Friday, October 30, 2009

Raising Awareness of the Arts (in Canada?)

There is interesting news out of Canada about a new arts awareness campaign that is being launched. I know many of the folks involved in this from my years running the national Arts & Business Council, followed by my years at Americans for the Arts after the merger of the two. I attended a few of the Canadian Arts Summit gatherings, of which this campaign is (indirectly) an outcome, and worked closely with the Canadian equivalent of the Arts & Business Council (CBAC, now known as "Business for the Arts"). I had always felt the Canadian Arts Summit is a great model to replicate in the US - there is frankly nothing like it here. Since 1998, the convening brings together every year the board chairs, executive director or managing directors, and artistic directors of the 50 largest Canadian arts organizations across all disciplines - museum, opera, symphony, theatre, dance, presenting, etc. This makes for fascinating conversations at the highest level about governance, cultural policy, audiences, and artistic trends. This is different from what Americans for the Arts' National Arts Policy Roundtable does, different from Aspen - NOTHING akin to this happens in this country that brings together artistic, managment and volunteer leadership from our most influential organizations representing a broad array of geography and artistic practice. It is not perfect - arts councils and service organizations are not represented, nor are small grassroots groups. But in terms of clout and high-level networking, this gathering is quite a powerhouse.

And this awareness campaign is an outgrowth of that. Again, this appears to be very different from "Art. Ask for More" - the Americans for the Arts PSA campaign. That campaign is about very specifically targeting parents to advocate for more arts education in their schools  a valuable message but a much narrower one. The Canadian effort is about raising broad public awareness of the importance of the arts in our lives and in our communities, and I think - like the Canadian Arts Summit - that is something we very much need in this country.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Conundrums of Cultural Policy and Planning

As the Mayor's Cultural Advisory Council works with me on developing some concrete goals, strategies and tactics for both the short and long term (if not a full-blown cultural plan) I can't help but reflect on the challenges of the balancing act this process entails, especially in the current climate. We have a wide array of organizations truly struggling right now with their financial stability, from the Philadelphia Orchestra down to very small one-person operations in danger of literally ceasing operations because they must lay off the one paid staff member. On a pure hard-nosed economic calculation, a large organization like the Art Museum or the Orchestra has the most significant impact on the economy - attracting tourists, generating restaurant revenue, employing workers, etc. As a City looking to bolster its revenues which ultimately serves all citizens, the impact of an institution on the City's economy MUST be an important factor in evaluating City investments. On the other hand, a large City like Philadelphia requires a diverse ecosystem of arts and culture to maintain its cultural vitality and overall creative economy, and while each small organization by itself may not be a crucial component of our economy, taken collectively they are equally important. Similarly, maintaining the vitality of our cultural activity in Center City is undeniably important to our economy, yet our cultural resources must also be dispersed in a way that benefits all our citizens and all our neighborhoods. The arts are not just an economic stimulant, but a vehicle for neighborhood transformation, personal enlightenment and education.

As an Office, we also have the charge of supporting our creative economy sector - the for-profit side of the arts and culture industry, including art galleries, music clubs, design-related businesses, etc. These businesses are ALSO important to the success of a diverse and thriving creative City.  And we must also make sure we support all artistic disciplines, as well as the wide array of different cultures often served through culturally-specific arts and community-based organizations. Not to mention the necessity of working with the School District and other arts education leaders to ensure that all our young people have access to the arts in and out of school. The heritage segment of our sector has also felt especially under-resourced and under-appreciated, especially given its prominence as a community asset.

This is all by way of saying this is an immensely complex task, where there are an almost infinite array of needs and issues to be addressed, where most if not all of them are important, and where in the current economic climate the resources are not available to significantly increase our financial commitment to ANY of the competing needs.

Yet, we do have SOME tools at our disposal, we can reallocate resources, or use existing resources more wisely. Not every strategy is about money. And anything we do is an implicit or explicit statement of policy priorities, and therefore must be strategic. Perhaps a personal shortcoming of mine is always seeing all sides of an issue, seeing with clarity all the complexities, all the competing "right" answers. Biases or blinders would undoubtedly make the trade-offs involved in setting priorities easier. I don't have any easy answers, but I am glad that this group of a few dozen of Philadelphia's most valued thinkers on cultural issues are there to work with me on mapping out our future. Finally, even though the current climate makes major new initiatives that require new resources impossible, it may be an ideal time for planning, to chart our course for the future, when calmer financial seas will prevail.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cultural Consumers Are Still Consuming

