State Arts Agencies

Thanks to, a study of state arts agencies done by the Rand Corporation came to my attention today. State Arts Agencies 1965-2003: Whose Interests to Serve by Julia F. Lowell took a look at how 13 state arts agencies were fulfilling the purpose for which they were created. The report feels that the recent cuts to state arts agencies (SAAs) by state governments may turn out to be more than just a passing thing.

The report is prefaced by a summary of the history of SAAs from 1965 when they were first beginning to be formed. They first came as a way to decentralize the power of the NEA and prevent it from becoming “European-style ‘Ministry of Culture’.” Many were formed for the sole purpose of getting federal funds rather than from an interest by states to join in the arts funding trend. Among the assumptions of early agencies was that only high arts like ballet, opera, orchestras, etc. should be funded rather than individuals and community groups. As a result, the interests of a small group of arts buffs rather than the public as a whole was served.

There was a revolt against this view as many people felt the views and cultures being presented represented too narrow a portion of what was available and that the interests of too small a group was being recognized. Many states decentralized themselves and local arts agencies were set up to direct money to community interests. A consequence was that:

“The political impact of the changes they introduced was disappointing: Local arts councils received much of the credit for regrants run through the budgets of decentralized agencies, and community-based artists and arts organizations did not turn out to be an effective lobbying force. At the
same time, many of those who believed firmly that preserving and nurturing the high arts should be an arts agency’s first priority began losing their faith in SAAs.”

In the 1980s, the decentralization of the 1970s lead to a drop in support of SAAs by the major arts organizations. Many lobbied on their own behalf for funding rather than for support of the SAAs.

The 1990s of course brought close inspection of how public funds were being used to support the arts. SAAs were in the position of trying to convince the public and legislators that the arts were important to people’s lives and that SAAs were important to the arts.

Today, supported by grants from the Wallace Foundation, some SAAs are working to refocus themselves to represent the entire population of the state rather than just arts attendees, organizations and individuals artists. The report promises to monitor the strategies and tactics each participating SAA uses to generate monographs in the future.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

I came across a couple of links about Florida via in the last week or so. In different ways they seemed to illustrate how the arts are constantly in a struggle to validate their existence by showing good numbers.

The first was talking about the Florida Arts Community rallying to get state funding restored. It was rather reminiscent of last year in NJ because the governor was the biggest impediment to arts funding in that state as well. One of the points the advocates raised of course was the economic benefit of the arts in the state.

I was somewhat impressed to see the writer explore the danger in using economic benefit as a rationalization of support by quoting a Newsweek article from a year ago by Artsjournal’s Douglas McLennan regarding the problem with employing this tactic:

“By my estimation, a pure case for public funding of art for art’s sake hasn’t been made in more than a decade,” Douglass McLennan, editor of, wrote in an essay last year for McLennan questioned “reducing arguments for arts to economic impacts,” and added, “Art may be a great economic investment, but if it’s not an investment someone chooses to make, you’re out of luck. Sorry, just business.”

In this vein, the article quotes one of the arts advocacy members as suggesting a day without art where every thing that was formed by some artistic consideration including sculpture, painting, music, film, television, architecture, to the cut of the lawmakers’ suits was covered, removed and generally forbidden them for a day to show them the value of art in their lives.

A few days after reading this, I came across an article in the New York Times owned Sarasota Herald Tribune written by the President of the Sarasota (FL) Arts Council which cited the PARC study and an Americans for the Arts study. One of the things he wrote about was how the studies illustrated the economic value of the arts. However, he also went on to state “that people of all income levels attend the arts. This dispels the popular notion that culture in Sarasota County is for the elite few.”

Since I had just read the PARC study and hadn’t come away with that impression, I was a little puzzled. I went back to the study and still felt the same as a result of the following findings:

“Enjoyment is unrelated to household income level, except in Sarasota where higher household incomes are associated with greater levels of arts enjoyment.”

“In Boston and Sarasota, attendance at performing arts events is positively associated with household income. This trend generally holds in Washington and Minneapolis-St. Paul as well, although the association is not as strong.”

“This contrasts sharply with Sarasota, for example, where respondents from the wealthiest households are over three times more likely to be frequent attenders than respondents from the lowest income households.”

