Sunday, March 19, 2017

Blueprint for Saving the NEA

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on..................."

Here (IMHO) is a very brief and limited overview of what our strategy to save funding for the NEA needs to include.

We need a massive communication with Congress.  While it is important for every arts organization, whether or not they get funding, or whether or not they value the NEA, to communicate with their local Congress representative and Senator, as an organization - registering their strong support for continued funding for the Endowment - that's not enough.  Every person who is employed by an arts organization, every volunteer and supporter, and every artist (even if they are not supported by the NEA) has to likewise communicate.  And by massive, I mean hundreds of thousands of messages.  If there are a million or more people employed in the nonprofit arts, plus many times that number of artists, teachers etc., surely we can muster ten or twenty percent to take 30 minutes and communicate with their elected officials.  This kind of effort is a numbers game.  And this time around we are competing for support against a wide range of programs and funding that are all crucially important to the country's future.

If we really want to maximize our effectiveness and increase our chances of saving the NEA, we need to use social media and any other tool we have to enlist the support of neighbors, friends, co-workers, local media and businesses to join the effort in communicating with Congress.  Every single person in the arts ought to enlist the support of one person outside the arts to make that phone call or write that letter or email.

An aside to those who believe the Endowment isn't that relevant or important - either to them as an artist, administrator, or citizen - please consider that elimination of the NEA would quite possibly have a domino affect on state and local arts support and would, in countless ways, harm and injure an already fragile arts ecosystem.  Maybe this isn't your direct fight, but you are an indirect participant, and if you care about the arts, you will be affected.  And to arts organizations who haven't in the past rallied to this kind of lobbying effort, the question is why?  Are you not part of the ecosystem?

The message each individual sends to their elected representatives can include whatever arguments in the Endowment's favor that you choose - stories of how the arts make a difference in people's lives, how the NEA is important to communities, in education, or the economic arguments in favor of jobs and vibrant local economies, or the basic intrinsic value of art and culture.  It doesn't really matter.  While we can continue making the case for the value of the arts on whatever level, at this point in time we may not have time to amass a tectonic change in public will.

What does matter is this:

First, individual messages must state at the beginning of the communication that you are a registered voter in the district and that support for the NEA is a critical issue for you as a voter.

The communication ought not to be overlong, because if it is, there is a very good chance no one is going to read it - and that is another reason to state at the outset that you are a registered voter in the district (state) and that you want support for the continued funding of the NEA. 

Second, personal visits are best, then phone calls, written letters (fax them to save time), then emails.  Using a robot software program to send a template email isn't the best approach, though better than nothing.  Petitions are basically useless. Please don't think that's all you need to do, because its largely a waste of time.

Third, we need to be strategic in marshaling mass communication to Congress.  So, while it is important to communicate with every single member of Congress - House and Senate - there are target priorities:

1)  Current and past supporters.  Communications should steel the resolve of our supporters to have our back.  Don't take them for granted.  Just because you live in a district or state and your elected official is pro arts, you still need to let them know you need that support to continue at this crucial juncture.  Thank them in advance.

2)  Members of the Committees which have jurisdiction over the Endowment's budget.  These are the people with control over the budget line item at the outset.  Those who are registered to vote in these districts have a special obligation and opportunity to impact the decision making process.

3)  Representatives and Senators who are or may be opposed to funding for the Endowment who are in fact likely to be in tight races for re-election in 2018.  The greater their perceived vulnerability, the more open they are to strong voter sentiments.  That's just a political reality.  Click here for some info on early handicapping of Senate and House 2018 races.

Fourth, we need to challenge and respond to attacks on continued NEA funding that are covered in the media with facts and solid arguments as to why those attacks miss the mark.  Thus, we can ill afford to let Opinion Pieces like the flawed logic of George Will's Washington Post personal view that the Endowment should be defunded. or Budget Director, former conservative Congressman Mick Mulvaney's, absurd change that 'we can't ask coal miner taxpayers from West Virginia to use their tax dollars to pay for things like the NEA'.  
First of all Mr. Mulvaney, we're not talking about tax dollars, we're talking about 46 cents per citizen.  And we most certainly can ask West Virginians and all U.S. citizens to pay for things that make America stronger, more prosperous, improve education and job preparedness for the future, nurture creativity and add value to local communities, including in West Virginia, with programs directly or indirectly funded and supported by the NEA.  And there are West Virginia coal miner families who do benefit from the vibrancy of a strong arts and culture ecology.  Just because they voted for Trump it doesn't necessarily follow they all oppose arts funding.  

We need to counter these kinds of weak arguments against the NEA with facts and counter arguments.  Particularly in the media.

Finally, we need to follow up all our communications.  Lobbying is only as effective as your willingness to hold officials feet to the fire as it were.  A personal visit, a phone call, a letter or an email are great, but a follow up phone call, letter or email is a thousand fold more effective.

Based on past support for the Endowment, I believe the odds are in our favor to keep the agency alive and with not too substantial of cuts - BUT - we live in very different times than we've ever faced - and nothing is certain today.  We ought to mass the biggest effort in our history - for doing so not only enhances our chances to preserve federal funding and support of the arts, but it will be a foundation of which we can build the kind of advocacy and lobbying apparatus we should have cerated decades ago. And it will give us the opportunity to make a better case for the public value of the arts.

Please help.  It's worth a 30 minute to hour investment of your time to do this right.

Americans for the Arts (click here), and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (click here) are but two national organizations that provide links, news, updates, and tools to help you advocate and lobby effectively.  Start with them.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Marketing Messages - Ten Hints to Make Them Work

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on....................."

We are in a constant pursuit of trying to create marketing messages that will resonate with the target audiences; trying to tell our stories in a way that the reader / listener will find them interesting and compelling.

