Monday, February 28, 2011

Ellen Stewart: International Icon

Contributed by guest blogger of the week, David J. Diamond.

It seems like wherever I travel around the world, everyone knows Ellen Stewart and La MaMa Theatre (except, surprisingly for many places in the United States.) The breadth of her influence is astonishing. She was such an important part of my life as a theatre artist and also as a person; it is still hard to believe that she is gone. As you know, she passed away on January 13, 2011 at the age of 91. She lived every moment of her life to the fullest and she didn’t believe in the words, “It can’t be done.”  Her ceaseless creativity and her loving nature are the things about her I’ll remember the most.

Ellen Stewart & David Diamond
My initiation to La MaMa began when I first moved to New York City in 1980 to attend grad school at NYU in the Performance Studies Program. It was a fluke, what brought me to La MaMa at first. But now I think maybe not, maybe I was being directed in ways I didn’t understand. A colleague at NYU, Rick Richardson, asked me to assist him in stage managing a production at a small theatre in the East Village. I barely knew which way East was and I certainly had never heard of La MaMa. The show was T.N.T., the Musical, an EST-spoof, written by Richard Morrock and directed by Frank Carucci.
During the show at La MaMa and when it eventually moved to a commercial run Off-Broadway, I spent a bit of time with Ellen, but was completely intimidated by her. Fast-forward to fifteen years later. I had been traveling to Italy regularly by this time and Ellen always invited our groups to visit her at La MaMa Umbria International, the artists’ retreat she created just outside Spoleto, Italy.

When Ellen found this place, it was a wreck. She had it painstakingly restored, renovated and decorated, so that it became what you see today: a modern residence in a 700-year old borgo, with rehearsal studio, art gallery, café, outdoor stage, orchard, vegetable garden and lots of open space. Each room is outfitted with her collection of crafts and art collected during her world travels. There are collections of puppets, dolls, masks, pewter platters, blue glass, posters from productions she directed or produced, artwork done by friends, musical instruments from Africa, Asia, South America, everywhere. It’s like a museum, except for the fact that everything is useful and used.

La MaMa Umbria
One year, after spending some time visiting Larry Sacharow, then head of the Theatre Department at Fordham University, who organized a program for actors in Orvieto, Italy, I went to visit Ellen in Spoleto. Since I was working as Executive Director of Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, developing programs for the continuing education of directors was on my mind. I tentatively asked Ellen about the possibility of our producing a summer symposium for directors at La MaMa Umbria, bringing an international perspective on ways to create theatre. Unexpectedly, she said “Yes. Let’s do it!” I was stunned by the quick response. This summer we will be offering our 12th Annual International Symposium for Directors (among other programs) at La MaMa Umbria, thanks to Ellen, La MaMa Artistic Director Mia Yoo and our many collaborators.
But how did Ellen Stewart, the girl from Chicago, the first African American fashion designer hired by Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, who never had much interest in theatre, gain such international renown? That’s a story!
When Ellen first started Café La MaMa in New York in 1961 in a basement on Second Avenue, international theatre was the last thing on her mind. Her impetus came from her foster brother, Fred Lights and his friend Paul Foster, playwrights who were having difficulty getting produced in New York. Always ready to help a friend, Ellen decided that she would produce the plays herself – never having done anything like that before. She created the first incarnation of La MaMa, “dedicated to the playwright and all aspects of the theatre.” She produced plays by many unknown writers, such as Tom Eyen, Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard, Jean Claude van Italie, etc. The plays would run at Café La MaMa and she would collect dues from the patrons – pay once a week and you could see all of the plays showing that week.
But the playwrights couldn’t get their plays reviewed or published. Ellen was told that if she took the plays to Europe, they would get reviewed and then they could get published back in the States, assuring the writers greater visibility and more productions. Using mostly her own money, Ellen bought plane tickets for her troupe of actors, directors, designers and writers. They traveled across Europe, doing productions and getting reviews.
Ellen Stewart and Andre Seban
In the following years, Ellen traveled consistently to Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. She discovered talent wherever she went and invited her discoveries to come to New York. She often found them housing and paid for their meals, so they could work on their productions. Using money from her design business, she “took care” of many artists (both foreign and domestic). Artists such as Andre Serban, Tadeusz Kantor, Jean-Guy Lecat, Jerzy Grotowski, Ryszard Cieslak, Peter Brook – the list goes on, developed long and ongoing collaborations with Ellen and La MaMa. She brought Kathakali dance to New York for the first time; she housed one of the first native American theatre troupes, Pan Asian Rep, HT Chen and Dancers and dozens more.
Eventually, La MaMa-style theatres spang up in a dozen countries from New Zealand to Israel. She was appointed an “Officer” in the “Odre Des Arts Et Letters” of the Republic of France and received the Les Kurbas Award for “Distinguished Services to Art and Culture” from the Ukraine. In December 1994 Ellen Stewart was awarded the “Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette” by the Emperor of Japan. She also received the Human Rights Award of the Philippines from President Corazon Aquino among many other awards.
Her influence on theatre around the world will continue as La MaMa E.T.C. in New York continues to bring artists to the U.S. and La MaMa Umbria remains a center for artists to grow, study, learn, collaborate and share ideas that challenge what it means to create theatre. Ellen’s love of artists and her unique ability to manifest her vision continues to inpire me and countless others.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

