Friday, December 23, 2011

An Idea That Everyone Will Hate

IN A COUPLE POSTS on Parabasis, Isaac Butler has contributed two commentaries concerning the increasingly blurred lines between the profit theatre and the nonprofit theatre. This is an issue upon which Rocco Landesman has repeatedly commented quite powerfully, both as head of the NEA and long before. This is an issue that intersects with many of my own concerns about the increasing centralization of the theatre in New York as well as the centralization of arts funding in large theatres, many of whom rather regularly transfer their productions to Broadway.
    While I was thinking about this issue and how best to address it, I came up with an idea that absolutely everybody will hate which, if I were an avant garde artist, I would see as proof that it is an excellent idea. And while I acknowledge its likelihood of universal horror, and also the complicated details that would be involved, I am going to share it anyway as a "modest proposal"" offered to provoke thought if nothing else.
    So here it is -- for simplicity's sake, I will give it a narrow focus:

  • Any theatre that transfers a production to a commercial venue automatically loses its non-profit status.
Actually, this wasn't the radical idea. Rather, it was the next step that was radical, because it makes this prohibition work both ways:

  • In order to maintain its 501(c)3 status, a non-profit theatre is not allowed to produce a play that has been done on Broadway or employ an artist who has worked in the commercial theatre, television, or film.
Yeah, that's the kicker.
     This would have the immediate negative effect of reducing artist income and, indeed, would likely substantially reduce the theatrical workforce. In fact, it might seriously cripple the theatre scene, at least for a while.
   On the other hand, it would draw a bright line between the nonprofit world and the commercial world, eventually creating a workforce focusing all of its artistic energy on developing the theatre. No longer would the nonprofit theatre be a stepping stone for playwrights, actors, directors, and designers to make a jump to commercial art forms. No longer would regional theatres across the US produce, cookie-cutter-like, the latest Broadway hit. No longer would we have articles in American Theatre making excuses for playwrights heading to Hollywood to write TV shows. No longer would theatre actors spend their time trying to land a national commercial or a bit spot on CSI. Theatre artists would have to commit, and if they wanted to do a TV series, film, or Broadway show, they would know that there was no going back.
   Imagine the amount of great theatre the world might have seen if the Steppenwolf actors had been doing play after play year after year instead of spending most of their time doing movies and TV series. Imagine if Tony Kushner had focused his enormous talent on writing play after play for Magic Theatre instead of trying to figure out a way to make a smart Broadway musical.  Imagine the richness that might have entered the theatre if the only people working in it were those who had committed their lives and talents totally to it. Imagine the collaboration that might happen between regional theatres looking to share the work of their playwrights. The nonprofit theatre world would be immeasurably enriched by being populated only by theatre artists who have committed their careers to its development.
   Yeah, I know -- the free flow of labor.
   But unless something like this happens, the nonprofit theatre will continue to be used as the minor leagues for commercial art forms that contribute to the cultural sludge that pollutes our nation. We need to quarantine the corporate values that have infected the commercial theatre. It isn't good for the art form; it isn't good for our culture.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Arlene Goldbard on the NCRP Report

Arlene Goldbard's outstanding book
I was tempted to call this "Occupy Wall Street (part 5)," but arts consultant and thinker Arlene Goldbard, author of the powerful book The New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development (which I think every artist ought to get as a Christmas present), has written a powerful post in reaction to the Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change report as well as the discussion going on at Grantmakers in the Arts Forum on Equity in Arts Funding. Please, please go read it. It is entitled: "Equity in Cultural Funding: Let Them Bake Pies."

Here's a taste: Goldbard's conclusion:


 I salute the very few funders who’ve demonstrated it. To the rest, I pose a few questions not mentioned so far in the study or the forum:
  • What would it take for you to face the assumptions and ways of organizing that perpetuate them-that’s-got-shall-get funding?
  • What would it take for you to step up to the challenge of adopting egalitarian, democratic, social justice commitments in their place?
  • What would it take for you step off the path on which so much philanthropy has been dependent, and truly share power?
  • What would it take for you to embrace learning from failure, abandon corporate models, and truly break with the conventions that keep our philanthropic culture entrenched, inequitable, and stuck?
If the answers are within your grasp, what’s stopping you? And if—sadly—you can’t conceive answers that can actually be enacted, well, let’s try facing that truth now.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Occupy Lincoln Center (part 4)

 The first three parts of this series each pointed at different aspects of the problem of the concentration of funding in the nonprofit arts sector. First, the overview of the situation in philanthropic giving; second, the consequences of such concentration when it comes to many different kinds of diversity (audience served, aesthetics preferred, geographies ignored, demographics slighted); and third, the urbanization of theatre as reflected in funding from the NEA. These parts should be read as a whole, a single long essay examining from different angles the inequities of arts funding in the US.

So what is to be done? This is a question so often asked of the Occupy Movement: what do you want, what are your demands, what are your solutions. While I am not an expert in the Occupy Movement, my impression is that it is comprised of a very diverse group of people who represent different priorities and different ideas of what is to be done, but that they agree about one thing: the income disparity in the US is wrong. Their protest is a moral one that points at gross inequity that has ramifications for all aspects of American society, and declares it wrong.

That is an important first step for a rebellion, and it is the step that I, too, am making with these posts. Before proposing "solutions," it is important for as many people as possible, both within the profession and outside it, to actually see the inequity, recognize its extremely negative effects on the American arts ecosystem, and declare it wrong. Easier said than done.

Over the past weeks, I have encountered many members of the arts community who profess to sincerely support the points being made, but fret that any change to the status quo will negatively impact those who are currently highly privileged.  Some have expressed a desire for a single, simple solution that rights the wrongs without causing any change to the status quo. Others, such as TCG's Executive Director Teresa Eyring, have defended the status quo, pointing out that, while it may look like there is inequity, well, those really rich organizations actually help smaller organizations."What the numbers and this study don’t capture," Ms. Eyring opines, "are the often invisible ways in which larger and mid-sized organizations deploy financial, human and capital resources for the benefit of individual artists, smaller organizations and diverse communities. These systems of mutual support often go unnoticed by the wider public, but they are tremendously valuable. As we continue our conversation about funding equity, we must also acknowledge the impact of the actions these larger theatres are taking, and share models that are working." She then goes on to list all the yummy things that organizations like La Jolla Playhouse and Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis have done. Why, La Jolla has actually let one small organization a year do a show or two in their space rent free, and even offered sound and lighting support and advice about marketing! Such largess is simply breathtaking. She goes on: "When C[hildren's] T[heatre] C[ompany] premiered Nilo Cruz’s adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, [music director Viktor] Zupanc searched for local musicians playing in South American traditions. He found and hired a harpist from Paraguay, a percussionist from Brazil, a guitarist from Argentina and a flute/pan pipe player from Ecuador, and CTC paid for all of them to join the local musician’s union." She concludes breathlessly, " Not only did this build unexpected ties to emerging artistic communities in Minneapolis, but the music was gorgeous!"