But for most organizations, those reader / listeners are often bored silly reading or hearing the story we are trying to tell.  Too often we present the same old presentation over and over again.  We use the same words and the same tired language that everyone in the field uses.  Moreover, we often use too many words to try to create too many images with the result that our message doesn't convey either what we want it to convey or what we hope it conveys.

It is smart to take a long, cold look at our messages - whether in our advertisements, on our website, in emails, or brochures or direct mail solicitations -- and imagine we are the intended target and ask ourselves is it boring?

Several considerations play into this review.

First, less is often more.  Try to say what you want to say in as few words as possible.  Don't make your reader or listener work too hard to get through all the verbiage.  Everyone is inundated with way too many messages competing for their attention.  The world is jammed with what amounts to noise.   And beyond the sheer volume of messages targeting us, far too many printed brochures, advertisements, emails etc. are too overloaded and busy.  If, for example, you are trumpeting a performance, you already have to provide the specifics - what, where, when and how much.  Too much additional chatter just turns people off.  People don't read things today, they scan them.  Very quickly. Better one brilliant line, than an essay.  The best messages are often very short.  Too much information drives people away.

Second, hyperbole is usually recognized as such.  Don't insult your targets by making the arrogant assumption that merely using words that promise the most, the best, the greatest experience of a lifetime.  If you are selling a performance, you need to convey what they get by attending - and very likely promising them a life transformative experience will be recognized as ridiculous - even if it happens.  You have to be more creative in making sure what you are delivering is believable.

Third, differentiate between various purposes for your messaging.  Selling people on a performance and getting them to buy tickets isn't exactly the same message you would send to people you want to donate to your organization.  Try not to confuse your targets.  Boomers and Millennials are different.  So are a score of other categories of people.  Using one single message for different target audiences is probably never a good idea.  People can easily discern what they perceive to be disrespectful marketing, and using the same old language, year after year, is disrespectful.

Fourth, craft messages that take direct aim at a desire or need for the target - be that an enjoyable night out with friends, or being part of a community that makes a local difference.  Remember the message isn't directed at you - it's aimed at people outside of "you".  What works for you is a poor gauge of what will work for your targets.

Fifth,  images are more effective than words in almost all printed materials (including emails).  The famous "GOT MILK" tagline over a plate of chocolate chip cookies was more effective than a thousand words.  The image of a battered seal pup accompanying a plea for donations to save them was all that was needed to move people to action.  But some images are better than others - and if all you do is pick some "clip art" that is somewhat related to your work, you are likely to squander this opportunity.  A generic drawing of two ballet dancers is virtually meaningless.  A photo of two of your ballet dancers in action is more memorable.  But a photo of any ballet dancer may not be the right choice.  THINK about how the image will play to the intended audience and whether or not it is likely to move that audience to do what it is you want them to do.  Do some homework.  Is it overworked?  Is it fresh and original?  Will people remember it?

Sixth, imagine you are the reader / listener.   Don't assume they are as passionate or informed about what you do as you are.  For the most part, I guarantee you they are not.  They may not even be that aware of you, and they may simply not care.  Your message has to try to make them care.

Seventh, offer something extra in return for the requested action: If you donate, your name goes on our annual honorees wall.  If you attend, we will give you a discount on the next two upcoming performances.

Eighth, play into the times.  Help Save Dance in the current era of possible political attack may hit the right emotions today for example.  You may think what you do is timeless, but your audience still lives in today.

Ninth, do some research on what fonts people most respond to, what colors elicit what reactions, what subject lines in an email increase the odds it will be opened.  There is research out there on a lot of this.  Don't just make your message choices based on what you like or what you think works.  Find out what people actually do like and what does work.

Tenth, if you don't know what works with your target audiences - take the time to ask them.  Do some surveying, get people involved in helping you figure out what will work best.  Test things.

Whatever you do, don't just keep using the same, tired old words in the same tired old messages that don't work.  You're just wasting precious time and insulting the people to whom the messages are directed.   BE CREATIVE. And being creative sometimes takes time.  Don't leave something as important as your messaging to a half hour time slot on one of your afternoon "To Do" lists.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, March 6, 2017

Robots and Artificial Intelligence - Coming After YOUR Job Soon?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................"

There is underway an inexorable march in the confluence of Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Software and Robotics and the future of that progress will  impact everything from jobs and the economy to the very survival of the species.

Apart from the warnings by many of tech and science's best minds (click here for that analysis) of the existential threat to human existence from the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that may progress so quickly and so profoundly that it surpasses the very ability of the human brain to even understand it, with the possible ultimate consequence that AI will at some point simply make decisions based on its calculations that may consider human beings as either part of a problem or simply irrelevant in the mix - the more immediate impact will be on the economy, jobs and the way society organizes work.  Indeed that inevitability, which started long ago on simple terms, has now gained enough momentum that there are predictions that thirty, forty or even fifty percent of all the jobs that exist today may, at the least be substantially altered and impacted by AI and its handmaidens, or even replaced entirely by machines in the next twenty years.

In the short term, the jobs that involve predictable and repetitive work will be eliminated, and other jobs will see an an increasing portion of their work done by machines and programs.  It would be a grievous mistake to think that only assembly line kinds of jobs are at risk, as many white collar, and even creative jobs, will be impacted as well.

Decades ago the automated gas pump rendered needless those service station employees who use to do that for you, and the thousands of those for whom that was a job had to find some other employment (and most of you will not remember when you drove into a gas station, and the attendant pumped your gas, washed your windows, checked your oil and the tire pressure).  Today, self driving vehicles are getting very close to putting all the truck, bus, and taxi drivers - and there are millions of them - out of work.  And beyond those soon to be unemployed people, the self driving vehicles will impact related industries as well.  As they will be safer, thus reducing accidents, the auto coverage segment of the insurance industry will likely collapse and with it those jobs too.  There is a domino effect at play here.