International Theatre Month


In honor of World Theatre Day (March 27th) we are dedicating March to the  International Theatre community. We have some great bloggers lined up.  Please stop by, ask questions and share your thoughts about how the OOB/Indie theatre community can be a part of the international theatre community. And also check out the NYC World Theatre Day blog.
We are very excited that our first blogger for International Theatre Month is David Diamond.

David J. Diamond's current projects include organizing and coordinating (along with Mia B. Yoo) the La MaMa International Symposium for Directors, now entering its 12th year, the La MaMa Playwrights Retreat in its fifth year and Master Acting Workshops. The Programs bring artists from around the world together to exchange ideas and interact creatively through workshops, rehearsals and performances. They take place at La MaMa Umbria in Spoleto, Italy in July and August. David serves on the Steering Committee for Theatre Without Borders and was one of the organizers of the 2010 Conference: Acting Together on the World Stage: Theatre and Peacebuilding in Conflict Zones. Current projects include creating a new theatre piece with musicians and other artists in Kurdistan and working with Ajoka Theater in Lahore, Pakistan on creating a theatre school, stabilizing the Company and actor training. He works with the US Army mentoring directors on Army bases in Europe. David teaches workshops for artists in career development at Yale School of Drama, Columbia University, National Theater Institute, DePaul University, among other colleges. He has an MA in Performance Studies from NYU. 

Do you want to get involved with the World Theatre Day activities here in  NYC?
Productions that have a performance on March 25-28 in NYC and would like to participate can register their production at To participate in World Theatre Day SPLAT Performances email For updates and more information check out the website at, follow the twitter feed @nycwtd or become a fan on facebook.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Arts Advocacy Wrap Up


Wow, we had some really fantastic bloggers for Arts Advocacy Month.

We started out with a bang with Will Maitland Weiss from The Arts & Business Council of New York [ABC/NY], who gave us some important tips on dealing with our city and state representatives and helped us craft our message when communicating with those representatives.

Next Adam Huttler, Executive Director of Fractured Atlas told us that our community can be a powerful special interest group.

Norma P. Munn, Steering Committee Member for the One Percent for Culture Campaign and Chair of the NY City Arts Coalition covered the basics of Arts Advocacy 101.
And our key note blogger, Paul Nagle, Executive Director for Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability (ICSCS) covered some important changes in international arts policy that we should all be aware of. He also shared some of the platforms and programs that ICSCS is developing that surrounds some of those policy changes.

There was also a lot of feedback from our community, who left some really good questions and comments.

Thank you all for contributing and we hope to be able to continue these important discussions.

Some Advocacy Items to be aware of:
In honor of World Theatre Day (March 27th) we are dedicating March to the International Theatre community. We have some great bloggers lined up.  Please stop by, ask questions and share your thoughts about how the OOB/Indie theatre community can be a part of the international theatre community. And check out the NYC World Theatre Day blog.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Useful News from Across the Pond


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Paul Nagle.

In yesterday’s post, I spoke about the need for our cultural community to participate in international cultural policy discussions.  And today, ICSCS received an email from Dr. David O’Brien of the Department of Culture Media and Sport in the United Kingdom, expressing interest in our work (news travels fast - gotta love the internet!) and bringing our attention to a recent report that his agency produced on strategies for dealing with the quandary of valuing the benefits of the arts Measuring the value of culture: A report to the Department for Culture Media and Sport

He also sent along a link for a 1/31/2011 news story, published in a London School of Economics blog called British Politics and Policy at LSE, which I have excerpted below.  It not only illustrates the fact that arts workers around the world have a common struggle, but it points out that we have something to learn from other sectors as well, in this case the environmental movement, which has come up with imperfect, but workable valuations for benefits derived from a healthy ecology. Read…

The arts and cultural sector faces ‘apocalyptic’ cuts in austere Britain. But new ways of looking at economic value can help to make the case for culture
“The prospects for the arts and cultural sector have been described in apocalyptic terms, with cuts to national and local funding for the arts coming at a time when private sector funding and individual philanthropy is dwindling. The reduction of state support has been described by Sir Nicholas Serota as a potential ‘Blizkrieg’ on the traditional mixed economy of arts and cultural funding, and requires rethinking the way arts and cultural funding is valued.”

Lessons from the Green Movement
A recent report by Missions Model Money encourages the sector abandon their suspicions of economics and embrace microeconomic valuation techniques. The Green Movement has taken this approach by developing the field of environmental economics. Running alongside the development of scientific consensus on major environmental issues, environmental economics has made aspects of our natural world that we wouldn’t usually associate with price and money visible in governmental cost benefit analysis. This isn’t to say that all decisions are sensible, or that they reflect the advice of environmental science. But at least the Green Movement now has a way to talk to central government in its own language.

