Posts Tagged ‘leveraging Investments in Creativity’

SC Arts Commission Talks the Talk for Grant

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

We’ve seen it before – many times. The SC Arts Commission snags a grant by talking the talk, but never delivers results. This time it’s a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation for a program called – Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a national initiative to improve conditions for artists.

Here’s the first two paragraphs of the press release the Commission issued on June 17, 2008.

“Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a national initiative to improve conditions for artists, has awarded the South Carolina Arts Commission a $100,000 project grant. The Arts Commission will use the funds to implement practical strategies that address key concerns of S.C. artists.”

“We are very excited to receive funds to implement this valuable initiative,” said S.C. Arts Commission Executive Director Suzette Surkamer. “This is a great opportunity to help expand South Carolina’s creative economy and offer new resources to artists throughout the state.”

That’s as far as I can go before I start feeling nauseous. You can find the rest of the press release on their website.

And, before the naysayers start on their calls – did you participate? No, I’m way past wasting my time with the Arts Commission. I’ve made the effort in the past and the results have never been worth my efforts. But, you don’t have to participate to see the process unfold and judge the results. Simple observation can do that.

Well, let’s start with this – it only takes $100,000 to improve the lives of artists in SC. Why did they have to wait for an outside grant? If that’s all it is going to take – even if that’s a $100,000 a year – why didn’t they just put that in their multi million dollar budget – say 10 or 20 years ago?

This reminds me of the Open Studio: The Arts Online project. It was a five year national project to help individual artists and nonprofit arts organizations become effective information providers on the World Wide Web. From 1996-2000, Open Studio: The Arts Online, a national initiative of the Benton Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts provided funding for Internet access and training to artists and nonprofit arts organizations ensuring the communications environment of the 21st century thrives as a source of creative excellence and diversity.

What happened in SC? Workshops were held, money was distributed – lots of artists and organizations got shiny new websites and in a few years it all fizzled away. The community didn’t really build a resource that would continue to teach organizations how to launch and maintain their websites, so as the few who learned something during this period faded away – so did the future benefits of the program. The results today is that many of these organizations have websites that can barely tell you what is going on currently in their organization. Many are just web address books. You’d have to call them to find out what is going on.

The turnover of staff at these organizations is so bad that anything invested in one person usually walks out the door with them in a few years. As soon as the money for the project ran out – the SC Arts Commission had no further interest in helping SC’s art community effectively use the Internet to communicate.

The way most of these projects, programs, initiatives work – you get some people together to express their needs, you write up a report, you publish some goals and strategies – the money runs out and it’s all forgotten. There is never any follow-up to see how effective the program was and what impact it had. That’s not important. What’s important is talking the talk.

You can get a good idea of how effective this LINC program is by looking at the blog (http://scartistslinc.wordpress.com) the Arts Commission set up. The blog was started in Aug. 07 and it really never took off – by Jan. 08 it seems to be dead in the water and there wasn’t much interaction going on. Another successful Arts Commission effort.

Why didn’t more people participate – well maybe some expected more from the Arts Commission than what they were getting, maybe the Arts Commission expected a surge of participation and when it didn’t come they grew uninterested, or maybe most people are like me – they won’t be fooled again.

But maybe I’m jumping the gun – maybe the real push hasn’t even taken place yet? What should we expect for a year’s worth of effort? After all the state goal is simple – “The Arts Commission will use the funds to implement practical strategies that address key concerns of S.C. artists”.

What does that mean? Write up a report? Make some suggestion as to what they think artists should do to improve their lives? Post some links to what other organizations that receive this same funding did?

I’ve seen what happens when the Art Commission conducts one of their Canvas of the People programs to find out what the Arts Commission and the art community should do in the next 5 or 10 years. They get some people together. They direct them through a pre-programed process. They publish the observations. They gather some more folks together to come up with goals and strategies for a 5 or 10 year plan. Publish another “final” report. And, whammy – problem’s solved.

It’s like George Bush and company – they published the road map on how to get from here to there – for leaders in the Middle East. If you get lost along the way, just can’t follow the map, find that the map leads to nowhere, or even find that the word “map” doesn’t mean the same as you think that word means – it doesn’t matter. They tried.

Does the Arts Commission ever call those same people together to see what went wrong or if anything was achieved? No, that’s not important. Why? Because the people giving the money for these programs don’t care either. They did their part. And if a report is required on the results and impact of the program – who do you think makes the report. There’s nothing like self-analysis to find success.

I know I’m still waiting to benefit from some of those goals stated in some of those Canvas of the People 5 or 10 year plans. I’m sure a lot of other people are too. LINC looks like another display of smoke and mirrors and I wouldn’t expect any changes to come out of it. I wish there would be some positive results, but I’m not banking on it. Unfortunately some artists out there will believe change is just around the corner.