“Household income, age, and presence of children at home are largely unrelated to the degree to which respondents find live performing arts to be enjoyable. Sarasota is an exception, where wealthier respondents report increasingly high levels of agreement regarding enjoyment of the
performing arts.”

“In Sarasota, more highly educated people are somewhat more likely to say that the arts are a source of pride in their community.”

“In short, households with lower levels of income are more likely to cite cost of tickets as a barrier to greater attendance. This relationship is strongest in Sarasota.”

As I had mentioned in an earlier entry, there are certainly other factors that act as barriers to attendance in all cities. However, the study singles Sarasota out a number of times as being atypical among the other cities surveyed in regard to having arts attendance and enjoyment so closely linked with education and income.

I thought that perhaps the Sarasota Arts Council came to their conclusion from the Americans for the Arts survey. However, that report was focussed only on economic impact and they only collected information from people when they were attending the event. There was no information collected from those who decided not to attend.

It was upon re-reading the Herald-Tribune article that I realized the president was actually basing his non-elitist claim on a third study that was commissioned locally. The results of that survey were not available on line that I could find. The fact that it was conducted locally makes me wonder if there was an agenda behind the data collection.

The greater tragedy though is that arts organizations seem to be focussing too great a portion of their energies these days trying to prove the worthiness of their existence. It is almost akin to Valentine’s Day in grammar school where kids are concerned about making a respectable showing when cards are distributed. Except in this case, people are massaging the results by metaphorically claiming that while they didn’t get a lot of cards, 25% of those they did get were high quality Hallmark cards rather than cheapie ones proving they are held in high esteem.

Administration by Degrees

I was going to write on another subject today and had some reference material all lined up. Something has been grating on me for awhile now and I decided I would address it today. For a number of months now Drew McManus has been critical of how well arts administration programs are preparing people for careers in that field. It started back in November with his original posting, followed by a rebuttal by Andrew Taylor, to which Drew replied. He has made additional comments on this theme since then. Today he quotes Klaus Heymann as saying

“There are too many arts administrators that know about the arts but are terrible managers and there are too many that are good managers that don’t know enough about the arts. Arts Administration programs need to provide much more practical experience for their students in order to better prepare them for the realities of the classical music business.”

As a graduate with a degree in arts management, this sort of thing raises my hackles a bit. I can understand that some people are just bad managers despite their degrees and that classroom education really can’t prepare you for the practical realities of running an organization. However, I am of the mind that arts groups will be better off with someone at the helm who is aware of the business environment in which their organization is operating. Historically, I feel there have been too many institutions being lead by well meaning individuals who didn’t really didn’t understand good governance and business practices. Certainly there have been many individuals who have been fantastic managers without formal training, but they have been few and far between and getting rarer as the times make more specific demands of people and allow less margin for error.

However, after some investigation of arts administration programs, I have to say Drew might be right.

Florida State University where I earned my MFA is a good example of this. I got my MFA from the Theatre School. The requirements were 42 credits in classroom and practicum work and then a year long internship at a theatre for 18 credits (60 total).

The FSU Visual Arts School has an MA Arts Administration degree program as well. It is a 39 credit program but doesn’t even have a required practicum listed. Part of my degree program required me to take some surveying courses offered by this department and in speaking with the students there, I didn’t feel there was enough focus on practical applications.

The FSU School of Music has recently started offering an MA in Music Administration program. It is a 39 credit course load and does require a 9 credit internship.

Here we have 3 arts administration programs at the same university holding students to vastly different standards for a Master’s degree.

Andrew Taylor’s Bolz Center also has a two year arts administration degree. It doesn’t specify number of credits and the cirriculum is being changed, but it appears near 40. They offer an optional internship.

The University of Alabama has a 60 credit, 2 calendar year (no summer breaks) MFA program where you spend 9 months on campus and then 15 months straight getting practical experience at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

Wayne State University has a similar 60 credit MFA program where the students essentially run the theatre company for three years alongside taking classes.

University of Oregon has a 39 credit hour program which does require a 3 credit internship. Drexel’s is 45 credit hours and also requires a 3 credit internship.

