Sunday, October 4, 2015

Interview with Kerry Adams Hapner

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

NOTE:  The response to the Communications Survey invitation has been tremendous, and I want to thank all of those national service organizations, fellow bloggers and others who helped spread the word and promoted the invitation to take the survey.  And, of course, to each of you who have already taken the time to complete it.  I am confident we will end up with a credible, representative sampling pool and that the data will help inform the field about our communications habits, preferences, perceptions and behaviors. That information can begin a dialogue in the field about how we manage communications.  It's important that all sectors of our field are part of the sampling pool - including small organizations, multicultural organizations and leaders, all the disciplines - operas, orchestras, museums, theaters, dance companies, film groups, presenters, government agencies etc,  So -- If you haven't yet taken the survey, please consider doing so today.  Click here:      See last week's blog post describing the whole communications survey project.

Thank you again.

Kerry Adams Hapner Bio:  
Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Jose.  Adams Hapner oversees services and programs in the areas of public art and creative placemaking, special events, cultural funding, cultural facilities, creative entrepreneurship and the creative economy.

She has led the development of significant cultural policy and programs including: Cultural Connection: San Jose’s Cultural Plan for 2011-2020; cultural development goals for Envision San Jose 2040, the general plan update; and the Cultural Funding Portfolio: Investments in Art, Creativity, and Culture.

She regularly writes on and speaks at national conferences on a wide range of topics including creative placemaking and cultural development. In 2014, Kerry presented on San Jose’s art and technology work at the National Arts Policy Roundtable in Sundance, UT, co-convened by the Sundance Institute and Americans for the Arts.  Since 2013, she has served as the Chair of the United States Urban Arts Federation, comprised of the local art agency executive directors of the 60 largest U.S. cities. She has served on the board of Californians for the Arts and California Arts Advocates for the past eight years, and has landed on this post's Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders.


BARRY:  You serve as the Chair of the United States Urban Arts Federation (Local Arts Agency execs of the 60 largest US cities). What are the biggest challenges and trends you and your LAA colleagues are facing? What are the implications of these challenges and trends for the future of big city LAAs and the arts in those cities?

KERRY:  I have served as Chair of USUAF for the past two years. It has been an honor. It’s a peer to peer knowledge exchange in which we meet in person twice a year to discuss challenges and trends. Our work lies in this wonderful sweet spot at the nexus of cultural, community and economic development. Local Art Agencies (LAAs) straddle the spheres of public policy and practice – typically through a portfolio combining grantmaking, special events cultural facility management, art education, public art commissions, marketing, artist workforce investment and/or film. When I think about LAAs across the US, a favorite quote from NEA Director for Local Art Agencies Michael Killoren comes to mind, “Local art agencies are like snowflakes, each one is slightly different.” Each has adapted to its local environment.

The “A” in LAA, or agency, is a key word. LAAs have agency to harness the power of the arts and connect it to broader civic and urban issues.  The arts are viewed as essential community building blocks and part of solutions as we advance urban cities and urban agendas.  Placemaking is a perfect example.  Another key trend right now is cultural planning – which is on the rise. Big cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, San Jose and Houston have/are tackling ambitious cultural plans. These plans will further shape the role and value of LAAs in urban environments. The implications of these trends are that we increasingly need to take an integrated approach to issues while focusing our priorities and resources where the greatest impact will be.

BARRY:  You’ve been San Jose’s Director of Cultural Affairs for over 7 years now. What is changing / has changed in running a major city LAA and in San Jose specifically?

KERRY:  There is an increased understanding of the arts’ role in urbanism and fostering a vibrant community. Increasingly, we are seeing that LAAs are at the table discussing civic and community issues. It is all adding up to advancing the arts as an exciting and dynamic part of this city.

I came into my position in 2008, and we immediately experienced the economic crisis.  Thankfully, our budget has rebounded and our primary funding source, the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) also known as the hotel tax, is performing really well.  Progress is being made in implementing our cultural plan, Cultural Connection. San Jose’s art organizations are delivering great work to this community.  A positive change is the momentum in the art community. It is taking an increased interest in activating the public realm, whether through public art or other programming.  This is a shift from local government being the primary delivery mechanism to partners providing the service. The San Jose artist community is burgeoning, and I’m excited to see new projects, interventions, and faces.

BARRY:  Assess the state of funding for big city LAAs across the country. Are things better or worse than they were a few years ago, and why? What are the odds funding for LAAs will increase for the future. Besides government support, is there any other source?

KERRY:   Generally, LAA budgets are coming back in a very healthy way.  More and more, there are other public funding sources being eligible for arts uses or increasingly used for arts purposes in community development efforts. A good example is funding for Community Development Block Grants.  California cities did experience a set back with the loss of redevelopment agencies, which funded a lot of cultural infrastructure. Whether or not LAA funding increases really depends on the funding source, economics and political will in their communities. If the economic benefits of the arts continue to gain recognition, then there will be greater support at the local level. New philanthropic support over the past several years from organizations like ArtPlace America have helped make the case around the role of the arts in community development and serves as an incentive to leverage local funds.

BARRY:  Placemaking has become a core strategy for the arts, and LAAs are arguably at the center of those efforts - directly or indirectly. What -- in the current strategy of placemaking efforts for downtown San Jose -- is different from previous efforts? What lessons have been learned?

KERRY:   Placemaking is a long tradition in the arts and obviously that means different things in different communities. San Jose’s placemaking history tells the story of its evolution from agricultural community to suburbia to urban center of Silicon Valley. At one time, downtown San Jose had the largest redevelopment agency in the state. It financed significant infrastructure including theaters and museums. Our downtown was driven by civic, business and cultural activities. The downtown core didn’t have a significant residential population, which is changing now. Now our urban placemaking strategies also focus on the activation that happens between that infrastructure and providing spaces and events where people can gather formally or informally and engage in their city.

Place is dynamic and belongs to many people. More and more in San Jose, we are enjoying activation and art interventions by community members - whether whimsical yarn bombing or San Jose Taiko rehearsing in a plaza.  The arts are part of a range of tools to transform spaces that may be of larger revitalization efforts – alongside activities like yoga in the park - all placemaking. For an LAA, enabling placemaking and vibrancy in our city also means refining municipal codes and policies to enable activation – reducing the barriers for the arts to happen.

A key placemaking strategy in San Jose is at the intersection of art and technology, an opportunity to visually reflect the spirit of innovation and aspiration of San Jose. The San Jose International Airport, a gateway to Silicon Valley, includes a series of dynamic art installations around the theme of art and technology.  This fall, we are launching Illuminating Downtown - an initiative aimed at lighting up downtown through interactive and technology-based light installations at building tops, gateways and pedestrian pathways.

Although downtown, as a central gathering place and urban core, is a natural focus. We asked ourselves, how do we best serve our entire community? We've learned it's important to decentralize and cultivate placemaking efforts city-wide as well.  The OCA is launching a city-wide program called San Jose Creates & Connects, a multi-prong placemaking and participatory arts initiative.  It will bring together our artists and arts organizations of all cultures and disciplines to celebrate residents’ creative self-expression and artist-driven projects - as part of a community-wide effort to provide opportunities for people to create and connect with themselves and others.

BARRY:  Several years ago there sprung up a movement for more direct collaborative efforts by/and between LAAs and foundations to promote and expand community engagement efforts. Did those efforts materialize? How might LAAs and foundations scale up their collaborative efforts?

KERRY:   Community engagement is a broad term that is often proxy for the terms “participation” and “connection.” I see bright spots out there. For example, I respect and value what the Kresge Foundation is doing. Their collaboration with the Tucson Pima Arts Council in its PLACE Initiative is a national model. I appreciate the conceptual underpinnings of engagement that the Irvine Foundation is shaping.  Arts organizations are key to this equation too and how they can be sustainably supported in providing opportunities for people to meaningfully engage in the arts. Trends in consumption and digital culture/technology  are driving change in the way that people are engaging in the arts and culture. Those areas offer an important opportunity for collaboration between LAAs and foundations.

