Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tasting Menus for the Performing Arts

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

More than a decade ago, great chefs became celebrities - on a global basis.  Gastronomic excellence became like haute couture - food as fashion. And the vast majority of Michelin Star Restaurants (especially the rare, exhalted Three Star establishments) moved to exclusively offering the Tasting Menu as the only menu option - seven to forty individual courses served over anywhere from three to six or more hours - each featuring the highest level of the chef's talent and experience in a feast for the body, mind and soul.

The Tasting Menu has become a sought after experience - by not only the gastronomes among us, but for ordinary people who simply wanted the experience (people with the money, of course, because these Menus tend to be very pricey) .  Indeed, the Michelin Stars offering the experience are usually booked months in advance, and the trend is so popular many restaurants require up front payment with the booking.

These meals are different from ordinary restaurant fare, in that they are "tastes" of what extraordinary dishes the kitchens of the most talented, most renowned chefs in the world are capable of producing.  For most people, it is an expansion of their whole idea of dining - let alone merely "eating".  Most people who do this, very likely only do it once or twice in a decade - or maybe in a lifetime.  It is as much "theater" as dining.

There are critics of the Tasting Menu phenomenon in the restaurant world - most singling out the inordinate amount of time a dinner that features 20, let alone 40, courses requires.  But for our purposes, it ought to be easy enough so that we can appropriate the idea, tailor it to our own needs, and make it appealing to our target audiences.

And the idea of a tasting is something I think the performing arts organizations ought to consider borrowing from -- performing arts organizations in a given area working  in collaboration with each other. Thus, say eight or more ballet or other dance companies, symphonies, operas, jazz groups, choral organizations, theater companies and / or multicultural groups in the various disciplines could produce a single show with short pieces performed by each participating organization in a two hour program.  These individual pieces would be examples of the excellence of each of the companies; calling cards if you will for what they offer.  Something like movie trailers perhaps.

Versions of this kind of approach have, of course, been tried by us before.  I remember an annual event done in San Diego whereby tickets were sold to an evening that featured brief performances by dozens of artists from scores of arts organizations; performances staged in various rooms at a downtown hotel - all accompanied by fancy buffet food.  Tickets sold out.  It was an annual fundraiser for something or other, and it worked on a number of levels.

But I'm thinking this kind of Arts Tasting Menu would not necessarily be just a one off promotional kind of gimmick, but rather a more permanent (for a time anyway as an experiment) fixture of a group of arts organization's regular annual performance schedules - say three or four such evenings over the regular "season".  That kind of commitment would, I think, be necessary to see whether or not such an experiment might really change things - perceptions, loyalties, new blood etc.  What if eight arts organizations got together and did three or four such shared Tasting Menu performances each year as part of their schedules.  And what if they thought out of the box in terms of the venues they used (thus for example a warehouse with multiple temporary stages and seating, with bars and food buffets spread around, so people could sample the different offerings on their own timeline etc. instead of the conventional auditorium with seating in front of a fixed stage.)  This kind of approach allows for some experimentation and reasonable risk taking.  It isn't really about replacing an existing approach or structure - it's more of an add on; something new and different. 

This theoretically might do several things:  1) It might be a way to attract new audiences for, and excitement about, what has remained hidden to a lot of people; people who are unsure they want to attend a long program of any single discipline organization -- exposing them to a wide variety of the arts and culture available in a given area. Priced right, these events might attract new audiences spread out across various demographic categories including age, income levels, geographic location etc.; 2)  It might prove so popular that ticket prices could be raised and the event could be a positive source of income for the participating organizations; 3) It could cross pollinate the spectrum of arts offerings thus strengthening the whole of a field in a given area.  Most importantly though, it might open the door to potential new audiences / supporters / donors, AND it might be yet another way to program performances highlighting the best of what the organization and its artists have to offer.