The arts and culture sector can tread the same path as the environmentalists but it will take a bit of a leap of faith. After being told, regular as clockwork since the early 1990s, that the arts and cultural sector needs a new way of ‘proving’ its worth, there’s a danger that a comment like ‘learn to speak economics’ will be greeted with a resigned shrug and seen as another box to be ticked, with another consultant’s fee to be paid. Another issue is that the language of economics isn’t easy: techniques like ‘willingness to pay’ surveys or ‘subjective well-being income compensations’ require expertise to carry out and interpret so they make sense. But they add another layer to the arts and cultural sector’s answer to the economic question.”

So now, through these blogs, I have established some fundamentals for our principles of inquiry.  We at ICSCS believe that in order to create a new and more effective narrative of culture’s critical importance to human society, we need to conduct multiple lines of inquiry:  We need to look beyond our borders; we need to look beyond our sector; we need all sorts of streams of research and data: literature reviews, data assembly, surveys, discussions, ethnography and artistic interpretation, even though we can’t see at this moment how they might all eventually be synthesized into a cohesive argument for the arts.  The first task is to open our minds to possibilities beyond those we have already thought of.  The next task is  to use our talents as artists, our ability to think in non-linear ways, to imagine what does not yet exist and to make visible what is known but not yet seen, in order to decipher together the meanings and applications of all the new ideas we will be discovering together. 


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Make U.S. Arts Policy an International Discussion


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Paul Nagle.

I like to think of myself as an internationalist, and in that role, I have been speaking to my (mostly European) cultural counterparts for years.  Until recently, I have generally hit a brick wall in trying to discuss U.S. Cultural Policy with them.  Their reaction was always the same.  “It is useless to discuss arts funding with you, because it is apples and oranges.  We have always had support for the arts and we will never lose that patrimony.  It’s just too different.”  Hmmm. 

Suddenly, this September, when I was in Berlin, I started hearing a different tune.  Italy’s cultural budget has been obliterated by Berlusconi and Cameron cut the British Council’s budget by 40% shortly after taking office in the U.K.  The Netherlands now has a right-wing coalition government slashing the cultural budget.  (For a take on the situation in the Netherlands, go to our blogsite where ICSCS Associate Director Lise Brenner has posted “Leftist Hobbies (or does the Dutch voter really hate art, Greenpeace, and their local squat café?)”.

So now our European counterparts seem more willing to discuss “Why are artists under attack and how do we respond?” It’s an opening for expanded international engagement, and a reason for artists around the world to work together.  As an example, we were contacted last week by The Internationalists, a coalition of theater directors from around the globe, regarding "Theatre Uncut in New York," a solidarity event in support of Reclaim Productions’ call for a "National Theatre Uprising" which has brought together seven of the UK's leading playwrights in response to the unprecedented public spending cuts in the UK.  On Thursday, March 3rd at 8pm, the 5th Annual NoPe Conference: Global Change in Performance, NoPassport, and The Internationalists in association with INTAR will present an evening of short play readings at INTAR. This event is both in solidarity with UK artists and celebrates the potential of civic responsibility by artists everywhere. It is one among many efforts by hundreds of theatre companies, universities, artists and global supporters who will be staging these shorts throughout March.

But it’s not all about funding.  We are working with Jared Akama Ondieki and CEPACET in Kenya, who is engaging artists in a campaign to peace-build during the upcoming elections.  We are looking for a sister city project in Arizona to pair U.S. and Kenyan artists engaged in promoting civility during election cycles.  Wouldn’t it be great to have the two campaigns helping each other and comparing notes?   We are also working with Shalom Neuman , visual artist, in the Czech Republic, who is converting a 10th century basilica in Bohemia into a cultural center celebrating all of the ethnic communities that have called the region home. The center will be a locus for understanding as two towns create a repatriation campaign for Jews and Germans who lost their properties or were driven out as a result of World War II.  And we are working with Todd Lester of freeDimensional an organization that has created a network of arts facilities around the world that work to provide short and long-term safe haven to artists who have become political refugees (which happens way more often than it should).

As funding paradigms are collapsing globally under the crush of the baby boomer numbers, and as people around the world gain new understanding of how arts and culture can lift conversations about global challenges, we have new openings for international cultural policy discussions.  Exposure to ideas from around the world will strengthen all our investigations, and spur expanded thinking on what is possible anywhere. The time for provincial thinking on cultural policy has passed.


Monday, February 21, 2011

The Basic Arts Advocacy Platform of ICSCS


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Paul Nagle.