There are numerous reports and articles that robots, software programming and the advances of AI have already begun to erode the need for humans to fill a variety of jobs beyond the manufacturing jobs that robots are already doing (e.g., the auto industry); everything from accounting and finance jobs, to doctors to lawyers, and that in the next ten to twenty years huge segments of people now employed in various areas will lose their jobs to the machines.

Many industries will be more vulnerable and susceptible to early job elimination - manufacturing for example.  But many others are clearly in the crosshairs.  Consider the hospitality industry - smart (AI) robots and software are already managing the reservation system, checking in guests at the front desk, tending to housekeeping cleaning, food preparation and delivery and more.   Arts administration as a field will not be immune.

In the past, technological advances eliminated some jobs, but created new ones in their place, and the benefits to society as a whole were substantial.  Today, that may still hold true - for awhile.  But experts are cautioning that many jobs will cease to exist - and in just the next two decades or so.  Whether this turns out to be a boon for humanity or a disaster is yet unknown.

So how will that impact the arts, and in particular, arts administrators?  While we would like to think that as we deal with creativity, much of what we do simply cannot be replaced by machines, there is even speculation that the machines will ultimately, on a human scale, create art - from plays to paintings to dance and beyond.  And while artists and art are likely to, for a long time and probably forever, remain a human endeavor, (machines won't for some time be capable of understanding human aspirations, dreams and ideas), eventually AI may master those human facets too.  What seems clear is that many arts administration functions are in those job categories of the first to go - in whole or in part.  And I say in part, because initially we will all use more sophisticated software and programming, then robots and finally AI to help us do our jobs better and faster.  And that will mean fewer of us necessary to do even more work.  At some point, we will be less and less crucial in that mix, and jobs now filled by us - will go to the machines.

Which arts administration jobs are likely to require only minimal human oversight and involvement in the near term (next ten to twenty years)?  Any job that is predictable and repetitive is likely vulnerable.  But that's only the beginning.  Consider the following jobs in our field:

1.  Financial - Accounting, bookkeeping, reports, taxes, budgets, money management.  All of these functions can now be done more efficiently by software, and when you add in AI (especially as it develops the capacity for self-learning)  it won't be long at all before there is no need for any arts organization to employ anyone in any financial area, except maybe one person to manage the systems.

2.  Marketing -  software married to AI will be able to determine the best and most effective marketing strategies for each individual organization - everything from which approaches are likely to work best; what messages optimize results; and how, where, when and to whom to send those messages on an individual case by case basis, based on data analysis and projections - And advertising, and public relations will likely go to the machines as well.  Eventually, AI will allow for customized, individualized marketing campaigns and strategies to be developed and managed by software and AI.

3.  Fundraising - from grantwriting to donor solicitation to keeping the patrons happy.  AI advances will be particularly useful in this area and people will no longer be necessary to do much more than manage the overall systems.  The systems will identify the most likely sources of cash flow, donations and support, make the most effective solicitations, coddle and nurture the donors and keep everyone happy.  Some human contact will, of course, still be essential - but far less than we might hope.  Perhaps those providing the funding will still make the "human" decisions, but perhaps even philanthropic decisions on fund allocation will be machine territory.

4.  Authorship - including grantwriting, reports, proposals, strategic plans, evaluations, annual reports, press releases etc. - is an area that software programs can already do, and when combined with AI, these jobs will no longer need to be filled by humans.  This includes blogs, newsletters, thank you notes, advocacy communications and more.

5.  Programming - creation, management and evaluation will all eventually be something software programs and AI can do at our bidding.  It may be a conceit to think only we will be able to deal with the creative aspects of programming.

6.  Research and Data Collection / Analysis - including even formation of what questions to ask to frame the research. Software combined with AI is very likely to completely take over this kind of work, combining the ability to both manage data collection and to synthesize and analyze data results, then write reports and make recommendations.  And do so at a far more sophisticated depth and light years quicker than we do it today.

7.  Creative Functions - there is where robotics will likely come in to our arena.  From set, lighting and costume design, to staging, from curation to exhibition  - and perhaps as far as play and script writing to choreography.  Many of these creative functions might well be done (at least in part) by machines in the future - in combination with human beings or in place of them.

So if you work in any of these areas, your job may, at the very least, undergo profound changes in the next decade or two.  It's entirely possible it may simply disappear.

The impact of all this will have profound effect on our sector. - and quicker than anyone might imagine.  In some ways, we will be able to do more for less money.  And for some time employment of early AI and robotic options will likely be expensive; too expensive given that the supply of humans who can do the job will exceed the number of jobs.  But at some point the cost will make the option affordable to all, and that may entail the elimination of the jobs of a lot of people.  Even those positions not eliminated, may see banishment to the "gig" economy sector - at far less remuneration.

What do we do?

1.  First, we need to understand how the possibilities of the roll out of AI and robotics will happen and its speed, and be realistic about how it might impact us.  We can ill afford to ignore developments that will impact our ability to be competitive and to survive on limited income.  We don't yet know whether wholesale elimination of jobs in the wider culture will result in increased leisure time for people (which might be good for us) or whether those job eliminations will result in fewer people being able to afford to sample our wares and support our work.  Those are larger societal questions that we need to monitor.

2.  Second, we need to understand how partial employment of the new technology will interact with the already ubiquitous gig economy, and affect our jobs and the way we organize our work, as well as our budgetary processes.