If the idea had any legs, all kinds of possibilities in the same city might be possible:  thus, for example, eight theater groups could collaborate on such a Tasting Menu evening.  Or eight varied dance groups.  Or eight Latino Arts groups.  Or eight symphony, opera, choral, jazz etc. groups.   It might be an idea for big and small arts organizations.   Of course, all these organizations want to produce and perform full works within their disciplines - that's their mission and that's a given, and the vast majority of their annual offering schedules would be what they have always done.  But nowhere is it written that they can't offer "tastes" or samples of their work to entice more people to want to experience more - and do so in a different way that excites people and fosters a buzz in a community.  And were this a viable approach, it might be reasonable that if a portion of the audience preferred sampling to the alternative of full immersion -- then providing them the option would help subsidize the longer form of the art.

Part of the "sell" of this kind of approach is for people to try something new, but the risk is minimized in that they are pretty much guaranteed that what they will be trying (sampling) is certifiably excellent.  I certainly would be up for trying an evening like this and I think I could convince any number of friends who don't usually patronize the arts on a regular basis to join me.

If we want more people to feast on the arts, it may be necessary to first get more of them to "taste" what we offer.  

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry






Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lessons from Steve Jobs

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

The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs 

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Walter Issacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute  (and author of the Steve Jobs biography) details some of the lessons that can be learned from Steve Jobs' extraordinary success as an innovator in transforming how we communicate and do business.

Several of these caught my attention as spot on relevant to our work.

Focus:
"When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was producing a random array of computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh. After a few weeks of product review sessions, he’d finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a Magic Marker, padded in his bare feet to a whiteboard, and drew a two-by-two grid. “Here’s what we need,” he declared. Atop the two columns, he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro.” He labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he told his team members, was to focus on four great products, one for each quadrant. All other products should be canceled. There was a stunned silence. But by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company."

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” Jobs told Issacson.  And that's an important lesson for arts organizations - whether talking about fundraising, marketing, programming, or audience development.  It is critical in any business endeavor to zero in on what you need to do, and jettison all the rest.  The most successful people in the business world I have ever met (and I've been fortunate to meet a number of highly successful people), all shared that common trait of being able to put aside all the distractions and to focus on what they needed to do to succeed.

Simplify:
"Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity.  It takes a lot of hard work,” he said, “to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”

People in all businesses and in much of their personal lives make the mistake of making things more complicated than they need to be.  Often, the simple, direct solution just seems like it's not enough, when, in truth, it is precisely enough.  We, in the arts, would be wise to look at the challenges and tasks we face and try to come up with simple solutions rather than always rushing to embrace layers of complexity where they aren't needed.

Take Responsibiity End to End:
"Jobs and Apple took end-to-end responsibility for the user experience—something too few companies do."

Far, far too often in the arts we ignore this advice.  We don't take responsibility for the whole of the user experience.  So for a performing arts organization, end to end responsibility includes awareness of, and access to the art form, as well as the art itself, but also includes all the mundane issues that our users encounter - from convenience, scheduling, price and more.  I wonder what an arts organization would look like that took that responsibility?  I wonder what a foundation would look like that took that responsibility in its relationship with its grantees, or community?  I wonder what an advocacy organization would look like that took that responsibility in marshaling its supporters to lobby for its cause?

We think our brand is the art we present.  It is, but it's a lot more.

Bend Reality:
"Jobs’s (in)famous ability to push people to do the impossible was dubbed by colleagues his Reality Distortion Field, after an episode of Star Trek in which aliens create a convincing alternative reality through sheer mental force."

"One day Jobs marched into the cubicle of Larry Kenyon, the engineer who was working on the Macintosh operating system, and complained that it was taking too long to boot up. Kenyon started to explain why reducing the boot-up time wasn’t possible, but Jobs cut him off. “If it would save a person’s life, could you find a way to shave 10 seconds off the boot time?” he asked. Kenyon allowed that he probably could. Jobs went to a whiteboard and showed that if five million people were using the Mac and it took 10 seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to 300 million or so hours a year—the equivalent of at least 100 lifetimes a year." After a few weeks Kenyon had the machine booting up 28 seconds faster."

