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By more accurately understanding its state environment, an arts council can do the following:
  • Identify needs to which the arts agency wants to respond.
  • Identify current situations or future scenarios to which the state arts agency must adapt.
  • Articulate values, principles and strategies consonant with the state's realities.
  • Anticipate circumstances that might affect the success of the planning process.
  • Anticipate circumstances that might influence how well a plan itself can be implemented.
While each state arts agency environment is unique, the collective experience of states does suggest some common environmental factors that inform state arts agency planning, programs and services. Some of these factors have to do with the impact on the arts of the social, economic, political and technological environments. Others have to do with art itself, arts organizations, and the systems that support participation in the arts.

We'll explore ten of these key environmental factors below. Consider putting this information to strategic use in the following ways:

  • Use a checklist approach to consider how each of these factors operates in your state.
  • Align your data gathering and data review practices to keep abreast of the factors most important to you.
  • Examine how these factors may advance or hinder the realization of your agency's goals.
  • Imagine how your agency might need to adapt as these trends change over time.

The State Arts Agency Environment: Ten Factors Influencing Planning

Factor #1: Public Perception of Government's Role What are the current public attitudes toward government in your state and toward the arts as an appropriate government endeavor? How might those attitudes shape state service priorities and budgets? More...
Factor #2: Public Benefit Rationales Which rationales are working well in your state—for the arts and for other government service areas? Which existing arguments can be cornerstones for your efforts? Which new arguments would it be useful to cultivate? More...
Factor #3: The Governor's Agenda What are your governor's top concerns, and how can they connect to the work of the arts council? Have you made that case? How would your plan and its implementation be affected were the current administration, or its theme, to continue or be replaced? More...
Factor #4: Available Budget Resources How are overall state revenues expected to fare in the years ahead? Are there any tax policy changes on the horizon that may affect your state's bottom line? What key industry trends will affect corporate taxes, citizen employment rates and the like? Has the current administration revealed plans for earmarking anticipated increases? More...
Factor #5: The Maturity of Statewide Networks What strong statewide networks already exist in your state? How could you gain access to them for planning, program delivery or development purposes? What networks are most needed in your state? What role can you play in fostering them? More...
Factor #6: Legislative Leadership and Support What are your own opportunities for increasing the involvement of state legislators, both during planning and throughout a plan's life span? Do term limits suggest the need to work quickly and purposefully with selected groups of legislators? More...
Factor #7: Technological Advances How can technology be used to advance your work in each goal area? Can you use e-mail networks or the Web creatively to increase public input into your planning process? What do you know about the technological needs and capacities of artists and arts organizations in your state? More...
Factor #8: Cultural Diversity What groups will need to be included in your planning process? How much do you know about their needs, experiences or expectations? What process models or communications strategies will be most meaningful for engaging particular groups? More...
Factor #9: The Arts and How People Participate in Them Does where one lives in your state significantly affect one's ability to create, perform or attend various art forms? How do the organizations and audiences in your state compare to national participation trends? More...
Factor #10: Arts Literacy How many of your state's students actually receive adequate arts instruction? State and national studies indicate that numerous students are not receiving systematic instruction in the performing, visual or traditional arts, and that access to arts classes is especially problematic in rural and high-poverty areas. What would it take to close the gap in your state? What partnerships or dialogue do you need to influence key policy decisions (about standards, assessment, curriculum, certification requirements or hiring art teachers) that affect arts education? More...

Factor #1: Public Perception of Government's Role

Government resources available for the arts in particular may vary depending on broad shifts in public attitudes toward the role of government in general. For instance, when the Great Society programs of the l960s were established, expectations of what federal government leaders could accomplish were typically higher than during the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, when federal social programs were cut back, and during what might be called the New Federalism period of the 1990s, when the balance of resources significantly shifted to the state and local levels. At the state level, we can observe some regional differences in what the public currently perceives to be the appropriate size and role of government. Some state governments enjoy high levels of public confidence and accordingly high expectations for a diversity of programs and services. Other states, however, serve populations that believe "less is more" and expect state governments to scale back spending and programs accordingly.