3.  Third, as a consequence, we need to rethink professional development and arts administration degree education.  It is probably incumbent on the field to consider how quick and wide technology based job elimination may happen, and revamp and rethink our arts administration professional development and degree programs that today are very likely teaching a number of skills that will be filled by machines and programs and no longer necessary from human beings.  Training people to do what will no longer be needed from them will be an incredible waste of time and resources.  There may already be an oversupply of professionals given the demand for their services, and we need to grapple with the question of encouraging an increase in the supply of arts administrators for which there may be no gainful employment.  And as software programs, AI and machines do more and more of the work, what new skills will we need to adapt and manage that process.  What new skills will be needed to both survive and thrive.  Very likely the concept of leadership will undergo changes.  We need to be prepared.

4.   Fourth, we need to understand how other sectors that can afford the new applications of AI and its impact on the ways of doing work (which we cannot) may pass us by.  To what extent will we be able to afford to be on the cutting edge, and to what extent will our competitiveness in the marketplace suffer if we are left at the starting gate?

5.  Fifth, we need to understand the potential opportunities for art and possible new jobs as AI becomes increasingly threatening and there is a backlash.

6.  And finally, we need to imagine how art will play a role in how AI is developed across the spectrum.  Artists will have a major role to play in the vision of the future, and we will have a role to play in nurturing and facilitating that vision.

For the future, the entire relationship between the arts and our sector and the intersections art has with technology, science, education and work ought to be a subject around which we organize conferences, summits, dialogues and thought sessions.  Conversations at those tables will happen, and we need to have a seat at them.

I don't pretend to know the future, but despite the warnings of those who fear the existential consequences of unbridled growth of AI (and I, for one, am alarmed), that genie is out of the bottle and will likely now continue to grow at frightening rates.  It will impact jobs, and some of those jobs will be ours.  It may also be an existential threat to our future.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 27, 2017

Get Real - Effective Advocacy Is About Amassing Voter Sentiment

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on..................."

All over America, citizens angry over policy changes emanating from the White House and Congress have been registering their anger and frustration at local Congressional Town Hall Meetings as well as via telephone calls, faxes, letters, emails and more.  This massive outpouring is unprecedented in recent times.  It is democracy in action.  And it is having an impact - precisely because of three factors:  1) it is from voters in the elected official's district; 2) it sends the message that angry voters will be using their votes to register their anger; and 3) it is massive.

It remains to be seen whether or not this political involvement will be sustained over time, and what effect and impact it will have long term. And the real test won't come until 2018 at the earliest, when the next election will give those unhappy the chance to unseat those politicians they blame for changes to which they object.   But make no mistake, the effort thus far has got the attention of even those who are opposed to the positions of the protesters and at whom much of the anger is addressed. This is because it hits at the one vulnerable spot that politicians have - at their chance of being re-elected.

And getting re-elected is virtually every elected politician in the country's number one priority.  Their job is at stake, and for many their job is, like jobs are to many of us, their source of income and how they maintain their lives, the way they define themselves and their purpose in life -- it is, in part who they are and what they do.  No matter how principled they may be, no matter how much they believe they want to create positive change in people's lives, no matter how honest or how hypocritical they are, very, very few will give up the power, prestige, privilege and trappings of being in Congress.  And so their election and re-election is their number one priority.  It (excuse the pun) Trumps everything else.

And massive turnout of unhappy, dissatisfied voters in their districts is something they do not ignore, nor fail to take seriously (and that is true even in the era of gerrymandered "safe districts", for nothing is ever absolutely certain, including how people will vote).  Note the use of the words: "massive", "voters", and "in their districts".

We ought to learn from the recent Town Hall Meetings reality staring us in the face.

If the Trump budget eliminates the NEA, then it will be much more difficult to fund it via Congress, than if the agency had funding in the President's budget.  We don't yet know whether or not the NEA will be axed in the coming budget, but it seems more possible than ever.  And even if the President includes some funding for the agency in his budget, there may still be attempts to cut or eliminate that funding by Congress - attempts that may have a better chance of succeeding than ever before.  If the arts really want to influence members of Congress, the sector has got to have large numbers of people who are registered to vote and reside in their district contact their Representatives and Senators directly, and let them know that they want the NEA to be funded, and that failure to vote that way will cause the voter to vote against that elected official in the next election.  This communication doesn't have to be, and should not be, nasty or accusatorial or negative.  Just the simple fact that funding the NEA is a make or break issue for the person communicating, and their future support - including their vote for or against the representative - is dependent on the official's vote one way or the other.  And it won't mean much unless there is a huge number of people who express that opinion.  And while it is important to thank those politicians who are supportive, the bigger challenge is to amass votes in the districts where the official is not supportive.

So if all the arts can manage is people signing a White House Petition or a few hundred DC visits, then we might as well just save our energy.  Of all the means of registering one's position, signing an online petition is the absolute least effective, particularly in trying to influence a month old White House administration that very likely (and with good reason) believes that people for whom NEA funding is a big issue, were not, and will not become, Trump supporters.   Whatever the Trump Administration decision on the NEA turns out to be, it is almost assuredly not going to be based on any petition of people urging the NEA's survival.  And patting ourselves on the back for getting to the magic 100,000 signatures mandating a WH response is as big a waste of time as the Atlanta Falcons celebrating a Super Bowl win at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Don't believe me?  Read this simple advice from Barney Frank based on decades in the U.S. House of Representatives on how to influence Congress.

Wake up people.  Thus far there has been reports of a number of op ed pieces in support of the NEA.  And, of course, the 100,000 signature petition.  But I haven't seen much more than that.  And frankly I think this year that is not nearly enough.  Do we really want to rely on trying to rally a few hundred people to make our case as we have in the past?  Is that the best we can do?