The point is that we might accomplish much more than we do if we didn't start out believing that what we can do is limited.   Effective leaders push; they demand their people break new ground, come up with new solutions, do what hasn't been done before.  We won't always succeed with this attitude, but we'll likely rarely succeed without it.  Complacency is the enemy; self-doubt is the enemy; timidity is the enemy.   We need to take a lesson from the artists we represent and push the boundaries; demand more of ourselves; set the bar higher.

"When Jobs was designing the iPhone, he decided that he wanted its face to be a tough, scratchproof glass, rather than plastic. He met with Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning, who told him that Corning had developed a chemical exchange process in the 1960s that led to what it dubbed “Gorilla glass.” Jobs replied that he wanted a major shipment of Gorilla glass in six months. Weeks said that Corning was not making the glass and didn’t have that capacity. “Don’t be afraid,” Jobs replied. This stunned Weeks, who was unfamiliar with Jobs’s Reality Distortion Field. He tried to explain that a false sense of confidence would not overcome engineering challenges, but Jobs had repeatedly shown that he didn’t accept that premise. He stared unblinking at Weeks. “Yes, you can do it,” he said. “Get your mind around it. You can do it.” Weeks recalls that he shook his head in astonishment and then called the managers of Corning’s facility in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, which had been making LCD displays, and told them to convert immediately to making Gorilla glass full-time. “We did it in under six months,” he says. “We put our best scientists and engineers on it, and we just made it work.” 

Impute:
"Jobs’s early mentor Mike Markkula wrote him a memo in 1979 that urged three principles. The first two were “empathy” and “focus.” The third was an awkward word, “impute,” but it became one of Jobs’s key doctrines. He knew that people form an opinion about a product or a company on the basis of how it is presented and packaged. “Mike taught me that people do judge a book by its cover,” he told Issacson".
We pay a great deal of attention to our packaging - in how we curate exhibits and in the design of our space, in our sets and costumes, in our graphics - but how much time do we spend on the whole of the packaging of our organizations, our products and brand?  People judge us not just based on the art we present, but on a spectrum of impressions and perceptions about who we are, what we do and how we do it.


Not every leader can be a Steve Jobs, but every leader can learn lessons from all those people who change the rules and open new vistas.  There were a lot of things about Steve Jobs that people didn't like, but success isn't about being popular.  We talk relentlessly about innovation and creative thinking.  We need to put that talk into action, and the above are a few ideas that might help us to do that.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry

Sunday, April 5, 2015

10th Anniversary Milestone for Barry's Blog

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

Today marks the 10th Anniversary of Barry's Blog as distributed by WESTAF.

I've actually been blogging longer than ten years, as I started writing a weekly online (distributed via email) newsletter when I was Director of the California Arts Council in 2002.  Back then, it wasn't called a blog, but, in essence that's what it was.  I started this blog back in 2005 as a monthly+ effort, then went to weekly+ in 2009.

Not counting the earlier CAC endeavor, this iteration of the blog has posted nearly 450 blogs (somewhere over 300,000 words probably) that have landed, in the aggregate, in nearly four and a half million mailboxes over the decade.  Of course, that doesn't mean four and a half million people have read them, as I am fully aware that many people (myself included) don't read everything that arrives in their mailboxes.  But I'm also blown away that literally hundreds of thousands of people have read some of these posts that may have interested them on some level.

The world has changed dramatically in the past decade.  Ten years ago there was no iPhone, no Facebook, no Linkdin, or Twitter, or Snapchat, or Buzzfeed, or You Tube, or Instagram or any of the scores of other social media platforms.  The world was crazy already, but perhaps not as crazy as it has become.  In the nonprofit arts, we weren't yet involved with Placemaking, or Engagement.  Social justice and equity issues weren't yet at the forefront.  We hadn't yet faced the global recession that changed (probably forever) the funding dynamics for our organizations.  And there weren't all that many nonprofit arts bloggers ten years ago.  Everything changes, and I've been one of many in a position to try to chronicle some of that change.  What a great gig.

