Tag Archives: cultural development

Trend # 6: Should Cultural Institutions Pay Property Taxes in 2011?

Happy New Year everyone! May your year be creative and exciting as you lead the way in the world of arts, culture, and creativity.

Today is the first business day of 2011, and today’s trend in our Eleven Trends for 2011 sets the tone for thinking about the relationships between local governments and nonprofit cultural organizations this year.

Does your organization expect to pay taxes on your building this year? NGO watchers expect municipalities to look increasingly at various forms of tax on land-owning nonprofit institutions that have traditionally remained exempt. While the early targets of this have been entities such as nonprofit senior living centers and educational institutions, along with some churches, it will be increasingly hard for governments that are starting to tax these types of nonprofits to leave museums, cultural centers, and nonprofit cultural facilities off the municipal tax rolls. Some of the taxes will come in the form of user fees – sewer, water, street maintenance, snow removal, security – but others will be a straight property tax. Expect this to come up for discussion as budget season starts everywhere and local government face shortfalls. Be ready to advocate, and organize to develop win-win solutions.

And win-win scenarios can happen. Economic development specialists and many others recognize the importance of nonprofit cultural institutions and related districts to economic vitality. Cultural districts that work can literally save urban areas, which economic leaders well know.

Performing arts centers or museums that need a subsidy to keep their programming alive, at the same time create the restaurant scene that keeps downtowns lit, exciting, safe at night, and create business for nearby parking facilities, retail, and more. The net positive economic impact is usually much greater than any subsidy, but this equation may need to be stated and documented with more clarity than ever before.

When good documentation of this net positive benefit is offered, look to economic development and planning specialists to be strong advocates and important allies in finding equitable solutions that keep tax/fee costs down while stressing -and building – the value of nonprofit cultural institutions as drivers of business and property values. Cultural organizations that have never met their colleagues in local economic development agencies need to start building good partnerships now for this to happen.

A tested and viable approach is service in lieu of taxes (or fees) that can be win-wins for the public sector and NGO cultural organizations. These approaches have typically included options such as free admission days to the public for museums, or free performances for civic celebrations. While not always easy to arrange – i.e. the contractual issues of professional musicians or actors doing free events – the public willl see tremendous benefits and the in-kind arrangements are almost universally more favorable than the tax or service fees would be.

Among other scenarios: look to more currently unaffiliated groups of nonprofits in a downtown or other part of the city to define themselves as a group and establish BIDs or similar districts, with strength to market themselves as a group and create an advocacy base that establishes favorable contracts with municipal departments and works toward building the excellent reputations that attract developers to a neighborhood. While this, too, has been a tested practice, count on seeing it more widely used with the goal of creating economic value for the municipal government by boosting the overall property values in what could be multiple small cultural and creative districts. (Sometimes smaller districts, each with a unique identity and niche, can be more effective in notching up investment a few blocks at a time.)

Look, too, at the marketing and fundraising opportunities that may come about as groups see strength in banding together. Even donors that aren’t particularly interested in, say, a historical society or community arts center may get behind “The Cultural Centers of City X” based on what the group of institutions make possible in economic growth.

Consider this to be a newly focused type of united fund concept, in which savvy organizations work in small and symbiotic coalitions – perhaps subsets of larger cultural funds, or groups coming together for the first time – to attract attention from today’s cause-oriented donors. Look to coalitions like this to develop joint case statements about their combined contributions to the six or eight block areas they anchor, demonstrating their value in social and economic stories that compel more financial support – even in the face of municipal fees – because of their combined net value. When groups can show that “in our six blocks, our four organizations make X economic difference” and when they can show that the net positive difference far outpaces the cost of public services for their few blocks of geography, they can develop quite a case for support.

At the end of the year, expect there to be some impressive new models in place, where marketing, advocacy, and excellent working partnerships with municipal governments and economic developers pave the way for actual boosts in overall local support for cultural institutions.

Cultural Development #2: Who does Cultural Development, and Why?

As promised, we’re back with another weekly installment on topics impacting cultural planning and cultural development as we sail on into the brave new post recessionary world.

