Sunday, November 22, 2015

December - The Lost Month

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

Thursday is Thanksgiving.  Wishing you all a very happy and safe Thanksgiving. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (and I have included the Arts Christmas Carols at the end of this post)

And now it begins.  The monster that the holidays have become. Once upon a time, long, long ago, the holidays were a couple of weeks long.  True, they were hectic weeks with a lot going on, but you could still actually get some work done despite the clamor. That was back when the Presidential election cycle was four months or so - from the conventions to the election.  Neither of those realities exist anymore.

December is now increasingly a lost month.  Write if off.

It starts right after Thanksgiving with Black Friday - which now starts in most places a week or two before black Friday.  Soon Black Friday will start around Halloween, or maybe labor day. And Black Friday signals the shopping season.  Shop, shop, shop. Spend, spend, spend. The economy depends on us consumers. Everything is geared towards getting those gifts we are obligated to buy.  The decorations are up, the songs are starting to play, red and green are all of a sudden everywhere,  and to entice you to make those purchases, everything is on sale.  And what isn't on sale, soon will be.  So we have been trained to resist the clarion calls to do our duty and break out the credit cards - much to the frustration of the sellers.  So they - we know - will mark stuff down even further and we will play a game with them to see who blinks first.  We've got plenty of time, it's only Thanksgiving (the last words of so many).  And the hassles of shopping?  All those Tri-athletes out there, I'd like to see you keep up with three days of Christmas mall shopping.  Now that's an endurance test you wimps.

And this coming week is the countdown for making all the reservations for those of you who will go out of town for one reason or another during the holidays.  In fact, if you haven't already made those arrangements, you may well be too late to get the flights and reservations you want.  Your neighbor got a great flight and made her reservations in August.  It is increasingly clear why you never really liked her (note to self: give her that fruit cake you got back in 2009).  Oh and it turned out that the airlines weren't actually charging for each inch of leg room you wanted.  That was just a rumor, right?  There is nothing like flying, and the joys of an airport, to make for a festive and relaxing holiday.   This is particularly true if you have a couple of layovers before you get to your final destination.

Shopping for gifts and travel plans are but two of the stressors of December.  It's just a start.  Here's what we're in for:

The first week in December:  There is still time to get some actual work done the week after Thanksgiving.  Yes you will have eaten too much over the four day holiday, and though you really meant to get a lot of work done and cross some of the things off that December "To-Do" list, Monday morning you will likely discover more things on that list, not fewer.  One of the mysteries of life.  Oh joy indeed.

So you will begin, the week after Thanksgiving, to feel the guilt creeping in.  But not too much, because there is still a lot of time left.  The smart people among us will see the the writing on the wall and begin to prioritize.  The rest of us will smugly believe there is still time to get everything done and still attend to the holidays - and we eagerly embrace that fiction, despite years of experience to the contrary.  Yes, everything still seems relatively normal.  But you can begin to detect the monster out there that will make sinister demands on your limited and precious time, and you will be powerless to resist all those claims to your energy. This is technically the last week when you can really, rationally expect to be productive.  Most of us will unintentionally squander this last opportunity.  Who's afraid of the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf?

The second week of December starts the inexorable slide from getting anything accomplished.  You find yourself making lists and more lists as though the mere act of putting your obligations on a list will make them go away.  List making is now the thing you do best.   Note the irrational thinking that gives rise to this kind of behavior.  It will grow.  There should be plenty of time left to work at work, but the time seems to be taken up with invitations to this or that, more pressure regarding that unfinished shopping, plus you have to start thinking about the decorating and the meals and every other little thing the holidays demand. Then there is that colleague's birthday celebration.  Honestly, it's just a little bit inconsiderate for people to go having birthdays just two weeks before Christmas isn't it?  You're still pretty much in control, but you note that all the relentless playing of those Christmas Carols are starting to wear thin and even annoy you.  And the tree.  You have to get the tree AND decorate it this week.  Those strands of lights again.  Aaargghh.  Got kids?  They have Christmas celebrations too, and guess what?  You're part of all that.  Fortunately the only people who send Christmas Cards anymore are the local plumber and your auto repair shop (and thanks to you, the owner of that auto repair shop is spending this Christmas in Hawaii).  Those work projects you meant to catch up on at home go by the wayside, because you don't get home until eight or nine o'clock - and you're extra tired.  You rationalize the drinks and dinners and parties as "networking" and good for your career.  Sleep would be good for you career too, but that doesn't seem to be an option. The week goes by faster than the time between bouts of Ben Carson sticking his foot in his mouth.

In the third week of December, things become critical.  You have inexplicably said yes to way more invitations than you can possibly attend.  And you promised yourself you would say "no" this year.  Ah well.  Now it's difficult to extricate yourself from these events.  How on earth did this happen again?  You've been eating so many cookies and holiday sweets that the sugar rushes - and then collapses - are playing havoc with your thinking.  You've probably eaten the equivalent of a couple pounds each of sugar, butter and flour.  That's got to be good for the metabolism, huh?  And all that extra coffee isn't helping.  Did these clothes shrink or something?  You've got to work on that report, I mean you really do, but now you must get that shopping done that you've been postponing, and the stores are ridiculously crowded.  Truth be you can't even find a parking space in the mall lots.   You opt for online - but it still takes forever making a decision.  And you hope you can still get delivery of THE toy that Santa has to have under the tree (they promise you can, but they promised that last year didn't they).  OMG, why did you wait so long.  Remember, you've still got that report (yes, yes, thank you so much for reminding me) and a score of donor phone calls to make, and by now you begin to hate, yes hate, at least certain of the Christmas songs that ubiquitously play all the time.  Joy to the World to you maybe pal. The colors red and green are getting on your nerves and even starting to make your stomach ache.  And the crowds and traffic everywhere are unbelievable. These people need to stay home more.  Oh, and the Christmas budget you swore to adhere to?  You exceeded that two weeks ago.  There is no choice at work: you've just got to cut back to those things that absolutely, positively have to get done, no excuses.  You wonder if that is even possible. You suspect (correctly) that it's not.