BARRY:  The issues of Equity and Racial Relations are at the top of virtually the entire field’s agendas. What is your assessment of the Equity challenge and how we can meet that challenge? San Jose is very diverse. Has that diversity made it easier or more difficult for you to address the equity and race relations issues? Why?

KERRY:   Equity and racial relations are complex, critical issues we are all facing today.   In addition to ensuring that there is access to the arts and culture by all members of our communities, there are issues of relevant programming.  A question I ask myself is, “What is the opportunity to optimize the role of the arts in fostering equity, access, and equal opportunity?”

San Jose is a large, diverse city without a majority population.  It's one-third Asian, one-third Latino and one-third Caucasian.  Each of these groups, and the sub-groups within them, has a long tradition of rich arts and culture that deserves support.  And there are communities including African Americans, Native Americans, LGBT and others that have a rich cultural history.  In San Jose, one strategy that we have used successfully in our goal towards equity has been targeted capacity building programs.  Many of the culturally-rooted arts organizations groups that were part of our multicultural arts incubation program a decade ago are thriving today with strong leadership that now serve as respected mentors for the next generation.   As stewards of public funds, access to funding opportunities is a guiding principle. Effective outreach is key priority for us and includes high-touch methods as well as advertising grant opportunities in communities where English is not the dominant language.  One thing's for sure:  having a diverse community is certainly an asset in that we have many resources to draw from -- and we have a critical mass of people that helps keep us accountable on issues that we may overlook.  Our diverse arts and cultural sector has also played a significant role in building connections within and across our many communities.

BARRY:   There have been countless high profile closures of arts organizations across the country, including the San Jose Rep. What (if anything) could have been done to prevent these organizations from getting to the point of bankruptcy? What lessons can be learned from these closures?

KERRY:   Wow, where do I begin? Let’s start with a basic premise that art organizations need to be well capitalized. Fostering a culture of philanthropy is vital.  Once an organization beings to experience financial loss, they can slip to experience death by a 1,000 cuts. Organizations try to curb costs and cut programming, marketing, and outreach. It can become a downward spiral in which they are reaching fewer and fewer people. The cost of building operations and maintenance can compound the strain for any organization without sufficient capitalization.

Adaptation, relevancy and a deep connection to audiences are also essential to sustainable operating models.  In San Jose, our demographic shifts over the past 30 years have been enormous. San Jose is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the nation due to the iconic success of Silicon Valley.

There are life cycles to arts organizations, yet their closures are a significant loss to a community and those that dedicated themselves to keeping them going. A new model does not naturally reappear and, if one does, it takes years to cultivate.  The reuse of the 540-seat Hammer Theatre where the SJ Rep performed will involve a new performing arts model in partnership with San Jose State University, which will take several years to incubate and refine.

BARRY:  San Jose is a major city, more populous than San Francisco, yet remains in the shadow of San Francisco in the greater Bay Area. How have you been able to deal with that reality?

KERRY:   Yes, with a population of a million, San Jose is the largest city in the Northern California and the 10th largest in the US. I don’t engage in the SJ/SF comparison or succumb to the “in the shadow” comparisons. Both are great cities. San Jose is the urban and cultural center of Silicon Valley with global recognition.  I embrace and love what is unique and authentic about San Jose. Our history and identity are our own.  San Jose’s culture is DIY. People are participatory, creative, global, educated and innovative. They are actively engaging in the arts in a personal way. San Jose’s arts community is multi-faceted, diverse, multicultural, and adaptive.

BARRY:   How can you positively impact whatever it is that attracts artists? How might LAAs better directly service working artists in their areas?

KERRY:   Artists are the backbones of any cultural community. While each artist community is unique, there are common ways in which they need support: economic opportunity, access to resources to advance their small businesses, housing, and the perennial need for rehearsal, production, and exhibition space. There is also the need for networking, a sense of belonging and of being valued.

Fostering an environment in which artists have opportunities is a core goal of our office. One of San Jose’s successful programs is the Creative Entrepreneur Program, developed in partnership with the Center for Cultural Innovation.  We seek to support the business side of artists’ practice through professional development, grants, and convenings. We are also aiming to move the needle on the crucial issue of affordable housing for artists.

Artists are resourceful and work across sectors – nonprofit, commercial and individual practice. Three years ago, we launched the Creative Industries Incentive Fund, which awards funds to grow or stabilize commercial arts-based businesses. 501c3s are not eligible. In the case of all of the grantees, arts are at the heart of these businesses and they are making a contribution to San Jose’s cultural life. I’m really proud of this program – its modest, but businesses and leaders (who are all artists) are growing.  We are also seeing a “stickiness” and commitment to San Jose as a result.  It is a talent retention strategy - a wonderful hybrid of cultural and economic development.

BARRY:   I recently did a blogathon on Arts and Science Intersections. Has your agency become involved in this  growing effort, and if so, how?

KERRY:   The nexus of art and environmental science is an area of interest for San Jose’s OCA. In partnership with San Jose’s Environmental Services Department, the public art program is commissioning a series of artist interventions aimed at promoting environmental stewardship. The projects seek to instill a better understanding about individual roles in influencing the environment – such as how our actions affect creeks, watersheds and the ocean. This is an area of tremendous opportunity going forward - using the arts and the vocabulary of the arts to help protect the environment.

BARRY:   San Jose was the pilot community representing the state of CA in the national - Arts Midwest created - initiative, Building Public Will for the Arts and Culture. (See  Tell me about it.

KERRY:   How do we advance the arts as an expected part of people’s lives in San Jose? To answer this, the OCA partnered with the California Arts Council and Arts Midwest to collaborate on a project called Building Public Will for the Arts and Culture.  The project aims to connect the arts to existing, closely held values - resulting new and lasting community expectations that shape the way people act, think and behave. San Jose is the pilot community representing the state of California for this growing national initiative, also including the states of Minnesota, Oregon, and Michigan.

Through qualitative and quantitative research, we learned that people care about family and relationships, health and well-being, and learning and self-improvement. Core to these values is the idea of connection through creative expression. Sharing creative experiences - and expressing our own creativity - helps us connect with others and ourselves.  By aligning the arts with what people care about, arts providers will not only reposition how they converse with others or speak about their work, but also deliver on that promise to provide opportunities for connection and creative self-expression.
A research report for Phase 1 has been completed and can be found at  The results of this pilot will inform the phase two implementation plan at the national, state and local levels.  The OCA is working with the Metropolitan Group and other funders to outline a Phase 2 implementation strategy that involves a cohort of San Jose art organizations as well as our own city-wide placemaking strategy, San Jose Create & Connects.

BARRY:   You serve on the Californians for the Arts board (the state’s advocacy organization). Congratulations to CFTA and California for finally getting increased funding for the California Arts Council. While that significant increase is being described as “permanent”, what efforts are underway to insure that it continues, and perhaps is even expanded?

KERRY:   Thanks, Barry. That was long overdue! CFTA is a 501c3 organization that has a “sister organization,” California Arts Advocates, which is a 501c4 that provides advocacy services for the state’s arts communities. Through CAA, a lobbyist is under contract.  The CFTA board works in partnership with the California Arts Council. We help generate grass roots support for the arts and state funding – and keep our eye on proposed policy that may impact the sector.

Our board is evolving and is increasingly more diverse in the areas of geography, ethnicity, and discipline. Each board member brings a strong network to the table. There is no complacency on that board. We meet regularly to discuss the legislative environment and strategy. But we can’t go it alone. We need sector support. People are encouraged to get involved.

BARRY:   My first job in the arts was as the head of the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies - funded principally by the CAC and individual member dues and support. As an umbrella service provider organization for the states 250 local arts agencies, CALAA was able to take a lead position in the successful statewide effort to increase the CAC’s budget from $12 million to $20 million under then Republican Governor Pete Wilson (which amount was subsequently increased under Democratic Governor Gray Davis to $32 million). CALAA was in the unique position to coordinate the efforts of the state’s 58 county LAAs to act as hubs in organizing that advocacy / lobbying effort. Now that the funding for the CAC has increased, do you see any need for, and possibility of, resurrecting CALAA or some form thereof to help serve the LAAs - including as organizing hubs - for the benefit of the California arts field?

