PERSPECTIVE: Freedom’s Just Another Word For…

by Rich Hollant


Around the time the State of Connecticut and the City of Hartford were releasing bleak news of their respective budgets, Joey Batts, a Hartford Public School teacher, released a video wherein for 3 minutes 22 seconds he sang his heart out about his affection for the Capital City. The ditty was entitled, “Hartbeat: A Love Letter for Hartford”. You should give a listen—you’ll be inspired. Set against a gritty-yet-hopeful portrayal of our streets, Joey Batt’s rhymes didn’t look at the Hartford neighborhoods with rose-colored glasses, but rather with objectivity brought to focus by real love. At this writing, the video has 1,083 shares on social media and has accrued 54,921 unique views—that’s nearly half our city. Imagine that.

CT perspectiveDance.

At about the same time, I was paying attention to Arien Wilkerson, the 20-something artistic director of the Hartford-based troop, Tnmot Aztro. His ensemble had been dazzling audiences with wildly collaborative and awe-inspiring feats of syncopated brilliance. As the budget news dominated the headlines, Wilkerson was provoking the established media and city leadership in support of two opportunities critical to his success: press coverage of dance and greater access to performance venues. The self-generated tension in his pleas missed the intended mark, but it didn’t matter. Tnmot Aztro would become not just the first local dance troop to perform at the contemporary art space, Real Art Ways, they would do so for 3 solid sold-out performances.


Against the backdrop of the General Electric exodus, union negotiations, and looming austerity budgets, co:lab launched Parkville Studios, a residency program for recent Connecticut art school graduates. Eventually, we will install a 360° mentoring program where the resident cohorts will support high school students interested in an arts education while the residents, themselves, will receive guidance from private collectors, gallery owners, and curators from throughout the Northeast. We’ll do this soon, but not right now.

Right now, we are motivated by a sense of urgency to keep the brightest of our emerging creative talents painting, drawing, and searching for their voice right here in Hartford. Our priority is to offer them the space to generate their indelible contributions to our culture. This priority is as benevolent as it is self-serving because if you care about a community’s ability to heal, or about equity finding its level, or about the pursuit of the elusive “Better World”, then you can do no better service to your own ideals than to double up your investment in creative expression. The timing is irrelevant. Do it because it needs doing—because it changes front


That’s what creativity does—it moves us to action. Yet in a down economy, the knee-jerk reaction has been to cut spending on the things that are deemed to be superfluous, limiting expenditures to the “essentials”. Among the first things to go are outreach through marketing and the fostering of the creative part of our culture. That approach is unsustainable. Take another look at the anecdotes above. This is how our community is primed to be reached—through song, through movement, through the paint and textures that represent the essence of who we are right here and right now. When things are tough, we need to stimulate more imagination, not less. We need more lifting up, more hope-giving. We need the new creative people up in front because they conduct the movement. If I were in dire straits, I’d want a New Orleans style marching band like Hartford Hot Several co-opting George Michael songs on the bow. Seriously—we’d levitate.

Invest boldly.


Rich Hollant is the principal, strategist and a design director at co:lab, a firm he started in 1988.  co:lab helps organizations committed to social value tackle the big questions that lead to greater awareness, purposeful motivation, and deeper loyalty.

PERSPECTIVE commentaries by contributing writers appear each Sunday on Connecticut by the Numbers.

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Latino, African-American Arts Organizations Face Steeper Climb to Sustain Success

Latino and African-American museums and performing arts organizations struggle to draw philanthropic support compared to other cultural institutions, creating "chronic financial difficulties" that sharply limit what they are able produce, according to a comprehensive new report, Diversity in the Arts. The study by the University of Maryland's DeVos Institute of Arts Management suggests that donors focus their giving on bigger grants for "a smaller cohort [of minority organizations] that can manage themselves effectively, make the best art, and have the biggest impact on their communities." The 51-page report was cited by the Los Angeles Times and reported in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.  The report said that minority-focused arts organizations’ most debilitating weakness has been difficulty in attracting private, individual donors, a demographic whose charitable giving far exceeds the grantmaking of foundations, corporations and study

“In 2015 a large number of arts organizations of color are struggling, in some cases desperately,” says the report, overseen by Michael Kaiser, the veteran arts administrator and former Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts president who heads the DeVos Institute.  The report also recommended that “serious arts funders must address the need to develop pipelines to bring talented college graduates of color into the arts management field.”

Using 2013 tax returns, DeVos found that the 30 largest black and 30 largest Latino nonprofit arts groups had a median budget of $3.8 million, versus $61.1 million for 20 major general arts institutions. Minority entities reported getting 5 percent of their funding from individual donations, compared to a norm of 60 percent for other groups, the Times reported.

“There is an urgent need for philanthropic leaders to revise funding policies to account for changing demographics and the distinctive characteristics of organizations of color,” the report said.  Funders may need to support “a limited number of organizations,” the report stated, noting that “it might allow the sector to thrive by creating a group of strong, effective organizations of color that can serve as role models and training grounds for others.”

“The small staffs at many organizations of color are already stretched to the limit delivering their services and oftentimes struggle with reporting requirements set by institutional donors…A shift toward general operating support allows organizations to direct resources to where they are most needed while promoting sustainable capacity growth.”

The “Diversity in the Arts” report contains another potentially controversial finding: When large, mainstream arts organizations put on black- or Latino-themed performances or exhibitions, they siphon away artistic talent, donations and attendance from black and Latino companies, the Los Angeles Times reported. Kaiser called the study "a wake-up call" for arts funders.

lookingA survey to which 29 of the 60 black and Latino arts groups in the study replied showed that the median percentage of donations coming from individuals was 5%. The norm is about 60% for big mainstream arts organizations.  “This is the most important single statistic in the study,” the report says.  Minority arts organizations also trailed when it came to box office receipts and other earned revenue. Earned money accounted for 40% of their revenue, compared with 59% for the big mainstream groups.

To develop its financial profile, the DeVos Institute used tax returns for what it ranked as the 30 largest African American and 30 largest Latino nonprofit arts groups nationwide, by budget, in the fields of theater, dance and museums. The institute compared them with 20 of the biggest general companies in those

The study concludes by suggesting that “people look at the challenges of arts organizations of color in a new way.  And we hope that leaders of every community will feel moved to work together to ensure that the arts of every segment of our varied society are allowed to thrive.”

The DeVos Institute of Arts Management provides training, consultation and implementation support for arts managers and their boards.  It has been associated with the University of Maryland since 2014 but has its origins in the early 1960’s, and has served more than 1,000 organizations in 80 countries.