Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New NEA study on technology use and the arts

A new study has just been issued by the National Endowment for the Arts called Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation. There are a few things of special note about this research:

1) The findings: People who participate in the arts through electronic media are nearly THREE times more likely to attend live arts events as non media participants (59% vs. 21%). They also attend TWICE as many live arts events on average  - 6/year vs. 3/year. In other words, active participation in the digital media world does not compete with attendance at live arts activities, it may encourage it. I say "may" because this study once again raises the issue of causation vs. correlation. Certainly there seems to be a correlation between high consumption of art in digital form, and higher consumption of live arts. It could be that people that are passionate about art now seek it out in all formats, NOT that their digital consumption is somehow driving them to participate in live arts at a higher level. I think one can certainly draw the conclusion from this research that digital arts engagement is NOT sapping live arts participation. In other words, if live arts participation is declining, don't blame it on iTunes and YouTube... There are many other interesting findings related to age, rural vs. urban, education levels, etc - strongly encourage reading the full report, which leads me to:

2) The format: For the first time this NEA report is ONLY being issued online in an electronic format that actually includes multimedia content as part of the report, as well as a video greeting from NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman and commentary from Sunil Iyengar, the NEA's Director of Resrearch and Analysis.

Ultimately the message of the report is that arts groups need not view this new digital world where many people consume (and/or make) their art in digital form as a threat. It is only a threat if you do not embrace it. I think it is gratifying that not only is the NEA providing us with this report, but also in a sense modeling behavior in the format by which it is being issued.

PS. Thanks to Tom Cott and his great "You've Cott Mail" e-newsletter for first alerting me to this!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Blog Entry About Blogging About the Arts

So as many of my readers will now, I spent the last few days at the Americans for the Arts convention in Baltimore (along with many of you!). I spoke at a session on arts blogging, along with Graham Dunstan who oversees the Americans for the Arts ArtsBlog, Barry Hessenius of Barry's Blog, and Chad Bauman of Arts-Marketing. The session was also attended by such widely-read arts bloggers as Andrew Taylor and Ian David Moss. [That's Graham, Chad, me and Barry in the photo - "the arts bloggers posse". I added the photo to this entry after I first posted it, when I discovered this photo on the Americans for the Arts Flicker site.]

I also attended a session on utilizing new social media (like Twitter, blogs and Facebook) that featured Brian Reich, whose company is little m media. His mother, an Americans for the Arts board member who I am friendly with calls him "the next Dan Pink."  Now while this may be to some extent parental bias, I wouldn't rule it out. Brian is a great presenter and writer with really insightful and refreshing perspectives on social media. I think the arts community ignores his advice at its peril.He is blunt and irreverent and not afraid to puncture our illusions - I think we need that. I can't begin to capture Brian in this entry - read his book, hear him speak if you get the chance, follow him.

So, needless to say, the whole issue of blogging is very much on my mind - Why did I started this blog, and why do I do it? How do I choose what to write about? How often do I wrote?  Is it too infrequent - quality versus quantity?  How to get people to actually read it, and when I do, how to know that they are - or even WHO they are?

This blog is really a hybrid - I write about stuff my Office is doing as way of shamelessly using the blog as a communications tool to share our work, locally and nationally. I also use it as a tool to sometimes share information on interesting work some of our local Philadelphia arts groups are doing - again, both to spread the work locally, as well as to let readers not in Philadelphia know about projects I think are notable. BUT, I also use the blog as a  way to write about arts/creative economy issues that are bouncing around my head and need to be let out or they will drive me crazy, or to share interesting arts/creativity studies or stories from around the country or around the world. I try to balance the personal and professional.

One issue talked about in the blogging session was the issue of frequency - the importance of blogging when something is really important to you, rather than forcing yourself to stick to a schedule of, for example. two entries a week. Seemed to be no consensus on this. Quality definitely more important than quantity, yet Barry sees a value in people knowing that, say, every Monday morning they will get a blog entry. Some talked about seeing a marked increase in readership when their blog entries went over a certain threshold, say two entries a week.

Another issue was how people read blogs now, and the challenge of building readership and attention. It seems that commenting on blogs is really waning, so blogs are much less the interactive forum some thought they might be. Also, with the proliferation of blogs out there, most people don't regularly go directly to the blog sites to read them. People are subscribing to get the blog entries via email, people are subscribing for RSS feeds, and people are getting the blog updates via Facebook and Twitter. Essentially because of information overload the blog entries need to be "pushed" in front of people.