We might call this "trickle down arts funding," a concept that has been proven worthless in the economy as a whole, but which Ms. Eyring apparently thinks works just fine in the nonprofit arts sector. As you might expect, I don't find these artistic breadcrumbs persuasive as a reason to continue the status quo. The fact that the head of, say, Citibank occasionally tosses a couple bucks in the hat of a homeless person doesn't undo the fact that the economic income disparity is simply wrong.  That Ms. Eyring apparently does think it is enough simply reinforces my sense that the Theatre Communications Group no longer truly serves the regional theatre field, but is rather an advocacy group for the privileged.

While I have not had an opportunity to read all of the blog posts by arts professionals and philanthropists in the discussion of the report happening at the GIA blog (which is where Ms. Eyring offered her "insights"), I did have an opportunity to read William Cleveland's contribution. Cleveland, who has long been involved in community-based arts, contributes a series of questions that he thinks we all ought to ask ourselves:
  • Is cultural equity a core value that informs our work? If not, why?
  • If so, how specifically do we define it and hold ourselves accountable?
  • If we looked hard at the patterns of cultural investment by our organization and across our community, over time, what would we find?
  • If there were a significant “gap” between our stated values and this investment history, what would we do?
I think these are good questions that can lead to personal reflection, but right now I simply want arts professionals and philanthropists to declare the status quo wrong. Not to engage in soul-searching, not to comment on how "interesting" the report is, not to comment on how interesting it is that it has gotten so much media attention, and certainly not defend the indefensible as Ms. Eyring does, which is just embarrassing. But just to take a clear moral stand and declare it wrong. I don't want excuses, reasons, or rationalization; I want these arts leaders to say, in no uncertain terms, that this income and wealth disparity among nonprofit arts organizations and within nonprofit arts philanthropy is wrong. Period.


Doug Borwick, in an excellent response to this series of posts, reminds us that "“arts” is not in the tax code’s authorizing language for tax exempt entities. We sneak in under “education.”" If education funding was distributed like arts funding -- if most of the money went to educate wealthy, urban white people in a few states -- the hue and cry would be deafening, and anyone who defended it would be excoriated. Why is this not the case with arts funding, if it indeed receives its tax deductability from its educational contribution to American society?




So I want theatre artists, arts leaders, and arts philanthropists declare the status quo wrong. Once I hear that, then we can discuss possible solutions. But as long as there are people weaseling around making excuses for a system that destroys the many while privileging the few, that contributes mightily to the tragedy of unrealized artistic potential, there is no point exploring solutions. It is time for arts leaders such as Rocco Landesman, Ben Cameron, all the people who blogged at the GIA, and anybody in a leadership position at a 2% arts org or foundation to say unequivocally and directly that this situation is wrong. Those voices need to be joined by individual artists across the US to affirm that the current centralization of artistic resources is wrong.

It is time to stand up. Please sign the above petition. If you are a Twitter user, please make your voice heard by tweeting your support with the hashtag #It'sJustWrong.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Occupy Lincoln Center (part 3)

On October 26th, one of the great pioneers of the regional theatre movement, Zelda Fichlander, addressed the assembled Stage Directors and Choreographers Society in celebration of the 3rd annual award named in her honor. The invaluable on-line journal HowlRound posted the text of her speech, in which Fichlander spoke passionately about the early history of the regional theatre movement and the values that formed its foundation. I take a back seat to no one in my admiration for Fichlander, who has provided strong leadership and a vital moral voice in the regional theatre and theatre education for decades. That said, there is a portion of the speech that is, frankly, inaccurate and one that propagates a myth about the development of the regional theatre movement that supports the lack of diversity that is revealed in the Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change report that has been discussed in the first two parts of this series.

About a third of the way through her speech, Fichlander talks about a meeting she had with the true founder of the regional theatre movement, Margo Jones, when Fichlander was founding the Arena Stage. She asked Jones whether she was doing the right thing, and Jones offered her insights, "and then came the prophecy that appeared later in her book, Theatre-in-the-Round," Fichlander says: “I dream of 40 of these theatres all around America, that’s what we need to have.” She didn’t live long enough to see what happened, but it happened as she said it would. It did grow to forty, and now it’s over 1,000."

Now, it may be that Fichlander is accurately reporting what Jones said to her in that meeting, but it is certainly not what Jones said when, sixty years ago, she published her vision for the regional theatre. On the second page of the book, she writes the following:
"What our country needs today, theatrically speaking, is a resident professional theatre in every city with a population over one hundred thousand. According to the 1940 census figures, there are over one hundred such cities in the United States. For reasons which will become evident in this book, I believe it would be easier to start in the larger centers, although I am certain that once all these cities acquired resident professional theatres, smaller communities would want them, too; and possibly within some ten years the one hundred and seven cities whose population runs from fifty to one hundred thousand would also have their own theatres...I believe that the best way to assure quality is to give birth to a movement which will establish permanent resident theatres throughout the country."
That's the prophecy, that's the vision. First, resident theatres -- theatres with a permanent company at its core. That certainly has not happened with most regional theatres, who job in actors from New York on a per-show or per-season contract. That has reinforced the centralization of the artistic workforce, and undermined the greatness that can result from artistic continuity.

More important to this discussion is Jones' vision of geographic diversity. Not forty theatres, as Fichlander would have us believe, but a theatre in every city of 100,000 and ten years later one in every community with a population of 50,000. How has that vision worked out in actuality?

Reality
According to the League of Resident Theatres member list, there are 76 such theatres in the United States. While almost twice as many as the forty remembered by Ms. Fichlander, it is well short of the one hundred envisions by Jones even using the census of 1940 when there were far fewer cities over 100,000.

