Sunday, January 18, 2015

The NEA and the Federal Reserve Bank Reports

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

Two important reports of note this past week:

First, the release of the NEA report ("A Decade of Arts Engagement") on arts attendance and participation - widely reported almost everywhere.  Not much new here.  Confirmation that attendance in the core arts (the fields we are primarily concerned with) continues a two decade decline, while distribution of arts via technology is on the increase. Arts participation is up overall if you count 'selfles' and downloading your favorite pop song, or maybe dancing in front of your mirror.  And if you factor in movies, television and all the commercial forms of artistic expression, then the arts continue to be a dynamic engine (subject of course to variances up and down).

The companion NEA study ("Going Gets Tough:  Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance") is what is getting the most attention.  It sought to find out the motivations of people who wanted to attend an arts event, but didn't - the "interested non-attendees".  The long and short of it seems to be that the pedestrian concerns of not enough time, inconvenience, price (to some degree) and nobody to go with [as "socializing with friends or family members was the most common motivation for arts attendance"(or non-attendance)] are the most important identified (identifiable?) factors in why people don't attend events. It wasn't that people were looking for 'transformative' experiences and couldn't find any; it wasn't because there was any perceived dearth of 'excellence', it wasn't because there wasn't any opportunity or choice -- it was instead mundane issues.  I came to the same conclusion long ago and have written on it before. The time issue is at least partly due to the shift in the increasing demands of the workplace, and that is due in part to the shift of wealth from the middle class to the top tier of society - diminishing buying power and forcing middle and lower class people to work longer for less.

People go to movies in large numbers because it's easy.  Easy to find something close to home, easy to park, you don't have to dress up, it isn't terribly expensive  (especially if you don't buy their popcorn), you can find someone to go with without lots of upfront planning, and the chances of being mildly entertained are decent.  And it is the animated films that appeal to children that are in the top tier of box office earnings - so parents have the time and inclination to take their kids to events - just not necessarily ours.  Going to an arts event requires more - more of a prioritizing of what time is available; more planning.

As others have pointed out, in this second study, particularly troubling was the finding that while exposure to the arts in one's youth is a decent predictor of future arts attendance on the one hand, on the other hand was the finding that those with young children were particularly not likely to find the time to attend an event.

Of course there are lots of questions that come up in the findings. What was the percentage of single parents vs. two parent households?  Did the respondents include in their calculations of cost, not only the ticket, but parking, babysitters, etc?  Was the response of urban dwellers closer to arts venues different from those that had to make a longer trek to get to a performance or exhibition?  And, as with all studies, how truthful were the respondents?  and to what degree are the 'perceptions' of difficulty in attending an arts event based on conjecture, not fact?

But on the question of convenience and the challenges for those with young children, I wonder if we offered more weekend matinee performances and offered free or low cost child care during the performance on site, if that would make any difference for those with very young children?  Would it make economic sense?

I wonder (as I have previously) if we offered van service from certain points at a low cost if that would make any difference to those who said they wanted to attend an event but didn't?

I wonder if we packaged specific performances as "singles" events, if that would make any difference?

I wonder if mobile device availability - perhaps even formatted specifically for children - would tempt more sampling?

The bottom line is that we need to continue to find ways to bring art to our audiences on the one hand, and ways to address the time, cost, convenience issues for potential audiences on the other.

Finally, the elephant in the room is this:  After two decades of declining audience numbers, is that decline an aberration or a new reality?  Is the demand for the core arts now permanently smaller than it once was, or is it that the demand for the core arts in the way we deliver them is what has permanently changed?  

Compounding a clear understanding of how all this impacts us, is the fact that while many arts organizations closed their doors over the past decade, more new arts organizations began -- creating a net increase in the overall number of arts organizations.  Increased data on who these new organizations are, where they came from, who they see as their audiences, how they fared two, five, ten years after launch, and where their funding comes from would be informative.

Everyone should take a look at the NEA studies.  They are important to each organization and to the field as a whole.

The Second development this week was an event at the San Francisco Federal Reserve announcing and touting the current issue of their  "Community Development Investment Review" -  focused on Creative Placemaking.  An anthology of perspectives on the viability and value of the intersection between the arts and community development heralds a potentially win-win future for both sectors.

Why is this important?

First, as Jamie Bennett quoted Rocco Landesman to me about the importance of this event:  "The arts are finally at the adult table."  I think that is spot on, and for that, if nothing else, Arts Place, Jamie, and in particular Laura Callanan, (the newly appointed Senior Deputy Director of the NEA, who was a visiting scholar at the SF Federal Reserve, and is to be credited with taking a lead role in spearheading and shepherding this event from idea to reality) are to be congratulated for a really important milestone.

For far too long we've been seated at the kids table in the kitchen; the province of the East Wing of the White House; hardly even an afterthought for real, serious business concerns; not important enough to be a factor in policy -- irrelevant and marginal; a luxury, a frill (despite all the evidence we have as to our impact).   The imprimatur of the Federal Reserve as to the value and contribution of the arts in addressing the same concerns and goals of the Community Development movement gives us cachet and credibility that we have for so long been seeking.  It's just a step, but a big step.  We can parlay this 'endorsement' if you will as part of our case making to funders public and private.  It also gives us legitimacy in asking for media coverage as to our value.    Finally, it opens doors for us with other stakeholders - both those long in our camp, but questionably actively supportive;, and those who might be new to our messages.

