Art Works Blog

Art Works in the Western U.S.

Denver, Colorado

The State Arts Agency of the Future?

by Shannon Daut, Deputy Director, Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF)

In December 2010, WESTAF---the regional arts organization for western states---convened arts leaders from throughout the region to "re-envision" state arts agencies. Photo courtesy WESTAF

There is nothing like a very big recession to concentrate the mind. In mid-December of 2010, 45 concentrated minds came together in Aspen to consider ways state arts agencies could respond to new economic realities. The WESTAF-region state arts agency chairs, directors, and advocacy leaders worked to imagine ways state arts agencies could be re-envisioned into entities that are better able to confront the economic and cultural challenges of the present and near-term future.

Led by Steven Tepper of the Curb Center at Vanderbilt University, the participants imagined scenarios in which arts agencies took on new forms. In these new structures, revenues flow to them from a greater number of sources, agencies become more able to leverage change across the creative spectrum by becoming more influential in policy making, and agencies find ways to nurture new creative efforts while learning how to retire long-standing support mechanisms that no longer have the support of the public to continue.

The general tenor of the session was that, after 40 years of tremendous success, state arts agencies need to recognize their victory in helping to provide access to the arts to citizens in all parts of the country. They now, however, need to move on to become effective in a very different world, a world in which the 1970’s public consensus on the role of the arts in American society has shifted radically. Instead of crafting a state arts agency organizational structure on top of such a consensus, the agency of today will need to play a role in building a new consensus about the role of the arts in society. Once it does, then the new state arts agency can be built.

The Aspen meeting may not have prompted immediate radical change among the arts agencies represented; however, it successfully built on years of policy conversations about the organizational and policy alternatives state arts agencies have at hand. This array of options will help the arts agencies in the West weather the current recession and evolve successfully into the future.

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