The issue was also raised of whether bloggers are journalists, and there were a couple of interesting  perspectives on this. Someone from the PR side said she divided bloggers into three categories (if I am remembering them correctly): those that do fall in a journalist-like category, those that are respected thought or opinion leaders, and the third category for the ranters and the wackos. Someone else, who had a long career on the journalism side, said most recognized bloggers seem to her to be like newspaper columnists, but without the control of oversight of editors. I suppose there is some truth in that. I, for one, have had the capacity to write about things that interest me for a good part of my career - starting with Theatre Times, a newspaper that used to be published by ART/NY that I founded and served as Executive Editor of, and that I often wrote for; the Arts & Business Quarterly of the national Arts & Business Council that began as a print publication and shifted to digital, and then through the many Americans for the Arts vehicles - newsletters, ArtsBlog, etc.

For me, blogging is just an extension of the first-person sort of writing I have been doing throughout my career on other platforms. But even though this blog has a linkage to my job, I do feel like I am now truly writing for myself. If NOBODY read it I would still write, because it has become a form of journal-keeping ("Dear Diary, today I had an interesting policy discussion about international cultural was neato") that often helps me vent, helps me organize my thinking, whether it is read or not. Also, frankly after about 15 years of working at the national and international level on cultural policy, arts management and creative economy issues, the Blog gives me the vehicle for continuing to participate in those debates and perhaps bring that dialogue to a Philadelphia audience.

So, in the interest of helping me - and others (I will share the input I get via email, but feel free to use the relatively under-utilized COMMENT feature for your answers; if you are going to comment, please comment on the blog directly and not on Facebook so we can keep them all in one place), please let me know...

  1. Do you feel that the frequency of my blog entries is about right, too infrequent, (or even too frequent - maybe you just want me to shut up!)?
  2. What do you think about the balance between personal and professional?  Is it OK that I do both in one blog?
  3. What do you think about the local vs. national balance? Are you a reader from outside Philly, in which case do you mind the more locally-directed entries?  Or are you a local Philly reader, in which case do you mind the non-Philly-centric entries?
  4. Do you like it better when I embed links and visual content like photos and video clips?
  5. How do you get to the blog? Do you hear about new entries via Feedburner subscription, Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth, Google alerts, other? If you end up getting multiple notices, because we are connected on multiple platforms, does it annoy you? {NOTE: I just recently added a simple e-mail subscription link at the top on the right side of the page - if you want to get updates via email, please sign up!)
  6. What other arts-related blogs do you read that I should know about that are NOT already on my "recommended blogs list" on my site?
  7. Any other advice or guidance?


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Arts and Sports

Going back to my childhood as an aspiring (at the time) artist, but also someone who was a bit of a jock/gym rat, there always seem to be a disconnect between the two worlds - the artist and the jock. This was the stereotype, that for the most part seemed to hold true in practice. I went to LaGuardia High School of the Arts in New York, and even though we had school teams, athletics was never really celebrated or encouraged. I played on the tennis team and don't think we ever had a single spectator from our school. Even though I was an avid basketball player, I am not even sure if we had a basketball team - if we did I certainly never heard about it or attended a game.

When I got to college - the State University of New York at Purchase, which was primarily an arts conservatory with music, dance, theatre, film and visual arts programs - there were NO intercollegiate sports programs. The school was just getting started, so perhaps we can cut them some slack, but aside from building a state-of-the-art gymnasium (that became the practice site for the Knicks), nobody had given any thought to their "artsy" students actually caring about sports. A group of us basketball players lobbied for and successfully created a certified Division III basketball program. Even though it was very low-level by NCAA standards, playing college ball was a great experience for me, and we actually had many of those"artsy" types in the stands cheering us on for the home games. Basketball and sports have been a part of my life ever since.

Since then, I have thought often of this seeming disconnect between the two worlds, when stories run about football players taking ballet to improve their grace, or of Bernie Williams and his guitar skill, or Kareem Abdul Jabbar and his jazz scholarship. I have also though of this connection when we cite the fact that more people attend arts events than sporting events. I also remember an article a few years ago by a newspaper editor (in San Diego?) responding to arts groups moaning about how little ink they get compared to sports, given the attendance stats. He noted that sports teams provide pretty much open access to the process - reporters cover spring training, they interview players in the locker room after every game, and as a result the public gets excited not just by what happens on the field, on the court, but also by the human dimension, the back-story, to quote Wide World of Sports, "the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat." So, he asked, how often are reporters allowed backstage before the show, or afterwards, to help the public really understand how a work of art happens? The answer, rarely, if ever. We like the process to be a mystery, magic, we like to preserve "the fourth wall."  Of course these are generalizations, but there is an undercurrent of hard truth here.