I might go so far as to argue that an even slight re-positioning of what we do as a complement and collaborator with the purposes of community development might be a way (at least for some who have had limited success otherwise) to successfully argue for more public funding.  Rocco was prescient in his understanding that there was money (lots of money) in other government departments that we might tap into beyond direct funding of the arts through the Endowment.  There is money in the application of the community development goals to what we offer in attaining those goals, and, moreover, the infrastructure that supports the acceptance of the principles of those goals is already long in place and supported by those (like banks and the Fed) who have way more power and influence than we do.  Finally, in many instances the Community Development goals align nicely with many of our own goals.

The report is long at 142 pages (though the last 70 or so are case examples of projects Art Place has funded), and few of us will have time to read it all.  I did read it all-- and there's some very interesting points made - mostly along the lines that the intersection of the arts and community development makes increasing sense, and that there are lots of opportunities for the arts within that intersection.  I would urge you to find the time to take a look at some of the chapters anyway.  It will give you a sense of how your organization might be able to tap into what is potentially a large pot of gold.

Finally, Arts Place used the Fed meeting to tout a new program offering substantial funding ($3 million each) to community planning / development organizations that embed the arts into their approaches.  This is really beginning seed money to support the intersection of the arts and community development.  It's a very smart investment.  The program will make six awards ($18 million total).  Click here for more information.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, January 11, 2015

My 15 Favorite Nonprofit Arts Blogs

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

As a blogger, I read other bloggers.  Lots of them.  I have the greatest respect for the work of these people who contribute so much to the knowledge base of the field.  They share, report and review; they also challenge, provoke, and offer new thinking. Some of them are widely read; others have a niche audience.  All of them are dedicated to promoting dialogue and discourse on the important issues that we all face.

One trend I note in the past year is that many of those who have plied their craft as solo, individual bloggers have moved towards adding additional voices to their banners with contributing editors, reporters, curators and guest commentators - some even transitioning their original blogs into the equivalent of blog magazines.

Here are (in no particular order) 15 of the blogs I regularly read and which inform, inspire and entertain me -- and which provoke me to think.  I heartedly recommend all of them to you.  This list is limited principally to those nonprofit arts blogs that publish on a regular and frequent basis.  There are many arts blogs that post less frequently or only occasionally, most of which are discipline and interest area organizational based blogs, and there are many in that category that are worth your consideration dependent on your own interest area.  The following blogs consider issues and subject matter that I think is relevant to everyone in our field.

1.    Createquity - Ian David Moss.  Ian's blog is part of the trend away from a single voice by expanding to co-editors and reporters.  While the focus in on research, that is only a part of what is covered here.   Serious commentary and highly respected throughout the field.

2.    Jumper - Diane Ragsdale.  Although Diane has not posted as regularly as she had previously - due to her completing her doctoral dissertation in the Netherlands - she's on my list because she has a keen mind, offers reasoned insights, and her blog is simply one of the best in terms of considering policy for the nonprofit arts. I hope her schedule permits her to regularly post again soon.

3.    You've Cott Mail - Thomas Cott.  The absolute King of the aggregators, Thomas provides - on a daily basis - themed posts from other sources.  You may not be interested in every single post, but I guarantee you that you will find a lot to think about in his posts every single week.  He also offers his twitter followers links to all kinds of news and stories that appeal to a wide universe. People love this blog and for good reason (Thomas does the work for you).

4.    Adaptistration - Drew McManus.  Drew has also recently moved towards including other voices on his posts and has assembled a stellar team of contributors.  While the focus is on the orchestra business, there is much here for everyone.

5.    Museum 2.0 - Nina Simon.  Nina's blog is almost always food for thought with innovative thinking on a variety of issues that impact us all.

6.    The Artful Manager - Andrew Taylor.  Andrew is perhaps the Dean of Nonprofit Arts bloggers and his posts always hit the mark.  Short, sweet and to the point.  People quote Andrew's posts, and that is a fitting testament to his contribution.

7.    For What It's Worth - Michael Rushton.  Michael takes on the generally accepted theories across a wide swatch of data on pricing the arts, and makes one constantly question their own assumptions.

8.    Butts in the Seats - Joe Patti.  Joe's blog is entertaining and more often than not finds an angle about something that you haven't considered and that makes you look at things from a new perspective.

9.    Engaging Matters - Doug Borwick.  Doug is the spokesperson for the importance and value of community engagement, and provides tools and thinking to improve your organization's operations in this area.

10.  Marketing the Arts to Death - Trevor O'Donnell.  Trevor is one of my favorites because he doesn't brook foolish marketing mistakes easily and fearlessly calls out arts organizations who are failing their marketing challenge.

11.  Arlene's Blog - Arlene Goldbard.  Arlene is the conscience of the field who deeply cares about what we are all trying to do in a world that so often just doesn't get it.  We need more Arlenes.

12.  Clyde Fitch Report - Leonard Jacobs.  Another blog that has moved to adding additional voices, this blog takes a serious and wide political perspective of the things that impact the nonprofit arts.  A very intelligent blog.