This week we’re musing about arts councils, cultural commissions, local arts and heritage agencies. Many have quietly gone out of business over the past decade, and others are barely holding on. Is it because they don’t bring value? Ironically, most have brought great value but are no longer seen as necessary.

The real story in most communities is that a wide range of agencies have come to see the value of being cultural development leaders, and the field has gotten very, very crowded.

Downtown “renaissance” groups? They do cultural development.
Regional economic development planners? They do cultural development.
Libraries? They do cultural development.
Tourism office and CVBs? They do cultural development.
Local on-line media and calendars? They do cultural development.
Community foundations? They do cultural development.
Mixed use developers? They do cultural development.
Human services? They do cultural development.

And so on…

Is this failure, or success? Success, certainly. Success has put arts and culture on everyone’s radar, and everyone wants a piece of it. Arts, culture, and heritage have achieved their goal of being “at the big table.”

Does this have to mean the demise of local arts agencies? Or is this the start of a new model, one that is more efficient, more nimble? That depends largely on what local arts and cultural agencies exist to do, and who they exist for.

Unfortunately, in many states the local cultural agencies have become bureaucracies so linked to the disbursement and tracking of state funds that they have little time left to do anything else. There are way too many councils and commissions that annually devote months of paid staff time and almost all their volunteer (board, commission) time to the process of re-granting a total of $20,000 or so of state dollars to twenty or so local organizations, complete with panels, 20 page applications and final reports, annual instructional workshops and yet more final reports. In many places, this has become the full time work load for two or three fairly well paid professionals.

Is this really doing the work of cultural development?

Separate from the granting issue, too many councils have have not broken out of their former mold to become oriented to brand new needs and realities. It is hard to dump the old and transform into something out of the comfort zone, but it has to be done.

In this world of web-facilitated networking, web-based meetings, on-line calendars and consultation, on-line document sharing and web whiteboards, does a stand-alone arts council in a traditional office-cum-gallery-cum-conference room that used for grant-writing workshops make as much sense as it did a decade ago? You know the answer.


Swat teams of cultural development specialists that can move from the tourism office to the downtown renaissance to parks to economic development, paid for by a fund put up by all the agencies that benefit;
Grant teams that handle the (streamlined) re-grants processes for a dozen agencies;
Archivest or curatorial teams;
Others who zoom in with economic development skills, still others who zoom in to work with parks and recreation departments, schools and life long learning providers;

If cultural development is done by many different agencies, it is no longer necessary for an arts council to be the keeper of all the expertise in, say, arts education. That may better be done the education specialists at parks and recreation. (I know, I can feel the arrows coming this way…)

There are many communities where the “calendar” is already managed by an independent entity, but even here there is still more specialization and expertise to develop – web based CRM, customized sales messages, and the like – that might be better accomplished through expansion of that independent organization or by a financially well backed branch of a CVB. (More arrows sighted on the horizon…)

Deploy these teams and specialists within a county, statewide, or even within a multi-state area. In the process, eliminate the redundancy of too many generalists tending the arts fields, in favor of deepened specialization across municipal departments and county agencies.

The point is, cultural development entities need to be designed to meet the need and reach the goal, not the other way around. And the need has to be more than “serving as a granting agency” or even “facilitating advocacy for the arts.”

“Begin with the end in mind,” always. In the current and foreseeable economy, getting the job done is more important than who owns the job. And now that cultural development is owned by many who see its value, why not build on that enthusiasm in creating new and sustainable delivery mechanisms?

This can’t and won’t happen in a vacuum. If the funders of cultural development don’t think this way, and prefer to keep the status quo, guess what will happen? Those that do see the advantages, however, are going to see real gains in cultural development, everywhere.


Boomers – the New “Seniors” – and Cultural Development

Today’s entry is the start of a series related to changing social and economic conditions that impact cultural development and cultural planning. The past few years have brought about such dramatic changes to cultural interests, participation, and economics that we’re headed into a whole new era of cultural planning. Unless your cultural plan is REALLY up to date, it is time to face the future and consider new goals and strategies.