Southern Utah University (home of the Utah Shakespearean Festival) was the only place which offered a MFA in Arts Administration of 60 hours (as opposed to in a specific area like Theatre Administration)

I agree with Andrew Taylor that it is a matter of the quality of instruction rather than how much instruction you get. Certainly getting an MFA is no guarantee of ability. I think the current batch of MFA grads from FSU are getting better classroom training than I did. (Though none will ever get the practical experience in crisis management I got.) I wonder if people who intend to apply their degree to running an organization (as opposed to self-illumination or teaching) should be going after the additional 21 credits for a MFA.

I am curious to know why theatre programs seem to think their students need the extra year and the other disciplines don’t. Certainly, there is the chance that theatre people have conspired to wring a year or so of talented work for the meager expense of an assistantship salary. But I have always thought theatre managers had it together more than managers of other disciplines.

Sure, it may be egotism talking or my attempt to rationalize the value of my exhausting work for paltry wages, but I think there is something to it. There is a lot of classroom work and practical experience necessary to gain the skills to be effective as an arts manager in the current climate. Doing 20 hours a week as part of a practicum or assistantship fit in around your class schedule is certainly going to give you insight, but it isn’t likely to require enough problem solving and critical thinking to really prepare you for a job in that area.

An side note on a related program I came across. The Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam has an Institute for Music Business. (It is an excellent music school. Probably because the winters are so cold, there is nothing to do but practice. I’ve been there.) The institute isn’t so much a degree program (though they plan to start one) as an attempt to: “enhance communication and facilitate a mutually beneficial partnership between The Crane School of Music and the music products industry, bridging the gap between music education and music business.” One of their initiatives is to prepare their graduates for careers.

It isn’t clear if this means giving all their graduates the skills to properly promote themselves and cope in the real world or just educating those who are interested in the business end (or perhaps both.) From what I have read recently, it might be extremely valuable for students to learn the former so they will be aware of the realities and expectations that face them upon graduation.

Anyone have any thoughts or observations about any of this?

Good for the Goose, Better for the Gander

I was looking back at the Performing Arts Research Coalition (PARC) study on the value of arts in the community. I had written about a portion of it back in March.

One of the findings of the study was that people felt the arts had more value to their community than it did for them as individuals. In the cities surveyed, between 79% and 85% of attendees strongly agreed with this idea as did about 33% of non-attendees. This idea that my neighbor needs the help more than I do was recently discussed in a brief Scientific American article which found that people often rate their moral, social and religious behavior better than their neighbors and also feel that they are less biased and fairer in their judgments than the next person.

An additional discovery the PARC study made was that 2/3 of those surveyed strongly agreed (it shoots to 9/10 if you include “agree” responses) that arts education was better for children regardless of the respondent’s age, education, lack of attendance, children at home or income status. However, only 1/2 strongly felt arts had any value to adult lifelong learning. Those who attended most felt most strongly about the value. The difference might be caused by the same personal bias. Since most respondents were adults, they might feel it is better for the kids than for themselves.

The study is very interesting in its exploration of a number of other factors such as: quality of life (more educated, stronger agreement. Though in D.C. more income also had a correlation); pride in the community (higher income in Sarasota strongly agree, older folks in Boston strongly agree, but less than half of respondents in Austin strongly agree); preserves cultural heritage (majority, regardless of attendance, income, education, etc strongly agree); contributes to local economy (lowest percentage of strongly agree. Except in Sarasota, majority did not strongly agree.)

These results show that it may not be wise to make blanket assumptions about how segments of the local population view the arts. In some cases, you can’t even make assumptions about perceptions based on survey results from another city.

It is also interesting to note that the public doesn’t perceive an economic contribution of the arts. I have read a number of articles that felt the practice of discussing the arts in terms of their economic contributions would devalue the arts by positioning them as a tool for economic growth rather than a source of education, self-improvement, inspiration, etc. In most cases, the articles were referring to the way arts organizations present this information to funders, especially government bodies that allocate monies toward funding.

While I found myself agreeing with this idea, it occurs to me today that perhaps the problem is that we have been saying it too much to too few people. I quoted Ben Cameron last week where he listed economic contributions as a value of the arts that the public needed to have presented to it. Seeing the survey data, I wonder if the arts need to spread the word to the public and stop focusing the message strictly to funders. The stats have probably been chanted at legislators for so long they won’t endure as a justification of funding for too much longer. However, the community may not have been exposed to the discussion of economic value enough. The arts community may have put a lot of time and energy into communicating with too narrow a portion of of its constituency.