Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Creative Vitality Suite Tool Explained

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

The CreativeVitality Suite
Because I get questions about the Creative Vitality Suite tool -- what it is, how it's used and what purpose it serves, I asked WESTAF to provide the following content as the technology provider of the Creative Vitality ™Suite.  The Suite is a research-based economic development tool that provides high-quality, national creative economy data and reporting.

Creative Economy Data - A (brief) User’s Guide
If you are reading this blog you are probably an arts administrator, perhaps a researcher, or maybe you are an advocate or proponent of the Arts. Regardless of your position, there is a good chance you are interested in understanding the economic impact the Arts have in your community. You may seek answers to questions such as the following: How much do the arts contribute to the local economy? How do art and creative economy jobs in your area compare with those in other areas? How do you best report data-based findings about the creative economy?

Having a good understanding of your local creative economy can be a major benefit to your organization--and your community. When you need to influence funders, legislators, and prove your relevance in the community, data is most useful. Data can also help administrators make smart and informed decisions about ways to develop audiences, structure marketing campaigns, design fundraising strategies, develop programming approaches and position an organization's brand. Having high-quality data in hand is key to understanding your options, making effective decisions and effectively communicating your case.

Economic development teams work to create economic activity that will result in new businesses and jobs. As we well know, too often a community and its leadership do not understand the degree the impact the arts and creative economy have on a local or state economy. Defining the size and scope of that impact with credible data is one way to raise awareness that the arts and the creative economy create jobs and bring new revenues into the community.

Be the smart one in the room
There’s still confusion in our field in the areas of statistics and data. If you are puzzled by the avalanche of data, you are not alone. If you have experience with data and statistics, you are likely in the minority. Organizations that use data to make their case tend get much more traction because they can rise above the rest of the crowd that often fails to support their claims with high-quality data. The CVSuite is easy to use and continued familiarity will make you comfortable with, and more knowledgable about, all kinds of data.

How to determine the size and scope of my impact? There’s a tool for that...
The CVSuite cloud-based software is currently used by many state and local arts agencies and arts organizations around the country to analyze both for profit and nonprofit creative labor market data at the state, MSA, county, and zip code level. The user of the CVSuite tool can easily access the number of jobs and industries in the creative sector in a select geographic area to include wages and salaries, and sales and earnings revenues. Downloadable spreadsheets are available for deeper analysis to include Location Quotient, non-profit contributions, and year over year comparisons.

The tool also contains multi-year data and the geographic areas for analysis are national, so geographic comparisons, and year-over-year analyses and benchmarking are easily accomplished. Demographic and ethnicities per occupation will be available in the Fall of 2016.

In addition, snapshot reports can be quickly downloaded and easily communicated.

So whether you need data to prove your contributions to the overall economy, or for advocacy, or to be the smartest person in the room, CVSuite can help.  

In the CVSuite tool, you can easily download reports when you need them

The Creative Vitality Suite tool will help you:
  • To put forth a more credible, impactful creative economy story to your constituents, elected officials, the media and the public. Adding the quantitative to the qualitative makes for a stronger story.
  • To pinpoint and highlight your successes.
  • To change strategy / trajectory -- to see what occupations are contributing the most to your economy, and to look at changes year over year. 
  • To show how impactful the creative sector is in your area -- how it attracts new businesses to help spur more economic growth.
  • To compare your area’s impact to that of other areas, to benchmark, and to plan for the future.
  • To create legitimacy using national data.
  • To guide marketing messaging.
  • To determine voids and needs in your marketing, fundraising, and media strategies.
  • To develop relevant content for your web site, social media and collateral platforms.
1.  If you need new, current, credible data to tell a compelling story or make a strong presentation argument
2.  If you want to be able to work with economic development experts on their level and speak their language
3.  If you want solid data at a reasonable price
4.  If you want to be able to compare the creative economy in the geographic areas of your choosing, and identify what other cities are doing to boost their creative economies
5.  If you want an online data tool available to use when you want to use it,

The CVSuite™ Could Be Your Data Solution

If you would like more information on data and how to use it, or for a demo of WESTAF’s Creative Vitality Suite, contact Susan Gillespie: email:

WESTAF will have a booth at the AFTA Conference in Boston June 16-18 where you can learn more about the best uses of data and see a demo of the Creative Vitality ™ Suite.

For more information on other data sources, click here for Which Data, the second webinar in the Art of Data series presented by WESTAF.

Have a good day.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


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

Good intentions, gone awry again.  Arrrgghhh, and I meant well too.