KERRY:   CALAA was a great organization. It served as an important convener, service provider and voice to the LAA field in California.  Americans for the Arts plays a primary convening role of LAAs nationally and they do it well – and they provide immense resources and services. CFTA is stepping into the convening role for our state. This past year, in partnership with the CAC, CFTA organized state-wide convening in Sacramento called Confluence, which was very well attended. It included legislative visits and briefings. We have a long way to go to bring the budget back. I’d like to see us strengthen and build on these efforts. California LAAs can and should part of this work as their collective budgets and impact are far reaching; their voices are important.  Their involvement is welcomed.

BARRY:   San Jose will be a host city for Americans for the Arts' New Community Visions initiative. What is this about?

KERRY:   Yes, I’m excited that Americans for the Arts (AFTA) will hold a New Community Visions Initiative (NCVI) convening in San Jose in November. NCVI is an ambitious two-year effort to explore the future of local arts in America with cross-sector input. Incorporating feedback from 12 forums, NCVI will propose a blueprint for 21st century local arts development. The goal is that this will inform local-level capacity building, public policy and change in order to create healthier communities. A key theme is “The Arts and…”  It will be interesting to see the results of the process and the introduction of a new framework.

BARRY:   Rumor has it you’re going back to school at Stanford. What’s that about?

KERRY:  I am pursuing a Master in Liberal Arts at Stanford, an interdisciplinary course of study that involves the humanities, arts, social science and natural science - cultivating connections among different areas of human thought. I firmly believe that interdisciplinary collaborations and approaches to issues will drive the future. It is intellectually stimulating and will advance my work in the creative economy and place.

Thank you Kerry

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, September 27, 2015

I Need Your Help to Understand How We Communicate

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

I need your help.

Please click on this link and take a very short and important survey:   

For some time I have been interested in the Nonprofit Arts field's Communications - our habits, preferences, perceptions and behaviors.

  • How do we communicate with each other?  
  • How do we communicate within our organizations, and from our organizations to others in our field?  As arts administrators.  
  • What are our preferred methods and platforms?  
  • Is there any differentiation in the communications tools individual organizations or administrators in our field use, based on geography, or discipline, or budget size. or generations or otherwise?   
  • How do others in our field communicate with us?  
  • Which sources of information do we trust?  
  • How much time do we spend on various forms of communication?
  • Do we read all the stuff sent to us?  
  • What has been the impact of so much more information flowing from us and to us on everything from our productivity to our level of job satisfaction?  
  • How are we managing all the information today?

Communication -- internally within our organizations, externally within our field, and from us to specific sectors and to the public -- is the lifeblood of virtually everything we do.

Yet we have almost no information on how we use it, manage it, cope with it and perceive it.

I am conducting a preliminary study for the Knight and Hewlett Foundations and for Westaf as the sponsors.  It seeks to begin to compile data on our communications habits, behaviors and preferences --on which further inquiry and analysis can be built as we try to understand more about how we communicate -- so that ultimately, we might be better at it. The principal tool in this study is an online survey that seeks this baseline of information.

Here is a link to the survey:   

And that is where I need your help.  The core of the list of those who will receive an email invitation to take this simple, brief online survey - will be the Knight and Hewlett grantees and the Westaf constituent list.

But in order to have a representative sampling pool, I very much want to make sure that all our various communities are included in the invitation.  And that includes organizations in the opera, symphony, music, visual art, museum, native arts, crafts, theater, dance, film and other areas of our field, as well as city and state agencies, advocacy groups, arts education organizations, university programs --- and including large and small organizations, the full range of diverse multicultural groups and from every geographical area of the country.  In short, we have a big field and I need to include responders from every quarter of that field.

I've asked a number of national service provider organizations if they would help me by forwarding an invitation to take the survey to their lists - or in the alternative to promote the survey to their lists via their newsletter or social platforms. Many have agreed to help me.  I don't want any group in our sector to be under represented.

So, I need your help.  I need you to take the survey yourself, encourage others in your organization to take the survey, and pass on the link to your clients, constituents, grantees etc.

This survey is comprised of check off questions only, with no narrative responses required or asked for, and is designed to take no more than 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

I wish I could pay everyone to take the survey.  I know your time is valuable.  But I can't.  We are offering two random drawings for all those who complete the survey and want to be in the drawing - awarding an Apple Watch to the selected individual, and a $500 cash award to the organization selected.

But the real reason to help me is to have this survey yield some information that will begin to help all of us understand better how we are communicating.  A final report will be widely disseminated based on the results of the survey.  I am hopeful this will be information that will be helpful to you and your organization, and provide a baseline on which further research can be built.

So, please help me.  Click on this link:                        today and complete the survey.

Again, the survey is comprised of check off questions only - with no narrative responses required or asked for, and designed to take less than 20 minutes to complete.  

And please, take the time to pass on this request.

The survey will be open from September 28th to October 16th only.

I very much appreciate your help.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Challenge of Online Surveys for the Arts

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

We're already knee deep in the 2016 Presidential election, and that means public opinion surveys are going to be a regular staple of the news.

While these surveys are usually fairly simplistic in that they only seek to register voter candidate preferences at a moment in time, they are nonetheless very important because they break down the responses by demographic category and thus give a glimpse of which groups favor which candidates and in what percentages. In any, and every, field, opinions classified by demographics are a crucial piece of information.  And the public opinion polling experts have gotten fairly sophisticated in their reach for accurate information.

Most of these political polls are telephone interviews, and the pool of those tapped is a demographically representative sampling of a specific geographic territory (more often than not the whole country, but also of individual states like Iowa and New Hampshire).

Online polls are very similar, but there is an extra challenge to these polls in that sending out unsolicited emails inviting people to take the survey is prohibited.  That ban makes it harder to start out with a demographically representative sampling.  Usually the pollster must first use snail mail, the telephone or  some other approach to ask if they may send an unsolicited email - and thus create a starting representative sampling pool.

The same challenge exists for us in the nonprofit arts.  There are any number of questions and issues that it would be informative, and instructive for us to sample our field on so that we could amass more data and information on how we do things and why, what and how things impact us, on our perceptions, and what our opinions and choices might be on a host of things.  Most of the people in our field would very much like to have that data and information, and most would have no objection to being invited to take an online survey (whether or not time and circumstances would allow them to always say yes).  But the prohibition on sending out uninvited emails makes it burdensome and expensive and thus difficult for us to conduct that kind of research.

Each organization can, of course, conduct surveys and invite those people / organizations on their own lists and that is permitted.  Thus a foundation can query their grantees, an arts organization can query their members and so on.  But those surveys, while unquestionably valuable, still don't necessarily represent the whole of our field and thus their application may be limited.

What to do?

The Pew Research Center (one of the major players in all kinds of research, including online polling) has, as a solution to the challenge, created what they call the American Trends Panel.  I think I have this right:  They created a pool of some 2500 or so respondents that is demographically representative of the country on a number of criteria (I am supposing including geography, age, gender, income, ethnicity, education, etc. etc.).  They recruited those on the list with an initial small payment, and those that agreed to participate over a period of time agreed to take X number of online surveys, and be paid some small stipend for doing so.  The number in each survey pool necessary for the pool to be representatively credible is perhaps half the size of the entire pool, and the response rate number necessary for credible results is some percentage of that.

Thus they have a ready pool that meets standards they can use for their inquiries.  They don't have to go through the whole process each time they want to sample the public's opinions.

I think we in the nonprofit arts could benefit from a similar undertaking.  We need a pool of perhaps 2000 arts organizations representing every sub strata of the field - geography, budget size, discipline, area of operation (e.g., arts education, advocacy, performing arts etc.), leadership / audience ethnicity, etc. etc. and individual administrators according to job title, years in the field, gender, education etc. etc.)  If each organization / administrator was willing to take three  (less than 30 minute surveys) per year, over a two year period, and we paid each person / organization $10 for each survey they took, then those organizations that wanted to conduct online surveys could use this pool if they paid the cost - i.e., assuming 1000 names in each pool x $10 = $10,000 (a reasonable fee given the alternative of creating every pool from scratch), and it would be relatively easy to use.  That would open wide the possibility of more accurate polling for our field and arguably yield some important data and information of value to the field.  This would create the opportunity for 12 reliably representative surveys to be taken during a two year period by perhaps 12 different researchers.

