NASAA Notes: December 2014

December 10, 2014

Year-End Reflections

‘Tis the season for expressions of gratitude. As the year draws to a close, arts organizations and artists all over the country are thanking the people who make their work possible, celebrating what they’ve accomplished, and recognizing the creative partners, volunteers and supporters who contributed to their success.

This year-end flurry of thanks and good wishes achieves more than we might realize. Of course it’s good PR and sound fundraising practice to thank your contributors. But when we practice gratitude, something else occurs: measurable shifts in our brains and bodies take place. Studies from the University of California, Stanford University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of North Carolina, the National Institutes of Health and many others have documented that gratitude can have striking effects, including greater feelings of satisfaction and well-being, less reactivity to stressful events and conflict, reduced anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, and even improved cholesterol and kidney function indicators. (The research literature on the effects and brain science of gratitude is abundant. For a short summary, see this recent Wall Street Journal article.)

Beyond individual outcomes, gratitude reinforces bonds and facilitates the mutualism and cooperation that help us, as a social species, to adapt and prosper in a constantly changing environment. These reciprocal benefits, and the rewards we experience from them, have deep roots. Biologists are finding that there are distinct evolutionary advantages to cooperation. Martin Nowak from Harvard University’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics put it this way: life is not just a struggle for survival, it is also a snuggle for survival.

We can channel this power as arts managers and public servants. When we thank our supporters, authorizers, audiences, collaborators and volunteers—especially when we pause to bring conscious personal awareness to our gratitude—we tap into a deep wellspring of adaptive energy and a potent antidote for cynicism, bustle and burnout.

In 2014, the state arts agency field and the NASAA community have much for which to be grateful. Thirty state arts agencies received funding increases from their legislatures this year, bringing total state funding for the arts above $1.00 per capita for the first time since fiscal year 2009. We’ve welcomed a new chairman and a new senior deputy chairman to lead the National Endowment for the Arts. Assembly 2014 in New Orleans was one of the largest gatherings that NASAA has hosted in recent history. There we toasted, and lovingly roasted, NASAA’s longtime chief executive officer, Jonathan Katz, to whom we bid farewell in November.

Of course, we still have our work cut out for us. Our nation faces generation-defining social and political issues, propelling changes around and within the arts. The budgets of 20 state arts agencies have yet to recover to pre-recession levels. And gearing up for January’s legislative sessions will be a big task following elections for 36 governors and 6,057 of the country’s 7,383 state house and senate seats. Amidst all this transition, however, there is much to appreciate. NASAA thanks you―the nation’s state arts agencies―for:

  • proving that government ingenuity is not an oxymoron;
  • making the arts accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic circumstance, geography, age, ability, culture or creed;
  • nurturing the leading edge of new creative expression while honoring the cultural traditions that are an indelible part of America; and
  • turning a mere 0.037% of state general fund spending into a high-octane fuel for civic, cultural, educational and economic well-being.

On a personal note, I’m deeply appreciative of the many expressions of support I’ve received since taking on the mantle of interim CEO at NASAA. I feel wildly lucky to serve a field whose annual business session involves impromptu conga lines and spontaneous outbursts of song as well as a palpable sense of shared purpose. Even after 23 years working in this field, I’m still inspired every day by the work that you as state arts agency staff and council members do to champion the arts.

So thank you for supporting the arts in your state. Thank you, too, for your support of NASAA as committed members, donors, volunteers, colleagues and good friends. As we turn the calendar page from 2014 to 2015, please don’t hesitate to be in touch when there’s something NASAA can do to support your amazing work.

In this Issue

State to State

Legislative Update

More Notes from NASAA

Executive Director's Column

Research on Demand




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