One of the fundamental questions seems to now be:  "Where did the time go?"  Mondays always start out with great expectations, steely resolve and high hopes.  One never anticipates the big and little life interruptions that give lie to our plans.  It's hard to know when we will get sick, or one or more of the kids will have a crisis, or when work will throw us an unanticipated curve or when we will simply sink back into a funk we thought we had escaped.  The only thing predictable is that things will inevitably and invariably happen to throw us off our game.  And yet, we almost never see it coming, and so we roll along fully believing our lists are realistic and that we will get done what we planned to get done.  We so want to believe that we are the masters of our own fate.


We all have our excuses, some legitimate some fake.  We all have have good reasons why we end up behind sometimes.  We are all familiar with the treachery of time and how it messes with us.

Today is always filled with more stuff to do than there is time for. Today is busy, always busy.  Deadlines, things on the list, things not on the list that magically and mysteriously come from nowhere to end up on the list.  Today clocks always run fast. What started out as a whole day, quickly goes and the day is over. Today there are errands, and meetings, appointments, progress to be made and things to wrap up.  Today is impossibly jammed. Today's list is overloaded with yesterday's list of things for which there simply wasn't time.  Today can be frustrating, create hopelessness and leave one unsatisfied.  Some todays may be milestones to be celebrated because everything goes right.  But that's unusual.  More often, today just comes and goes and almost nothing changes.  Good intentions aside, today has a nasty habit of just slipping away almost unnoticed.  Today is a chameleon and you never know what will happen.  Today always looks good from yesterday's perspective, but when it arrives it turns out to have been a deceiver, looking frequently nothing like it looked from afar.

But Tomorrow is different. Tomorrow there is always hope to get a lot of important stuff accomplished.  Tomorrow is always full of possibilities and promise.  Tomorrow is a perennial fresh start, an open book, a chance for redemption. Tomorrow is about the future, about what might be, about hope and possibility.

They say today is all that is important.  Live for today.  Today is the only reality.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn't here yet. Only today matters.  We are admonished to live today; to make the most of it before it is gone; we are advised to live today like there will be no tomorrow.

But that's simply not the reality.  Even if the stash of tomorrows isn't endless, one operates on the assumption that tomorrow will always get here.  Most of us live in tomorrow, not today.  Tomorrow is where are plans are, our dreams and hopes and ideas that germinate and flesh out.  Tomorrow is where the work gets done and things change.  There are no mistakes yet in tomorrow, no regrets, no recriminations.  Tomorrow promises accomplishment and achievement. Tomorrow things can be, will be, different.  Tomorrow the wrongs of the world can be righted.  Tomorrow we shall be our better selves.  Tomorrow we will finish what we started, cross things off the To Do list.  Tomorrow Sisyphus will roll the rock all the way to the top.  Tomorrow mountains will be climbed and oceans crossed. Tomorrow is always the seductress, tempting us with what might be, luring us to where we might overcome the weaknesses of today.  Today is a fraud.  It never lives up to its promise.  Tomorrow tempts us.  Tomorrow is our friend, today could care less about us.

As Scarlett O'Hara said with determination and hope in Gone With the Wind:  "Tomorrow is another day".   Tomorrow is about vision and purpose.  About what might be and dealing with what went wrong today and yesterday.  Tomorrow can be the unknown, sometimes scary, sometimes foolish in appearance, and tomorrow can be deceptive and falsely lull us into its seeming security.  But there is something enormously comforting about tomorrow and what might be.

Time has no beginning, no end.  It always exists in the moment, and that is its' limitation for us, for the moment is too ephemeral, too nebulous, too fragile -- too fraught with breakage; too hard to get a handle on, and much too difficult to appreciate while in it.  Tomorrow is of more substance, tomorrow is more real, tomorrow holds greater promise for accomplishment and renewal.  Tomorrow can be viewed dispassionately from afar, from every angle.  Perfection is never possible today, but perfection lives boldly in the imagination of tomorrow.  Tomorrow brooks no escape, but it suffers the fools of today gladly.

So if your today was less satisfying than it might have been when it was but yesterday's tomorrow, don't fret.  If today was disappointing and didn't turn out like it was suppose to, don't be too hard on yourself. If you didn't get anywhere near done what you absolutely, positively had to get done, it's ok, because that's the way it is, like it or not.  Tomorrow will be here soon enough and you can have another chance.  Tomorrow is all about chances, and changes.

I plan on getting stuff done tomorrow.

As the song goes in Annie:  "Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.  I love ya tomorrow.  Tomorrow's just a day away."  There is no better thing to wish for than an endless stream of tomorrows, even if you know that's probably a pipe dream.

Have a great today and an even better tomorrow.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Equity for the Arts Sector in its External Community Relationships

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

Note:  As I have some upcoming medical testing and down time, I keep trying to get several posts up, but have been delayed for one reason or another.  I'm making a concerted attempt this week.

