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Featured Non-Profit Interview: Randall Bourscheidt

President, Alliance for the Arts, New York

About Randall Bourscheidt

Randall Bourscheidt has more than 20 years of experience in arts management. He was deputy commissioner of cultural affairs for New York City and served as chairman of the advisory commission. As president of the Alliance for the Arts for over a decade, Mr. Bourscheidt has organized a series of studies on the economic impact of arts in the New York region, published the NYC Culture Catalog and the Kids Culture Catalog, and initiated the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS. He serves on many committees and councils for the performing arts and arts preservation. He has written and edited numerous publications, including The Economic Impact of the Arts on New York State and New York City.

Mr. Bourscheidt is now working with the New York's Cultural Affairs Department and with Commissioner Schuyler Chapin, former dean of Columbia's School of the Arts, to build a large database covering every aspect of the business of nonprofit cultural organizations as well as every public program they offer. Mr. Bourscheidt also worked with the National Arts Journalism Program to present a recent conference on cultural funding entitled Who Pays for the Arts?

Who Pays for the Arts?

Learn more about the Alliance for the Arts...

Interview by George Williams, Communications Specialist, Planned Legacy

Planned Legacy:
 Can you tell us about your background and what led you to pursue a career in arts management and development? 

Randall Bourscheidt: Following a period of public service in the City Planning Department, I became Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs in 1978, becoming Deputy Commissioner in 1981 and serving through 1987. This decade allowed me to combine an interest in government with my life-long love of the arts. After leaving government, I advised several cultural groups and the Equitable Life Assurance Society, then became President of the Alliance for the Arts in 1991.

Planned Legacy: What does your position as President of the Alliance for the Arts entail? 

Randall Bourscheidt: As President, I'm the CEO of the Alliance, setting policy, liaising with Board, managing staff, with primary responsibility for fundraising. I edit a wide range of publications, from studies of the economic impact of the arts to cultural guides to New York.

Planned Legacy: What are some of the projects the Alliance for the Arts is working on right now? How will these projects help arts organizations? 

Randall Bourscheidt: As the leading trade association for nonprofit culturals in NY, we are conducting three current studies, all of which are intended to increase awareness and public support. The Economic Impact of Capital Construction Projects at Cultural Institutions will describe the benefits of expansion projects. Arts Education for All NYC Children will assess the gains of the 1990s and the challenges of providing equitable access to all New York school children. The Financial Challenge of NYC Cultural Organizations will assess the cumulative impact of the events of 9/11 and the weak economy on nonprofit culturals and project their future needs. These studies are all conducted under the heading of our campaign, THE ARTS REBUILD NEW YORK, a response to the events of Sept 11.

Planned Legacy: How does the Alliance for the Arts help to create community awareness for the arts?

Randall Bourscheidt: These studies and our cultural guides and calendars create a sense of common purpose among the cultural community and between it and the public.

Planned Legacy: You serve on many committees and councils for the performing arts and arts preservation. What insights have you gained from this experience that could be used to help arts organizations?

Randall Bourscheidt: My board experience helps me understand the financial and organizational challenges facing all cultural groups. There should be closer cooperation between these groups, including alliances between culturals and preservation groups.

Planned Legacy: How were arts organizations in general effected buy 9/11 and what are the most important adjustments they have had to make in its aftermath? 

Randall Bourscheidt: The long-term impact of 9/11 is the subject of our fall study, but there is abundant anecdotal evidence that it has reduced attendance by 20-30 per cent at many institutions, including major museums like the Metropolitan and Museum of Modern Art. A similar decline in financial support results from two factors: the diversion of charitable giving to 9/11 emergencies, and the lack of liquidity in the economy, forcing reductions in contributions, government support and investment income.

Planned Legacy: What effect has the collapse of Enron and other companies, along with the insecure climate on Wall Street, had on arts organizations? 

Randall Bourscheidt: Enron and other troubled companies affect cultural groups directly dependent on them but add to the economic malaise.

Planned Legacy: What are some of the biggest challenges faced by arts organizations right now and how can they face those challenges?

Randall Bourscheidt: Money is the greatest challenge now, followed by questions about the mission of cultural organizations. Most have wisely (in my opinion) chosen to follow a steady course, but many museums have focused special exhibits on the terrible events of the last year and the need for greater international understanding.

Planned Legacy: Do you know of any development programs or techniques that have worked exceptionally well for arts organizations?

Randall Bourscheidt: No development technique has emerged successfully, but the private funding community has responded generously in the United States. This is probably only a one-year phenomenon, however.

Planned Legacy: What are some of the best techniques and methods an arts organization can use to secure corporate sponsorships? What do corporations want? What influences their decision making?

Randall Bourscheidt: Corporations always want visibility from sponsorships and goodwill from their local communities. Their challenge is low income, so smaller requests are more likely to succeed. Opportunities exist now for corporations and arts groups to show united care for their community, reflected in programs or services.

Planned Legacy: Would it help competing arts organizations in major cities to work together to present a united front, to improve awareness, with a view to increasing government and civic funding? Have you ever seen this type of arrangement work?

Randall Bourscheidt: United fronts for the arts succeed best in smaller communities with less competition or redundancy in disciplines. We are trying to organize a joint winter promotion in New York City with the tourist agencies.

The Estate ProjectPlanned Legacy: Why is it so difficult for arts organizations to convince both funders and the general public of their value, with regards to their economic impact, their ability to bring communities together, and their impact on the social fabric and strength of the community?

Randall Bourscheidt: At the community level, there is an appreciation of the value of cultural programs, so legislators sometimes lead the way in providing public funds. However, there is a misunderstanding about the extent of corporate and individual funding, which is sizeable only with a handful of elite groups. There is a lack of concrete information to support the ideas of community stabilization and economic impact, which weakens support in government for significant public funding.

Planned Legacy: What are the benefits of the arts in terms of public benefits and how can arts organizations articulate those benefits to funders and donors?

Randall Bourscheidt: Cultural groups can demonstrate their contribution by accurately reporting attendance and education programs or other services. The larger argument can only be made by doing large-scale studies of the sort the Alliance specializes in. 

Planned Legacy: What factors aid or hinder federal and state giving to arts organizations? How important is politics in the funding process?

Randall Bourscheidt: The bad economy is the major negative factor in low government funding, followed by a lack of current information about economic impact and other benefits. Crises increase awareness of the value of the arts, as we have seen in the aftermath of 9/11. We need to build on that appreciation and support it with concrete research.

Planned Legacy: Art education, arts in the community and the arts in general have always been a part of the important educational dynamic, and education is regarded as a priority by many funders. How can arts organizations relate their activities to education, in order to take advantage of some of the funding earmarked for this area? Also, the arts are considered to be part of the larger engine for economic and community development, but arts organizations often lose out on funding to other organizations and projects that are considered more urgent priorities. How can the impact of the arts be put into words that will convince funders and donors that the arts are an essential element not only for cultural growth, but also for the social and financial health and growth of a community?

Randall Bourscheidt: Our new arts education study will report on current research on the practical value in educational terms of arts programs. There is growing evidence of these benefits, which may be persuasive to education leaders. The two subjects listed above — economic impact and educational benefit — are the only arguments that will raise the level of culture on the agenda of public policy. Private donors — corporations, foundations and individuals — are not part of a policy establishment but are influenced by research and perceived need.

Planned Legacy: How have arts organizations and the arts in general helped New York pull together in the aftermath of 9/11? What social changes have taken place since 9/11 in relation to the arts — how important are the arts with regards to quality of life?

Randall Bourscheidt: There are countless ways in which the arts helped New York after 9/11, from giving expression to our grief, anger and sense of renewed common purpose, to focusing thinking about our future. For example, two elements in all discussions of plans for rebuilding Lower Manhattan are the need for a beautiful and powerful work of art to memorialize the dead, and the need for a strong cultural component in the new community there. And the arts are facilitating a public debate about each of these.

Planned Legacy: The arts have revived older and poorer areas of many cities, stimulating economic development and providing added value for their respective cities. This is not always apparent to administrators, funders and donors. What other hidden values are there in the arts that we need to talk about more?

Randall Bourscheidt: The potential of the arts to revive older depressed areas is appreciated in government but they require private initiative. It is difficult for government to start such a movement but possible for it to support it once it has begun naturally.

Planned Legacy: When educational budgets are cut, art and music classes are often the first subjects to go. Why should art and music be considered a critical part of any education system? 

Randall Bourscheidt: Arts subjects will be understood to be crucial to the school experience as research proves its value in terms of personal learning achievement, school atmosphere, attendance, etc. Parental involvement almost always leads to calls for increased arts education — parents understand, even if bureaucrats forget.

Planned Legacy: We keep hearing more about entrepreneurial stewardship and the need for nonprofits to adopt a more for-profit businesslike corporate approach to their activities. Do you agree with this and/or have you seen any movement in this direction? 

Randall Bourscheidt: Entrepreneurial thinking is healthy for cultural organizations. Are we reaching a large enough audience? Can we improve our programs or make useful partnerships? But "business-like" management, when it goes beyond financial responsibility, can lead to mistakes: non-profits differ from for-profits by law — they cannot legally earn a profit and they should not let marketplace factors be the sole determinant of their programs or their development. The best run cultural groups have strong and financially responsible management with a balance between the creative imagination of their artistic leaders and the financial guidance of their boards.

Planned Legacy: How important is board development to arts organizations?

Randall Bourscheidt: Because of the above, board development is a necessity for all nonprofits.

Planned Legacy: In the future, what changes do you think we will see regarding methods of fundraising and development for arts organizations? What new models do you see developing?

Randall Bourscheidt: The strength of the North American system of funding the arts is the diversity of sources, making most groups not over-reliant on any single source. (When the federal government stopped giving artists fellowships, private individuals and foundations rushed to make up the difference.)

The weakness of our system is the lack of any policy, compounded by the lack of any universal information or research. Private funders do not care if the nation has a healthy and distinguished cultural life and that our institutions are strong. This is the opposite of the French system.

Government funders may care, but they are stuck with tiny budgets and a requirement to put a little air in all the tires. It is only at rare moments that government and the private sector work together to build something major. We are in such a moment now, with the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan before us. The last was in the 1950s, when New York City and State and the Federal government (Wagner, Rockefeller and Eisenhower) built Lincoln Center.

As for our future, we need leadership from the Governor, Mayor and President and from the private sector to build our new monuments or tackle large problems like restoring the arts to the schools. I am heartened to see just that in Lower Manhattan with leaders like Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg. I would like to see a still larger effort affecting the entire city and state and the nation.

About The Alliance for the Arts

The Alliance for the Arts is the leading organization that gathers, analyzes and publishes information about the arts in New York — promoting New York's cultural life and identifying the needs, contributions and issues facing members of the artistic community.

Now in its 26th year, the Alliance has a broad mandate to promote New York City's cultural life through research and publications that increase the public's awareness of the arts. The Alliance is one of a dozen or so arts service organizations in New York City that serve the general public and the arts community. The Alliance's special role is as a leader in:

  • publishing cultural guides
  • researching the economic impact of the arts
  • promoting arts education in the schools through guides and research
  • serving individual artists.

The Alliance for the Arts is an advocate for all the arts, organizing common efforts to increase funding and involve cultural institutions in the city's economic and educational policy making. Its publications actively promote support for the arts in general and for arts education in particular.

A leader in developing electronic applications of its publishing and research activities, the Alliance for the Arts has established three sites on the Internet — for the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS, the New York City Culture Guide & Calendar and for NYCkidsArts.

The Alliance for the Arts has taken the lead in working with the Department of Cultural Affairs in developing the NYC Citywide Cultural Database, a computerized Internet-based intranet linking the city arts agency with non-profit organizations which collect and use information about the arts and will promote the city's cultural life to the general public, teachers, parents and kids. This will be the most comprehensive resource of its kind, both a centralized location to access information about culture in New York and a gateway to other cultural resources.

The Alliance for the Arts is a non-profit research center, responding to issues in the cultural community which need study and analysis or in organizing advocacy efforts for government funding for the arts or promotion of the arts to the tourist industry. Its economic impact studies have resulted in increased government funding and have coordinated the centralization of a database reflecting the arts industry in New York City and State.

Based in New York the Alliance for the Arts also has an impact as a national organization, primarily through the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS and its widely replicated studies of the economic impact of the arts. The Estate Project is leading national efforts to preserve the work of artists with AIDS in partnerships with a variety of institutions including the Guggenheim Museum, the New York Public Library and the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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