RAND Study Describes Strategies That Can Build Public and Governmental Support for State Arts Agencies

For Release

August 7, 2006

State arts agencies seeking increased state government support for the arts should strengthen their relationships with elected officials and raise their profile with the public, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The report, which is the second in a multiyear study commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, suggests that strategies that reach out to the public and to government officials can be effective in positioning the arts higher on the list of governmental priorities.

“State arts agencies that work more closely with the people who decide their budgets and set state policy priorities can become more relevant to the public and the arts communities they serve,” said report lead author Julia A. Lowell, a RAND economist.

“In order to insulate arts grantmaking from possible political influence, many state arts agencies stay at arms' length from the elected officials who approve their budgets,” Lowell added. “This is not a winning strategy, since many elected officials don't understand what these agencies do and aren't persuaded they provide value to the public at large – outside the arts community.”

State arts agencies are government organizations created around the United States in the 1960s to support the arts through grants to artists and nonprofit arts organizations.

The study says state arts agencies have contributed to a nationwide flourishing of professional artists and art organizations and have helped local communities gain control over most public arts funding decisions.

The arts agencies, which are governed by boards of volunteers appointed by state elected officials, get most of their funding from appropriations by state legislatures. These appropriations have been cut in recent years in many states. Some additional funding for the state arts agencies comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency created in 1965 to support excellence in the arts.

“Helping more people reap the benefits of the arts has been a longstanding goal of The Wallace Foundation,” said Wallace President M. Christine DeVita. “It spurred our decision to work with state arts agencies to help them develop new and more effective strategies for bringing the arts to more people, and building understanding of its value. This report documents field-tested approaches to developing vibrant partnerships between arts agencies and their government and public constituencies, approaches we hope will be broadly useful to the field.”

RAND researchers found that state arts agencies have often been unsuccessful in one of their primary charges: generating broad support by elected officials for public funding of the arts. Even though a majority of Americans claim to support such funding, state government spending on the arts is minimal and has been losing ground to other types of state expenditures.

While state arts agency budgets grew strongly for the first 15 to 20 years of their existence, severe cuts in the 1990s and again in this decade have left the agencies struggling to prove their value to state residents.

The RAND report says that enlightened – and often embattled – state arts agency leaders realize they must find new ways to demonstrate that their agencies are vital elements of state government. As a result, these arts agency leaders have begun to align their missions and goals more closely with the policy agenda of state government officials. The aim of the arts agency officials is to work with state officials to catalyze and nurture state cultural activity – without allowing their agencies to become politicized in the process.

Case studies by RAND of two state arts agencies in Maine and Montana offer insights into ways agency leaders can help close the gap between the arts world and elected officials.

Both agencies have reached out to the public and to legislators to discover what they most care about and have reexamined programs in light of the findings. Both managed to strengthen relations with elected officials by demonstrating that arts agency programs and activities contribute to important public policy agendas and are highly valued by a large number of state residents.

In Maine, the state agency has created powerful new constituents by shifting resources into previously neglected rural areas. In Montana, state arts agency leaders have encouraged individuals from outside the arts community to act as spokespersons for the agency.

In both states, state arts agency leaders have successfully connected the arts to state government priorities without allowing elected officials to influence individual grantmaking decisions.

"State arts agencies would certainly like more money, but they also want the arts to play a greater role in state government decisions," said Elizabeth Ondaatje of RAND, co-author of the report.

Copies of "The Arts and State Governments: At Arm's Length or Arm in Arm?" (ISBN: 0-8330-3867-2) can be ordered from RAND's Distribution Services (order@rand.org or call toll-free in the U.S. 1-877-584-8642) or can be downloaded from www.rand.org and from the Knowledge Center at www.wallacefoundation.org

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