Friday, October 13, 2006
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The NASAA Leadership Institute provided many memorable experiences. The challenging presentations, topical workshops, peer group dialogues, the approval of NASAA's strategic plan, the unique Alaskan environment, and the remarkable performances and exhibitions arranged by the Alaska State Council on the Arts and their colleagues made for a great combination of learning, accomplishment and enjoyment.
I felt, from the start, a powerful sense of community among all of us who made the time and traveled the distance to share our commitment to public service, our belief in the power of participation in the arts to improve lives, and what we are learning about the work that we do. Our mutual concern for NASAA President Dan Harpole, who fell ill in Anchorage and was hospitalized for two weeks before returning to Idaho, made us even more a family. Dan wanted me to convey his appreciation for the thoughts and prayers from friends and colleagues. He's looking forward to being more actively involved again.
A theme throughout our gathering was the question of how best to create and sustain the public value of the arts and arts agencies. From Andrew Taylor's opening keynote, to the peer groups, to the breakout sessions, we discussed the relative merits of ways to articulate the public benefits of the arts, to communicate those benefits to decision makers, to engage constituents as partners and advocates, and to maximize those benefits through the kinds of programs we operate, services we offer, and planning and evaluation we do. The NASAA membership can take pride in observing that their long-time emphases on strategic planning, effective grant making, alignment of all activities with mission, and organized advocacy, coupled with public value concepts and ongoing analysis of lessons learned from the START initiative, have created an extensive body of knowledge and ideas that informs good decision making and contributes to good public service.
In plenary session, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia and I engaged in an open conversation with the assembled Leadership Institute participants that offered us a special opportunity to understand the thinking behind the initiatives that have become a hallmark of his leadership. He affirmed that American Masterpiece guidelines for NEA FY 2007 would no longer be restrictive as to art form. He also announced that the NEA request to Congress for its FY 2008 includes substantial funding to expand The Big Read initiative to communities in all states. He shared his intention that the percentage portion to state arts agencies of any budget increase be unrestricted by the NEA initiative. From my perspective, this outcome from conversations over time between NEA and NASAA leadership advances our work towards an NEA-state arts agency relationship built on mutual and complementary goals.
The NEA budget request to Congress now becomes a proposal to increase the scope of agency operation through a major program initiative and by providing state arts agencies additional resources to achieve the goals of their strategic plans. There are many implications to this change. NASAA staff and the membership will have to gather information and coordinate communication in order to enable the NEA and members of Congress to envision what state arts agencies would do with increased funds and the benefits that would result. The NEA and the state arts agencies, through NASAA, will have to coordinate their explanation of the many ways in which the public will benefit as a result of increased investment in the new format. Collective information gathering and coordination of communication have always been good ideas, but now they are essential and time-sensitive. Chairman Gioia added that he hopes to establish several of his initiatives as ongoing agency programs, and that he does not intend to propose other major new initiatives.
The Leadership Institute included NASAA's annual business meeting and an important moment there was the approval of the NASAA Strategic Plan. That action completes an extensive planning process and authorizes the document that will guide the work of our association for the foreseeable future. The ambitions below now become the official principles by which we shape policies, make administrative decisions, and implement programs on a daily basis:
Much more took place in Alaska than can be summarized in a column. Many members brought companions and added tourism time. We honored Bob Booker (ED-AZ) with the Gary Young Award and Dee Fery (CM-ID) with the Distinguished Public Service Award. Thanks are due to our hosts, our sponsors, the NASAA staff, and all the members whose work year round contributed to the success of this convening. The Leadership Institute was a reminder of how valuable it is to incorporate into our creative routine the time to reflect, share, commune and imagine. From a national perspective, that is the overall challenge of NASAA's new strategic plan. On another level, we must continually ask how to foster creativity in our regular activities. I encourage you to share with me and the NASAA staff the answers you find to these questions. And mark your calendar now for the NASAA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, December 6-9, 2007.