A new study was issued this week by consultant and author Patricia Martin, who writes a great blog on the cultural consumer. I have worked with Pat for many years, and she always has interesting things to say, and good insight into the "zeitgeist" of the cultural consumer - the folks who form our audiences, visitors and arts participants. The "American Life and Culture Survey" reinforces what many arts groups are seeing - in the difficult economy consumer spending and attitudes towards cultural engagement have not changed all that much - people are still buying books, going to performing arts events, attending and renting movies, etc. One big finding: Millennials create; Boomers consume - 82% of younger respondents said their peers consider them creative, and one third of this group blog. The older Boomer group create less, but consume at a higher rate, participating in cultural experiences and acquiring art.In a sign of the economic times, even though attendance may not be down, consumers are much more actively seeking free cultural experiences. I wonder how this trend is going to intersect with the fact that tight budgets are forcing many arts groups to cut back on discounted and free admission and tickets - are we shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot?

Also of interest is that 90% of the cultural consumer group agreed that the arts help to keep the local economy strong and create growth. More than 90% stay informed about political news and vote locally and nationally. The success on the recent arts tax battle is proof of the power of this group when aroused and harnessed. Access the study here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ignite, ArtBlog, Independence Starts Here...

Had the great experience of participating as a speaker in the most recent Ignite Philly 4 at Johnny Brenda's this past  week. Here is how they describe the program: "Ignite Philly is part of a worldwide network that entertains and educates people in short 5 minute bursts. Ignite Philly is the local group, and is our way to highlight great ideas coming to life here in Philadelphia.Each presenter is on stage for  a total of 5 minutes (20 slides, at 15 seconds each slide). These talks are a ’spark’ if you will, they are lightening fast and leave people with a new idea to mull over and talk about." As a presenter, it is a very interesting presentation challenge, similar to Pecha Kucha now all the rage at conferences - you've got to be REALLY concise and engaging. The thing about Ignite is that it is not a conference. The atmosphere is more alternative music concert/battle of the bands or poetry slam. I spoke about the state of public art in Philadelphia (see my recent post on the subject). It was a very cool experience, and also made me feel very OLD...

Roberta Fallon and Libby Rossoff recently interviewed me for The ArtBlog, one of the great local blogs I follow and so I thought I would share it with you here. They also have a great map-based gallery guide that I think is the best resource of its kind in Philadelphia.

Last week I participated in a press conference for a new initiative called Independence Starts Here. This is a great new program to increase access to the arts for people with disabilities. It is a collaboration between Art Reach, The Philly Fun Guide of Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and Amaryllis Theatre Company. Primary funding for the project comes from the PNC Arts Alive grant program. The great thing about this program is that it addresses not only helping arts organizations make their programs accessible for audiences with visual or hearing impairments, but also helps connect those programs to the audiences that will take advantage of them. A whole new "access" area has been added to the Philly Fun Guide web site, and partnerships with an array of disability services organizations will get the word out directly to their constituencies. This marketing component is where so many arts access programs fall short. Organizations do a sign-interpreted performance, for example, and when deaf audiences don't show up the arts groups stops interpreting, saying "we tried it but nobody came." And the deaf arts lovers say "we don't go because we have no idea how to find out what is available." Voila!  At least for Philly, Independence Starts Here seems to be a pretty effective way to bridge that gap.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Today we issued a press release announcing the completion of a new study of Philadelphia's public art landscape. The text of the release follows:

Philadelphia, PA - The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy announces the completion of a year-long study entitled Philadelphia Public Art: The Full Spectrum performed by PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania, and funded by the William Penn Foundation.  The study was undertaken to assess how public art is currently commissioned, managed, and conserved by the City and other local public art organizations and to make policy recommendations on how to best utilize this tremendous resource relative to the city-wide goals of neighborhood revitalization, economic development, and the creative economy.

“This study will be an essential tool as we develop a strategy for how to take what is arguably already the most extraordinary public art city in the country, and take it to another level,” said Gary Steuer, Chief Cultural Officer for the City of Philadelphia and Director of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. “It identifies both our extraordinary assets as well as the opportunities to do even better.”

The study was initiated by the Philadelphia Public Art Forum, a coalition of public art administrators convened by the Fairmount Park Art Association, with the goal of providing information about the breadth of public art programs in Philadelphia and developing strategies to enhance their effectiveness.  Other cities’ public art programs were investigated for comparison and for consideration of “best practices” in the field.  The commencement of the study coincided with the opening by Mayor Nutter of the City’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy in 2008, and its completion in 2009 is simultaneous to the 50th anniversary of Philadelphia’s “Percent for Art” programs (1959 to 2009), which were the first in the nation. 

