Monday, 27 September 2010

Who ‘deserves’ to be funded? (I) Readings

Following my post on Mark Ravenhill´s article, I read or re-read a number of texts and reports on cultural value and financing. Here´s a brief presentation.

In 2004, British Culture Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, published a text entitled
Government and the Value of Culture. She was saying: “Too often politicians have been forced to debate culture in terms only of its instrumental benefits to other agendas – education, the reduction of crime, improvements in wellbeing – explaining, or in some instances almost apologizing for, our investment in culture only in terms of something else. In political and public discourse in this country we have avoided the more difficult approach of investigating, questioning and celebrating what culture actually does in and of itself. There is another story to tell on culture and it´s up to politicians in my position to give a lead in changing the atmosphere and changing the terms of the debate”.

In that same year, the think-tank
Demos published Capturing Cultural Value, by John Holden. In his report, Holden identified a feeling of discomfort in the cultural sector due to the necessity or obligation to prove its value and justify the money spent on it based on objectives drawn by other sectors. He analyzes the difficulties in the evaluation of the intrinsic values of culture and suggests that the solution is the creation of a new language “capable of reflecting, recognizing and capturing the full range of values expressed through culture”. Thus, he looks into other areas and presents concepts expressed through the language of economics (commercial values and other), anthropology (historical, social, symbolic, aesthetic and spiritual values), environmentalism (sustainability, biodiversity, intergenerational equity, fairness of distribution of benefit), as well as through the language of the evaluation of intangible goods (brands, knowledge) and of public value (an emerging concept in the UK at the time, related to the value citizens attribute to public bodies, based on what they are willing to invest on them – for example, in terms of money or time). Holden thus defends the necessity to find ways of calculating cultural value able to also reflect characteristic elements that are affective, subjective, intangible.

Two years later, in 2006, there is a new publication,
Culture Vultures, edited by Munira Mirza. Another book that questions the instrumentalisation of culture and the rules for evaluating it and financing it. Texts by six different authors who defend culture´s intangible and intrinsic values, who protest against culture being placed into the service of other agendas and question the data collected in order to prove its social impact, who are afraid that the criteria for financing might result in poor art, since artists will try to answer requirements that may guarantee a better reception of their work and financing.

In 2007, a new report was published,
Public Value and the Arts in England, that explores that new concept of 'public value'. It presents the results of a survey carried out by Arts Council England with artists, arts managers, funding bodies and members of the public. I thought it was interesting that here we can find the points which all these different actors agree upon, as well as those that create tension among them. Issues like the definition of the arts, why the arts matter, what is quality, the importance of taking risks, access and inclusion, the principle of public funding, gather consensus, contrary to what I would expect in certain cases. In what concerns the points of tension, here there were no surprises: a right to express or the need to engage; benefit to the public or artistic development; accountability in theory or bureaucracy in practice; expert judgment or inclusive consultation. What was the conclusion? People involved in the survey tried to come up with a common position in what concerns the priorities and principles of public funding. “They concluded that the ultimate end of public funding for the arts should be the creation of ‘public value’ in terms of (…) strengthening capacity for an experience of life in a wide range of contexts. (…) …this sort of value will be created naturally if as many people as possible experience arts that excite, enlighten, move, stimulate and challenge. As such, they would like the public funding system to focus on enabling widespread quality of artistic experience.”

Finally, I read a series of short texts that the
Irish Arts Council asked from a number of commentators, following a study called The Public and the Arts (2006). These are: The Case for Elitism; The Siren Alps; The Feel-good Gulag; We´ve Built It; Why Won´t They Come?; and The Pursuit of Glorious Failure. Interesting points of view, some expressed with a sense of humour, others a little exaggerated.

All these texts helped me put my thoughts in order and raised questions:
- Does culture today need to prove its value? To whom? And in what terms?
- Is it legitimate to ask an artist whose work is publicly funded to give something back? And a company or another cultural institution?
- If yes, who defines what can/must be asked in return and how?

(to be continued…)

I thank CF for telling me about Culture Vultures and MLA for sending me Capturing Cultural Value.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Michael Kaiser in Lisbon

The prevailing feeling after attending on the 14th September Michael Kaiser´s seminar on arts management was not one of amazement or enthusiasm or surprise or excitement. It was a feeling of pleasure. The simple, sheer pleasure of listening to someone who 1) knows what he´s talking about; and 2) has put his knowledge and ideas into practice.

