NASAA Notes: June 2015

June 5, 2015

Shift Happens

Picture this: You have conceived a new way to boost support for your arts agency. It’s a great idea with transformative potential. Your case for it is based on irrefutable data. You’ve developed a fresh marketing angle and have anticipated key implementation hurdles and their solutions. You’ve recruited some influential allies and you’re eager to get rolling.

You’re all set to succeed, right? Perhaps.

All of us have experienced change efforts that died on the vine or got stuck in the sand. We’ve learned that it’s not just the caliber of our plans that counts. Our success also swings on other factors, some beyond our control: limited resources, authority structures, human nature and the fickle weather of state politics.

So what’s a public arts leader to do? Giving up isn’t an option. Neither is beating our head against that proverbial brick wall. We need a “third option”―a path forward that is rooted in our reality, even as we work to reshape that reality into something better.

Time for Change

Finding those third options was a prominent theme during the spring Change Leader Institute recently convened by the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. NASAA’s Laura Smith and I both had the privilege of participating.

NASAA’s 2015 Leadership Institute takes place in Salt Lake City this October, so being part of the Utah program now was a timely way to prepare for the fall. Additional synergies abound. NASAA is in a transition process, with our new CEO taking the helm July 6 (hooray!) and numerous other organizational changes under way. State arts agencies, too, face an ever-rising tide of change―
demographic, technological, artistic, economic and political. So it’s a good time for all of us to stay nimble.

The Program in a Nutshell

Change Leader is a certification program that equips participants to recognize, catalyze and lead change. It helps people guide transformation at multiple levels: programmatic, organizational and communitywide as well as individual and interpersonal. The program begins with an immersive three-day institute focusing on the nature of transition. Active learning modules offer practical techniques for assessing motivations, addressing resistance and facilitating group processes. Critical to the program is a network that supports the application of lessons learned, implementation efforts (required for certification) and ongoing learning.


Utah, which pioneered the program, has certified more than 200 Change Leaders. The ranks keep growing in the Beehive State, as well as in Idaho and Colorado. Graduates have used the program to effect many new initiatives―some modest, some massive, all meaningful. And the effects aren’t limited to the arts. Several Change Leaders have sought and attained elected office and now are influencing multiple aspects of civic life.

If my own experience is anything close to typical, this program also leaves indelible marks on participants as individuals. In a good way.

Laura and I were part of a 12-member cohort of people with widely divergent careers, cognitive styles, talents and approaches to change. The curriculum called on each of us to stretch outside our comfort zones, candidly examine our assumptions and become willing to rewire our thinking. It was an eye-opening, often humbling and regularly hilarious journey. And it was very relevant to the work that state arts agencies need to do.

State Arts Agency Change: Fact or Fiction?

There is a persistent myth (that we sometimes inflict upon ourselves) that state arts agencies are change-resistant relics of a bygone era. Don’t buy into this old chestnut. Sure, there are aspects of our work that are “old school” (old school like Aretha Franklin, not like a brontosaurus). However, observing―and truly listening to―state arts agencies reveals many evolutions.

Some of these changes are in the policy realm, like developing new incentives for regions that state arts agencies certify as creative enterprise zones. Others are programmatic, like expanding nongrant services or building new coalitions. Others are procedural, like adopting on-line video conferencing or mining new data sources. Some shifts are initiated by state arts agencies themselves, others are superimposed by legislatures or governors. Regardless of the genesis, state arts agencies are on a quest for continual improvement. In this kaleidoscope of goals and circumstances, we all can benefit from smart thinking on how to frame change, address opposition and lend momentum to our efforts.

Learn More in Utah

Smart thinking is just what NASAA’s 2015 Leadership Institute will offer. If you’re a state arts agency leader (an executive or deputy director, another staffer with policy responsibilities, an appointed council member or an emerging leader), mark your calendar and plan to come to Salt Lake City, October 7-9. Like all NASAA meetings, this convening will offer precious time with colleagues, spicy food for thought and great impetus for action. But this conference will be unique in borrowing ideas from the Change Leader curriculum. Thanks to our hosts at the Utah Division of Arts and Museums for their partnership in making this year’s institute a special occasion.

Finally, a Word of Thanks

This posting marks my last monthly column as your interim CEO. As we pass the leadership torch to Pam Breaux, I want to express my gratitude to the board, membership and staff for all of your support during this transition period. I appreciate your encouragement, your good cheer, your rapid responses to my calls (even at weird hours) and your unflagging confidence in NASAA. I look forward to continuing to serve as your chief program and planning officer, so please keep those channels of communication wide open. The entire NASAA team always is eager to hear your news, your needs and, of course, your latest brilliant brainstorms about state arts agency change.


In this Issue

State to State

Legislative Update

Executive Director's Column

Research on Demand




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