 It’s great to be in the Guest Blogger clean-up position.  I’ve read all of the ITF guest blogs for advocacy month and each one has had very valid things to say.  If, as we know, the arts are critically important to communities, and if we have such smart people in the forefront of the charge advocating for the arts, why do we feel like the proverbial hamster in the wheel about all of this?  How do we keep coming back to fighting for tiny restorations to tiny budget allocations that bear no real relationship to the current impact numbers (by far too low anyway in my opinion) that represent the benefits that the arts bestow on society?  At ICSCS (The Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability), we believe there are two key issues:  that the arts are undercounted and isolated.
Some great work has been done in the last few years, particularly by Randy Bourscheidt and the studies he produced through the Alliance for the Arts.  But the arts remain undercounted.  Economic metrics, at their best a partial and inferior measure of art’s value, still fail to take into account the employment of many many individual artists and freelance creative workers.  We do not have a sufficient method to account for the intangible benefits of the arts.  Valuing doesn’t take into account value of mission, or value of service to the community.  We don’t have an effective way to present the macroeconomic benefits of the arts, even though we know that urban centers cannot be competitive these days without a healthy cultural sector.    
Quantifying these deeper values of the arts has been elusive and hard, but that thinking, that new knowledge is out there.  It’s really at the tip of our fingertips.   How do we get at it? How do we achieve that needed innovation that ties it all together into a cohesive but expansive narrative? Open up the conversation; both who is in on the discussion, and the range of topics to be considered. Culture is a broad topic and it deserves broad complex consideration.   New technologies that are highly interactive with maximum efficiencies can facilitate discussions and inquiry involving the entire cultural community.  There is a lot of untapped expertise out there in the trenches. 
But even if we achieve that expanded grassroots discussion within the cultural community, the arts could remain isolated.  For some reason, we have been repeating many of the same rhetorical mistakes for 40 years now.  The political discussion has moved very little in real terms and is presently moving backward again.  At ICSCS, we believe that part of our mistake has been sitting in a room full of arts people, telling ourselves how special and important we are.  That doesn’t necessarily fly so well with the greater community, especially once you leave the cultural cocoon of New York City. 
In fact, most of the problems we face are not so different than those of most of our neighbors.  And the really big issues like climate change and worldwide recessions affect us even though, not because, we are artists.  It must become clear to the greater community that the health of the cultural sector and the health of the community are interdependent, not because we say it is, but because they see that it is so.
That is why ICSCS will concentrate on creating conversations and initiatives between artists and advocates from other sectors over the value of art and the role of artists in addressing shared issues of sustainability.  There are networks all over the globe of people who are not artists, and yet who understand the deep relationships between art and culture and a sustainable life.  It’s a matter of creating the synapses of good will and unity of purpose that will make the connections among these networks. 
We are artists in trouble, in a world full of trouble.  We are artists with new ideas in a world full of new ideas.  If we can open up the conversation, not only within the cultural community, but beyond its borders, then we can tie our fate as artists to the fate of the greater community.  If we can have these conversations not only with our friends in New York City, but with our allies across the country and in Berlin and Poland and Kenya, then for arts advocacy, I believe it is a game-changing moment of opportunity.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guest Blogger: Paul Nagle


We would like to thank Norma P. Munn for blogging for us last week, especially in the middle of the busiest arts advocacy week of the year here in New York State.

We are very happy to have our friend Paul Nagle blogging for us this week.

Paul Nagle serves as Executive Director of ICSCS – Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability.  The ICSCS mission is to support policy that articulates and strengthens art’s central role in civic life and enhances cultural, community and environmental sustainability.  Previous to this position, as Director of Cultural Policy for NYC Councilmember Alan J. Gerson (2002-2010), Paul crafted strategies to preserve the arts in Lower Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.  He convened the Arts Advisors to the Select Committee, a consortium of 30 downtown arts leaders, which developed a strategic community-based plan to guide the Councilmember’s policies and investments in Lower Manhattan’s cultural redevelopment. Paul served as ombudsman for all external grants made by the office to 501c3 organizations and was deeply involved with several major cultural capital building projects. Paul has been a produced playwright and presenter.  He was the Founding Executive Director of All Out Arts and the Executive Producer for its first five festivals.  He also served as managing director and interim executive director of the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center.  He holds a B.A. in Arts Administration and an MA in Cultural Policy, both from the Gallatin School at New York University.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Arts Advocacy 101


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Norma P. Munn.

Arts advocacy is not brain surgery, but amazingly far too many people either think they can’t do it, or that all it requires is telling an elected official how wonderful and economically valuable the arts are.  With the National Endowment for the Arts under attack (again), several state arts councils in danger of complete dissolution, and public funding for the arts in jeopardy almost everywhere, it is past time for this field to stop debating and start doing a lot more. 

The recipe for effective advocacy requires real knowledge of the political process, recognition of the context in which you are working, and strategic thinking.

