Balancing Hope, Realism, and the Many Hats We Wear

Our Guest Blog continues with Mark Slavkin's take on the human impact mid-year budget cuts have on our field and the people who keep the wheels moving forward. Mark Slavkin

Each of us in the nonprofit arts sector wears many hats that each bring different loyalties and allegiances. We have an obligation to the immediate needs of ourselves and our families. We have responsibilities to the needs of the organization where we work. We may also play roles as donors or volunteers with other arts organizations. Finally, we all have responsibilities to contribute to the larger cause of a healthy and vibrant arts community.

The current economic crisis may challenge our ability to meet our responsibilities for all the different hats we each wear. A painful budget cut may be the wisest course for the organization where we work, but may be harmful to the overall well-being of the arts community. Taking a new job offer outside the arts field may the smart course for an individual, but hurt the arts organization he or she leaves behind. It is hard not to feel conflicted when considering "what is the right thing to do?"

At the Music Center, we are grappling with developing budget scenarios for the new fiscal year that begins July 1, 2009. The questions go beyond spreadsheets and paper. What is the right balance between being prudent and "living within our means" versus the damage caused when we pull back program resources for students, parents, teachers, and artists? On the other hand, when does a bold and aggressive leadership posture become reckless and irresponsible? In the end, the answers are not to be found in the numbers, but in our collective wisdom and an open debate about our core purposes and values.

So how can we maintain a strong and united coalition in support of the arts, even as each of the individual players is grappling with their own personal needs and choices? How can we avoid being "divided and conquered" as we fall into an "every man for himself" scenario ?

Now, more than ever, I see the value of collaboration and the importance of working in coalitions and not in isolation. Whatever the challenge of the battle, there is strength in numbers. Not only political clout, but the benefit of learning from others and sharing important ideas and insights. It takes a village to raise a child and at least a village to sustain a vibrant arts community in Los Angeles.

In recent weeks, I have been proud to work with Arts for LA and several other arts organizations to respond to the budget crisis at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Building community and coalitions has been helpful politically and comforting personally. Although we have yet to find a resolution to the budget crisis, it is heartening to know we are in this boat together and have a shared interest in weathering this budget storm.

Since I am writing on the day of the Presidential Inaguration, I end with the words of our new President: "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility and a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

Mark Slavkin is the Vice President for Education at the Music Center.