"Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."  

--Edmund Burke, c.1780


Revisiting research: new perspectives on landmark reports on the arts

Alexis Frasz, Grantmakers In the Arts' GIA Reader, Vol 23, No 3 (Fall 2012),

New research is exciting. It offers us a sense of discovery and possibility for change. Sometimes research findings become integrated into discourse and influence practice in the field. All too often, however, once the thrill of the discovery is over, many valuable research reports become "old news" and are rarely looked at again. A great deal of useful information is therefore lost to practitioners, particularly to incoming generations of philanthropic leaders who may not even know this research exists. GIA [has pulled] five significant research reports from the shelf and dusts them off, giving us the chance to consider them anew. Some of these reports are still widely referenced but deserve a fresh look. Others were published before the digital era, which is to say they are practically invisible to today's practitioners. Each relates to a vital concern: arts education, cultural participation, capitalization and the nonprofit business model, and artists and cultural workers. To provide a fresh perspective, we asked five younger-generation grantmakers to reflect on the findings and their relevance today. Their responses offer confirmation of the continuing usefulness of these works, as well as suggestions for where we might take things further today. We also asked five more seasoned field leaders to comment on the historical importance of the research.  


Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts

Art and Culture in Communities: Unpacking Participation

Crossover: How Artists Build Careers across Commercial, Nonprofit and Community Work

Autopsy of an Orchestra: An Analysis of Factors Contributing to the Bankruptcy of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association

Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning


Commentary: Arts can learn environmental sustainability from others' past efforts

Bill Moskin and Katie Oman, Grantmakers in the Arts' GIA Reader, Fall 2012 issue

Taking action on environmental sustainability demands new ways of thinking and requires overcoming the inertia of the way things have always been done. Arts organizations find environmental sustainability [tough] to connect to their missions or to an existing set of guiding principles. Additionally, many arts organizations are constrained by reduced staff capacity and find themselves hampered by the scarcity of resources and time. Those practitioners who want to take action find it difficult to effectively navigate the complexities of environmental sustainability, and to determine where to begin responsibly addressing these issues.

Where Can Arts Organizations and Funders Start? Cultivate relationships with experts and with peers who have undertaken similar changes. Arts organizations can capitalize on the sustainability efforts of institutions like children's museums, conservation centers, and zoos to avoid reinventing the wheel for their own purposes. Some projects will be very high cost but will also make big improvements environmentally; other steps will be virtually free to implement and will also save a lot of money every year. Still other undertakings will seem exciting and green and good for PR but actually have relatively little positive environmental impact. This analysis will help make low-hanging fruit relatively more obvious and harvestable. Up to now, environmental discussions among grantmakers in the arts have been limited to individual projects and programs; an ongoing industry-wide conversation to reflect on successes and identify ways to move forward has been lacking. Each funding organization should examine its own institutional mission and assess how it relates to environmental action for all program areas. Talking with conservation or social services funders about environmental practices in the arts could open up new opportunities for collaboration both within and between funding institutions. Additionally, it's important to consider implementing green practices internally, just as grantees are asked to do. Opportunities abound for new partners, funding streams, and program content outside the typical grantor-grantee system in the arts. Numerous foundations are already addressing environmental issues separately from the arts; the opportunity is ripe to establish collaboration among program areas.


Commentary: No need to reinvent the wheel for community engagement ideas

Doug Borwick, ArtsJournal.com blog Engaging Matters, 8/8/12

Community engagement. What is it? How do you do it? What will you get if you try? These are questions I get when I bring this topic to the table in most corners of the arts establishment. Some (but by no means all) elements of the big box arts infrastructure are under the impression that community engagement (developing substantive relationships with "unusual suspects" outside of any specific effort to sell tickets) is a new idea (!?) and that there are few if any precedents for such efforts. Even discounting the fact that the arts originally grew out of communal expression, the "this is a brand new idea" school of thought is simply wrong. Grassroots arts experiences and the organizations that produce them have been at this work for generations. I have commented before that Appalshop's Roadside Theater, based in Whitesburg, KY served as an early revelation to me about the possibility of connecting art and community in the U.S. They have for decades been developing and refining community engagement skills. One in particular is worthy of special note. Roadside makes extensive use of story circles both in the development of new work and in obtaining feedback on performances. In an interview in Counting New Beans, Mr. Cocke describes their use of story circles and the centrality of that use to their artistic mission. (A pdf of the interview is available here.) Story circles are only one method of engagement used by a company with deep experience in connecting with community members. Other tools are available and have the advantage of years of development in practice. There is much experience and wisdom in engagement available for the copying. We don't need to invent completely new approaches as we awaken to the wisdom of engagement. We simply need to know where to look to find the wheels that have already been invented.


Commentary: Remembering arts pioneer Robert E. Gard

Scott Walters on his blog Theatre Ideas, 10/11/12

Grassroots Theater reminds us that an individual's creative vision transcends technology, current events, and changing demographics. Originally published in 1955 and re-released in 1999, this book still has the power to inspire and refresh. Gard's vision of a theater rooted in a community and committed to works created by citizens who live within that community was realized through the Wisconsin Idea Theater housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension, and the Wisconsin Rural Writers' Association. This very personal and engaging book gives insights into the trials and victories, and the people and ideas that Gard encountered as he brought his ideas into existence. A quotation that I found inspiring: "It seems to me that a stream of fine new community arts leaders should be issuing from the University of Wisconsin and, indeed, from all universities and colleges of the nation. The universities and colleges are training artists...for whom there is at present little place in the profession for which they are being trained. No consideration is given to the fact that a profession might be developed in community life in theater. The young person graduating from the university has little concept of the scope of the theater to be developed, of the delicate social problems of fitting himself and his talents successfully into community life. He is too frequently a failure when he attempts it."

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