It would cost very little to initially set it up. And once created - at least for two years - essentially pay for itself by each research user.  Very little administration would be required.   It is a way we could help each other and the whole of us.  The token money paid to participants isn't that important.  The reason for participating is to help the field.

I write of this because I am in the process of doing a sector wide online survey inquiry on the subject of Communications, and I want the potential responder pool to be representative of our whole field.  I can't use my own master list of some 5000 arts organization names because I want to honor and respect the prohibition against sending unsolicited email invitations..  And the 12,500+ names on my subscriber list aren't organized to constitute a credible representative sampling.    More on my survey next week, and a plea for your help.

But for the future, I would hope some entity might help us emulate the Pew Research approach.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, September 13, 2015

2015's Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts (USA)

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

This is the eighth annual Barry's Blog listing of the Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts in America.

If you are unfamiliar with this listing, please click here to go to a full explanation of the list - why I think it's of value, its shortcomings and limitations, and the process of selection.  For the record, once again, this list intentionally does not include artists; it is limited to the United States; and it is, as are all such lists, arbitrary and subjective.  It is only meant to be a broad snapshot of where power and influence in a small universe might lie.   I do my best to make sure the input and vetting process is as representative of our field as I can make it, but it is not a perfect system.   It is not meant to be a popularity contest, nor does it necessarily purport to identify the best, most talented, most capable leaders. Power and influence (and the perception of where power and influence lie) are their own exclusive criteria for this list - and that is often, if not always, a judgment call.

Note that this year I again invited the entire field to suggest names for inclusion on the list because I wanted to insure that - to the extent possible - I was aware of leaders who might qualify as having substantial, sector wide, influence, but with whom I, or my nominators, were not familiar.  I again got quite a few suggestions, and several of those suggestions again ended up on this list.

Note also that this list extols national leaders over more local or special sector leadership, not by design, but because the process of selection involves more people with a national perspective, and consensus on choices is more problematic for local leadership.  That by no means is intended to marginalize the power and influence of our sector's extraordinarily talented and skilled local leaders and those operating within the various disciplines that comprise our field.  The list also, not surprisingly, favors the people with the public face at an organization, rather than those unsung heroes who work behind the scenes to make things happen.  And finally, there are arts organizations that have a lot of power and influence apart from their leadership, and this list does not necessarily reflect those powerful and influential institutions.  I salute all those on the list and bemoan the absence of those who are not.

The trend of this list, towards an expansion of the people from more established leaders to newer people who are perceived to wield influence and / or power in our sector, continued again this year, and again this year, nearly half the names on the list were not on last year's list.  I think that churn is a healthy indicator that our sector continues to evolve and that, to a greater extent than in the past, influence and power is not necessarily concentrated in static places.  I also note that there is a trend for inclusion on the list of people with influence as the currency of power, and I think the list basically reflects that reality for our field:  Those that have power in our field, have it primarily because they have influence.

Note too that nine of the names on the list (presented at the beginning) are marked by an asterisk (*), denoting people who have been on the list virtually every year since its inception.  I note that these people are likely (as long as they remain in their current positions) to make this list every year.  So as to identify and single out those leaders whose power and influence is on the rise,  I propose to move those leaders always on this list to a virtual Hall of Fame of Nonprofit Arts Administrators designation -- effective with this list.  Thus there are now 59 names on the list this year, including these nine Hall of Famers.  In subsequent years, there will be reference to the Hall of Fame designees,  but they will not appear on the main list.  I also note that there are several others on the list this year who have been on several past lists, and they are likely candidates in the future for the virtual Hall of Fame.  This will hopefully allow the list to reflect evolution and changes in our leadership ecosystem.

Neither I, nor any employee at WESTAF, (which distributes this blog, but in no way has any part whatsoever as the author or originator of this list) was eligible for inclusion on the list.

Here then is the 2015 List:

First the inaugural class in the virtual Arts Administrator Hall of Fame:

*Bob Lynch:  President and CEO, Americans for the Arts
He's like a force of nature.  It's impossible to imagine the last five decades in the nonprofit arts without there being an Americans for the Arts - and Bob Lynch is Americans for the Arts.  Clearly in the first class of inductees into any arts administrator Hall of Fame.

*Janet Brown:  President and CEO, Grantmakers in the Arts
GIA's Capitalization, Arts Education, Equity and Racial Relations, Arts and Aging and other projects are at the forefront of the field in pushing change - and she is at the center of each of these major efforts.  She remains one of the most effective and respected leaders in the field.  And she continues to expand the box - forcing the rest of us to think.  She's had a remarkable career in our field and her contributions are inestimable.

*Laura Zucker:  Executive Director, Los Angeles County Arts Commission
What can anyone say?  If you wanted to invent a brilliant prototype local arts agency leader, she is what the result would be.  She's smart, savvy, knowledgable, connected, experienced, insightful and has vision, tenacity and energy.  And bottom line, she always gets the job done; and done right.

*Randy Cohen:  Vice-President, Research and Policy, Americans for the Arts
Still the most influential and widely relied on research in the nonprofit arts comes from his economic impact work at AFTA.  Thanks to a rigorous travel schedule, his network of contacts across the country is second to none.  One of the good guys, his research has helped government agencies and countless arts organizations make their case, and forever changed the dynamic.

*Alan Brown:  Principal, Wolf / Brown Consulting
His image and influence is faultless.  His reputation for insightful analysis well established.  He is the major domo in the consulting area.

*Holly Sidford:  Principal, Helicon Collaborative
Alan Brown's equal, her research and analysis has framed much of the debate and discussion on policy over the past decade.

*Steven Tepper: Dean, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University
He has been at the forefront of policy consideration and formulation in the field for well over a decade, and has shaped policies from professional development, to arts education, to the role of creativity in the wider society.

*Thomas CottYou’ve Cott Mail
*Doug McLennan:  - Arts Journal
Both these blog aggregation sites are well established and revered institutions within our field and virtually every leader in the field reads both regularly.  Cott and McLennan have made an enormous and lasting contribution to the expansion of information and knowledge within our field.

And here is the 2015 TOP 50 LIST: (In no particular order of ranking.  Categorical headings for informational purposes only.)

Jamie Bennett: Executive Director, Art Place America
Jamie had a very good year.  He expanded the Art Place staff and operation, arranged a ground breaking collaborative effort with the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco resulting in their magazine devoting an entire issue to considerations of Placemaking and the Arts, and supported yet more grant projects bearing fruit.  Placemaking is the elephant in every funding discussion and Art Place is all about Placemaking.  Jamie is firmly in charge of this effort, and is both a visionary and details oriented leader.

Jane Chu:  Chairwoman, National Endowment of the Arts
Every Chair of the Endowment is on this list.  Chairwoman Chu has proven to be an effective voice for the arts - in Washington and around the country.  Her travel schedule has been impressive as she has made contact with virtually every segment of our field - stumping on the road in support of the arts in America.  The Endowment is perhaps the single most important arts organization in the country.

Mario Garcia Durham:  Executive Director, Association of Performing Arts Presenters
The Arts Presenters community is one of the field's principal links between the nonprofit organizations, performing artists and the public, and Durham effectively represents the whole range of the presenters and their needs and interests.  APAP is more than just a service provider organization -- it's a force in the policy arena in its own right.

Rick Lowe - Project Row Houses
Artist / activist and now McArthur Foundation Genius Award winner, Lowe has for years been extolling the value of the arts in the neighborhood.  He has not only helped to nurture artists, but has helped others to understand how to help artists.  His influence continues to spread and he continues to carry his message across our universe and beyond it.  He's now one of the sector's foremost spokespeople and he has had his hand in projects from Watts to New Orleans to Seattle to Dallas and beyond. (Note:  While Lowe is clearly an artist, he is also an active leader in the arts administration field -  hence his inclusion on this list.)

