Artists, They Aren’t Making The Community Any Worse

Title of the post today is intentionally leveraging a statement in a study conducted by Jennifer Novak-Leonard and Rachel Skaggs for the National Endowment for the Arts of public perception of the arts during Covid. It was the topic of an interview/post with Sunil Iyengar who heads up research and analysis at the NEA.

The full quote is:

Nearly two out of three respondents shared the opinion that, quote, “Artists who work or live in their area make it better to live,” and roughly one third affirmed that it doesn’t necessarily make communities better, but artists certainly don’t make them worse.

The encouraging takeaway is that people have a positive view of the artists across all demographics:

In 2022, however, over half of adults expressed the perception that artists uniquely contribute to U.S. communities healing and recovery from the pandemic. Fifty three percent in open-ended responses offered specific ways that artists promote that healing and recovery. I will say, Jo, that one of the surprises of the study to me is that it found virtually zero differences in social or demographic characteristics as playing a factor in the likelihood of respondents to identify positively with artists.

As the authors say, quote, “Most adults in the United States across its many socio demographic groups and perceptions of artists, roles, and communities view artists as being able to contribute to the healing and recovery of communities directly and positively from the pandemic.”

Another interesting takeaway from the research is that people are equally likely to view artists as hobbyists (30%) as they are to perceive them as wage earners (27%). I may have to seek the report out to discover what the perceptions of the other 43% are. Perhaps a combination of some hybrid perception and/or not having any opinion on the matter.

It Ain’t Easy Being Public Art

I think Art in Public Places staff for any community have one of the most difficult jobs in the arts, particularly when it comes to public perception of the job they do.  While everyone accepts that not every work of art will be appreciated, the fact that public art installations are visible for years in places hundreds, if not thousands, of people pass each day makes them the subject of daily comment, often repeatedly by the same people.

Not to mention there are birds pooping on them, too

While some pieces become the source of enormous pride, local identity, and tourism (i.e. Cloud Gate in Chicago), and others generate a mixture of pride and bemusement (here’s to you, Blucifer), in some cases it seems you can’t win for trying.

That seems to be the case in Annapolis, MD where all three options for a traffic circle the Art in Public Places folks posted for feedback got panned.   Maybe it is the location that is cursed or the local residents who are particularly critical. The new sculpture is meant to replace one installed in 2011 that fell prey to termites.

…meant to evoke the ribs of a ship in a nautical town. Even [artist] Donovan admitted it could also be compared to whale bones on a beach or a brontosaurus-sized rack of barbecued ribs.

Among the comments people made for the submissions included noting that two of the options looked like hand of people coming out of graves. (Apparently, there are some cemeteries in the vicinity). Another said one of them looked like drowning people reaching for a lifeline. One commenter said one piece looked like it belonged at the entrance of a retirement village in Boca Raton. One piece was likened to a condom.

There were also the inevitable comments about the whole endeavor being a waste of money.

There is a rule in surveying that you should never ask for feedback if you aren’t prepared to act upon the responses. So the question is what the public places art commission intends to do with the comments they received. One option is to reject the finalist pieces and go back back with a solicitation for proposals. Another option is to ask the artists to make changes to their work in response to the comments.

A former commission member addressed the latter option:

“If you take a public comment to reconstruct an artist’s vision, then you are basically attacking the integrity of their art,” said Genevieve Torri, a former commission chair who represents the area around the circle. “It’s up to the artists. This is their vision.”

Competition Among Donor Advised Funds Is Constricting Charitable Giving

I am always interested in news about how donor advised funds (DAF) are operating. On the whole, their use hasn’t gone as intended and they have reduced, rather than increased or incentivized charitable giving.   A few weeks ago Vu Le linked to an article that examined how the differences in the way DAFs are promoted is an indicator of whether they are distributing or sequestering funds. (emphasis original)

National sponsors that spend more time talking about donor benefits on their websites have more assets, take in a much higher proportion of noncash contributions, and pay out grants at much lower rates than sponsors that spend more time talking about charitable giving.

[…]

But our analysis predicts that a hypothetical national sponsor with a strong emphasis on charitable grantmaking on their website would pay out at 53 percent, while a hypothetical national sponsor with a strong emphasis on donor benefits would pay out at just 2 percent. And those lower payout rates have ripple effects when it comes to the buildup of assets: Our model predicts that the highly charity-focused sponsor would have assets of just $34 million, whereas the highly donor-focused sponsor would have assets of $2.7 billion.

Something to note is that the analysis focuses on national sponsors of DAFs rather than regional and local sponsors. The author of the piece, Helen Flannery, notes that since national sponsors tend not to have the specific focus, whether it be geographic region or cause, they often need to work harder to make a case for people to arrange their giving through them. Flannery seems to suggest that the those that tout financial benefits to the donor are able to make a more compelling case than a more charitably focused sponsor without a specific focus.

Flannery calls for a more specific evaluation and regulation of DAFs on an individual basis rather than looking at the aggregate giving of sponsors since the really generous ones tend to make the parsimonious ones look better due to averaging.

The analysis we present in our paper quantifies this phenomenon. It measures the degree to which sponsors have financialized what was originally intended to be a nonprofit instrument, and it measures just how intense the competition has become among the very largest DAF sponsors in this country.

Public Comment Praise Takeover Helps Renew Denver Guaranteed Basic Income Program

Long time readers will be aware that I have been keeping an eye on guaranteed basic income programs in different communities, especially those that are designed to benefit artists.

Recently Denver agreed to renew their program for a second year to benefit unhoused groups. The pilot program had provided funding in different increments to people as part of an attempt to study what approaches were most effective.  I am unclear about whether they have settled on a standard amount to distribute as they move into the second year.

What caught my eye in a Vice article on the topic was the discussion of how the different advocacy groups went about lobbying for the continuation of the program, reversing the new mayor’s rejection of a proposal to renew the program.  Other groups looking to advocate for basic income programs, whether specifically for artists or not, may be able to learn from the Denver groups’ approach.

A coalition of about 20 groups advocated for the funding, including SEIU Local 105, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Center for People With Disabilities. Advocates attended weekly city council meetings for 12 weeks wearing the color green (for money) and using the public comment period to praise the program.

“The Denver Guaranteed Income Coalition worked together to rally outside the Colorado state capitol, execute a 40-person public comment takeover at a city council meeting, send hundreds of emails to newly elected Mayor Johnston and city council members, and phone bank which resulted in over 2000 calls to Denver residents and subsequently dozens of calls to city council members,”