Revamping the standard “I Voted” sticker has become something of a local trend of late. Arlington and Alexandria both redid theirs for the 2019 election cycle, and D.C. rolled out a new sticker design featuring abolitionist Frederick Douglass for next year’s elections. Come next year, Maryland residents who cast their ballots will get to pick from one of three new designs for the iconic “I Voted” sticker. >Read More
By Rebekah Seder
Senior Program Manager
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers
A vibrant arts sector helps create a vibrant region. The arts spur economic growth and neighborhood development; improve educational outcomes and promote creative problem-solving skills; they give voice to issues of social justice; and they generally make cities better places to live. The evidence of this is clear in the Greater Washington region, which is increasingly seen as a cultural hub. Just recently, the National Center for Arts Research ranked the Washington area first in a list of the most “vibrant” regions in the country.
For those who support the arts – and those whose mission it is to support underserved communities – ensuring that people in all parts of our region, and from all walks of life, have the opportunity to experience and participate in the arts is important. As our region, along with the rest of the country, undergoes dramatic demographic changes, ensuring that the arts reach everyone is both more urgent and more challenging.
At a recent gathering of WRAG’s Arts & Humanities Working Group, funders considered some of these challenges. The conversation, framed by Clay Lord and Abe Flores from Americans for the Arts (AFTA), prompted more questions than it answered about how to advance diversity and equity in the cultural sector in our region, a place marked by inequities that frequently play out along racial lines.
Demographic shifts have real implications for arts organizations. Data show that “traditional” arts organizations (museums, orchestras, opera, etc ) serve predominantly whiter, older, and more affluent than average audiences – and the composition of their staffs, boards, artists, and donors frequently mirror those trends. Big arts institutions, which often attract significant funding, aren’t always accessible to diverse audiences, while small neighborhood-based organizations that serve local communities sometimes lack the professional capacity to attract major funding. Just as some neighborhoods are “food deserts,” there are parts of our region that could be viewed as “art deserts” too, particularly in terms of the level of philanthropic support flowing to those areas.
These trends easily lead into discussions of big systemic inequities in our society, like the pervasive lack of high quality arts education, especially in low-income schools; funding practices that privilege established organizations with professional staff and experience with institutional funders; and organizational hiring and governance practices that perpetuate exclusivity. These obstacles can seem insurmountable, but arts leaders throughout the country are addressing them in newways.
Locally, arts organizations and grantmakers have been grappling with this for some time. Currently, local arts agencies in six jurisdictions are taking on small-scale approaches to tackling these issues, through AFTA’s Greater DC Diversity Pilot Initiative.
While public arts agencies have a major role to play in ensuring a thriving, diverse arts ecosystem throughout the region, private philanthropy can support these efforts as well. Arts funders can encourage their grantees to consider ways to reach new audiences, by providing support for leadership development; fundraising, marketing, and community outreach; and capacity building to learn how to become more diverse, implement those plans, and develop metrics for success. Finally, funders can consider and address the ways that their own grantmaking and evaluation practices and priorities might exclude smaller, more diverse organizations from successfully applying for funding.
Click here to learn more about WRAG’s Arts & Humanities Working Group or contact Rebekah Seder.
Without a doubt, one of the greatest aspects of our region is the rich and diverse nonprofit arts sector. A recent discussion among WRAG members who fund in the arts and humanities sphere really drove this home. But, as vibrant as this sector is, and as much as it contributes to our quality of life, the recession has had a significant impact on the philanthropic dollars flowing to these organizations.
Funders in our community are committed to supporting, and advocating for the sector, and there were several ideas that came out of this conversation that we thought were worth sharing.
Find creative ways to leverage funding: In our region there is great wealth, and a great number of small, locally focused nonprofit arts organizations. Being home to some of the country’s premier cultural institutions, however, can make it hard for local groups to compete for philanthropic dollars. Locally- focused funders can find ways to leverage their own grantmaking by helping their grantees build relationships in the donor community, or by getting creative in their grantmaking with strategies like matching grants that encourage organizations to seek individual donations.