The reality of the political process is not taught in schools and news reports are only a part of the story.  Read. And listen, but be wary of the easy explanations.  For example, the common complaint about the NYS legislature is that “three men in a room” decide everything  (The three men are the Governor, Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Majority Leader.)  While one should not underestimate the power of those three, that is simply not the whole story.  Assembly and Senate members have influence. But you need to know who influences whom, and when that influence can be exercised.

Context seems obvious. NY State is facing a serious deficit. This year’s budget is actually projected at less than last years!  Any arts advocate who suggested to NYS Assembly members or Senators, that the arts should get an increase would be considered at best as ill informed; more likely they would be thought a selfish idiot.  Which is why so many of us went to Albany a few days ago to ask for a partial restoration equal to only $2.8 million in grants money for NYSCA.

But that basic awareness of context is only step one. Knowledge about the level of cuts to other similar parts of the state budget, or to the aspects of the budget is essential.  If education is cut 10% and the arts are cut 10%, in Albany that is going to be seen as fair.  (NYSCA has a flat 10% cut in the Cuomo proposed budget; we don’t find any other state agency with an across the board 10% cut.)

The real problem with arts advocacy lies in the strategic thinking, or too often the lack thereof.  The message is not strategy; the tools (social media, email blasts, letters, meetings) and press releases are not strategy.  In fact, without a coherent and long-term strategy underlying the advocacy work, the entire process is completely reactive, builds no coalitions, and always focuses on the short term, like how many emails we generated.

Strategy unifies the various aspects of your work into a logical and coherent plan of action that provides for flexibility, looks past the immediate and avoids pitfalls.  It is not the action plan; it is not the message; it is not a series of activities.  Strategy is the set of underlying principals that guides your choices.  Strategy is the glue that holds your plans together, and allows you to respond quickly to changing events while maintaining the coherence of your own views and needs. 

Strategy keeps you from being diverted into fighting the battle and losing the war, and provides you with the long-range view.  No one in this field can make art, or work at an arts group, and spend a lot of their time on advocacy.  Using that energy and talent wisely is essential, and recognizing that not all efforts will result in the desired outcome, means the long range is critical.

Many people criticize arts advocacy for its lack of allies, or insist that the cultural sector is just not capable of uniting.  Both complaints simplify the reality.

Budget advocacy is not like working on a legislative issue.  A censorship issue is unlike either the budget or legislation. 

A budget has a finite amount of money and one’s allies want their needs met.  The best one can realistically expect under those circumstances is the sharing of information and a quiet agreement not to be played off against one another.  Easier said than done, but it does happen. Also Boards of non-profit arts groups often (regularly, in fact) oppose arts groups forming alliances, as they fear the potential problems for both themselves and the arts group. 

Legislative issues are entirely different and one can often find allies, especially if the issue can, or might, benefit other sectors.  For example, seeking changes in NYS to provide cheaper energy  “as of right” to the non-profit arts sector sounds great – to us.  But only if we broaden that effort to benefit all non-profits are we likely to have allies and ultimately succeed. The same logic applies to real estate tax abatement issues in NYC, housing needs, or environmental problems.  But, again, Boards can be uncomfortable, so individual artists may find these areas easier to work on than most arts groups.  

Finally, confusing “cause” related advocacy with day-to-day work on city, state or federal budget issues, or with most legislation, is a serious mistake.  A lot of people are opposed to censorship; very few listened to Gov Cuomo’s speech on the budget last week.  For “causes” there are lots of bodies, much energy and outrage, and plenty of email blasts.  For the daily slog of the budget or legislation, far fewer people are willing to become involved.  That is unfortunate as it is in the daily slog that you build the long-term relationships that protect and help when the arts are really under attack. 

If you want to participate, find the organization that fits your interests, will accept what you are really able to do, and ask questions.  There are no dumb questions for newcomers to this effort. Every inquiry is valid.  (And, yes, I will answer emails - see email address - albeit sometimes slowly as this is state budget time and the city budget is released on Thursday.) However, there are no miracles.  If you expect instant results, the lottery is a better bet!


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guest Blogger: Norma P. Munn


We would like to thank Adam Huttler for his blog last week that challenged us all to rethink who our advocacy allies are.

We are excited to welcome this week's guest blogger Norma P. Munn.

Norma P. Munn is one of the founders of the New York City Arts Coalition, a citywide arts advocacy group established in 1986 dealing with public policy, First Amendment concerns, and budget issues at the City and State level, and currently serves as its Chair -- a position she has held since its inception.She was also the founder and President of the Artists Community Federal Credit Union (ACFCU); served on the Working Group for Culture Counts: Strategies for a More Vibrant Cultural Life for New York City; was a member of the Advisory Group to the Special Committee on Lower Manhattan established after 9/11 by the City Council to work with them on issue affecting the re-development of Lower Manhattan; and assisted in establishing the statewide arts advocacy organization in New York State in the mid-eighties, and was a member of its coordinating committee for over a decade.

