Monday, August 17, 2009

Solutions III

Two more solutions I remembered but haven't posted:

  • Arts Sponsorship - This is a solution aimed at individual, free-lance artists. I discovered, quite by accident, that Olympic team-members are given a form of sponsorship by certain large companies by which they are paid full-time for part-time work. This allows them time to hone their craft and also work for a living, and involves a financial sacrifice on the part of corporate firms. Granted, this economic crisis is not the time to go instituting this strategy (after all, Home Depot who had previously been doing this just said they would dump the Olympic Team), but let's save it in the piggy bank. After all, the arts will always be hard.
  • Publicly Traded Patronage - I introduced this method on my blog earlier this year, and it's still esoteric and sketchy (mostly just a thought experiment), I do contend that it might be possible to structure a stock-market-like system by which people "buy in" to supporting a local artist, only rather than doing it for financial dividends, they do it for artistic dividends. There was some criticism of the method.
For your reference, the earlier solutions posted were (you can stop reading here if you already read them:
  • Involving Social Bigwigs - At the League of Independent Theater's Get Lit with LIT event, the New York State Council of the Arts' Director of Theater Robert Zuckerman (a good person to know) talked about strategies for getting politicians to notice what we do. He talked about a group in the Bronx (I can't remember their names -- sorry!) that have a Politicians' Amateur Night, basically a talent show for politicians. No matter how terrible the politicians are, it gets them visibly involved in arts--and Zuckerman observed that it also gets their lobbyist friends butts in the seats. Stemming from that, I would suggest that arts groups try to get comp tickets into the hands of politicos and maybe other important social heads. After all, there's no better "application" for support than having them enjoy your work.
  • Instant Reviews - The post that used the phrase Guyyedwabian was actually about a South African group's attempt to start conversation in the immediate aftermath of a performance. Basically, they attended the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and afterwards tried to engage the exiting audience in a review directly after the performance. The concept is outlined here, and an informative post-mortem is outlined here. (By the way, does your organization perform post-project post-mortems? You really should.)
  • The Less than 100k Project - Built to address the NY-centrism of the theater world (although the principle could apply to any art discipline), Scott Walters is developing a funding approach to cultivate community arts in small communities. The thrust of the idea is to allow theater groups in small communities that lack theaters to apply for a 3 year developmental process that will eventually wean them into independence.
  • Community Storytelling - A conversation I had with Scott about the aforementioned project asked "how do we make such a community theater actually part of the community?" My suggestion was that the theater focus on the stories and history within the community--go into the community, collect their stories, and present them. This invests the community in the product, and serves a needed social function. This idea was inspired by StoryCorps, the Laramie Project, and Anna Devere Smith's work, but as Scott pointed out, rather than having the stories leave the community (such as the way StoryCorps deposits the stories in the Library of Congress), the stories become a part of the community. Not everyone understands what "theater" is or could be, but everyone loves sharing stories.
  • Shared Measurement - The company I currently work for specializes in standardizing business processes for Information Techonology companies. As the aforementioned FSG report documents, there is a rise in non-profits standardizing their tools of self-analysis, and sharing the results. In the same way that these metrics allow the for-profit world to study impact, non-profits need to have a more methodical approach to their role in society, both instrumental and intrinsic. My personal belief is that public policy needs to take this up rather than trying to match the foundation's per-project or per-organization funding model... but more on that when my analysis comes out.
  • Healthcare Reform - We all want Healthcare Reform for a bigger, more universal reason than just the plight of artists. However, the current employer-based healthcare system discriminates against two groups: the unemployed, and free-lancers. Artists are, often, free-lancers (as opposed to the Arts Administrators who are often full-time employees). If a public option for healthcare were to support artists, it would ease the burden of artists attempting to support their healthcare--and might ease the bottom-line of small non-profits that have to spend a lot on healthcare for their employees. It might even help heal the divide between Administrators and Artists.
  • Creativity Education - The current arts education approach has been, in my experience, a largely instrumental one: music training, for instance, teaches you how to play an instrument, not how to listen to music or how to write music. This is a large failing in the arts, because it tells people that art = craft, not art = creativity. Granted, as Theresa Rebeck rightly points out in her discussion on the topic, these two concepts are not mutually opposed. However, our early arts education stresses craft and ignores creativity, which probably creates the anti-craft backlash later on. Augusto Boal describes some very interesting approaches to what he called "Arts Literacy" that were attempted in Peru at the time--my favorite was where he talks about asking children questions and asking them to answer the questions in photographs. One question was "Where do you live?" and the answer was a photograph of a young boy whose upper lip was chewed off by rats. The teacher asked "How is that photo 'where you live?'" And the boy answered "I live in a country where these things happen." A much better understanding of art than learning how to draw a human face properly.

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