Michael Kaiser talked about the difficulties of working in the arts field, about artistic planning, programmatic and institutional marketing and fundraising. I had already read his book,
The Art of the Turnaround, in which he shares his experience in managing different arts organizations in the USA and the UK, and it was particularly interesting and rewarding to see how he brought all that experience into the seminar, answering almost every question with a concrete example.

As I had said in a
previous post, I was particularly interested in his relationship with the artists. Michael Kaiser is an arts manager who clearly values marketing and fundraising. So I was wondering how supportive artists had been in what concerned his efforts to turn certain arts organizations into financially healthy institutions. And yes, he did take me by surprise with his answer. He didn´t start by saying how difficult it is to get artists to collaborate or understand or value the efforts of marketeers and fundraisers (I am sure that at some point, somewhere, he must have felt that too…). He said: if an artist feels that marketing or fundraising are worthless, it´s because we haven´t worked on our relationship with them, we haven´t been able to convince them that they can trust us, that we are on their side.

I confess that my main concern has been different. My concern it to take the art to the public, to keep them informed, to try and identify physical, financial and intellectual barriers and manage to improve access. How can we do that when an artist isn´t available to talk about his work? When he doesn´t feel he needs to explain anything? When concepts may not be ‘translated’ into simple, common words or posters created not as an extension of the performance but as a useful tool for promoting it? When availability to talk to the media diminishes, at the same time that stress because of the approaching premiere increases? When marketing and communications are clearly seen as an accessory, but the main sector to be held accountable for when a performance is not selling? These are not, obviously, situations that occur with great frequency, nor do they concern all artists, but they are real and they keep happening.

But, despite all this, I did like Michael Kaiser´s answer. Because it reminded me that there are still many people to be ‘conquered’, that I shouldn´t be taking my relationship with the artists for granted. But mainly because it is consistent with his philosophy. Which is that our main product is excellent art and we should be marketing it well. “The mission of arts organizations is art and education, not financial health. We need to get artists what they need and, in order to do so, we need to raise money. And we should do it without ever compromising the art. My artists know that I´m doing everything I can to get them what they need. And should I need to cut in the budget, the last thing to cut would be from the art.” Considering the tension that usually exists in the relationship between artists and managers – a relation Michael Kaiser describes as that of a child that keeps saying “I want...I want...I want...” and of a parent who always answers “we can´t aford it...we can´t aford it...” -, I find this to be a great approach when attempting to define each one´s role and expectations.

When discussing programmatic and institutional marketing, Michael Kaiser mainly concentrated on the latter, although most institutions invest (well or bad) on the former. Successful organizations are those that have a clear mission, they know who they are, why they exist, where they want to get, what makes them unique in the market. Life is easier for those institutions that are well-known, that have a plan in order to be on people´s minds, and eventually in their hearts, all the time. Institutional marketing is also a crucial pre-requisite for successful fundraising. And in what concerns dealing with donors, Mickael Kaiser was kind enough to share his ten rules with us:
1. The key to fundraising it to listen;
2. Have a ‘menu’ of projects to propose, in order to better match a potential donor´s interests or needs;
3. Admit it when you have nothing of interest to the donor to propose. This guarantees good hearing the next time;
4. Donors respond to positive information, not threats of bankruptcy;
5. Find the right solicitor for every donor;
6. Implement institutional marketing before starting fundraising;
7. Cultivate the relationship with a potential donor before asking for something;
8. Don´t waste time writing cold-call letters. Get to know the people;
9. Do your research, get to know what your potential donors want or need;
10. Fundraising in the USA is called ‘development’. It is about developing a relationship.

The artist-manager relationship, the fundamental role of marketing in the life of a cultural institution, the distinction between programmatic and institutional marketing, the way to nurture a relationship with potential donors... Michael Kaiser talked about things that are not widely discussed in Portugal. Maybe that´s why the audience did not ‘hit back’, even when certain issues would be slightly controversial or unfeasible here. It´s high time though we started discussing them at all levels. Arts and marketing are not incompatible, incapable of talking the same language, of sharing objectives.

