Ideas we took home from Lisbon | Reflections from the 2012 Philanthropy Fellows Conference

By on August 28, 2012

This is one of a series of posts by participants reflecting on the 21st Johns Hopkins International Fellows in Philanthropy Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
 
From the 4th to the 6th of July, over twenty Johns Hopkins International Fellows in Philanthropy and guests from around the world gathered in Lisbon, Portugal with students, artists, and third sector practitioners for the 21st JHU Fellows Conference entitled “Arts and the Economic Crisis: Opportunities for the Third Sector?” The Conference profiled the current status of the arts and culture sector around the world, and highlighted trends emerging in Portugal as a result of the economic crisis presently gripping the country.
 
Following the conference plenary sessions, groups of Fellows and other International participants gathered to discuss what they had found to be the key themes coming out of the conference. Our group, led by Genevieve Timmons of Australia, honed in on the key ideas that we would be taking back to our work in our own countries, and what new thinking or new approaches had been prompted by the conference program.
 

REMEMBER THE CONCEPT OF “ART IN PROGRESS” CAN APPLY TO ART SPACES TOO. As part of the Conference program, Fellows and international guests embarked on site visits to see innovative Portuguese arts organizations in action. These visits were instructive in many ways, but one aspect of the visit to the Museo do Design e do Moda (MUDE) with which several of the Fellows were particularly impressed was the willingness of the Director, Bárbara Coutinho, to work within her funding means, and to integrate those ‘limitations’ into the context of her museum. As she explained, the space that she found for the museum was perfect – in terms of location, history, and scope – but it had long since fallen into distress. She did not have the funds to complete renovation of such a large building, and knew that, even with funding in place, the renovation and historic restoration of the immense space would take years to complete. Instead of waiting to raise the necessary funds, and having an empty building sit idle for years, she moved into the partly renovated spaces and set up exhibitions, allowing the roughness of the space to contrast with and highlight the work on display throughout the museum, and embracing the architectural restoration as a “work in progress” while challenging the typically sterile nature of the traditional exhibition space. The result is quite remarkable.

This is an attractive approach for many arts organizations and communities with limited funds, and can be expanded to embrace larger economic development goals when used by communities faced with a high number of vacant or disused buildings. Taking this view of unfinished space being conducive to art can be particularly valuable to smaller or more diversified arts organizations, as was found by E.M.P. Collective, a young multi-disciplinary arts organization in Baltimore. They were able to secure a space for one year through a program called “Operation Storefront” run by the Downtown Partnership, a coalition of businesses, residents, and other stakeholders in the city’s midtown district, which took this approach to filling vacant first- and second- floor spaces in the main business district. The goal was to fill these spaces as quickly as possible, as opposed to spending years looking for developers to modernize and re-purpose them. E.M.P. was one of several small and start-up nonprofit arts organizations that were selected as tenants as part of this program; they were provided with a favourable rental deal in exchange for moving into previously abandoned spaces, many of which were in an advanced state of disrepair. The program did not, however, provide funding for renovations, and as such, it fell to these small, minimally-funded organizations to bring their spaces up to safety codes and to make them usable. The resulting galleries and performance spaces are often quite rough and minimally designed, while staying very organic to the neighbourhood and the history of the buildings, and they have not been specialized, they provide highly flexible spaces for multiple uses – from performance and exhibition venues to instruction and studio space, all in one location.
 
 
 

PROMOTE SOCIAL INCLUSION THROUGH THE ARTS. During the panel discussion on “The Arts as an Instrument of Education and Social Integration,” Fellow Genevieve Timmons drew from her work with the Portland House Foundation of Australia to present a series of successful examples of using the arts as a path toward enhancing inclusion, rehabilitation, and educating the public about excluded or challenged populations. As explained by Ms. Timmons, the Portland House Foundation is a private family foundation based in Melbourne, which was chartered by one of the wealthiest families in Australia with the mandate to assist people in moving out of situations of disadvantage.
 
When first established in 2004, the Foundation charter excluded funding for the arts because they were viewed as being ancillary to the Foundation’s primary mandate of addressing the basic needs of people in disadvantaged situations. However, it quickly became clear that some severely disadvantaged groups and communities were out of reach of the Foundation; the arts represented one of the only viable first steps in connecting with and giving voice to these people by providing a space where they could become visible to the larger community. As part of this new strategy, Portland Hose Foundation has provided funding to a number of successful arts-based inclusion programs aimed at a diverse array of populations including: the Somebody’s Daughter Theatre Company, which provides opportunities for women prisoners to interact with art and artists; the Rollercoaster Theatre Company, which provides vocational training and development in the arts to persons with disabilities; the African Womens’ Choir and Rainbow Stories programs at Foundation House, which provide an outlet for survivors of torture and other refugees; and the Choir of Hope and Inspiration (formerly the Choir of Hard Knocks), which has had great success providing a path to inclusion for homeless populations in Melbourne.
 
