Blog: Tamara Real

Tamara Real has both a passion for and understanding of the arts. As the Executive Director of the Arts Alliance, her non-profit organization has made it mission critical to develop, nurture and sustain Washtenaw County's artistic community. Tamara will be writing about the local challenges and responsibilties to maintaining creative inspiration and expression.

Post 3: What Bugs Me

Generally, I’m a pretty upbeat person, especially when it comes to arts and culture. But there are some things that really get my knickers in a twist. Here are a few of them: 

"We can’t fund arts and culture because we need to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry."

I hear this a lot when there’s a funding crisis and I believe it’s a real false argument. Instead of pitting social services against arts and culture and look at the funding pie as an “either-or” situation, why can’t we look it as a “both-and” scenario? This certainly demands a new way of looking at service delivery, collaborative behavior, and funding allocations, but I don’t believe it’s impossible. 

As a matter of fact, a number of social service agencies, such as The Corner Health Center
and SOS Community Center, are already employing arts and cultural activities as strategies to achieve their human services goals. We just need to be more creative in our thinking. 

Which gets to my next thought….

We aren’t using all the tools in our toolbox to address the social and economic challenges facing our communities. 

If you were a carpenter, you’d probably have a variety of tools on hand to use on the job – you wouldn’t set out with just one hammer. You probably wouldn’t even have just one screwdriver, but a number of them – not just one drill bit, but many of them. So, why aren’t we consciously using arts and culture to help address challenges such as youth obesity, illiteracy, homelessness, and the lack of public transportation?  

How you may ask? Well, some communities have used public art to make bus shelters and transit stations so appealing that you want to ride the bus. Seattle’s Dept. of Transportation, for example, has an entire Art Plan – definitely worth checking out! 
In Houston, an artist has given the idea of affordable housing a whole new twist when he decided to tackle the issue rather than just commenting on it in paintings. The initiative is called Project Row House and it’s been held up as a model nationwide.

"Nonprofits should be run more like businesses."
Listening to the news today really makes me glad I don’t run my organization the way Wall Street firms have been running theirs. Years ago, it is true that many nonprofits were run on big ideas and small financial planning but nowadays, that’s much less common. Even here in Ann Arbor, I’ve sat in meetings where business organizations talk about taking on projects that seem way outside their missions because of a quick buck – taking actions that most nonprofits would shy away from as outside of their missions. 

Thanks, but no thanks – I’ll take the rigorous, mission-driven thinking of a nonprofit any day.

We know Baby Boomers are soon going to be retiring in droves and we’re not actively developing succession plans to insure smooth leadership transitions. 

Our cultural community is led by an uncommonly collaborative and talented group of individuals, some of whom are starting to contemplate what they want to be doing in the next chapters of their lives. We know that there are fewer people in the next generation (the Baby Boom is a bulge in the population) and fewer still interested in taking on the relatively low-paying, benefits-lacking jobs of the nonprofit sector. 

So, what are we as a community doing to address this pending crisis in leadership? We can look at it, like an impending car accident, and watch it happen or we can pro-actively start to plan for leadership change. We can make sure that nonprofit boards have the knowledge they need to plan for smooth transitions. We can help groom our emerging leaders. We can help manage change rather than react to it.

All these items demand some new or different ways of thinking. I guess it’s because I work in arts and culture that I think that’s what we should be doing: thinking creatively about solving the challenges that are facing us. What do you think?