What is reasonable to expect in return for our involvement and engagement with, and within, our communities?

It is now a widely accepted given that the arts must have as a priority their involvement in, and engagement with, their communities; that they must seek places at the table where their strengths and positive values can help the communities to achieve a wide range of goals and objectives - ranging from economic development, to social justice changes, to improved education and more.  And this is arguably because (among other reasons) such involvement and engagement, such participation as members of their local "place", will ultimately help the arts sector to increase support for their growth and sustainability, will perhaps help to fundraise and garner public and private financial support, will help to increase the community's valuation of the arts, will expand audiences, and will, in other ways, inure to the benefit of the arts.  Plus it's the right thing to do.

I'm not sure whether or not the hoped for benefits have yet flowed our way, and the long term data remains to be collected to see if there is evidence to support the hypothesis that we directly benefit from the effort, but, let's assume, arguendo, that the arts, positioning themselves to be good community citizens and support the lofty goals of the community by bringing to the table their unique set of skills, talents and contributions, is in our best interests.  And let's also assume for the moment that there is some tacit understanding in the community itself that the value of the arts goes substantially beyond that which it can bring to help the community address specific problems and challenges; that the arts have meaningful, irreplaceable intrinsic value to the community and its inhabitants.

There seems to be some inequity in the way the arts are treated by these same communities that we are encouraged to embrace and help.  I wonder if there is movement within the communities where we are helping further other agendas, to help us?  Is there a quid pro quo that acknowledges our issues, our challenges, our problems and is there the effort and energy by the community to put us on their "help" agendas?  Are those segments of the community we try to help trying to help us?  I ask because I hear noise that in many places it's fine for us to help other causes, but that they are slow to reciprocate.  I hear a lot about the arts stepping up to lend their resources to addressing problems and challenges facing the community, but not so much about the community stepping up to help the arts address their problems and challenges.

Is this a one way street?  Are we expected to use the gifts and skills available to us to help other causes, but those same causes need not similarly look at what our needs are and bring their skill sets to bear on helping us address our issues?  Do they even ask the question of what we need? Is that disparity not an inequity?  Is the benefit to us more one in the trickle down theory?  Are we unwittingly once again donning the role of Oliver Twist left begging for a little more?  Is it fair? To be sure, there is support in some communities for us, and even increased support, as a direct result of our engagement with them,  and we are on some of the agendas of those we seek to help. But the extent to which that is the case seems to vary widely, is often the exception not the rule, and is thus far unproven by results and data.

To be honest, there is a hierarchy in most communities that designates certain needs and causes and assigns them priorities and importance above the arts.  The arts are important, but not as important as..................    That attitude exists.....still.  It's ok in some communities for the arts to sit at tables where strategies are developed to deal with certain community issues, to bring to bear our creativity as part of the solution  (and we want that, I think), but not ok to sit at the same tables where decisions that might benefit us are made.  In many cases, the arts remain the step child, invited to help others, but with no corresponding offer of help in return.

Shouldn't engagement be a two way, mutual street?  Is it?   If we are to engage our communities, shouldn't we reasonably expect that the communities will seek to engage us?  Is that the case?  Why not?

I think we need to focus somewhat on the whole of the relationship we want with our communities and its various segments and parts - both the give and the take.  I think we need to verify whether or not the simple engagement wherein we help others, pays off in the form of increased support, finances, audiences, etc.  How does that work?  On what timeline?  And we need to determine what is reasonable for us to give to the community, as well as what is reasonable to expect from the community, and how to structure and nurture the kind of relationship to the community that is mutual.  I think it not unreasonable to ask early on in the relationship if those we are trying to help are willing to try to help us -- and not as a theoretical question either.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, May 30, 2016

Americans for the Arts Statement on Cultural Equity

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

Americans for the Arts is touting its newly released Statement on Cultural Equity, a major effort culminating "a year of work and consultation with members, advisory council members, stakeholders in the arts field, board, staff, and partners throughout the nonprofit sector."

Here is the statement:

"To support a full creative life for all, Americans for the Arts commits to championing policies and practices of cultural equity that empower a just, inclusive, equitable nation."

It might seem that such a simple statement would not have taken a year to draft, but in this area it is incumbent on every group trying to establish a context for a high bar that will address the very complex and challenging issue of cultural equity to do due diligence in insuring that all viewpoints are heard.  So AFTA consulted with scores of people in the field to try to include diverse perspectives and thinking.  Even still, one can bet there will be criticism and detractors.

To give context on their process and to the Statement itself, AFTA included on its website the following additional materials: (There is even more information at their site:  Click here )

Definition of Cultural Equity

Cultural equity embodies the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people—including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion—are represented in the development of arts policy; the support of artists; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for expression; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources.

