Why a Local Program?

Report from MK Wegmann, President and CEO

For the first 15 years of NPN’s existence we were a project embedded in a producing and presenting organization, Dance Theater Workshop (DTW). When NPN became an independent organization in 1998, some things were gained and some things lost. One of the things lost was the direct connection to artistic practice in NPN’s home community, then New York; one of the things gained is the opportunity to grow NPN beyond project status to become a whole organization, with multiple programs which fulfill our mission and have an impact on the field. When NPN moved its national office to New Orleans in 2001, we instituted a new strategic plan which included developing a local program in the community of NPN’s national office; which is reflective of NPN’s mission and values and embodies our commitment to community engagement.

When NPN was a project of DTW, its staff were all project staff. Many administrative functions were handled by DTW staff as part of their jobs: development, accounting, governance, facility management, driving energy. When NPN became an independent organization, we had to move from being a project to being an organization; taking on all organizational functions, which we have successfully accomplished. Further, in our last grant, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation directed us, in our best interests, to continue to diversify our funding sources. The way to do this is to diversify our programs. While we continue to raise support to enhance and expand re-granting resources available for NPN Partners through the Performance Residencies, Community Fund, and Creation Fund, we are also creating new programs that meet the needs of contemporary artists, and seeking resources for these programs as well.

NPN is a mission driven organization and the field we serve is huge. Artists and artist-centered organizations are, I believe, the most under-resourced sectors in the current arts field. This is the field we serve and the need is extensive. Therefore, if we agree that this is the constituency we serve, there are many opportunities for us to create and manage programs that will both advance our mission and diversify our income; thus making us more independent and able to decide for ourselves what directions we want to pursue. We all know that much of the funding, from which we benefit, is often responsive to the funder’s ideas of what the field needs. In the past, NPN has had to compete with funder developed programs that copy what NPN (and our like minded colleagues) has created and co-opt the resources available for the work. NPN’s long standing desire to help bring artists to the tables where decisions are made and to have our direction determined “from the bottom up,” keep us on track in determining our programmatic directions and informs our voice at national cultural policy tables.

Our goal is to derive our direction and priorities from the field we support and to work alongside our field to generate and distribute the resources that make the work happen. We are doing this by developing, supporting, and managing programs which distribute resources to the field; close to $1,000,000 annually in 2006. We do this because of the values we state and commit to following.

The arts eco-systems in most places in the United States are generally very unbalanced, with outlandish statistics about the distribution of resources. We exist in a very hierarchical/patriarchal arts community which mostly ignores living artists and glorifies and pours untold wealth into dead ones. Our goal is to change this paradigm. We believe that living artists making work today are visible and engaged members of their communities and that the work they do reflects that reality. We design our programs to help sustain living artists.

In the last 5 years, since the Urban Institute report (Investing in Creativity, http://www.urban.org/publications/411311.html), new attention at the national level has brought together NPN and other artist-centered national organizations. New resources have been directed our way giving us the capacity to continue to deepen our national programs and also create new ones. We have become a valuable part of the national infrastructure supporting artists by capitalizing on our intermediary role. In doing this we strengthen not only NPN, but our 62 NPN Partners, because they receive the majority of our resources through re-granting and convening, which in turn gives earned income to artists.

The current circumstances in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and the current funding mandate, which NPN is addressing, provide an opportunity; for us to both live up to our values by creating programs that support artists and artist-centered organizations and diversify our means of support, making us less dependent on Duke funding for survival (and, I believe, making us more viable to other funders.) Just as we expect our NPN Partners to be both engaged in presenting, promoting, and supporting their local artists while actively presenting touring artists, the NPN National Office can maintain and grow our national program; and at the same time, develop and support a local program. The scope of the local program is planned to not compete with NPN’s national program.

These are the premises on which we are building NPN’s local program:

  • Is in line with our mission.
  • Is consistent with our values.
  • Meets our standards for diversity, equity, and justice.
  • Does not compete with national programs; does not inhibit their growth or the creation of new ones, such as the Visual Artists Network and Performing Americas.
  • Uses strategic partnerships to accomplish our objectives.
  • Uses administrative and not necessarily creative energy.
  • Is self-sustaining administratively; it has and pays for its own staff and operations, as well as program activities; and returns monies, when possible, to NPN’s general overhead (audit, insurance, space, staff time.)

In practice, this means that we build on the knowledge we have in the staff currently and use our knowledge and connections to help others get their projects accomplished. We can earn fees by providing fiscal agent services, bookkeeping, technology resources, and managing office space (that we contract for) and then share with others who pay a fee to us for rent and other services such as telephone, internet, copying, and meeting facilities. We can re-grant money using systems we have established through the Community Fund and NCCC partnership, receiving a fee for our intermediary services. We can help address the crisis in health care insurance, find opportunities through partnerships that benefit artists directly, and act as a leader in the local community by showing up and speaking up.

What we do not do:

  • Compete with our local NPN Partners.
  • Diminish our national program.
  • Present or commission work.
  • Operate programs that are not self-sustaining.

We are beginning the process of establishing New Orleans-based projects with strategic planning. We have raised funds from new and old sources which are specific to our addressing the needs in New Orleans, so this planning is not detracting from resources allocated for national programs. Thus, we are close to issuing two RFQs (Request for Qualifications) for consultants to help us explore the feasibility of and create business plans for these projects: a shared business environment for offices that NPN would share with other arts organizations, transitional housing for artists or arts administrators, and a re-granting or other program that would provide direct support to individual artists. Each planning process will address all of the resources needed to carry out the specific program, as well as identify potential sources of income which will support them. Each must be self-sustaining, including their
staff, all overhead, and program costs.

In these ways, we may achieve many different, good things for NPN: serve our local community, address our office needs (while we are grateful to the Contemporary Arts Center for our current space, we long for our own offices), and diversify our sources of income. This will make us stronger and more able to survive and thrive, long into the future.


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