Of those 76 theatres, sixteen (21%) had populations under 250,000 and 12 (15.7%) had populations between 50,000 and 100,000.

Of those twelve with populations between 50,000 and 100,000, only three were in counties under 250,000. Why does this matter? Because it is an indication that most of these cities are suburbs of larger cities. We're talking Skokie IL, Cambridge and Lowell MA, Jupiter FL, Pasadena and Costa Mesa CA.

Oh, and nationwide, the percentage of counties with populations under 200,000? 91%.

Further, an examination of the demographics for these smaller LORT cities reveals that the average median household incomes for the group of $66,720. Compared to $45,018 for the US as a whole, this is almost 1.5 times the national figure.

So once again, we find that the vast majority of theatres are urban; of those in smaller cities, they tend to be wealthy suburbs of metropolises.

Margo Jones would not be thrilled. Nor would the Occupy Wall Streeters.

My research has also shown that funding from the National Endowment for the Arts is also centralized in certain states of the union, with New York and California getting the lion's share. The latest round of Our Town funding is no exception: New York and California received 44% of the total grants awarded, and the same percentage of the money awarded. When Illinois is included, it ends up with 50% going to just three states. Once again, these reflect the centralization of funding in certain areas.

Another Goal
Meanwhile, according to the Rapid City Journal, Rocco Landesman, "on his way out of South Dakota after visiting Red Cloud Indian School’s Heritage Center...stopped Thursday in Rapid City with a message: Art is the product of its place.“This is probably the best example of that that I’ve seen anywhere in the country,” said Rocco Landesman, who is finishing a three-state tour to visit organizations with grant money from the endowment. “You visit the Heritage Center and see Native American art produced by the people in those tribes, the Lakota people right there. It’s so obvious that it’s tied to that place; that this couldn’t happen in Malibu or New York City.”

South Dakota is one of three states that received no grant money from the NEA in this round of the Our Town Art Works grant program. Nor did they receive any in the last round of the Our Town grants. The other two states: North Dakota and Nevada. Nevada didn't get any Our Town grants in the last round, either.

Further, and examination of the percentage of submitted grants that were actually funded in the last round of the Our Town program reveals that proposals from cities with populations over a million had a 100% acceptance rate, whereas those from cities under 100,000 had an acceptance rate of less than 40%.

As the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report indicates, and as this data reinforces, rural communities are severely neglected. "The economics of cultural philanthropy are extremely skewed and this restricts the ability of thousands of artists and smaller cultural organizations to advance their practice and contribute substantively to their communities." Sidford writes in the NCRP report.
"Culture and the arts are essential means by which all people explain their experience, shape their identity and imagine the future...People need the arts to make sense of their lives, to know who they are. But our democracy needs the arts, too. The arts animate civil society. They stretch our imagination. They increase our compassion for others by providing creative ways for us to understand and deal with differences. The arts protect and enrich the dignity and the public discourse that are at the heart of a healthy democracy."
Meanwhile, back in South Dakota, Landesman echoes the  same sentiment. "Studies show that introducing art in communities like Hill City, which has seven art galleries although the population is under 1,000, changes the economics and people who live there, Landesman said.“This is the real work, I think of the NEA, to get out there, to get around and to engage art where it’s happening and to promote that,” Landesman said. “When you bring art and artists into a place it changes that place. It changes that community.”

Perhaps the peer review panels who award grants didn't get that memo. Or perhaps this is just public relations while the NEA and the philanthropic foundations go on reinforcing the status quo. But I ask Mr Landesman, and people who head large philanthropic organizations like, say Ben Cameron at the Doris Duke Foundation:  why should the transformative, community-building benefits of the arts be confined to metropolitan areas and rich suburbs?

If this is truly the National Endowment for the Arts, perhaps there ought to be a bit more focus put on the nation as a whole. Perhaps that "real work" Landesman spoke of ought to include actively seeking and rewarding a more diverse pool of arts organizations. If we want to promote the arts throughout the nation, then we have to promote arts funding throughout the nation. Giving 55% of the arts funding to 2% of the arts organizations that reside primarily in a few metropolitan areas serving a rich group of patrons is simply wrong. There is no defense for it other than stubbornly ingrained elitism.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupy Lincoln Center (part 2)

"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" -- Matthew 7: 3 (English Standard Version)
Yesterday, in the first part of this series, I compared the income and wealth disparities in the American economy to that of the philanthropic support of the nonprofit arts economy. It didn't come out too well. The income gap between the top 2% of arts organizations (those with annual budgets of over $5M) and the remaining 98% was twice a great as the income gap in the economy as a whole.  I think that should make us all stop an consider a wee bit, because the situation in the economy as a whole is really, really bad.


The wealth comparison came out better than the income comparison, but only because I switched data sets to the TCG membership, which isn't representative of the nonprofit scene as a whole. Of the 160 theatres who were included in the TCG Theatre Facts roundup, only 14 of them (8.75%) had annual budgets under $500,000, whereas, according to the Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change report recently released by the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy, "three quarters of all cultural groups have budgets under $250,000." In other words, the TCG membership is a rather rarified group, and comparing the wealth gap amongst them is sort of like comparing the wealth gap among residents of a gated community -- you're bound to come off looking a little better than looking at the city as a whole. Still, it was illustrative: even in that privileged group, the top 35% possessed 80% of the wealth.


Several commenters attempted to make the case that this disparity was OK because the larger theatres employed more people. Hard to argue with that -- they certainly do. The problem with that argument is that it is circular: the large theatres can employ more people because they get a lot more philanthropic contributions, and so...they should be given more money. Following this logic, if the foundations gave all their money to a single organization, they would employee a lot more people. But it wouldn't be good for the arts or the country. 


Somebody else wanted me to compare the nonprofit arts world with that of restaurants or airlines. This one puzzled me. Would it be OK if the income gap there was similar? Shouldn't the nonprofit arts world, which is nonprofit because the arts are regarded as a public good, be held to a different standard than the market in general? This seems a red herring.


At any rate, the point of yesterday's post was to suggest that those of us who support the Occupy movement, or even those of us who simply condemn the widening gap between rich and poor in this country, ought to recognize that we in the nonprofit arts world have created a system even more unbalanced as the overall economy. We have a lot of work to do here, and acknowledging that there is a serious problem is the first necessary step. The second step is to understand how the problem negatively impacts what is most important about our work.


