6.27.2010

Ballmer

I spent my weekend up in Baltimore at the Americans for the Arts Mid-Century Summit. It was awesome.

I presented on a panel called "Leadership and Influence," and talked about my experience "embedding" myself in the DC area arts community after moving here two years ago. I spent quality time with the Emerging Leaders Council members doing a lot of our annual work over a few days of meetings and networking sessions, and I really enjoyed meeting the new arts professionals who attended the convention, many for the first time.

I left with a lingering question, though, which was: where were my literature peeps?

The Americans for the Arts Convention drew about 1,000 people from all over the country. It seems evenly split between professionals who work in state and local government agencies and professionals in private nonprofits. Many of the panels and talks are oriented toward business-related concerns; this year, for example "exploring new business models in the nonprofit sector" was a big and important topic--and also a slightly incendiary one!

Over the course of the weekend, I compared this crowd and experience with AWP's annual conference, which now attracts over 8,000 people, most of whom are employed by or involved in higher education. But through my involvement with AWP's Writing Conferences & Centers program, I know that there are a significant number of independent nonprofit literary organizations who attend AWP, who present there, who exhibit there. These organizations would really benefit from a connection with Americans for the Arts, and I think as our world becomes more interdisciplinary and "hybridized," connections with our arts colleagues in other areas will be more and more important.

Consider, for example, that a huge portion of the Americans for the Arts event is build around Arts Education--both understanding what makes it successful and how to rally public and private support for it. But many organizations in the nonprofit sector also engage in arts education, including literary organizations like The Writer's Center, so it benefits us to be connected to the larger discussion, to have colleagues in the field.

The Emerging Leader Council has been a true gift to me personally and professionally this past year, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve on it. The convention this year will full of young leaders and leaders new to the arts administration field who represented workers at all levels in their organizations. The literary world, too, is full of smart, passionate, and entrepreneurial leaders who found presses (No Tell Books), establish affinity organizations for writers (Kundiman), and convene (Lambda's seminars for GLBT writers), yet those perspectives and talent were absent from this weekend.

When you consider that more and more of "literary" (scare quotes intentional) publishing is moving into the nonprofit sector, I wonder why more and more professionals aren't reaching out to be a part of the sector as a whole. We rely more deeply on governmental grants and funding from philanthropic foundations, yet we aren't a part of the organization that lobbies Congress on behalf of art everywhere.

Is it too incendiary for me to posit that we might be reaping too many benefits and sowing too few seeds?

From my perspective, with seven years of experience in this field, I can honestly say I feel dance and literature are the two arts most commonly "left off" the catalog of arts disciplines in our country. I'd say that even film, despite its connection to a robust for-profit enterprise, is still more commonly recognized as "art" than writing and dance are. Yet writers are one of only two kinds of artists who receive direct financial support from the National Endowment for the Arts. It's a strange conflict to witness. I've watched literary orgs jump back and forth between arts councils and humanities councils because their programming seems to wear the other hat (or both, or neither distinctly enough for their tastes). And now I feel like I see the community of literary professionals forsaking involvement in the greater arts conversation that could, over time, get us a better seat at funders' tables.

Does literature's symbiotic relationship with the academy separate us from the arts community? I did notice that another underrepresented group at the Americans for the Arts Convention were arts administrators who work within systems of higher education. (In fact, the first time I attended this Convention was during my tenure at ASU, and I came away feeling like there were no colleagues for me or information relevant to my job at that event.) And it's true that for many university presses, rather than lobby their elected officials for funding, they lobby their administrators and regents instead.

But I can't help feeling that the stronger our arts field is, the more inclusive and diverse it is, the stronger our impact will be, the more readily funding will be made available and a greater diversity of voices will be heard.

What do my literary colleagues think about this?

3 comments:

  1. 欣賞是一種美德~回應是最大的支持^^.................................................................                           

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  2. I commented on most of this on the blog of "litwindowpane" had a linked quote (see below), so I will try not to repeat myself here.
    I think the competition for grants and such must have increased in the past years of a nearly defeated economy. I know Phoenix has had to slash assistance to the local arts prior to slashing employee wages and even some jobs.
    Many of the local nonprofits have inextricably cut staff who's main function was to pursue outside funding both corporate and governmental. Ironic at a time when they need the extra funds the most, they cannot afford the full time staff to file the forms and go to the conferences. This is now taken up by other staff that have lesser expertise and a preloaded plate of duties or by good intentioned, but under trained volunteers. With the "Well" presumably running dry it seems to be thought that the limited funding available is better spent on the production the company is presenting than paying for staff who may well come up empty handed. After all anyone can photocopy last years applications, change the dates, and resubmit them... right?
    As an independent, still learning a new craft (Perhaps my third 20 year career in a lifetime?), I'm not looking for outside funding. If I did, I would cease to produce and further my skill. As a father, husband, and City worker in the city owned venues, I toil at night, at my own expense, using time I pretend to be able to spare. Projects that could take weeks, take months, and my only pay is from YouTube views.
    But at work I see the local dance, opera, ballet, and musical companies coming into the theatres with rented shabby scenery, using more house equipment and fewer rentals. Their demands are higher than ever because there is no longer room for error, the cost of a single failed performance could very well ruin them.
    I think a lack of knowledge and financial imagination may be the simple answer to your query.
    Funny how I find myself the lucky one.
    Be Well.

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  3. I read about the blog "Americans for the Arts Mid-Century Summit". It was really amazing. This is used to ,increase the economy rate. I like all comments in this post. Huge portion of the Americans spent their time for arts education. This was excellent news. Thanks for sharing with us.


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