Thursday, October 27, 2011

SOLUTIONS?: Money and Power

I guess Occupy Wall St. is on our minds, because people are tossing out all sorts of solutions, lately! Ways we can solve our problem in the arts, that is. Here is a round-up of some interesting ones lately, and you'll notice they all have an interesting Money-and-Power theme!


The problem Joe Patti is looking to solve is this:
[N]on profits should be pros at identifying and leveraging undiscovered skills. With all the volunteers we use to assist us with our programs and to serve on our boards, we should be championing seemingly unorthodox hiring decisions. But if Andrew Taylor is correct, the hiring practices in the arts are actually more orthodox than in the for profit sector.

And the idea:
Ever since the movie Moneyball came out, I have been thinking about whether similar system can be applied to the arts. I mean a system by which baseball teams with small budgets were able to compete on par with the most well-funded teams by assembling a team of under utilized misfits?
Joe Patti's article seemed to be more about arts administrators, but I was thinking about it in terms of curating or funding the artists themselves.

Here's the key issue: Moneyball is not just a story about leveraging undiscovered players. It's about leveraging undiscovered players through math. Baseball statistics.

The quantification of arts impact is something I've written of before at length (and am hard at work writing another response to this week), but the revolution in baseball statistics is something that distinguishes it from the art world. 

Right now, there's only two external (but by no means objective) metrics for your success:

  • Ticket sales
  • Reviews
Beyond that, it's all taste and subjectivity. If you wanted to find an arts organization that's good that isn't getting enough attention, you're basically going and finding things you like that don't have those two metrics.

(By the way, Joe Patti's actual point still stands, even though it's not about quantification -- arts organizations need to look outside their arts community for talent as well as inside. Our latest production's media design came from someone who studied advertising and VJ's for a living.)


Margy Waller, writing in Createquity, has this idea:
Advocates for the arts might be better off doing their work under the radar than trying so hard to get a lot of media and public attention when fighting for public funding of the arts. 
Hey, if it works for the Koch brothers, I'm sure it could work for the arts.

What's the model?
This past year, I watched closely as our state arts advocates at Ohio Citizens for the Arts carefully managed what seemed to be a stealth campaign to retain funding for arts and culture through the Ohio Arts Council. Despite an initial proposed cut by the newly elected Governor, the final outcome was an increase in funding over $4 million more than the previous budget.  Each step of the process brought an increase in the proposed funding level — the House vote, the Senate vote, and the reconciled proposal sent to the Governor, resulting in $6.6 million more than the proposed executive budget. And it went forward without fanfare or comment when signed into law.
Here's where it could work: getting money out of legislatures. But if this is true:
Unfortunately, facts and research we’ve accumulated to prove the value of the arts as a public matter of concern, and then worked hard to get reporters to cover, are too often dismissed or ignored when seen through the lens of an idea that’s not new and about which people have already made up their minds.
Does the funding really matter? If we're saying "Oh, the public doesn't think the arts are important and there's little we can do to change their minds," then... does it matter if we get the money? As a short term strategy, in this atmosphere, it's probably the right play -- avoiding a bruising fight that this atmosphere may not be able to tolerate.

But what I liked was this thought:
Instead of reviving an old debate, we sought a new way to start the conversation – based on something we can all be for, instead of something we’re defending against an attack. And importantly, we aren’t trying to change people’s minds, but present the arts in a way that changes perspective.
That was the thinking behind changing the focus from supporting individual artists and individuals to providing infrastructure that any art or community organization can pull from equally, so that we don't have to be in the business of supporting arts unevenly and subjectively.

Still, as an arts advocacy tactic in the short term, it's certainly appealing.


Tom Loughlin:

Frank Bruni has this column in today’s New York Times, and in it he chastises those Hollywood stars who have come out in support of the Occupy Wall Street participants in Zucotti Park. But he doesn’t go far enough – he merely suggests those stars named should just avoid being seen down on Wall Street lest they appear to be merely looking for a good photo or publicity op. So I will go further – if they want to do some good then they should get out in front of an “Occupy Broadway/Hollywood” movement that protests the incredible concentration of money, power and profits in the hands of a few and robs all Americans of their chance to enjoy and participate in the arts.
You know how much these entertainment moguls give back to the community? Relatively speaking, zilch. Nada. Zero. Nothing. When was the last time you ever heard of a private entertainment corporation giving to some struggling theatre enough money that they wouldn’t have to worry about rent or utilities for five years?
Other demands:
  • Every actor that walks on a stage over 99 seats, or works on a film/TV/Web project with a budget over $100,000 in this country should automatically be a union actor. It should be no harder in this country to join an actors’ union than it is to join a plumbers’ union, a teachers’ union, or an auto workers’ union. Good health benefits should be included in a union package, as well as wages equalling at least the minimum wage for a 40-hour work week in this country. This is easily financed through the massive profits generated by Hollywood and Broadway. Entertainment corporations such as SONY, Jujamcyn and Disney should be the ones paying into this system to make it work.
  • A corporate entertainment tax to fund the National Endowment for the Arts. Any corporation that makes a television commercial to sell its product using human talent should pay a 10% tax on their total budget for that commercial to be used specifically to fund the endowment. Residuals for talent that run over $10,000 annually should be subject to a 2% tax for the NEA. If actors can pay agents and managers (and sometimes both) 10-15% of their earnings to get these gigs, they can pay 2% to the NEA as a “thank you” for their good fortune. It should be illegal to pass this cost on to the consumer.
  • If such a tax were implemented, then there would be a requirement for the NEA to spend 70% of that money in areas of the country outside the NYLACHI metropolitan areas. There are many good arts organizations in NYLACHI that deserve some of that money, but as has been demonstrated time and again in analyzing where NEA money goes, it is still concentrated in propping up already powerful urban institutions. This money should go to serve the grossly underfunded areas of the country where they arts suffer due to underfunding or no funding at all.
  • If the money generated from this concept is sufficient, then the NEA should open at least one branch office in every state in the union for reasonable access to artists across the country. If the states can’t fund an arts agency, then the federal government should use this money to step in and take the state’s place.
  • A requirement that 50% of all legitimate Broadway houses be running a non-musical drama, and that at least 15% of that 50% be dedicated to presenting new plays.
Some of this would be difficult to demand (after all, who would go about forcing private companies to change their practices, and what leverage would they have?), but the corporate entertainment tax? The requirements on the NEA to spend money outside of NY/LA/CHI? Low-hanging fruit.

Here's the thing (and this hearkens back to the "change the perspective" listed above) -- if we want to ask for money, we need to be cleaning our own house. It's true that we will have a hard battle interesting people in the NEA of yesterday, but if we can show them a vision of the NEA of tomorrow... maybe that changes their perspective.

UPDATE: Let me just add one more quick one:


From Barry Hessenius, via Createquity:
It occurred to me that an interesting pilot project would be for the arts in a given area to open an Apple like store for the two months before the Christmas shopping season – with simple, clean lines in the design, with high tech monitors on tables, and a cadre of Arts Sales People available to answer questions and move the shopper through the experience of looking at all the available performing and visual arts options in the local area — videos of the best of the operas, symphonies, museums, dance companies, theater offerings, and the other arts – and the shopper could instantly buy tickets to a single performance or season tickets  or memberships in museums etc. for themselves or as holiday gifts for others.  There would also be offerings of local classes in various arts disciplines for all ages and , opportunities to join boards of directors or otherwise volunteer at local arts organizations.  If you packaged it right you might be able to recreate some of the same kind of excitement an Apple store generates.  Bottom line:  we have wonderful products, and perfect gifts alternatives to the same old boring stuff people give to each other every year.