If the existence of the NEA is important to the sector, then it had better organize immediately to demonstrate massive numbers of people for whom the issue will determine their vote in the future.  That's the only language the elected officials truly understand and respond to.  All the stories and arguments notwithstanding - they mean very little.  You want support?  Make your elected officials understand you are talking about votes - against them.  Lots of votes.  That's how it works.   Personal visits are best. Then phone calls, then letters, then emails.  Robo-letters using templates are ignored. You don't have to have some convincing argument.  The value of the arts - intrinsic or economic or whatever? That's irrelevant.  Your argument is how you will vote.  Period.  Don't make this more complicated than it is.  

As Barney Frank advises, the only communication that matters is from voters in the official's district. And the only real position that matters is how you will vote in the future.  That may not be enough to get what we want, but it's the only way the system works.  If you think truth and justice will out, you're living in another dimension.

It's long past time the arts come to understand that the political system does not work like some fantasy textbook idea of government in action.  It would be nice if it did, but it doesn't.  If we want to continue to believe that our talking points, our stories, our arguments, our value are what persuade politicians aligned against us to support us, then we might as well ask Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy to grant our wishes.  About the same chance of success.

Get real.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 5

Good morning
"And the beat goes on................"

Concluding the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).

Final Question:
Equity, diversity and race remain high level priority issues for the entire nonprofit arts field.  How are you addressing the challenges in your territory?  Are the issues such that solutions will likely require a larger map approach, and is it incumbent on the whole Bay Area to work together for truly meaningful change?  What are the principal roles LAAs can, and should, play, and what role does your organization favor?


Kerry Adams Hapner:  Racial and cultural equity are primary goals for local arts agencies as we serve all residents. This is true in San Jose, one of the most diverse US cities. Cultural pluralism and access are guiding principles of Cultural Connection: San Jose’s Cultural Plan for 2011-2010. We address equity through cultural funding and initiatives that focus on serving immigrant populations.

Income disparity and affordability are huge pressing issues in San Jose and the Bay Area now. The Ghostship tragedy has placed a national spot light on affordable, safe live and work spaces for artists. The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs is currently working with the San Jose Housing Department to explore an affordable housing project in downtown San Jose, and we are conducting outreach to the arts community on their specific housing and space needs.

Silicon Valley Creates is developing a critical project in Japantown called the Creative Center for the Arts, which will provide rehearsal, production/studio, and administrative space for arts organization and creative entrepreneurs.

Community Arts Stabilization Trust, the Rainin Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation are among regional funders that, along with local arts agencies, are making significant investments to ensure cultural spaces are retained and sustained in the Bay Area.

Michele Seville:  These are critical issues, especially now. The Richmond Arts & Culture Commission just lost City funding for its Neighborhood Public Art program, which provided grants to a highly diverse group of youth and emerging artists. So, we are currently partnering with RYSE, a local non-profit serving youth to apply for funding, both state and federal(?), for projects similar to the ones we used to fund. Yes, I believe it is incumbent on the Bay Area to set the example of working together for change. We are leaders in the arts, and should act like it. Please help organize such collaborative events.  

Kristen Madsen:  First, we plan to watch the smartest, most thoughtful expert in this field, Roberto Bedoya, the new Cultural Affairs Manager in Oakland, and imitate everything he does that we possibly can.

But meanwhile, we are in the final planning stages for a new joint grants program, in partnership with Community Foundation Sonoma County.  The grants will fund arts education projects specifically serving diverse communities, neighborhoods, and organizations across the County.  Equity is a primary, stated goal of the grants and the guidelines are as broad and open as we can make.  Eligible grantees include arts and cultural organizations, and projects can occur in or out of schools and in non-traditional settings.  Partnerships with other community based organizations, including non-arts organizations, will be encouraged.

The next phase of work on this project will require us to dig deep into our communities to find the thoughtful work we know is being produced by individuals and organizations that may not have found their way to us on their own, and help them come in.  We are clear-eyed that the learning curve in Year One will be steepest for us as funders as we re-think our systems to be more open, inclusive, and impactful across the entire county.  And as two of the primary arts funders in the county, we hope that we are leading by example -- and are certain that the results of this work will make the case that the investment is more than worth the effort.

Tom DeCaigny:  Cultural equity is the San Francisco Arts Commission’s guiding value. In the past year, we have engaged Race Forward to train all staff members on racial equity principles and practice so that we are better able to advance racial equity through all the SFAC’s programs. We have established an internal cultural equity working group that is charged with researching promising practices in racial equity and analyzing the SFAC’s programs through a racial equity lens. The SFAC has also joined multiple SF City Departments in the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE) program where we will be contributing to a GARE issue paper on equity in the arts this coming year.

The SFAC stewards the historic Cultural Equity Endowment Fund which was founded to support artists and arts organizations from historically underserved communities. The Fund, now approximately $3 million annually, is one of the only pieces of legislation in the country to specifically name cultural equity as a focus for public arts funding. Combined with approximately $2.5 million annually to support our city-owned cultural centers, the SFAC grants out approximately $6 million annually in support of cultural equity. We also continue to work closely with our partners at Grants for the Arts to ensure coordinated investments for our shared grantees and to respond to emerging needs in the SF arts ecology, most recently co-administering a $2 million nonprofit arts displacement mitigation program to keep arts organizations in San Francisco.

It is important to work both at local and regional level because every city has unique challenges in terms of equity that might require customized solutions and policies. However, regional conversations allow us to share promising practices and a common language to discuss issues that pertain to all artists and arts organizations in the region such as displacement, which disproportionately impacts organizations working in communities of color and other underserved communities.

Olivia Dodd:  For us to see industry-wide change in our regional (and national) arts and culture field, we will need to work at all levels as well as from both within individual organizations and together through regional/national associations to address these issues. While reorienting an industry may seem a daunting task, it is also an incredibly exciting and necessary one. It is on each individual organization, speaking for our organization as well, to identify where you need to grow and to resolve as a whole to make the changes necessary to become more equitable and diverse. To address this, we have to be willing to look at and modify our representation in our own staff and board makeup, our development strategies, our choices in programming, and our audiences. This is also a process we as an industry need to support each other through by holding each other accountable, identifying common challenges, and sharing successful practices.