13.  Arts Blog - Americans for the Arts.  Not technically an individual's blog, but rather a site that invites guest bloggers on a wide variety of topics and issues - from the ranks of AFTA and from outside the organization.  I include it here because of the sheer volume of posts and opinions across almost every subject one can imagine.  Lots of important information and insights here.

14.  Arts Journal - Doug McClennan.  The Original aggregation site for news and articles from other sources that may be of interest to the nonprofit arts administrator, and the home base for forty or more bloggers.  Perhaps the 'granddaddy' of them all.

15.  Nonprofit With Balls -  Vu Le.    Not technically a nonprofit arts blog as Vu writes about the whole nonprofit universe, but he does it with such great humor, in an endearing folksy style and hits so many sacred cows with his no nonsense approach, that it is really one of my favorite sites.  He's smart and his 'on the money' suggestions ought to have wide play.

These are some of the smartest and most dedicated people in the industry.  I hope many of you can tap into them as a resource for your own edification.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, January 5, 2015

Interview with Danielle Brazell - General Manager -- Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles

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

Danielle Brazell Bio:
Danielle was Arts for LA’s (the Los Angeles regional arts advocacy arm) first executive director, joining the organization in 2006 as it transitioned from an ad hoc committee of regional arts leaders to a formalized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  Over the last eight years, she has steadily built Arts for LA’s capacity from an informal network of arts leaders to a respected coalition of advocates working in partnership with elected officials throughout Los Angeles County. Today, Arts for LA’s network includes over 160 member organizations and over 40,000 people.

Danielle’s twenty years of experience include work as the director of special projects for the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and as the artistic director of Highways Performance Space.  She has been honored with numerous grants and awards, including the 2000 Getty Fellowship, a 2009 CLEAR Communications Fellowship sponsored by the James Irvine Foundation, and a 2010 SHero Award from California State Senator Curren D. Price. In 2013, Danielle attended the Executive Education program for State and Local Government Leaders at Harvard University. She serves on the board of Californians for the Arts, on the Arts for All Executive Committee, and represents Arts for LA on the Policy Committee of the California Alliance for Arts Education.

In June of 2014, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed her to the post of General Manager -- Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles - where she presides over a staff of 38 full time, and 80 part time employees and a budget of $9 million.

Here is the interview:

Barry:  What surprised you about running a major city arts agency during your first few weeks at the helm in LA?

Danielle:  I am amazed at the incredible work being done by the people who work for the City of
Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) to make arts and culture thrive in our
city on a daily basis. The shear talent, commitment, and resiliency that our arts practitioners bring to their work on a daily basis is inspiring.

The impact the great recession had on cities across our country continues to reverberate, including within the city of LA. Although we are in the last few years of digging ourselves out of this financial situation, turnover in the city’s workforce has emerged as a much larger challenge. To avoid falling off the fiscal cliff, the City offered early retirement for many of its employees who were within five years of retiring. The response to this offer exceeded expectations, and the city had no time to plan for a massive staff turnover. These individuals took their institutional knowledge, their relationships, and their management acumen with them. The resiliency of those who stepped in to fill the void have done an incredible job keeping the vision alive, often with little support and reduced budgets. The city is now facing another wave of staff turnover with at least a third of its leadership planning to retire in the next five years.

Yet at the same time, as the city begins to recover from the great recession, its senior leadership is turning its attention towards leveraging creativity as our signature homegrown industry, which will poise Los Angeles to live up to our potential as a creative capital.

Barry:  What is your assessment of the biggest challenges facing major city LAAs - yours specifically, but others in general?

Danielle:  I’m just starting to wrap my arms around the opportunities and challenges for the City of
Los Angeles, much less LAAs in general, so I’ll keep my comments to my own city.

The City of Los Angeles is on the crest of an exciting new wave. There is no shortage of opportunity to grow cultural infrastructure and programming at all levels in the City of
Los Angeles.

Although we have more artists working in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the country, more intimate theatres than in Chicago or New York City, we also have more landmass than any other major city in the country. Our lack of density diffuses energy that usually creates a buzz, so our scale requires a different approach and energy.

The uniqueness of our cultural ecology is further informed by our thriving commercial creative industries. Fashion, design, technology, the visual arts, and entertainment represent 1 in 7 jobs in our region. Creativity is big business in LA.

For example, a visual artist may be represented by a gallery, show her works in an exhibition, or sell her works on her own, yet she might also work in film production as a set dresser. A lighting designer may oversee locations for film production by day, yet at night you’ll find him up on a ladder in an intimate theatre hanging lights. This fluidity between commercial creativity and public interest creative production is part of our ecosystem, but it also drives artists in the commercial sector.

Philanthropic and corporate support for arts and culture in Los Angeles is comparatively low. Individual support is stronger, especially for the major institutions. This makes small and mid-sized arts organizations more reliant on public support. Los Angeles also has multiple layers of government, municipal, school district, county, state, and federal support available.

However, as we all know, public support for arts and culture have been on the decline for twenty years. I often wonder if that’s because we have accepted a transactional value frame to our work. My experience tells me that people make decisions based feeling, not logic. So story, backed by data, is important strategically in rebuilding public will and public funding.

Barry:  And what then do you hope to accomplish in your first year?

