NASAA Notes: August 2014


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Jonathan Katz

August issue
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August 8, 2014

Value of Public Value Continues

The concept and principles of creating public value have informed state arts agency (SAA) strategy and management since the Wallace Foundation initiated the START (State Arts Partnerships for Cultural Participation) program in 13 states from 2001 through 2005. NASAA had long previously articulated and advocated as hallmarks of effective practice the aligning of SAA policies with the priorities of governors and legislators, linking the transforming experience of the arts with the public benefits that result, and using the strategic planning process and other strategic communication to unite the cultural constituency behind a common agenda. But the clarity of the “strategic triangle” (defining and interrelating legitimacy and support, operational capacity, and value/mission/goals), the concept of the “value chain” (through which authorizers, an agency, and its cooperators produce public value), the mentoring of Mark H. Moore (the Harvard professor who wrote the book Creating Public Value), and the adept management of a learning cohort among the participating states (by Arts Midwest, the project administrator) were all helpful innovations. Another helpful innovation was the Wallace investment of more than $12 million in the project, which gave the participating SAAs the resources to explore ways to increase public value by dedicating staff time to experimental grant categories, the engagement of public relations firms, the adjustment of operations and communications, and the development of more collaborative relationships with grantees, constituents and authorizers.

Since that time, NASAA has integrated the knowledge gained from this project into its orientation for SAA executive directors and all of its leadership development activities. The learning continues, and has become a benefit to all SAAs. I regularly draw upon appended materials from Creating Public Value through State Arts Agencies, by Mark Moore and Gaylen Williams Moore. (See, for example, the Montana Arts Council’s authorizing environment list on page 38, the Arizona Commission on the Arts’s value chain analysis on page 112, and the partial catalog of NASAA’s performance indicators for SAAs on pages 113-121.)

In recent years, I have found it most useful to teach concepts of creating public value to various cultural constituencies by drawing on a mix of strategies from political science and economics, marketing, will building, branding and management study. Each of these approaches offers unique insight into what contributes to the goal of increasing support for a cause. Observation of state arts agencies over several decades tells us that what their effective management looks like is the strategic alignment of mission (overall cause), purpose (agency role), goals, indicators (observable objectives), planning, partnerships, communication, research and evaluation. The other factors are empty words until they are incorporated into this strategic alignment of the work being done. Since public value is a measure of the investment a society is willing to make, one of its particularly useful ideas is that an organization’s operational capacity is much more inclusive than its own budget, staff and programs. There is much to be gained by considering all of one’s partners, collaborators, allies, stakeholders, beneficiaries, processes and operations, and how they can each best be managed to coproduce public value.

Two weeks ago in Cincinnati, I keynoted the annual conference of the Educational Theatre Association. This organization has 40,000 current theatre student members and 50,000 alumni in addition to its member theatre departments and individual educator members. My topic was “The Public Value of Educational Theatre.” Here my thesis was that there are three main reasons why learning dramatic skills provides a public good and should therefore be available in every school to every student:

  • One is that the skill set of dramatic art—which enables students to create, perform, respond and connect through the symbol systems of role playing, symbolic incidents and dynamic relationships—provides uniquely effective assistance to all students to learn other subjects as well and to develop socially. The second reason is that the same skills and theatre processes that are uniquely valuable in the classroom are uniquely valuable in the community. Many illustrations of how dramatizing an issue enables community factions to understand each other’s perspectives and work through differences on difficult issues are documented in reports of the Animating Democracy project.
  • In addition, the necessity of dramatic expression is demonstrated all over the world by theatre artists and theatre companies who are born and develop in the most dangerous and violent environments. Examples from the book Art and Upheaval, by William Cleveland, include the founding of Windybrow Theater in South Africa during apartheid negotiations; the work of Big hART theatre company to tackle issues such as domestic violence, drug misuse and suicide prevention in rural Australia; and the emergence of DAH Teater during the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
  • The third reason is that theatre skills, creative processes and plays prepare students to participate effectively in a democracy and to value the perpetuation of democracy. Theatre education teaches both how to communicate effectively and how to empathize, the two most basic skills required of citizens in a democracy. Furthermore, for American democracy to succeed, its citizens must embrace both the value of their diversity and the value of their individuality. Nothing will make this behavior more likely than experience with the dramatic processes of role-playing, engaging in symbolic incidents, and exploring the course of relationships. In addition, plays such as Julius Caesar, Antigone, All My Sons and The Crucible engage students intellectually and emotionally in the most meaningful and challenging themes they will experience as citizens in a democracy: the potential of political power to be abused, tensions between individuals and the state, hard choices between competing loyalties, and the influence of fear on security, privacy and dissent.

Previously, I was invited to keynote a joint conference of the Association of Midwest Museums and the Mountain-Plains Museums Association in Kansas City after I had submitted an outline for a presentation entitled “The Public Value of Museums in a Digital Age.” In this case, I argued that to be understood as a public good and sustain public investment, the museum field needs to create a brand based in powerful and enjoyable learning experiences that build identity for each museum as a community asset, accessible to all and, ultimately, as a civic institution, enabling engagement in what are perceived of as important current issues. Because the museum field—and the library field, too—are focusing so purposefully now on creating interactive and digitally assisted experience with their objects, and because the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provides effective model project, learning opportunity and organizational self-assessment programs, I was able to illustrate these points with many examples. (Note, for example, the recent IMLS National Leadership Grant to Tiltfactor Laboratory “to establish a Crowdsourcing Consortium for Libraries and Archives (CCLA), which will unite leading-edge technology groups in libraries and archives as well as humanities scholars across the United States in a conversation about best practices, shared toolsets, and strategies for using crowdsourcing.”)

The Wallace investment in the capacity of state arts agencies to articulate and communicate their public value has yielded benefits beyond the original participating states, beyond the original grant period and even beyond the state arts agency field largely because the state arts agencies operate as a learning network—through NASAA and through their regional arts organizations (RAOs). I have no doubt that in the future NASAA and the RAOs will build on the ways they have collaborated so far. It has also become apparent that the resilience of state arts agency public value—surprising to some people—is deeply rooted in the nature of artistic skills, experiences and artifacts as public goods that produce essential, observable and, in many cases, measurable public benefits. As always, your comments, questions and suggestions are welcome.

In this Issue

State to State

Legislative Update

More Notes from NASAA

Executive Director's Column

Research on Demand




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