Wednesday, 21 March 2018 14:21

The State of the Art(s)


Two men facing the camera, smiling and wearing suits and conference tags around their necks.
According to a March 2018 report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts added $763.6 billion to the economy, which included a $20 billion international trade surplus. In addition, the National Endowment for the Arts supports the arts in all 50 states, and every Congressional district benefits from an NEA grant.

So, given how much the arts bring to both the economic and creative health of the country, how much has the President allocated for the arts in his proposed budget for next year?

“Zero,” said David Pankratz, Research and Policy Director for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. “He wants to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All of that.”

But, Pankratz reports, all is not lost.

“I think there really is a broad base of supporters for the arts in Washington,” he said. “We are relentlessly bi-partisan in our messaging and the arts do enjoy bipartisan support for the arts as a result. We’re able to find points of connection with a wide variety of legislators whatever their inclination might be.”

He has developed responses for all types of objections to arts funding: “For example, some people are budget hawks and say ‘Gosh, is this really a wise use of public dollars?’ But then we have information, based on research done on both the local and national level, about how the arts sector creates jobs not only in the arts sector but also in other sectors.

“Others say ‘Aren’t we just subsidizing programs for people who can pay for this already? Isn’t this a kind of elite enterprise?’” he continued. “Well, a large percentage of NEA funds go to rural areas. Sure, some do go to urban areas, and large organizations, but lots to smaller organizations, often rural organizations.”AAD Dr Jane Chu 2018 by Mitch Swain

“It’s a matter of persuading, finding those touch points that might be of interest” Pankratz said. “Everybody’s interested in jobs - that’s kind of a go-to argument for us. But some can have interest in smaller-town rural development. We’re had some very interesting conversations about that and how the presence of a small theater or something like that has helped to really stimulate a small town to get traffic.”

Not only is the lack of projected funding in the president’s budget cause for concern, but the tax reform legislation passed last year will deal a serve blow to charitable giving. People who take the increased standard deduction will not be able to itemize their deductions, including donations to non-profits.

“It’s projected that the overall sector, including the arts, but also other non-profits, face a loss of $13 billion in charitable giving,” said Pankratz. “It’s not as though donors are going to stop giving but they may not give as much if there aren’t the tax benefits. The heart will still be there, but the head may modify the amount.”

“I wouldn’t say we’re not worried and obviously we have to make out best case,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s that much of a different case than we’ve made, maybe a little extra urgency. The arts sector, the non-profit sector, will be strategic on how to get along in this new situation. We’re in a different world but a lot of the groundwork laid up to this point will help immensely.”

Randy Cohen, Vice President of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts, and David Pankratz, Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Photo by Jen Saffron
Dr. Jane Chu, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, speaking at National Arts Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, March 13, 2018. Photo by Mitch Swain


Published in The Arts Blog

 Three people with their backs to the viewer, outside painting a colorful mural on the wall of a building.

We in the non-profit arts talk a lot about ticket sales, individual donors, foundation and corporate support, memberships, and public support for the arts.  Understandable.   Steady, reliable income streams are essential to our survival and to our abilities to reach and serve the public. 

But, increasingly, our sector is having different kinds of conversations.  In a variation on the words of President Kennedy offered in 1960, we’re saying: “Ask not what our communities can do for the arts, ask what the arts can do for our communities.” 

One platform where these ideas are taking shape is the “New Community Visions Initiative” of Americans for the Arts (AFTA), the nation’s largest arts service organization, of which the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council is a member. 

The Initiative’s starting point is the premise that the arts don’t stand alone.  We are, instead, one of 30 linked “contributors” which can make our communities healthy, vibrant, and equitable.  Sectors, in addition to the arts, range from social justice, the environment, faith, aging, cultural heritage, and the economy to innovation and technology, education, the workforce, health and wellness, the military, and infrastructure, among others. 

The over-riding question for the Initiative is: “What roles can the arts sector play, in partnership with these other sectors, to help our communities become more vibrant, healthy, and equitable over the next decade and beyond?”   We as a sector seem no longer satisfied to be “amenities”—as nice but not really necessary, at least in some eyes.  How can we make a difference on this broader platform?  

I recently had the opportunity to participate in one of the AFTA Initiative’s many national conversations, a gathering of 120 arts leaders from around the country held on June 16-17, 2016, in Boston.  The group generated a number of visions for how, in the future, the creativity of artists can and will work in partnership with other sectors to make positive change in communities:

  • In the face of neighborhood gentrification and displacement, artists will help preserve cultural traditions, and bring new and existing residents together
  • The arts will provide ways for individuals, including recent immigrants, to express their true identities in the face of pressures to deny and suppress those identities
  • As new devices create ubiquitous connectivity, artists and other “creatives” will be a driving force in the design, structure, and nature of those devices
  • The arts will be integrated more fully into the health care system and entrusted with the care of our citizens though arts-based therapies and preventative regimens
  • In response to pressing ecological issues, artists will increase their production across all mediums that will create new public knowledge, dialogue, and action. (We're doing that, soon with the Re:NEW Festival

Realizing these ambitious visions, of course, will not be easy.  Within the year, AFTA will be offering “A Blueprint for 21st Century Healthy Communities through the Arts,” a combination of visions and practical, how-to strategies to help the arts sector along this path.   

