Cultural Policy and the Collective

October 13, 2023  •  2 minute read

Members of the Performing Arts Alliance meet with Pangea World Theater artists and community organizers at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis (September 18, 2023). Pictured from left: Tony Shivers, DanceUSA and Opera America; Alisha Tonsic, Network of Ensemble Theaters; Natasha Moreland Spears, The International Association of Blacks in Dance; Miré Regulus, artist and community organizer; Omar Ingram, The International Association of Blacks in Dance; Bertrand Evans-Taylor, Performing Arts Alliance; Betsy King Militello, National Alliance for Musical Theatre; Vanessa Rose, American Composers Forum; Meena Natarajan, Pangea World Theater; Angela Two Stars, Native American Community Development Initiative; Caitlin Strokosch, NPN; Winona Honey, Pangea World Theater; Sarah Tan, Pangea World Theater.

During NPN’s annual Board of Directors meeting this month, Caitlin Strokosch, NPN’s President and CEO, shared reflections on three key topics shaping our organization’s operations: 

  • the financial crisis in the performing arts sector
  • the state of intermediaries and arts service organizations
  • and culture wars’ impact on artists, arts organizations, and our communities

At a recent Performing Arts Alliance gathering, organization leaders discussed the field’s crisis–while some face economic challenges, others are attracting new audiences and sustained funding. Conversations in Minneapolis, led by Pangea World Theater, prompted us to rethink and reorient ourselves around collective, community sustainability. We questioned how large, white organizations may define being in a state of “crisis” when faced with conditions that smaller organizations of color have always experienced. We considered if quickly proposed solutions might exacerbate inequities and how viewing arts spaces as interdependent with neighborhood wellbeing affects our assessment of organizational sustainability. 

We questioned how large, white organizations may define being in a state of “crisis” when faced with conditions that smaller organizations of color have always experienced.

In our sector, national funders are shifting away from supporting service organizations and regranting intermediaries in favor of directly supporting artists and arts organizations. NPN’s recent Intermediary Strategy Summit, organized by our Racial Justice and Movement Building Department, responded to these changes, imagining collective intermediary strategies and what possibilities arise when values are aligned. At NPN, we are committed to our role as an intermediary. Our work is dedicated to challenging gatekeeping and breaking down barriers–emphasizing and affirming the power of relationship-building and transformation across the intersections of artists, organizations, and funders. The past three years have highlighted the importance of networks, mutual aid, and trustworthy intermediary relationships. NPN is actively thinking about how we can strengthen our work and articulate the intention, rigor, and care that our organization and others bring to our intermediary roles. 

Lastly, we’ve been collaborating with colleagues across the country, especially in the South, to address the impact of the “culture wars” on marginalized artists, arts organizations, and communities. This includes issues like anti-LGBTQ laws, censorship, book bans, and threats to the safety of artists and audiences. NPN is listening and engaging to uphold our commitment to these important social justice values and the essential freedom of artistic expression in building a just and liberated society.

Navigating these complex issues may be challenging, but our mission provides a clear path. The first two mission pillars of our mission, building artists’ power and advancing racial and cultural justice, influence our programs, operations, and advocacy. The third pillar, fostering relationships and reciprocity between individuals, institutions, and communities, guides our role as an intermediary, emphasizing transformation over transactions and encouraging deep learning and accountability through connection. The fourth pillar, working for systems change in arts and philanthropy, compels us to align these practices strategically to shape policies and build a liberated arts infrastructure.

We face these uncertainties with both urgency and steadfastness, to center the work that moves not only hearts and minds but hands and feet toward justice.