Two things made me think of this issue today. First, a great  article in the Wall Street Journal about the growing trend of sports programs at arts colleges that traditionally never had them - Arts and Varsity Letters - The Painter as Pitcher. Second, the jocks vs. glee club theme of the wildly successful TV program Glee. Now, while the jocks still hate the glee clubbers, and the teasing and harassment is ever-present, the star football player is in fact the star male lead, and the star cheerleaders have also crossed over. The barriers seem to have broken down - the stereotype is being intentionally undercut.

Is there something in the air now?  Can we finally get rid of this foolish assumption that artists and jocks are somehow on opposite sides of a great social chasm?  And how do those of us working in arts advocacy, policy and funding turn this into broader popular support for the arts? Can we do a better job of engaging our wildly popular sports superstars as spokespersons, or even philanthropists?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Supporting Effective Arts Education Programs

Philadelphia has traditionally (at least for the last couple of decades) provided all its grant funding of the arts through the Philadelphia Cultural Fund - an independent 501c3 funded by the City - as general operating support. This year, the Cultural Fund's Board agreed to allocate a portion of its grant funds - $350,000 out of $3.2 million - to for the first time make project support grants, specifically grants for arts programming targeted to Philadelphia's youth. Today we announced the first recipients of this new project grants program – the Youth Arts Enrichment Grants – created to support projects that use the arts to enrich the lives of young people both in and outside of school. The inaugural round of grants, totaling $357,700, was awarded to nine youth-focused organizations. [Photo at left from a ceramics class at West Park Cultural Center, one of the grantees] The extra $7,700 available for grant-making was made possible by City employees who made payroll contributions to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund as part of our Employee Combined Campaign - another first this year! All grantees were evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Providing high quality arts instruction, training and participatory experiences that serve those young people most in need, who are unlikely to have access to cultural enrichment;
  • Providing consistent programming that directly impacts the reduction of youth violence, truancy and drop out rates, while increasing the number of graduations and college-bound students;
  • Encouraging arts and cultural programming as an alternative activity for youth in after-school, weekend and summer programs.
“The Youth Arts Enrichment Grants go to the heart of what’s needed across our city and region – the opportunity to provide exposure and knowledge of arts and culture to those who will benefit most – our youth,” said Mayor Nutter. “It’s just this kind of experience that has the capacity to change lives. And as the next generation, it’s that exposure and knowledge which will ultimately give Philadelphia the greatest payback – enabling underserved young people to follow their dream and keep our cultural community vital, thriving and exciting.”

The nine inaugural Youth Arts Enrichment Grants recipients were chosen from a pool of 82 applicants, all of whom were required to have been a 2010 recipient of PCF general operating support and have a budget in excess of $50,000. As with PCF’s established annual grants, a dedicated panel of peers reviewed all applications. In addition to the Cultural Fund Grants Committee and PCF board members who offered to serve, the Youth Arts Enrichment Grants panel also included four guest panelists who are noted experts in Arts Education.

From my perspective, this grant program represents an important attempt to provide significant support to some of our most exemplary programs working with the City's youth population. We know that quality arts experiences and training can make a profound difference in the lives of our young people. In a City that - like many other communities - is struggling with teen violence, truancy, too-high dropout rates, relatively low percentages of kids going onto and graduating from college, ethnic tensions among our youth, etc., making this extra investment in arts groups doing this vital work is really an investment in the future of our City; especially now when so many of these programs are threatened by declining private and public support. In addition, while general support grants remain important and the vast majority of City funding, these grants also provide some specific tangible outcomes in terms of impact that is hard to quanity with the widely distributed general support grants. This is why these grants were intentionally kept of fairly significant size - up to $50,000 each - to make sure that this funding can truly make a difference in support of these worthy programs.

