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This toolkit is published at a remarkable time in the state arts agency movement. In the last seven years, state legislative appropriations to the arts increased by more than 80 percent. In fiscal year 2000 alone, 42 out of 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies reported budget increases. Nineteen of those increases were of more than ten percent. In fact, state arts agency (SAA) budgets are currently growing at a faster annual rate than overall state government budgets—a notable occurrence for any group of government agencies, but especially remarkable for the arts sector.

While this growth is fueled in part by a healthy national economy, it is also true that good planning has helped increase arts budgets at the state level. Many factors have worked together to forge this connection between planning and budget growth:

  • Planning builds consensus. Consensus, in turn, helps to increase resources. The arts sector has learned the value of a unified voice, and increasingly uses the planning process to unite constituents around shared goals.
  • Planning makes lines of accountability explicit. In today's results-oriented environment, a premium is placed on effectiveness and efficiency. State arts agencies have demonstrated that they can compete favorably for state dollars by articulating clear goals and reporting agency progress and accomplishments.
  • Planning connects the arts to good government. The vision, goals and objectives of a plan can show how the arts help advance the public policy aims of state government (healthy communities, an educated populace, civic engagement, quality of life, etc.). Good plans make these connections and use them to help guide the development of arts programs.
  • Planning is democratic. Planning that gathers—and responds to—input from constituents helps to ensure that state dollars are spent in accordance with public needs, desires and benefits. America is the most diverse nation in the world, both culturally and economically. In this context, inclusive planning is a vehicle for turning diversity into strength and for getting things done amidst a plurality of perspectives.
  • Planning widens the arts' sphere of influence. By reaching out to new people in the arts and non-arts sectors during planning, state arts agencies keep up with trends in their environment and are able to increase the ranks of supporters who participate in the arts and encourage private and public arts funding.
Again and again, states have reported a connection between good planning and the ultimate growth of arts resources. (See the case studies.) And that is no coincidence, for planning at its best positions state arts agencies to anticipate, as well as shape, their futures.

The Future

"The future ain't what it used to be," goes the saying in a recent book on trends. There has never been a time in history when this was more true—especially for the field of state arts agencies. As SAAs scan their environments, they may feel a sense of trepidation as they watch the world zip by them in fast-forward. Many things around them are in transition, including:

  • the demographics of audiences, artists and the leadership of arts organizations
  • the political and fiscal landscape of state government, shaped by term limits and still, to a large degree, "reinventing" itself
  • technology—a moving target and management challenge—profoundly reshaping the way we communicate and the way art itself is being created and disseminated
Meanwhile, the demands grow for accountability, for programming that has significant impact over the long and short term and for inclusion of a wide swath of constituents. Adding flavor to this stew is the SAA's list of perennial challenges—the ones that permeate every environment: the need to secure adequate resources, the competition among arts groups and citizens with differing needs/perceptions, and the unique problems that attend any agency of state government.

It is precisely this environment—fraught with flux and the tensions of ongoing issues—that provides fertile ground for planning. An agency that engages in a healthy planning process hopes to create a convincing written document that paves the way toward a bright future for the arts in its state. At the same time, it hopes that planning will provide many other byproducts, including increased communication among staff, better understanding of constituents and their needs, and greater community awareness of the role and importance of artists and the arts.

Planning Paradigms

There are a variety of types of plans. The particular planning path an agency takes will depend on its vision and the results it hopes to achieve. Typically, a state arts agency will engage in either operational planning, long-range planning or strategic planning. These terms are not mutually exclusive, and in practice they often overlap. But, for the purposes of illustration, let's look at some significant differences among the three.

Operational plans concentrate on the day-to-day activities of the organization. The emphasis is on the short term, perhaps the next six months to one year, and the focus is centered on the agency itself. This type of plan concentrates on being very directive and providing a great level of detail. Community and constituents are in the background, while agency staff and administration come to the foreground. This type of plan is useful when an agency needs an internal document to marshal a specific set of actions for the near future, and provide a template for staff so that actions, responsibilities, deliverables and lines of authority are very clear.