The last few days before Christmas yield no breaks.  Still a last minute gift or two to buy perhaps,  and even if that's done, you got to wrap them and distribute them, and OMG did you get that Silent Santa gift for your work colleague yet?  You rush out at lunchtime.  Half your meals are at events, the other half are eaten standing up or at your desk.  You're eating too much you know, drinking a bit more often too (what exactly is in egg nog anyway?), and you are dog tired. Boy, the holidays are a lot of work.  By now if you are seriously considering that you can still finish the workload, you are faking it.  In the back of your head you are rationalizing that a lot of stuff can wait until next week (or maybe next year!)  That damn report.  Maybe a Christmas eve all nighter?

And then there is the day itself.  Family, friends, and too much of everything.  Hopefully the day goes by without incident - though there is no guarantee of that.  Somebody may get on somebody's nerves.  Remember no discussing politics or anything controversial!  You hope you can keep quiet.  You promise you'll try.  Once it's over, you can begin to recover.  Resolve to do better in the coming week.  But New Year's is on a Friday, and thus New Year's eve is on Thursday, and so your head won't be much into work from Wednesday on.  With Monday a kind of December Christmas season hangover day, that leaves you with Tuesday to actually get anything done.  Oh dear. So much to do in one day.  Your mind wanders.  If everybody would just leave you alone for the whole day, you know you could actually get a lot done on Tuesday, but there is little chance they will leave you alone.  It's December, you are in open season play.  Your time is simply not your own.  Deal with it.

Monday, January 4th:  With December gone, life can return to normal and you can again take some control of your life.  That comforting feeling is only interrupted by the realization of how much work you have on your plate.  Aaarrggg!!  We will all resolve to get healthy and to get organized in 2016.  A small percentage of us have any chance of staying that course.  Our intentions are good anyway.

It is after all, now an eleven month year.  December is just a holiday.

But despite the stress and the pitfalls of an unforgiving December, despite too much work, much of which doesn't get done, the holidays still bring to most of us some joy and magic of a season where people are kind, and humanity's better impulses are on display.  We celebrate moments of joy and find comfort anew in the smiles of people's good will.  And for those lucky enough to share these holidays with kids, the magic is apparent and it becomes obvious why we can cope with the bad stuff.  The hope and innocence of children is why we are able to steel ourselves against the cruelty and insanity of a world that sometimes seems hopeless.  The holidays and December may be a whirlwind, but there is much joy to embrace.  No, we don't get all the work done, but it's ok, it will still be there when we return.  It always is.

[Of course, for those out there who are the ultra managers who are organized and on top of it all, this Christmas season is likely a piece of cake and enjoyable on every level.  To all of you I can only say:  "Go Away."]

No matter what, or how, you celebrate at this time of year, I wish you all the happiest of holidays.

And so as to lighten your December burden, and get you in the holiday mood and spirit, I have taken the liberty of updating some Christmas Carols to more meaningfully relate to our nonprofit arts lives.

Sing along with me:

The 12 Days of Christmas:
On the first day of Christmas, my great staff gave to me
a Patron in a pear tree

On the second day of Christmas, my great staff gave to me
2  arts presenters
And a Patron in a pear tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my great staff gave to me
12 teaching artists
11 arts advocates
10 funders funding
9  data researchers 
8 arts administrators
7 bloggers blogging
6 service providers
     5 Golden Donors
4 board chairs 
3 development directors
2  arts presenters
And a Patron in a pear tree

Joy to the World
Joy to the world, the researchers have come
Let the arts receive their king
Let every E.D. prepare them room
And funders everywhere sing
And funders everywhere sing
And funders, and funders - everywhere sing

Data rules the world with numbers supreme
And makes the stories real
In strategies and plans, and all of our dreams
Repeat the complex schemes
Repeat the complex schemes
Repeat, repeat the complex schemes

Jingle Bells
Cold calling on the phone, oh please do let me say
We do important work
So please send a check our way
Our artists must be fed, Our accounts are in the red
Oh what fun it is to ride in this same old tired sled.

Jingle bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is I'm sure to fund raise every day
Jingle bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is I'm sure to fund raise every day

It's The Most Stressful Time of the Year
It's the most stressful time of the year
With deadlines approaching, and staff to be coaching
And everyone needing you near
It's the most stressful time of the year.

It's the crazy, craziest season of all
With those holiday greetings 
Making you late for your meetings
And projects that inevitably stall
It's the craziest season of all

There'll be working too late
Facebook to update
And emails into the night
And performances to go to
And too much more to do
While trying to make it all right

It's the most stressful time of the year
There'll be donors to coddle
And no time to dawdle
As you pretend to be of good cheer
It's the most stressful time of the year

Deck the Halls
Deck the halls with Kickstarter pleas
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Tis the season to get on our knees
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Begging for that grant we lost
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Hoping this time for overhead costs
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas
I'm dreaming of a green Christmas
Just like the ones I want to know
Where donor cash flows, to make our hearts glow
And make empty bank accounts grow

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas
With every grant app that I write
May your days be merry with all your dreams
And may all your Christmases be green

Silent Night
Silent night, empty seats
All's not calm, were feeling beat
Tickets don't sell, oh what can we do
Engaging our communities seems to yield so few
Back to the planning brainstorms 
Back to the planning brainstorms

Santa Funder's Coming to Town
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Funder's coming to town

He's making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out Who's needy and nice
Santa Finder's coming to town

He sees you when you're working
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you're doing bad or good
So do good for goodness sake!

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Funder's coming to town

Rudolph the Red Nosed Place Maker
Rudolph the arts place maker
Had a great engagement plan
And if you ever saw it
You would even say its grand

All of the other funders
Use to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph fund any arts project frames

Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say
Rudolph with your idea so right
Won't you guide your sector tonight

Then all the communities loved him
As they shouted out with glee
Rudolph the arts place maker  
You'll go down in history.

