March 7, 2006
Executive Director's Column
I sense in many of the states I visit a readiness to consider a future agenda for arts support that is significantly different from past and current agendas. Readiness to consider change can derive from an obvious shift or reconfiguration of environmental forces, from the occasion of new leadership, from a painful event, or from the prospect of new resources. A good manager can feel whether a group is ready to change its behavior. A very good manager can engineer that readiness for change. A superior manager can foster readiness and guide it into purposeful decision making and strategic action.
Readiness for change can be facilitated by a process of reflectionaof exercises designed to reveal our values, goals, circumstances and environmental influences, and the activities they call for. Here are a few suggestions for ways to jump-start reflective process. However familiar some of these practices may seem, they are seldom done with the level of investment that realizes their potential. Each can advance readiness for change and, well managed, can channel readiness into constructive action, away from restless movement, away from fearful alternatives, away from choices that focus on factionalism rather than coalition, away from habitual behaviors that may no longer be effective, and towards the best situation we can imagine.
Produce the shared vision
Itas difficult to beat a well-facilitated statewide visioning session or series of regional visioning sessions. Focusing collectively on a desired future promotes a sense of community, helps to unite factions (urban-rural-suburban, east-central-west or north-south, major-midsize-small, artist-arts org-service org, etc.), increases mutual understanding and trust, and galvanizes advocacy. Frame a common vision for the stateas cultural life by finishing statements like, aWe will know we have been successful when every person in the statea.;a We will know we have been successful when artists and arts organizations in the statea.;a and aWe will know we have been successful when the state arts agencya.;a Such a dialogue offers an opportunity to tell a story of the stateas cultural life that brings people together in a common history. It can include an environmental scan, which unites constituents helping them understand the most important forces shaping the future they want.
Build relationships with decision makers to reveal their value preferences
Whether you refer to those who affect your resources as decision makers or aauthorizers,a remember that your contact with them creates a continual stream of experiences that conveys the value of supporting your agency. That value may be very different to different individuals. What really motivates key decision makers in your state? Creating jobs? Providing a well rounded education to children? Public recognition and acknowledgement for support? Approval from family or friends? The certain knowledge that experiencing the arts makes life richer? Being a champion for particular populations or ideas? It takes a real relationship to learn and fulfill the value preferences of a decision maker. It takes real commitment, real time, real communication and real listening to establish and improve relationships. To learn what matters most to elected officials, more and more state arts agencies are polling legislators and other decision makers, and excellent models are available for structuring conversations with decision makers. In addition, NASAA will soon be sharing with member agencies what has been learned from its focus groups with legislators and legislative staff conducted in collaboration with the National Conference of State Legislatures and with the support of Altria Group, Inc.
Catalyze local arts support
A state arts agency can leverage its impact by building the arts programming capacity of local arts communities and enlisting local arts communities as the implementers of statewide programs. What grants or services would foster the development and networking of local arts agencies? What resources would result in local community development plans integrating the arts? How can arts education advocacy groups that advise local school boards be fostered? Would agency priorities be well served by a statewide initiative to encourage artist live-work housing projects, the planning of cultural districts, the design of a major piece of public art to symbolize local community spirit of place, the feasibility studies for local united arts funds, pilot activities for business community-arts community partnerships, or the inclusion of arts programs within community foundations? What statewide networks merit investment in connection with priority goals?
Enhance celebratory events strategically
Spend time and energy to establish and achieve outcome goals for your governoras arts awards or arts week/month/year. What key messages do you want to convey to decision makers? Hone these messages, and then embed them into everything you do, from engaging speakers to acknowledging support to getting favorable editorials published. Leverage your impact and newsworthiness by linking state activities to national celebrations such as National Arts and Humanities Month (October), National Poetry Month (April), Jazz Appreciation Month (April), Youth Art Month (March), the NEA 40th Anniversary, etc. Promote a common statewide activity for these occasions, such as open houses, insider tours, or visits to arts education activities.
Take it to scale
What would complete statewide success look like for a key programaperhaps your favorite, perhaps one that could become your agencyas flagship program, perhaps one that could be your administrationas legacy to the state? Would it happen in every community, create at least one partnership or support infrastructure in every county, engage all school districts, reach a certain percentage of an underserved population, establish a statewide public-private partnership to foster it, be perpetuated by a foundation of a certain size, be funded by a special revenue source or income stream? Manage change to build support for the resources to achieve that successaor a meaningful, preferably measurable, step towards it. Can you do this in a way that strengthens other core programs and services, and increasesarather than just shiftsayour agencyas overall resources?
Make every arts event an advocacy event
Although not a new idea, to do this well and consistently could catalyze significant change in our field. This is about sharing an arts experience with a decision maker who has been identified because of their supportaor potential support. Invite them, make their participation easy and enjoyable, and make sure they appreciate the valueato them and to the publicaof the experience. We all know what this looks like, how good it feels, how effective it is, and how much work it takes. In order for this to be done systematically and on an ongoing basis, we have to meet with our constituents, mentor them, and help them understand how this approach is in their own best interests.
NASAA staff and NASAA members are ready to assist you in any of the strategic activities mentioned above and others as well. Your questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome.
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