A Way Forward — Be Connected

The powerful panel of “A WAY FORWARD” focused on the connection between the arts and local economy in a forum taped for broadcast and posted online by WOSU TV. The broadcast is Sunday, September 25th at 1 pm.  The Dispatch called the event a pep rally and it certainly emphasized the positive over the fact that many nonprofit arts organizations have extremely thin margins…or that there are some major corporations in Columbus provide little or no support for the arts.  Some of this is due to a new emphasis on contributing to support social service needs in the community.  Yet, somehow the usual corporations step up and find a way to support both areas.

The best question of the evening, from my perspective, was the last one — what single piece of advice do you have for nonprofit arts leaders in this time of austerity?  One answer was to be bold, rather than sitting in the office and worrying.  Another answer expressed concern that the “recalibration” of arts organizations have weakened their abilities to provide quality programming.  The third answer, which interestingly came from Les Wexner, CEO of Limited Brands Inc.,  was the best.  Wexner is emphasizing a focus on his customers.  He wants the corporate folks in his stores talking to customers and understanding them better during this time of economic distress.  This translates well to any size nonprofit.  We need to go back to our base and talk with our long-time donors and connect better with our membership.  They are our lifeblood.

The panel included NEA  Chair Rocco Landesman, Les Wexner, Mayor Michael Coleman and Doug Kridler of the Columbus Foundation.  The moderator was Julie Henahan of the Ohio Arts Council.   Again, catch the whole hour broadcast this Sunday at 1 pm on WOSU TV.  We were proud to be a part of this event.

Comments
  • Tom Baillieul

    My take on the event was a little different…

    Rocco Landesman, head of the National Endowment for the Arts, noted last Monday that he “hardly gives a speech nowadays that doesn’t mention Columbus’ Short North” What he failed to mention is that the city’s artists can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood they inspired. Monday’s panel discussion between Landesman, Les Wexner, Mayor Coleman, and Douglas Kridler of the Columbus Foundation was long on rhetoric and short on specifics. Sounding much like politicians wielding a budget axe, the panel said to the assembled artists and arts administrators that they need to continue doing more with less.

    Mr. Landesman was spot on when he reported on research showing that companies will relocate to where the talent they need wants to live. And talented workers want an environment rich in culture and art. The mayor noted that New Orleans, with a population one-quarter the size of Columbus, supports 280 art galleries. He called for more galleries to be opened around the city, but failed to explain how the necessary art patron base could be expanded. Mr. Wexner also noted that Columbus needs more people willing to support the arts, and seemed to imply that the city’s artists should figure out how to grow such a population.

    It was only in response to the final question of the session that Mr. Landesman hit the real issue confronting the arts in Columbus. Nearly two generations ago, Ohio schools began to give up arts programming as a cost saving measure. The consequence is that while most Ohioans can spout a wide variety of sports statistics, they are illiterate when it comes to artists, artistic styles, and the richness and satisfaction which comes from patronizing the arts.

    Thus, I offer a final question to each of the panelists; what will you do to put the arts and art appreciation back into our public schools – at all grade levels? The city’s artists will do their part, but what is needed is financial investment and political will.