Winer Wonderland
Carolers singing
Are you listening
In the theater
Cash registers ringing
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland

Gone away, are the slackers
Here to stay, come the Nutcrackers
A profit for dance
To give us a chance
Walking in a winter wonderland

In the meadow we can build a snowman
And pretend that he supports the arts
He'll say are you funded
We'll say No Man
But you can do the job
And give us a start

Later on
We'll conspire
As we dream of staff to hire
To face unafraid
The plans that we've made
Walking in a winter wonderland

Have a great week, and good luck with those December lists.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 15, 2015

How Do We Break Into the Tweens and Teens Busy Schedule So We Have a Future?

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

What an odd, dichotomous world we live in.  Sanity last week in Myanmar; insanity in Paris.

Getting on the Screens:

If we are to have a rosy future for the arts, it's clear we absolutely must figure out a way to insure that today's tweens and teens are part of our mix.  We will need them as audiences, supporters, administrators, and artists.  We have to figure out a way to recruit them, involve them, entice them and hook them on the arts, and do that as early in their lives as possible.  If we don't do that, then our performance seats will be empty, donations will be scarce, and who knows whether or not we will continue to attract the best and brightest to our field, or whether or not the pool of artists grows or declines.  It may be trite to state the obvious, but if we don't develop them as our future, then there won't be much of a future for what we are pushing.

Competition for their time and loyalty is keen and formidable.  And they are at an age where their tastes are peer influenced, subject to wide swings and often transitory and temporary.   Getting to them is arguably harder than it has ever been.

The theory has long been that kids who are exposed to, and involved in, the arts in school, will more likely be future audience members and donor / supporters.   That proposition has some evidence to support it, but is by no means an established fact.  Kids who have the arts as part of their education, certainly do better on a host of markers.  But that doesn't necessarily mean they will, as adults, be more involved, though we think they will.  But despite our continued best efforts to insure that all kids K-12 get standards based, sequential arts in school, unfortunately, some do, and many still do not.

So if we haven't yet figured out how to succeed in offering the arts to every kid in school, how else are we going to break into their busy days and get them to see and understand both the enjoyment and the value of the arts to their lives.

Consider the following recent news items about how tweens and teens spend their time:

According to a report by Common Sense Media (based on a national sample of more than 2,600 young people ages 8 to 18) - widely quoted in the press last week:

"On any given day, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment, and the nine hours does not include time spent using media at school or for their homework.
Tweens, identified as children 8 to 12, spend about six hours, on average, consuming media, the report found."

And these kids are predominantly on mobile platforms:

"Consider these stats: 53% of tweens -- kids 8 to 12 -- have their own tablet and 67% of teens have their own smartphones. Mobile devices account for 41% of all screen time for tweens and 46% for teens."

Not surprisingly, there is variation in how differing groups are in front of screens, most notably in gender:

"There are definite gender differences when it comes to media habits of teens and tweens.
Some 62% of teen boys say they enjoy playing video games "a lot" versus 20% of girls. When it comes to using social media, 44% of teen girls say they enjoy it "a lot" versus 29% for boys. Girls, on average, spend about 40 minutes more on social networks than boys, with girls spending about an hour and a half a day on social media and boys a little under an hour."

Indeed, should you think how tweens and teens (boys or girls) spend their time in front of a screen isn't that big a deal, consider this news item in Forbes this past week:

"The Activision video game: Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was the “biggest entertainment launch of the year. a $550M opening weekend for the Friday, Saturday, Sunday release of the game compared to Jurassic World’s US debut of $208.8M on(its') opening weekend"
 100 million people have played Call of Duty.

Nine hours a day, broken down as reported in the WSJ:

"While there are countless ways teens and tweens can interact with media, the overwhelming majority of young people surveyed listed watching TV and listening to music as activities that they enjoy “a lot” and engage in “every day.
According to Common Sense’s report, teens and tweens spend roughly two-and-a-half hours a day watching TV, DVDs or videos, more than any other media activity. This category includes watching a TV program at the time it is broadcast, time-shifted viewing of a show, watching programs on a streaming video service, watching clips on platforms such as YouTube and watching shows or movies on a DVD."

And what are they watching on their screens?  According to an article in the Washington Post:

 "Youth between the ages of 12 and 17 watch fewer hours of traditional television than any other age group; and the figure has declined 7 percent in the last five years, from 104 to 96 hours per month, according to a Nielsen report from the first quarter of this year.
Forget 15 minutes of fame on the Internet–six seconds will do.
That’s the maximum length of a video on Vine, the social media app that lets users capture and share looping short films–and is spawning an entire crop of celebrity names unlikely to ring a bell with anyone over 18."

Beyond watching television, DVDs and video's:

"On average, teens spend nearly two hours a day listening to music while tweens spend just under an hour a day doing so. Teens and tweens each spend about an hour and 20 minutes playing video, computer or mobile games. Teens use social media for one hour and 11 minutes on average a day, compared to just 16 minutes for tweens."

Unfortunately, for the idea that access to being online presents incredible opportunities for creating, rather than passively consuming, content, the report nixes that notion with respect to tweens and teens:

"Common Sense’s research found that young people overwhelmingly tend to consume other people’s media content rather than create their own. Teens and tweens spend 39% and 41% of their digital media time, respectively, “passively” consuming content such as online videos, TV shows or listening to music. 
In comparison, only 3% of teens and tweens’ digital media time is spent on creating content such as making art or music or writing."

We need more than that 3%.

There are still just 24 hours in a day, so if the tweens and teens are in front of a screen for 9 of those hours, and in school for say 6 of those hours, and sleep for seven of those hours (and they need at least that much sleep), and eat, exercise (maybe) or whatever else for the remaining two hours, then IF we want to get to them (and we can't get to all of them in the schools, and not likely in their sleep), then we have to figure out how to get onto those screens they are in front of every day - television, you tube, instagram, video games, vine, movies, social networks etc. etc. etc. because there is no other choice.

So how do we do that?  How do we get more television shows they relate to that feature the arts in a positive way (like Glee or So You Think You Can Dance).  How do we embed the arts in video games?  How do we make a percentage of the you tube videos they watch center on the arts?  How do we embed the arts more on Instagram?  And on Vine.  And on social networks?

