Funding The In Between Places

Scott Walters over at Theatre Ideas has been looking at how the National Endowment for the Arts distributed funds for its “Our Town” grant program. In the last three posts on the topic, he has been critical of the way the granting process is structured and executed, perceiving a surprising bias against rural communities given that it takes its name from Thornton Wilder’s play set in a rural location.

Scott’s initial criticism sort of deflated my sails when, by his criteria, the award to the Wallkill River School, Inc. in Orange County, NY where I grew up was not being made to a rural arts organization given the population of the county. I was excited to see that their project whose purpose is “To support the development of economic strategies for long-term, sustainable partnerships between the arts and agriculture in Orange County,” was funded.

I have to concede that the population has increased quite a bit since I was growing up and its psychological distance from New York City has diminished since then. (Though it still qualifies as “way upstate” in minds of NYC residents.)

I was also happy to see that the Trey McIntyre Project (TMP), headquartered in Boise, ID had gotten a grant. (Full disclosure, we will be presenting the dance company in Spring 2012.) Though it isn’t rural per se, Boise qualifies as fly over country in many people’s minds. I have found Trey McIntyre’s decision to locate there rather than NY, Chicago or L.A. to be commendable—and so has the population of Boise who treat them like celebrities. The group has made great efforts to expand the concept of a dance company’s place in the community by appearing anywhere and everywhere from flash mob like performances to dancing at the local NBA farm team games to creating their own art installation in a hotel room (forward to 3:30 to hear McIntyre talk about the installation)

I was also very happy to see a local burgeoning effort in support of Hawaiian culture was funded as well. I can probably devote an entry explaining how valuable this award is going to be in planting seeds for greater things.

All this being said, I felt Walters did a credible job in his entry today arguing that many elements of the application and review process placed rural arts organizations at a disadvantage.

As Walters acknowledge in his analysis on Monday, the NEA did make an attempt to enlist the participation of arts centers in rural areas and didn’t receive a very strong response. However, in reviewing the comments on his failed grant application, Walter notes that the criteria being used to evaluate his application wasn’t appropriate for the project he was proposing.

“When I consulted the NEA as to why my own “Our Town” grant was not funded, the notes from the review committee focused on excellence: WHO is going to be providing the art, and what are their credentials? Notice that my proposal was for a participatory arts program, and so the artists would be members of the community, not imported “professionals” from outside the community. Participatory arts, as the NEA knows from having recently published it own studies on the subject, is about enhancing the creativity of the citizenry. Credentials and press coverage are irrelevant.”

He also notes that since rural arts organizations don’t have large staffs, the three weeks notice they were given between being invited to apply and the deadline was barely enough time to compose a proposal. When they made it past the first stage, they were given only a month to assemble a complete proposal, an immense task given the length of the application and the limited staff with which to do it. These small staffs may also lack the experience and advisers to guide them in infusing the grants with the polish that granters like the NEA have come to expect.

I actually faced a similar situation here. A grant program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities specifically focused on community colleges was announced in June with a deadline in August. One of the things they are looking for is involving up to 12 other colleges in a partnership. So not only do you need to try to assemble a work group of professors and administrators on your own campus during the summer after everyone has scattered to the winds, you have to get buy in from the same nearly non-existent groups on other campuses as well!

Via the citation of a comment by Ian David Moss, Walters wonders if the NEA is suited and equipt to directly pursue its mandate of geographically diverse funding. He discards Moss’ idea of directing more funding to trusted partners in rural states and letting them make decisions in favor of asking the NEA to become more accountable by cultivating stronger relationships with organization that work closely with rural arts groups and making a better effort to recruit people with an understanding of rural arts operations to serve on grant review panels.

While I disagree with Walters’ criteria about what constitutes rural, I am generally with him about the need to make the grant process more accessible to arts organizations in small communities. A decade ago, heck, even 5 years ago, I would have said the NEA faced an immense task trying to identify and reach out to rural organizations. But with email and social media, it is fairly easy to create focused email lists and Twitter feeds with which to deliver information to these groups.

It is just a matter of enlisting the rural arts service organizations that provide support to these groups to assist them in making them aware of the channels the NEA will be using to communicate with them. As Walters suggests, a time table and structure that recognizes both the limitations and different array of opportunities specific to rural arts organizations. Given how few organizations applied, even an increase of participation by a handful of groups will allow the NEA to claim a many fold percent growth in rural program support.

Trespassing Won’t Make You Many Friends

The Non Profit Quarterly had a piece by Simone Joyaux which I suspect reflects what will be the necessary practice in fund raising for the future.

She asks fund raisers to stop asking their board members to trespass on their family and friends.

Trespassing is when you ask your friends or colleagues to give gifts and buy tickets . . . just because they are your friends and colleagues. This is the personal and professional favor exchange. This is obligation to a person rather than a cause. It’s a lousy way to raise money. It’s offensive. It alienates the asker and the askee. And it’s not sustainable.


How often have you, as a fundraiser, asked your board members to name names? How often have you asked them to bring in a list? Did you ask your board members to write notes on the letters that you planned to send to their list?

I say again, trespassing is a bad idea. It alienates board members. It alienates the friends and colleagues of board members. It doesn’t produce loyal donors or sustainable gifts.

Joyaux advises asking board members to suggest those they believe might be interested in supporting one’s organization and then inviting them to learn more about the organization. In the process of interacting with these people, one can gauge whether they are interested in what the organization does and perhaps what specific manifestation of the mission they may be disposed to supporting. From there you can work on cultivating a relationship with them that may see them more involved with the organization.