Far and away the most widely read individual of my posts have been the annual Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential People in the American Nonprofit Arts.  But there have been any number of other posts that have garnered a wide readership as well - including many of the (45 or so) interviews I have been fortunate enough to do with key leaders in our field; the "What I Have Learned" posts with extraordinary advice from those who have been in the trenches for awhile;  the two Dinner-Vention projects; and the Blogathon Forums zeroing in on specific topics.  Of those blogathons, the six week forum on Arts Education (done as a joint effort with Julie Fry of the Hewlett Foundation - and it wouldn't have come to fruition without her help, guidance and expertise) has attracted close to 100,000 individual page hits from people in addition to those on the email subscriber list.

I have, over the decade, tried to provide a variety of posts that are true to the masthead - "News, Advice, and Opinion for the Arts Administrator (probably a little too heavy on the opinion part from time to time, but that's a perk of having your name on the title).  I've tried to balance the posts with serious, critical policy issues, and the more mundane daily challenges facing us all as practitioners in the field.  I've tried to bring some humor to the blog and to make it interesting to you the readers by coming up with different features.  Sometimes I've succeeded.  Obviously, sometimes (many times?) I have not.  I have appreciated your patience in waiting for the better material.

I've enormously enjoyed the process of writing this blog; I'm grateful for the doors it has opened for me; thankful for the countless people I have had the pleasure to meet;  and indebted by the incredible support I have gotten from across the whole spectrum of our field.  I am humbled by that support, and deeply appreciative.

There are too many people to thank for that support over the years:  To the many of you who have been kind enough to send me a note when you think I made a good point and have offered me your encouragement and, more importantly, your insights.  It is your insights that have changed my perspective over time, and on many occasions forced me to seriously reconsider stances and positions I have taken.  Even more importantly to me, this blog has allowed me the great and wondrous gift of learning about what meaningful and impactful things are going on in our field.  It's given me the chance to weigh in, to think aloud (not always the best approach), and to formulate ideas and take positions that everyone may not endorse.  I have tried to write posts that in some way might be helpful to you - inform you, challenge your thinking, or entertain you.  I have taken the luxury of being able to write this blog as serious business, and tried to offer reasoned and reasonable thoughts and insights of my own.  I have written with a deep and abiding respect for you, and while it may be a conceit to think so, I hope that I have, from time to time, been part of the movement to greater dialogue on all those issues and challenges that we face.

I am proud and honored to be among such intelligent, passionate, caring and dedicated people as populate the nonprofit arts field - and though that may sound trite - it has been one of the big take aways for me over the past decade.

I would be remiss if I didn't single out Anthony Radich at WESTAF for his giving me a platform (via WESTAF's distribution of the blog) that has allowed me to comment, analyze, pontificate, and opine on anything that I wanted to; for supporting me and all the ideas I brought to him; for his unwavering belief that via this blog I had something to contribute; and for being a mentor, a teacher, and a very good friend. I am living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks (simple ones anyway).  I hope to continue posting for at least a couple of years [and I've still got ideas about new projects that I hope (when launched) will be thought interesting, and even worthy and of some value].  I'm still having fun.

I am also indebted to the WESTAF staff who have been part of this effort in support over the years - Laurel Sherman, Shannon Daut, Bryce Merrill, Seyon Lucero, Leah Horn and many others.

I'm also indebted to the many of my fellow bloggers (Thomas Cott, Ian David Moss, Doug McLennan, Doug Borwick, Arlene Goldbard, Andrew Taylor, Diane Ragsdale, AFTA and many others), who, from time to time, will pass on a link to one of my posts - and every time they do so, there is a spike in page hits.  Thank you all.