Pam Breaux:  Executive Director, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA)
Pam is now the leader of the SAAs, and after 30 years with Jonathan Katz at its helm, she is now charged with remaking, reinventing and moving the agency forward.  Her members will expect her to continue to serve their needs at the same high level established by Katz, but with new vision.  As the economy improves, so generally does funding to the SAAs, and with more money comes influence and power.

Adam Huttler:  Executive Director, Fractured Atlas
Fractured Atlas leads the field in services provided to small arts organizations, individual artists and startups.  Moreover, the organization is out front on employee compensation, research, workplace conditions and professional development.  He's moving from being one of the younger generation's leaders to an older more seasoned statesperson, but he hasn't lost his firebrand or intensity.  That's good news for all of us.

State / Regional Leaders:

Robert Booker:  Executive Director, Arizona Commission on the Arts
As the Chair of Grantmakers in the Arts, and a senior leader of the State Arts Agencies, his national star continues to shine bright.  And despite continued cuts and setbacks to his state agency budget, he still finds innovative and adaptive ways to keep his agency alive in supporting the arts in Arizona (e.g., look at his success in funding a new Arts and Aging program that is a way to put dollars in arts organization hands).  He's the very definition of a "Pro".

Lisa Robb:  Executive Director, New York State Council on the Arts
Robb remains at the center of all that goes on in the arts in the Empire State.  And New York has money to spend.

Craig Watson: Director, California Arts Council
With the CAC reinvigorated by the Governor's and Legislature's infusion of an additional eight million dollar funding budget plank (ostensibly not a one time addition, but a baseline budget item for the future), the agency again has the wherewithal to re-establish its influence and impact on the arts in California.  Craig is in a unique position, and he will be challenged as he navigates the waters by both increased demands, and expanded opportunities for real collaboration with the state's arts funding foundations.  His influence is on the rise, and so is his power.  California is back.

Donna Collins: Executive Director, Ohio Arts Council
Ohio has influence, and few people have more influence in Ohio arts than Collins.  That influence is likely to increase significantly as Ohio always plays a pivotal  (and often deciding) role in presidential elections - and Collins is first and foremost an advocate.

City Agency Leaders:

Kerry Adams Hapner: Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Jose, CA.
As the Chair of the U.S. Urban Arts Federation, she continues as the front person for the nation’s 60 largest city arts agencies.  As Director of a major city LAA, she has brought San Jose to the forefront of the nation's local hub efforts, and San Jose is a participant in increasing numbers of national projects and initiatives.  Her star continues to ascend.

Randy Engstrom:  Director of the Office of Arts and Culture for the City of Seattle
An up and coming national leader with a growing fan base nationally, he has the opportunity to wield considerable influence in Seattle and beyond.

Roberto Bedoya: Director of Civic Engagement, Tucson / Pima Arts Council
Bedoya transitions to the newly created post of Director of Civic Engagement allowing him to focus on and grow the PLACE Initiative.  The PLACE Initiative—PLACE stands for People, Land, Art, Culture and Engagement—is a series of grants for arts-based civic engagement projects and research activities - and this platform continues to give him a widely respected national reputation as the "go-to" guy on issues of equity and diversity - including as related to placemaking.

Michele Boone:  Commissioner City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
She is firmly established as perhaps the most important big city arts leader in the midwest and one of the principal players in big city arts in the country.  As one nominator put it:  "She's smart. She knows when to hold em, and when to fold em."

Tom DeCaigny: Executive Director, San Francisco Arts Commission
His quiet profile belies significant behind the scenes power brokering, diplomacy and collaboration within the sometimes volatile San Francisco arts ecosystem.  As San Francisco continues to price all but the very well heeled out of residency, and with the Mayor and City Council wanting to do something about that, Tom has the opportunity to push for some creative and far reaching changes and new approaches, and depending on the success of those efforts, he is likely to have considerable influence as the same problem plagues other cities.

Jonathan Glus:  Executive Director, Houston Arts Council
Now as the President of Texans for the Arts (the state advocacy umbrella organization) and still head of the Houston Arts Council, Glus continues to be all about the 'Benjamins' - celebrating the new $5 million allocation by the State Legislature to the state arts effort, while his own agency in Houston continues to fare better than most.  He's shown political skill in handling potentially messy local situations well.  Lots of power in Texas, and lots of influence beyond.

Robert Bush:  President, Arts and Science Council, Charlotte
He's had influence for quite some time because of his experience and his quite extraordinary network of contacts (via long time AFTA involvement and beyond). Now fully established as the leader of the storied Charlotte agency, he also has power.  One nominator noted:  "He's opinionated, but not pushy.  Smart, but not cocky.  Self-assured, but not an egotist."

Tom Finkelpearl:  Commissioner, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
With a budget rivaling that of the NEA, a background in running a museum, and the New York City platform as part of the new city administration, Finkelpearl has considerable power and influence. And his public persona doesn't seem shy.


Sunil Iyengar:  Director, Office of Research and Analysis, National Endowment for the Arts
NEA research keeps getting better and better and his role in the sector wide research community just keeps growing.

Anne Gadwa Nicodemus:  Principal, Metris Arts Consulting
She continues to set the bar for professional standards and continues to be seemingly everywhere on the research stage.  One wonders where she finds the time.

Ian David Moss:  Senior Director of Information Strategy, Fractured Atlas
He turned his blog Createquity into a research entity complemented by its own stellar editorial staff --  and that editorial team is addressing some of the major issues facing the field with in-depth, serious articles on the site.   His influence on the whole of the research agenda continues to grow as the Createquity machine's probing and deep analysis pieces are widely regarded and respected throughout the field.  Ian is a very serious, but wholly unpretentious, leader who deals with big policy issues and concerns.

Advocacy / Government:

Nina Ozlu Tunceli:
With the ramp up of the 2016 election, AFTA's efforts to insert the arts into the Presidential campaign makes her and the Arts Action Fund the center point for advocacy for the rest of this year and next.  The Arts Action Fund, while small compared to some political interest groups, nonetheless has considerably more influence than most people appreciate.  She knows politics and lobbying and how the game is really played.  She also knows how to shift the focus from local concerns to the national stage.  If the arts had the money to hire a big time a K Street lobbyist, she would easily fit the bill.

Arts Education: This is Arts Education Week.  A deep bow to all who work in the area.

Talia Gibas: Professional Development Programs Manager,  Los Angeles County Arts Commission
She is seemingly everywhere -- as is her work product.  Highly respected, she is in demand for all kinds of efforts to address issues - from Arts Education to Leadership Transition to Arts and Wellness.  She is definitely on the rise.

Eric Booth:  Arts Education
Eric is at the center of the burgeoning teaching artist movement and he is one of the key leaders in that arena (and on a global basis).

Jonathan Herman:  Executive Director, National Guild for Community Arts Education
The Guild keeps getting bigger and Herman’s influence continues to grow with it.  His conference is the one to go to for the arts education field.

Joe Landon:  Executive Director, California Alliance for Arts Education
He has taken the Alliance for Arts Education in California to new heights, greater successes and deeper penetration into the education community, and has gained national stature in the field.  CAAE is highly respected in large part because of the respect for Landon.

Linda Essig:  Director ASU’s arts entrepreneurship program, Pave
Her extensive expertise and work in the field of arts entrepreneurship, and her role as co-editor of Artivate (a journal of arts entrepreneurship) have made her one of the forces in this area, and she is widely known and respected in the movement.


Josephine Ramirez: Program Director, Arts,The James Irvine Foundation
Irvine takes chances other funders don't.  Under Ramirez's leadership, the foundation is continually trying to understand what makes audiences tick as well as how and why people participate (or don't) in the arts.  She's not afraid of controversy, asking hard questions, getting unexpected answers and pushing the envelope.  Irvine is a leader in the arts philanthropic world in large part because Ramirez isn't risk averse or afraid to take chances.  You can disagree with her, but can't deny her influence on thinking in the field.

