NASAA Notes: March 2009


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Jonathan Katz

March issue
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March 9, 2009

Executive Director's Column

The next chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will have the advantage of a set of priorities already articulated by President Obama’s campaign Arts Policy Committee. These priorities include greater support for arts education, establishing an “Artist Corps,” and promoting cultural diplomacy. They can be implemented by a combination of integrating artistic resources in White House policy agendas, fostering inter-agency collaboration, and focusing NEA activity. An additional priority put forth by the Committee is increasing funding for the NEA. As we have seen in recent administrations, commitment to artistic excellence, continuous and meticulous liaison with Congress, and identifiable programs that make visible the benefits provided by investment in the arts correlate with budget growth.

Making the case for increased funding should go hand in hand with building the influence and effectiveness of the NEA on the foundation that already exists. In other columns and in NASAA’s policy paper, Advancing America’s Creativity, I’ve put forth suggestions that emphasize big-picture policies and the importance of a strong partnership between the NEA and state arts agencies. In addition, I believe the public value of the NEA can be enhanced by policies, practices and programs that won’t make the front page, but would strengthen relationships with stakeholders and beneficiaries and build the kind of infrastructure that translates into active support and long-term investment. Here’s a menu of suggestions in two overarching categories that I’d like to see tested in consultation with stakeholders and through a variety of public processes.

Advance a culture of strategic, information-based decision-making.

  • Pick a small number of important NEA goals (such as broadening participation, assisting arts organizations to build adaptive capacity, advancing arts education); align a few indicators of success with each; gather information that helps to understand trends and influences; identify strategies to make goal-related progress that can be modeled and tested; consider how these relate to the current and potential programs of the NEA and other grant makers.
  • Foster networking among the associations, centers, higher education institutions, and others who plan and conduct arts-related research. Encourage them to share, collaborate, and build a research agenda that will yield the best ideas and information to address a variety of goals.
  • Realize the information, learning and leadership potential of agency operations. For instance, tap the expertise and perspective generated by grant panel convenings to identify trends; engage in dialogue with national service organizations; organize and send information to the field; feed systematically into agency policy considerations; draw upon National Council members as ambassadors, reporting on NEA activities to their state, regional and local arts agencies, state and local officials, and/or service organizations and reporting back.

Expand relationships and build infrastructure for long-term arts support.

  • Cultivate public leaders, working with national service organizations to engage governors and executive staff, lieutenant governors, state legislators and staff members, mayors, and county and city executives in drawing upon the arts as cultural, civic and economic resources.
  • Maintaining a priority commitment to the not-for-profit arts sector, identify leadership activities that enhance the public benefits provided through not-for-profit, for-profit and amateur participation in the arts—and enlist for-profit and amateur arts participants as NEA proponents.
  • Regularize communication with national arts service organizations, drawing upon their interests and expertise to assist artists and arts organizations as well as to broaden and diversify participation in the arts.
  • Develop a program to extend the reach of the NEA by advancing the work of local arts agencies.
  • Enhance the agency public information function with a communication plan to provide systematic contact with key decision makers and publics. Work with colleagues to identify the information, messages, documentation and networks that can most effectively communicate the value of the arts, the NEA and the activities it supports.

As I say, it’s a menu. One can’t do everything at once, and some things take longer than others. But to push the metaphor for a purpose, what the items have in common is the kind of preparation and presentation each requires to realize the desired result. They each require good information, consultation, and a sense that public service is an endlessly challenging privilege. As always, I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.