Can we put Michael Kaiser´s recommendations into practice? Maybe, considering a different scale. Maybe not. But who cares, really. Let´s dream a bit. Just like he does.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Made in Peru

The Shining Path, the peruvian terrorist group, started its activity in the 80s. I was a teenager at the time. I remember hearing now and then about them on the TV news, nothing special though. Later on, during Alberto Fujimori´s presidency, the group was once again on the news and I more attentive. Nevertheless, I think that up to now I was not fully aware of the extension of the conflict and its results. This summer I came across the history of the Sendero Luminoso and of Peru on a number of occasions. Peru is today a country trying to deal with its bloody recent past. Artists, writers and academics are also contributing.

I´ll start from the end. Last month I read about a young peruvian writer,
Santiago Roncagliolo. His family had to seek refuge in Mexico for political reasons, but his parents decided to return to Peru in 1979. His first memory from the country are “the dogs of Deng Xiaoping”. On the 25th of December 1980 the inhabitants of the capital Lima woke up to find the city centre decorated with the bodies of dead dogs hanging from street lamps. They carried labels that said “Deng Siao Ping, son of a bitch” (a hanging dog symbolizes in China a tyrant sentenced to death by his people). This is how the Shining Path announced the beginning of the armed struggle. Santiago Roncagliolo was 5 years old.
Santiago Roncagliolo
In his book
The Fourth Sword: the story of Abimael Guzman and the Shining Path, Roncagliolo attempts to reveal the personality of Abimael Guzman, ‘President Gonzalo’, the group leader. Without ever touching a gun, Guzman carried out the guerrilla operations between his group and the State of Peru, which resulted in almost 70.000 deaths. The majority civilians. The majority peasants. The Shining Path was held responsible for more than half of these violent and cruel deaths. The rest were attributed to the security forces, authorized by a democratically elected government to use the methods of the terrorist group. Through an investigation that lasted three years, which included interviews with Guzman´s ex-comrades and relatives, Roncagliolo drew this terrorist´s profile, producing a work compared by some to Truman Capote´s literary journalism. I read the book in a day. The next day I had in my hands Red April, a novel by Roncagliolo, a thriller where the meticulous District Attorney Félix Chacaltana Saltivana finds himself facing the Shining Path and the so-called democracy of the peruvian State at the time of President Alberto Fujimori. But also facing himself. Another book I couldn´t let go of until I finished it.

Aproximately one month before my ‘encounter’ with Roncagliolo, I was reading in the magazine of the
Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, e-misferica (Nr. 6.2 Culture + Rights + Institutions), an article by Gisela Cánepa-Koch, “The Public Sphere and Cultural Rights: Culture as Action”. The author, a professor at the Pontifícia Universidad Católica del Perú, started the article with the controversial creation of the Museum of Memory, a recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Germany - another country that had to come to terms with its uncomfortable past - was willing to finance. The peruvian government refused the offer. In the words of the Minister of Defense, Antero Flores Aráoz, a country like Peru, which is short of schools and hospitals and where many people are starving, “no necesita museos”. Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa answered with an article entitled “El Perú no necesita museos”. An open, balanced and moving text, where we read: “(...) They [the museums] also cure, not bodies, but minds, of the darkness that is ignorance, prejudice, superstition and all the flaws that cut communication between human beings, embitter them and push them to kill one another. Museums replace a vision about life and things that is small, provincial, mean, unilateral and closed-minded with a vision that is braod, generous and plural. (...) We Peruvians need a Museum of Memory in order to fight these intolerant, blind and stupid attitudes that led to political violence. So that everything that happened in the 80s and 90s never happens again”.

In her article, Gisela Cánepa-Koch states that the debate itself regarding the Museum of Memory is important and necessary for the construction of a healthy and democratic culture of citizenship. In her view, the museum should be an inclusive space, for the expression of different actors´ sensibilities, demands and forms of cultural action. To ignore the existence of multiple memories is to ignore the diverse forms of remembering and of culturally specific ways of dealing with pain. She goes on to suggest that museum language is not the only mechanism that may be used in this process and that the museum itself should promote other means of dealing with memories and can foster dialogue, such as literature, cinema, visual arts, music, ethnography. “Reconciliation is not about forgiveness or guilt, but about the possibility of the victim becoming an actor in the process of social reconstruction.”