Make the economic case: It’s a given in the urban planning field that a vibrant arts scene can help spur economic growth and neighborhood revitalization. Advocates and funders of the arts need to hammer this idea home, especially to policymakers controlling government purse strings. With the rapid growth and expansion of the Cultural Data Project – the D.C. version of which a number of WRAG members helped launch in 2011 – researchers have access to a vast trove of data to help advocates make the case for greater arts funding.
Work at the intersections: While funding art “for arts sake” is always important, taking a cross-sector approach can help break down silos between different kinds of funders. Recent research has highlighted the benefits of incorporating the arts into health programs and services for older adults. Likewise, arts education is essential for all young people, and there are any number of innovative programs that engage at-risk youth through the arts. Highlighting the impact of the arts and humanities on the full spectrum of life can help bring different, and perhaps unexpected, funders to the table.
A small group of WRAG members plan to meet to strategize ways to more deeply engage the funding community around the arts and humanities in our region. WRAG members: if you’re interested in getting involved in this effort, contact Rebekah Seder.
EVENTS In honor of Earth Day, we wanted to share a couple of upcoming environment-related events of interest:
– DC Appleseed will present recommendations from their new report, “A New Day for the Anacostia: A National Model for Urban River Revitalization,” at the Yards Park on May 2, along with Mayor Vince Gray, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, and others. The report lays out a strategy to clean up the Anacostia River and “turn it into a centerpiece for recreation and economic development throughout DC and Maryland.” More information about the event is available here.
– WRAG Board member Anna Powell passed along this upcoming Wells Fargo-sponsored workshop on May 11 that will be of interest to corporate grantmakers. The tactical workshop, put on by the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals, will explore the landscape of organizations focused on environmental grantmaking, current trends in sustainability, and promising practices in corporate grantmaking. More information and registration is here.
ENVIRONMENT | Eric Kessler of Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors writes about the Potomac Conservancy, which, with the support of several WRAG members, “contributes to a united region by working to safeguard the lands and waters of the Potomac.” (WRAG Daily, 4/20)
JUVENILE JUSTICE| After four DC teens escaped from a youth detention facility in South Carolina earlier this week, Councilmember Jim Graham, who oversees the Committee on Human Services which has oversight of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, is calling for review of the city’s use of detention facilities in other states. The city sends about 225 teens to these facilities, which costs the city $20 million per year. (Examiner, 4/21)
ARTS | The deep cuts to the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs’ grants program that came out of the recent federal budget agreement already got some attention on the Daily this week, but I thought that this quote from Morey Epstein, the director of institutional development at Studio Theatre, was worth sharing, as it serves as a reminder of the economic impact that a diminished arts and culture scene in DC will have on the city (City Paper 4/20):
“This is just a terrible time for the city to be losing $7 million that goes to arts organizations and from there into the city’s economy,” Epstein says. “They’re the economic engines that revitalize neighborhoods. They pay vendors and salaries. The nation’s capital should be a shining light where the country showcases its arts and cultural life. This cut is going to diminish that.”
During better economic times, the arts sector has had a significant impact on local neighborhoods. WRAG’s 2009 report Beyond Dollars explained how the revitalized Atlas Theater anchored the new development along the H Street NE corridor, which is now a thriving business district.
Happy Earth Day! Apparently if everyone lived like me, it would take 5.1 Earths to provide enough resources. And that’s without owning a car, not eating much meat, living with a few too many roommates, and recycling religiously. Hopefully some of you live greener than me.
Anupama Pattabiraman is the Princeton Project55 Fellow for the Regional Primary Care Coalition housed at the Consumer Health Foundation. She is also an alto in the Choral Arts Society of Washington, and participated in Americans for the Arts’ Arts Advocacy Day. We asked her to share some thoughts about the experience:
Why are you an advocate for the arts, and why is advocacy important?
I advocate for the arts because I believe that the arts teach life skills beyond just making art. Practicing instruments builds work ethic, participating in ensembles builds teamwork skills, auditions build confidence, and performances build presence. At the Congressional Arts Kickoff on Arts Advocacy Day, several congressmen were right on point when they spoke about supporting humanity’s innate yearning for beauty and expression, the influence of the arts on social change, the importance of arts in fostering the creative minds that employers seek, and the real value of the arts in boosting local economies.
