Post Covid Thoughts May 8, 2020

Could ACW be a home base, an energy center, for a  courageous imagining of the future for the arts/cultural ecology?   “Could”  means- is there a need, is it on mission for ACW, and do we have the means to do so?


Some thoughts:


In multiple conversations and connections weigh artists, cultural workers and organizations, the need to not only respond to the crisis cop dictions now, but actively imagine and help design and advocate for a new system of funding, relationships and support.


The current funding systems were designed 60 some years ago.  The major initiative was the founding of the founding of the NEA and  the NEH in 1965. The system grew  through both public state agencies, the  MSAB, and through a handful of foundations and then private donors and subscribers and members.  It operates on a number of assumptions made at that time.


  1. That most public funding is temporary , meant to support projects and programs and not basic operating expenses.


  1. That the 501 (c)3 model of nonprofit board is the basic and best operating structure.


  1. That a primary purpose is to make and dispense high art. This is not explicit but is implicit.  Community and folk art and outsider art and art education were all fringe concerns.


  1. There  was little awareness of cultural diversity, or what that meant in practice.


  1. Almost no awareness or recognition of indigenous rights, of the effects of the long history of slavery. So definitions of what art was, of who could decide what it was and what was to be valued, and what was to be supported and made accessible were limited.


  1. That every arts and cultural organizations must ultimately build their own base of support , mixing earned income with private donor base, and not become dependent upon public funding for survival.


Much has changed since then—there is much more inclusiveness, awareness, openness—but I’d argue that the system remains constrained by some of these founding principles.


Now, in 2020 and beyond for some years—these factors will be in place:


A.a sharp reduction  in public funds( E.g. The Legacy funds in  Minnesota)


  1. high stress on private philanthropy (foundations and individuals) as     investment                 portfolios take a hit


  1. continued questioning of the purposes and mission of the arts (always there,   but a crisis can both reveal their essential nature and raise the “yes but …”                 response.  Yes—but we need to support health care, education, housing, job           creation ..and so on …more than “the arts”.


  1. Simultaneous increased collaboration, demands to collaborate, and increased competition for resources 


  1. Continued questioning of what organizations and projects must survive, should survive, deserve support 


The need to reset, rethink a System that was created 60 years ago is, in my opinion, both high and essential—and not enough. That rethink is underway (for example, I just read a 141 page document created by some 15 members of the dance and performing arts community, with national participation—and intended to spark a wider national conversation on the future of the field—and how gets funded, supported).


Rethinking the system is not enough—at stake, at bottom , is the essential role and mission of the arts in a society undergoing high stress and a level of change that is mythic. The dominant origin stories of the nation are now challenged —see NYT’s 1619 project and the responses to it. Think in Minnesota of the now common statement at public meetings that “we are here on Dakota land”, acknowledging the genocide that opened this land to European settlers (my ancestors among them).


Can—and should ACW be a gathering place, virtual and later maybe in persons from time to time, for the people, ideas and resources need to Courageoulsy  Imagine a future that is not a reset of the old systems, but that is a bold Look at what could be—what must be?


Submitted for discussion to ACW board