There have never been more nonprofit arts organizations in the United States.  While the number of nonprofit arts organizations climbed from 73,000 to 104,000 from 2003-2008, at least one in three of those very organizations never showed a balanced budget in any one of those years.

-- from the Americans for the Arts National Arts Index, 2010


Commentary: Is the growth in the number of nonprofit arts orgs sustainable? [PDF]

From the Winter 2010 issue of the Americans for the Arts' publication Arts Link

During the past 10 years, both corporations and foundations are giving less and less to the nonprofit arts -- and these contributed monies make up half of a typical budget.  When this gap in funding is coupled with the tremendous surge in the number of nonprofit arts organizations in our country, it makes more than a few leaders in our field ask the same question: Is this growth sustainable?   

          Arts Journal's editor-in-chief Douglas McLennan: "Relationships between producers of culture and consumers are changing.  But it's a mistake to think this is just about shifting business tactics.  It requires a rethinking of the relationships between institution, artist and community."

         Innovation is something arts organizations often advocate for, but Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, argues organizations need to think outside familiar paradigms: "We see how difficult it can be for organizations to find new solutions when they engage only current staff members to re-imagine the future.  The most successful work involves diverse groups of individuals focused on a common problem -- diverse in generation, profession, tenure with the organization, culture, and more."

         Executive Director of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Kenneth J. Foster challenged [his] staff to rethink how they measure success:  "I want you and your friends to see this as a place where you want to hang out, you get to see a performance, you get to talk, and meet some other people.  So it becomes more of a social milieu as opposed to a place to simply go and experience a performance or look at a work of art or watch a film."

         President and CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund Clara Miller provided simple, clear advice: Whatever brings in money to meet or surpass your expenses is a good business model. In the current economic climate, nimble organizations are shedding previously sacred processes and silos that aren't working and are finding better success in reaching audiences and communities and working toward organizational sustainability.


Commentary: How arts funders can increase their effectiveness

Posted by Sarah Lutman on her ArtsJournal blog Speaker, December 11, 2010

Grantmakers are having a conversation about trends in their work and how their grants shape the financial and artistic vitality of the nonprofit cultural sector.  The group asserts that (a) arts organizations are undercapitalized which "leads us to be concerned about their sustainability and the financial health of the sector as a whole" and (b) "there is an oversupply of product in some marketplaces, and that current funding practices do not address this issue."  What do funders really mean when they say there is an oversupply of product?  Surely there is no such thing as too much art.  I think what funders mean is there are too many applicants, so they need to re-think their funding criteria.   They're telling us there are a lot of organizations, some are losing audience, are financially weak, or are no longer artistically vibrant, and they can't fund all of us or even as many of us as they used to fund.  I think it is good for funders to make bigger bets on their grantees.  Grant size is static. The median size of an arts grant is $25,000 and has not changed since 1993.  Meanwhile the cost of living has gone up about 50% from 1993-2010.  Many foundations had a funding cap of $1 million back going as far back as the 1980s, and in many cases their maximum has not changed.  Beyond this, if an organization is artistically stagnant, losing significant audience, financially undisciplined or unsound, or irrelevant in its community, funders could do something else -- they could just say no.  That in and of itself would be a service to the field.


Commentary: Audience development efforts need to focus more on 'connoisseurs'

Posted by Barry Hessenius on his WESTAF blog, December 12, 2010

When we talk about "audience development" in the nonprofit arts, we are essentially talking about what we can do to put more bodies in seats.  Even our forays into thinking about the "experience" of attending a cultural event settle not on expansion of the audience's knowledge and expertise of the art form, but rather on the social experience and 'feelings" of the attendees.  Perhaps we ought to be talking - at least some of the time - about how we encourage and nurture the development of 'connoisseur' audiences -- who care about the art form as much, and are arguably as knowledgeable, as those creating the art.  There is a difference between those we might define as our "regulars" and the connoisseurs.  Both may be reliable and dependable -- but I suspect connoisseurs are more financially supportive, more likely to be responsible for media interest and coverage, more important to the organization's creative vitality and spark; essential to the recruitment of talent and the development of risk-taking artists.  How do we develop and nurture the 'connoisseur' audience?  It seems logical arts education might play a role in that effort.  To the extent children are exposed to, participate in, and learn about an art form, the more likely a percentage of them might move to become part of that connoisseur base.  It seems to me anyway that not that much (or certainly not enough) of our combined audience development research and follow-up strategies center on the connoisseur audience, and we might do well to focus more of our energy and resources on the development of that audience, for it just might be the key to sustained investment by local communities in our cultural base.


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Commentary: 10 works of literature that were really hard to write

Mark Juddery, writing in Mental Floss magazine, December 11, 2010

Instead of judging works of literature based on their artistic merit, we've decided to rank them by degree of difficulty. These 10 authors may not be Shakespeare, but they sure had vaulting ambitions.

The Story That Will Never Be an e-Book.  Ernest Vincent Wright wrote his novel Gadsby without using the letter E.  To prevent any stray Es from entering the text, he tied down his typewriter's E key, and then put his expansive vocabulary to the test. The result is an astounding feat of verbal gymnastics.

The Tale Told in the Blink of an Eye.  Jean-Dominique Bauby's entire body -- with the exception of his left eyelid -- was paralyzed. Using only his lucid mind and one eye, he began working on his memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. His transcriber would recite the alphabet to him over and over. When she reached a letter Bauby desired, he'd wink. Each word took about two minutes to produce.

The Poetry of Speed.  Indian spiritual master Sri Chinmoy wrote at least 1,000 books, 20,000 songs, and 115,000 poems [which] won numerous awards.  Clearly a fast writer, he was never as quick as on November 1, 1975, when he wrote 843 poems in 24 hours. 

History's Greatest Sonnet.  One of the most prolific contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary, David Shulman's most astonishing feat as a wordsmith occurred when he composed the sonnet "Washington Crossing the Delaware" [where] every line is an anagram of the title.

Six Powerful Words.  At New York's famous Algonquin Round Table, Ernest Hemingway bragged that he could write a captivating tale -- complete with beginning, middle, and end -- in only six words. His fellow writers refused to believe it, each betting $10 that he couldn't do it.  He quickly on a napkin and passed it around:  "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."

>> Read about the other five works of literature here.

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