Danielle:  Nothing short of a paradigm shift in the way we value arts and culture in Los Angeles and the role the Department of Cultural Affairs plays in increasing neighborhood vitality, prosperity, and the quality of life for its residents and visitors.

To achieve that ambitious goal, the work of our Department must become more visible and meaningful to those who authorize our funding. Our visibility must be at the proper scale. Transforming the Department from an analogue agency to a digital one in all aspects of our operations is a primary and necessary goal, from bringing our collection management and grants application systems online -- to aggregating event data and sharing it with the city family, community networks, visitors, and our convention bureau. From there we can connect our work with more people to further create meaning. I hope this strategy will build the value frame of the important work this department is accomplishing. Once we build meaning, we can demonstrate the return on investment for the city and its residents. It is a goal set very much aligned with Mayor Garcetti’s back to basics priorities.

Building the capacity and the spirit of possibility within the Department will position us to expand our reach throughout the entire city through signature festivals, iconic public art, and strong small, mid-sized, and large nonprofit arts and cultural organizations.

Barry:  What can an agency such as yours do to promote fairer and more balanced equity in the allocation of funding -- both from government (federal, state, local) and from foundations?

Danielle:  The term “equity” means different things to different people. Equity can mean distributing resources, like splitting the pie. It can also mean that those with unequal situations should receive a greater slice of the piece to help even out the gap.

At its core, equity is about fairness. Our national standard of public grant making is rooted in a set of established criteria to determine artistic excellence, and to build capacity to deliver the proposed projects and/or services. The peer panel review and scoring process is intended to keep personalities and politics out of grant awards.

However, those of us who manage public agencies can, and must, do a better job at making sure our applicant pool reflects the broad arts and cultural ecology of our region. To accomplish this objective, DCA is looking at strategies to increase the pathways for funding. Next year DCA will pilot a program to fund non-arts, nonprofit organizations in communities with traditionally low cultural infrastructure. We are also partnering with the Center for Cultural Innovation through a Surdna Foundation grant to pilot a Creative Entrepreneur Fund (CEF). The CEF will make strategic investments in creative businesses who are operating in the public interest. These sole proprietorship and LLC businesses fall outside the traditional 501(c)(3) nonprofit structure.

Barry:  By all accounts, you ran one of the best regional arts advocacy organizations in the country. What lessons did you take from that experience to your new post?

Danielle:  Arts for LA is one of many effective arts and arts education advocacy organizations doing great work in communities throughout our country. It is successful because it operates in relationship to its environment. It is clear and realistic in its strategic objectives and is fiscally prudent. Also, it does not advocate for any one person or arts organization, rather it advocates for all through its policy framework, which focuses on the policies and conditions needed for a healthy arts and cultural ecosystem. Finally, it helps authorizers and advocates play within the rules. That means that we all embrace fair and transparent distribution of funds, not leveraging personal relationships to receive special (pork) appropriations or funding.

At its core, advocacy is about relationships. It is about creating a winning situation for everyone…celebrating the accomplishments, but giving away the credit freely. Everyone advocates from a place of self-interest, but the message can never be about one’s own self-interest. It must always be about our mutual interest. This changes the conversation from an “us vs. them” perspective to a ‘mutual interest” reality. Finally, the impact of the messenger can make all the difference. Bring in the unusual partners to tell the story. Mobilize business owners, developers, and residents who are active voters and who can talk about how access to arts and culture make their live better.

Barry:  On the topic of advocacy, what is your assessment of state advocacy efforts in California and elsewhere? Advocacy efforts seem to be organized at the federal level, and to the extent state efforts support national goals, at the state level to a lesser degree, but there is hardly any effort to organize local advocacy efforts on a national basis. If all politics is, indeed, local - why hasn’t there been any real effort to organize the nation’s local advocacy efforts into a collaborative, cohesive whole?

Danielle:  It is a great question for a big country with multiple issues and overlapping political boundaries. Arts for LA’s primary focus is local (for a region with the landmass of Connecticut and the population of Georgia). Because of the interconnectedness of the political landscape, Arts for LA allocated a certain amount of its organizational resources to shore up support at the state and Federal levels. We coordinated these efforts with our statewide partners, California Arts Advocates and the California Alliance for Arts Education, and with our Federal partner, Americans for The Arts. But this strategy is difficult to maintain for a couple of reasons:

1) Elected officials are moved by their constituents. Which means that every campaign must have a very targeted approach. Targeted approaches require appropriate staff skilled at running campaigns (community organizing, training, and communications).

2) Term limits have created rotating leadership and many local elected officials run for state and federal office and some return to a local post. The sheer number of public officials in
Los Angeles is simply too large for any one agency to manage effectively.

And finally,

3) Legislative calendars overlap and if the messages are not coordinated at the local, state, and federal levels, advocacy burn out happens very fast.

Barry:  How is making the case for more local funding different than making the case for more state or federal funding?  And what are the impacts of those differences?

Danielle:  I don’t know if it is different. The secret sauce appears to be the same.

Barry:  If the revenue stream model for arts organizations is broken, can it be fixed, and how?  And if it can’t be fixed, what would a new model look like?