Boomers are one of the biggest factors in the future of cultural development, so I wanted to write this in advance of Tom Brokaw’s special on boomers (March 4, replays March 6) to point readers toward the show and to stir up thinking about the boomer/young seniors impact on cultural development and audiences.

As Brokaw will point out, younger boomers can and will (pending the economy) move to desirable places for their early retirement, as opposed to older retirees, who are more likely to stay put. So, what do young boomers consider to be desirable places? Here’s AARP’s top 15 list:

Loveland, CO
Las Cruces NM
Rehoboth Beach, DE
Portland, OR
Greenville, SC
Sarasota, FL
Ann Arbor, MI
Tucson, AZ
Montpelier, VT
Honolulu, HI
Santa Fe, NM
Atlanta, GA
Northampton, MA
San Diego, CA

Interesting list, isn’t it. Natural Beauty trumps in most cases, followed by aesthetic beauty, and then by a good healthy dose of culture. It is also very interesting to see how many smaller communities in all climates, are included. (But then, Brokaw himself has a place “just down the road” – as we say out here in Montana – near another high beauty-strong cultural life community favored by boomer-new “seniors,” Bozeman.)

What does this list of aesthetically rich top new-seniors places mean for cultural development?

1. Count on what has been a promised out-migration of young seniors from big metropolitan areas. (A 30%-40% out-migration among affluent young seniors is projected from New Jersey, alone, in the next few years.) If yours is a community that is banking on the new young seniors to foot the bill for annual contributions to major arts organizations or other nonprofits, and to buy the tickets for those events…caution, the road is about to become pretty rocky. On the other hand, if yours is a smaller cultural center in a young-seniors-desirable place – let’s say a place like Concord, NH’s Capitol Center for the Arts – you are probably entering into a really good ten years. And, if you are building a culturally focused walking oriented creek-side (complete with trout) community like Easton’s planned SILK Creative Community, the odds are better and better that those big city losses will be your gain. Point: small communities that invest in cultural vibrancy and aesthetic excellence will benefit by gaining high yield new seniors who have the time, money, and interest to be local investors and leaders. Think about positioning your community to be competitive through cultural development, and reap the rewards.

2. The new seniors grew up on Woodstock, not Wagner, as their cultural foundation, and have much less relationship to traditional performing arts than their elders. That means that though they have the money and cultural interest to “age into” traditional arts consumers, there will be a smaller subset of this generation interested in classical music or ballet than their elders, without question. And, it means they are much more oriented to “festival” extravaganzas and traveling for their major cultural fix than their elders. Local doesn’t necessarily have to be the end all for them, so they will be content to live what AARP calls the “simple” life in their smaller towns and hop on a plane (economy willing) to take in a great performance at an iconic destination.

3. The new seniors are experience junkies – always have been – while the older seniors have always been more passive in their arts consumption. Older seniors volunteer as docents: younger seniors study painting with diligence. We are entering a time of unprecedented opportunity for arts-lifelong-learning. For decades, we’ve tried to build arts participation by concentrating on the young. Now it is time to concentrate on the young seniors. But don’t stay shallow: offer depth. The younger seniors don’t want the simplistic one hour intros to pottery their mom’s liked when they were 80. This group is more likely to build a complete studio in their house, and construct a state of the art kiln in the back yard than to take an “enrichment” course. In other words, you may have fewer people buying tickets for Beethoven, but your town may be selling more pianos, and your best bet for a new cultural arts center may be to include learning space where top pros provide instruction.

4. Finally, let’s return to that list of the top 15 desired locations. Young boomers will want to move to places where there is design excellence, historic preservation ordinances, public art, park systems with aesthetically pleasing areas for individual recreation (trails, bike trails), and cultural opportunities ranging from great libraries to unique music venues. They also want a community that celebrates its cultural image and identity rather than brushes it aside in favor of other brands.

All this is good and challenging news for cultural development. Remember, these are people who will increasingly choose to move to a specific community based on doing careful research and comparison. Has your cultural plan positioned your community to win at this?

