NASAA Notes: November 2008


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Jonathan Katz

November issue
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November 7, 2008

Executive Director's Column

The events of November 4th provide an opportunity for state arts agency leaders to reacquaint themselves with NASAA’s goals and expectations for the incoming administration and Congress.

  • How will election results affect the arts and state arts agencies?
  • What challenges and opportunities will arts advocates encounter;
  • How will NASAA engage elected and appointed officials to advance state arts agency agendas?
  • How can members communicate about these issues with their council, their advocates and their constituents.
The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
The National Endowment for the Arts

It is a good time, therefore, to review how the relationship between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the state arts agencies has evolved in recent years. On the morning of Friday, October 31, I attended the quarterly meeting of the National Council on the Arts that concluded Dana Gioia’s almost-six-year tenure. (See the related article in this issue, “National Council of the Arts Nominees.”) Dana’s presentation summarizing his guiding premises, program and operations strategies, and the agency’s consequent successes from his point of view reminded me how much has changed in the NEA-NASAA-SAA relationship since his arrival in 2003.

Dana’s strategic decision to brand the NEA through a sequence of initiatives – to communicate the public value of the arts and the agency – called for creative responses on the part of state arts agency leaders. For instance, at a time when NEA funding was level, the inauguration of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius, resulted in less money available for the Challenge America program category, which challenged many SAAs to use their federal funds consistent with the priorities determined by their own strategic planning. In addition, guidelines required American Masterpieces funds to be targeted for one or more of four art forms selected by the NEA. The launching of Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest provides another case in point. With initial funding of $8,000 per state, the choice to participate meant a state arts agency investment to administer the program. The focus of the project, the need for most agencies to create new partnerships, the general lack of experience in both schools and SAAs with the project activity itself, and the initial push to include each capitol city and at least 10 schools were all factors that SAAs stepped up to manage.

Fortunately for those of us responsible for mediating the relationship between the NEA and the SAAs, each time that relationship was tested, the NEA responded with flexibility to state needs, and/or the benefits of partnership in national initiatives became apparent. The restrictions on American Masterpieces funds were loosened to include more arts disciplines, then–in a major advancement of the working relationship–the “streamlining” of partnership agreements gave SAAs a new level of flexibility to direct their NEA funds to state priorities. As student participation in Poetry Out Loud has grown from 50,000 to more than 200,000, NEA support to SAAs executing the program has grown to $20,000 per state–which is in addition to the partnership funds mandated by law. In a recent small sampling of SAAs about Poetry Out Loud, NASAA staff heard much about the benefits of new partnerships, broadened contact with constituents and increased agency visibility. In fact, a theme in responses was concern that the initiative might not have a chance to reap the dividends of the investment of human and financial resources should a new administration not support it. In any case, the NEA appropriation has grown recently, SAA partnership agreements got a nice boost, and the positive effect in Congress of branding the NEA through initiatives is undeniable.

Some of the most positive features of the current NEA-NASAA-SAA relationship involved the NEA continuing earlier commitments. Senior Deputy Chairman Eileen Mason, who served as acting chairman preceding Dana’s appointment, immediately appreciated the value of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) as the nation’s coalition for the advancement of learning in the arts and sustained NEA support of it. I particularly appreciated that action because NASAA and the Council of Chief State School Officers, as co-managers of AEP, share the responsibility (with agency staff members) of orienting the arts and the education leadership of a new administration to the essential value of that coalition. Also of importance to SAAs, the NEA:

  • renewed funding to the National Governors Association (with sub-contracting to NASAA) for issue briefs on how the arts are a resource in addressing the priority goals of state chief executives,
  • continued support to NASAA for the professional development of SAA arts education managers on an annual basis and other positions on an occasional basis, and
  • sustained the tradition of chairman’s grants to enrich the quality of leadership development and provide the services of artists at NASAA annual meetings.

The inauguration of the Education Leaders Institute under NEA Arts Education Director Sarah Cunningham further demonstrated the NEA understanding that policy decisions by state leaders can have a profound effect on the quality of local learning in the arts. The choice of the Illinois Arts Council as the project cooperator, in partnership with the Illinois State Department of Education and the Illinois Arts Alliance, ensured that the most appropriate perspectives would be applied in the administration of the initiative.

It is timely to note that the first iteration of NASAA’s federal policy agenda, Advancing America’s Creativity, adopted in FY 2000 to guide SAA relations with the new White House and Congress, called for an NEA capable of, among other things, “initiating national programs, . . . partnering effectively with state arts agencies, and . . . helping to ensure that the basic education of every American includes learning in the arts.” We got what we asked for (though not at an ideal funding level), and it has been, in addition to a creative, demanding and sometimes tense experience, a learning process that has tested new models of how the NEA and the SAAs represented by NASAA might work together to maximize their public benefit. As a result, we know better what to avoid, what to maintain, what to build upon, and what to aim for as we look ahead.

In this Issue

State to State

Legislative Update

Executive Director's Column

Did You Know?

Frequently Asked Questions




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