Thursday, June 27, 2013

Go West Young Man - Heading to Denver!

As some may have already heard, I have been appointed the new President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation in Denver, Colorado. I am so excited about taking on this new challenge but, of course, sorry to be leaving my friends and colleagues here in Philadelphia. Here is the link to the City of Philadelphia press release, and to the Foundation release. Someone congratulated me with the quote "Go West Young Man", which I took as a reference to Horace Greeley who coined the term. He meant it as a reference to the Pet Shop Boys Song, which somehow passed me by completely. (Well, I know how it passed me by - I have a 90's popular culture black hole from the era when I was parenting two young children!)

I feel proud of my accomplishments in Philadelphia as Chief Cultural Officer and director of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, and feel that I am leaving a strong legacy, and a great team in place. I will also be staying in my position through October 1 so I will able to work with the Mayor, Chief of Staff, and Joe Kluger, Chairman of the Mayor's Cultural Advisory Council, on what I am confident will be a smooth and successful transition process.

One of the highlights of my work here in Philadelphia has been helping to bring to the City the Knight Arts Challenge and working closely with both national Knight Arts staff and the local program staff on the successful implementation of this three-year $9 million commitment to the city's arts community. Its impact has been extraordinary, helping to support some really inspiring work.

A few other things I am most proud of are the establishing of a City Hall Art Gallery; the creation of City Hall Presents - a performing arts series in the City Hall Courtyard, funded by the Knight Arts Challenge; the launch of CultureBlocks, an innovative creative asset data mapping tool; distribution of $500,000 in CDBG-R funds to help in the construction of creative workspace facilities; creating a City celebration of Jazz Month and International Jazz Day; establishing a City Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate program; and helping to craft an execute with many partners the "With Art" tourism promotion campaign.

And, of course, there are the countless hard to quantify accomplishments - guiding/advising/assisting arts organizations and creative enterprises in their efforts to both work with City government and stretch their capacities and innovate; also making matches and connections. Some of these are small things, and sometimes small things can lead to truly important accomplishments. Such as suggesting to Jane Golden and Mural Arts that they explore working with Haas and Hahn, the Dutch artists previously best known for their work in the Favelas of Brazil. Mural Arts was able to get them to Philadelphia for an amazing project on Germantown Avenue, Philly Painting, that has garnered international acclaim and was recently selected as one of the top public art projects in the US for 2012 by the Americans for the Arts "Public Art Year in Review." (Thanks, AGAIN, to a grant from the Knight Arts Challenge...). Great video about the project here, and a GREAT case study just published, available here. It was also a highlight when Philadelphia was chosen the #1 city for Culture in America by Travel + Leisure's annual poll in 2011.

The Bonfils-Stanton Foundation has been a significant supporter of the arts in Denver, and I am looking forward to working with the Board to build on this strong foundation and develop strategies for how the Foundation can help the Denver arts community grow and innovate. I am also excited that the Foundation is deeply involved in efforts to develop and  nurture leadership within Denver's nonprofit sector, an area of great interest to me.

Here is some more information in the Foundation:

About Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
Founded in 1962 by Charles Edwin Stanton, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation was initially funded from the sale of Belmar Farms in Lakewood, the current site of the Belmar Library and Belmar “downtown neighborhood”. The Foundation Trustees carry on Mr. Stanton’s legacy through financial investments that support, enrich, and elevate art and culture in Colorado.
In 1984, the Foundation established the Annual Awards Program to honor distinguished Coloradans making unique and significant contributions in the fields of Art and Culture, Community Service, and Science and Medicine. The Livingston Fellowship Program, launched in 2005, provides advanced learning and professional development opportunities for high potential nonprofit leaders. National Philanthropy Day honored the Foundation as the 2007 Foundation of the Year in Colorado. Since its founding, the Foundation has distributed over $54 million in charitable contributions. More information is available at

Even though I began this blog at the beginning of my tenure in Philadelphia, I hope to continue to contribute to it in my new role. (Perhaps I will modify the name to avoid confusion with the Office in Philly). Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Drive Carefully" - Commencement Speech to CAPA Graduates

On June 19th I delivered a commencement address to the graduating class of Philadelphia's High School of the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). A number of people asked me to post it. Text is below...