Her previous professional experience includes the management of modern dance companies, as well as serving as Executive Director for the national service organization for professional nonprofit dance companies.  She is the former Executive Director of The Foundation for the Community of Artists, a national membership organization for individual artists.  During her tenure their health insurance program grew from providing coverage to 500 artists to over 3600 artists. Ms. Munn also served for four years as administrator of the S.A.F.E., an emergency fund for arts organizations in Manhattan. In 2005, Ms. Munn received the BAX award for outstanding administrator for the arts in New York City. She was the 2006 recipient of the Susan Kennedy Award, which is given to one arts administrator each year whose work has benefited the larger cultural sector. She also recently received the 2010 Skowhegan Governors’ Award for Outstanding Service to Artists.

Currently Munn serves on the One Percent for Cultural Campaign’s Steering Committee, aimed at increasing City funding to the cultural sector.  She also represents the NY City Arts Coalition on the newly formed statewide advocacy coalition, NYS Arts Coalition.

Norma P. Munn
Chairperson, New York City Arts Coalition
npmunn at nycityartscoalition dot org   

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Broader View of Arts Policy


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Adam Huttler.

Take a minute and think about the most powerful, influential special interest groups in American politics.

On the one hand, you have groups like the National Rifle Association or the National Right to Life Committee. Their power derives from their ability to mobilize passionate, single-issue voters. A hard core gun nut will vote against his own mother if she favors even toothless restrictions on military-grade weaponry. A relatively small block of such people can be politically potent, since their organizers can credibly claim to influence the entire group’s voting behavior based on a single issue.

Then there are groups like the AFL-CIO. Their power derives from their ability to form diverse coalitions around delicately constructed compromises. I mean really, how much do the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, the National Association of Letter Carriers, and the Screen Actors Guild (all AFL-CIO unions) actually have in common?

Sadly, the non-profit arts community fails at both models. Our problem is that we act like the first group but our membership is more like the second. We all dutifully rally around the idea of increased NEA funding, but that (along with maybe support for arts in education) is the only issue on which we ever speak with one voice.

Now ask yourself, if a candidate for public office were a staunch supporter of the NEA but was also pro-gun, pro-life, and anti-gay, how many of us would vote for him?*

If we’re to succeed as advocates, it won’t be because we’re single-issue voters. It will be because of our ability to form strategic coalitions, to articulate our positions thoughtfully and persuasively to a broad audience, and to develop a smooth political pragmatism despite our idealistic proclivities. As a field, we must broaden our views of both the political process and the issues themselves.

This isn’t just good politics; it’s good policy as well. It’s comforting to think that we can reduce our advocacy agenda to a single number: did NEA funding go up or down this year? But this is a false comfort rooted in a dangerously narrow understanding of the world in which we live and work. The truth is that public funding represents just one (relatively small) policy lever that impacts our field.

What might a broader view look like in practice? Here’s an off-the-cuff laundry list:
  1. Let’s reach out to the millions of Americans who sing in amateur choruses, act in community theatre, or participate in scrapbooking clubs. What would it take to mobilize these constituencies? We could start by including them in our definition of the field and abandoning the elitist notion that only MFA graduates make art. Big tents have more voters.
  2. Urban cultural clusters are hugely important parts of the arts ecosystem, but they can’t survive without healthy cities. How can we join forces with advocates for affordable housing and high-speed rail? Let’s reposition ourselves from naïve drivers of gentrification and displacement to agents of community empowerment.**  
  3. The internet has revolutionized content delivery and made it possible for us to reach vastly larger audiences than ever before. If this tremendous potential isn’t to be snuffed out by big media, we must join the fight for net neutrality. We should also make it clear that the RIAA and the MPAA don’t represent our interests in the fight over copyrights.
  4. Congress is threatening to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. PBS and NPR provide essential infrastructure for the cultural sector. Not only are they distribution channels for high quality work that no for-profit outfit would touch, but they actually send their critics to our shows. The CPB needs some friends right now and we should be at the front of the line.
  5. Amid a generally dysfunctional health insurance system, few industries have been as poorly served as the arts. Yet when it comes time to discuss health insurance reform, most of us are silent, while the rest stake out ideologically admirable positions (e.g., single payer) that in practice amount to political suicide. We must learn to compromise and accept incremental improvements when radical change is impossible.
  6. We’ve got to get serious about data and research. With apologies and sincere respect to the folks in our field who work to document and promote the economic impact of the arts: we’re just not credible. I’m not saying the arts don’t drive economic development, because I believe they do. But the old “let’s add up every dollar we spend and call that our economic impact” model just isn’t persuasive to serious economic analysts. We’re smart enough and creative enough as a field that we should be able to rethink our analytic framework on this issue.

To be clear: I’m not claiming for a minute that any of this is easy. But this is a bit like a 12-step program; the first step is to admit that the old habits aren’t working. For my part, I pledge that Fractured Atlas – which reaches 130,000+ artists of every discipline across the country – will begin to take a more active role in this arena. Keep an eye on our blog over the coming weeks and months. We’ll do our best to highlight some opportunities to get involved.
* Yes, I know there are conservative artists. I hear there are also liberal drill sergeants. I’m generalizing, but I’m confident the statistics would demonstrate that the stereotypes are more accurate than not.

