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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

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Executive Director's Column

Participating in the Evolution of the Arts

NASAA Executive Director Jonathan Katz

In their quest to articulate, exhibit and dramatize meaningful experiences in a global environment exploding with new data and information, artists are transcending the boundaries presented by established artistic disciplines and traditions, live and virtual formats, artist and audience roles, amateur and professional activities, and for-profit and not-for-profit status. They are creating new communities—communities  of experience—some of which are contiguous with governmental borders, some of which overlap borders and some of which have no borders. The future of state arts agencies will be determined in large measure by the success of state arts agency leaders in clarifying and communicating the public interest in what artists do and what we all do as artists. Private funders will face similar challenges making their case for the arts within their families, firms and foundations.

Four years ago, I wrote a column on "the continuum" suggesting that artists and arts organizations, and other providers of cultural activities, would have to compete from then on for participants whose experiential options from other sources would be increasingly creative, interactive and personalized. I observed that in order to remain competitive, they would have to become adept at using technology to make the live and digital experiences they offer continuous and mutually enhancing. I recommended that state arts agencies adapt their grant making, refocus their staff work and provide their partners with the kinds of encouragement, assistance and tools that would help their constituents fulfill their missions in the new environment. As I review the information and resources now available on the newly updated NASAA website, I am struck by how much change has taken place in just a few annual budget cycles, fueled not only by the ongoing digital revolution, but by recession, demographic shifts, leadership transition and fluctuations of confidence in the public, private and independent sectors at every level of policy-making and resource allocation.

Certainly, the producers and presenters of the arts have integrated digital technology and social networking in every aspect of their artistic and operational activities in order to survive and thrive. They universally use digital technology and social networking to extend their reach—around the clock and around the world.

Constantly, artists and arts organizations use technology, not only to broaden and increase participation, but to transform it.

Increasingly, projects and groups integrate multiple arts disciplines; professional and amateur art making; for-profit/not-for-profit arts activities; and the arts, sciences and humanities.

Our association of state arts agencies enables us to watch from a privileged perspective the epic story of this nation's cultural development as it is expressed through the artifacts our people preserve, destroy, imagine, ignore, forget and create. From our perspective, we see that education policy, however complicated and decentralized, is also an artifact, and our people are crafting the future of their own artistic and creative abilities. We see emerging a complex identity composed of many identities; an ideology that is a system for the management of multiple ideologies; not majorities and majority decisions, but pluralities and alliances; digital advances and globalism that challenge a democracy designed—as the authors of the enabling legislation of the National Endowment for the Arts put it—"to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants."

You can visit NASAA's Arts Participation feature and see how, in this most creative and challenging of environments, state arts agencies are helping to make arts participation affordable and accessible by drawing upon a broad range of research and program approaches. Visit NASAA's Technology Strategy Sampler to follow how state arts agencies themselves are employing videos, podcasting, social media, blogs, photo sharing, e-publications and other technologies to provide constituents with the best possible information, networking, perspective and access to government possible with current budgets. State arts agency leaders need to be every bit as creative as their constituents in order to serve them well. That has always been the case. Perhaps it has never been as obvious as it is now that our society's need for the skills and experiences we exist to provide is displayed every moment in the headlines we hold in our hands.