Just this month, Emiko Ono, Program Officer in Performing Arts at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, came to Drexel's campus to speak with students and arts leaders about her research report, "Moving Arts Leadership Forward". Before the lecture and reception, Ms. Ono set aside time to speak individually with students about their work in relation to hers, and while speaking with me, agreed to have our conversation published in ArtsLine.
Jade Cintron: What professional or personal experiences led you to this work? Can you tell me about the impetus for this research?
Emiko Ono: The Hewlett Foundation has been funding the development of leadership in the arts since 2009, it actually started before I got there and it was something I was passionate about and so it’s work I took over when I started working at the foundation in 2011. Then we realized it had been some time since we really took a look at what leaders needed in the field and we thought things might be different, but we weren’t totally sure and that’s when we commissioned Mike (Michael Courville) to do the research. We were funding arts leadership in a very particular way: We were funding a lot of smaller organizations formerly called Emerging Leader organizations that were developed by and for younger leaders in the field and we wanted to know if that was still necessary or had they sort of developed the voice and professional skills that they wanted to out of that work, was it still something worth investing in, were there new needs..and so this Moving Arts Leadership Forward paper was sort of a scan of the field.
JC: So it wasn’t originally intended to be a research report?
EO: Right. When we did the scan, we didn’t think we were going to publish it as a research report, but there was this one page that Mike wrote up for us that was like These are all the ways the field has changed the economic pressures, the professionalization of the field…those major themes. And that one page is actually the nugget of this report. It was one page of like 50 but it really described what was going on, all these big social forces that were at work in many invisible ways, we thought that was worthy of sharing with the field.
JC: Wow, so this opportunity fell onto your lap. Now that you’ve had a taste of the work, do you see more research in your future?
EO: You know, when I wrote it I thought, “This is a lot of work, I totally feel for researchers”. Mike was really great at coaching me and helping me understand why certain words meant what they did and so I really came to have a great appreciation for researchers and language even more than I did before. I didn’t think the paper would be a huge hit in the field, I just thought it was important to get out there but actually a lot of people were interested and I’ve seen how much it’s been of service to people. A lot of organizations have told me that they’ve used the “Distributed Leadership” quiz at the end, for example one organization made it into an anonymous survey and gave it to their whole entire staff to see how they were doing and how they could improve and they actually created a plan based on that feedback.
JC: That’s a great idea. Now if everybody would do that!
EO: Yeah! And with the warm reception of the paper, I’ve realized this is valuable work, so this year I hope Mike and I will write a series of articles or case studies about who’s actually doing it well.
JC: So it’s branching off this research and you’ll follow up to see who has benefited and how?
EO: Yeah, people who are at different stages…cause there’s lots of different ways to do it and it’s so hard for people to conceptualize it if they haven’t grown up in the system or been exposed to that or they don’t have a natural pension for it so we’re hoping to just write stories about who’s doing it whether it be the benefits or what’s been hard and who’s winning as a result of it.
JC: Do you think you’ll continue to focus on California or expand to other states?
EO: I’m not sure. Mike knows of a few organizations in California that have been doing the work since he’s really been keeping his ear to the ground, so I think we’ll use a few of those. I want to get a diverse set of organizations: big, small, western classical, community based…you know? I want to get a hodge podge and people who are doing it as an every day practice in how they do the work versus people who are thinking of restructuring the organization and thinking about that more like the infrastructure they have in place for it. We don’t know yet, but that’s 2018.
JC: Excellent. I look forward to 2018 then. Best of luck to both of you!
EO: Thank you!
With arts funding facing threats at the national, state and local level, the time is now for arts advocates and supporters to be equipped with tangible reasons to support the arts based on research about the positive impact the arts have on the economy, academic performance and quality of life.
Earlier this year, Americans for the Arts released the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study, highlighting the economic impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations. Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $166.3 billion of economic activity and $27.54 billion in total government revenue in 2015. Additionally, the arts support 4.6 million jobs around the country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts industry is 4.2 percent of GDP, representing a larger share of the nation’s economy than construction, transportation, mining, or travel and tourism. Ultimately, the arts strengthen the economy.
Another way in which the arts are fundamental to our country is the significant, positive effect they have on academic performance. Americans for the Arts conducted public research about the value of the arts and discovered that 88 percent of Americans believe the arts are part of a well-rounded education in kindergarten and through high school. Moreover, creative skills are highly valued in the workplace as the Conference Board’s Ready to Innovate report indicates. Overall, the arts encourage learning and achievement while preparing students to succeed in school, work and life.
Lastly, the arts help to create places where people want to be. The majority of Americans believe the arts improve individual well-being and unify communities. For example, I work for a local arts council, and my organization has a public art initiative to help engage the community and make our community a more enjoyable place to live. For our nation and communities to thrive, the arts need to flourish.
There are a number of ways you can take action to support the arts in our nation, including:
Writing your state and local elected officials through VoterVoice
Joining the Arts Action Fund
Spreading the word within your community about the value of the arts using Americans for the Arts’ tools and research
Let’s get out there and advocate for the arts in America!
From the controversial depiction of Emmett Till in the 2017 Whitney Biennial to the Confederate statues in Charlottesville and New Orleans, cultural representation and cultural appropriation is at the center of a debate about who speaks for whom, when and where. In my classes last spring (Creative Placemaking online, and International Cultural Policy on campus), we talked a lot about how to figure out what kinds of cultural speech makes sense in what space. I found that students were really excited by these questions, and many of them wrote about them in their final papers, wanting to keep the conversation going. I reached out to one student, online student Salina M. Almanzar, and approached her about the possibility of presenting a paper at an academic conference and possibly writing an article together. We plan to travel to the Urban Affairs Association conference in Toronto in April, and send out an article to an academic journal shortly afterwards. It’s extremely rewarding when faculty and students get to collaborate in the production of knowledge!
While it’s easy to designate victims and perpetrators of cultural appropriation, Salina and I argue that there are many spaces in between, and these are the ones in which decision makers can benefit from understanding the nuances and complexities of cultural agency. We intend to push the conversation around cultural policy and planning to consider whose voices are heard in the pursuit of more equitable practices. Planners, designers, artists and other urbanists need guidance on how to evaluate cultural production to ensure that urban public spaces are both dynamic and broadly hospitable. By examining several cases of cultural conflict and appropriation in the US and abroad, we hope to offer practitioners a way to evaluate the consequences of various kinds of cultural production. We look forward to our continuing collaboration and opportunities to bring this work, generated right in the Arts Administration classroom, to the broader public!