 
CREATE AN INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION HUB AND DATABASE TO SHARE SUCCESSES AND STRATEGIES. Following on Ms. Timmons’ experiences, the Fellows, many of whom work in fields that could likewise benefit from further exploration of possible applications for the arts as a tool or as an entree into hard-to-reach populations, felt that it would be valuable to undertake detailed research into such initiatives in their own countries, and further, to establish national and/or international databases of such projects and organizations. The register would aim to:

  • Publicise activities, disseminate ideas, share information, and exchange expertise.
  • Showcase and highlight successful models.
  • Encourage exchange around specialist target areas (e.g. theatre on the theme of domestic violence; arts outreach programs involving incarcerated populations; or skills development through the arts for people with disabilities).

 
EDUCATE DONORS ON THE VALUE OF SUPPORTING THE ARTS AS A MEANS FOR SOCIAL INCLUSION, PROMOTING RIGHTS, AND ENCOURAGING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Of course, the arts cannot fulfill these potentials for advancing the goals of social inclusion, promoting the rights of under-served populations, and enhancing efforts toward economic development without the support of funders who focus on these areas. As such, it is crucial that advocates for the arts reach out to funders – from private donors, to foundations, and government – to provide information and relate successful experiences in this arena. It is also necessary for those working in the arts to clearly discuss the differences and the relationships between funding arts with an eye toward social benefits, and funding “high arts” for arts’ sake. Fortunately, examples of the effectiveness of this strategy can be found in the U.S., where arts funding is increasingly being tied to social and economic outcomes, which could be further studied for applicability in other countries.
 
Among foundations, an example of the trend toward funding the arts as a pathway to achieving other social and economic goals can be seen in the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund‘s clear focus on funding “cultural and artistic programs and partnerships to engage those not usually included in the civic dialogue” and “inclusive programming initiatives and projects.” The Fund, which supports artists, arts organizations, and their partners throughout the Baltimore area specifically “commits its resources to enhance the region’s economy and quality of life through investments in a broadly defined cultural sector in which all residents may participate and thrive,” and prioritizes funding proposals that seek to achieve larger social and economic goals. Likewise, on a national level, the Ford Foundation’s “Supporting Diverse Art Spaces” program seeks to “support the creation of a new generation of arts leadership and facilities that are firmly grounded in the communities in which they reside and that are models of artistic innovation, cultural and community collaboration, and social partnership.”
 
One of the points to come out of the Fellows Conference was that the arts and culture sector in Portugal (and, by extension, in Europe) has been impacted more severely by cuts in government funding than those elsewhere, in large part because the sector in Europe has traditionally been heavily dependent on the State as a primary source of support. This impact has led to, in the words of Center Director Lester Salamon, a “sense of fatalism” amongst artists and arts and culture organizations. However, arts and culture organizations have been affected in many countries due to ongoing austerity budgets, and in the U.S., the use of this strategy to highlight the economic and social impacts of a robust arts community have begun to turn the government funding tide. As suggested by the National Assembly of States Arts Agencies in a 2009 report, advocates have begun to step up discussion about the overall economic impact that the arts can have – from enhancing neighbourhoods and fighting urban flight, to drawing creative for-profit industry – with marked success. As detailed in this piece from the Pew Center on the States:

In recent years, art for art’s sake has been a tough sell in budget battles around the country: Overall, there has been a 37 percent drop in funding for state arts agencies since 2001.
 
Hoping to turn the tide, arts advocates have been focusing on art for the economy’s sake, and that strategy is beginning to pay off. Even as state budgets remain tight, estimates from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies show state arts funding increased by an average of 8.8 percent in the budget year that began in most states July 1.
 
“Some of the most powerful supporters of the arts don’t participate in the arts themselves but believe in the merits of the economic arguments,” says Jonathan Katz, chief executive officer of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. “Everyone is really focused on maximizing the jobs benefits and the economic impacts.”
 
A report released in June by Americans for the Arts found that the nonprofit arts and culture sector supports 4.13 million full-time jobs and generates $6.67 billion in state tax revenue nationally.

