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Planning is integral to the very existence of state arts agencies. Regardless of size or situation, every state arts agency must tackle the same core challenges:
  • developing programs and services consistent with the needs of the field
  • finding effective ways to increase public participation in the arts and public engagement with the work of the arts agency
  • addressing key policy decisions about which funding areas will receive priority and how to distribute those funds effectively
  • reporting—systematically and meaningfully—to state legislators about the actions and accomplishments of the agency
  • developing new resources, and using them wisely
  • receiving approval for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funds
The tool for doing all of the above is the strategic planning process. Myriad programmatic and environmental differences among state arts agencies have resulted in plans of contrasting scopes and styles—each specially adapted to individual agency needs. Consistent among these variations, however, is the need for a framework that can be used to think through mission, goals, action steps and accountability in a way that is responsive to the public and to the cultural needs of the field.

Planning has been central to the federal-state arts partnership ever since the NEA's first enabling legislation provided for grants to state arts agencies with qualified plans. Today, triennial review of state arts plans forms the basis for Partnership Agreements between the endowment and each agency. Of course, the quality of our planning and the nature of our partnership have evolved enormously over 34 years. We believe that this toolkit can contribute much to their further evolution.

As state arts agencies expand the scope of their work within rapidly shifting environments, planning becomes an ever more complex and demanding exercise. Although every agency's approach to planning is necessarily unique, it helps to be able to draw on the knowledge and experience of others, and many agencies have asked for information on best practices. Existing resources focusing on the nonprofit arts sector or broader state government sector, while helpful, do not always adequately address the specific challenges that state arts agencies face. We hope that this toolkit will provide a good start in meeting the need for a common body of information that will be of benefit to all.

This Strategic Planning Toolkit, fruit of a partnership between NASAA and the NEA, is a practical, hands-on guide that can help state arts agencies and other cultural organizations get the most from the planning process. We focus on best practices by outlining some hallmarks of excellence in planning, and then offer practical advice on how to achieve that excellence.

Rather than being a prescriptive document, this toolkit is a cache of good ideas and tactics that can be used and modified by arts agencies. It also offers a good orientation to the fundamentals of planning for staff, volunteers or appointed leaders who may be new to planning in the state arts agency realm. And it showcases how five states—Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Mississippi and New Jersey—have all been creative and resourceful in developing arts plans that are well suited to their own circumstances.

This toolkit is part of a long-term process that aims to empower state arts agencies to get the most from planning. In the summer of 1999, NASAA convened a Strategic Planning Forum, which brought together planning experts and state arts agency leaders to discuss the characteristics of good planning and to exchange current ideas about helpful planning techniques. That dialogue—together with observations made by NEA Partnership Agreement panels, NASAA, and the considerable professional expertise brought by lead author Morrie Warshawski—all inform the content and structure of this toolkit. In the future, NASAA will develop complementary on-line planning resources, as well as technical assistance and leadership development services, to help state arts agencies translate good ideas into action. These resources, as well as any future updates to this document, will be available via the NASAA website.

As always, we express our appreciation to the many state arts agency staff members and planning experts who took the time to share their perspectives with us. Be certain to review the acknowledgments, for it was our privilege to work with the highest caliber advisors at every stage in this process, and our toolkit reflects the collective wisdom of some of the most remarkable leaders in our field.

Jonathan Katz
Chief Executive Officer
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
Ed Dickey
State and Regional Director
National Endowment for the Arts

"The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination."

—Author Unknown

NASAA's mission is to strengthen state arts agencies.
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