How do we allow the average tween / teen to personalize the celebratization of the arts so that we can compete with a Kardashian and Transformer world?  How do we make involvement in the arts a form of a new selfie that transcends the shallowness of the simplicity of the current form of a selfie - one with a bigger payoff on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest?  How do we present the arts so they capture both the novelty and then the utilitarianism of AirBnb, Uber or other innovative changes in the way people move - but scale it for a tween / teen cohort?  How do we begin to ask questions that directly relate to the changes in growing up, and that will have arts as part of real answers?  And if we can do that, how do we include the thread that the arts are fun, cool, valuable and warrant the tween / teens interest, time, loyalty and involvement, and make sure the kids get that the arts are for them?

Whew!!  I don't know either.   But we have got to get more on the edge. We can't be so complacent in relying on the past approaches to reaching out.   Consider this:

 "If you often take Lyft cars, you might just end up in your next one alongside Justin Bieber.
The pop star is releasing his new album "Purpose" in a rather novel way. Shirking the traditional release strategy, Bieber is literally taking to the streets with a promotion facilitated by the SF ride-share app. 
Between November 12-19, Lyft users who select the "Bieber Mode" function within the app and take a ride for $5 will be rewarded with a download code and a $5 credit for their next ride." 

Now Justin Bieber has like 25 million twitter followers, is the king of You Tube and social media, and is all over the media.  One would think all he would have to do on the release of a new album is announce the fact to his fan base.  End of story.  But in a lesson for us I think, and perhaps why he continues to have success, is that his team is unwilling to rely on what worked in the past, and continually tries to break new ground.  They intuitively know that things are never static and always changing and that is simply the fact of life in any interaction with the younger cohort.  That is exactly what we have to do. Get out there on the edge more.

I know that what tweens and teens will do in the future seems like a long way off if you are running an arts organization and have your plate full with all kinds of things that you need to do this week, or next, or next month, but as a sector we had better very soon start to try to figure it out - IF we want to have a future.  While art will likely always exist, and while artists will likely always be part of the matrix, and while a percentage of the public will likely always want and support the arts, there is no guarantee whatsoever today that the numbers of current tweens and teens in our camp will grow to be large enough to continue the existence of the nonprofit arts world as we know it.  We need to start thinking in terms of access to, and a presence on, these screens - more than thinking just in terms of social network platforms or the like, because these screens are where they live.  We can use buzzwords like engagement if we want, but the bottom line is these different screens are virtually the only pipeline there is to reach this group.   It is being on these screens that counts, and is essential to be one them if we are to scale up our presence with a generation.  And we're not on those screens enough.  I know too that this is a sector wide challenge and will require national organizations, national funders and thinkers to address it on behalf of all the single organizations.  

Forget the theories and lexicon and convoluted approaches.  I just don't see a viable alternative to getting to these kids other than us getting on those screens these kids are front of nine hours a day.  That's where we have to start.  And soon.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Unreality in Our Goals and Objectives

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

When you are trying to motivate and inspire a lot of people to join together for some lofty common purpose, which is the better approach:  To shoot for the moon so as to keep the big picture vision in mind of what you really want to happen?; or to acknowledge the on-the-ground reality and approach the objective from a more practical perspective?

That is the conundrum that we face in the arts on multiple levels.  On the one hand, it can be argued that we are unrealistic, perhaps even in denial, in our continually approaching big challenges as though what we have been doing that isn't working, somehow will soon turn the corner and change will come. Those on this side of the fence argue that it is not only a waste of precious resources, including time, but a disservice to forever act as though our big picture plans are obtainable, when they may, in fact, not be attainable in anywhere near the form and format that we preach is the gospel.  These people take the position that we need to temper our actions towards shorter term goals that are possible.  And that doing otherwise, in the long run, is discouraging and draining.   Others believe that even though we make only marginal progress, those steps are moving us forward, and that we need to have a vision of what we ultimately want and that helps us to move towards that ultimate goal.  Little steps don't inspire as many people, including our stakeholders, and the public to stay the course and commit the resources necessary to keep trying.

Arts Education falls into this dichotomy.   We know what we want.  We want standards based, curriculum integrated, sequential arts instruction K-12 by qualified and trained teachers / instructors, augmented by exposure to extant societal arts by professional artists.  And we want that available to every single student in the country in at least the visual, music, dance and theater areas.

And while that is available in some districts that are wealthy and can afford it (though not all), it has been, and continues to be, unavailable across much of the country in poorer districts - resulting in a glaring inequity that in many instances is arguably structural racism, and in other cases, the rule, not the exception, that the arts are not simply undervalued, but not valued at all.  And it comes down to money.

Take California as an example.  When I was at the California Arts Council, we had an annual ten million dollar arts educations grants budget to try to launch initiatives that could get us closer to that lofty goal of universal arts education.  And, with the economy doing well back then, there were successful attempts in several metro areas of the state - most notably in Los Angeles's Unified School District - to finally get closer to offering arts education to every student; an effort that united the city and county's educational, civic and political leadership in moving the dime forward.  Universal arts education - K-12 - as per the goal above, wasn't achieved, but we were on our way to moving in that direction.

And today?   The 2008 recession made funding cuts a reality.  And as always, with less money available, the arts are first in line to feel the pinch.

According to a L.A. Times article this week, detailing the fall of arts education in L.A. schools:

"The Los Angeles Unified School District is discovering the extent of those cuts as it seeks to regain the vibrancy that once made it a leader in arts education. For the first time, L.A. Unified in September completed a detailed accounting of arts programs at its campuses that shows stark disparities in class offerings, the number of teachers and help provided by outside groups.
Arts programs at a vast majority of schools are inadequate, according to district data. Classrooms lack basic supplies. Some orchestra classes don't have enough instruments. And thousands of elementary and middle school children are not getting any arts instruction.
A Los Angeles Times analysis that used L.A. Unified's data to assign letter grades to arts programs shows that only 35 out of more than 700 schools would get an "A." Those high-performing schools offered additional instruction through community donations, had more teachers and a greater variety of arts programs than most of the district's campuses."