** I stole that line from my friend Paul Nagle.



Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Would your venue qualify for the Tax Abatement?


Over the last couple of years, the Community Boards have done some amazing work on the Tax Abatement proposal that would benefit smaller performing arts venues. This proposal would give incentives to landlords that either donate or rent at below market value to non-profit performing arts organizations. The money saved on taxes would then be passed on to the renter (you). The proposal could potentially save smaller theatre venues thousands of dollars a year.

The Theatre and Arts task forces on the Community Boards have been working very hard on this proposal and in May of 2010, it reached a significant mile stone when all 12 of the Manhattan Community Boards voted in support of it. It was an unprecedented happening.

The proposal was shared with several elected officials who have been very supportive, but have asked some important questions that need to have solid answers before we can move to the next step.

Several organizations (A.R.T./New York, The Innovative Theater Foundation, Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability and The League of Independent Theater) are all cooperating to try to help collect this very important information and enable the proposal to continue to move forward.

We are asking that companies that could qualify for this proposal (once it is enacted) complete an online questionnaire.

If you can answer "YES" to each of the following questions, your organization could qualify and should complete the online form.

  1. Are you a Not-For-Profit organization (Do you have your 501(c)3status)?
  2. Do you lease and manage your space (Is your organization the primary lease holder for your venue)?
  3. Do you manage at least one (1) performance venue?
  4. Do you present your own artistic work/season?
  5. Do you pay pass-through tax? (This is the amount that is added to your rent and should be indicated on your lease or monthly/quarterly statements.)
    Is your landlord a commercial (for-profit) entity?
If you can answer "Yes" to each of the 5 questions above, then we would strongly encourage you to complete the questionnaire:


I want to assure you that completed questionnaires are held in the strictest of confidences. We are very mindful of sensitive information. We will not share or release any specific details about your organization. This information is necessary to establish actual figures and will only be presented without specific identifiers and as an aggregation or average of the overall data collected.

This information is invaluable to the process and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to complete the questionnaire.



Sunday, February 6, 2011

Guest Blogger: Adam Huttler


We want to thank Will Maitland Weiss for his informative, thought provoking and engaging blogs last week.

It was a perfect way to start this month dedicated to Arts Advocacy.

We are excited that next week's guest blogger is Adam Huttler.

Adam Huttler is the founder and executive director of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit organization that provides infrastructure for the cultural sector. He has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.B.A. from New York University. Since forming Fractured Atlas in 1998, the organization has grown from a one-man-band housed in an East Harlem studio apartment to a broad-based national service organization with an annual budget of nearly $8 million. Adam serves on the Board of Directors of the Performing Arts Alliance, the Steering Committee of the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors, the Steering Committee of NYC's One Percent for Culture campaign, and the Policy Leadership Circle of the Institute for Culture in the Service of Community Sustainability. Adam is also the founder and managing partner of Gemini SBS, a for-profit sister company to Fractured Atlas that develops web-based software for non-profits and public agencies. 


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Arts Day In Albany


February 8, 2011

Arts Day In Albany
Now more than ever let your voice be heard

The Harlem Arts Alliance is providing transportation:

Bus departs from Adam Clayton Powell Jr State Office Bldg 
West 125 Street & ACP Jr Blvd
@ 6:45 AM

Round-Trip Bus Transportation is $15 ($10 for HAA Members and NYC Arts Coaltion Members)

Check out Will Maitland Weiss' blogs about this event:
Call Cuomo Now - 2/1/11 

And as Benjamin Krevolin reminds us, there is a Press Conference on Arts Day at 2PM. More info will be made available soon at

If you can't get to Albany make an appointment to meet with you representatives at their district offices.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Ask Not…


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Will Maitland Weiss

My last blog on advocacy: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Ask what you can do for your elected officials. Ask what you can do for your funding source. Ask what you can do for your potential business partner. Ask what you can do for another theater company, other theater artists.

I’m not talking about inviting your subscribers (or your nonprofit board) to pick your 2011-2012 season or help with casting. I do think that the phenomenon of letting the audience choose the encore at concerts is cool and will grow. Everyone’s a critic/producer/curator/YouTube genius, and everyone wants the art they want when and where they want it. (Remember voting on the whodunit ending to Edwin Drood? A generation later, I’m pretty impressed with what Situation Marketing did with Next to Normal…  There are ARTISTS who can and do make better artistic decisions.