In Napa County, normalizing representation as well as diversity, equity and affordability are top of mind, not just for the arts but for our community as a whole, whether in local politics, education or business leadership. The arts, however, lag behind many other sectors in proactive policies and actions to address these needs. With that said, this is one of the aspects of our agency that needs the most strengthening. It is not only something we see as important to our mission but a great opportunity for our local arts to serve and make an impact. With thoughtful programming, an orientation to authentic relationship cultivation, and diverse creators, we believe the arts can flip our role to become leaders in developing equity and diversity within our communities. Specifically, we as a local arts agencies can and should be proactive centers to champion the work of those who are leading the way as well as provide connections, guidance and resources to arts organizations and artists.

Local arts agencies, whether representing a city or the nation, can help drive movement in our field by: 
  • Organizing conversation among local leadership and facilitating networking to bring new voices into the traditional structures; 
  • Providing or soliciting grants for local organizations to facilitate new transitions, outreach, and programs;
  • Gathering and disseminating demographic information, baselines to track progress, and facilitate data sharing;
  • Raising awareness for diverse voices and stories of those that are successfully evolving; 
  • Spearheading relationship cultivation across traditional boundaries;
  • And, Actively networking and promoting partnerships with sectors or programs that serve more  diverse constituents and help cultivate relationships;
Although we are early in our diversity strategy and have a long way to go in our agency, we have initiated a handful of services to drive conversation and action on equity, diversity and race locally. Beyond active recruitment for diversity within the institution and programs, we have established the ACNV Leadership Network in order to facilitate a united movement with our local nonprofit arts groups. Collectively this group, representing about 20 arts nonprofits, agreed that we do not currently represent our community and agreed that we want this to change. We recognize that these issues are institutional, not just a marketing challenge, and have begun a systematic approach to clearly articulate the specific issues for locally. This will enable us to have clear talking points, common goals, and the ability to share the initiative widely. 

The first phase is an assessment of our community demographics, our local arts leadership, and arts audiences/participants. We are in the midst of this process now so the profile is not complete, but what we can say is that our county is home to a population that is 23% foreign-born, over 30% Latino, 26% in poverty, with 50% of our students who are or were English Language Learners.  Meanwhile, our local arts administration is by a far majority made-up of college educated, upper-middle class, white, females and the majority of our audiences are white, native-born English speakers. This little bit is a powerful reminder of why diversity and equity rise to the top of issues facing our arts community. We know we have a lot to do to start seeing change, but are inspired by the vision of a more welcoming, relevant and representative leadership serving a greater diversity of voices and audiences in our local arts. 

Connie Martinez:  I think exchanging ideas and best practices around equity, diversity and race is better than a larger map approach. We favor experimenting with what works locally, with an emphasis on: 1) setting the table with diverse voices (network engagement); 2) paying attention to our pipeline of diverse leaders (genARTS and MALI – Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute); and 3) ensuring equity and diversity with our investments in people and organizations (Grants programs/Artist Laureates etc).

Deep thanks to all the participants on this Forum.

Have a good weekend.

Don't Quit

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 4

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................"

Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).

Today's Question:
Arts Education remains somewhat of a Have and Have-Not proposition, with wealthy districts offering more than those that are struggling financially.  Is the solution an approach that unites all the districts in the greater Bay Area? If not, then what can each district do at this point in time to maximize the possibility of offering meaningful arts education to local students K-12?


Kristen Madsen:  Fun fact:  Sonoma County, with a population of 500,000, has 40 school districts, while as a comparison, San Francisco, with a population of 850,000, has a single school district. And each of the remaining counties in the region is somewhere in between.  My point is that the idea of unified efforts within each of our counties is fraught with challenges – the idea of expanding that to a 9 county region is likely to implode before liftoff.

However, the idea of learning from each other and piggy-backing on existing efforts is incredibly effective.  This month, with funding from the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, the California Arts Council, and the Hewlett Foundation, we are undertaking an assessment of arts education in our K-12 schools, county-wide.  And I’ll pause here to give a lot of credit to the Hewlett Foundation for its leadership in guiding this process.  Shortly after we learned that the Arts Council of Napa County had launched a similar effort, Hewlett stepped in with access to new data and an invitation for potential funding.   They introduced us to the recently released California Arts Education Data Project produced by Create CA, also with Hewlett funds.  CreateCA has culled all the arts education data that schools report to the state Department of Education and put it online in a searchable and very user-friendly set of dashboards.  Hewlett also let us know that Marin County was also mid-stream in a county-wide arts education project.  And the Hewlett offer of funds was very helpful in leveraging additional funds from Community Foundation Sonoma County for the project.   So we are starting this work on second base.  And huge thanks go to our friends in Napa who have been extraordinarily generous with their information, tools, and process to help keep us from reinventing the wheel.

Our goal is to gain real, meaningful, accurate data about what is happening in arts education in our county’s schools.  Once we understand the current state of affairs, we can determine if there are gaps, how big they are, where they are, and more.  At that point, we can develop a strategy to begin to fill those holes, starting with the deepest first.  Stay tuned.

Olivia Dodd:  When it comes to equal access to arts education, we are all fortunate to have Joe Landon leading the California Alliance for Arts Education and helping local communities develop our own action networks to promote change. The Alliance helped us to kick-off our own local network and through this work, we have seen that this multi-front strategy, state and local, is an effective approach. There are absolutely areas where this work can be expanded and the initiatives tackled at a regional level and some that have already begun.

