NASAA Notes: November 2023


Pam Breaux Headshot

Pam Breaux

November issue
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November 1, 2023

President's 2023 Message to Members: NASAA Is Here for You

NASAA President and CEO Pam Breaux addressed members at NASAA’s 2023 virtual business meeting in October.

Hello, everyone. As always, it’s so great to be with you. Especially during these days of rapid change and rampant change, it’s particularly gratifying and sustaining to be in community with each of you. In fact, the warm embrace of the state arts agency community was critical for me in 2001, when I led a state arts agency, and it’s just as critical for me today. I hope each of you is sustained by the embrace of this community when we’re all together, when we’re in smaller groups, in our Zoom boxes and even when we’re just on the phone in pairs. That embrace will inspire you for transformative work ahead, and that embrace will also restore you and reassure you when you need it most.

As I connect to folks outside of our network, I’m often asked, “How are things at NASAA?” and “How are state arts agencies?” These always seem like enormous questions because there’s no statement or elevator speech that can adequately capture how we are and how our agencies are. These are incredibly difficult days, and folks are rightfully exhausted, both inside and outside our network. Despite these challenging times and the rapid pace of change, state arts agencies are skillfully advancing critical work for the people of your states and jurisdictions. Your work is a source of pride for us here at NASAA. Always remember that.

Your work is also hard. When state arts agencies face new or deeper challenges, so does NASAA. When you must respond to a changing landscape, it’s our job to help you respond. During the last few months, you have told us about considerable change. We heard you in peer groups and affinity groups; we heard you in committees, on the board, in focus groups, during nominations interviews and one-on-one, when you called individually. The challenges are mighty.

Navigating Polarization

Political polarization is on your minds, and it’s on ours too. More than one-third of states have told us that political polarization is the most urgent issue facing state arts agencies today. More than a third—and elections this year and next are likely to exacerbate that reality. This issue wasn’t as rampant for members when we met one year ago in Kansas City, Missouri, but it certainly is rampant now.

It became important for NASAA to set aside what we knew of polarization in favor of getting proximate with the current experiences of our field. To better understand what members are facing, we spent upwards of 50 hours in one-on-one conversations with executive directors from each region. We also studied how other sectors, like libraries and education, are handling politically motivated challenges. With that grounding, we could better convene conversations with executive leaders about how to prepare for and how to respond to these issues.

We were better able to lead discussions about building strategic alliances for coping with these provocations. We were better able to explore what being proactive looks like when considering political polarization. We were also better able to think about how to reframe a political challenge in a way that’s smart and in keeping with an agency’s core values. I remain grateful to so many state arts agency leaders who helped us see these political controversies through their eyes. That helped us change how we’re equipping the field to prepare and respond as these political challenges continue to unfold.

Responding to Workforce Challenges

Transitions and capacity are also top of mind for state arts agencies, and they’re top of mind for us. Leadership transitions and workforce challenges are happening all around us; most fields are experiencing this, and state arts agencies are no exception. We have seen about 30 executive transitions at member agencies since the beginning of 2020. We have also seen considerable staff burnout and transitions, staff shortages and a host of other workforce challenges. The environment for public service is particularly difficult these days.

So, we at NASAA are responding differently to these state arts agency workforce challenges, and we’ll need to continue calibrating and adjusting this work as member challenges evolve. Our changes include:

  • Convening a customized biennial executive forum to better equip executive and deputy directors; the first forum is set for December;
  • Convening each peer group and affinity group regularly to encourage all-important connection and information sharing;
  • Equipping each peer group and affinity group with a budget to invest in their time together as a cohort; we imagine the groups making investments in cohort-building, wellness, or whatever they need; and
  • Bringing back the new Executive Director Boot Camps; we’ll convene boot camps biennially in odd-numbered years, and we’ll also convene new directors in even-numbered years as a preconference to the Assembly; this annual cycle of leadership development for new EDs is critical and grounding for new leaders, especially considering turnover rates.

Strengthening Advocacy

Advocacy is on members’ minds differently than during the last couple of years. Necessarily during the pandemic, NASAA and members advocated for and received additional resources to help arts organizations and artists respond to the economic and community challenges faced with COVID-19. Your advocacy concerns are different today. Members are concerned about the end of state budget surpluses and the possible contraction of appropriations. As pandemic dollars end, how can we ensure that state arts agencies maintain meaningful appropriations to respond to ongoing state needs? Some of the ways NASAA is responding to today’s advocacy needs and those evolving needs include:

  • Election follow-up at the federal level that incorporates cultivating deeper relationships with key elected and appointed officials who will influence arts policy;
  • Lifting up opportunities for cross-sector support that infuses the arts in other areas of government policy;
  • Strengthening state level arts advocacy practices with new mapping and tools that illustrate SAA grants by state legislative districts; and
  • Supporting the National Endowment for the Arts’s work to advance collaborations between the arts and other sectors—and keeping the needs of state arts agencies within those conversations; that federal work can be leveraged for partnership building and advancement at the state level, and that’s why it is important for us to support it.

The challenges now faced by state arts agencies and NASAA are real to be sure, and it often feels like we’re adapting to a dizzying amount of change on the daily. Let’s not forget what else is happening on the daily. I’m seeing you face forward with a commitment to improving tomorrow. You are advancing programs and services to benefit all of the people of your states and jurisdictions. You’re demonstrating your relevance and the relevance of the arts to daily life for all communities. Beyond responding to change, you’re also making change—good change that’s positive and important for the people of your states and jurisdictions. It’s such an honor to witness your work and its impact, and I know the NASAA team stands with me with boundless appreciation and pride for the work you do each day.

Connecting with Purpose

Before I pass the virtual mic to Chair Donna Collins, please allow me to keep my gratitude flowing a moment longer.

  • Earlier I noted that this hasn’t been an easy time to be in public service. It has not been the easiest of years at NASAA either. Yet NASAA staff members continue to show up and accomplish considerable great service for the members of our Assembly. I am so grateful to them for their service to our field.
  • I am also deeply grateful to Omari Rush for his two years of service as our chair. What a leader! Deepening board engagement has been high on his list of goals, and he has indeed deepened engagement and so much more, and NASAA is stronger because of his service.
  • Donna Collins, thank you for saying yes to this new call to serve. I know you’ll be a thoughtful and outstanding leader for our board, and I look forward to our next two years in partnership.
  • To the NASAA board, your service helps sharpen our focus on state arts agency needs and opportunities, and I’m mighty grateful to keep those conversations alive with you.
  • To our colleagues at the National Endowment for the Arts and partner organizations, our work together continues to benefit the arts field and state arts agencies; your partnership is greatly appreciated.

Finally, as much as I appreciate the efficiency of a virtual membership meeting, I’m already looking forward to feeling the heartbeat of our members when we convene for Assembly 2024 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We’ll feel the rhythms and heart of that incredibly special place while gathering as a community of state arts agencies, in solidarity with our peers, to advance work that matters.

Let’s never forget why our work matters. State arts agencies are pivotal to advancing the arts all across America, in towns, cities, and rural and tribal communities. Arts and creativity make us stronger as individuals, families, communities, states and as a country. The work our members do each day helps our country thrive, as the arts and creativity strengthen the very fabric of America’s communities, and we should not understate that strengthening that fabric is especially crucial now.

Thanks, everyone, for your unique and pivotal roles in this work.

In this Issue

From the President and CEO

State to State

Legislative Update

The Research Digest

Announcements and Resources

More Notes from NASAA




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