And this despite the fact that the arts are mandated in state law - the equal of math, science, reading et. al.  It's the law - a law ignored as the rule, not the exception.  But even had the cuts not been necessary, was the goal of universal arts education ever realistic?  And moreover, is our approach and strategy for getting to our goal realistic?  And is realism necessary or even advisable in either our goal setting or our strategies for realizing the goals?

Indeed, in a response to the L.A. schools arts in education demise, another article in the L.A. Times, it was suggested:

“How do we really make the case to our school boards and to our superintendents that this is an important part of code?” Allen said. “We’re going to help them put in place good programs, but it’s got to be a non-negotiable portion of the curriculum.”

Non-negotiable.  The article suggested the possibility of a lawsuit to force the issue.  Good strategy?  I don't know, but the very suggestion recognizes, at least, the reality that what we have been doing is simply unrealistic.    Then too, to prevail in a lawsuit wouldn't necessarily change the reality either.

There are some 10,000 public schools - K-12 - in California.  If you had a visual, dance, theater and music teacher in each school, that's 40,000 teachers.  Assuming the cost of each in terms of salary and required benefits packages of $35,000 per year per teacher (on the low side I think) and your annual cost is $1.4 billion.  Billion.  Ok, so assume each teacher could handle four schools, and you're down to 10,000 teachers and only $350 million a year.  And let's say, teaching artists could fill many of those slots as an adjunct to their careers, and maybe then your outlay would only be $20,000 each or a paltry $200 million a year.  Only $200 million.  But even with a healthy economy where would that money come from in California?  Again, the rich districts could fare better than the poor ones, but it wouldn't be easy for any district.

So despite the law requiring arts education K-12 in the four fields, despite our continued attempts to do whatever we might to facilitate that reality, that's arguably unrealistic.  There simply isn't the political will to allocate that kind of funding.  Highly unlikely it will happen no matter what we can put together - including winning federal support, private support and districts willing to do almost anything to find the money.

Clearly we don't abandon the goal of a meaningful arts education for every student K-12.  We don't give up.  But are the relentless plans put forth to achieve the ultimate goal doing us any good?

Should we continue to press for that ideal as our strategy?  Or should we revamp our objectives to be more aligned with a step by step approach?  Which approach will work the best long term?  What are the factors to consider when trying to make a judgment?  Does a radical change in tactics directly address the unreality on the ground and by so doing make the goal more realistic - or possibly so?

The Arts Education Partnership recently released a 2020 Action Agenda for Advancing the Arts in Education - an excellent setting forth of what we want.  The goal of universal arts education by 2020 is ambitious. The question is:  Is it realistic?  The priorities set forth in the paper and the things that must be done to realize the goals of the priorities are clear and concise.  What is missing is exactly how we get those things that are necessary to do, done.

(Now, at this point I want to state categorically that I have the highest respect and admiration for the AEP people and for all those working so hard, so tirelessly, so selflessly in the arts education field to try to move us towards out goal.  In no way do I wish to diminish their work or their contributions, let alone their commitment and dedication.  This isn't meant to criticize or disparage their current plan, but rather to raise the issue of the wisdom of a tactic that frames our approach in such a way that flies in the face of reality.  I am merely using their plan to illustrate a larger point).

The AEP blueprint is flawed; flawed in the sense that it is unrealistic, and that it fails to even offer a roadmap as to how we might achieve the steps that it correctly lists as things we need to do to move towards universal arts education in the schools.  And even if it had laid out a step by step process to move forward, there is the question of how realistic that would be.  And to do it all in five years - by 2020 - when we have been struggling for five decades and have lost as much ground as we have gained; five decades and the result has been two or more generations who have gotten zero arts education in school.  Now a report that suggests we do it all in five years - Really?

To be fair, this agenda is aspirational.  The question isn't whether or not we are unrealistic in positing as our five year goal, a reality that has eluded us for decades and the cost of which is simply so high that there isn't any realistic path that would lead us to such a victory, but whether or not, it still serves a real purpose to frame and pursue the final goal as the ultimate vision, despite that vision being beyond our reach.  That is a legitimate issue we ought to debate.  We ought to be talking about reality and how reality should impact our vision, and our strategies.  The high cost of having enough trained arts teachers in California's schools to provide arts education to every student is a reality.  One that cannot be ignored, and will not go away.  We can do all kinds of things to find the money to pay for the arts education we want, but in the short term that is likely a goal we will not attain.  Give up?  No.  That's not the question.   The issue is framing the actions we will take as aligned with the reality - or not.

It breaks my heart and doubtless those of everyone else that we have lost ground in the struggle to achieve universal arts education K-12 in the Los Angeles schools.  But that's the fact.  Now what?

This conundrum exists not just in our approach to arts education, but to any number of challenges we face - from funding to leadership, from equity to capitalization.  We have spent some time framing what we want, and even time formulating strategies. But we have spent precious little time aligning those 'wants' and those strategies with reality and asking the question whether staying the course with unrealistic goals is the best approach.

If we retool our approaches to better reflect reality, do we, in the process, run the risk of losing sight of the ultimate goal?  By compromising with reality, are we jeopardizing mass support and confusing a clear agenda?  Do we appear willing to settle for less than what we know is necessary? Or are we gaining converts because the goal becomes more realistic to attain?  Should we settle?  Might we gain credibility if we are more realistic, or might that very act make it harder to get to where we need to get to.

I think we ought to talk about it more.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Post GIA Conference Thoughts

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

Coming off last week's GIA Conference I am left with several thoughts:

1.  My respect for, and empathy with, the funding community continues to grow.  These are smart, dedicated people who care deeply about the health of the fragile arts ecosystem, and are earnestly trying to figure out ways to address the big challenges the whole field faces.  They come up with intelligent, reasoned pilot projects, strategies, and approaches they hope will yield results that can help guide us all in making the difference we want to make.  They aren't risk averse and when attempts to get a handle on a problem don't work out, when well intended approaches fail, they simply go back to brainstorming and the drawing board and reaching out to stakeholders for more input.  It's easy to armchair quarterback every decision, but not particularly helpful.  Still, being on the front lines they are subject to public scrutiny and that's as it should be.