How did the event impact you as an artist who participates in our region’s arts community?
Kevin Spacey spoke at the event and asked artists to remember the opportunities that inspired us as children. He encouraged us to “send the elevator back down” to ensure that America’s youth are offered the same opportunities to enrich their lives through the arts. I recalled my first opportunity to participate in the National Festival of the Arts Children’s Choir at age 9. Singing in a national choir at a major concert venue in Philadelphia gave me an overwhelming sense of pride, accomplishment, and promise as a child.
Opportunities to perform at such venues inspired me to practice to the level where I can now sing with the Choral Arts Society. Each year, the Choral Arts Society invites a high school choir to join its Annual Choral Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Arts Advocacy Day instilled in me a sense of responsibility to encourage aspiring choristers through such events, and to seek further opportunities to “send the elevator back down.”
What role do you think philanthropy can play in advocating for sustaining arts funding?
All artists know that when budgets are tight, arts funding is one of the first items to go. This is a crucial time for artists – and everyone who loves the arts – to unite at the local, state, and federal levels to advocate for the value of the arts. Philanthropic organizations can play a crucial role in helping artists articulate the case for the arts – both the “business” case and the “human” case. It is easy for artists to articulate why the arts are important to them, but harder for them to articulate why the arts should be important to elected officials and their constituents. Helping grantees and arts advocates enhance their messaging will help rally the artists who want to “send the elevator back down” so they can watch America’s children grow through the arts.
The Regional Primary Care Coalition is supported by WRAG members the Consumer Health Foundation, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, Healthcare Initiative Foundation, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, Northern Virginia Health Foundation, and Public Welfare Foundation.
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has received much press this week for its decision to remove a four-minute video created by the late artist, David Wojnarowicz. This 1987 video – A Fire in My Belly – depicts eleven seconds in which a crucifix has ants crawling around it, and was part of a larger exhibition entitled Hide and Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which is centered on same-sex attraction. Mr. Wojnarowicz’s video is interpreted as a commentary on how the artist felt after the death of his partner from AIDS.
This video was removed from the exhibit after the National Portrait Gallery received pressure from the Catholic League and GOP leaders in Congress. The Washington Post has reportedthat Catholic League President William Donohue, Rep. John Boehner and Rep. Eric Cantor argued that the staging of the video was a misuse of taxpayer dollars and equated the content as “hate speech.” Kevin Smith, spokesman to incoming Speaker of the House Boehner, stated that “American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy.”
The Gallery receives about 70 percent of its annual budget from the federal government but it stated that those funds are not used for exhibitions and funding of Hide and Seek was underwritten by foundations that support gay and lesbian issues. Richard Kurin, a Smithsonian undersecretary, said, “We are sensitive to what the public thinks about our shows and programs. We stand behind the show. It has strong scholarship with great pieces by artists who are recognized by a whole panoply of experts. It represents a segment of America.”
Responses countering this censorship are arising. Transformer Gallery has initiated a screening of A Fire in My Belly to play on continuous loop in the storefront space at 1404 P Street, NW. The work currently on view is the four-minute excerpt of the originally 30-minute video piece. Transformer will soon be showing the full piece with permission by the artists’ estate. “As a response to the censorship by the Smithsonian of Wojnarowicz’s work, and in honor of World AIDS Day…we feel it is our job to champion all artists’ creative expression without constraints, and to continue the important dialogue Wojnarowicz’s work generates about aggression, hunger, community, love, loss, as well as religion,” stated Transformer’s executive and artistic director Victoria Reis in a recent email.
History seems to be repeating itself, with this censorship debate having similarities to the battles between the National Endowment for the Arts and Congress in the 1990s over outrage about controversial artistic works by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. As a result, the federal budget for the NEA was drastically cut and the funding of individual artists was a major casualty. More discussions are sure to follow as current GOP leaders have made comments on the record about their desire for more budget oversight at the Smithsonian.
This begs the questions: Who gets to decide what the American people can see at a museum and experience on stage? How do individuals interact with the arts? Is the freedom of expression only the freedom to express some things? Wojnarowicz’s censored video is available for viewing on the Internet, so regardless of the decisions made for the public, access to that which has been forbidden is still enabled.