Finally, I am indebted most of all to each of you for being loyal readers and subscribers.  Now if each one of you could just send me twenty dollars -- no, no just kidding.

If I have one lament, looking back over this decade, it is the feeling that sometimes blogging has become too much like broadcast journalism -- it has become the almost exclusive recitation of the litany of all the challenges we face, the problems and everything that threatens us, with too little mention and inclusion of what is going right, of all the positive contributions of the field, of all the progress, and all the end results of which we can, as a field, be proud.  I think, in the blogosphere, it's often times easy to get caught up in covering what is going wrong, when sometimes we need to hear about what is going right.

So to celebrate the Tenth Anniversary, I offer you three stories about projects by people in our field that I came across this week (and this is, I think, a typical week) that are each absolutely wonderful, and bespeak an energy that is undeniably exactly what the world needs more of  -- proof that as a field the arts contribute mightily to the betterment of our world and are acting responsibly and wisely to thrive in a difficult environment.

  • First, an experiment in genuine out-of-the-box thinking by the San Francisco Symphony to attract new audiences in new ways.  "As part of a growing national movement to revitalize the symphony experience for patrons, the San Francisco Symphony recently launched SoundBox, a show series meant to create new musical experiences and entice new audiences."  This is an absolutely brilliant approach that changes dynamically how symphony music can be presented and accessed - exciting, energetic, engaging and completely different from the old model.  I love this.  Go to the site and watch the video to understand what a breakthrough this is. 
  • Second, this story from Fractured Atlas about a 2015 Arts Entrepreneurship Awards honoree:  The Laundromat Project, connecting communities to their creative potential, working in community spaces such as laundromats, libraries, parks, and the like.  Read the brief interview with Executive Director Kemi Ilesanmi by Jason Tseng to get a sense of what is being accomplished by this wonderful ten year old organization.  
  • And finally, an extraordinary video documentary, entitled Spiral Bound (click on the link, go to the site and watch the trailer), "on the role of arts in learning and specifically how the loss of arts in the schools is a social equity issue." by the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte, North Carolina.   A bold effort by one of the best local arts agencies in America.  

The reality is that there are thousands of projects all across the country that are making communities and lives better, and are helping our organizations to thrive.

Thank you all again for your kind support over the past decade.  If you've found anything of interest or value in the blog over the years, I would appreciate it if you would tell one other person and suggest they subscribe.  There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of nonprofit arts people that I would love to have as subscribers to the blog.  Before I'm done I'd like to get up to at least 25,000.  I hope you might help me by mentioning the blog to your constituents.

And thank you for being part of the glorious and grand attempt to exhalt the arts as one of humanity's best instincts by working in this field.


Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Programs for the Underserved; Programs for the Overserved. Time to Switch Priorities

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

Equity -- generally defined and understood as: fairness, justice and impartiality.

The issue has been center stage for us for sometime.  We have narrowed our focus on diversity as the core of the challenge of equity in the nonprofit arts - equity in access, equity in funding, equity in resource allocation and in the equation of people of color balanced with mainstream white domination in the decision making processes.  The axiom has been that if we can just make the nonprofit arts more diverse - particularly in its governance structures - then we will have met the equity challenge and it will be solved.

But diversity is a mask.  It's a symptom of the underlying issue - which is structural racism or inequity - and dealing with the symptom rather than the root cause is increasingly being recognized as an inadequate approach.

Diversity is limited in its meaning to the practical challenge of recruiting more people of color (or women, or gays, or young people,) to our Boards and staffs, and as audiences and supporters.   Diversity is a lovely word - innocuous, non-threatening; something everyone can agree on as a noble goal.  It appeals to our aspirational sensibilities.  Become more diverse?  Well, of course.  Who wouldn't want that?   In a sense, the diversity frame is a polite way to avoid digging deeper.  Whereas much of the rest of the nonprofit universe, talks about racial equity and structural racism (or ageism, or sexism or whatever).