Diversity


I suspect I am going to be quoting a lot in this post, because Holly Sidford, who wrote the NCRP report, does such an effective job expressing the ramifications of the data. Here's one that is really striking (underlining is mine):
Every year, approximately 11 percent of foundation giving -- more than $2.3 billion in 2009 -- is awarded to nonprofit arts and culture. At present, the vast majority of that funding supports cultural organizations whose work is based in the elite segment of the Western European cultural tradition -- commonly called the canon -- and whose audiences are predominantly white and upper class....This pronounced imbalance restricts the expressive life of millions of people, thus constraining our creativity as a nation. But it is problematic for many other reasons, as well. It is a problem because it means that -- in the arts -- philanthropy is using its tax-exempt status primarily to benefit wealthier, more privileged institutions and populations. It is a problem because our artistic and cultural landscape includes an increasingly diverse range of practices, many of which are based in the history and experience of lower-income and non-white people, and philanthropy is not keeping pace with these developments. 
Later in the report, she writes:
The economics of cultural philanthropy are extremely skewed and this restricts the ability of thousands of artists and smaller cultural organizations to advance their practice and contribute substantively to their communities. This includes most groups that serve lower-income communities; rural communities; communities of color; gay, lesbian and transgender communities and other underserved populations, broadly defined....The [economic] asymmetry disdvantages all of us by restricting the types of cultural expressions we experience, and thus our understanding of what our culture is becoming."
August Wilson
Fifteen years ago, back in 1996, August Wilson delivered his justly famous The Ground On Which I Stand speech at the TCG National Conference. He was angry."I speak about economics and privilege," he said:
and if you will look at one significant fact that affects us all in the American Theater...it is that of the 66 LORT theaters there is only one that can be considered black. From this it could be falsely assumed that there aren't sufficient numbers of blacks working in the American theater to sustain and support more theaters. If you do not know, I will tell you that Black Theater in America is alive...it is vibrant...it is vital...it just isn't funded. BlackTheater doesn't share in the economics that would allow it to support its artists and supply them with meaningful avenues to develop their talent and broadcast and disseminate ideas crucial to its growth. The econmics are reserved as privilege to the overwhelming abundance of institutions that preserve, promote, and perpetuate white culture.
He continued, in words that foreshadow those of Sidford's report:
We do not need colorblind casting. We need some theaters to develop our playwrights. We need those misguided financial resources to be put to a better use. We cannot develop our playwrights with the meager resources at our disposal. Why is it difficult to imagine 9 black theaters but not 66 white ones? Without theaters we cannot develop our talents. If we cannot develop our talents, then everyone suffers. Our writers. The theater. The audience. Actors are deprived of material, our communities are deprived of jobs in support of the art: the company manager, the press coordinator, the electricians, the carpenters, the concessionaires, the people that work in the wardrobe, the box office staff, the ushers, the janitors. We need some theaters. We cannot continue like this. We have only one life to develop our talent, to fulfill our potential as artists. One life and it is short, and the lack of means to develop our talent is an encumbrance on that life.
Why include an attack on colorblind casting as a preface to his demand for more black theaters? Because colorblind casting didn't change the system. The big, white theaters could throw in a little colorblind casting, maybe add a February Black History Month slot, and keep all the money. Nothing significant would change with color-blind casting. Wilson wanted to redistribute wealth in order to put "those misguided financial resources...to a better use." 


Substitute for "black" in the above quotation "rural," "poor," "people of color," "GLBT," or any other artistic tradition in this country and Wilson makes a case for the importance of a truly diverse theater scene that can only come through a more equitable distribution of funding, and the decentralization of theater all across the US.


Less than two years ago, I attended a convening at the Arena Stage that was called "Defining Diversity," and I wondered where Wilson's vision had gone. I was stunned to find that there wasn't much push for black theatres, nor much interest in working in them. Instead, playwrights wanted access to the same big, rich, white theatres that Wilson was trying to disentangle the black theatre from.


We in the theatre give lip-service to the concept of diversity, but until we start putting our money where our mouths are, nothing will change. Giving 55% of foundation money to a handful of big institutions devoted to doing the traditional white canon in front of well-heeled and wealthy patrons won't enrich our theater scene.


In summary, I will quote Sidford again:
Every ecological system requires diversity of living forms, and its multiple parts must all be healthy if the systen as a whole is to thrive. The components of an ecosystem may compete for resources, but they are interdependent and symbiotic. Biodiversity ensures resilience in the entire system, and gives it greater capacity to respond to change. For the most part, the smaller organisms exist on the edges of an ecosystem, and this is where the greatest experimentation occurs. The diversity feeds and refreshes the system and without the innovation an experimentation that takes place at the margins, the larger community loses its vitality. The cultural sector is an ecosystem, and the vibrancy and resilience of all its parts -- especially those at the margins -- are important to the viability of the whole. We need healthy biodiversity -- robust and well-functioning entities in all parts of the system.
As August Wilson said, we cannot continue like this.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Occupy Lincoln Center (part 1)

Occupy Wall Street encampment
(First in a series)


As I write these lines, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been protesting for two months that the top 1% of Americans take home roughly 25% of the nation's total income, a shocking statistic that is very difficult to justify morally or politically. For the sake of illustration: if there were 100 people dividing a million dollars, it would look like this:
  • 1 person would receive $250,000
  • The remaining 99 would each receive $7575
  • The ratio is about 33: 1
Sets my liberal blood a'boiling. Of course, this isn't how it works out in reality. While the 1% is correct, the 99% would not be evenly distributed -- some would get more, some much less. But for the sake of simplicity, we'll use this model. 


The OWS movement, and now all the similar movements across the nation and the world, has effectively changed the narrative in discussions about the American and global economy -- suddenly, we are all part of the 99% -- and artists and non-profits have, overall, been strongly supportive. The editor of the Blue Avocado blog, which provides "practical, provocative and fun food-for-thought for non-profits," encapsulates the general opinion: "The nonprofit sector has always been about the 99%. Let's embrace this narrative and movement, talk about it, build upon it, join it." 


Indeed, let's.