In the meantime, GPAC, for its part, held a workshop called “The Why, When, and How of Cross-sector Arts Partnerships” in May to explore the risks, challenges, and benefits of artists and arts organizations working across sectors.  We drew on the experience and expertise of three local organizations—The Sprout Fund, the Office of Public Art, and New Sun Rising.  Based on their collective, cross-sector experience with government, community development organizations, real estate developers, environmental groups, the gathering identified a number of keys to cross-sector success:

  • Meet people and organizations where they are
  • Build trust and familiarity
  • Define and agree on specific goals-- some shared, some individual—and develop strategies to reach all of them
  • Anticipate, communicate, negotiate (and communicate some more)
  • Be sure you have “skin in the game”

It’s clear that cross-sector arts partnering is here to stay and will likely grow.  The days of focusing mainly on income streams are over. Yes, there is much to learn, and much to aspire to.  But going forward, the arts sector will continue to seek collaborative ways to engage our communities that help ensure those communities are healthy, vibrant, and equitable.  

David B. Pankratz is the Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Thank you to Citizens for the Arts in PA and the PA Council on the Arts for a 2016 Professional Development & Consulting grant to participate in the New Community Visions conference. 

photo: courtesy of Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center, artists and community members painting a mural, together.


Published in The Arts Blog
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 14:37

Peripatetic Passions in Korea and Vietnam

Five people in a restaurant in Korea, dressed in business clothes for a business luncheon. One man seated at the left, two women standing behind and two seated at the right in a group portrait.
As Research & Policy Director for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, I have a passion for how public policies can help artists and cultural organizations serve the public via direct funding, tax incentives, education regulations, and intellectual property protections, among others.  

Another one of my passions is international travel. So when my wife Susan and I planned a June vacation to South Korea and Vietnam, I decided to combine my passions and meet with fellow cultural policy wonks in both countries. Why, not.

As Susan and I do more traveling, we're finding that intentionally meeting people with shared interests, and then staying in touch afterwards, is a great way to "extend" our trips well beyond photos and souvenirs.  For Susan, as President of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, we met with Tran Tuyet Lan, Director of Craft Link, a non–profit Fair Trade organization in Hanoi that helps traditional craft producers to revive their cultures, earn a fair wage, and market their work worldwide.  Very impressive organization.  

Now, to be honest, our trip wasn't all such high-minded faire. As one friend said, It was very "Bourdainey" (as in Anthony Bourdain). Yes, lots of eating--from "Jungsik," the noted restaurant in the Gangam district of Seoul featuring "new Korean" cuisine to touring the food stalls of Hanoi to finding locals' favorite versions of Pho (rice noodle soup with beef) and Bun Thit Nuong (vermicelli with grilled pork) to whipping around the streets of Saigon on the back of Vespas seeking fresh seafood and Banh Mi sandwiches. (I guess food is a passion too).  

Another "Bourdainey" feature of our travels was an extended "layover" in Seoul.  We originally were just passing through on our way to Hanoi, but elected to hang out for a few days and visit with three of my former students from the Master of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University, where I'm an adjunct faculty--Sophia Ahn, and Bomin Angela Choi,Yejin Kang--who are now living and working in Seoul.  Lovely chance to catch up (and eat).  

Eight people standing in a group portrait on the steps of an educational building, in Vietnam.

Sophia and Yejin were also part of the meeting I set up with noted cultural policy scholar Dr. Kiwon Hong, director of the Cultural Administration program at Sookmyung Women's University, and arts research consultants Dr. Chae Boyeon  and Jee-Hye Suh.  Fascinating discussion.  South Korea is dealing with how to "professionalize" its arts sector, how to expand public dollars for the arts beyond relying on a percentage of movie admissions, and how best to fund the humanities.  I hope to return in 2016 for the International Conference on Cultural Policy Research, which Dr. Hong is hosting for the first time in Asia.  

On to Hanoi where I met with officials and researchers at the state-run Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies. I heard about their 15-year plan to develop creative industries in Vietnam with UNESCO support.  They were very interested in American approaches to arts administration and cultural policy training, fundraising, and creative placemaking.  Since the visit I've sent along many a link to resources in the States and Europe on these and related topics.  

Finally, in Saigon, I visited with the Foreign Office head of the Ho Chi Minh Conservatory of Music, who acknowledged that Vietnamese parents, like those in America, worry about whether their music major offspring can find jobs after graduation.  I've sent him research from Indiana University's Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, which shows that arts graduates, contrary to many media reports, do quite well on a range of financial and quality-of-life measures, especially those who are resourceful entrepreneurs.  

Mixing personal and professional passions is a great way to travel.  We certainly learned that in South Korea and Vietnam.  Now, where to apply this approach next?  Bon voyage.    

David B. Pankratz is Research and Policy Director at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Published in The Arts Blog