The Woods Fund Chicago defines those two terms as follows:

“Structural racism is the cumulative impact of past and present policies and practices. Racial divisions, disinvestment, disenfranchisement and discriminatory polices have produced and exacerbated income inequality and disparate access to resources and opportunities for generations.  
Racial equity is a multi-issue framework that confronts racial disparities to  produce fair outcomes and opportunities for all communities.  It provides  proactive tools, synergistic strategies and more effective policy to address structural problems.  Racial equity strategies connect leaders and organizations across communities and bring solutions to scale.  Racial equity creates crucial spaces for those most impacted by inequities to build power and lead through collective practice and collective voice.”

Grantmakers in the Arts released an historic Statement of Purpose paper this week on Equity, recognizing the inequity of past policies and practices within the sector.

"Grantmakers in the Arts believes that:

  • Recommended solutions of the past, which have focused on diversity rather than structural inequities, have not resulted in nationwide successful outcomes in equitable inclusion and/or grantmaking to ALAANA artists and audiences. 
  • An historic societal and philanthropic bias for European artforms has undervalued the contributions of ALAANA artforms and artists. 
  • Arts funders are encouraged to implement relevant programs and create new structures in which ALAANA communities, artists, and arts organizations benefit as leaders, grantees, and partners. 
  • Addressing historic injustices is a vital component of achieving equity for ALAANA communities."

Having more diverse boards and staffs and supporters may very well help to address the structural realities that need to change in the long term, but it seems highly doubtful that our efforts to recruit a few more people of color (or age, gender etc.) will move the mountain much in the short term.  Adding two or three people of color to a thirty person board looks good, but doesn't really change the structure that has been at the heart of the inequities for so long.  Moreover, color is not the only determinant in trying to use diversity as a solution.  One can argue, for example, with some authority, that people of color appointed to an institution, that has a five figure donor requirement for Board membership, are as much defined by their economic status and kinship with Euro-centric board members as they are to their race.  The one percent is, above all, the one percent.  In many circumstances, economics will always trump other factors.  And one must consider that equity isn't just about color; for the arts anyway, its about a much fuller range of diversity - including organizational size. Diversity is both tricky and difficult as a means to correct past inequities.  Moreover, making diversity a reality is very time consuming, and I would argue that while it may be an important step in the process, the longer we take to address the inequities born from structural prejudices and biases compounds the inequities further.

The reality is that in the nonprofit arts, our progress in achieving real diversity that comes close to reflecting the actual diversity of the population, has been largely token to date.  We are, of course, legitimately trying, and many of those that are on the forefront will argue that there aren't enough people of color to populate every board, every staff.  While, on the surface that may be true, it can be also be argued that we simply aren't trying hard enough, and that we've got to radically change our approach to recruitment.

Indeed, if surface diversity is the issue, our boards, staffs, and even audiences remain white and older.  In an NEA funded study: "Diversity on Cultural Boards: Implications for Organizational Value and Impact" (Francie Ostrower, Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin) noted these conclusions:

