February 10, 2012
Keeping State Arts Agencies Strong
NASAA’s new president recognizes the challenges that state arts agency leaders continue to face; reminds us of the plentiful support, resources and community offered by NASAA; and shares tips for building relationships with state legislators to generate meaningful dialogue about the public value of the arts. . . .
I have been ruminating lately about just how hard state arts agency leadership jobs are. Sometimes words can’t describe how tough they can be—whether it’s a staff role or a council role. There are so many states that are weathering tempestuous storms: restructuring, elimination threats, consolidation, budget cuts, staff and board issues. For many, situations have never been more exhausting, more frustrating, or more challenging and dispiriting.
So, for those who are in the thick of it, I want you to know that I recognize what herculean jobs you have and how remarkable you are at addressing the challenges before you. All of us on the board and the staff of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, as well as Patrice Walker Powell, Laura Scanlan and Andi Mathis at the National Endowment for the Arts, are deeply aware of the scope and the height of the hurdles you continually jump. Here’s recognition that you are true champions for getting where you are right now! You’re strong and smart; you’re creative and tenacious.
Through the trials and tribulations that face us, NASAA is here to help.Time and again I have been so grateful for the valuable resources NASAA provides: data, best practices, national overviews, or finding the tools and the coping mechanisms to help address the situations before us. One of the most unique and rewarding aspects of this organization is the safety zone it provides where we can ask sensitive questions without fear of political fallout, internal kerfuffles or reprisal of some type.
To our new directors, staff, chairpersons and council members: Welcome to this wonderful world of colleagues who really care about you, your work and your agency. Please make NASAA a part of your regular business. Ask your questions without worrying about whether they seem na�ve or weird. When I became the executive director here in Montana 18 years ago, I assumed all the executive directors and council members in other states were on pedestals, and that they would think less of me if I didn’t know this fact or that standard operating procedure. I couldn’t have been more wrong. You will never find a more friendly, empathic and knowledgeable group of people—so please reach out to your colleagues. And if and when you get that “OMG” feeling in your chest—and we all get it at times—call or e-mail NASAA and you’ll find the help and support you need.
In addition to thinking about all of you, I’m also thinking about the way these jobs have changed over the years and the way we structure our priorities. Never has it been more important for state arts agency executive directors and council members to budget a significant amount of time for that one-on-one, face-to-face relationship building that is critical to securing our future on more favorable terms.
In Montana, our agency has declared 2012 to be the year of building political relationships. Each of our staff and council members have assignments as to how many and what types of political relationships they will forge this year. I’m talking about real relationships—not letter-writing, phone calls, texting or e-mails, but an in-person conversation over coffee or a beer, at a meeting, or attending an exhibit or show together—always geared toward a meaningful dialogue about the public value of the local arts scene or the return on investment of state funding of a particular effort.
One of the things I’m most looking forward to is hearing back from five of our council members who are each having two conversations with legislators as part of our “listening tours.” We ask 15 or so questions and are especially eager to learn how they answer these:
- What do you value most about living in Montana?
- What do you believe is your chief responsibility as a public official?
- When you are faced with more worthy causes than money to fund them, how do you set your priorities?
- What convinces you that something is worthy of state investment?
- How much value to the state’s future do you place on creativity?
We’re hoping their answers will shine a light on how we can connect with them in ways we didn’t think of before.
One of the most wonderful things about being part of NASAA is our willingness to spread the wealth and share what we know and learn. We are all stronger for having such impressive collective wisdom—whether you are new to your job and bringing fresh perspectives, or long in the tooth, having been kicked around and yet managing to thrive. There are so many creative, smart and fascinating people involved in our field. You help us stay fresh, strong, nimble and responsive.
I started this column talking about how hard these jobs are. In the end, how lucky we are to have them!
In this Issue
State to State
- New Mexico: Fiber Arts Trails Website
- West Virginia: Partnership with the VH1 Save The Music Foundation
- Connecticut: Arts-Based Place Making Grants
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