By Amy Harbison
Director of Communications, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation
Member of the Arts and Humanities Working Group
I was fortunate to have been able to talk with Sarah Kaufman, The Washington Post’s dance critic since 1996.
Ms. Kaufman has written extensively on all forms of dance (including football!). She was recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize “for her refreshingly imaginative approach to dance criticism, illuminating a range of issues and topics with provocative comments and original insights.”
Born in Austin, Texas and raised in Washington, DC, she holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland. She lives with her husband and three children in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Amy Harbison: Why is this an important time for funders to consider investment in contemporary dance?
Sarah Kaufman: Contemporary dance is a fragile art form; it draws a small audience relative to other performing arts, perhaps in part because it is still a relatively young art form and it is not taught in schools nor does it have many “household name” artists attached to it. In the recent economic downturn, many of its support systems have been hurt. Presenters are putting fewer dance programs on their calendars, and many of them are booking mainstream, sure-sell events instead. There is less money to commission new work, which is the lifeblood of any art form, and commissioning funds are what so many contemporary companies depend on for their survival.
But funders who choose to support contemporary dance can make an important mark in the career of an artist and in the future of this art form. Dance audiences may be relatively small, but my sense is they are also deeply loyal. Also, contemporary dance by its nature tends to attract a widely diverse audience. If funders are interested in an art form that promotes excellence, diversity, unity, discipline, self-respect and healthy living, that represents risk-taking, innovation and youthfulness, that serves to educate on a profound level about issues and experiences that are part of the universal human condition, there is no better exemplar than contemporary dance.
A.H: Many people seem to feel intimidated by modern dance. Why do you think that’s the case and what can help democratize dance so that enough people understand and embrace it?
S.K: I think educational efforts such as question-and-answer sessions before and after performances can help. Brief talks before the curtain goes up, perhaps even drawing out a few dancers to give demonstrations of what the audience can look for, are also helpful. Promoting a wide variety of performances, and especially helping (with funding, for example) to get contemporary dancers into schools to educate children about the art form–these are also tools that can help. It might help to approach dance as if it were a science, and think about how best to break down complex principles and interactions for an audience that is curious but not well-versed in those things. I think company directors or marketing directors or funders or whoever is asking this question might rephrase it as such: How do I best tell the story of this work? How do I tell the story of how it was made, what the artist was inspired by, what the composer was going for, what the rehearsal process involved? How do I tell these stories in a way to grab attention, to make a point, to keep people interested?
A.H: You said in a recent online chat that you found it so striking that all of the “name” choreographers most people know today all got significant support as they were developing and that the process of creating a body of work must involve a lot of “misses” as well as hits. And that support is needed to get the chance to create a body of work – hits AND misses! Can you say more about that?
S.K. To that I would say, modern dance relies on experimentation and research, and that needs to be funded just as it is in any industry. That is a crucial part of the art form’s development and its progress into the future, and a place where funding can play a critical role.
By Susan Perlstein Founder
National Center for Creative Aging
America is graying. In just two years, the United States will have as many people over the age of 65 years as there are under 20. Challenge and opportunity abound in the demographic sea-change.
A new paradigm speaks to the idea of seeing older people for their potential rather than their problems. This same paradigm defines the emerging field of creative aging. Creativity strengthens morale in later life, enhances physical health, and enriches relationships. It also constitutes the greatest legacy people can leave to their children, grandchildren, and society as a whole since, historically, elders have functioned as keepers of the culture, who pass on the history and values of a community to the next generation. Arts and creativity programs are fast becoming accepted not only for the benefits they provide to older Americans’ health, morale, but also for the consequent social contributions made by this cohort.
The study’s key findings are that older adults participating in such programs live longer, visit doctors less frequently, and are less depressed and more socially engaged than those in the control group. Three study groups included programs from the Levine School of Music in Washington D.C., Elders Share the Arts in Brooklyn and Center for Youth and Elders in the Arts in San Francisco.
Arts are an essential component of the well being of older people and their communities. New partnerships among healthcare, aging and arts services have the potential to dramatically shift and expand resource development for a new paradigm for aging. Funder support will yield greater engagement by older Americans and add to the vibrancy of the nation’s communities.