Their efforts are constrained by two realities beyond their control:  1) there simply aren't enough funds in the collective coffers of all the funders to address all the issues for all the community; and 2) they are program directors, not Board members -- and often times their advice and counsel is trumped by Board priorities with which they may not agree, but are powerless to avoid.  That is the reality of foundation and government funding processes.

2.  While strides have been made in ratcheting up the awareness and understanding of both the need for adequate capitalization of arts organizations, and the ways to go about moving in that direction, it is, and will likely remain slow going across the board.  There are two big issues with capitalization: 1) to change organizational behavior, it's necessary to first change organizational culture, and that isn't easy in many cases; and 2) the big obstacle to achieving even half the gold standard of six months operating / reserve capital, is that it is simply a money issue.  You need more money to build the reserves, and more money is axiomatically hard to come by.  You can increase awareness and knowledge, and arm people with the tools to go forward, but you can't wave a magic wand and increase their revenue streams so they can achieve capitalization.  We will continue to make some progress, but unless and until there is significant improvement in our finances, this will be, in many cases, two steps forward, two steps back.  

3.  The big issue of equity - and the specific of fairer allocation of scarce resources - faces another kind of culture that doesn't seem to be changing much at all - and that is the long, systemically established favoritism towards a small handful of large budget cultural institutions in cities across the country.  That the lion's share of arts funding goes to this small cohort of organizations is well born out by the research, and it is structurally part of the arts funding machine.  I don't see much, if any, real movement from that inequitable reality and I don't expect it will soon change.  Before there can be any wholesale change in that allocation system, we would have to change the culture of the Boards that run these organizations and which have sworn allegiance to the way its always been as the admission ticket to a Board seat.  Funding the "haves" that have always been "haves" is not, in itself, totally wrong - as these are valuable assets to any community, and they need every funding dollar they can get.  But on an equity basis it's largely indefensible.  I just don't think the change many call for is coming soon.  And frankly token efforts will not do us much good at all.  

4.  There are a number of areas where the news is nothing but positive, and where great strides are being made with results that promise to be of enormous benefit to us all - including in the arts and aging / healing field, in the research arena, in the policy area,  in placemaking - particularly as the same relates to working with cities, governments and business, and finally (though in pockets - more all the time) in arts education.

Too often people only have complaints against funders.   I would like to thank them.  I admire their tenacity, their positive attitudes and their creativity.

And now that I have thanked them, I would like to encourage them to push the envelope more; to have a sense of urgency about changing the dynamic and move us quicker in the area of equity.

It's frustrating not to move quicker where the need is great.  There is so much that might get done if society had the right priorities and we had the necessary tools and resources.  But things are getting a little bit better all the time.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Thursday, October 22, 2015


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


Two sessions today:

I.  Cultural Policy and Local Arts Agencies: At the Nexus of Cultural, Economic and Community Development - featuring the work of the Tucson Pima Arts Council (Roberto Bedoya - Director of Civic Engagement) - shifting policy from grant making to serving the community directly; the City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs (Kerry Adams Hapner - Director of Cultural Affairs, Deputy Director of Economic Development), - moving on the challenge of cities to develop talented workforce pools; and the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture (Randy Engstrom,  Director) - emphasizing arts education as a "Creative Advantage" program.

A lively audience discussion followed the presentations centering around the role of the LAA in policy formation, noting the difference between planning and policy, and exploring ways policy might be developed via programming and internal work within city hall.  What we want, of course, are formal policies that the decision makers subscribe to that clearly set forth the value and role of arts and culture in every aspect of the lives of our citizens.  Something that transcends the frequent changes in the political landscape and is lasting.  How we get there is the question.

  • Randy suggested an out-of-the-box idea:  fund a FTE in the city planning department paid for from the arts agency's budget.  The notion of having an arts perspective embedded full time in the city's overall planning mechanism that comes from our side of the fence, moves way beyond having the arts merely seated at a decision making table.  This is perhaps a bold kind of move for our future.
  • Laura Zucker suggested that what we need is to work for policies valuing the arts not from an exclusively top down, nor bottom up, effort in city government - but from both - and which will survive the politics of city hall, so that we don't have to continually fight the same fights over and over again when regimes change and new politicians are in office.  
  • Jonathan Glus noted that the Houston Cultural Plan includes policies valuing the arts with specific guidelines for other city departments (though the guidelines aren't mandates) it does go beyond the traditional cultural plan "wish list" of inter-departmental collaboration.
There was general consensus that while a national policy valuing the arts is problematic, the next step might be a concerted effort to begin to develop local valuation policies.

Good session.

II.The major afternoon sessions were three hour offsite.   I choose to attend the Digital Media for Arts Grantmakers focusing on the need for grantmakers to learn to deploy digital media to reach and engage audiences and to become fluent in digital capabilities and tools.  

  • Have an articulated game plan, informed by the organization's overall vision strategy.
  • Build capabilities, don't just do projects.  Technology is not a project but a process
  • Shake up the organization chart with an integration of digital competency positions, including training
  • Put audiences first and be prepared for constant change.
This is, of course, a big, complex area where many arts leaders feel lost and / or incompetent and there are numerous obstacles to embracing full digital knowledge.  But as the generational shifts become more urgent, so too is the necessity of overcoming reticence and fears to understand the basics of IT and appreciate the rapidity of change as a constant.  I think the message is to be bold and take risks in digital technology as it relates to our publics - and to do that you have to at least have a working knowledge of the possibilities.  It is incumbent on us all to seek out that training and knowledge understanding.  There are resources out there.

The day ended with a visit to the newly opened BROAD Museum, which is housed in a stunning new building situated across from LA's iconic Disney Hall, and the modern museum, MOCA, along the Grand Avenue corridor -- which must rival, or exceed, any cultural district in the country.  

The BROAD collection is eclectic and varied and the experience is a joy.  I loved it.  There are the expected name collections:  the Warhols, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelleys, Ruschas, Lichtensteins, Koons and Basquiets and more (and while not always the premier pieces in each collection, all are extraordinary).  And there are many more less known including media installations that are provocative and stunning.  As a lay person, I was thrilled.