Acknowledgements & Affirmations

  • In the United States, there are systems of power that grant privilege and access unequally such that inequity and injustice result, and that must be continuously addressed and changed.
  • Cultural equity is critical to the long-term viability of the arts sector. 
  • We must all hold ourselves accountable, because acknowledging and challenging our inequities and working in partnership is how we will make change happen.
  • Everyone deserves equal access to a full, vibrant creative life, which is essential to a healthy and democratic society. 
  • The prominent presence of artists challenges inequities and encourages alternatives.

Modeling Through Action

To provide informed, authentic leadership for cultural equity, we strive to…

Fueling Field Progress

To pursue needed systemic change related to equity, we strive to…
  • Encourage substantive learning to build cultural competency and to proliferate pro-equity policies and practices by all of our constituencies and audiences.
  • Improve the cultural leadership pipeline by creating and supporting programs and policies that foster leadership that reflects the full breadth of American society.
  • Generate and aggregate quantitative and qualitative research related to equity to make incremental, measurable progress towards cultural equity more visible.
  • Advocate for public and private-sector policy that promotes cultural equity.
Whereas GIA's Statement of Purpose on Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy released last year put the emphasis on race as related to equity, the AFTA Statement tries to be broader and more inclusive - really all things to everyone.  

There is both an advantage and a danger in trying to be all inclusive in fashioning a position on equity. The advantage being that (hopefully) the field will be able to use it -- not necessarily as a replicable template, but as a starting point for their own version of a policy statement and approach to addressing equity issues (and therein lies, I believe, the value of AFTA's effort).  The danger is that in trying to be comprehensively suitable for everyone, it risks being too generic and thus not pointed enough.  Indeed, I would think there will be some criticism (not of the effort) but that the final product doesn't forcefully enough center on the injustices of the long standing inequities in cultural policies, funding, access, support and valuation - particularly due to the ongoing structural racism prevalent throughout the whole of society, and indirectly present to an extent in every field, including the arts and culture ecosystems.   

But it is indisputable that inequities impact a range of communities beyond racial and ethnic ones - including disabled people, LGBT and more.  Equity ought to be a universal right, as the consequences of inequities know no limitations and bounds.  

The attempt to address equity as a large, systemic ecosystem in and of itself, and not zeroing in on a sub-strata of that system (e.g., structural racism, or funding inequities) makes the AFTA statement both a useful tool and starting point for discussion and consideration by individuals and organizations (a good thing), and a simultaneous failure to advance actually doing something as just that much more "talk", with little emphasis on action - especially action now, not later. 

I don't mean to criticize this effort.  I think AFTA has done a service to the sector - both by the statement and supporting materials, and by encouraging the field to address the issue and do something.  And I applaud their effort and leadership on the project.  It's a worthwhile effort and good start, but it's only a start and frankly the time has passed to move beyond the starting point.  I hope AFTA's moves inspire others to move too, and that the field as a whole can finally make some corrections.

For some the issue of equity is about cultural respect.  For others it's about valuation (and indeed, the very use of terms like underserved, implies the inequity of favoring the overserved.)  For some, it's about access and the doors open to privilege, and the same doors closed to those without it.  For some it's about race. For some, it's about doing' the right thing and simple fairness - about justice.  For some, it's about power and the lack thereof. For others, it's all about the inequity of the allocation of the Benjamins.   Some will argue that all of the above perspectives and many, many more have at their core the structural and systemic racism, bigotry and prejudice that inequity is often built on.  Some will argue that it doesn't matter the underlying cause. What matters is making change.  Some say attitudes need to change first, some say to hell with the attitudes, change the system now so those negatively impacted by the inequities - whatever one's perspective may be - can begin to enjoy the advantages denied them.  

For some in our sector, equity is a community issue beyond the arts, that the arts can, and must, play a part in addressing.  To some of them, the equity question has to do with the advantages and benefits of art and culture being available to all; that the arts can play a meaningful role in getting away from inequities and to a more universal equitable society.  For many, cultural equity is a human right and a value of its own that needs to be championed.  For some in our field, inequity should be first dealt with within the field before we move to consider our role in addressing the issue in the wider community.  

If equity is at least partly about justice, then every tick of the clock where the inequity is allowed to continue is an unreasonable delay, and justice delayed, is justice denied.  But history and experience clearly indicate that equity is not something that moves quickly.  