Harris Steinberg, Executive Director of Penn Praxis said: “Public art has been an integral part of Philadelphia’s urban fabric and character for centuries. We have an historic opportunity, with Gary’s leadership in the new Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, to improve upon and explore new forms of expression tied to our identity as a world-class city.”

Philadelphia Public Art: The Full Spectrum details the unprecedented diversity and multiplicity of public art entities that have arisen in Philadelphia over time, which have led to the world-renowned collection of public art for which Philadelphia is known.  The recommendations in the study will be useful for the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy as the City looks to enhance the “full spectrum” of public art assets in the City – from the City’s own Percent for Art program to the similar program at RDA, to Fairmount Park Art Association, the Mural Arts Program (now celebrating its 25th anniversary), the Airport art program, SEPTA’s program and a vast array of other entities. 

The principal recommendations include creating a comprehensive public art vision, organizing and strengthening the Office, strengthening the existing programs, better communicating the story, integrating public art better into planning, and creating new funding opportunities. Some of the gaps or opportunities identified include needing to find a mechanism to maintain this very large collection, much of which is in need of maintenance and conservation, and the need to implement more large-scale temporary public art installations.

The Office has already made progress with many of the study’s recommendations including:
  • Orchestrating the Corian Bench Innovation Project, a Design Philadelphia exhibit of temporary public benches in locations throughout the city.
  • Working with city economic development agencies to integrate public art in major civic development projects such as the design of Pier 11, Dilworth Plaza and the Delaware River Master Plan.
  • Collaborating with the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Locks Gallery for a temporary installation of Jun Kaneko’s “heads” in the City Hall Courtyard.

The Office is laying the groundwork for a temporary art program planned for fiscal year 2010 and a public art committee of the Mayor’s Cultural Advisory Committee is reviewing the study and will advise the Office in developing the broader public art vision.  A celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Public Art is scheduled for October 29th at the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

The City of Philadelphia’s Public Art Program of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy consists of the Percent for Art, Conservation and Collection Management Programs, supporting the commissioning of new works of public art and overseeing the preservation of the City’s public art collection -- considered one of the most impressive in the country.  In 1959, Philadelphia became the first city in the U.S. to enact a Percent for Art ordinance to beautify and adorn architecture and public spaces.  In recent years, dozens of public artworks have received conservation treatment to repair the effects of acid rain, vandalism, and nature, and to ensure their preservation for future generations. 

The report can be accessed online. The printed copies of the report will be available from the Office by end of October.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Barnes video - part II

This is a second video that has Williams and Tsien demonstrating the model, and also shows a number of renderings.This is a wonderful way to come to understand and appreciate their design, I think, short of having them personally walk you through it. They did a very successful presentation earlier this week to a few hundred cultural and civic leaders, along with landscape architect Lori Olin. I think this design is about as good a solution to this challenge as is imaginable. The existing Barnes is a very special place, but I think this new facility will come pretty close to replicating that experience, or even (dare I say it) enhancing it, while at the same time making the collection much more accessible and accommodating more visitors, adding a new temporary exhibition gallery, more classroom and support space, an auditorium, and a beautiful landscape addition to the Parkway. If construction proceeds on schedule the building should be done by end of 2011 and ready to open to the public sometime in early 2012.

Video of the new Barnes design

Here is a video created for the Philadelphia Inquirer's Web site that has Tod Williams and Billie Tsien explaining their design for the new Barnes on the Parkway. A great way to see and understand the philosophy behind this extraordinary new building.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Update on Arts Sales Tax and State Budget

Well, it now looks like at long last Pennsylvania has a state budget deal, 100 days+ into the fiscal year. Still being worked out are the mechanics for how it will get approved and some minor differences between the House and Senate bills, but it appears to have support from the House, the Senate and the Governor, so barring any last minute glitches, it should be enacted, it is just a question of process and timing.