A scene from the film La Teta Assustada
One of the films mentioned in Cánepa-Koch´s article is La Teta Asustada (The Milk of Sorrow), by
Claudia Llosa (Mario Vargas Llosa´s niece), which was presented in Portugal last June (watch the trailer). The film talks about an illness called “teta asustada”, in which a mother, who had been raped by the terrorists, passes on to the child, through breastfeeding, her fear and suffering. Fausta, the main character, lives in permanent fear and mistrust, choosing to be lonely. When her mother dies, and as she doesn´t have money to take care of the funeral, she´s forced to leave her comfort zone. This is where she´s finally able to challenge her fear. The film is marked by the beauty of the sound of the quechua language, spoken by the peasants of the Andes, the main victims of the peruvian guerrilla.
“A country that forgets its history is sentenced to repeat it”, we read on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission´s site. Peruvians have not opted for the comfort of forgetfulness. The country´s artists and intellectuals are claiming a role in this painful process. To quote Mario Vargas Llosa once again: “Progress is not only schools, hospital and motorways. It is also, and above all, that wisdom that enables us to tell ugliness from beauty, intelligence from stupidity, good from bad and tolerable from intolerable, what we call culture”.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The 'burden' we insist on carrying

Following the announcement by the british government of cuts in the area of culture, the Guardian published on the 25th of July an article by playwright Mark Ravenhill, whose plays have been presented also in Portugal. Ravenhill´s proposal (read the article here) is to cut in marketing and development, so that artistic production is not affected. According to the author, marketing and development have not been able to demonstrate any results in the last years, although they receive a considerable part of the budget of cultural institutions. Ravenhill goes on to consider the costs of outreach work a burden for the arts, since Labour government pressed the arts to prove their social worth.

Ravenhill´s proposal is frightening. Not so much because he uses arguments that are not very precise regarding the results demonstrated by marketing and development departments in his country (on this point, Colin Tweedy, of
Arts and Business, answered Ravenhill´s claims in his article of the 30th of July). It is frightening because it shows, once more, that marketing and communication in general are still considered by many artists dispensable accessories, a burden, an evil imposed.

What I see in Ravenhill´s statements is an artist centred in himself and his art. And that´s how it should be. But I also see an artist who counts with the State´s support in order to be able to develop his work with better conditions, but who would feel offended should the State asked first “And why should we support you with the tax payers´s money?”. I also see an artist who wishes to communicate through his art and who, although he´s delighted – aren´t they all? – with sold out performances, he´s unable to value the importance of the work of those who aim to make his art more accessible for more people. Because what he does is good and important. Because what he does speaks for itself and everybody should be able to understand it. Because he doesn´t have to explain, much less prove, himself to anyone.

We often encounter this attitude of “I am important because I am” in museums as well. Where the ‘superior’ functions of collecting and preserving outweigh the ‘lesser’ functions of exhibiting and communicating. Where politically correct statements regarding “doors open to all” and the relationship with the community do not become concrete practices towards accessibility and audience development. Where the word ‘marketing’ is not pronounced, it bothers.

Personally, I see marketing and communication (and within them development, education and outreach) as integral and indispensable parts of the work developed by cultural institutions. Their role is to support the mission of these institutions (and also the artists they present, the collections they house) and they do it by looking for the financial support they need in order to operate and by investing in a long-term relationship with the audiences they aim to address, with the permanent objective to enlarge and diversify them, so that more and more people may discover and enjoy the offer.

I don’t wish to be simplistic in what concerns complex issues. We all know that the ways of financing the arts may raise issues of artistic freedom. We all know that the parameters for evaluating the impact of arts and culture in life are constantly debated and controversial. That´s why I find Mark Ravenhill´s arguments dangerously simplistic, as they see marketing as a waste of money and outreach as a burden.

On the 14th of September Michael Kaiser, President of
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, will be in Lisbon for a seminar on Cultural Management. His book The Art of the Turnaround is a delicious, and at times scary, account of his professional experience as manager of cultural organizations in trouble that he helped turn into healthy institutions. Among them, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation, the American Ballet Theater and the Royal Opera House. The role of marketing, both programmatic and institutional, was fundamental. Michael Kaiser keeps saying it. I wonder what his relationship was with the artists.

An artist does not create because it´s useful for society. But society (the State and the sponsors) have come to value the social worth of the arts and culture. And more and more people are touched, marvelled, transformed by the experiences they have, by the discovery of things once unknown or hardly understood. I have no doubt this is due to the contribution of those working in marketing or development or communications or education or outreach departments… There are many terms, but only one wish: to bring the arts closer and make them accessible. And this is a burden we insist on carrying.