Following  is a list of all grantees

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Resources on Business and the Arts

In 2005 a special issue of the Journal of Business Strategy was published on arts-based learning for business (Vol. 26, No.5), co-edited by Ted Buswick and Harvey Seifter. Ted is head of the BCG History program at Boston Consulting Group, and also Executive-in-Residence for Leadership and the Arts in the Graduate School of Management at Clark University. Harvey is CEO of Seifter Associates and has done extensive work in the area of arts-based learning for business. Now, about five years later, a second special arts-themed issue of JBS has been released, with the same co-editors.

The Journal normally is available only by subscription, but now for a limited time this issue is available for free. Click on this link to the issue. When you enter the site use the following log-in information to get your free download of the content:  Username: JBS2010; Password: emerald

In their "Editor's Note" Buswick and Seifter comment on how the past few years have seem a dramatic rise in the credibility and widespread application of arts-based learning in business, as well as a growing recognition in the business community that business competitiveness is increasingly fueled by creativity and innovation. They also note the disturbing trend of the last 18 months as the economy has been in turmoil, that resources for arts-based learning programs have become much scarcer. Nonprofits like Americans for the Arts have had to scale back on such programs that were expensive but not generating sufficient revenue, and businesses have been trimming training budgets, especially those - like arts-based training - targeting the longer-term benefits of creativity as opposed to shorter-term skills focused training programs.

The issue is filled with many valuable articles. In the interests of space I will only single out one: a succinct overview of arts-based learning in business by Nick Nissley, who is the Executive Director of Leadership Development at the Banff Centre in Banff Canada. This article alone really provides a great introduction to the issue and creates an excellent platform for the essays that follow.

Finally, for those in or near Philadelphia, don't miss "Cultivating a Creative Workforce" being presented by Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia on June 24th. This is a rare and special opportunity to hear Robert Redford (yes, THAT Bob Redford) talk about cultivating a culture of risk-taking, collaboration and creativity to achieve business success. Redford will be interviewed by Bob Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts. Registration information here. 8:30 breakfast, followed by program at 9-10:30 at Philadelphia Theatre Company. Here is a great article about Redford and business creativity from INC magazine a few years ago.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Home for Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy

The City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy has been challenged since its (re)establishment in late 2008 with the fact that it was (re)built by bringing together some of the programs and staff that had been housed in the Office of Arts and Culture when in last existed before being closed. This meant we ended up with staff in four different offices spread over two different buildings.

We have also been addressing  how to enliven City Hall itself with more cultural activity. Two ideas emerged: 1) create a new office space large enough to accommodate all current staff and some interns and maybe a little bit of growth (a guy can dream can't he?) and put it right on the first floor of City Hall where it can be visible and accessible to the public. 2) create a new art gallery space in City Hall, ideally on the first floor where it can be accessed without having to clear security. One of the issues the Art in City Hall program has always had to address is the lack of truly appropriate exhibition space. The enclosed, lit display cases have provided the best solution possible on the second and fourth floor, and the hanging system on the fifth floor allows art to be hung in the hallways but without ideal lighting or the flexibility of a gallery space

Thanks to the support of PNC Arts Alive, the Block Family Foundation, InterfaceFLOR and others, we have been able to combine these two ideas into one exciting new space, located in Room 116, right on the first floor of City Hall near the Visitor Center by the East Portal. This new space includes consolidated office space, as well as the creation of a new  gallery space called The Art Gallery at City Hall. If you click on the link it will take you to a Web page that describes the gallery and the first exhibition, "On the Rise", a partnership between InLiquid, Center for Emerging Visual Artists and Philadelphia Sculptors. This show features the work of 12 emerging Philadelphia artists, four each from the three organizations. The show opens to the public on June 17th - come by and visit! Our neighbors include the City Hall Tour office and orientation classroom, and the Mayor's Office of Education.

This gallery space, while modest. provides an important new cultural addition to City Hall, and to the cultural community. The intention is to use it as a vehicle to partner with cultural organizations and others to bring a diverse array of programming into City Hall. A special effort will be made to use the space as an opportunity to tie City Hall into other Citywide arts festivals and programs such as Design Philadelphia and the 2011 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.

In the future we will be looking to also program more cultural activity - including spoken word, music, lectures, etc. in the Mayor's Reception Room and Conversation Hall, our two formal public spaces in City Hall, and when the interior courtyard restoration is completed (probably not for a couple of years) we will be looking to program that space with performing arts activity, as well as more public art installations. We also hope to explore how more cultural programming can be added to other City office buildings, including MSB and One Parkway.