The good news is that the arts tax is NOT in the budget.  However, none of the alternate taxes discussed (cigars, smokeless tobacco, natural gas) were included in the budget deal, so the final budget does include some significant cuts on the expense side. The total state budget is down by $500 million due to declining revenues, so needless to say that means many expenses are being cut. The arts areas of the state budget have been on a seesaw throughout this budget process, eliminated in one version, restored in another, cut severely in yet another. How did we end up now that the pendulum appears to have stopped swinging? Below are the numbers as reported today by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts will see its administrative budget cut from $1.2 million to $992k (24%). Grants to the Arts will be cut from $15.2 million to $11 million, a cut of 28%. There is also a line for "Cultural Preservation Grants" in the Executive Offices budget at $3.1 million. This is a new category and it appears it is a repository for preserving some support for nine museums previously supported under the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, as well as other cultural organizations yet to be named (see below).

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's General Government Operations budget is down to $19.5m  from $25.8m last year (this $ goes towards operating state-owned museums and historic sites). Museum Assistance Grants are down to $1.8m from $3.8m last year. The so-called "Non-preferred line items" are all at ZERO. Here is what was supported through these grants last year in Philadelphia: UPenn Museum $329k; Franklin Institute $713k; Academy of Natural Sciences $437k; African American Museum $333k. My understanding is that these groups are not actually being totally zeroed, but are now  in the "Cultural Preservation Grants" budget, but at levels that may be down 50-75% from their levels last year. 

The Department of Community and Economic Development has also been an important source of support for cultural-related programs and activity. Here is what happened with DCED: Cultural Exhibits and Expositions: zero ($5.5m last year); Marketing to Attract Film Business: zero ($489k last year); Tourism -- Accredited Zoos: $1.2m ($2.2m last year); Cultural Activities: zero ($3.4m last year). Some cultural groups had been supported through a line called "Community Revitalization" - also zeroed in this year's budget.

In the Education budget, the Governor's Schools of Excellence, which included $ for the Governor's School for the Arts, has gone to zero from $3.1m last year; Non-State Related Universities and Colleges -- University of the Arts: $271k ($1.2m last year)  Professional development for the arts is in at $346k, level funding. Public Television funding will plummet, from $8 million to $1 million, affecting both WHYY and MiND in Philly.

Clearly, this is very much a "good news/bad news" scenario. The "arts tax" has been removed, and that is a good thing, and PCA has been preserved, which is also a good thing, but on the expense side the arts funding areas of the budget have seen some pretty significant cuts, and that of course is bad. Needless to say, there was no guarantee that even with an arts tax, the cultural funding budgets might not have been exactly as outlined above. And there is no proof that arts funding was in any way singled out for punishment because of the sharp outcry to the arts sales tax. Cuts of this magnitude were on the table before the arts tax was even raised, and many other areas of the budget are also being cut. Preliminary conversations I have had with some folks in the arts community indicate that many leaders feel that if there had to be a trade-off, some level of funding reduction is preferable to the arts tax - this feeling is especially true at larger institutions that would have been hard hit by the tax, but are not non-preferreds (or have other large line item state funding) and therefore get relatively modest money from PCA.  Many of the non-preferreds and other groiups that had been getting significant dedicated funding will find their budgets and operations very hard hit by these significant cuts. Groups benefiting only from PCA grants will see a more modest impact.

Also much discussed within the film community is that the film tax credit funding is in the budget at the same level as the existing obligations to films already shot or already committed. What this means is that no incentives can be offered to any new productions, leading to fear that there will be a virtual freezing of film production over the next year, as productions will seek other communities that are offering incentives.

Apologies for another long post, but I thought it was important to convey this information. It is also important to note the the elimination of the arts tax from the budget is the result of a massive statewide (and even national) advocacy effort, of citizens, parents, audience members and cultural workers making their voices heard. And all those voices would have just been noise if not organized into a cohesive chorus by Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the other advocacy groups in our region and around the state.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Welcome House

Was able to pop in on the opening celebration of Design Philadelphia at Love Park last night. It was also the opening of The Welcome House, a very cool temporary art installation by artist Marianne Bernstein, and a project of First Person Arts in partnership with InLiquid. First Person Arts is an organization that for the past three years has been using the arts for public engagement. This is exactly the sort of project I would like to see much more of throughout the City. It is art that is temporary, of the highest quality, wakes people up and confronts/engages/delights them in the course of their daily routine. Last night's celebration of Design Philadelphia was also remarkable - a party whose participants ran the gamut from hipsters to the homeless. Minima, the gallery in Old City which specializes in contemporary furniture design, was able to arrange for the installation of an array of very sleek white outdoor furniture in the park, so for the run of this installation the park will each become Philadelphia's newest open air lounge. The First Person Arts annual festival will take place November 3-8 at the Painted Bride.