Executive Director's Column
Economic downturns—and, consequently, reduced tax revenues—trigger predictable concerns on the part of responsible public sector leaders. Seeking to lower expenditures, elected officials and staff members with fiscal purview review not only agency budgets, but agency raisons d'etre. State arts agency staff and council members seek to carry out the missions they are charged with by sustaining public benefits at the highest level possible, and by assisting artists and arts organizations to strengthen the economy.
One way for state arts agencies to adapt to the changing economic environment is to reconsider their mission and their management, communication and cultural leadership roles. I hope you find the questions below helpful as you consider how best to provide public service in these challenging times.
Mission and Management
- Does the seriousness of the economic downturn require you to revisit your agency mission or goals?
- When you factor in the downturn, do any of your programs and services seem more important than before and any others less important?
- Which are your "core" goals, programs and services?
- Are your priorities and cost-benefits clear enough that they can guide decisions you might have to make about where to make cuts?
- What opportunities are presented by the scarcity of resources?
- Are there business, tourism, labor, higher education, social service, civic or even arts groups whose potential for partnership is increased by the circumstances?
- Are there business, tourism, labor, higher education, social service, civic or even arts groups whose interest in collaborating with you may be greater in these circumstances?
- Do your agency's reputation, mission, goals, programs, services and operations align closely enough for you to deliver persuasive messages about the value of investment in your agency in these times?
- Can you express the public benefits of your agency's programs and services in terms relevant to a state government focused on a struggling economy?
- Are the priorities guiding your preparation for cuts shared and agreed upon with your agency, its authorizers, your partners and constituents?
- In particular, are you managing various perceptions of the relative cuts you might make to grants, contracts, services and your own agency operations?
- Does the press have the information about, understanding of, and relationship with your agency to present your agency's circumstances and your decisions in a responsible narrative?
- Are your agency and the most influential advocacy groups aligned on key issues?
- How can you use your authority, visibility, bully pulpit and powers of convening, facilitation, and mediation to encourage the most productive behaviors of your constituents in the context of an economic downturn?
- Are you helping constituents to track, communicate about, and understand the implications of the economic downturn for them and their colleagues?
- Are you assisting constituents throughout the state to unify their voices and agree on shared priorities?
- Have you found ways to encourage and share models of collaboration between and among artists, arts organizations, other not-for-profits, commercial interests and public agencies that strengthen their abilities to manage the downturn?
- Does the economic downturn present a special opportunity to encourage citizens concerned with the arts, cultural activities and arts education to become more engaged in civic life and the education of public officials—especially in the aftermath of national elections that set records for voter participation?
We can expect that, from place to place and from time to time, crisis management will be the order of the day—and appropriately so. When time is short and stakes are high, effective leaders focus tightly on top priorities, critical decision points, key decision makers and the most influential supporters. However, as we learned from the economic downturns that ended the 1980s and 1990s, thoughtfully positioning a state arts agency to provide maximum public value pays off during stormy times and the fair weather that follows.