A 1% of Our Very Own

At the end of October, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy issued a report entitled Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change. Holly Sidford, who wrote the report,  researched philanthropic giving to arts organization across the US. What she discovered is as disturbing as the Occupy Wall Street facts about income disparity. Sidofrd found that nonprofits in the arts with budgets over $5M, which she says represents just 2% of all arts nonprofits, receive 55% of contributions, gifts and grants. Let's break this out in the way we did with national income above. 


If there were 100 nonprofit arts organizations dividing a million dollars, it would look like this:
  • 2 organizations would split $550,000 ($275,000 each)
  • The remaining 98 organizations would each get $4591
  • The ratio is a about 60:1
In other words, the income disparity between nonprofit arts institutions is nearly twice as bad as the income disparity in the economy as a whole. If the arts are supposed to hold the mirror up to nature, it is a magnifying glass.


Wealth


Let's look at this another way. In addition to the income gap, the Occupy Wall Street protesters also discuss the wealth gap. Income is what people earn from work, but also from dividends, interest, and any rents or royalties that are paid to them on properties they own -- it's the money you make. Wealth, on the other hand, is the value of marketable assets, such as real estate, stocks, and bonds -- it's the value of the stuff you own. 


In America, the top 1% possesses over 40% of the wealth in the country. Going back to our imaginary 100 people splitting a million dollars:

  • One person would possess $400,000
  • The other 99 people would each have $6060
  • The ratio is 66:1
Which made me curious: how does that shake out in the arts; specifically, in the theatre, my primary interest? Thanks to the TCG Theatre Facts report for 2010, we can get a sense. TCG analyzed data from 171 member theatres. They analyzed the data as a whole, but they also compared data for theatres according to their annual budgets. They had six categories, the top comprised of 27 theatres with budgets over $10M, and the bottom of 14 theatres with budgets under a half million. 


On page 33 of the report, they compare "average total net assets" for each category (in this case, using only 160 theatres), focusing on land, buildings, equipment, investments and other assets. The theatres with budgets of $5M or more (representing 34% of the total) possessed 80% of the total average wealth. Again, using the hundred arts organizations dividing a million dollars:

  • 34 organizations would possess $800,000 ($23,529 each)
  • The remaining 66 organizations would possess $200,000 ($3030 each)
  • The ratio is about 8:1
In summary, arts organizations with budgets over $5M have more wealth and get more, and by very large margins.
Flashback


Less than a year ago, January 2011, I was present when Rocco Landesman, speaking to the assembled artists attending the Arena Stage's New Play Development Program convening, opined that the reason artists couldn't make a living doing theatre is that there was an overabundance of theatre companies. Indeed, Landesman suggested, perhaps the nonprofit theatre system was "overbuilt." After all, demand was falling at the same time as supply was rising, and artists might be better off if the NEA and other arts supporters focused their funds on fewer institutions, so they could give larger awards to a smaller number of theatres.


Following Landesman's comments, Kirk Lynn of Austin's Rude Mechanicals took the microphone to ask whether this weeding out of the theater community would be likely to concentrate more resources in the hands of already large institutions. And what would that mean, he wondered, for the companies whose work isn't compatible with the structures of large institutions?


What Lynn and the assembled artists snuggled into the Arena's brand new, multi-million dollar theatre might not have realized, but that NCRP report now has dramatically brought to light, is that the centralization and concentration that Landesman proposed and that Lynn feared was already in place. To put it bluntly, the nonprofit arts scene makes the general economy look like a model of socialist income redistribution. 


Occupy Lincoln Center, anyone?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Margo Jones in 1951

Margo Jones
"What our country needs today, theatrically speaking, is a resident professional theatre in every city with a population of over one hundred thousand. According to the 1940 census figures, there are over one hundred such cities in the United States. For reasons which will become evident in this book [Theatre-in-the-Round], I believe it woul dbe easier to start in the larger centers, although I am certain that once all these cities acquired resident professional theatres, smaller communities would want them too; and possibly within some ten years the one hundred and seven cities would also have their own theatres." [italics mine]

Sixty years later

  •  Number of cities with LORT theatres: 63
  • Median Population: 804,000
  • Average Population: 1, 460,000
  •  Number of LORT theatres in cities under 100,000: 8
    • Population of the counties these are in:
      • Skokie, IL (pop. 69,731): 5,288,655
      • Palo Alto, CA (pop. 61,200): 1,682,585
      • Bethesda, MD (pop. 55,277): 930,813
      • Abingdon, VA (pop 8,191) : 51,102
      • Jupitor, FL (pop. 39,328): 1,351,236
      • Laguna Beach, CA (pop. 23,727): 2,846,289
      • Princeton, NJ (pop. 14,203): 350,761
      • Malvern, PA (pop. 3,059): 433501
Of those eight cities, most are suburbs of major metropolitan areas: Chicago, San Francisco, DC, Palm Beach (largest county in Florida), Anaheim...

Sorry, Margo.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Participate in the Process

Charles Olson

You must speak to your community.

The poet Vincent Ferrini, talking about poet Charles Olson, said "Everybody has to find his or her place. You find a place and you operate from that place. Once you find that place, that place becomes the center of the whole cosmos. It’s like the dot that keeps the circle going around it. So the center and the circumference are the same thing. Especially if you find your place and work that place to the best of your ability. So you participate in the process. "

That last sentence is crucial: participate in the process. Don't stand apart from it throwing explosives into the group like an Oakland policeman attacking Occupy Wall Street protesters. Join the group, listen and speak, participate in the process. The idea of the artist as magical outsider is cowardice not purity. Don't give up your selfhood, but be open to other voices and offer dialogue not monologue. Participate in the process of creating a community, a place, an idea of what it is to be human today, now, in this place.

I don't believe you can live one place and write for another -- the massification of something as local as drama has led to homogenization and and impoverishment. Drama not written for a specific place is like supermarket tomatoes compared to those you grow in your back yard -- mealy, watery, lacking in nutrition and gusto. Find your place. Write for it. If others find that what you have written speaks to them, that is gravy, but it is not the goal. Charles Olson said "Polis is eyes." It is you looking out through your own eyes at a place.

