Why do we have so many free-standing, poorly funded national 501c3 service organizations in the arts field? It seems that as each discipline matured, each created its own support entity. Now as a mature sector, with the arts providing almost $200 billion in financial activity annually, we must become much more strategic and more influential on the national stage than the current structure allows. Having a service organization catering to each discipline and sub-discipline is expensive and redundant, while providing little leverage—the exact opposite of what’s needed.
Let’s consolidate the numerous national discipline-specific arts service organizations into one robust, influential, and vital American Institute for the Arts. Each discipline would have its own division where areas of specific need could be addressed, yet the new Institute would provide substantial economies of scale (no need for many CEO’s, development officers, etc. etc.), and a cohesive, coordinated approach toward three significant outcomes:
Establish a set of unifying priorities for the arts industry. Strategic action requires rigorous priority setting. Without field-wide statements of possibility and intention, there is little chance of being heard above the din of a 24-hour news cycle. The arts could and should stand alongside education, energy, health and other national priorities. However the idea of a cabinet level designation for arts and culture is a pipedream without a compelling and unifying message that articulates the ways in which the endeavors of America’s artists and arts organizations can have optimal impact.
Turn information into knowledge, knowledge into learning, and learning into innovation. While there are discipline-specific realities and needs that should be identified and addressed; national priorities should drive an interdisciplinary approach to data gathering, and determining how such data can be helpful across all arts sectors. Such knowledge and learning would encourage bolder and more innovative strides toward a more sustainable future for the field.
Penetrate the public consciousness about the public value created by the arts. This should not be the purview of a single foundation or think tank—or for each discipline to attempt one by one. This is the critical collective responsibility of our field. Unless we succeed, not only do we risk being further marginalized, but becoming insignificant within the discourse about our nation’s future.
Is now the time to acknowledge the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the present system and to consider seriously the opportunities of a more united and robust approach? Why not a new, vigorous, and influential American Institute for the Arts, generating and distributing knowledge and learning; stabilizing and improving the health of the sector; and increasing the awareness of the substantial contribution arts and cultural endeavors make toward a better nation?