Have a good day

Don't Quit

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


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


The first day of any of our art conferences seem to always be the longest.

Janet Brown opened the conference with the reminder that the three operating principles of GIA continue to be:  Inclusiveness, Collaboration, and Curiosity.

I.  Recent GIA Conferences have featured Idea Lab - short Ted like presentations by a trio of different working artists.  The first three were all excellent.  The one that caught my attention was Yuval Sharon, founder and artistic director of The Industry, an L.A. based experimental opera company that produces performances that can only be categorized as way outside the box.

He touted three:

  • A warehouse based production where the audience was invited to walk all around the actual production and view it from anywhere they choose - in front as an audience, backstage, from the wings.
  • An production of a full opera at L.A's downtown Union Station - a working railroad station with arrivals and departures and teeming with travelers.  
  • And most ambitious of all - an opera performed in 24 moving vehicles on L.A.'s freeway system called "Hopscotch".  Really, the opera is performed in chapters and people get in these cars / vans for ten minutes at a time.  And then can opt for another chapter.  Each moving vehicle travels to different parts of the city.  Moreover, the "chapters" are live streamed.  LA. has long had a car culture, and this project fits perfectly into the identity of the city. 

This is clearly not your father's opera company.  

II.  Capitalization sessions:
I wanted to focus the day on the sessions dealing with capitalization of arts organizations, so I went to two.  The first one (entitled Along the Capitalization Spectrum) was advertised as:  "an examination of the spectrum of capitalization activities that can be undertaken in order to more fully and equitably support organizational financial health - lessons learned from recent years of capitalization-focused grant making and new directions based on that learning" - featuring presentations from Kresge and Mellon foundations.

The two Mellon programs caught my attention:
1.  The Zero Loan Fund is a program is designed for organizations principally with temporary cash flow issues, delays in receivables etc. and the program is a form of bridge support, and isn't really aimed at organizations with high risk financial problems.  Loans are to be paid back in one year, and they have had a 96% pay back rate.  They have plans for expansion of the program with larger loans available, and consideration of higher risk organizations as grantees (though they haven't yet determined the exact criteria for the degree of risk.)

2.  The more ambitious program is a pilot initiative that deals with the comprehensive financial health of 70 grantees and is still in the operational stage only halfway through its process, and thus there are yet any firm conclusions about either the approach or efficacy.  They've done extensive diagnostics, and the educational component workshops are still in progress.

These two projects, plus the Kresge work with placemaking as incorporating support for capitalization, point out how slow the whole process of moving deliberately forward with programs that can both succeed in helping organizations become adequately capitalized for financial health, and which might also be replicated - in whole or in part for the benefit of the field.  

What I came away with, was that the realization that there are multiple layers of issues involved in even the attempt to craft programs that might help arts organizations achieve real capitalization, and change structural organizational forms so as to facilitate that achievement - including everything from organizational transparency and truth telling to both funders and to the organization itself, to the possible stigma of asking for even a bridge loan, to the timeline it takes to develop approaches in this area.  

The reality that some organizations living hand to mouth and literally on the precipice of survival might be of great value to the communities in which they operate further complicates the decision process of where to put dollars to help address the challenge of widespread inadequate capitalization among arts organizations.  Even the contingent in the field that supports the notion that some organizations are so far gone as to not be savable, and that some organizations should, frankly, be left to expire without prolonged and likely futile attempts to change their circumstances faces the challenge of which ones fall into that classification.

III.  The next session was entitled Building Cash Reserves in Arts Organizations -- featuring a California Community Foundation 18 month pilot project which sought to help arts organizations build cash reserves (as opposed to basic operating reserves designed to cover base expenses), and involving five small to mid-sized Los Angeles based arts organizations.   

Alas this project pointed up that even in this area of capitalization, there are so many variables and likely unanticipated complications that can undermine the effort that it impossible to consider each individual situation as anything other that completely unique and a standalone situation.  Lessons learned included:

  • An 18 month timeline is too short.  A three year timeline is suggested as it takes longer to cultivate existing or new donors (who would give to a reserve fund) and to build the culture of capitalization (and fundraising) within the organization.
  • There needs to be a consistency of leadership participation by the grantee and the Board president should be involved from the outset.
  • Consider the challenges of whole organizational change and be prepared for different outcomes across the spectrum.
  • Assure understanding of all roles and responsibilities of the various participating resources and consultants for the benefit of the cohort and the building cash reserves team.

When I asked about the reality that some arts organization's situations might suggest that scarce resources ought to be deployed where they might have a chance of succeeding, there was the suggestion that the value to a community might trump that consideration.  In subsequent conversations with other attendees, there seems an equally vocal group that rejects the idea that we can save everyone or that - with finite resources -  it is smart to try.  I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle - we need to both consider all kinds of criteria in determining where to invest scarce resources while at the same time accept the realities that things can and do go wrong, and that we cannot always control when that happens nor fix it after the fact.  Every decision funders make, results in a choice to invest here instead of investing somewhere else.  That reality will not change.

The challenges of trying to promote adequate capitalization for arts organizations is daunting and mired with the fact that each organizational situational circumstances are unique, and that each organization's level of financial sophistication varies widely.

IV. The day's last session for me was entitled People of Color and Arts Giving - a 360 Degree View. While "people of color maintain a deep interest in the arts, lead active cultural lives, and want to participate - particularly in art-making and art-learning" there is evidence that they don't yet give in support of arts organizations nearly to the level of their White counterparts.

39% of California's population is Latino/a, but they account for only 6% of arts giving .

The why is varied:

  • They do give philanthropically, but to other areas such as churches.
  • There are fewer high income members in the cohort.  
  • The culture of giving to nonprofits is still developing.
  • They have other investment priorities.
The question is how can arts funders promote the message that the arts strengthen communities of color and the answer to that questions will be tempered by:  1) a likely long (generational) timeline; 2) increased involvement of the community in perceived valuable arts activity; 3) arts education.  No answers - just challenges as this stage.