Cora Mirikitani:  President / CEO Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP)
Aften a decade helming CCI (Center for Cultural Innovation), Cora's new position has her running an organization with a bigger portfolio than just the arts, and she is well positioned to wield influence as a bridge builder and facilitator of cross-over collaborations (which might just be the new buzz word for the arts as the field moves towards arts and aging, arts and science intersections, arts and social justice, expanded arts and education, arts and entrepreneurship and more).  Multi layered philanthropic strategies, whether termed engagement, placemaking, diversity or otherwise will likely dominate our field for the next decade or more, and a few people like Cora, will be in positions to  define and frame the new ecosystem.

John McGuirk:  Program Director, Performing Arts Program, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
He is now one of the grand lions of California Arts Philanthropy having been at the core of the arts foundation philanthropic community (at Irvine and Hewlett) longer than perhaps anyone in the state, except Francis Phillips at the Haas Foundation. Active in GIA, he is a voice listened to across the spectrum. Likely Future Hall of Famer

Gary Steuer:  President and CEO, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
With a number of foundations redirecting their philanthropic support away from the arts, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation has moved in the other direction - now funding the arts exclusively.  Steuer is in a unique position to influence other funders over the next few years as he rolls out this new approach and begins to measure the impact.

Huong Vu Bozarth:  The Boeing Company
Her influence extends beyond the Seattle area where she is center stage and very highly regarded in that community.  Boeing is a private enterprise that supports the arts in a way we wish all corporate citizens would emulate.  One nominator said:  "a passionate but informed advocate; an inspiring but patient mentor; and an ambassador who bridges many worlds to help us build a shared ethic of cultural empowerment."

San San Wong:  Senior Program Officer, Arts and Culture Portfolio, Barr Foundation
A leader in the equity push with extensive grant making experience, she is increasingly turning up on lists of leaders with influence.

Ellen Michelson:  Founder, Aroha Philanthropies
Teresa Bonner:  Program Director, Aroha Philanthropies
Arts and Aging is growing as a major initiative in the field for the arts to engage communities, make the case for the value of the arts, and as a bridge to other governmental programs and funding, and Michelson is the catalyst of much of that progress, and Bonner is one of those who make it happen.  Together they had a banner year.

F. Javier Torres - Director of national grantmaking, ArtPlace America.
His experience with diversification of funding and community outreach play into his current platform at ArtPlace and gives him influence as to how placemaking can support equity (among other things) across the country.  Very smart guy.


Jerry Allen / David Plettner- Saunders:  Founders / Partners The Cultural Planning Group
Cultural planning - particularly for cities and counties - is a cottage industry, and Allen and Plettner-Saunders pretty much own the territory.  They are the ones hired by more clients in this area than virtually anyone else.  They know their stuff and because these plans are major factors in how cities and counties approach the arts in their area - including prioritizing and funding - they have a lot of influence on the field.

Maria Rosario Jackson: Senior Advisor, Kresge Foundation
As director of the Culture, Creativity and Communities Program at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C. based national public policy research organization, she honed her expertise in urban planning, community development and the integration of the arts into those arenas - and became one of the 'go-to' people in that area.  She's sat on a dozen or so Boards, taught at university programs,  and consulted across the field.  Now as a senior advisor to the Kresge Foundation, she continues her influence in foundation policy development -- not just as Kresge, but far beyond.  If the arts actually had a national think tank, she'd be on it.

Richard Evans:  President, EmcArts
EmcArts continues to pioneer work in innovation and adaptive strategies for arts organizations.  He and his organization are increasingly well known and regarded across the spectrum of the nonprofit arts, including the major funding community.

Community Arts:

Laura Zabel: Executive Director, Springboard for the Arts
Her programs are innovative and have become textbook models for those in the community engagement and development areas.  Her influence remains on the upswing as her programs continue to succeed.

Deborah Cullinan: Chief Executive Officer Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Yerba Buena center has had a number of nationally known arts administrators at its helm including John Kilacki and Ken Foster.  Cullinan joins that illustrious heritage and may eclipse those who came before her.  She is widely regarded as an innovative leader who knows how to enlist community involvement and inspire collaborative creative change in downtown environments.  She is a champion of the role of the "connector" and few do it better.  Considerable influence now augmented by a localized power base of some proportions.

James Kass - Founder / Executive Director, Youth Speaks
He basically launched the spoken word movement for young people, pioneered the resurgence in interest in poetry by youth (including rap / hip hop strains) and created and co-produced the 7 part HBO series Brave New Voices.  He has had tremendous influence on the thrust in the sector towards the arts and social change movement from the youth perspective.

Discipline Areas:

Angie Kim:  Executive Director, Center for Cultural Innovation
Moving into the chair occupied by Cora Mirikitani, she has substantial artist services and philanthropic experience under her belt as she now assumes the helm at a very influential and powerful organizational player in the sector.

Michael Rohd:  founding artistic director of Sojourn Theatre; Associate Professor at Northwestern University School of Communication.
Rohd is a much sought after speaker and advisor in the areas of social practice, capacity building, and community engagement and his influence is considerable.

Edythe and Eli Broad
Their new $140 million private Los Angeles based arts museum (housing their own extensive collection) is one of the biggest things to happen to the museum world in America in a long time.  How they manage their transition from widespread support for the arts to now focusing on steering their own physical ship may be a model for others in the future.  They have mega power and influence in the rarefied world of museums and art collections.

Jesse Rosen - President / CEO, League of American Orchestras
In an area with superstars (and some superegos) he maintains a balanced approach to serving his entire field.  His longevity and deft handling of some potentially messy issues increases his influence with both his membership and his peers.

Amy Fitterer, Executive Director, Dance USA -
She's given the dance community a national voice and that's made her influential across disciplines.


Diane Ragsdale - perhaps the most highly regarded policy wonk blogger in our field.  She is just heads above most of the rest in terms of her bold experimentation (e.g., the Beauty Course she created and taught this year) and her penetrating analysis of serious issues facing the sector.

Arlene Goldbard - She's the optimistic conscience in the field who dares all of us to imagine a world in which the arts are given their just due and in so doing inspires untold numbers.

Joe Patti:  His blog (and he is prolific) keeps hitting the mark by raising questions and issues the field is concerned with, but doesn't always identify for itself.

Ones to Watch:

Guillermina Gonzales - SAAN (State Arts Action Network) Chair
As Chair of the AFTA run state arts advocacy effort, she's reinvigorated the network and its poised to have some impact in the 2016 presidential election - at both the national and state levels.  If she can actually mold this group into a machine, she will have made her mark.  Time will tell.

Alan Salzenstein - Chair, Association of Arts Administration Educators
AAAE is the umbrella service group for the university programs (both undergraduate and graduate) awarding degrees in Arts Administration.  As the number of those programs has steadily increased, and as increasingly graduates with degrees are occupying key positions within our field, AAAE's influence and importance has increased as well, and Salzenstein has been working hard to expand his group both domestically and internationally and has made headway in moving this growing cohort to a higher profile in this field.

Remember: Don't Shoot the Messenger!

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, September 7, 2015

Lessons for the Arts from a Small For Profit Ohio Online News Effort

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

I ran across an article about how a small Ohio town printer started a local online news service, and the approach his team used to succeed parallels the advice and counsel many in our field have been promoting for some time.   The business model developed by this local enterprise is one we emulate in our own efforts, and their experience is instructive for us.

While we are all familiar with the concepts of engagement, placemaking and creative marketing in the arts, I think sometimes it's helpful to see concrete examples of what this might look like on the ground - and in contexts other than the arts.  Specific stories can help us to better understand how these program approaches can work, and why they are important.  Human examples take the concepts beyond the talk and into the streets.  And I think this small online news outlet story illustrates perfectly how these concepts of ours can work for us.

