Commentary: In D.C., measuring the impact of a boom in suburban arts centers

Anne Midgette writing in The Washington Post, January 9, 2011

If the 1970s saw an increase in performing arts organizations, the 1990s and 2000s have seen a notable increase in places built to house them.  The boom is reflected nowhere better than in the Washington [D.C.] area, which -- economic crises be cursed -- has seen at least nine arts centers open since 2000. Here's what's striking: They aren't in the city.  Performing arts centers have been viewed as a way to revitalize downtowns at least since the 1960s, [b]ut not everyone wants to drive into the city for art. And the rhetoric about the arts being an essential adornment to make communities attractive to prospective residents, propagated by city fathers during fundraising for these projects, has sunk in: Communities outside urban centers want a piece of the action.  As people are less eager to travel a distance to spend a few hundred dollars to see a concert or play, regional centers may be the wave of the future.  [However,] a local audience has its own tastes.  What plays in a metropolitan area may not have the same appeal in the suburbs.  Urban audiences tacitly understand that there are different venues for different kinds of performances: classical artists at Kennedy Center, big pop concerts at Verizon Center. These distinctions are less clear to a suburban audience that wants artists it recognizes at its local center.  [But] the economics of a big touring road show are beyond the reach of a small performing arts center.  A larger question is what kind of service such centers provide to the community.  Performing arts centers are slightly like museums; they represent the institutionalization of the arts.  But is every local organization ready to become an institution?


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Commentary: Artist-endowed foundations are a sleeping giant of philanthropy

András Szántó, writing in the January 2011 issue of The Art Newspaper

The economic crunch notwithstanding, artists today are more prosperous than ever. For those who are successful, affluence can lead to generosity.  Many artists donate works to worthy causes and institutions.  Some support younger artists or serve on non-profit boards.  All that generosity, however, pales in comparison with giving by artists after their lifetimes.  Artist-endowed foundations are a sleeping giant of philanthropy.  They are rapidly expanding in number -- close to 300 have been identified in the US at the last count -- and financial strength, commanding approximately $2.7 billion in combined assets. That's a relatively modest sum next to the half a trillion dollars held in total by US foundations.  But artist-endowed foundations are especially important in the art world.  Although some do fund non-cultural causes, many stay tightly focused on the arts, bestowing their largesse on museums, research, publications, education, scholarships and various means of support for living artists.  And with an unprecedented cohort of well-to-do painters and sculptors among the older generations, the golden age of artist foundations may yet be ahead.


Commentary: Should arts organizations ask artists for money?

Posted by Gwydion Suilebhan on the 2AM Theatre blog, January 6, 2011

Toward the end of last year, I began to get a series of emails from theater companies and arts organizations I've worked with in the past asking me to consider making donations in support of their efforts.  The truth is that if I had enough money not only to support my family solely by writing plays, but also to support the organizations I work with, I gladly would... but I don't, and I don't know how many artists do. I'm genuinely surprised, in fact, that appeals to artists for donations actually work... but I know from asking around in researching this blog post that they definitely do. My theory is that we're sensitive to organizations needing money because we usually need money ourselves, so we know what it feels like. Ultimately, I've decided that except in rare instances, an arts organization really ought not to be asking for donations from artists unless there's clearly a special connection at play. This has only been true, incidentally, of a small number of the requests I've gotten. In many instances, in fact, I've received requests from theaters I've never worked with at all: those to whom I submitted plays for consideration, who really ought to be embarrassed for emailing me to ask for money.


Commentary: Go on, I dare you -- 10 fundraising challenges for the new year

Posted by Jeff Brooks on, January 10, 2010

I have 10 ideas that might scare the daylights out of you. They're probably difficult, politically unpopular or against the rules of your organization. Furthermore, these ideas might not work for you. They could even be very, very bad for you. But I don't think so. These are good ideas that have worked for others who made them happen despite the difficulties. I dare you to try at least one.

1. Change 'About Us' to 'About You.'  The typical "About Us" page on a nonprofit website is a waste of electrons. That's too bad. Studies tell us that many donors poke around your website before they give, even those who give offline. You don't motivate them to give by bragging about yourself.

2. Make your homepage a giving page.  If you'd like your website to raise funds, why hide the giving page so anyone who's thinking about giving has to hunt for it?  Your "Donate Now" button is harder to find than you think.  Put the form for giving up front.

3. Test something that makes everyone afraid. If you never raise funds by telephone because somebody's afraid of a backlash, give telemarketing a try.  If you go silent on donors after they give because you're afraid they'll go away if you ask too soon -- try asking a couple of weeks after a gift.  If you never let donors designate your giving because you're afraid they'll bust your budget, let them give restricted gifts to the areas of their choice.

You don't have to make an irrevocable, wholesale commitment to a scary idea. Just test it in a limited, measurable situation. If it doesn't work, stop. You're off the hook. And the ideas above - they'll probably work.  To read Jeff Brooks' other 7 fundraising ideas, click here.


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An archive of 200,000 master recordings is donated to the Library of Congress

From Billboard Magazine, January 10, 2011

Universal Music Group is donating over 200,000 historic master recordings to the Library of Congress. UMG's donation is the single largest gift ever received by the Library's audio-visual division and the first ever major collection of studio master materials the Library has received.  Among the recordings to be preserved for posterity are Bing Crosby's 1947 version of "White Christmas," Louis Armstrong singling "Ain't Misbehavin'," Les Paul's "Guitar Boogie" and the Mills Brothers' "Paper Doll." The library will stream recordings from the collection on a website that will be launched in the spring.  Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution.  It has over 142 million items covering books, recordings, manuscripts, photographs and maps. The Library's Recorded Sound Section has more than 3 million sound recordings.


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