Ivey Report by MK Wegmann

February 13, 2009  •  5 minute read

As I write this, a national advocacy effort is underway to preserve a place for the arts in the stimulus package that is making its way through Congress. At this moment, the additional $50 million dollars for the National Endowment for the Arts included in the House of Representatives’ version is not included in the Senate version. Additionally, the Senate version includes the Coburn Amendment, which excludes museums, theaters and arts centers from eligibility for funding under the stimulus bill. I hope that as you read this, the reconciliation between the House and Senate has resulted in a bill that has been passed by Congress and signed by President Obama which does include $50 million in additional funding for the NEA and allows museums, theaters and arts centers to benefit from funding in arenas such as Community Development Block Grants, the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Transportation and Economic Development funding. We know that arts and culture organizations contribute to the greater well-being of our communities, and that we support millions of jobs; it is clear though, that we are still regarded as a luxury, an add-on, even “pork.” Last July, NPN was invited to meet with other national service organizations to launch a process to build consensus on what we, as representatives of hundreds of arts organizations in the United States, saw as priorities for the future of the national arts community, especially with regard to the National Endowment for the Arts. At that meeting, most of the larger national service organizations were represented, including those for museums, orchestras, theaters, dance organizations, chamber music, choruses, presenters and opera. Also included were Americans for the Arts (representing local arts agencies), the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASA), the Literary Network, the National Council for Traditional Arts, the National Network for Folk Arts in Education and NPN. No organization of color was at this or the next several meetings. The outcome of these meetings was the position paper that was circulated widely in the field, Arts Policy in the New Administration. This paper was subsequently submitted to the Presidential Transition Team for the Arts, headed by Bill Ivey, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and head of the Curb Center at Vanderbilt University. I, along with about 20 colleagues from these organizations, was privileged to be invited to meet with Bill Ivey in Washington, DC to discuss the paper and our priorities. In the meantime, and along the way, more organizations signed on to the paper and were invited to attend the meeting with Bill Ivey. Still, only one organization of color, the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC), was at the table. At the National Performing Arts Convention last June, increasing diverse participation and representation was one of the three major priorities. Evidence of the work we still have to do. At the meeting with Bill Ivey, discussion ranged over three general areas—the priorities of the arts sector for the new administration specifically including the NEA, the impact of the economic downturn on arts organizations, and roles that the arts can play in recovery efforts. While the immediate concerns for economic recovery are compelling, the future of the NEA is what has long term importance.  The conversation ranged over a great many topics. I spoke on behalf of a renewed commitment to diversity amidst the changing demographics of our country, the needs of artists (particularly the return of NEA support for artists) and our role in the global cultural community. I am not a lone voice on these issues, which many others echoed and expanded. Important points were made about the potential for a leadership role for the arts, the need for capacity building and organizational support (not just project support), and the resources that artists and arts organizations bring to addressing the problems we face as a nation. We stressed that we don’t work or operate in a non-profit silo, but are active in many sectors of our communities. I cited the examples of artists working in recovery efforts in New Orleans and another noted that there are more than 10,000 arts organizations in the US that are conducting education programs, for example. Specific suggestions for the NEA (many of which can be effected only by Congress) include restoring fellowship funds for artists, seasonal and multi-application eligibility for organizations, allowing re-granting by service organizations, greater support for reciprocal international exchange (including and beyond cultural diplomacy), and implementation of a capacity-building grant program supporting both creative and organizational efforts. Ivey and his team asked  what aspects of the NEA have been effective that should be preserved or restored? Answers included policy panels and site visits; dialogue at the National Council level; its data gathering function; its consultation and convening roles and its relationships vis a vis other federal agencies. Also mentioned was its role as a bully pulpit on behalf of the field. The discussion turned to the direct impact of the economic downturn and recession on arts organizations. . Ongoing data collection is necessary to quantify and demonstrate the impact on our sector.  Most of the national organizations are surveying their constituents and we are comparing and collating data, to make the case for our inclusion in stimulus and recovery plans—not only to help ourselves but because of artists’ and arts organizations’ work in their communities.  NALAC has surveys for artists and organizations on their website (www.nalac.org).  Our strategy is to stay grounded in our missions and reiterate the value of our programs, to share knowledge and resources and to maintain the networks and relationships that we have built, to depend on and help one another. This is an important time to continue to make our voices heard. In these three weeks since President Obama took office, the urgency for changing the way things have worked for a long, long time is here and now. There is tremendous work to do to create a path that leads to greater equity and justice and a more peaceful world. This work will take place using the existing infrastructure. Government should and can work, and we must work with and not against it; this is a call for increased civic engagement, at every level, on our part. This means a shift in posture and attitude for many—to be a part of making the system work for us. To me, that does not mean that we give up the struggles in which we are engaged, but that we find our allies and work with them. So many at the Inauguration of President Obama (I was there!) commented that this was the first time they had been on the Washington Mall not as a protestor. Can we go from being protestors to colleagues and allies? We were encouraged to promote the message that the stimulus package must include arts and culture, and that eligibility should be explicit wherever possible, naming artists and arts organizations as eligible participants and beneficiaries of programs. Opportunities such as an Artists Corps, which was part of President Obama’s platform, are still being mentioned, though no specifics have been outlined. It was noted that the cultural agencies (National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute of Museum and Library Services) are well-positioned to distribute funding—few agencies are as “hard wired” as they are for grantmaking. These are good signs, but so far just ideas and words. NPN will continue to be as active as we can be to keep our voices in the national arena and to keep information flowin g to support our work. One more idea that was discussed in the meeting with Bill Ivey was a senior executive in the White House for arts and culture—an ombudsman at this level would truly put arts and culture “at the table.” There is much debate about the pros and cons of this—good in a friendly administration, bad in an unfriendly one—but it would be a strong signal that the interests of our sector coincide with the interests of our world as a whole.