The essence of what this tiny effort in Mansfield Ohio did (the name of the online news service is the "Richland Source" (named for the surrounding county in which Mansfield is situated) can be categorized as:

1)  They engaged their community.  Rather than making an up front decision about the content and format the online news service would take and imposing that decision - top-down - on the community, they started from the proposition (after going into the community to talk to people)  that what people wanted was a media ecosystem that told a more complete story about what was going on in the community (as one of the things needed to help foster more growth).   Basically, people were tired of the common news approach of blood and guts.  Or as the site's publisher put it:  "We didn't want to chase page views through crime, blood and drugs."  Thus engaging their community was basically an inherent part of their mission statement, or would have surely been, if they had had one.

What they did do was attract advertisers from day one by approaching the major businesses in the community that had a stake in the success of the community - not in its downfall.  So banks, hospitals and other institutional advertisers were successfully solicited.  They wanted a site that accentuated the positive rather than the negative, and they sought the community's help in doing that - and, lo and behold, the community responded.  They encouraged and facilitated the community's thoughtful, respectful commitment to their community in its relation to the news and the site, and this engagement of their audience helped to lure advertisers who might have gotten a cheaper and better CPM at some other news venue.

2)  They cultivated a cooperative, supportive relationship between their editorial and business sales teams, so that each one understood and valued the role the other played in the overall success of the enterprise.  This is analogous to the relationship between the creative and marketing / business sides of our own businesses.   They worked to eliminate conflict between these sometimes opposing forces within an organization to both sides mutual satisfaction.  

3)  They got creative in terms of their marketing / advertising strategies.  So instead of taking a local banner ad online somewhere,  they did things like reaching out to every high school in the county and offering to donate popcorn bags to their (football) concession stands for the entire school year.  Some 50,000 popcorn bags cost them $5000.  They put their ad on one side of the bags and (though it took awhile) sold ad space on the other side of the bag to others interested in reaching young people (a driving school, a local ophthalmologist, the National Guard) and in the second year they made a profit on the bags and reaped the ad benefit too.

4.  The focused on pride of place.  In another creative attempt, they realized that there probably wouldn't be much of a market for apparel (t-shirts, baseball hats and more) with their Richland Source name or logo, so instead they launched a limited line of "Made in the 419"apparel  (their area code), and took a risk to market it online.  It sold out.  And helped again brand the online news service - in part by solidifying their engagement of the community.

The whole effort is an example of integrating the lessons we've learned from placemaking, for a great deal of their efforts centered on the pride of place.

If you are still trying to make some sense out of the concepts of engagement, placemaking, and creative marketing in terms of how you might apply those concepts to your situation, I urge you to read the article.  It will, I think, help you to get a better picture in your mind of how all these concepts might work for you, and how they might be customized to individual situations and circumstances.

In describing their attempt to create some kind of 'member' program, their publisher said this:

"We’re going slowly on this. We want to be mindful. We want to get people to participate at a level where they really feel as if they’re getting more than they put in."

That's really good advice for all of us:  "Be mindful.  Get people to feel as if they're getting more than they put in"

Have a great week.

Look for the 2015 Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts (USA) next week!

Don't Quit

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I Don't Get It

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

Sometimes I look around at what we're NOT doing, especially when compared to other sectors, and I just don't get it.

I've give you some examples:

I.  I was watching the Little League World Series on television over the weekend.  This is 8 to 12 year old kids playing on a big stage like their heroes in the big leagues (though I must admit that on some of the teams some of the players look like they are in their 20's or something).  But it's basically kids living their dream - with all the considerable intensity and passion they can muster.  It has a certain purity to it because it's kids - not professionals, and the prize in winning is the satisfaction of having gone the journey and succeeded.  In many ways it isn't all that different from any number of arts pursuits that kids are involved in.

Apart from what it means to the kids, it is used by the Sports Interests as a tool to encourage kids to play baseball (and thus a future farm system for the sport; and also a tool to develop future fans) and more importantly, it is a public relations tool promoting the value of participating in sports for young people.  Indeed there were commercials and on air commentary to that precise observation.  The whole Little League apparatus is very organized and works very well in support of the proposition that sports are important and valuable.

I don't understand why the arts can't mount some similar efforts deploying kids' involvement in dance, music, theater and the arts as a whole.  Where is the arts version of the Little League World Series?  Where is the arts public relations tool to capture the same public platform touting the value of the arts to kids?  There are just as many kids whose lives are positively impacted by the arts as by Little League baseball; just as many kids passionate about their arts participation as ballplayers are; just as many proud parents and communities; and just as much potential media value in kids' performances on stage as on the ball field.  There ought to be some version of kids and the arts that gets that kind of media attention. But there isn't.

I don't get it.

II.  The movie and music industries discovered some time ago that the public is fascinated by Top Ten Lists.  Indeed, the music industry charts of the best selling singles / albums pioneered the approach.  And the movie industry gets all kinds of free press on an almost weekly basis by releasing the Top Ten Box Office hits (measured by gross ticket sales) which virtually every news station in the country seems to cover in on-air time.  It makes the release of new films more exciting, it gives free publicity to new releases and shows the public what is and isn't really popular. It's another on air tout for the film industry itself, including the idea of going to movies.   Why don't we have something like that? There are all kinds of statistics that we could compile easily enough and release as Top Ten lists -- everything from the Top Ten Attended Museum Exhibits of the Month; the Top Ten Grossing Dance or Symphony performances to the Top Ten Grossing Theater Productions.  Or maybe to garner big numbers, because the public and media like big numbers, the Top Aggregate Monthly Gross for All theater, dance, music, museum etc. attendance in the arts across the country.  The point is simply that we have the means to ramp up the media coverage we get simply by reporting (and packaging that reporting) on the statistics that exist.  Why aren't we doing something like that?

I don't get it.

III.  Speaking of lists, if someone were to compile a list of the Top Five Issues on the Nonprofit Arts field's priority agenda, here are some that would likely be included:  1)  Equity and Diversity; 2)  Community Engagement;  3) Audience expansion development, particularly with younger cohorts; 4) next generation donor cultivation; and 5) recruitment, retention, training and development of the next generation of leaders.

Why then are there so few younger people on arts nonprofit Boards of Directors?  The litany of justifications for the absence of anywhere near a proportional representation of, say Millennials, on our Boards (they lack commitment, they're inexperienced, they can't meet financial minimum obligations, they're unseasoned) are now seen largely as thinly disguised (lame) attempts to keep people off Boards whom current Board members don't want to share the decision making with.  

1)  If we truly want diversity then we have to address ageism - both against older and younger people; 2)  it makes no sense for community engagement efforts to ignore the now largest age group in the country - Millennials; 3)  foregoing the input of the very audience we are trying to attract is just stupid; 4)  ditto our attempts to cultivate future donors; and 5) just how do our future leaders acquire the skills and experience we want them to have if we exclude them from opportunities to develop those skills and gain that experience?  And keeping them off our Boards (or failing to recruit them) sends a negative message about how important they are to our future --- harming our recruitment efforts.  Yet few Boards have more than a token level, at best, of younger Board membership, and there doesn't seem any concerted, sustained efforts to get more younger people on our Boards.

I don't get it.

IV.  We are constantly now talking about how much work there is to do and how understaffed we are in our capacity to do that work and how pressed for time we are.  Indeed, increasingly the Executive Director, across the whole spectrum of arts organizations, spends more and more time as a fund raiser - to the exclusion of other tasks.   If time is an important asset, why then as a sector,  does it still take most of us a thousand words to address some issue or make some point, when a twenty word response would not only suffice, but be far more to the point?  Why, when we seem to love to tweet, can't we extend that discipline of the "only 140 characters" lesson of brevity to our ill served penchant to be so damn long winded about everything.  (Yes, I am assuredly guilty myself).  Why do we waste so much time and feel compelled to drone on and on about everything?

I don't get it.