The National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA), is dedicated to fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and healthy aging and to developing programs that build on this understanding. For more information on arts and aging visit: www.creativeaging.org
* The study was sponsored by National Endowment for the Arts (lead sponsor), the Center for Mental Health Services of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health, AARP and the National Retired Teachers Association, the Stella & Charles Guttman Foundation and the International Foundation for Music Research (NAMM).
By Michelle Grove Events and Grants Manager Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County
Member of the Arts and Humanities Working Group
As we make the case that the arts and humanities are integral, intrinsic, and essential, we should note that they also can be indicative of wider philanthropic issues.
In February of last year, Helicon Collaborative published a report on the impact of the recession on cultural organizations in the Puget Sound (Seattle, Wash.) metropolitan area. It explores how 28 cultural organizations are responding and adapting to a bad economy. Interestingly, the organizations that entered the recession with strong management and a willingness to adapt and change as needed were those that are weathering the storm well.
So what can funders do to help strong organizations that are willing to adapt? The Puget Sound report lists several recommendations.
First, the study finds that organizations, quite reasonably, want to remain informed about funders’ grantmaking policies; if changes are expected, they should be communicated to grantees in a timely fashion to allow for planning. Second, organizations are looking for flexibility and adaptability in their funders as well; as funders, can we reduce paperwork, eliminate an interim report to free up staff time for core work, or allow greater flexibility in reallocating grant funds? Finally, the report notes that organizations are looking for the resources to make big changes and think differently about their business models.
As we continue to encourage arts and humanities organizations to be nimble, adapt to the times and look at new models, it’s important that we as funders remember to practice what we preach.
> For a copy of The Economic Recession’s Impact on Cultural Organizations in the Puget Sound, published by the Helicon Collaborative, click here.
By Glen S. Howard President, Strategic Philanthropy Advisors
Member of the Arts and Humanities Working Group
Last month, Americans for the Arts released the first National Arts Index – a quantitative measure of the health and vitality of arts and culture in the United States. Covering an 11-year period (1998-2008), the Index is a unique annual scorecard of the arts’ impact on our society and economy. It includes valuable insights for arts organizations, government, and funders – including those who don’t regularly fund the arts per se.
Each of the 76 national-level indicators of arts activity – including finances, capacity, participation and competitiveness – has its own story to tell. But, by combining (and equally weighting) all of the indicators, the Index provides a single number that can be used to compare how the arts are doing from year to year. By that measure, the “state of the arts” reached its high point in 1999 and dropped to its lowest point in 2008 – with the greatest single decline between 2007 and 2008.
For example, the number of arts groups grew from 7,000 to 104,000 during the past 50 years. But one out of three failed to achieve a balanced budget even during the strongest economic years of this decade – suggesting that sustaining this capacity is a growing challenge. At the same time, overall audience demand/participation in the arts has also grown but at a pace that has lagged behind that at which the supply of arts has increased.
Of special significance to the funding community are the Index’s findings: (1) that an arts-based nonprofit was founded every three hours between 2003 and 2008, while (2) the nonprofit arts sector is losing its “market share” of philanthropy to other charitable areas. This phenomenon is quite evident in the our own region as more and more nonprofits are competing for audiences (and ticket revenues), affordable venues for their programs, and philanthropic revenues. While grantmakers have been seeing a large influx of applications in virtually all funding areas, the arts and humanities sectors are especially familiar with such funder responses as “no unsolicited proposals,” “only past grantees” and “changing funding priorities.”
Why is the National Arts Index important? The Index exists to measure the arts and humanities and to show that there is value to this sector. While numerous studies aim to demonstrate the societal (including economic and community-building) benefits of the arts and humanities, the National Arts Index is the first rigorous national resource to help satisfy private and public funders’ demands for further evidence of the arts’ positive and wide-ranging impact.
The Index also validates certain presumptions that funders may currently have about the arts sector – including its struggling “subsidy model” – that may stimulate the formulation of much-needed new strategies and models for increased public advocacy and support.
Americans for the Arts has committed to update the Index each year to maintain its relevancy, and it also plans to develop region-specific scorecards to provide better snapshots for nonprofits and grantmakers.