Eight for 2018: New Obstacles and Opportunities in the Arts

Posted by Robert Lynch, Mar 08, 2018 0 comments

Over the first quarter of 2018 I’ve had the great opportunity to spend time listening to the wisdom of my colleagues in the field. Despite challenges in funding and support, the creativity of our arts field surges forward. There are new benchmarks to celebrate and new obstacles to overcome, all leading I hope to new opportunities for the arts. Here are eight observations for 2018:

  1. Old-fashioned advocacy really does work. Americans stood up to the challenge when Federal cultural funding was attacked in 2017. But the war will continue. President Trump just reiterated his call to terminate all the cultural agencies. This is the time, building on last year’s success, for all of us to fight harder for the value of the arts and arts support and for many more people to get involved.
  1. As the needs for greater access and equity rightfully get more attention, we see the success of more leaders from across the cultural equity spectrum being identified for their good work. But we also see the existence of continued racism and sexism. Offenders are appropriately being called out but all industries will continue to struggle with the balance between taking decisive action while simultaneously protecting the values of due process and fairness.
  1. We are in a time where the benefits of the arts can be articulated more clearly than ever, with evidence, examples, and data, and yet the value of the arts must still be aggressively fought for. We must brace for more and new attacks from both the right and the left on the value of what we cherish and know should be supported. We must steadfastly tell our story. 
  1. Americans are making more art on their own with almost 50 percent of the population saying they get their “personal arts involvement” by doing it themselves. This trend will continue to grow and savvy arts organizations will work out creative new audience relationships where the individual is a creative partner in the equation.
  1. Americans are increasingly using the arts to help the healing process, whether in hospital settings, with wounded military and veterans through the National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military or NEA’s Creative Forces, through treating issues such as loneliness that The Foundation for Arts and Healing is taking on effectively. The arts will be increasingly utilized to help make challenged lives better.
  1. All eyes are on our chaotic world stage. The dialogue-creating values of the arts and humanities are needed more than ever. It remains to be seen whether North Korea or Syria or our own country will renew interest and increase investment in cultural diplomacy. This seems unlikely at the moment. But cities and nonprofits are stepping in, so look for more ventures bringing American artists and arts organizations together with world arts participants as partners in cultural diplomacy.
  1. As the nation turns toward stronger interest in infrastructure investment expansion, the arts will find some new opportunities and support. However, funding for the arts from all sources, government and private, will remain fairly flat. Entrepreneurism and earned revenue will be the expansion hope for the near future.
  1. America and the world are being thrust into a blizzard of competing facts and daily crises like never before. Never has the need for flexibility and speed of decision making been more important. The arts will bring context to this chaos as always. But the ability for artists and arts organizations to do so quickly and concisely in an era of attention deficit will be a critical skill for success. The nimble will inherit the earth.

In January 2017, I outlined eight Goals Worth Fighting For, which still stand as critical. The Macro Trends that I outlined in January 2016 are still true, but I’ll add that I see an explosion of innovation and new leadership coming fast as I look at young-leader-led national arts organizations making a mark, such as the international policy work of Carla Dirlikov Canales at the Canales Project, Sarah Arison as the new Chair of YoungArts, Vijay Gupta leading Street Symphony, and many more.

I thank the colleagues and leaders I was fortunate enough to meet with in January and February—150 driven Americans for the Arts Board and Council members; a passionate cohort of performing arts leaders at the Association for Performing Arts Professionals conference; brilliant young artists at the YoungArts Awards; NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] Show attendees; dedicated leaders at our own United States Conference of Mayors Arts Awards ceremony; young classical artists of color and leaders at SphinxCon; visionaries at convenings of the Art Dealers Association of America, the New York Foundation for the Arts Cultural Entrepreneurism gathering, and attendees at the Dance NYC summit; and passionate art teachers and artists acknowledged at the National Education Association Foundation.

From these gatherings, I continue to see first-hand the spectacular array of work and service offered by the non-profit arts community in our country. It is a vibrant, effective, optimistic, inciteful, and growing field that uplifts our communities across the country.

We all need to celebrate this great American success story more. I look forward to celebrating the great art and artists who will rise up this year all across the country despite the many and varied challenges. 

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