V.  Where is our anger and outrage at the relentless attempts to marginalize our attempts to secure K-12 arts education across the country.  In what amounts to Grand Theft Arts (the stealing of our kids futures by failure to provide them with the opportunity to hone their creativity - which is a crime of sorts  -- and we ought to hold press conferences indicting local officials as a way to gain media attention) - we continue to accept it as though it is the natural order of things.  Why?  Why aren't we up in arms and marching in the streets to demonstrate how important arts education (or arts funding) really is?  Why don't we mobilize and demonstrate and picket school boards or legislatures?  Why are we so damn polite? So darned contrite and wimpy?  Why aren't we mad as hell?  And why don't we fully understand that marshaling public demand is key to solving a wide range of our problems, and without that demand, most of our efforts are doomed?  If an issue isn't important enough to us to demand a solution, how on earth can we expect it to be important to anyone else?  The fact is that those who "push" for what they want, more often get something, than those that sit idly by on the sidelines and say nothing.  Why we choose the latter approach is beyond me.

I don't get it.

Maybe some of you have the answers.  I don't get it.  I really don't.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dare to Imagine

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

A tip of the hat to Scott Heckes, recently retired Deputy Director (one of many hats he wore over a three decade tenure) at the California Arts Council.  I had the great privilege and honor to work with Scott during my tenure as Director of the CAC, and he served the arts in California with great distinction, passion, intelligence, sensitivity and style - all with good humor and a caring attitude.  Well done Scott and thank you.

Watching the news or reading the news has never been more disconcerting.  Everywhere there is evidence the world has entered an expanded and relentless dysfunctional era.  In too many places and too many instances, violence and stupidity seem to rule.  I admit, I am somewhat a cynic.  I've seen the inside of politics and business and know that the world is controlled in large part by selfish, greedy - and not all that enlightened or smart - people.  Recognizing that I am jaded, it's important for me (and other cynics and doubters out there) to affiliate with, and saddle up to, optimists - those who don't let themselves doubt that somehow, some way, we can get to solutions.  The arts are full of those people.  That is part of what makes the arts attractive.

Fellow blogger, Arlene Goldbard is an optimist.  She simply doesn't accept that what is wrong with the world has to stand; she refuses to accept defeat, and won't let setbacks cloud her judgment or paralyze her actions.  She deals with what might be possible, not through the lens of what stands in the way.  She keeps keeping on, and she, and those like her (and probably a majority in our field), inspire me.

Several years ago she hit on promoting the idea of Arts and Culture being represented at a Cabinet level in the White House.  She wasn't the first; it's an idea touted before her, and echoed after her.  And we all know that realistically it's not going to happen soon.  But she's not naive. She knew that it wasn't likely to happen.  So she did what those who get things going always do - she took action. She started an unofficial virtual United States Department of Arts and Culture  (USDAC).  She gave it a name and form, and invited a score of people to join her and help her define what this kind of thing might mean.

Here's the thumb nail description:

"The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) is the nation's newest people-powered department, founded on the truth that art and culture are our most powerful and under-tapped resources for social change. Radically inclusive, useful and sustainable, and vibrantly playful, the USDAC aims to spark a grassroots, creative change movement, engaging millions in performing and creating a world rooted in empathy, equity, and social imagination."

Why such a project?  Here's the answer:

"Active creative participation is a gateway to ongoing civic engagement and the capacity to collaborate is a key element of any resilient community. But for too long, we’ve believed that everything that counts can be counted, ignoring the vital role that arts and culture play in advancing equity, innovation, and democracy. Everything that is created must first be imagined, yet we've failed to fully invite and support people in every community to step up as artists and agents of change."  

The project is an exercise in what might be possible were people to imagine those possibilities as reality, and one of those possibilities is that if enough people can envision something, it's possible it can become reality.  And so she set about trying to move the mountain.

One of her first acts was to recruit a score or more leaders within the field to join her and become Ministers in the Department of Arts and Culture.  Clicking on the link you can see some smart, passionate and experienced people, well known in our field, liked the idea and accepted her invitation.  You can tell by the names each choose for their ministerial post that Arlene wanted people to have some fun with this.  But it should be noted that this isn't a joke -- underneath and at its' core,  it's a quite serious effort to move that mountain of public ennui towards what we do, and to work towards what we might all imagine could be possible if there were someday an actual Department of Arts and Culture as an official U.S. Government Agency - with a chair at the President's Cabinet --- established because, finally, there is recognition as to the value art and creativity has to the country.

At the heart of this effort is using imagination to animate the value of the arts.  The first project last year involved imagining sessions across the country.  And the current project is a Dare to Imagine week (during Arts and Humanities Month) wherein we in the arts can help the public (and ourselves) to imagine what the world might look like in the future if everybody would embrace the role and value of art and culture.

"From October 10-18, 2015, Emissaries from the Future will create Imagination Stations nationwide—popping up in parks, classrooms, galleries, conferences, farmer's markets and beyond for this large-scale act of collective imagination. Using creative tactics, Emissaries will engage people in envisioning the world they hope to inhabit and—looking back from the future—celebrating the work they did to get there. The resulting texts, images, videos, and more will be uploaded to an online platform, yielding a crowd-sourced vision of the future, inspiring art, policy, and community action."
Here is how you and your organization can participate:

How to participate: Sign up online to be an Emissary from the Future. Emissaries will receive free online training and a step-by-step toolkit making it easy to host an Imagination Station. Find out more and register by September 10th**:

If your organization wants to join the exercise and the fun, click here to become a partner.  It's really quite simple and won't take much time.  A very detailed and comprehensive tool-kit has been created to make it easy to participate.  Imagine if thousands of arts organizations did it.

My contribution is to posit to you, dear readers, the notion of a virtual Dare to Imagine station, that is focused on the politics of the 2016 election - which, I need not tell you, is already crazier than any Tea Party the Mad Hatter ever threw (and we are all Alice wondering just how we ever got into this nonsensical, logic-defying, insanity that is now American politics).

So I Dare you to Imagine what this election and the lead up to it over the next 15 months might be if we  had a cadre of people across the country who, at every opportunity, repeatedly and relentlessly asked candidates, their spokespeople and staffs and the media - to explain their support for (or lack thereof) for the arts and culture.  No bs'ing, no obfuscation, no deflection, no spinning their answers, no avoiding a simple, direct question:

"Do you understand the value of the arts to the economy, to education and job preparation, to healing and aging, to science, to tourism and to identity, a sense of place, and community development, and do you support funding for the arts and culture at one dollar per capita - nationally, on the state level and locally? and if you don't, why exactly not?"  
Imagine if we asked that question twenty to forty thousand times over the next year - in letters, tweets, emails, at meetings, on social networks, face to face and, well, everywhere.  Indeed, Americans for the Arts', Arts Action Fund has begun trying to do precisely that on the Presidential Campaign level. (I just want to ramp up the effort about 1000 times)
Imagine too that 20% of the hundred thousand people who work in the non profit arts were joined by 20% of the hundred thousand of those who support us -- as Board members, major donors, volunteers and the like -- and those 40,000 people (only a fifth of the total mind you) each gave just $20 in 2016 (just one year, no repeat obligations) for advocacy.  That would raise $800,000.  If we directed one third of that money to the national election (president and congress), one third to statewide races and one third to local races, we would have more real influence than we have ever had.  I wonder if people in our field really have any idea how much influence we would have with an $800,000 war chest.  It's easy to imagine that if an election cycle is going to cost in the neighborhood of several billion dollars, eight hundred thousand is just irrelevant peanuts, but that is simply NOT true.  It is a major, major amount of money and the leverage it can access is inestimable.  Dare to Imagine just how much that amount could help us.  And if you want to be bold, imagine twice or three times the participation.  Fantasy?  Probably - but Dare to Imagine is the challenge.

So perhaps you might set up a small Dare to Imagine Station in your office or venue or wherever, and challenge those in your organization to Imagine how we might impact this election to our direct benefit. I would love to hear your ideas.

So thank you to Arlene, to the Cabinet Ministers at USDAC, and to all the countless optimists out there who keep my cynicism in check, and allow me to harbor the secret belief that I think we actually can save the world - and that the arts will play a major role in that effort -- though we're going to have to deal with a lot of morons to get there.

Have a great week, and Dare to Imagine a better world.

Don't Quit