Our county offices of education’s VAPA representatives already meet as a region through the Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership of the Bay Area and collaborate on the Inventing Our Future integrated learning summer institute, a program of the Alameda County Office of Education.  This is a great example of a regional effort to maximize resources and leverage regional assets for the professional development and networking of arts education providers and advocates. There is a lot more to be learned and shared with each other regionally like, strategies and tactical resources for LCAP advocacy, teaching artist trainings, pooled private resources/funds, greater access to classroom teacher trainings in methods like Visual Thinking Strategies, and strategies to create access to our unique resources in museum collections, performance experiences, and teaching artist databases.
However, with as much that can grow from a regional collaboration, we will need to be mindful of and resourceful in addressing logistical challenges in implementing shared resources, like limited PD budgets, transportation, and district-based decision making. As we consider the district power base for budgets, strategic priorities and curriculum, as well as to be most impactful in our understanding and outreach to students, we have to equip ourselves for action at the local district and school level.  In Napa County, we have found that there are a lot of assets that have gone underutilized and relatively little attention spent in addressing the institutional issues that have kept socio-economic barriers in place.

One of the greatest challenges in instituting equitable arts education is, of course, sustainable funding. While the ability to allocate arts funding through the district LCAPs and now through Title 1 funds is a huge advantage to arts advocates, we have found that it will take much more support than what our underfunded districts can do alone. As we have built our local action network, the ACNV Education Alliance, we have found a wealth of resources emerge from simply bringing together the local private resources (funders, teaching artists, arts nonprofits, voters and volunteers) with the educators. The networking alone has lead to new partnerships to serve diverse classrooms, but also has lead to rich conversations and strategies about the issues that are keeping access limited.

There were a few of key actions that I have been essential in building support for the ACNV Education Alliance and I would recommend these to any local advocacy network; a) agree on common terminology in your definition(s) of “arts education” (Are you focused on sequential standards based education, integration, enrichment programs, or simply increasing exposure?), b) develop and unite under a shared mission that puts student interests first, c) be conscious and respectful of the competing interests the district has to manage, d) involve the students in the process, e) be strategic and inclusive - don’t underestimate the importance of relationship and trust building in your planning, and, f) develop a cohort of funders, small and large, to partner in matching funds and collaborate on strategies. Through sticking with these strategies, we have found that passionate and intelligent partners have emerged and when conflicts inevitably arise, despite competing agendas that we are able to go back to the shared vision of equitable access and relevant arts education for ALL students as our primary objective.

Michele Seville:  I think an appeal needs to be made to each County District, especially since federal money for the arts looks unlikely. Better at the county level than relying on the school boards, some of which are currently being challenged with regards to their use of funds.

Connie Martinez:  I believe a system wide solution for K-12 arts education is beyond the capacity of regional arts leaders.  Each school district has unique challenges and resources and so arts opportunities often need to be customized.  In Silicon Valley, we have created a marketplace for teachers to “buy” Common Core inspired arts education from our arts ecosystem with mini grants through ArtsEdConnect, a technology platform that matches teachers needs and interests with arts education opportunities and providers like Starting Arts.  Perhaps the regional opportunity is more around advocacy for the importance of STEAM, rather than STEM.  And the sharing of best practices, models.

Tom DeCaigny:  The challenges in arts education are often unique to a specific school district. A uniform solution for all districts in the greater Bay Area might not be effective in addressing those unique challenges. However, conversations at the regional level can provide insights into innovative strategies and promising practices. The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) currently provides an annual operating grant to the Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area to support their knowledge-sharing and regional convening efforts. In San Francisco, the SFAC and several other municipal agencies participate in an arts education taskforce that aims to advance the City’s Arts Education Master Plan. The SFAC works directly with the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families to enrich the out of school time programs in the school district which supplement the in-school arts education curriculum. In SF schools with limited resources, the SFAC has a grant program that places trained teaching artists at school sites for an entire school year. In addition to providing high quality arts education to students, the grant program aims to help the school build its capacity for providing a high-quality arts education to all students.

Kerry Adams Hapner:  In San Jose, there are 21 different school districts. Each of them are supported in part by the Santa Clara County Office of Education. Therefore, working at either the district level or through the SCCOE are the most effective means to advance arts education. I serve on an advisory committee for Artspiration, the SCCOE arts education masterplan. 

Friday's Question:

Equity, diversity and race remain high level priority issues for the entire nonprofit arts field.  How are you addressing the challenges in your territory?  Are the issues such that solutions will likely require a larger map approach, and is it incumbent on the whole Bay Area to work together for truly meaningful change?  What are the principal roles LAAs can, and should, play, and what role does your organization favor?

Have a good day.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 3

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................."

Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).

Today's Question:

Funding varies from area to area, across disciplines and organization size - and remains one of the key challenges to every arts organization.  Is there any kind of tax or dedicated revenue stream that might have a chance of voter passage that would include all nine Bay Area counties?  Is that kind of approach viable?  Are there other ways the funding issue might be addressed from a cooperative approach?


Olivia Dodd:  A dedicated revenue stream for the arts that has a chance of passing is the million dollar question (pardon the pun)!  A meaningful revenue stream has been something our agency has spent a lot of time considering, as it has the potential to be transformative for not only our region but our California culture.  Although we have not yet found that there is an obvious path forward, I certainly believe there is merit to working collaboratively on the issue. There are several models deployed by other regions and industries that could be guides for us - of which many might only be lucrative if applied on a larger regional scale.

