WolfBrown: On Our Minds

Posts tagged ‘policy’

Over the past several months, I have been deconstructing what we, as a field, mean when we talk about “arts participation” in light of what we are discovering about how people actually engage with arts and creative activities in their daily lives.  This thinking is inspired partly by our recent work on a forthcoming research monograph for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) about arts participation and creation utilizing data from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts(SPPA).  The focus of the work has been to analyze the multiple modes in which a person can participate in the arts using SPPA measurements – attendance, personal arts creation, and media-based participation.  How do people participate across and between these modes?  What is the relationship between creation and participation?  Most importantly, what new measures of arts participation could be effective in advancing policy nationally?  Thinking about these types of questions brought me to a recently released report by the Australia Council for the Arts called More Than Bums on Seats: Australian Participation in the Arts.  While the SPPA concentrates on measuring arts participation through behavior (e.g.,”Have you attended a ballet performance in the past 12 months?”), More Than Bums on Seats expands its focus to include attitudes towards arts and creative activities (e.g., “The arts should be as much about creating/doing these things yourself as being part of an audience”), and perceived benefits of the arts (e.g., “The arts help me feel part of my local community”). The final result of the study is a community segmentation model based on a combination of attitudes and behaviors towards arts participation.  I wonder what kinds of implications for practice and policy would such information yield if a national study of arts participation here in the U.S. were to include such measurements?  I’m looking forward to that discussion.

We will be sharing more about the NEA monograph in the upcoming months. Expected publication is September 2010.

 

The Fundamental Question

July 10th, 2009

Back in 2002 James Allen Smith addressed the Museum Trustee Association and Getty Leadership Institute and asked “What do economics have to do with culture?” He noted the “pressure we are under to justify our work in instrumental or utilitarian terms,” and how when “cultural critics talk about economics, or economists talk about culture, smart people can end up saying ridiculous, confusing things.” In the talk that followed he offered a comprehensive analysis of the trends in cultural sector economics that are increasing the pressure to evaluate, and described the issues behind the fundamental question: “In what language should we answer when policy makers and foundation funders speak their utilitarian prose and expect quantitative answers?” It is a talk well worth reading in its entirety.

Several weeks ago I visited Catherine Bunting, head of research for Arts Council England (ACE), in her London office. We compared our research ‘wish lists’ and talked about the growing demands of public and private sector authorizers in both of our countries to produce evidence of positive outcomes. In the U.S., WolfBrown has studied impact at the microcosmic level (i.e., the impact of a live performance on an individual), and more studies along this line are in the works, both in the U.S. and the U.K. But much work remains to be done to understand impact in the macrocosm. For example, what is the cumulative benefit to an individual of a lifetime of arts participation? What is the cumulative impact of an arts institution on its community? What is the impact of the totality of a community’s arts and cultural programs on its citizenry? A new “Culture and Sport Evidence Programme” (CASE) was recently launched by Catherine and her colleagues at sister agencies under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The three-year effort aims to elevate “the quality of evidence underpinning public policy in culture and sport.” You can read more about it here and sign up for a monthly e-mail briefing. The initiative aims to tackle fundamental questions such as “What is engagement?” and “What is value?” Once again, the Brits are way ahead of us. More of our country’s leading arts agencies and funders need to get serious about new methodologies for tracking creativity and cultural engagement over time, and expanding the base of evidence of the impact of the arts on children and adults.

Underwater Endowments

March 10th, 2009

Some nonprofit executives, though concerned about the overall state of the economy, seem relatively unfazed by the impact of the stock market collapse on their endowment funds, perhaps assuming that eventually “whatever goes down must come up.” Their relative complacency may also relate to their endowment income policies, most of which take into operating income a percentage of a rolling three year average of total return. As a result, the full impact of the recent “correction” might not be felt until 2011-2012 and only if there is no intervening bull market rally. In certain states, however, there are laws that limit a nonprofit organization’s ability to spend earnings from donor-restricted endowment funds when the current market value is below the historic value at the time the organization received the funds. The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) is working toward enacting the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act in all 50 state legislatures. The Act governs procedures for the investment, management, and expenditure of endowment funds and, among other changes, removes the historic dollar value limitation. (It also has an optional provision, which presumes a total return policy in excess of 7% to be imprudent.) UPMIFA has been enacted so far in 26 states and introduced into legislation in 2009 in 15 others. Until the new law is passed, however, nonprofit organizations in those 15 states, and the nine others where it has not even been introduced, should monitor compliance with existing state laws regarding use of earnings from donor-restricted funds.

Converging Views on the Future

December 18th, 2008

University of California Press

Within weeks, two leading thinkers in very different parts of the cultural sector came out with major new writings that are variations on the same theme. As Marc notes, John Holden considers what a more “democratic culture” would look like, citing new statistics from Arts Council England that show that only a small percentage of British adults frequently attend museums and theatres. Meanwhile, Bill Ivey, head of Obama’s arts and culture transition team and director of the Curb Center, has written a highly critical assessment of the U.S. cultural system in his new book, Arts, Inc. It’s a must read for funders and arts managers who want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. It’s almost as if these two authors sat down together to work out a common point of view. Both authors criticize the legislative policies, copyright laws, nonprofit infrastructure, and lack of a coherent public policy that balances artistic innovation and preservation of cultural treasures with public access. Holden argues that “culture should be something that we all own and make, not something given, offered or delivered by one section of ‘us’ to another.” Ivey goes a step further and describes a new “cultural bill of rights” that guarantees every American the right to an “expressive life.” Individually, they are compelling arguments. Together, they are a clarion call for a serious rethinking of cultural policy on both sides of the pond. Arts groups and their supporters might use these writings as an opportunity to consider the social costs of “excellence” and “quality” in an environment of profound inequity.

Star Tribune

There was a lot of exciting election news this year. In all of the flurry, I wanted to be sure you didn’t miss this piece of interesting legislation that was approved by voters in Minnesota, where a collaborative effort involving 350 environmental, conservation, sportsmen, and arts groups managed to garner sufficient voter support to raise the state sales tax by 0.375% for the next 25 years. The resulting funds will be divided between outdoor habitat projects, clean water remediation, parks and trails, and arts projects. It is expected to provide $54 million a year in funding for the arts! (Of course, the economic downturn and reduced spending may make this number smaller, but surely the economic recovery will improve things before the 25 years are up!)

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

December 4th, 2008

Obama Transition Policy

Some arts and culture leaders were elated when Barack Obama won the November 4th presidential election, in part because he was the first candidate in many years from either party to have an arts policy plank in his or her platform. Obama’s arts platform, which was developed with input from a national arts policy committee he formed, articulated his general positions on issues relating to arts education, NEA funding, cultural diplomacy, and health benefits and tax fairness for artists. Now, President-elect Obama is receiving friendly pressure from the arts community to make good on his promises to support the arts, despite the financial pressures on government resources. A consortium of 16 arts service organizations has submitted to the Office of Presidential Transition a detailed list of arts policy recommendations and related implementation strategies that they hope the Obama administration will follow. Regardless of how you voted, it is important for all arts and culture leaders to understand the impact the proposed arts policy recommendations would have if adopted, or not, by the new administration.

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