Participate in the process.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Latest Email from StageNorth

As some of you know, I am a big fan of StageNorth in Washburn, WI (pop 2,280). I am on their mailing list, and received the following this morning. For those of you who think that "culture" only happens in urban areas, StageNorth has an independent film festival this month, and their hit production of Hamlet being extended "because of our long waiting list and sold-out shows of our recently completed production or Hamlet." Are you paying attention, Rocco? 






StageNorth
where every night is entertaining...


Hello from StageNorth!

It is such an exciting time at the theater.  Tonight, more than eighty (!) local students will descend on StageNorth for our first rehearsal of Christmas Carol, which will run from December 8-18th, the phone is ringing off the hook for our upcoming reprisal of "Hamlet", and we are getting ready for this weekend's (4th Annual) "Big Water Film Festival."  Life couldn't be better!


We hope to see you here! 
- All of us at StageNorth

P.S. Check us out on Facebook too!
Coming up...
The 4th Annual "Big Water Film Festival"
November 4-6

The Big Water Film Festival offers a whole weekend of independent films from around the corner and around the world, each one "as fresh as the water of Lake Superior," combined with question-and-answer sessions with the filmmakers, and special features, all in the friendly and inviting ambience of StageNorth.

The Big Water has developed a reputation for good films, a welcoming environment, and a lot of fun.

To see the complete schedule of films, please visit http://bigwaterfilmfestival.org/




StageNorth presents... Hamlet
Thursday, November 17th - November 19th

Because of our long waiting list and sold-out shows of our recently completed production or Hamlet, we are extending our run by another week.  We hope to see you here!

StageNorth is taking on the Bard, and is starting with the most famous of tragedies.  With themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption, these 400-year old words are just as stunning and true today.  Starring Artistic Director Noah Siegler, this is sure to be one of the biggest productions of the season.


Show dates & times:
Thurday, November 17th, 7:30pm  ($9 Night!)
Friday, November 18th, 7:30pm
Saturday, November 19th, 7:30pm

Tickets: $16 Adults / $14 Seniors / $9 Students

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jo Carson

On September 20th, a wonderful American playwright passed away: Jo Carson. Perhaps you've heard of her, perhaps you haven't -- most likely you haven't, because Jo Carson wrote plays about specific places, places that weren't megalopolises, places where the national media doesn't venture much. Places like Colquitt GA and Sautee Nacoochie GA, which I wrote about here. She also was a contributor to NPR, and published quite a few marvelous books like Spider Speculations and Liars, Thieves, and Other Sinners on the Bench. She also was the founder of AlternateROOTS, an inspiring organization devoted to community-based arts.

I never met Ms. Carson, although I was reading Spider Speculations with a mixture of amazement and inspiration the week she died. But I wish I had known her at least well enough to say thank you. But its more selfish than that: I wish I had heard some of her stories. In her collection of poems called Stories I Ain't Told Nobody Yet, a mother asks her child to come home while she is still alive, saying ""I could fill you up with stories, stories I ain't told nobody yet. . . . When I am dead, it will not matter / how hard you press your ear to the ground."

If you are a theatre person who is interested in diversity, I encourage you to expand your ideas of what that term means to include stories about people who live in the small towns and rural areas of America -- the people that Jo Carson wrote about. Read her books, her plays, her poems and break through the stereotypes fostered by the mass media.

But you can start by listening to her keynote speech at the AlternateROOTS 35th anniversary celebration three months before she died. What you'll hear is an authentic voice of passion, commitment, humor, and humility -- the kind of voice we could use more of in the theatre today. At one point in her speech, she says that people can live through hell if they have a strong community to support them. That certainly was true for her, and I think it is something we forget at our peril. I remember a time when certain members of the theatrosphere referred to "community" as the "C-word," reflecting the all-too-common alienation that turns cynicism into a virtue. I prefer authenticity, passion, commitment, humor, and humility.

Rest in peace, Jo Carson.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

TEDxMichiganAvenue: Bringing the Arts Back Home

Back in May, I made a trip to Chicago to deliver a TEDx talk organized by David Zoltan. I was only able to stay briefly, because my stepson Jake was graduating that same day from Illinois State University with a degree in acting, and I had to head back. So it is nice to have an opportunity to see the speeches I missed. Here is mine, called "Bringing the Arts Back Home."


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Learning from 9-11

As we get ready to commemorate the attacks of September 11, 2001, I'd like to remind everybody about a video message that Osama bin Laden released just before the 2004 presidential election. At the time, pundits and candidates alike focused on defiance, but I would draw your attention to the following paragraphs from that speech:
So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. That being said, those who say that al-Qaida has won against the administration in the White House or that the administration has lost in this war have not been precise, because when one scrutinizes the results, one cannot say that al-Qaida is the sole factor in achieving those spectacular gains.
Rather, the policy of the White House that demands the opening of war fronts to keep busy their various corporations - whether they be working in the field of arms or oil or reconstruction - has helped al-Qaida to achieve these enormous results. And so it has appeared to some analysts and diplomats that the White House and we are playing as one team towards the economic goals of the United States, even if the intentions differ.
And it was to these sorts of notions and their like that the British diplomat and others were referring in their lectures at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. [When they pointed out that] for example, al-Qaida spent $500,000 on the event, while America, in the incident and its aftermath, lost - according to the lowest estimate - more than $500 billion [current estimates: $1 trillion to $3.2 trillion]. Meaning that every dollar of al-Qaida defeated a million dollars … besides the loss of a huge number of jobs. As for the size of the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars. And even more dangerous and bitter for America is that the mujahidin recently forced Bush to resort to emergency funds to continue the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is evidence of the success of the bleed-until-bankruptcy plan
Osama bin Laden didn't do that to us, WE did that to us through our typically militaristic response to this attack. Putting this into context: less than 3000 people died in the September 11 attacks; on the same day, 35,615 people starved to death around the world. What if we had put that $1 - $3 trillion dollars toward world hunger rather than invading Iraq (of all places)?

