October 15, 2007
Executive Director's Column
The collective mission of state arts agencies has always been to broaden and deepen participation in the arts. How state arts agencies have accomplished that mission, in programmatic terms, has evolved as the environment has changed over the past forty years. One tactic of state arts agencies has been to support the development and growth of not-for-profit arts producing and presenting arts organizations. Preceded in that practice by the Ford Foundation, which is generally credited with inventing the arts grant, and following the lead of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), state arts agencies contributed to the proliferation of not-for-profit theaters, orchestras, dance companies and opera companies that resulted in wider availability of professional art work in every state and in communities of all sizes and locations, not only urban areas. The growth of tax-exempt individual and corporate giving to not-for-profit arts organizations coincided with the increasing public sector support. In 1965 there were approximately 35 nonprofit professional dance companies, 16 theatre companies, 27 opera companies and 400 arts presenters.Today there are over 600 dance companies, 1,400 theatres, 100 opera companies and 7,000 arts presenters1. Though challenges from other leisure time options—changes in charitable giving patterns, and the increasing expensiveness of all labor-intensive activities in a highly technological society—have made operating deficits commonplace and failure rates high for not-for-profit arts organizations, these groups now constitute a $166.2 billion industry ($63.1 billion in spending each year by organizations and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by their audiences), employing 5.7 million workers and generating $29.6 billion in federal, state and local taxes2. Arts groups representing the increasingly diverse population of the United States have been fostered by public agencies through operating and project support to not-for-profit arts groups, as well as funding of the arts activities of not-for-profit groups with other primary purposes.
From their earliest days, state arts agencies funded professional artists to expand and improve the quality of amateur arts participation. Networked and supported for their professional development through a long-term partnership between NASAA and the NEA, arts education staff members have evolved as a knowledgeable professional cadre—from experts on providing school systems with the resources of artists and arts organizations to help achieve learning objectives, to statewide leaders in teacher improvement, curriculum development, parental engagement, assessment and other components of standards-based education reform. As in sports and the environmental movement, the experience and expertise of amateurs determines over time the support base and pipeline for professional excellence and influence in public policy. In FY 2006, state arts agencies supported 8,389 arts education projects in 2,991 communities with a collective investment of over $65 million. Along with arts education programs, expansion arts programs and community development programs offered salary and other expenses for professional artists and arts administrators to broaden arts creation, performance and attendance without regard to the professional or non-professional status of program participants. Our community development coordinators and other staff members have fostered the local arts agency movement, effectively decentralizing and leveraging participation in the arts throughout the United States, both amateur and professional. In 2006, state arts agencies awarded 2,361 grants totaling $41.2 million to 1,410 local arts agencies3. Now that the digital revolution and the affordability of digital communication is transforming the meaning of “participation” in all aspects of life, especially for young people, the appropriate role of state arts agencies in preparing and assisting all Americans to experience and create the arts and cultural activities demands new examination.
In recent years, public expectations for government agencies to provide benefits in terms of jobs and tax benefits have escalated, especially for those agencies that, like state arts agencies, distribute most of their budget in local assistance programs. State arts agency leaders have expanded agency activities to include commercial arts participation. They have developed sophisticated initiatives, often in collaboration with other state agencies, to build the capacity of their arts industry, including profit-making providers, suppliers and distributors of arts products and artistic experiences. Many state arts agencies now have implemented, or are designing, creative economy, cultural economy, creative class, cultural district and cultural heritage tourism programs. The broad business community, including the travel, tourism, hospitality, design and community planning and development industries engages in a wide variety of collaboration with state arts agencies. Exemplary relationships have been established in some states with public broadcast agencies, film commissions and crafts councils. For some state arts agencies, expanding their scope to include participation in the arts industry more broadly strengthens their claim on public funding and generates additional resources.
Stepping back then, we see that one of the most challenging questions facing state arts agency leaders is what strategic balance of investment to make in the not-for-profit cultural community, the broader arts and cultural industry, and amateur cultural engagement. Our resources include the services of staff members and council members, grant programs and the leadership activities of visioning, convening, researching and partnership building, among others, available of an established agency of state government. As we have learned from our study of public value, the capacity of state arts agencies to broaden and deepen participation in the arts is as great as their ability to unite their authorizers as well as their partners, grantees, stakeholders and other beneficiaries, around a vision and an action agenda to achieve that vision.
The strategic forum offered by NASAA’s upcoming Assembly 2007, to be convened in Baltimore, December 6-8, could not be more timely. We need each other’s experience, perspective and inspiration to inform the challenging decisions, immediate and long-term, that we must make in public service as state arts agency leaders. Registration fees are structured to encourage you to bring as many staff and council members as you can, in order to realize the greatest benefit for your agency and your state. The NASAA staff and I look forward to seeing you there.
1. American Arts Alliance, The Importance of Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
2. Americans for the Arts, Arts and Economic Prosperity III
3. NASAA Data
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