Long-range plans cast their nets as far into the future as an agency dares to look—ten to twenty years would not be unusual for a long-range plan. These plans assume predictability and continuity in areas such as economic growth, population patterns, lifestyle trends and any number of other variables. Long-range planning is periodic, with goals and objectives revisited at set intervals, rather than an ongoing process. These plans define specific target goals far into the future, and then work their way backwards with action steps to reach each goal. This type of planning was more in vogue during the 1950s and '60s. It was helpful to corporations that could look into the future and with some sense of confidence predict data that allowed them to create goals, objectives and strategies for the long term. It is also an approach that must be adopted for projects that will take many years and massive resources to accomplish, such as cultural facilities construction, large public land-use projects or highway and freeway development.

Strategic plans assume that the future is unpredictable and full of unforeseen events, and view planning as an ongoing process. These plans are characterized by an awareness of the agency environment and by a vision of the future that together drive goals and objectives. Strategic plans often look at a number of possible scenarios or possible futures, and typically cover a time span of three to five years. A strategic plan simply helps an agency to think strategically, to position itself to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, and for all the right reasons. It helps the agency understand itself and its environment, then sets a vision for success and suggests strategies that help the agency make powerful choices and move forward.

Author Steven Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, presents an apt analogy that illustrates the difference between long-range planning and strategic planning: the long-range plan provides a road map, while the strategic plan provides a compass. You need to know where you're going, and what routes to take—which are well defined on a road map. But if there is a flood and the roads wash out, then what you really want is a compass. The strategic plan gives you that compass. It keeps you on course when the world presents you with those inevitable surprises.

Planning Trends

Over the last few years we have witnessed a trend away from long-range planning and more toward strategic planning. There is much less emphasis now on creating plans replete with minutiae and with goals that look far into the future and set specific targets. The current trend in planning is to create a document and a process that help an agency:

  • fully understand itself, its environment and its community
  • reach consensus on core values, a vision for its own future, and the role of the arts in the future of its community
  • establish a set of priorities around goals that make it clear what is to be achieved, but leave room for flexibility in the means for getting things done
Other trends in planning noted by participants in the Strategic Planning Forum conducted by NASAA and the NEA include the following:
  • recognition by state arts agencies that planning is not just an imposed activity necessary to please funders—but rather that planning provides many benefits and is a healthy, ongoing part of normal operations
  • inclusion of many new constituents that may not have been on an agency's radar screen ten years ago (e.g., individual private donors, arts educators, private foundations, etc.)
  • an increased understanding of how cultural and ethnic diversity should affect choices about communication strategies and tactics for inclusion
  • a realization that the relationships and understandings gained during planning are just as important as the final plan itself
  • an increased level of sophistication in the field that has moved many agencies past the rudimentary aspects of planning
  • a new emphasis on the role of integrating evaluation into all aspects of planning, and the importance of identifying outcomes
  • an awareness that adaptability and flexibility must be built into plans in order to deal with the rapidly increasing rate of change in our environments and in the people who are our partners (actual and potential)

State arts councils and planning teams are composed of people with diverse backgrounds, and many may have planning experience in other sectors. It is therefore important to note some basic differences between strategic planning by a state arts agency and planning by a business or by other nonprofits. Again, as with long-range and strategic planning, there is much overlap among these planning perspectives. All of them are trying to achieve the same ends—deciding what to accomplish and how. Where they tend to differ is in the nature of the internal and external forces shaping the process—governing boards, constituents, leadership and control of implementation.

Businesses and nonprofits, for instance, are governed by boards of directors, while SAAs may be governed by a politically appointed or elected body. For-profit businesses answer to their boards and are concerned with meeting a fiscal bottom line, as well as serving a "customer" with a product or service. A nonprofit answers to its board of directors and, usually, to a very specific set of constituents (e.g., parents of the victims of drunk driving accidents, dancers and choreographers, people concerned with saving tropical rain forests). For SAAs, the public is the beneficiary and the customer is a much broader set of citizen constituents, who may or may not recognize the value of the agency. This means an extra burden of accountability for SAAs as they do planning, and the mandate to fold inclusiveness into all aspects of planning. A state arts agency's set of constituents is likely to include not just the citizen consumer of art services, but many other entities including funders and politicians. As we move through our toolkit we will address in more detail the particular strategies that SAAs can employ to make their planning experience successful.

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