Yes, let's mourn those who were unjustly murdered on September 11 2001, but I also direct your attention to Wendell Berry's powerful thoughts in an essay entitled "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear," written shortly after the attacks.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Great New Blog

My stepson, Jake Olbert, who now lives in Chicago, has started a blog called Something Less Pretentious, and I think he is a helluva a writer. His latest post, discussing the film L. A. Confidential and the book upon which it is based is filled with great insights and outstanding writing. Welcome to the blogosphere, Jake!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Note to Self: Remember Denny Mays

A colleague of mine from my Illinois State University days, Dennis Mays, passed away a few days ago at the age of 68. He didn't design sets, he wasn't the technical director, but he supervised the scene shop for several decades, teaching legions of young theatre majors how to pound a nail and build a flat. "‎"If you're not willing to drink the water that comes out of it," he told them after they had finished painting scenery, "your brush isn't clean." That's a lesson that sticks. Chris Goumas perhaps gave the best sense of Denny: "He let us be stupid enough to learn something, but not enough to get hurt. But if you did, he'd take you to the hospital buy you lunch and with a grin tell you to "try not to be such a horse's ass next time". He kept us on the rails with a bit of a bark and a simultaneous twinkle in his eye. I'm glad I knew him. He made an enormous amount of impact in his students lives. I was lucky to be one of them."

As a graduate student working on a Master's in theatre history, I didn't spend much time in the shop, but when I did venture down there, Denny always made me feel welcome. Over the past few days, I've been thinking about him quite a bit, because despite the fact that I didn't spend much time in the shop, I had a sense that I really learned something from him. Some of it was about how he really cared about the students. But as important as that was, what I learned from him that was even more important was this: he went home at 4:30.

Denny wasn't on the faculty -- he was a state employee who started in the Physical Plant before coming to the Theatre Department, and he supervised the shop. He put in a hard day of work twelves months a year, and there weren't many who cared more than he did about doing a quality job, but when you went down to the shop around 4:00, the place was being cleaned up, and tools were being put away. Oh, sure, there were grad students still working -- that often went on until all hours of the night -- but for Denny, tomorrow was another day. And looking back, that was an important lesson to be learned.

In our always on, 24/7 American culture, where works weeks are getting longer and longer for salaried employees and entrepreneurial "free agents," where we keep in touch with our friends through Facebook because we sure as hell don't have enough time to see them in person, where Malcolm Gladwell points at the 10,000 hour "rule" as the prereq for success, and a legion of educators blame summer vacation for "learning loss" among young people, the kind of balance Denny exhibited is much needed.

In theatre departments across America, we drill into students the idea that they should "eat, drink, sleep" theatre, telling them that the ones who "make it" are the ones who work at it hardest. But few of us tell them about living a balanced life, a good life, the life Denny led. "The show must go on" is the slogan of an obsessive, not a human being. And if we, as faculty, are putting in 60-hr weeks, we're setting a lousy example.

A recent book by arts consultant Anne-Marie Quigg, entitled Bullying in the Arts - Vocation, Exploitation and Abuse of Power shows that bullying is more common in the arts than in any other employment sector. It may seem that the connection between this finding and what I was writing about above may not be obvious, but in an interview with The Stage, Quig said: "“I think in some ways those of us working in the arts have ourselves to blame. Often, there’s a passion attached to the kind of work we do, a commitment to it and great admiration for good art. So, I think we actually tolerate behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated in other sectors, because we are committed to the end result being great." In other words, we lose perspective, a sense of balance; we think that the ends justify the means, and that sometimes you have to bully people to get them to excel. This is nonsense, pure rationalization used to support obsessive behavior.

I happen to think theatre is important, and God knows I've thrown my share of tantrums, but when I look back, I wish I had remembered Denny Mays's example. The directors, designers, and stage managers of every show that came through his shop thought that their's was the most important show in the world, but Denny knew that there was another show being built in another part of the shop, and a couple more on tap, and dozens and dozens in his past that all were of earth-shattering importance and that were all long-forgotten. But what remained were personal friendships and memories. As my friend Billy Clow remembered, "Early morning coffee, too many lessons learned to count, Halloween's at the farm (infamous pumpkin carving contests), vats of Denny's spaghetti when we all needed a home and a dinner, teaching us how to "not" log materials when the budget was short, Friday happy hours in the shop, whad'y mean my stairs are too short, but always respect for the students who worked for him."

Respect, humor, and a sense of perspective. Maybe those of us who teach ought to include those in our syllabi, and make sure that our students graduate with those skills more than any others. Because we sure could use a lot more people like Denny Mays.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On "Excellence"

Let's start with the legislation that brought the NEA into existence, which I mentioned at the end of my previous post -- that the NEA should dedicate itself  "to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education." Notice that this is similar to a three-legged chair: excellence is one leg, wide distribution is the second, and arts education the third. There is no indication in the legislation that one is more important than the other. Indeed, according the the NEA's own National Endowment for the Arts: A History 1965 - 2008, "The Arts Endowment’s mission was clear—to spread this artistic prosperity throughout the land, from the dense neighborhoods of our largest cities to the vast rural spaces, so that every citizen might enjoy America’s great cultural legacy." (italics mine)

And yet, my impression from my contact with the NEA and with artists who look to the NEA for leadership is that the primary focus over the years has been on "supporting excellence." Recently, one need look no further than Rocco Landesman's August 7, 2009 interview with Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times to see this orientation stated plainly. Famously, Landesman had this to say: “I don’t know if there’s a theater in Peoria, but I would bet that it’s not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman. . . .There is going to be some push-back from me about democratizing arts grants to the point where you really have to answer some questions about artistic merit.” While Landesman indicated he believed the NEA should be “perceived as being everywhere,” he immediately qualified it with this seemingly get-tough statement: “But I don’t know that we have to be everywhere if the only reason for supporting an institution is its geography.” So Landesman wants the NEA to be perceived as being everywhere without actually, you know, being everywhere. All this pluralistic democratizing of arts is nonsense. It's all about "excellence" and "artistic merit," and if that means people in Peoria have to drive a few hours to Chicago to see a show at Steppenwolf, well, so be it.

Given the enormous importance placed on "excellence" in the NEA's granting process, one would assume that over the past 45 years the definition of "excellence" would have been developed and made explicit. Going to the "Art Works" grant description, one finds the following:
Art Works encourages and supports the following four outcomes:
  • Creation: The creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence,
  • Engagement: Public engagement with diverse and excellent art,
  • Learning: Lifelong learning in the arts, and
  • Livability: The strengthening of communities through the arts.
The word "excellence" appears in two of those outcomes, and seems pretty important. So what does the word mean? Reading through the grant description, we find in the "Creation" section, "Support is available for projects to create art that meets the highest standards of excellence across a diverse spectrum of artistic disciplines and geographic locations." But that's the only reference -- no definition (although there is a nod to geographic diversity). Under "Engagement," the other place where "excellence" appears, it says "Support is available for projects that provide public engagement with artistic excellence across a diverse spectrum of artistic disciplines and geographic locations. These projects should engage the public directly with the arts, providing Americans with new opportunities to have profound and meaningful arts experiences. " So "artistic excellence" is equated to "profound and meaningful arts experiences."