But this is an important challenge for funders.  As communities of color gain local political clout - and exercise that clout in the voting booth - more local government funding can go to arts organizations serving those communities.  That may help.

Have a good day.

More to follow.

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Grantmakers in the Arts Annual Conference Opening

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

Once again I am covering the GIA Annual convening of the nation's arts funding community as they gather in Los Angeles.  Completely SOLD OUT, this conference is apparently the largest conference in the umbrella organization's history.  Congratulations!

There is a long list of issues that challenge those funding the arts.  Two years ago I listed a Top Twenty of those issues, and having reread that post, I think all those issues are still on the table for public and private funders alike.

Today, there are two overarching areas that I believe are at the top of the collective agenda of arts funders - and that really dominate the national funder stage; two encompassing challenges that are inter-related.

1.  Survivability / Sustainability:  The issue here is what can funders do to help keep arts organizations not only alive and functioning, but move them to some point of sustainability over a longer period of time.  The GIA's own vaulted program of Capitalization (working towards helping arts organizations to achieve enough capital reserves to facilitate and make possible longer term viability and financial health) seeks to address this challenge.  As an issue it's not nearly as exciting as the role of arts in social justice, nor as poignant for the future as arts and aging, and arts in healing, nor as full of promising potential as placemaking and community engagement.  But it is the most critical issue we face.  Survival, and maybe even sustainability.  It's about money.

The guts issue is where to put limited arts funder money where it will do the most good (there isn't enough funding available to solve the problem, so the question is how to maximize the positive impact of the funds that are available).  The challenge to funders is how to move financially fragile arts organizations (and a wider fragile ecosystem) to one on more solid ground.  The subtext is who will survive under the approach and who will not, because there isn't enough money to save every organization, and because funders have different approaches and strategies.

Consider that since the early part of this century (say ten years ago -  back to 2005) -- because of the boom crash, the reprioritization of funding due to the terrorism concern, and the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting budget cuts due to decreased revenue -- the arts have lost somewhere over a billion dollars in funding.  While not an exact figure, it is likely in the range of the loss.  That's including the cuts to public funding (factoring in static federal funding, overall state decreases and cuts in some city and county programs, and increases in others), the cuts from private philanthropic foundations due to diminution in foundation stock portfolios and redirection of funds from the arts to other programs, and finally, decreases in overall individual donor giving due, in part, to increased competition from other worthy causes. And it's assuming the economy had remained stable, and that arts funding would have continued at the level it had been for both public funding and private philanthropic giving and funding. A lot of assumptions, I know - some even questionable - but the point is that the arts took a big hit in funding over the decade, and more critical, took a bigger hit in what it ought to have had.  And that loss has had profound impact on everything we do or wanted to do.

In California alone, for those ten years the CAC budget went from $32 million to $1 million.  A $31 million per year loss x 10 years is a $300 million shortfall in state funding alone - in one state.  While some California cities and counties may have picked up the slack early on, others were not in the same financial shape.  Foundations stock portfolios suffered hits as well and major foundation budgets for arts funding decreased; perhaps in the aggregate $25 to $75 million over the period. And losses in donor support might have arguably reached another $25 to $50 million.  That's $400+ million in California alone.

So, let's say the difference in what we might have had and what we had (across the country) is in the neighborhood of one billion dollars over ten years.  That's a lot of money.  And that money would have made the difference in sustainability on so many levels.

And that lack of money is the fundamental issue we still face today.

Imagine what we could have done in terms of sustaining our field, and addressing inequities with that billion dollars, and think about what we have lost.  While the economy is improving, and so are our fortunes, moving forward to try to capitalize our organizations and insure the survivability of as many of them as possible and the ecosystem as a whole is currently a daunting challenge and we simply do not yet have the wherewithal to make it right again.

So what do funders do?  Where ought their priorities lie?

There is no one simple answer to that question.  There are all different kinds of funders in our field, with a full range of priorities and constraints and different circumstances.  Yet year by year funders are agreeing on some points and some approaches.  I think that is encouraging.  For example, for a long time arts funders focused on "projects" but did not include nor factor in the overhead costs of those projects.  Now, increasingly, funders have embraced the notion that unrestricted operating costs are not only a valid funding approach, but that the strategy ought to be the defacto norm.  Some may argue that it took too long to get to that realization, and that may well be true, but we're essentially there now.

2.  Equity / Racism:  The second big issue is equity in funding and resource allocation in the face of demographic shifts and growth in the arts field including communities of color, and the legacy of funding large (or larger) white Euro-Centric cultural organizations, arguably now at the expense of all the rest of the arts community.    Racism - or more specifically, the specter of structural racism and bias in favor of those that have for so long gotten the lion's share of the pie, (and not prejudice per se) is the challenge.  While there has been a measurable increase in programs trying to at least begin to address the disparity and inequality of funding and resource allocation, studies continue to confirm that the most money goes to the same small slice of established organizations that it has gone to for a long time.  This is not an easy issue to deal with, and a lot of funders are struggling to protect and sustain what has been of value, and to simultaneously nurture and support that which has value but has for far too long been neglected and gotten the short end of the stick.

Funders are trying all kinds of approaches, and it's too early yet to pass judgment on what might work and what won't.  But time is part of the problem, for delay in equity is denial of equity and the field must make some giant leaps to address the inequity issue.  That extra billion dollars might have made this issue at least party academic.

It will be interesting - to me - to try to get a handle on where the funding people's thinking is at this juncture on the financial picture and the equity equation.  Most of the other issues we face are arguably offshoots of these two elephants in the room.

Every funder has different priorities and ranks differently the challenges out there.  There are geographic territories where the equity issue isn't as front burner as it is elsewhere; there are communities where survivability is still manageable, relatively speaking, and communities where the available resources are increasingly obviously inadequate to do much of anything about those organizations that are living still on borrowed time.   No one segment of any field agrees on everything, including the nonprofit arts sector.  But over the last five years, there has been remarkable consensus on what is critical, and even on some of the nuts and bolts of how to approach these issues.

More over the next three days.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit