July 14, 2006
Executive Director's Column
In June, I had the unique privilege and challenge of facilitating the first CEO Seminar for the International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies. This session was offered as a pre-conference to that five-year-old association’s third World Summit, attended by 500 participants from 80 nations. I have been advising the IFACCA board on organizational development for several years now, always with the goal of making the knowledge and experience of cultural leaders throughout the world available to the NASAA membership. This connection has led to your agency receiving over this period the IFACCA newsletter, ACORNS, with its overview of international news, events and resources pertinent to cultural policy and support for the arts. I’ll share with you some information from this global gathering that I think you will find of interest.
The CEO Seminar
About 25 heads of national arts councils or their designees participated. One of our outcome goals was to develop a list of priority issues and challenges perceived by the agency CEOs that would be helpful in guiding decisions about IFACCA information and services during the years between now and the next World Summit. With the NASAA Leadership Institute ahead of us, I’m thinking that it’s timely to share the lists generated by the CEOs and the session planners. I’m sure you will recognize many of these concerns as your own. Let me note in passing that “the arm’s length principle” is a priority topic of discussion in any international policy forum. It refers to the making of decisions by authorized experts independent of elected or appointed officials who represent the administration in power. In public grant making for the arts, this issue often plays out as a tension between an arts council, whose adherents perceive their priority is to support artists and arts organizations as directed by guidelines, and a cultural ministry, which has other agendas, some portion of which may be partisan.
The Featured Presentations
Several of the strongest plenary session speeches are now available online. One was the welcome by Tessa Jowell, United Kingdom Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Arts Council England was founded in its modern form in 1946 and this speech was intended to mark the 60th anniversary as a major policy statement on behalf of the current administration. Secretary Jowell defended the doubling of the Arts Council’s budget since 1997 and endorsed “the principle that decisions on the arts should be taken at arm’s length, free from political influence…[and] without interference from the state or the market…” She made a strong case for the role of the arts in establishing a sense of identity and belonging at the personal, family, community, national and global levels. She talked about the value of a “cultural foreign policy” as a “programme for change” that “recognizes–yes–a love of our own culture but also has an abiding wish to understand others.” Particularly distinguishing were her points on artistic freedom:
I–like many others–have been to events where I found the words or images used offensive. Where I was wrenched out of my personal comfort zone, and into something darker. So be it.
It is the right–arguably the duty–of the artist to challenge and provoke. Giving offence is rarely a legitimate end in itself, but it is sometimes the inevitable outcome of artistic exploration. A confident and cohesive society is prepared to accept this.
That’s why it is so important for Arts Councils to have deep roots in public life. And it must be the duty of government to protect and promote an Arts Council’s public status.
and on the essential value of what cultural workers (like us!) give to society:
We all have to cope with people thinking that culture is just an optional extra in people’s lives. But….if you want to understand the power of the ego in human history–read War and Peace; if you want to understand the beautiful death, listen to Das Lied Von der Erde; if you want to understand the crossroads where sex, love and violence meet, then look at Caravaggio
So actually, culture is not optional–it is everything, because it is culture that shows what it is to be human. You are the teachers who teach what it is to be human through culture.
Peter Hewitt, at the start of his appointment as the current chief executive of Arts Council England, asked for and received four months to travel, to interview cultural leaders worldwide, and to develop a strategic approach to leading his agency. In addition to describing the experiences that influence his thinking and some trends that influence policy making globally, he summarized what he learned:
We needed a modernised relationship with government itself…. We needed a new understanding with artists. We needed to be more switched on to the digital and exciting possibilities of this ever-changing incredibly mult-culturally rich country. And we needed to be better connected, much better connected, internationally–both in Europe and beyond.
His speech explains the ways in which his agency has begun to address each of the above-stated needs in terms of policy and program. Some of what he describes is radical action on a broad scale. And some parts seem to speak directly to NASAA members:
In England and I guess more widely the new buzz phrase is ‘public value’. I often reflect on how you quantify the value of what has been achieved in major regeneration projects like the ones we will be discussing over the next few days. Of course, sure, you can count the jobs, the tourists, the economic spin-offs. But how do you count what this has done to people? How do you count a new sense of identity, a rediscovered pride in this place, a growth in human aspiration?
At another plenary session, Sir Ken Robinson delivered the full-length version of a speech on the value of arts education that I had heard him deliver in its 10-minute format to the Education Commission of the States (ECS). The normally staid ECS audience (governors and their staffs, state education leaders and their staffs, state legislators and their staffs) gave him a standing ovation. If you check out the presentation on the ECS website, you will see why. Charming and funny, the former chair of the British government’s National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education uses both research and anecdote to defend statements such as “Dance is as important in human development, as central to human culture, as our capacity for mathematical abstractions” and “Creativity is as fundamental as literacy and numeracy.” Here’s how he concludes:
I think the challenge that faces America is one that faces the world just now, which is how on earth do we compose an education system to prepare people for a future that we don’t understand and can’t predict? The only way we can do it, I think, is to have children leave school firing on all cylinders–confident, creative, in their element, full of possibilities and hope. The arts are a central part of that solution–sitting foursquare with the sciences, with physical education, with the humanities and with languages. We cannot predict the future, we can’t look above the horizon, but if we raise our children up, if we lift their eyes, maybe they’ll see over the horizon and they will help to create this future and they will flourish in it.
It was gratifying to hear Sir Ken cite–as a model for global emulation–the Coming Up Taller project, which NASAA coordinates with the support of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities as well as contributions from the NEA, NEH and Institute of Museum and Library Services.
What led Arts Council England to submit this location as the site of a global conference and what persuaded IFACCA, which had last met in Singapore, to accept this proposal? The answer is that these communities on either side of the Tyne River have included the arts and culture in their post-industrial regeneration with vision and intention to such an extraordinary degree and with such visible success that the value of doing that is unquestionable to anyone who visits. One theme in this regeneration begins with the investment of 800 thousand pounds–in the face of skeptics and opinion polls–in an iconic public sculpture, “Angel of the North,” that quickly came to symbolize the pride, heritage and aspiration of the region; picks up steam with the 40 million pound transformation of the old flour mill into a world-class contemporary visual art gallery and up-scale restaurant; and continues with the investment of 70+ million pounds in the spectacular Sage Gateshead performing arts center, with three major halls and extensive life-long learning facilities. The welcoming address by Mick Henry, Leader of Gateshead Council, describes vividly the overall economic development effort in which the cultural dimension was integral.
The NewcastleGateshead story offers many lessons. One can see the benefits derived from the fact that, for a generation, each of the directors of Arts Council England Northeast, located in Newcastle, has continued in work that bridges the region’s cultural life and economic development. One can see how local, regional, national and European cultural and economic development resources have enabled the regeneration effort to reach critical mass. One can see how civic leaders and cultural workers have made their commitment to both neighborhood revitalization and global marketing work hand in hand. For me, as powerful a lesson as any was the way in which Summit Programme Director Andrew Dixon envisioned his goal for Arts Council England Northeast, when he was its director: to be “the broker of ambition” for the region. He now serves as chief executive of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, whose slogan is “world-class culture,” whose vision is “to make NewcastleGateshead a world-class place in which to live, learn, work and visit,” and whose aim is “to deliver economic, employment and social benefits through cultural tourism, and to continue to stimulate regeneration.”
One of the most valuable benefits of an international perspective is the ability to understand one’s own nation and one’s own identity more clearly, having seen them positioned in larger context. For that reason alone, it is stimulating to consider the issues and challenges, the vision, values and programs of cultural leaders from other countries. Certainly, the values Americans hold for decision making by individuals, at the local level, and in the private sector are distinguishing–and our cultural leaders have unique expertise as policy entrepreneurs, program designers, and managers in the environment we know. Even so, the assumptions different from ours that are held by our colleagues from other nations, the creativity with which they make connections, and the kinds of connections they make, can be instructive and lead us to problem-solving approaches we might not have considered. I hope you find the presentations I’ve cited thought-provoking. If you are interested in more, they reside in the “virtual presentation” box in the Summit feature on the www.ifacca.org web site. You might also be interested in www.Euclid.info, the development of the www.culture.info web site, and www.connectcp.org, a new international who’s who of cultural policy, planning and research. As someone who holds a senior management position in cultural policy, you might want to register.
NASAA will continue to seek ways to make the best thinking and the most engaging learning experiences in the world available to its membership.
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