  • "On average, 91 percent of board members were white, 4 percent were African-American or black, 2 percent were Hispanic, and 3 percent were in the “Other” category.  
  • Fully 58.7 % of the boards had only white, non-Hispanic members. Virtually every board (98 percent) had at least one white member, 26 percent had one or more African-American or Black members, 19 percent had one or more Hispanic members, and 14 percent had one or more “other” members. 
  • Diversity may also be thought of in terms of the number of different racial and/or ethnic groups represented. The picture that emerges from this perspective is also one of considerable homogeneity. Most boards (just over 59 percent) are comprised of members of just one of the racial/ethnic groups, and virtually all of these are white. Twenty-seven percent of boards reported members from two of the racial/ethnic groups queried.6 In fourteen percent of cases, boards included members of three or more groups.
  • Among organizations in the two smallest size groups, boards are on average 91 and 92 percent white respectively. The figure is 87 percent in the next two larger size groups, and drops just slightly, to 85 percent, among the largest organizations. While large organizations less often have exclusively white boards, they are still overwhelmingly white.
  • It is one thing for a board to be 90 percent or more white in a community that is 90 percent white, but quite another in a community that is 50 percent white. Even more relevant is the demographic composition of the organization’s audience members, since these are individuals that are interested in the organization’s activities.  In counties that are over 75 percent white, the average board was 96 percent white (standard deviation of 12). However, when we turn to counties where the population drops to 50 to 75 percent white, the average board is still 93 percent white (standard deviation of 12). In counties with populations that are less than 50 percent white, the average percent of white board members drops considerably – but at 74 percent (with a standard deviation of 25), it is still considerably higher than the county average."
We are quick to register our valuation of diversity, but seem slow to translate that value into action that actually builds diversity.  And diversity is only the scab on the wound of structural inequity.  Structures are by their nature more permanent and more difficult to change.  Consider the diversity challenge in terms of tenure of the very established leadership that likely has to change as described in this report from Ruth McCambridge, writing for Nonprofit Quarterly, cited by GIA.

  • "Relatively long CEO tenures:  More than 40 percent of grantmaker CEOs have been CEO for ten or more years. This is almost exactly the same percentage as was found in the recent survey of nonprofits performed by BoardSource, where it was reported that 41 percent of the CEOs who responded had been in their positions for 10 years or longer. 
  • Relatively older executive leadership: Sixty-one percent of foundation CEOs were aged 50 to 64. According to Vickie Spruill, 17 percent of foundation leaders—CEOs and Chief Giving Officers—and six percent of full-time staff in respondent organizations were aged 65 or older. Only four (not four percent, four) were under 30. 
  • The bigger the grantmaker, the older the leadership: About 90 percent of grantmakers with $500 million or more in assets were led by CEOs who were age 50 or older; this proportion drops slightly with decreases in asset size. The lowest proportion of CEOs over 50 was among grantmakers with less than $10 million."

If some groups are underserved, then others must be overserved.
One one level we do have diversity though, and have for some time -- and that is on the programming level.  We have created some very valuable and even effective programs, like those for Youth At Risk, Underserved Communities, Disadvantaged Populations, and Marginalized Groups. And though these programs are well intended and worthy, they are a damning indictment of our maintenance of the status quo of the structural problems.  The very nomenclature reveals a dichotomy.  If we recognize that there are Youth At Risk, Underserved Communities, Disadvantaged Populations, and Marginalized Groups, that is a tacit admission that our main program support has been, and continues to be, for Privileged Youth, Adequately or Overserved Communities, Advantaged Populations and Mainstream Groups. The structure of our support favors not the neediest among us then, but those that are faring best.  And it has for a long time.

If we are serious about addressing the needs of our sectors that are underserved, at risk, disadvantaged and marginalized, then we need to re-allocate more of our resources to changing the realities so that there aren't any communities that we can easily and readily define as underserved etc.  But we haven't done that.  Our moves have been incremental and small; too small.

Numerous studies confirm that the wealthiest and largest cultural organizations among us continue to reap the bounty of the long tradition and practice whereby the biggest white organizations get the lion's share of our funding and resource allocation - stunningly disproportionately so in many instances.   And that inequity has the unintended consequence of keeping the status quo of the structure which perpetuates the over served, the privileged, the mainstream and the advantaged.  And that seems true for public and private funding.

In Holly Sidford's 2011 landmark study, "Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy,"   the gulf between funding for the marginal, disadvantaged, underserved arts communities became all too apparent:

"Only 10 percent of grant dollars made to support the arts (such as visual arts, performing arts and museums) explicitly benefit the poor, ethnic and racial minorities, the elderly and other marginalized populations. Less than 4 percent of grants dollars support advancing social justice goals through the arts. 
Further, 55 percent of arts grants go to organizations with budgets greater than $5 million, which represent less than 2 percent of the more than 100,000 arts and culture nonprofits. Recent research demonstrates that the primary audience of these large institutions is predominantly white and upper-income."