AFTA's definition of cultural equity above is, I think, more the meat of the statement, than the statement itself.  The concluding words of that definition:  "the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources" seem to me to embody the crux of the practical side of the equity issue for our sector.  Increasingly, there is consensus recognition that the distribution (of certainly the programmatic and financial resources) has not been equal, and thus not fair.  It may be moving in the direction of being fair,  but that movement may be far too slow for many. And, of course, people will define what is "fair" in different ways.  Consensus ain't easy.

And so the question that really needs to be answered, and soon, is what do we do about it?  What can we do, and when can we do it?  In that sense, I echo AFTA's second bullet point under their "Actions" section:  "Acknowledge and dismantle any inequities within our policies, systems, programs, and services, and report organization progress."  While there is no mention of a timeline, I think one ought to have been included.  True, the dismantling of any inequities can't happen immediately; first, you have to identify the inequities.  The process of dismantling will take its own time.  And entrenched special interests are likely to be barriers and obstacles as they pursue, not inequity per se, but protection of their own interests - the result of which might be inequity to others.  

But if the will is there, that ought not to take an indefinite period of time.  Is the will there in the arts?  I don't know.  Like everywhere else, we talk a good game.  But more talk doesn't breed confidence or trust, let alone hope, and while it may be a precursor to action, it is also a hinderance.  As the current national presidential election has shown - people (on all sides) are fed up with talk.  They may not agree on what they want or how to do things, but there is widespread frustration with the failure to act.  The process of the dismantling the inequities in our field needs to begin, in earnest, sooner, rather than later.  A timeline of some sort would be helpful and perhaps speed up the process somewhat.  So too would have been accompanying specific steps being taken now to dismantle specific inequities identified thus far.  Even if incomplete and preliminary.  

Diversity is important, particularly the diversity of representation in decision making processes.  But diversity, by itself, isn't equity.  You can have diversity, and still not have equity.  So we are really talking about two separate, but related and perhaps interdependent threads.  The priority, I think, ought to be the equity question, but the fact is that shooting for diversity is easier.  Yes, the field needs top down, Boardroom leadership, and diversity in that room would be helpful.  And we need diversity at every staff level as well. But neither are essential to movement.  Current Boards, even non-representative ones, can move towards equitable policy and practice right now - if they choose to do so.  That many may not so choose is commentary on the nature of the structural problems that foster inequity and its ongoing existence.  

Very likely there will never be absolute equity.  As individuals, as a sector, as a society we all need to live with that reality.  And equity doesn't necessarily mean absolute equality. Rather it means policy and practice that is fair and just.  That doesn't mean that progress doesn't need to be made where it can so that we get to a point where we are closer to equity.  And I think more people understand that we remain too far away at this point in time.  We have to do better than we have.  

The problem with striving towards equity, is that by its very definition, inequity implies that some are receiving something that others are not.  Take money as the example.  Funding has long gone (disproportionately as to the current overall population) to the larger, Eurocentric cultural institutions.  To achieve equity, more funding ought to go to those "underrepresented, underserved" organizations who have gotten, and continue to get, the short end of the stick.  But that means that those who got the big end of the stick will end up getting less because the total funding pie is only so big.  Putting every consideration aside, that isn't easy for the funders, nor those who benefited unequally.  But that is exactly what must happen if the commitment to equity is real.  Moving towards Equity is messy.  It won't be easy.  

I think AFTA's Statement is a good  beginning, to be applauded.  One hopes they will succeed in using it to jumpstart a larger dialogue that will result in action steps - for them, and for others.  And that arts organizations across the country can use all or part of their effort to customize their own approach to addressing the equity issues.   It would be unfortunate if the net result was later seen as merely an invitation to more talk.  

In the final analysis, there are two distinct groups that must consider this (and other) Statements on Equity and figure out how they are going to address the Equity question:  those who have benefited from the way things have been, and those who have not.  One hopes they can work together.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Five Rules for Information Keeping & Sharing

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

Do you do this?

In your internet searches, your online reading, your review of incoming emails and review of reports, studies, and other information which you routinely come across, do you often (even obsessively), bookmark, email a copy to yourself, or save to your reading list things you find interesting, and that you want to come back to because you think the information may have some application to your work, may be valuable to your organization and your colleagues, or because you want to pass it on to people you know - within and without your organization - because you think they will appreciate it too?

And then do you, almost always, never get around to getting back to that information, and periodically end up deleting it from your system without ever having done anything about it?  Or worse, let it pile up as a bookmark, in your reading list or email inbox? Or do you often forward things to people in your sphere because you don't have time to actually deal with it yourself, but you still think it's worth passing on?  Are you a serial information hoarder, or serial forwarder?   Do you think you are doing either yourself or other people a favor?

Is this a kind of obsession or compulsive disorder we are all susceptible to in the modern information age?  We are constantly advised to prioritize and to forego even good things for which we simply don't have the time, but that prioritization seems to be a hard lesson to learn, and impossible to implement.

