Monday, June 15, 2009

Arts organizations forge collective

The NY Times reported on 11 diverse downtown arts organizations that have come together to forge a collective and active response to the grim economic climate. Calling themselves the Lower Manhattan Arts Leaders, they meet once a week to plan strategy and exchange ideas about helping government policy makers and grant-making foundations become aware of the vital ways in which small arts groups feed the life of a neighborhood.

Support for the arts, in their view, is not simply a matter of cultural philanthropy, it’s also a smart and necessary way to sustain a vibrant urban environment, to keep any city from becoming a patchwork of chain stores, steroidal gyms and name-brand coffee shops. It’s forward-thinking city planning.

“I think we need to pay more attention to the artistic and cultural work that goes on in every neighborhood in this city,” Ms. Marting said. “We are part of what makes New York unique. It’s amazing the mixture of experiences you can have in a night. We are in danger of losing a lot of the fabric of our neighborhoods as they become more expensive, and arts organizations are on the front line.”

It’s a dangerous place to be right now because as everyone involved in the arts has become painfully aware, the steep economic slide of the past months has radically altered the climate. Grant-giving foundations have watched their endowments plummet in tandem with the stock market and have tightened the purse strings accordingly. Corporate giving has become scarcer still, with some companies even shying away from taking the usual generous credit for money already given rather than be seen spending on philanthropy as they slash costs and set employees adrift.

You might expect that the sudden scarcity of arts dollars would bring out a ruthless streak in the administrators charged with keeping their organizations afloat in rough economic waters. It would be only natural for companies to fight hard and fend for themselves as the never exactly enormous pie of arts money shrinks to the size of a two-bite tart. And yet the members of the Lower Manhattan Arts Leaders reacted in just the opposite way, banding together to create a collective front to fight the tough times.

Nello McDaniel, who runs the consulting group Arts Action Research, said: “It makes a tremendous amount of sense and also says a lot about the strength of these organizations.” Mr. McDaniel, who has attended some of the new group’s meetings, added, “Not so long ago the mind-set was a sort of castle-island. If you were a theater or dance organization, you built a moat to protect your turf, and the thought of sharing or reaching out was antithetical.”

Kevin Cunningham, the executive artistic director of 3-Legged Dog/3LD Art & Technology Center, which presents theatrical and multimedia works, was among the first to sense the seriousness of the impact as the economy began to sour last summer. Mr. Cunningham had weathered catastrophe before; 3-Legged Dog was the only arts producing organization to have its headquarters destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks. Read the remainder of the article here.

The Group has also collected their combined economic impact to people and businesses. Have feedback or your own ideas to share? Post here.

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