Happy New Year! The trends for the year will be…

May 2009 be a good year for everyone. We’ll be in tight financial times until mid year, at least, according to the leading economists. But then growth will gradually start. Historically, we’ve seen that recessions are an excellent time to plan and prepare for that new growth. So that means the next six months are very important for any type of planning.
* For feasibility studies, this is the time to get your homework done. Feasibility studies done now will likely focus on more doable structure than at the boom time of the market, which means these projects will be seen as viable by more funders. While capital is not out there right now, projects looking for land may find this is a sweet time for deals.
* For strategic plans, this is the time to think deeply about entirely new operational models, finance models, efficiencies and structure. We think the market has been overly flooded by entertainment options in many places, and that a little correction along with leaner operations may be very good for the long term.
* For policy plans, this is an excellent time to take the long view and focus on: 1) strategies to help organizations think about new business models that may create efficiencies while building market share; 2) strategies to build(rebuild) market loyalty by audiences; 3) helping organizations rebalance their financial models and expectations. Gaining audience loyalty this year will likely require deep discounts and price realignment in tickets and admissions, so budgets will need major reworking; 4) building for stability for the long term. During sobering times, we all do a better job of focusing on the real priorities.
* For marketing plans, this is an excellent time to focus on customer service and building customer loyalty. Marketing media continues to evolve at lightening speed. The Obama campaign organization showed us the incredible value of text messaging: this is a key time to build your own text messaging capacity. You’ll also want to build your CRM capacity, to target market as effectively as possible. And don’t forget the increased role that social networking plays in linking your audiences together.
* For cultural development in general, this is the time to think about how to benefit from the stimulus packages that are already moving through the pipeline. Programs like the federal WIRED grants have been around for a few years and will now get much larger, and offer opportunities for arts jobs the likes of which were last seen in the CETA era.

This is exciting. There is a lot of good, proactive work to do that will profoundly advance thinking about the mechanisms, support, and market for arts and culture. Let’s get to it! Happy New Year!

The Culture in Cultural Development

Culture is everywhere in the news. The culture of Wall Street investment banks. The culture of American political views. The culture of change. The Gen X culture versus the Baby Boom culture. The culture of greed versus the culture of giving. The very polarized high art versus real life culture that author Lee Seigel described in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday (September13) talking about a new round of culture wars in America. (Heaven help us!)

So what kind of culture do I focus on when talking about community cultural development? How do communities actually go about planning for culture? If you are doing cultural planning, how can you steer clear of culture wars and instead focus on doing good civic planning via culture?

There is plenty of “culture” included in cultural development planning. A few of the keys…

– The culture of place
– The culture of community identity(ies) and values
– The culture of the arts and artistic/creative expression
– The culture of heritage, history, and tradition
– The culture of the natural and built environment
– The culture of aesthetics
– The culture of education

Can you plan to facilitate the expansion, strength, and utilization of these cultures as a part of community planning? Yes.
In furthering these, can you develop strategies for the resulting “culture” to play an increased role in economic development? Yes.
Can you develop a democratic community consensus on cultural priorities within these? Yes.
Can you budget for cultural development, and determine a return on investment scenario? Yes.

Coming into a new town, I’ll often te told, “we don’t have much culture here.” Ah, but you do. It is who you are, where you are from, your hometown pride or lack thereof. It is what you value and what you teach. It is how you celebrate your creativity and how you recreate. It is how you keep reinventing your communities to keep pace with tomorrow’s generations – or how your communities stagnate and disappear. It is the choices you make for community investment. It is your world view, the way you view your neighbors, and how you want the world to view you.

This is what makes cultural development planning so challenging to do. It is why cultural development planning requires lots of diaglogue, lots of community input, a many divergent views. And it is why the goals and desired outcomes from cultural planning deserve a place in overall civic master plans. The cultural goals that we as communities can agree upon are too important not to be right up there in master plan documents. Coming to demographic agreement on civic cultural development priorities should be an essential task for every community, everywhere. Healthy culture isn’t someone else’s culture – the Gen X culture or the Western culture or the New York culture, etc. Heatlhy culture is about us, who we are as people and communities. Our own back yard.