 
 
 
PROMOTE ACTIVE SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT WITH THE ARTS. In response to a site visit to a roving pop-up dance performance which was part of the Centro em Movimento’s Pedras d’Água Festival, there was an energetic discussion among the Fellows about the importance of people moving beyond being the audience and consumers of the arts, and becoming actively engaged. We feel that this challenging of passive participation in the arts can best be achieved by building collaborations between artists, arts organizations, and the communities within which they are based and by engaging people through existing social and community networks. From this perspective, it is important to encourage “arts for arts’ sake,” but doing so will inevitably have wider social and economic impacts as well.
 
By engaging community members directly in the production of the arts, it may be possible to move forward with ambitious projects with less planning and with less reliance on funding for spaces or specialised equipment. Bringing the arts into the public sphere will allow artists and advocates to utilize the public spaces – like the streets and metro stations – as a venue for exhibition and performance. Lisbon is already seeing the expansion of street art as both protest to austerity measures and as a venue for expression by frustrated artists who no longer have a support system in place to allow them to create within a traditional framework. In fact, the city council appears to be experimenting with this approach of encouraging the use of public spaces as a venue for the arts, and it has a great deal of precedence in the long history of traditional tile work on buildings both grand and humble throughout the country.
 
During group discussions, several local participants expressed frustration with the overall lack of engagement among Portuguese youth with the arts. By bringing the arts out to the public, rather than waiting for the public to come to them, and by working to widen the definition of “artist” to include less structured or traditional venues and styles, advocates of the sector can establish a pipeline of education and appreciation for the arts. Remembering that “beauty educates,” will help guide advocates to ensure that people are meaningfully engaged with the arts, helping them to develop a respect and appreciation for the arts, and a willingness to take responsibility for the care and promotion of the arts within their communities. Examples of such engagement might include involving students and community members in the restoration of old monuments; involving community members and groups in the design, selection, and creation of murals; or hosting of free participatory performance and creative festivals.
 
Another approach would be to encourage local governments to provide opportunities and encouragement for training and engagement of people in their villages, towns, and cities to “skill up” and take responsibility for their national heritage through artistic and social activities. This might not only lift the standard of social engagement, it may also provide avenues to economic opportunity.
 
 
DEVELOP CLEAR METRICS TO MEASURE COSTS AND BENEFITS OF THE ARTS. In today’s funding environment, it is increasingly important that any organization or sector seeking funding support be able to quantify not only its impact, but its ability to achieve that impact cost-effectively. As such, we believe that it is crucial that the arts and culture sector work together with researchers and other experts to establish a means to measure the value of arts to people within the context of their economic and social impacts, and agree an acceptable cost-benefit ratio that can be used to inform planning, funding, and policy-making for the arts. This process can take a similar approach to that taken in many countries to determine the metrics which establish the cost-benefit ratio of universal cost of health care. While we are not in a position at this time to suggest specific metrics that could be used in this assessment, a possible example could be to look at what the cost-impact ratio is for addressing damaging levels of drinking or other destructive behaviour by educating people to become creative and purposeful through the arts, vs. what those costs and outcomes are without cultural or artistic interventions.
 
 
ESTABLISH AN “ARTLYMPICS” STYLE INTERNATIONAL EVENT. Finally, a fun and ambitious idea that arose from this collaborative process between people from disparate countries and backgrounds was the establishment of a new international event aimed at increasing the visibility of community arts, and raising its public profile and popularity. The concept of an “Artlympics,” modelled on the Special Olympics, would bring together community artists in the spirit not necessarily of competition, but of collaboration and achievement, and provide a venue for them to meet and learn from established artists from around the world. This is much in keeping with the Fellows Conferences, where those of us working in the civil society sector have the opportunity to form relationships with mentors and aspiring scholars and practitioners, and to share experiences, knowledge, and skills with peers from the international community of Fellows.
 
 
 
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CONTRIBUTORS

Elena Abrosimova, Russia, Associate Professor, Moscow State University Law School
Monica Bergo, Italy, Universita’ Degli Studi Di Padova
Lily Domingo, Philippines, University of the Philippines
Chelsea Newhouse, U.S., Communications Associate, JHU Center for Civil Society Studies
Dana Nicolescu, Romania, Director, Opportunity Associates Romania
Marina Nikitina, Russia, ANO “Organization for Educational Resources and Technological Training”
Rita Tamm, Estonia, OSCE Mission to Moldova
Genevieve Timmons, Australia, Philanthropic Executive, Portland House Foundation