THE BLOG

What I Am Giving Thanks For This Year

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The current economic downturn has indeed created a crisis for virtually every sector of the economy, especially those of us in the not-for-profit arena. Yet during this Thanksgiving week, I believe we in the arts have a great deal to be thankful for even in this troubled time.

First, we must be grateful that our arts organizations have proven to be so resilient. At the beginning of this year, there were predictions that as many as 10,000 American not-for-profit arts organizations would go bankrupt as a result of this recession. In truth, nowhere near that number will go out of business. Arts organizations suffer and bend, but we rarely break. We mourn those organizations that have disbanded; they are a great loss to their communities and to the nation's arts ecology. But we celebrate the thousands more that are still producing important work.

As a corollary, I am also grateful to the more than 120 arts management professionals who have volunteered to be mentors in the Kennedy Center's Arts in Crisis initiative since February of this year. These dedicated executives from across the nation have given their time and expertise, and frequently their own personal resources, to ensure that as many arts organizations as possible survive this difficult time. The consulting support they are providing to other arts organizations has proven to be invaluable.

We must also be grateful to those donors who have continued to be generous despite the recession. Foundations that have temporarily increased their spending rates to avoid making drastic cuts to their grantees have been true heroes. When so many other donors have had to cut their grants, those foundations who have increased their spending rates have taken up the slack.

So have the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have maintained their giving in this precarious environment. Gifts from individual donors have always been less cyclical than those from institutional donors; arts organizations ignore the creation of a solid individual donor program at their own risk. And a big thank you to the U.S. Congress for voting $50 million in stimulus funds for the arts and an additional $25 million for the NEA and the NEH. At a time when most state and local agencies are cutting arts grants, these increases are of immense importance to the arts world.

Many of our individual donors are also our board members. As so many boards are stressed and stretched, we must acknowledge that our board members are volunteers with no obligation to serve. Yet so many of our arts organizations could not survive without the involvement of our board members. Wherever I travel across the globe, I am always asked why our board members are so generous of time, spirit and resources. This is a uniquely American phenomenon, and one which we must not take for granted.

Finally, I am grateful that in good times or bad, artists continue to create such remarkable work. I have seen the most wonderful performances and exhibitions this year. I won't quickly forget Renée Fleming in Der Rosenkavalier or Cate Blanchett in A Streetcar Named Desire. The excitement generated by ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan will continue to inspire me as will performances by the dance, theater and music ensembles I have had the pleasure of enjoying this year. And how fortunate are we to have diverse arts groups to enjoy from Penumbra Theatre in Minnesota to the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in California, from Pregones Theater in New York to the Ritz Theatre in Florida.

The arts have always provided inspiration during our darkest moments; let us all give thanks that even in this difficult period we have great art to give us solace.