds for more mature organizations; Long-Term Enhancement, a multiple-matching program intended to enable groups to re-shape their financial environment through such strategies as marketing and development initiatives; the Locals Test program, which was a pilot program of support for local arts agencies; and Expansion Arts, which supported groups grounded in ethnic and local community traditions. The purpose of this conversation is not to re-create a past strategy, but to consider what “capacity-building” strategies would be worthy of broad support from both Congress and the arts community. NASAA looks forward to continuing this kind of discussion with the NEA and groups who represent many state arts agency grantees. Of course, an important principle for NASAA is optional, rather than prescriptive, use of partnership agreement funds in any new NEA initiative.
The recent NEA report, The Arts and Civic Engagement: Involved in Arts, Involved in Life, cites statistics that correlate activity in the arts with other behaviors that enrich our social lives and strengthen communities. I appreciate having the comments of NASAA’s executive director included in the NEA publication because state arts agencies share with the NEA a deep conviction that broad participation in the arts is a defining characteristic of a successful democratic society. I’m pleased to see that shared NEA-state arts agency belief given visibility. Chairman Gioia makes the point that, depending on the vision and adroitness with which it is implemented locally, the Big Read is a literary initiative that has great potential to build civic engagement because it brings a community’s arts and humanities groups together with local government leaders, schools, libraries, and civic and social service organizations. As the NEA and the NASAA membership look ahead, we should be alert for opportunities to communicate to our authorizers and constituents the connection between the activities we support and the social capital these activities catalyze in communities.
In November, 46 state arts agency arts education managers convened in Albuquerque, New Mexico for three days of intensive professional development. Sessions focused on applying public value concepts to the practical tasks of managing arts education programs and communicating their benefits to the public. This meeting continues the long-standing commitment of the NEA, as both a participant and funder, to the professional development of SAA arts education managers. Over the years, the NEA has also provided encouragement, and occasional funding, for professional development and networking sessions for other staff groups including folk and traditional arts managers, 504/ADA coordinators, new SAA executive directors, grants officers and, most recently, performing arts managers. NASAA will continue to assess our opportunities in this area and to pursue collaborations – with the NEA or other partners – that can broaden leadership development opportunities across state arts agency peer groups.
The NEA’s investment in the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) is also essential to state arts agencies. NEA Senior Deputy Chairman Eileen Mason has been a strong supporter and participant in the AEP, which is managed by NASAA and the Council of Chief State School Officers and jointly funded by the NEA and the U.S. Department of Education. The AEP brings together public arts funders, the education community and the private sector to advance learning in the arts and provides state arts agencies with information and influence available through no other forum. Especially popular in recent months has been Critical Evidence, jointly published by NASAA and the AEP with support from the MetLife Foundation. NASAA members will be pleased to hear that the first printing of 10,000 copies of Critical Evidence is now sold out and in the hands of advocates and soon-to-be-advocates. NASAA is seeking sponsorship for another run of 10,000 copies.
As I was completing this column, the NEA 2005 Annual Report arrived. I have to say that for most of my career at NASAA, this was not the happiest day of the year for me. Though 40% of NEA program funds are managed in partnership with SAAs and their regional consortia, that entire enterprise would sometimes be abstracted in a list of numbers in a few pages in the rear of the book. Now look at it. First of all, the report is organized state by state. This change from listing by art form was initiated only a few years ago and it makes the report much more useful for those of us who talk with governors, state legislators and members of Congress about what the NEA does. You will find reference to help from state arts agencies for the Governor’s Institute on Community Design (p. 4), to meetings about emergency hurricane relief with SAAs and the Southern Arts Federation at the NASAA Annual Meeting in Boise (p. 7), to the Poetry Out Loud partnership with all the state arts agencies (p. 15), to how the overall partnership between the NEA and SAAs and regional works (pp. 17-18), and to projects illustrating how exemplary SAA projects benefit from the federal investment (Kentucky, p. 60; Nevada, p. 83; Wyoming, pp.126-27).
Good relationships require work to sustain and even the best relationships can be improved. It is useful from time to time to reflect on the characteristics of successful collaborations, which I believe can be distinguished by partners who:
- Communicate their goals and plan together to accomplish shared goals
- Consult about actions that affect/concern each other
- Make a special effort to provide adequate lead time for partner activities to be successful
- Respect and adapt action in consideration of each other’s stated goals, concerns and territories
- Resolve differences through dialogue
- Listen as much as they talk
- Check with each other regularly about the perceived health of the partnership
As many states and NASAA enter into our 40th year of partnership with the NEA, we should celebrate our strengths and accomplishments, and embrace our potential to support each other as we address future challenges.
The state arts agencies created NASAA to represent them in their relationship with the NEA. NASAA staff and board are always interested in questions, comments and advice from the membership on how that relationship can work harmoniously to provide the greatest possible public benefit.
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