Danielle:  Is it broken? I don’t know if that is the case. The sector has a one-size fits-all model.  We need other models to foster a healthy ecology. This is why we are piloting the new initiatives I mentioned before. The City of San Jose successfully piloted a version of the Creative Entrepreneur Fund and our colleagues at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission are about to launch a pilot program to fund nonprofit health and human services who have high-quality arts programs. Continual and rigorous inquiry is essential to moving our sector forward.

Barry:  Progress in making arts education available K-12 seems to take two steps forward, two steps back.  How can we finally reach a tipping point in that arena?

Danielle:  Policy and advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint. Build political will, diversify the messengers, and consider running candidates. We see this strategy working at the local level. We need to pass mandates that have funding, required instructional minutes, and testing, tied to legislation. Without these accountability measures in place, arts education will be left to superintendents, principals, and outspoken parents to ensure delivery.

Barry:  Two of the biggest movements in the field in the past five years have been our Placemaking and Community Engagement initiatives. What is your assessment of these two theories?

Danielle:  These are new names for strategies that the arts community has been engaged in throughout the ages. I embrace new frameworks that expand the conversation of how arts and culture contribute to society.

Barry:  Assess the current state of the art field’s attempt to prepare our current and future leaders to meet the challenges of tomorrow? How effective are our professional development and college preparatory programs in training our leaders and our rank and file staffs to be better managers and administrators? In your future hiring of people at your agency, what will you be looking for in candidates?

Danielle:  The influx of college preparatory programs and arts and cultural professional development programs over the past ten years has raised the performance bar for our sector exponentially.

I entered the nonprofit arts sector through a local community arts center, first as a participant in a performance workshop, then as an artist, then as a teaching artist, and finally as an administrator. Because of these experiences, I am aware our field should have other strategies to recruit and develop talent.

Professional development programs and college preparatory programs may have also made it more difficult for people like me, who enter the field as an enthusiastic volunteer, to build a career in the nonprofit arts sector, and that’s something we should think about.

The skills I look for when I am hiring someone are emotional intelligence, passion, commitment, and the ability to learn. I also look for signs the person knows how to collaborate, think creativity, communicate effectively, and think critically. These four “Cs” are the foundation of what is needed for success in a 21st century workforce.

We must also continue preparing for succession. So many of our emerging arts leaders are saddled with insurmountable student debt. These emerging leaders are hungry for advancement, may want to start a family, and one day buy a home. But entry-level salaries in our sector are still quite low. This forces many dynamic leaders out of the nonprofit arts and cultural sector and into the private sector. On the other side of the coin, we have so many baby boomers who simply cannot afford to retire, that they stay in the field longer.

Barry: Most big city arts agencies face a plethora of political challenges - including dealing with local governments and a sometimes territorial competing arts organization ecosystem.  How do you navigate those waters?

Danielle: In Los Angeles the arts and cultural sector is incredibly collaborative.  We know it’s the way to success.

Barry:  What was your last “aha” moment?

Danielle:  Right now.

Barry:  Innovation is the current buzzword for arts administration.  But in government situations, arguably the constraints of bureaucracy and government often obviate against creative risk taking.  How do you deal with those limitations?

Danielle:  With creativity, patience, and partnerships.

Barry:  Other than the broken funding model, what other models (e.g., audience development, donor solicitation, marketing) do you think are broken, which can be repaired, and which not, and which models are working?

Danielle:  There is so much innovation happening in our sector. It would take another interview to articulate all the ways in which creativity is moving audience development, donor solicitation, and marketing forward.

Barry:  What kind of research is not currently available to you that would be most helpful in moving your agency forward?

Danielle:  I would love to expand the NEA survey on the relationship between engagement in the arts and civic engagement, i.e. voting.

Barry:  What is the current state of the relationship between larger urban arts agencies and their state agency, and how might it work better?

Danielle:  I can speak only for California. In my experience, my colleagues at the municipal level have a collaborative relationship with our state arts agency and with each other.

Barry:  Political appointees are often removed from their posts when the elected official who appointed them leaves office.  How does that influence and impact doing your job?

Danielle:  Short-term deliverable increments and demonstrated track record is the way I am approaching this appointment. Set the agency on a path to success, focus on the conditions needed to succeed, and do your very best to leave it in a better position for the person who will come after you.

Barry:  What is your management style and how do you keep your people motivated?

Danielle:  Empower, inspire, and develop accountability.

Barry:   How do we, as a field, better collaborate both by, and between, arts organizations, and with outside stakeholders and potential partners?

Danielle:  With deep and genuine curiosity, and a focus on where our venn diagram intersect. Operate from that space and celebrate your progress along the way.

Thank you Danielle.

Have a great week. Stay warm everybody.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy New Year and Thank You

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

As I wish all of you a safe, sane, successful and joyous, healthy, prosperous new year, I want to extend my deepest appreciation for your continued support and kind and gracious feedback.

This has been a very good year for my blog.  Subscribers are up, independent page hits are up and readership is up.  The interviews posted here over the past year have garnered increased readership, the annual Top Fifty Most Powerful and Influential list and the annual What I Have Learned Blog compendium of advice and counsel from lessons learned have both continued to hit new highs, and the blogathons and guest conference reports are up as well.  And the Dinner-Vention 2 posts have had an even wider readership than last year.

Thank you all.

