Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Think Global/Act Local


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Will Maitland Weiss
What I really want to suggest is Act Local/Act National. Both/And.

Even though I am rightly accused of being provincial. I live the infamous Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover—that one where Chicago and LA and China are bumps on a sort of meaningless horizon, beyond the Hudson. I actually do think UP sometimes—as in Upstate New York, where there are artists and arts organizations I know and admire—but rarely right, left, or down, beyond New York City. Hey: it’s the Arts & Business Council of New York! Elsewhere, fuhgeddaboudit.

How can you think globally when you’re so busy running your company as it is?! Scale back from five hours of sleep a night to four? Cut out between-meal snacks and between-snack meals? Stop reading blogs? But I’m urging you, in addition to staying in touch with your City Council member, your State Senator, and your State Assembly Member, to make time to be a part of the national voice for the arts as well.

A couple of thoughts on the Bigger Advocacy Picture:
There are a lot of new people in DC; some of whom are scary. Will the “new” Congress shut down the National Endowment for the Arts? I don’t think so. But how sad that we live in a place/time where this debate exists. The DC-based Americans for the Arts (AFTA) is in front of our federal elected representatives (and their staffs, and the NEA and other agency staffs) all year long.

One day a year, you can join AFTA. Arts Advocacy Day(s), April 4-5. There’s a great, rallying forum at the Kennedy Center on Monday evening with Kevin Spacey. There’s a Congressional Arts Kick Off Event on Tuesday morning.  Then you and 500+ other people, from all over the country, clog-the-elevators and impress the arts value on every congressman/woman.

The other 364 days a year, you can join their Arts Action Fund. No, I don’t get a cut for promoting it—because it’s FREE. It costs you no $$; you don’t have to budge from NYC. You get a ton of useful updates all year and—as with the sharp question Denny asked of an earlier blog—it makes the message for arts support strongest, by consolidating the concerns of hundreds of thousands of us in one voice.

Also, let’s not ignore that the guy who heads the NEA is a New Yorker and a theater person. (I’ll ignore Rocco Landesman’s mistaken allegiance to the St. Louis Cardinals.) I happen to think he’s smart and right as well as brash; check out the current buzz on other sites: You’ve Cott Mail; Diane Ragsdale’s blog, Jumper; Ken Davenport’s The Producer’s Perspective; and Fractured Atlas blog posts by my pal Adam Huttler, who will be gracing this blog later this month. Rocco’s team has coined the multi-entendre ART WORKS, to remind his government bosses not just is our field about jobs, it is about SOLVING SOCIETAL PROBLEMS, not causing or ignoring them. Check out the NEA’s Our Town grant program, all about the power of the arts to lift up communities.

And, yes, I think he’s right on supply-and-demand. There ARE too many arts organizations. NOT TOO MUCH ART. Never too much creativity, but lots of duplicative, wasteful, inefficient, 501(c)(3) infrastructures, squabbling over the supply of funding and the supply of audience.  “More Creative Partnerships” is the Arts & Business Council’s tagline—it’s where we live. (This is a whole other blog…)

Do you want to be in this conversation? Think and act locally and nationally.



  1. Will thank you for this. One of the things AFTA does is act as a lobbyist for the Arts - on a national level. I think that is important and is one of the only ways we can get our voices heard year round.

    Are there groups here that do that on a state/city level. Even more, are there groups that do that for specific arts disciplines?

  2. If... "There ARE too many arts organizations. NOT TOO MUCH ART." …then who/what are these organizations?

    In this city, the majority of arts groups that actually make the art are small ones who do not have paid staffs. We all have day jobs, while most arts service organizations have paid employees. And quite often, we are competing against these ASOs for both govt and foundation grants. Small theater groups will almost always lose out to ASOs, many of which provide duplicate services. Imagine if this funding went straight to the theater companies.

    I don't need another arts marketing conference or budgeting class - I need money to rent a theater, buy an ad, and throw a few sheckles at my artists. In 20 years, I’ve yet to hear a small theater company say, “Wow, Arts & Business Council really helped us out with…” In the past, I’ve even helped A&B on a panel, myself, to no avail. Maybe someone here can prove me wrong – I honestly hope they do.

    I have a day-jig, run a small theater company, head a committee for LIT, attend my local community board’s arts task force, try to find playwriting time, pursue career opportunities, and then maybe have a lil’ of a life. So, I have to count on my ASOs to nail the govt activism chores. If they’re telling me that’s what I should be doing, then I’m left wondering if we just have too many arts service organizations?

  3. Hey RLewis, I think you are addressing 2 things here: ASOs programs and ASOs competing with us for funding.

    As far as the programming is concerned, I know that I have benefited from a number of ASO programs. And the focus/mission of these organizations is different. Maybe one is set up to help develop artists, so it might not provide programming that is beneficial to you, but that doesn't mean that it is not extraordinarily helpful to many others. So I'm not ready to write off the programs and activities of these organizations as useless.

    You are right though, I don't need another seminar on marketing, but I think a full time lobbyist who works on our behalf year round to secure funding and affect legislation would be extremely valuable. Maybe one of these ASOs could skip the next "how to use social media" panel and instead invest in hiring someone whose job it is to fight the good fight. And maybe we need to tell the ASOs that.

    However, even if we had such a lobbyist superhero, I recognize that I would still have my part to do. I get the overworked, overwhelmed - can barely keep up with my own stuff - underpaid bit. As an actress, I'm there. As I said before, I don't have time to attend a ton of meetings, but I have time to write a letter. I have time to encourage a friend to do the same. I have time to show up at the polls and cast a ballot. And I know that sometimes it is about me showing up and demonstrating numbers.

    As far as ASOs competing with us for funding, that is maybe a different blog.

  4. Denny, there are several organizations that I know of that are working to bring the needs of our community to the attention of elected officials.

    The NYC Coalition for the Arts (, Mr. Weiss and future guest blogger Norma Munn are on their Steering Committee. NYCCA are the folks who are organizing Arts Day in Albany.

    The League of Independent Theatre ( it in their mission to create connections with city and state officials and represent our needs to them.

    Of course there are the community boards who have been working on several fronts to move along legislation that will benefit our sector.

    There are other organizations that work to support these efforts as well.

    We'll assemble some links and create a resource page that we will post this month.

    So if any has suggestions of organizations/resources we should include in that, let us know.

    Melissa, I don't know of an organization that currently has a full time lobbyist for OOB - maybe for the arts in general, but not for our sector specifically.

  5. I’m happy to discuss the relative merits of arts service organizations offline—off this line, anyway. Obviously, I am subjective, and I have a different perspective than RLewis or Melissa. In 2010, ABC/NY did something for 2,543 artists/arts organizations/wannabe board members—the kind of people we serve—and they called us, asking for help. Some of them gushed with thanks… which is really meaningful to us and of less interest to the readers of this blog.

    Thanks, IT, for chiming in with information on the Arts Coalition and others. I’m sure you will hear more from Adam on what Fractured Atlas does in this arena, too. And while organizations like ART/NY (Ginny is also a part of the Coalition) care ENORMOUSLY about influencing policy and politicians to be arts supportive, I would say back to you, Denny, that specific-art-discipline attention is great for some things. But with this one—raising arts support from the federal and state dead—results will be better achieved through one united, theater+dance+music+visual+arts ed+historic preservation+service organizations+whatever I’m forgetting advocacy voice.