Throughout the history of state arts agencies, our field has played a key role in helping arts organizations to succeed and deliver value to the public. Through our training programs and grant requirements—and through leading by example during the past 45 years—we have:
- propagated inclusive strategic planning practices;
- set high standards for universal accessibility;
- encouraged sound financial management habits;
- helped organizations to broaden, deepen and diversify their audiences; and
- made inclusion and collaboration practices central tenets of good arts management.
By building these capacities and setting these norms, state arts agencies have strengthened the arts sector and have amplified the cultural, educational, civic and economic benefits that the arts provide to America.
Even the most exemplary arts organization or the most business-savvy artist, however, can be crippled by an emergency. Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown tragedy are the latest reminders that all of us are vulnerable to events beyond our control or understanding.
As we have done in fostering other core capacities, state arts agencies can play a leading role in fostering business continuity planning, too. Here are a few things your agency can do in this vein:
- Develop a preparedness plan for your own agency. Many states have generic emergency plans, but arts councils have unique collections, circumstances and responsibilities that set us apart from the rest of state government and can necessitate a special plan of action. Mississippi's plan is one good example.
- Incorporate preparedness planning into your statewide conferences and other professional development services. For instance, Virginia is offering a session entitled "What to Do When the S!#@ Hits the Fan" at its upcoming Art Works for Virginia conference.
- Become knowledgeable in advance about information and resources that your constituents may need if a large-scale disaster occurs. Good places to begin include CERF+, geared toward artists, and ArtsReady, geared toward arts organizations.
- Consider what roles your agency can play in the event that disaster strikes. What will your constituents need from you? Your colleague agencies in Tennessee, Vermont, Louisiana, South Carolina and California offer inspiring examples.
- Share recovery stories from your state. The arts offer a distinctively powerful force for healing, rebuilding and repair. Recall how musicians and artisans all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast helped to rebuild communities after Hurricane Katrina; how the arts helped tornado-struck Joplin, Missouri, to recover; how the stirring convocation poem by Nikki Giovanni helped the Virginia Tech community begin to heal after its tragedy. Most recently, in Connecticut, local partners and the Connecticut Office of the Arts are supporting the Healing Newtown collaboration to facilitate that community's recovery. Every state has experiences like this to share. By telling those stories, state arts agencies illuminate the necessity of emergency readiness and also strengthen the deep connections that exist between healthy communities and the artists who call those places home.
As state arts agencies, it's our leadership job to think about the unthinkable, to catalyze conversations on challenging topics and to raise the bar on our collective preparedness.
I hope someday emergency readiness will be an arts management fundamental and part of our field's norm. But we have a way to travel before that goal is attained, as a recent report from the National Coalition for Arts' Preparedness and Emergency Response points out. The ArtsReady initiative provides very valuable guidance as we hone our crisis management skills. NASAA is an ArtsReady partner, as are numerous state arts agencies, and I encourage you to explore the many resources it offers.
May you be joyfully and abundantly prepared for all the challenges that the new year brings.