I've come to the conclusion that making year end predictions is beyond risky; it borders on folly.  Two polar opposite phenomenon are at play.  One: things change so quickly and so dramatically today, that it's virtually impossible to know what will happen; and Two: even with that accelerated change, in many ways, things hardly change at all.

If I were to hazard one guess at 2015, it would be that we are likely to see the floodgates begin to open on the exodus of the baby boomers from the leadership positions in the nonprofit arts, and that exiting is  likely to grow substantially over the next five years.  And that transition will have profound implications and impact for, and on, our field.

I'll be back after the first with new interviews, new blogathons this Spring and some new features.  I hope for your continued support and that you will perhaps even help me to increase the subscriber base further by recommending the blog to your colleagues and friends.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Twas the Night Before Christmas - Arts Edition

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

Twas the Night Before Christmas (nonprofit arts version)

Taking some liberties with the original:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not an artist was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that the grantmakers soon would be there;

The development directors were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of major grants danced in their heads;
And the Board Chair in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my laptop to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew for a look,
Tore open the browser and pulled up my Facebook.

The Twitter and Buzzfeed and Instagram posts
Gave a lustre of midday to all of our boasts,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,

With a little old driver so lively with thunder,
I knew in a moment he must be the Funder.
More rapid than conference goers his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Now, Equity! now, Data! now Stability and Vixen!
On, Placemaking! on, Engagement! on, Capacity and Blitzen!
To the top of the Dress Circle! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As arts organizations before the wild hurricane fly
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of artworks, and St. Nicholas too—

And then, in a tweeting, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and planning my next blog,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came like a log.

He was dressed all in stage costumes, from his head to his feet
And his clothes were all tarnished like butts in the seats;
A bundle of art he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a Kickstarter just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples like a donor!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a loaner!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And his beard was as long as our budgets are low;

The iPhone he held tight to his ear,
And the cries for his ending he failed to hear;
He had a little round belly that hung to his knees
And I just knew he believed in our arts advocacy.

He was chubby and plump, like a right jolly old E.D.,
And I laughed when I saw him, from what I could see;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Gave me to know my application had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, nothing was said,
But by the toys in the stockings, I knew he favored Arts Ed,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a cry,
Like the pleas to our audiences, our tickets to buy.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
"Indigo go "Ho Ho Ho" to all, and to all a good night!”

Wishing you all Happy Holidays

Don't Quit.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Clueless in Calcutta and the Plight of the Siloed, Solo Artist

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

I'd like to recommend to you a new novel by a long time friend of mine.  Content wise, it has nothing to do with our field (but as a project, it does), and I am writing about it for two reasons:  One I have known the author for over 40 years; he is one of my closest friends and I really loved the book (and if you can't help your friends, well………); and Two I'm fascinated by what he has tried to do to market his own work - much like so many of the artists we try to serve in our field.  My friend's effort is, for me as an observer, a first hand, up close and personal, attempt to navigate the marketing waters and to be creative in trying to 'stand apart' from everyone else.  And that is a challenge faced by artists of every stripe.

Clueless in Calcutta by Lou Vincent is a crazy romp - a combination of gonzo journalism meets the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera, with endearing, unforgettable characters, and an off the top, but not entirely implausible, plot of expats and senior citizens fighting the odds against the modern corporation guided by greed and the 'let the buyer beware' shield - all improbably set in Kolkata India where the hapless seniors are stuck.  Set just slightly in the future, the hero is a just out of law school lawyer, who just happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to President Barack Obama - on his way to India to what he only thinks is a relatively sure thing retainer, to help some people who got screwed by a major domo retirement community builder.  From the moment of his arrival almost nothing is as it seems, and virtually nothing goes according to plan. But for all the twists and turns and insanity, at heart it's really a sweet story - and a homage to the craziness that is modern India.  Mindless, escapist entertainment of the first order.  And very funny.

It would make a fabulous stage play or a Wes Anderson or Coen Brothers type movie, with shades of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - and it's right in that vein.  I can mentally cast it right now.  If those filmmakers are your cup of tea, then you'll probably like this book a lot.  If you're looking for some creative, left field escapist entertainment bound to leave a reader smiling - as a last minute Christmas present - or for yourself during the holidays when you might want to curl up for a day - I can recommend Clueless in Calcutta wholeheartedly.   Check it out on Amazon.

What's interesting to me is that, as a first time author, with virtually no chance of a major publishing house taking on his work, my friend has had to don the same hats most solo or contract type artists of any kind must adopt today - that of marketer, pr person, scheduler and salesman, distributor and more.  As a literary artist, his motivation was similar to all artists - he wanted to tell a story.  But as a 21st Century unknown first time author, he has had to do what many of those artists we try to serve have had to do.  He had to come up with ways to try to market his work.  And so he did.  Check out his -- entirely by himself --created website, humor testimonials, and even video pieces.  All very creative I think.  Today, every artist has to be a social media expert, a videographer, a publicist, and rack their creative brains to try to compete in a world where everyone and everything is competing for everyone else's finite attention spans.  And while they learn all those jobs, there is no guarantee they will succeed in widening the sphere of those even aware of their work; a big challenge we in our field can only hope to occasionally and marginally help to address with training and advice.   No matter how well we succeed in equipping artists to brave this new reality with skills and knowledge, and no matter how creative a marketer each of those artists may be, it's still largely a matter of the fates deciding their success.