I am talking about developing relationships that bring you resources. The Arts & Business Council has respect from the business community because we try to help them with what THEY need. We don’t tell them that they have to give to the arts. That is not their mission. I happen to believe that artistic endeavor defines humanity, but that doesn’t entitle me, or any arts organization I’ve ever worked for, to one cent from any business. I get companies and business individuals to invest their time and money by asking them what THEY want. Employee engagement? Revitalization of neighborhoods? Reaching new markets? Branding with elegance/grace/high-net-worth/families/20-somethings/cutting edge (since ABC/NY represents hundreds of different arts organizations, I can go pretty broad here!)? Something more meaningful and fulfilling than what they do 9:00-to-5:00? A reconnection to the art they participated in as a kid or in college? Something! And when I find that something, now we can figure out a win/win partnership.

(By the way: sponsorships are NOT just for Lincoln Center or the Met Museum, not just about seven-figure gifts from Amex or Target or Time Warner. Every year, ABC/NY celebrates arts/business partnerships at its annual Encore Awards. Sometimes big names, sometimes hidden gems. Check out some of these stories. Nurturing these shared agendas is what we do all year long.)

Artists’ collaborations? When someone’s out to take advantage—disaster. When there is a shared goal, whether it’s co-producing a play you couldn’t otherwise afford or co-producing a marketing campaign you couldn’t otherwise afford—that’s worth getting together over a few beers to try and figure out.

The same is true with government. We have to find the intersection of our arts agenda and their agenda. Reaching loyal constituents with credibility? You’re already better at that than they are; is there a way to share your stage (literally or figuratively)?  Creating jobs, generating economic impact, serving children, helping at-risk or special needs populations? About what cause are they passionate? You do this! Tell them your success story, see if they want to be a part of it.

Invite them to experience what you are doing for your community, your city, your state, your country, your world. Invite them to share in your success. And then invite them again, and again, and again.

Thanks, NY Innovative Theatre Foundation, for allowing me to share points of view and experience with your community. Any of whom is welcome to agree/disagree and/or ask/answer me directly at wmweiss [at] artsandbusiness-ny [dot] org. And to every one of whom I wish a creative 2011.


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.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Call Cuomo, Now


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Will Maitland Weiss

You probably voted for the guy (considering the alternatives!). You probably don’t want his job (theater companies have all kinds of challenges, but I don’t know of one whose new executive director, his/her first day on the job, has a $10 billion budget deficit).

No surprise, in his budget presentation a couple of hours ago, Governor Cuomo proposed a ten percent cut to the NY State Council on the Arts.

Bad:  we’ve been suffering the death-by-a-thousand-cuts over several years; NYSCA’s funding budget continues to dwindle.
Good:  the arts were not singled out for punitive action; eliminating the State Council was not on the table—as it is right now in several other states. Cuomo did not speak of NYSCA or the arts specifically.
Bad:  where’s the message that he cares about this sector?
Good:  NYSCA was not among the agencies singled out for cost-cutting mergers. Cuomo says he won’t raise taxes; he has to cut billions; some were predicting much more draconian measures.

And now you have to send a message back:
Thank you for caring about keeping New York great. I live here. I work here. I pay taxes here. I vote here. I choose to do this in New York BECAUSE IT A STATE THAT NOURISHES CREATIVITY. As you continue to negotiate the budget, please show me you agree.

(By the way, I still totally believe NY is the CENTER of the arts universe. Check out the exponential growth of arts majors among CUNY, SUNY, and private college/university undergraduates and grad students. Why does ABC/NY get ten applications, from all over the country and abroad, for every Multicultural Summer Internship position we offer? Check out the growth of ABC/NY’s Emerging Leaders of New York Arts network. But even if you think Berlin or Beijing can rival our artfulness, what governor would propose that his State not nurture creativity?)

Our friends at the Arts NYS Coalition have a link to Write-Cuomo-Now, which is great, but I’ll suggest you consider the following embellishments—all suggestions from pro-arts elected officials and staff:
  • Don’t use a canned message. Write your own. One sentence is enough; clear and short is better than anything and long.
  • E-mail is how we all communicate. But if you take the additional time and stamp to go postal, it does have more impact. Again, it can be one sentence.
  • Be sure to include your name and address. No, they do not want to engage in deep dialogue. Yes, they want to add you to their e- and postal distributions lists. They also want evidence you are a real person (voter), and they care where you live/work.
  • Give them an objective (not a tirade):  tell them specifically what you would like them to do, e.g. please consider more support for NY’s creativity.

Even better idea #1:  contact Cuomo—and your other elected representatives—now and throughout the year. NOT just at budget time, or at NYSCA or DCA funding time. Same message, 24/7/365:  I don’t have to live/work in NY, I do so because of the arts.

Even better idea #2:  get someone else to contact Cuomo and your other elected representatives. What my government friends call a “diversity of voices.” Even better than you, who gets paid (maybe) to Make Art:  board members, audience members. The manager of the restaurant down the block that survives because of your audience. The hardware store/lumber yard/dry cleaner/printer to whom you give some of your operating budget. The parents whose kids are inspired by your classes.

“Hey! This theater, this dance company, this gallery is how I stay in business! It’s what provides jobs in my community! It’s what makes me want to live in my community. It’s what makes New York New York!”