Notice that, if that is the definition, the focus is on "experiences." In other words, excellence resides not on the artist or the art itself, but in the interaction between the work of art and the spectator. I wrote about about this  back in February in my post "In Search of (a Definition of) Excellence," where I suggested, "To be regarded as excellent, then, the interaction must be lively and vigorous -- either an energetic enthusiasm or an equally energetic rejection. This definition would not reward the interaction most prevalent in our current theatrical scene: bland, passive acceptance. An institution wouldn't seek to simply grow its audience willy-nilly, but actively seek to build an audience with the kind of people who would respond to its work actively and energetically; artists would be expected to create works of art not that simply demonstrated virtuosity, but rather created the circumstances necessary for combustion to occur."

In practice, however, this isn't at all how "excellence" is judged.  As I wrote in February,"it is pretty clear that "excellence" means two things, at least when it comes to giving money to theatres: previous accomplishments and money. And maybe that's as good a definition as any, but I suspect you can see the inherent problem: if you follow that definition, the tendency is to reward the past rather than the future, the old rather than the young, the rich rather than the poor, thems that have rather than thems that hasn't." And Steppenwolf and the Goodman over Peoria -- much less Streator or Ottowa. In reality, "excellence" ends up being about credentials and media coverage, both of which work against small and rural communities. Thus, the "excellence" card is regularly played when the desire is to privilege arts institutions that are established, and given that urbanization of the art scene in America over the past 50 years, those established institutions are likely to be in urban areas. So much for the mission "to spread this artistic prosperity throughout the land, from the dense neighborhoods of our largest cities to the vast rural spaces, so that every citizen might enjoy America’s great cultural legacy."

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.

As several commenters in my previous post point out, the issue of "quality" ("excellence's" cousin) may come into play in the grant application itself. Unlike metropolitan areas that have a large number of administrative employees specializing in development, small and rural communities, which are supposed to be a primary partner in the "Our Town" grants, are not likely to have professional staff who are focused on writing grants, especially arts grants. I think commenter Anita Lauricella, a grant reader herself, said it best when she wrote,"looking around at this post got me thinking about “grantsmanship” and quality.... By “grantsmanship” I mean the ability to put together a compelling and complete package. Not sure if this was an influence in these awards but I was wondering if the high success rate among larger communities reflects bigger organizations with paid and experienced staff. Development staff or paid consultants who make their living writing beautiful narratives, compiling glossy supplemental materials, and soliciting influential letters of support." .

This becomes particularly problematic when the lead time is short. For instance, I received an email at CRADLE asking me or my constituents to participate in the "Our Town" grant process only three weeks before a formal letter of interest was due. Given that the town of Bakersville NC (pop 357) has only a 4-person town board and no paid staff, the short time frame presented a challenge. Once we made the next cut and were asked to present a complete proposal, we had one month until it was due. Again, gathering the data and materials necessary, planning and writing the grant, and submitting it through the grants.gov website in such a short time span was extremely difficult. I invite you to go the the link above and examine the "Our Town" grant process -- it is very difficult, even for a veteran grantwriter like my partner at HandMade in America, Judi Jetson.

So the complicated NEA grant process works against small and rural communities who don't have experience with grantspeak even as they compete head-to-head with more experienced urban communities. Indeed, most small communities wouldn't even be aware that there was such a grant program as "Our Town," which would then lead to only a handful of proposals being submitted. As a result of these factors, a small number of grants from small and rural communities are submitted, and a larger percentage go unfunded because the applications lack polish. Remember, only 40% of the proposals from cities under 100,000 were funded versus 100% of the proposals for cities over a million. This, then, becomes a self-fulfilling process: we can't give money to small and rural communities if they don't apply, and if they do apply we can't fund them because their proposals aren't as good as the other professionally prepared grants. One doesn't have to prove overt individual bias in order to acknowledge that the process itself is set up to work against a certain demographic.

What's to be done? Ian David Moss suggests "One thing that I think is worth considering, though, is whether the NEA is in the best position to address rural arts directly. Perhaps it would be more effective to change the state/local partnerships formula so that more match money goes to rural states, and then come to an understanding with the states that they should focus a good portion of their resources outside of cities. The theory being, if someone's not in a position to write a really competitive grant, they might be better off if whoever is reviewing their work knows them personally and what they are capable of." This is pragmatic, and sounds somewhat easy, but I think sidesteps the issue. I think it is better to change an unfair system, rather than to outsource the work to someone else. The originating legislation mandates that the NEA focus on geographical diversity. If it is important enough to be in the mission, it is important enough to receive commitment from the agency. Also, the assumption is that state arts agencies are any more knowledgeable or committed to arts in rural and small communities than federal agencies. The fact is that state arts agencies are as captured by the metropolitan as anyone.

No, I think this demands direct action. Over the past 45 years, "excellence" has gotten the lion's share of commitment from the NEA; now, it is time to shift the emphasis. Not simply back to equality among the three legs of the mission, but to go even further and give greater emphasis to geographic diversity and to arts education. This should include having people on the peer review panels who know the field, live in small or rural communities, and who are committed to geographic diversity. There also should be much more active recruitment of organizations such as those listed on the first page of the data who could begin developing projects over time for the next round of grants. I would also suggest that the grants.gov process should be simplified, and include more space for qualitative writing, downgrading the amount of data required.

The legislation is clear. The question is: is there a commitment from those at the top, Mr. Landesman, to the actually fulfilling the mission? It isn't going to happen by staying in DC or NYC. To quote David Dower in another context, "the answer to that one is by being in motion in the world..." But whereas David sees this motion as coming from the bottom up, I would argue that it is incumbent on the NEA to be at motion in the world -- not just the world of Steppenwolf and Lincoln Center, but in the world of Bakersville NC and Ottowa IL (h/t/ CHAOS) and Whitesburg KY. That's what being a leader is.