In reality, things we save, hold onto or pass on, that we think are interesting and valuable - either for us or others - may be costing us valuable and scarce time, and in the long run, aren't helpful to either us or those we think we are helping when we pass them on.  In fact, this behavior may be part of the larger problem of the growing and relentless onslaught of information that compromises our productivity, makes us feel that we are not in control, and steals from us irreplaceable time.

Here are five rules that might help in addressing this now ubiquitous habit:

1.  First, DO NO HARM.  Like the medical oath, the first thing we ought to remember is that time is scarce and that not everything we come across that we think is going to be useful, really will be.  We need to discipline ourselves to get in the habit of being very tough on what we save, and what we forward, by asking whether or not the item is really likely to end up important, valuable and helpful, or merely a time waster - for us or those in our circles.  Be more discerning and critical.

2.  Assume you and the people you forward things to don't really want or need the info.   Develop a personal policy that will allow you to forego saving and passing on most of the information that you come across.  Remember, what you need most is knowledge, and information itself is not knowledge.  And remember too that just as you delete items forwarded to you without ever reading or even opening them, so too do people similarly delete things you pass on without opening them (and in today's world of scams and invasions, it's a good idea to heed the now virtually universal advice not to open anything - even if from a theoretically trusted source - unless you are absolutely sure it is safe.  We all know not to open unknown and suspect attachments in emails.  There is now evidence suggesting we not even open emails from unknown sources).

3.  Hold onto nothing longer than 3 days.  Delete, delete, delete!

4.  Information that is truly important ought to dovetail with the goals you have established as truly important.  If you can rank your immediate and longer term goals, you ought to be able to rank the kinds of information that you ought to keep or pass on.  If it doesn't help the goals you rank as high, don't save or pass it on.  Move on.

5.  Share with others the kind of information that you find valuable and would appreciate being forwarded to you, and what kinds of things you don't appreciate.   If unsure about what others may want you to pass on - ask them (at the least, the people in your own organization.  Spend ten minutes in a staff meeting talking about this). If others know what you don't want, maybe they won't forward stuff that clogs up your system.  And if you know what they don't want, you can honor their position.

Time management will become increasingly more important to individual career success and the success of our organizations.

Is this advice worth passing on?  I leave that to your best judgment.

Good luck.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ill Winds Blowing?

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

Not surprising, at least to me, is that funding remains one of  (if not) the issue challenging arts organizations.

Of the principal sources of income and cash flow for arts organizations, all are fragile, subject to cycles and external pressures over which we have limited control.  And most are in a prolonged and protracted downturn.  Audience attendance is down, and with it earned income.  Government support is subject to both limited budgets from precarious economic health, and political attacks. Philanthropic support from foundations is increasingly subject to re-prioritization and focus. Individual donor support faces ever increasing competition from other worthy causes, and indeed the arts are increasingly seen as less relevant and important than other causes.

And, increasingly the arts are measured and evaluated in terms of their power and ability to do something positive other than provide the benefits and pleasures of simply being the arts - the so called intrinsic value.  Thus, government support is conditioned on the value of the arts to the economy, to industry and other measures.  Foundation and individual donor support is conditioned on the ability of the arts to support other, larger goals such as social justice.  Arts education support is conditioned on how arts education can augment other educational goals such as college attendance, graduation rates or test scores - or something like being more creative and innovative.  Even attendance at performances and exhibitions is conditioned on the experience being the opportunity for social interaction or some sort of transformative experience.

Partly this is our own doing as we have pushed many of these agendas as a means to garner more support for the arts.  Partly it is a trend in support for all nonprofit causes.

But the trend bodes ill for out long term vitality and sustainability, and we hear examples of arts organizations closing shop, downsizing or otherwise facing calamitous survival prospects.  Studies routinely conclude that the average arts organization is seriously undercapitalized with but a few months reserves, living basically hand to mouth.  And the trends are very likely now beyond trendy, they are likely a new reality.  Not for all organizations, of course,  Some are thriving.  But not most. And not all of the above referenced income sources are conditioned on what the arts can bring to other agendas, but most are.

And yet, I can't see where we are trying to do anything to address this new reality on some kind of (even relative) macro scale.  I see excellent initiatives that recognize some of the resulting problems and are attempting to address those problems -- initiatives like GIA's Capitalization efforts.  But those programs are dealing with the results of the aforementioned trends, not necessarily the causes. Otherwise, it seems like everybody is on their own in the arts.  Absent is the effort to address the issues as a sector.

It's as though, in some ways, we are guilty of violating the adage of teaching a man to fish so that he might feed himself - rather than simply giving him a fish so he might eat.  We give away fish, one at a time.  Where are the initiatives that are helping the sector to learn how to fish?