This suggestion isn’t terribly earth shattering or new. I have heard Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser say this is essentially what he does to garner support for the organizations he leads. When I first heard him speak about how he evaluates what people may be interested in and only really approaches them in relation to their interests, it seemed a less daunting and more considerate approach than soliciting everyone for every cause, even though it is much more time consuming.

As Joyaux notes, existing supporters like board members are probably going to be more comfortable implementing an organizational relationship building approach. After all, they invested the time to develop their personal relationships with friends and colleagues. While they may be willing to donate the fruits of that investment to their favorite non-profit, those relationships were built on entirely different circumstances which may not be entirely compatible with a request for support of a non-profit.

Now that social media allows people to be approached for their support every time they turn on a computer or pick up the phone, it is likely that only those organizations that take the time to cultivate a relationship with people will earn sustained support.

Not that social media won’t be a good tool for keeping people engaged with the organization’s work. It may just not be the strongest method for the organization and individual to gain a good mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s priorities.

N.B. My apologies. Some how I ended up omitting the link to Joyaux’s piece when I first posted this entry.

Info You Can Use: Arts in Medicine

A commentary by Dr. Gary Christenson on the Minnesota Medicine website offers the most complete listing of the benefits of arts in medicine I have yet seen. Whether the piece inspires you to partner with medical services or not, it provides evidence of the benefits of the arts to use alongside illustrations of the intrinsic, economic and educational values.

The commentary starts out relating an anecdote about an actual emergency “stat” call for musicians in a hospital. While acknowledging that such an incident is a rare occurrence in medicine, Dr. Christenson shows that the arts are already playing an important role in the practice of medicine:

(my apologies for the length of the citation. While I did pare it down to a large degree, there were just so many exciting and compelling examples, it was difficult to decide what to excise.)

“Although some might be inclined to dismiss the arts as a triviality, luxury, or unjustified expense in a time of concern over rising health care costs, research is showing that use of the arts in health care can be cost-effective. For example, a recent study done at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare demonstrated that using music therapy when preparing children for CT scans significantly reduced use of sedative medications, associated overnight stays, and nurse time, and resulted in a cost savings of $567 per procedure. It also decreased the need for repeat CTs because of poor-quality scans. When extrapolating those numbers to all pediatric CT scans done in the United States, researchers estimated a potential savings of $2.25 billion per year.”

1. Studying the arts makes medical students into better doctors.

“In our state, storytelling and theater have been used to teach students how to effectively take a medical history. Last year, for example, Mayo Medical School and the Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities and Medicine partnered with the Guthrie Theater to offer the one-week selective “Telling the Patient’s Story,” which drew upon improvisation and storytelling to teach students to take and report patients’ medical history.”

“Harvard Medical School has found that training medical students in the visual arts can help them develop their clinical observational skills. Students who participated in formal training consisting of art observation exercises, didactics that integrate fine arts concepts with physical diagnosis topics, and a life-drawing session demonstrated better visual diagnostic skills when viewing photographs of dermatological lesions than students who only received conventional training.”

“The arts also can convey lessons in ways traditional lectures cannot. It isn’t surprising that the top-rated lecture by first-year medical students on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus for seven consecutive years was a reading of physician and playwright David Feldshuh’s Miss Evers Boys by Guthrie Theater actors. The play, about the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, illustrates ethical issues related to informed consent and human experimentation.”

2. The arts have therapeutic benefits.

“Museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts have programs for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss that use visual and cognitive stimuli to evoke memories. Dance has been shown to improve the mobility of patients with conditions such as fibromyalgia and Parkinson disease.”

“Storytelling has been noted to improve the quality of life for cancer patients,10 increase lung function associated with asthma, and reduce symptoms and doctor visits. One report noted that regularly playing the Australia didgeridoo decreased apneic episodes for patients with obstructive sleep apnea.”

3. The arts can help prevent disease.

“..a campaign to decrease heart disease in England found that people were much more responsive to the message, “Dance makes the heart grow stronger” than to “Exercise makes the heart grow stronger.” Dance is one of the best ways to improve health on a number of levels. In addition to its physical benefits, dance enhances social engagement, which is important to overall health and well-being, and it’s one of the best activities for delaying the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

4. The arts can improve the patient experience.

“…a body of research has shown that patients tend to be less stressed, less anxious, require less pain medication, and ready for discharge earlier when their environment includes views of the natural world.”

“Bedside visits by musicians and artists also distract children from pain and help them explore their feelings about their illness.”

5. The arts can promote physician well-being.

“…Although many physicians were involved in the arts before entering medical school, they put those activities on hold during their training. University of Minnesota medical students have an opportunity to keep those interests alive… The program…provides students with a small financial award to pursue and develop their interests and skills in such diverse areas as painting, drawing, singing, clowning, photography, and playing an instrument as a way to find relief from the rigors of medical study.”

Using the arts to reduce costs, provide relief and focus to patients and produce more effective doctors, what isn’t to love? As with all things, arts are only one part of bolstering well-being and providing better medical care. There is certainly a potential for it to become a much more important element in providing better medical care if employed and studied to a greater degree.

Dr. Christenson provides 20 footnoted references for his commentary which seems a good place to start for those looking to develop programs and partnerships to integrate the arts in medicine. The research is also obviously a good basis for advocacy about the value of the arts.