I know this experience first hand.  I wrote a book several years ago entitled Hardball Lobbying for Nonprofits.  I was fortunate enough to land a major publisher - McMillan and Co.  But as an unknown author, I was hardly on the top tier of their priority marketing / promotion plans.  I basically had to market it myself in the earliest stages.  That's not uncommon in the publishing world today.  In fact, publishers look for whether or not you have a platform and can get the ball rolling in deciding whether or not they want to publish your work at all, and they certainly look for your initial success before they will commit to any effort on your behalf.   I suspect the same is true in any number of other creative / artistic pursuits.  An artist is not just an artist.  An artist is also a business person.

On the one hand technology has given artists a fighting chance to have their work out there in the marketplace.  On the other hand, technology has made it a challenge just to attract an even small niche. While technology has opened a door to an ever widening array of creative product, it has also made it harder for any of that product to find an audience.  And the same situation may apply not just to solo artists but for arts organizations presenting the work of artists - famous and not so.

The challenge for us is to identify even more ways and means we might be able to help artists, and there are scores of projects and programs we have developed that try to do just that.  Still, the solo artist remain siloed and must often rely on themselves to try to make headway - most without any kind of budget.  And the same is likely true of our organizations as well.  This challenge is likely one of the single greatest challenges artists on their own (and we who serve them) face today.

To all you amateur (and professional) authors and artists -- and to all of the organizations working on their behalf -- keep doing it.  Tell your story - whether in word, paint, dance, voice, music or otherwise.  Be your own marketers and pr people, sell it yourself and learn and have fun in the process.  And may the fates smile on all of you.

And check out Clueless in Calcutta.

Wishing the Happiest of Holidays to everyone.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reflections from the Conference for Community Arts Education from Talia Gibas

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

I wanted to attend last month's National Guild for Community Arts Education conference, and blog on it, but a conflicting schedule made that impossible.  I reached out to Guild Executive Director Jonathan Herman to see if someone on his staff might want to report on the outcomes.  I had in mind Heather Ikemire from the Guild, as I had long been an admirer.  But, of course, that was a really inconsiderate thought on my part, as Heather was one of the point people for all the planning and operations of the conference. Heather was kind enough to find me someone to report; and not just someone, but Talia Gibas, who to my mind is one of the best of the new cohort of arts administrator leaders on the horizon. Her work is impressive on multiple levels.   I am deeply grateful to Jonathan, Heather and especially Talia.

Here's Talia's bio:

Talia Gibas

Talia Gibas is Arts for All Manager at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and a member of the editorial team of Createquity, a research-backed investigation of the most important issues in the arts. Arts for All is the Los Angeles County arts education initiative dedicated to making the arts core in K-12 public education. Working closely with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Talia is responsible for arts education professional development programming for school district leaders. She also manages grant programs that support those leaders and connect school districts with teaching artists and arts organizations throughout the County.  With Createquity, she works to make high-value information and analysis about critical issues in our field available to current and emerging decision-makers across the sector.

Talia earned her A.B. in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities from the University of Chicago, and Ed.M in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  She currently serves on Americans for the Arts’s Arts Education Council. In her non-arts life, she is an avid endurance athlete and proud member of California Triathlon.

Here is Talia's informative personal report on this important conference:

Reflections from the Conference for Community Arts Education
By Talia Gibas

The National Guild for Community Arts Education recently held its 77th annual conference in Los Angeles, California. As a first-time attendee, I was asked to share personal reflections from the gathering, paying particular attention to high-level takeaways.  My observations are informed by my background, the difficult choices I made in attending sessions, and work commitments that required I miss highlights such as the conference keynote address. I was impacted nonetheless, and what follows is a synthesis of the big questions, concerns, and points of inspiration that remain weeks after the fact.

As you read, please keep a few things in mind about me:

 My expertise is in in-school arts education. I work for Arts for All, an initiative that supports school districts and arts organizations in their effort to strengthen arts education during the school day. Much of what was covered at the Guild focused on out-of-school time – new territory to me.

I heart data. A big chunk of my work is to support assessment and evaluation practice. I’m also a member of the editorial team of Createquity, a research-backed investigation of the most important issues in the arts. I believe strengthening our research and assessment practices can make things better for students.

I jumped around a lot. The conference offered several tracks to promote “field building.” One explored the Creative Youth Development movement (more on that later) and the other focused on teaching artist development and pathways. In an attempt to get outside my comfort zone while attending sessions that relate to my work, I charted a winding path that touched on a number of different themes.

The Color and Chaos of the Big Tent

Two things stand out as the most delightful aspects of the conference. The first was the opportunity to interact with an inspiring array of individuals who represented in school, out-of-school, and community practice. The second was the energy of the gathering. The conference theme, “catalyzing positive change through arts education,” resonated through an emphasis on social justice that ran through sessions, presentations, and informal conversations. We gathered during a fraught week. President Obama announced executive actions to change our immigration system. The conference plenary speaker, Ron Chew, took the stage with mixed emotion, noting he was the son of illegal immigrants. The grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, had not yet been announced, but hints of frustration and despair drifted in the air. I saw three people weep openly in sessions. Yet through it all was a palpable sense that we have a critical role to play in making change. More than anything, I appreciated the Guild’s efforts to demonstrate how our work pushes up against big, thorny issues.

