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United Arts Council

Top Three Challenges Facing the Nonprofit Arts Sector

By Eleanor H. Oakley, President/CEO

Despite different mission statements, arts organizations across Wake County have many similarities, including like-minded goals and visions for the community. Increasingly, arts organizations are working together to accomplish shared visions and to share resources. Likewise, many area arts organizations face similar challenges. Among those challenges, the following may be the most widespread and unifying among our sector.

Communicating Value and Impact of the Arts

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Funding Strategies

Communicating the value and impact of the arts continues to be the most pressing issue for the nonprofit arts sector here. We must find ways of agreeing to the definitions in the conversation. For example, when I say “art,” does the listener hear, “pictures on the wall?” If an elected official refers to “real jobs” as those outside the arts, where did basic K-12 education miss out in his/her youth? Growth in areas such as art therapy, healthcare and the military need to be part of the conversation about value, as does the creative base of the new economy. We desperately need a common language.

Equity, diversity and inclusion must be paramount concerns because of the nation’s changing demographics. We are protecting and nurturing art forms, not for any one segment of society, but for all. Each person brings a piece of the fabric to an art form, permitting it to evolve and grow. Art forms themselves die without this dynamic—not to mention towns, cities and nations.

Many Americans hear equity and may think, “we need to allow the poor to participate.” This misses the mark about value—we need everyone to participate in the arts to keep them vibrant and evolving. The issue has less to do with economics and more to do with community dynamics—the arts should be the nexus where unlike groups gather for common delight. Appreciating and participating in the arts does not mean for any single group—it means everyone.  Remove barriers—economic, cultural, social and physical barriers to name a few—and move the community toward inclusion.

Funding strategies are critical to local arts agencies, especially in the face of greatly changing private sector support. When corporate America narrows what it will support, large areas are left virtually unsupported in a community. We must find ways to converse with corporate leaders about arts funding and exactly what it accomplishes.

These three issues are not radically different from 10 years ago but are now even more urgent.


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