A few models we’ve discussed internally may be worth exploration on a regional level. Business Improvement or Tourism Improvement Districts have been successful for collecting pooled funds through industry-led self-assessments, helping re-development and destination marketing organizations at the city or county level. If applied to the arts, might this be an added art sales or ticket fee assessment that goes back into local nonprofit arts? In areas like Cincinnati and Louisville, regional united arts fund models have raised millions of dollars from philanthropists, special events, and corporate giving programs.  In the greater Portland area the regional governments support the operations of their local arts agency based on a cost of living formula and they even have an agreement that the arts can not be cut disproportionately to other services. Voters additionally approved an income tax levy that provides $35 per person for grants in education and access to the arts. Whether or not the Bay Area would be willing to do an income tax or sales tax like our northern counterparts is yet to be seen but worth exploring. Or, maybe, it would be better to explore a retail program that benefits a regional arts fund, like the state-run English Lottery or California vanity license plate program.  Whether privately or publicly funded, by looking at the issue of funding on a regional level we open up a much greater opportunity for our residents and arts community.
Within our county, I have seen how this sort of asset can transform an industry’s presence. Just seven years ago our county’s conference and visitor bureau was as a small agency hovering around a $250,000 budget annually. Then, the hotel industry came together and adopted a Tourism Improvement District for the county and within in each city that added an assessment to each visitor’s overnight stay in order to fund the marketing of Napa County as a destination. The CVB was then contracted as the agent for this joint marketing of the county as destination, now yielding them just over $6 million annually for our small county of just under 140,000 residents.

If we were to look at funding for the arts through a nine county approach, the challenge will be in deciding what is equitable and strategic in geographic distribution of the funds as well as what sort of infrastructure would support this venture. Would we need to establish a regional arts agency that the local organizations and agencies apply to or could it be a consortium of agencies that run the fund co-operatively?  Should we explore mergers among local arts agencies to combine our administration and grantmaking?  All of these questions offer great opportunity to step back and explore what could be if we’re willing to think outside the normal territorial boundaries.

Connie Martinez: I’d like to be wrong but hard to envision a public funding mechanism across all nine counties that would speak to the values and priorities of each unique sub-region AND be able to get voter approval.   That said, funding mechanisms that align with local values and priorities are worth exploring and could be reinforced by overarching regional messages that connect to and complement local campaigns.

Tom DeCaigny:  A regional tax or dedicated public funding stream for the arts across all nine Bay Area counties isn’t a viable option. Jurisdictional authorities in California are defined by city, county and state legislative bodies. Public funding structures mirror those jurisdictions making it difficult to fund multi-county initiatives. Historically, very few regional measures have passed and critical regional infrastructure bond measures like BART have struggled for decades.

That said, the arts stand to benefit from several regional planning efforts, particularly the long-term development of a second Transbay BART tube. A second Transbay tube would allow late night entertainment and cultural workers as well as arts audiences to access BART on a 24-hour basis which will become essential as more and more artists and cultural workers seek affordable housing around the Bay Area. The recent success of the BART bond measure gives hope that critical transportation infrastructure improvements may be able to secure regional funding in the future.
The best opportunity for securing new Bay Area arts funding may be through securing community benefits from the expansive amount of development taking place in the region. In 2015, the San Francisco Arts Commission worked with the SF Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to negotiate an arts community benefit package valued at more than $12 million. The benefits package, to be paid by Forest City as part of their development of the 5M project in the South of Market neighborhood, includes the gifting of the historic Dempster Building to the Community Arts Stabilization Trust as well as approximately $3 million to seismically retrofit and restore the building. The benefits package also includes an arts programming fund for the neighborhood and a nonprofit arts displacement mitigation fund to be administered by the SFAC. By sharing promising practices and lessons learned through networks like the U.S. Urban Arts Federation, communities across the Bay Area could negotiate similar community benefit packages for the arts.

Kristen Madsen:  The list of people who are smarter than I am about the intricacies of taxes and ballot measures is … oh right … everyone.  So I’m steering completely clear of that part of this question.

And I will also caution against imagining that the voters of our 9 geographically-connected-but-still-quite-diverse counties are homogenous enough to support a new tax or proposition.  There is a lesson to be taken from very recent history on making assumptions about our fellow travelers’ life concerns.

Here’s what I am comfortable saying.  Taking advantage of existing strategies and smart work by others is always a good option.  As an example, the Sonoma County Economic Development Board has recently submitted a proposal in partnership with Mendocino County’s Economic Development Board to the US Economic Development Administration to become an officially designated Economic Development District (EDD).  This program is specifically for multi-county regions working together to improve and expand their economic development efforts.  The proposal pre-approved a list of projects that will become eligible for federal funds if the EDD designation is approved.  Plus, the imprimatur of a federal designation may be helpful with other funding sources.  Creative Sonoma has a project that has been approved as part of the Sonoma-Mendocino proposal.  So, we’re taking advantage of an existing multi-county effort, where the heavy lifting has already been done, hoping that it will help open doors to potential new arts funding in our counties.

Michele Seville:  What about a $1 allocation for the arts on income taxes?

Kerry Adams Hapner:  Funding is a perennial issue. I frankly don’t see a regional effort as a viable option in the near future as getting voters across counties to support a regional initiative is a huge effort and the mechanisms to administer it are narrow. Alternatively, I see National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and California Arts Council funding as more urgent priorities. The Trump administration has threatened the eliminate the NEA and the field must act to protect this national resource.

With an annual appropriation of $146 million, the NEA is the single largest national funder of nonprofit arts in the U.S. Locally, the NEA’s investments meaningfully catalyze cultural vibrancy. Over the past three years, the NEA has awarded approximately $9.1 million in grants to organizations based in San Jose, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley.
I urge people to join Americans for the Arts’ Arts Action Fund for free at  We can’t be complacent in this environment.

Thursday's Question:   
Arts Education remains somewhat of a Have and Have-Not proposition, with wealthy districts offering more than those that are struggling financially.  Is the solution an approach that unites all the districts in the greater Bay Area? If not, then what can each district do at this point in time to maximize the possibility of offering meaningful arts education to local students K-12?

Have a good day.

Don't Quit