Our money - whether federal, state, local, foundation or otherwise, is channeled almost exclusively into individual, stand-alone arts organizations, supporting both projects and operations.  That's good. The need is there.  But we also need large scale, sector wide initiatives, infrastructure and organizational apparatuses that will allow us to address big trends.  Otherwise there is little to stop the trends that bode ill for out future.  And there is evidence that if the current foundation and individual philanthropic, the federal, state and local government, and the earned income trends continue that the nonprofit arts will be in a world of trouble down the line.

This challenge is bigger than individual organizations and it needs a sector response, yet the arts seem incapable of mounting sector responses.

Let me give you some examples:
1.   We have an incredible product in arts education and we have a considerable body of evidence supporting that claim.  Education of children is every parent's concern, and priority, and the children's media market is substantial and growing.  Pixar is a company built on that market.  And Pixar is basically a private sector arts organization.  There has been considerable Hollywood talk about how providing educational programs that are entertaining is going to be a continued growth industry -- tv, movies, games etc.  The Netflick's and Amazon's and the rest are hungry for product.  Why aren't we developing a pipeline whereby we, as a sector, can provide some of that product and then allocate the profits across all our strata?  Why aren't there initiatives that finance that kind of effort (tv shows, movies etc. based on the arts) that would help to buck the trend of falling earned income.  This would have to be done (and could) on a big scale, not by single organizations, but the profits could be enormous and shared across the sector to, at least, fund grants.  Where is the seed funding for that and other profit making ventures that could fund nonprofit arts?

2.  Where is the big program to convince more foundations to support the arts, not for what they bring to other fields, but for what they mean of their own account?  Where is that educational effort?  Arts Program Officers at foundations understand the benefit, but they're not in any position to challenge the forces within their organizations that make those fundamental shift change decisions. Where is the large scale funded effort to do that which the program officers cannot do themselves?  Without some kind of effort, are we likely to see continued exit of foundations from arts funding?

3.  Where is the large scale effort to convincingly argue to a new generation of philanthropic donors that investment in the arts rivals any of the other investments being sold to them as worthy of their consideration?  Where is our big ticket effort to compete with the other worthy nonprofit causes? -- on behalf of, and in support of, all the individual arts organizations

4.  We spend a considerable amount of time and energy in touting advocacy efforts and in trying to equip our people with advocacy skills.  But where is the national initiative that focuses on moving elected leaders to value the arts?  We have campaigns to impact Congress and the White House at the Federal level.  We have state campaigns, and we have local campaigns.  Most of these are reactive to some sort of attack and threatened funding cut; none of these are truly connected and there is little coordination across the national to local lines.  With all due respect to the Americans for the Arts - Arts Action Fund - where is the real attempt to marshall a national citizen force?  I think the AAF could get to one million active members - but I think it would take a million dollars or more to make that happen. That's a small investment, considering that the payoff could be hundreds of times that over even a short time span.  Where is that investment? Hard to come by as our funding sources are all scared to death of political advocacy on any level.  Yet ask yourself just how long the arts ecosystem can survive without government support.

The arts, of course, will survive.  Art will continue to be made and people will continue to want to experience it.  But not necessarily on anywhere near the level that we know it ought to exist.

I think that the only way we are going to ever be able to support sector wide initiatives that are funded on a level so they can be competitive and effective is if we pay for them ourselves.  How?  By organizing self-funding campaigns.  Unfortunately, there isn't the seed money to begin, nor the leadership to try, and our legacy is to refuse to pay for these efforts ourselves.  We have to look beyond what we need internally - at the moment - to what we need to ultimately survive.  There are only so many fish we can give arts organizations to eat (and we're running out of them).  At some point, they need to learn how to fish.

Good luck to us.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Expanding the Charitable Deduction Model

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

Tax Deductions for Arts Tickets:

I propose we urge the IRS to re-think the public benefit corporation (nonprofit) tax policies regarding deductions for the purchase of arts performances and exhibitions tickets - the cost of which are currently not tax deductible by the purchasers.

501 (c) (3) nonprofit organizations are defined as "public benefit corporations".  They are given tax breaks (no tax on their income and gifts to them are deductible by the donor) precisely because they provide the public with a benefit.

In the case of the arts - that benefit is the art itself - whether paintings and sculptures, theater, poetry, dance, film, music, crafts or otherwise.  In the aggregate, the benefit to the public is a living, vibrant, healthy arts ecosystem that both preserves extant art and encourages, nurtures and supports new creativity and innovation - theoretically for all citizens.