Factor #2: Public Benefit Rationales

It is useful to recall that between 1993 and 2000, state legislative appropriations to the arts increased by more than 80 percent. This upswing coincided with a strong economy, but was also supported by increased sophistication and relevance of the arguments used to justify arts expenditures. States with the largest increases report success in using the following rationales:
  • Economic development: The arts are linked to jobs; economic activity and impact; urban, rural and downtown revitalization; amenity value of property; and are a factor in corporate location decisions.
  • Education: Arts literacy engages all of a student's senses and a variety of intelligences. The arts teach creativity, are vital to a competitive workforce, are linked to improved learning in other subjects, motivate students to stay in school, and stimulate brain development.
  • Youth at risk: The arts are part of the solution to problems that endanger America's youth—problems of teenage pregnancy, violence, drug abuse, and dropping out of school.
  • Cultural tourism: States and localities profit when the travel and tourism industry partners with the arts, humanities, historic preservation, and environmental communities to make travelers aware of rich cultural experiences.
  • Community building: Arts activities are central to creating a sense of place and enhancing cross-cultural understanding, not only through regular festivals and the establishment of cultural districts, but through special projects in times of human and natural disaster.
  • Quality of life: The arts are increasingly understood as an element of a vibrant, livable and sustainable community.
The benefits that are perceived to be most important may vary from state to state, year to year, and administration to administration.

Factor #3: The Governor's Agenda

It is also useful to consider as a key environmental factor the one or two issues with which the governor most closely identifies. In recent years, individual governors have declared economic development, education and literacy as their top priorities. Special funds are often available to those state agencies—the arts agency included—whose programs are perceived to advance the governor's priority. Similarly, state arts agencies identified with the governor's priority have been spared budget cutbacks applied to other agencies.

Factor #4: Available Budget Resources

The ups and downs of a state's overall revenues and expenditures are a major influence on agency allocations, especially in the discretionary portions of a state's budget where the arts agency typically resides. This has been seen historically. The decline of state arts agency budgets between 1989 and 1992 coincided with a national recession that led to shortfalls in state revenues. At the same time, state expenditures for corrections and health care increased at rates that exceeded expectations. The resulting squeeze on discretionary spending limited the funds available for arts support. Correspondingly, the growth in aggregate state arts agency budgets from 1993 through 2000 has coincided with a strong national economy characterized by remarkable prosperity in mainland regional economies, high rates of employment and strong state fund balances.

The overall availability of budget resources does not ensure state arts agency budget growth or decline—effective advocacy that links the arts to public benefits is always crucial. But the fluctuation of state revenues and expenditures is a factor state arts agency leaders need to consider. Planning multiyear activities with the expectation of regular budget increments may or may not be realistic. For this reason, many state arts agencies have focused planning on core programs and services, consolidating their program areas into ones that can be reduced or expanded as resources allow. This simplifies communications, priority-setting and the agency's ability to respond to changes in resources. In any case, an accurate assessment of the likely budget environment increases the practical value of a plan.

Factor #5: The Maturity of Statewide Networks

The ability of a state arts agency to provide public benefits is influenced by the cohesion of formal networks, alliances of individual cultural leaders, arts organizations, local arts agencies, arts education advocates and other cultural interest groups. Non-arts groups of individuals such as legislators, educators, business leaders, the foundation community, the tourism industry and other social and political groups are important as well. The degree to which such networks exist, are effective, or can be fostered significantly affects what a state arts agency can realistically plan and accomplish.

The quality of the working relationship among a state arts agency, state department of education and a statewide arts education service and advocacy group, for instance, often determines the potential impact the state arts agency can have on arts education. Similarly, a good working relationship with an effective statewide assembly of local arts agencies may be a key factor in state arts agency planning for community arts programming.

Factor #6: Legislative Leadership and Support

Legislative support is, of course, essential if an agency is to receive the resources necessary to implement a plan. State arts agency leaders have learned from NASAA focus groups (which included state legislators) that legislative support for the arts is strongest when:
  • legislators have had direct experience with the arts or state arts agency programs
  • legislative spokespersons for the arts represent all political parties or perceive the arts as a bipartisan issue
  • legislative leadership is broad-based rather than concentrated in one or two spokespeople
  • the arts agenda does not become an issue of personal friction between a legislative leader and the governor
There are many ways to involve legislators in planning. In a growing number of states, legislators are appointed to serve as state arts agency council members and participate in planning in that fashion. Other states use legislative caucuses for the arts, initiate special visioning sessions with legislators or issue special invitations to engage legislators in key state arts agency activities.

Factor #7: Technological Advances

Just a few years ago, there was no Internet, no World Wide Web. Now, most functions of state arts agencies have been transformed by advances in digital technology and the proliferation of computers as business tools and artistic media. The level of technological savvy of the arts community may vary greatly from artist to artist, arts organization to arts organization, and state to state. Considering technology as a factor in planning, or conducting an audit of technological resources currently used by a state's arts community can inform many program and service decisions.

Factor #8: Cultural Diversity

Every state has a unique mix of racial, ethnic and regional populations, with each population having its own heritage, traditions, values and perspectives. The planning process offers an opportunity for state arts agency leaders to take stock of those diverse populations—how their numbers and political power are changing, what access they have to arts dollars, how they participate in the arts, how they institutionalize the arts, how they support the arts, and what they expect from a state arts agency. It is important to assess how well your past planning efforts have succeeded in engaging diverse constituents. You may need to gather new information, initiate dialogue in a different way or use new networks (such as schools, churches or civic organizations) to inform and subsequently promote your plan.

Materials and staff assistance from NASAA can help state arts agencies assess the extent and quality of their attention to their state's cultural diversity. NASAA's self-assessment tools suggest ways to identify indicators of commitment, indicators of accomplishment, and standards that characterize their state's response to its cultural diversity. This analysis then informs the development of effective agency programs and services. It may be incorporated into a comprehensive planning process or undertaken separately.

Factor #9: The Arts and How People Participate in Them

Supporting and increasing citizen participation in the arts has long been a driving public purpose behind the existence of state arts agencies, and most SAA mission statements reference "broadening access to the arts for everyone." However, the ways people experience the arts are affected by the whole environment—how people earn a living, new forms of electronic media, alternative leisure time pursuits, family and household configurations, age of the population, job market and disposable income, and a host of other factors. The occasion of planning provides an opportunity to identify the greatest barriers to joyful and meaningful participation in the arts as well as those factors that stimulate and facilitate participation. Current arts participation research identifies an increasing demand for arts experiences. But that research also outlines some significant barriers to participation, and suggests that younger generations and culturally diverse groups may be participating less in some art forms than others.

Factor #10: Arts Literacy

Most state arts agencies work to ensure that every student receives a comprehensive and sequential arts education as part of their K-12 school experience. On top of the intrinsic value of an education in the arts, increasing arts literacy is an investment in the future. Arts education can help ensure the creativity and resourcefulness of our workforce, and research has shown that it encourages the next generation to be avid and informed consumers, as well as creators, of the arts. The grade schoolers of today are your constituents, business colleagues, legislators and council members of tomorrow.

The planning process offers an opportunity to affect local as well as state-level education in the arts. Education decision making at the local level in the United States is a complex system involving specialist and generalist teachers, school and community administrators, curriculum supervisors, school boards, principals, superintendents, parents and business leaders. Representatives of these interest groups can be targeted for participation in the planning process, arts education issues may be integrated in the planning process, or statewide hearings may be designed to address arts education issues. It is useful to bear in mind that a productive working relationship among the state arts agency, state department of education, and a statewide arts education advocacy and service group is a key factor in the advancement of arts education at both the state and local levels, so any way the planning process can foster or strengthen that relationship should be considered.

NASAA's mission is to strengthen state arts agencies.
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