Greetings everyone, Principal Whaley, parents, students, faculty and all special guests. I am Gary Steuer, the Chief Cultural Officer for the City of Philadelphia, and I run the City’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy.
It is my great honor to be here to today to celebrate these outstanding graduates, the best creative young people that our City can produce.
Being a part of this program has a special resonance for me. While I did not go to CAPA, or even grow up in Philadelphia, I can relate to all of the students graduating today. That is because I graduated from LaGuardia High School for the Arts in New York City, which is the equivalent of CAPA in New York. In fact I graduated 40 years ago, almost to the day. So I was in your shoes a long time ago. I also had the honor of representing the Mayor to greet you on the first day of school of 2009 when you first arrived at CAPA, and I feel like being here to send you off is completing the circle.
So my high school years were also spent balancing academia and art, and the school was filled with aspiring visual artists, dancers, musicians, and actors. But the reality is that only a relatively small percentage of the graduates actually went into the arts as their primary career. I am sort of the exception.
My fellow graduates went into such diverse professions as law, social work, business, teaching, and healthcare. But whatever we did, our experience as artists shaped who we were – made us more creative, better collaborators, more disciplined – that is what making art teaches you.
AND some graduates did go into the arts, including the for-profit commercial arts, becoming film producers, graphic designers, architects and recording engineers. And yes, some even became working artists, actors, dancers and musicians. And at least one became this weird thing called a Chief Cultural Officer.
The reality is that when you look at the creative sector as a larger economic sector that includes for-profit and nonprofit businesses, the sector employs 50,000 people in Philadelphia, making it the fourth largest employment industry sector in the City, behind only health care, education and retail. So let me put it bluntly: there ARE jobs out there in the real world for you when you are finished with college.
And when researchers study what businesses are looking for in new employees, they find business is looking for exactly the sort of skills and qualities that the arts foster in us. So a powerful grounding in making art, any kind of art, makes you better at whatever you do, even if professional art-making ends up not being where you end up.
For me, it was a very roundabout road that led me to where I am today, and I thought it might be helpful to share a bit of my career path.
I wanted to go to a BFA art conservatory training program for college, but my folks really wanted me to get a liberal arts degree. They had the money so guess who won that battle? But I have to say, maybe they were right. While doing my undergraduate training, I still took lots of studio art courses, but I found myself also studying, acting, directing, literature, and political science.
I ended up doing an internship for a United States Congressman that turned into a job. Through pure chance it turned out the Congressman’s chief of staff had a friend who worked at the museum of Modern Art who needed some extra help.  So I moonlighted at MoMA and realized that there were actually lots of jobs at place like museums – doing fundraising, marketing, finance, etc. – not just being a curator or an artist. For me it was sort of like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back the curtain and you learn that the Wizard of Oz is just an ordinary man. I learned the magic of the arts is fueled by lots of people with real jobs not making art, but making arts organizations run. So I went back to school to get a Masters in Arts Management.
That led eventually to running theatre companies and also working on producing commercial productions on and off Broadway. For a while – when I had young children of my own and working the long hours of running a theatre company was more difficult – I also ran a funding department of the New York State Council on the Arts. And then for about a dozen years I was President and CEO of a national organization called the Arts & Business Council that promotes mutually-beneficial partnership between the arts and business. That group then merged with another national organization called Americans for the Arts.
And then Mayor Nutter, after he was first elected, persuaded me that there was an exciting opportunity here in Philadelphia to help transform this great City through the creative energy of the arts and creative enterprise, running this new thing he created called the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. It has been unbelievably rewarding to be a part of the Renaissance that has been taking place in this City over the past 5 years, despite the tough economy.  Reversing a 50 year population decline, doubling the percentage of college graduates who choose to STAY in the City after they graduate. Fostering a creative sector that generates well over $3 billion economic impact AND PRODUCES 50,000 creative jobs.
BUT, and there is a big but, and one that many of the students and parents know all too well. This City certainly still has some pretty serious challenges. It is still the poorest big city in America, with many neighborhoods filled with people who have trouble finding jobs, hope and opportunity. We have a School District that cannot afford to sustain the level of education that our children, families and citizens – and our administrators and teachers – know MUST be provided to our young people if they are to have quality educational opportunity. And we know that education – not just for kids lucky enough to go to CAPA, MUST include arts education if we are going to produce graduates ready for the 21st Century workforce.
So here is my charge to you: Go out and train as artist if that is where your heart and ambition takes you: make art, act, sing, dance. And if your education, passions or chance, take you away from a life as a practicing artist, bring your creativity and innovation FROM the arts to whatever you choose to study or whatever field you choose to work in. And find a way to continue to make the arts a part of your life: play in a band on the side, sing in a chorus, have an art studio in your garage, go to shows, volunteer for an arts group. There are so many ways you can make this – what you have done here at CAPA – a part of the entire rest of your life.
Finally, be a part of figuring out how to improve our communities, our City, how to solve these seemingly intractable problems. It has taken a few generations for us – the grown-ups – to make lots of decisions that have gotten us to where we are now. It is likely to take a few generations of smart, dedicated folks – like you - making the right decisions to get us out of these troubles. It is not going to be easy. But if YOU dedicate yourself to this work, I feel confident that your children will live in an even better City than we are giving to you. So I guess I am, metaphorically, giving YOU the keys to the City.
Drive carefully.