But there are limitations to the tax benefits accorded arts organizations as public benefit corporations. Thus, while donations are tax deductible to the donor, the cost of accessing the arts that are supported by the tax deductible donations, via tickets to performances and exhibitions, is not.

But that makes no sense.  If the public policy underlying the notion of public benefit defacto stipulates (which I think it does), that the arts provide a public benefit, then why is access to that benefit not also tax deductible.  Arguably, if society wants to encourage public benefits via subsidizing organizations on a host of levels, (which, in the case of the arts, is what the policy is doing with tax deductions for contributions and support), then shouldn't access to the benefit being created likewise be subsidized (and in our case, by extending the tax deduction to the price of the tickets) so the people can access the benefits that have been created?   It seems limiting to help create the benefit, but then not extend that support to accessing that benefit.  It's as though the benefit lives in a vacuum, and that its limbo status is logical.

Ticket revenue is a principal source of income for arts organizations - which income goes to support the organizations providing the public the benefit(s) of the arts.  If the policy is to support arts organizations via tax deductible donations, then the policy ought logically to extend to helping those organizations survive by allowing tax deductions for the tickets.  And, it ought to extend to the public so that the public might actually be able to access the benefit.

Currently, money spent on tickets to performances and exhibitions, is not tax deductible because the purchaser gets a benefit (the performance or exhibition itself).  But if the performances and exhibitions are the benefit, then extending the benefit to purchasers paying for admission so the they may enjoy those benefits  - is really the complementary part II of the logic of supporting the benefit in the first place.  Arguably that would benefit the whole community, including segments who cannot afford the high ticket prices.  In that sense, the current logic supports an inequity in the access to the benefit as wealthier segments of the populace can afford the cost of accessing the art, while others may not.

The arts are a benefit.  So too should be the ability to be able to enjoy that benefit.  Otherwise, what's the point?

So perhaps we ought to mount a legislative campaign that would change the IRS regulations to permit tax deductions for money spent on tickets to arts performances and exhibitions.

The practical question, of course, is whether or not tax deductions for the costs of tickets to arts events would result in more tickets been sold, and thus more income to arts organizations.  Certainly, that would be the hope.  And if it did, that additional income flow would help arts organizations achieve stability,  and increase their capacity to provide more of the public benefit (i.e., art).  It would arguably make the higher (and growing) cost of admissions more affordable by lesser income brackets (again promoting the policy of public benefit across strata within our society).  And it might even allow for ticket price increases.  Ticket money is earned income to arts organizations, but, remember it isn't profit - it goes to continue the work of the public benefit.  Does that give the arts a competitive advantage that is unfair in the marketplace for other types of entertainment - like sports, or movies?  I suppose one could argue that it might - though it may be comparing apples and oranges as the majority of people who go to either sporting events or movies are not likely to go to fewer sporting events or movies even if they went to more arts events (and that is likely problematic in itself).   If the arts are a public benefit, then enabling more people to enjoy them should be part of that benefit policy, no?

I don't know how such a notion impacts the whole of the nonprofit field.  I'm only concerned with the arts and what might be good for us and, through us, a benefit for the whole of the country.  I sincerely doubt the negative fiscal income impact on the government of less taxes being paid would be substantial, but it might have a big positive impact on the arts.  Then again, I admit, it might not.  I don't know.  I'm just playing with the idea.

Of course, the paperwork for individual, itemized deductions may make the effort too burdensome for the average tax payer to take advantage of, but there might be ways like standardized deductions to address that challenge.  If not, such a proposal might disproportionately benefit the wealthy who could, for example, take advantage of the deductions to purchase season tickets for arts offerings, but isn't it already the wealthier who benefit from the charitable deductions to the arts or any other 501 (c) (3) organization?

And if the cost of tickets were tax deductible, arts organizations would no longer have to deduct their value from dinner gala fund raisers, and, might also include tickets as part of the tiered rewards for different levels of donations - particularly at the higher levels.  And logically, one might assume that that would increase donations.  And then it might increase subscription and season ticket sales too and not just to the wealthy.  Every dollar helps.

A policy that supports the existence and operation of arts organizations because those organizations are a benefit to the public (the art that is being preserved and produced), ought to include access by the public to that art, which access ought also to be tax deductible.  The reasoning to exclude that part of the public benefit seems a circuitous route of denial of the underlying principles of the policy in the first place.

If not soon, then in the not too distant future, Congress and the country will get to re-examining the tax codes (it's been coming for a long time), and that will include evaluation of the charitable tax donation policies, and the whole reasoning behind 501 (c) (3) organizations.  I think we might get out front of that coming debate and societal change by promoting a more rational and coherent tax deduction policy for the arts that would include deductions for accessing the art being supported.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit