Before embarking on your planning journey, make sure that there is basic agreement on issues that are central to your very existence and that serve to define your agency (and your state) as unique from any other. Those issues—mission, vision and values—form the bedrock that supports every organization and gives it balance.

Before embarking on your planning journey, make sure that there is basic agreement on issues that are central to your very existence and that serve to define your agency (and your state) as unique from any other.

The best venue for discussing these items is a visioning session, preferably one that is away from your office and its distractions, and one that is led by a trained facilitator. A good way to begin is by identifying your agency's core values or guiding principles—those values that are inviolable and that permeate all the activities, both large and small, of your agency, from how you answer the phone, to the language you use for justifying your existence before the legislature. As Peter Senge notes in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, "A set of governing values might include: how we want to behave with each other; how we expect to regard our customers, community and vendors; and the lines which we will, and will not cross. Values are best expressed in terms of behavior: If we act as we should, what would an observer see us doing? How would we be thinking?"

A value statement will often begin with, "We believe in/that...." Values and principles that have appeared in agency plans include an emphasis on:

  • the importance of partnerships at state and local levels
  • accountability to the public
  • commitment to flexibility in order to take advantage of opportunities
  • acting locally
  • the primacy of artistic quality and cultural diversity
  • working collaboratively or promoting collaboration among others
  • integrity
  • innovation
  • artistic quality
  • freedom of expression

Sample Mission Statements

  • North Carolina: "To enrich the cultural life of the state, its people and communities by nurturing and supporting excellence in the arts and by providing opportunities for every North Carolinian to experience the arts."
  • South Carolina: "With a commitment to excellence across the spectrum of our state's cultures and forms of expression, the South Carolina Arts Commission pursues its public charge to develop a thriving arts environment, which is essential to quality of life, education and economic vitality for all South Carolinians."
  • Maine: "The Maine Arts Commission shall encourage and stimulate public interest and participation in the cultural heritage and programs of our state; shall expand the state's cultural resources; and shall encourage and assist freedom of artistic expression for the well-being of the arts, to meet the legitimate needs and aspirations of persons in all parts of the state."

Example: Vision Statement

Excerpts from the Delaware Division of the Arts Strategic Plan 1997-2002

Our vision of the future:

  • Citizens of Delaware recognize and appreciate that the arts are an integral part of their lives.
  • A broad diversity of artistic expression and cultural traditions is valued.
  • Delaware's cultural industry is recognized as a significant contributor to the state's economy.
  • A variety of opportunities for lifelong learning in the arts exists.
  • Artistic quality is valued.
  • There is ample support for Delaware's cultural activities.
  • Vibrant arts communities and arts centers flourish.
  • There are opportunities for all citizens to participate in the arts.
  • The arts further the goals of the state as articulated by its elected leadership in such areas as technology, education and the economy.
  • A support base exists for the arts at the local level, building capacity and increasing local advocacy.
Your discussion of core values may be the most heated and the most important one your agency undertakes during planning. This discussion will dovetail with your agency's reexamination of and commitment to its mission. The mission is your raison d'etre—it declares to the world your particular sense of purpose—why you are in existence and what it is you hope to accomplish. There are many ways to create a mission, and much has been written by Stephen Covey et al. in the last few years on the importance of mission. The main principles to keep in mind with your mission, however, are very simple:
  • Try to keep your mission short and succinct so that people can remember and comprehend it.
  • Let the statement define why you exist and provide direction for doing the right things without prescribing means.
  • Make sure that key stakeholders understand the mission in the same way.
  • Confirm that there is strong commitment to the intent of the mission.
Here is what management guru Peter Drucker has to say about mission: "The mission should 'fit on a T-shirt,' yet a mission statement is not a slogan. It is a precise statement of purpose. Words should be chosen for their meaning rather than beauty, for clarity over cleverness. The best mission statements are plain speech with no technical jargon and no adornments. Like the mission statement of the International Red Cross—'To serve the most vulnerable'—they come right out and say something. In their brevity and simplicity is power."

The last ingredient in your bedrock is a shared vision—your image of the desired future for your agency and your state. Engaging in a vision exercise allows an agency to build a dream together. It also points out quickly where there are differences—sometimes jarring—in the assumptions held about an agency's direction. This is a time to iron out those differences and come to consensus on a vision of the future that will form the basis for the planning to follow. Because people will be looking to your vision for inspiration, and because it is the launching pad for creation of goals and strategies, it is important that you create a vision that is richly detailed, and that captures people's imaginations and taps into their deeply held hopes for the future of the arts in your state. Your vision might draw a picture of:

  • the role artists will play in the cultural and economic life of the state
  • how the arts and education will work together
  • the positive results of forging new partnerships between arts organizations and businesses
  • how the lives of citizens throughout the state will be enhanced through access to the arts
  • the changing landscape of your cities through the renovation or building of new cultural facilities and the commissioning of public art

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