Those efforts, set inside the colorful and chaotic tent of people who identify as “arts educators,” left me with a number of questions. To what extent can and should we seek firm definitions around and within the work that we call “arts education”? As a group, how do we come to consensus amidst competing – and sometimes dissonant – priorities? Do we even need consensus? And if we don’t, how do we make sure we learn from one another despite the pressures of time, funding, and occasional divergent ideology?

Firming up the Edges 

Many of these questions germinated during the first day of the conference, when I attended a full-day session on Creative Youth Development (CYD). A relatively new focus area for the National Guild, the core principles of CYD have been around for a while, but began to formalize last year during a national summit in Boston.

The summit, co-hosted by the Guild, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, generated a policy agenda and five broad priority areas:  building collective impact to improve youth outcomes; contributing to community development; facilitating social change and social justice; documenting and communicating program impact, and funding and sustainability. Long-term goals include aligning the efforts of CYD practitioners and illuminating work across the country. There was also, at several points throughout the session, mention of the possibility of unlocking “arts-adjacent funding.”

“Arts-adjacent funding” is an intriguing but awkward term, one that I think refers to money that currently supports youth social services. I say “I think” because while the CYD conversation had palpable energy throughout, it did not leave me with a clear understanding of what creative youth development is. When the session concluded my best guess was that it refers to programs that a) take place primarily outside of school, b) target adolescents and young adults, c) incorporate creative endeavors, and d) promote social change. The subtleties of the definition are still being worked out, and the role of social change appeared particularly contentious among session attendees. To some, framing CYD as a social change effort makes it distinctive and creates a home for arts organizations whose primary goals for youth are neither purely academic nor artistic. To others, the focus was unnecessarily exclusive. A community music school, for example, may not see social change as part of its mission, but believes it contributes to youth development. Shouldn’t there still be room for that school in the CYD movement?

We are an inherently welcoming and collaborative bunch, and putting firm definitions on things is not easy.  CYD may evolve into a commonly accepted label for a small but vibrant subset of our sector, or into a trendy term used to refer to pretty much any arts education program. With all due respect to organizations who worry they will “miss out” if their missions do not align with the CYD framework, I hope it is the former. Arts educators have an important role to play both inside and outside our outmoded systems of K-12 and higher education. Too many young people fall outside of or suffer through those systems. Engaging with them to build new and different safety nets is vital.

Conversations about CYD are exciting but underscore the need to create constructive boundaries while maintaining a commitment to open exchange. Other aspects of my conference experience, all against the backdrop of the national sociopolitical headlines of the week, reminded me how hard that can be.

From Rallying Cry to Next Step

At the closing awards luncheon, three young women from the wonderful local organization Get Lit delivered a powerful spoken word piece on the unconscious, ugly “truths” we reinforce for students every day. The performance punched us in the gut; then the lights came up and the rules of luncheon dictated it was time for chitchat and salad.

My bewilderment in that moment reminded me of a late night years ago when I finished the first draft of a piece of fiction I’d labored over for a month. The piece contained turns of phrase I loved, transitions I hated, and a good deal of rambling. I was at once anxious to keep working at it, and at a near-exhausted loss with where to start. Staring at the pages I could only think, “But… now what do I do?”

I doubt I was alone in my impatience. Given the state of our world, impatience -- not to mention frustration, or even anger – is a given. We know things need to be improved, and we know those improvements are urgent. How to reconcile urgency with pragmatism or thoughtful prioritization is something we all struggle with, illustrated by my mixed emotions moving from one focal point of my conference to another.

I balanced my sessions on creative youth development and social justice with sessions on student assessment and data-driven decision making. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I felt I was moving between two different conferences. The passion, excitement, and slippery definitions of the former were balanced with charts and graphs in the latter. By the time National Guild Service Award recipient Margie Reese, in the middle of a fervent call for us to “launch a revolution,” declared paying evaluation consultants to be an unconscionable decision when children have immediate needs, I realized research and assessment are still widely perceived as millstones rather than supports. “Data has been banged up a bit at this conference” one participant ruefully observed after the luncheon. I was left wondering how the sense of sincerity and spontaneity Margie recalled in talking about the civil rights movement can reconcile with the pragmatism and patience “data-driven decision making” implies.

To me, both derive from our natural impulse to ask questions – questions that challenge authority, the status quo, our own assumptions, or the assumptions of people who came before us. We must ask questions – thoughtful, probing questions—without falling into paralysis, and without waiting for some abstract sense of permission to do our work. Sometimes we seek the permission in the form of a glossy report; other times we wait for a broad consensus on the best way to move forward. As I noted earlier, however, consensus may not be possible in a tent as colorful and crowded as ours. Perhaps our challenge is not to move in lockstep together. Perhaps our work – and the role of organizations such as the National Guild – is to create meeting spaces where we can put creative pressure on one another. Our tent is a noisy, frayed space where we bump up against each other, look each other in the eye, and ask questions. New people enter, others leave, and some set up new camps next door. If it’s a chaotic space, fine. It’s still a place where we can imagine how to transform the field outside into a more vibrant and fertile place.

Thank you Talia.

Have a great week, and stay sane during the holidays.

Don't Quit