For a funder with an annual grant budget of say ten million dollars, to award four or five million dollars to a single large budget, established Euro-centric cultural institution (whether it be a museum, an opera, a symphony or whatever) is really unconscionable and egregious today.  Not uncommon (and one need only look to those funder's governing Boards and the historical pattern of those people's interests and overlapping - and sometimes conflicting - loyalties) to understand why, but it ought to be unacceptable -- under any theory.  That is not to say the recipients of this favored support aren't valuable. They are and we need to support and protect them.  But no longer at the expense of those who were the victims of the inequity of the system.   As a matter of equity - it's time for a turnaround change.

How did we get to where we are?

What is equitable depends on the criteria used in any given set of circumstances.  In the earliest days of the nonprofit arts, the majority population, particularly the wealthy class, was anglo white and controlled most philanthropic efforts.  Early on the established criteria for funding was centered on artistic excellence, which was almost exclusively applied to white cultural art forms, where factors such as diversity, connection to community, and even box office success were irrelevant.  It was unnecessary to consider anything else but the excellence of the art being considered. And the only art being considered was Euro-centric. In this example, those making the art, their experience, reputations, and prior work may legitimately be considered, but only to the extent that the product itself qualifies as excellent.  What constitutes excellence is, of course, invariably subjective - even if the judgment is the conclusion of so called experts or peers (and who qualifies as a peer would be open to debate).   As long as every artist and organization had an equal opportunity to apply for the funds, and an equal chance to be favorably considered according to criteria that itself passed an equity test for fairness and impartiality, then the final conclusion - while it might be disputed on the standard of excellence (comparative or otherwise) - wouldn't necessarily be inequitable. Moreover, those making the philanthropic (and later government) decisions regarding the allocation of funding were the very white backers of the doctrine of excellence that considered only white art.  And if the only criteria, the only standards were Euro centric art, then it's not surprising that the structure of funding became a defacto one of bias and prejudice. Moving towards diversity, by itself, is not likely to change that structure.  At least not anytime soon.

The problem with excellence as the prime (and maybe exclusive) standard is its very subjectivity.  Excellence is a relative concept and must be considered not in a vacuum, but in the context (and community) of the art being considered - its legacy, audience, perceptions and practitioner techniques and skills.  If excellence was, for a time, the gold standard (and it certainly sounds like a reasonable approach), judging what qualified as excellent suffered from the prejudice of the bias of those making the decisions.  Not a prejudice against any art form or product, but a bias in favor of certain forms as created by certain artists.  Excellence needed to be judged by the standards of the ecosystem and community from which the art sprang - not always the dominant white community.  And it wasn't.

But even excellence of artistic creation was never the sole criteria for funding support.  The excellence or quality of the organization making, facilitating or enabling the art also became a factor as funder sought organizations that had the capacity to carry out their missions and which could be sustainable over time.    Funders logically and understandably wanted their limited resources to have the widest impact and farthest reach.  Not surprisingly early on the largest cultural institutions with the deepest pockets (virtually all of which tended to be Euro-centric and white) tended to come out on top under both criteria.  Though not admitted to, there was clearly a bias and prejudice at work here that justified the lion's share of funding going to these organizations.  And that reality continues today.

I'm not suggesting the arts are racist per se.  I think, compared to most fields, we acquit ourselves fairly well in terms of our genuine belief in inclusion.  But structural racism and inequity exists in the wider society, and that impacts our framework and our legacy.  And because structural inequity is often, if not invisible, then certainly harder to pinpoint and recognize, our structures are suspect too.  Whether racist, sexist, ageist or otherwise, there is substantial evidence that there has been, for a long time, an inequity in the nonprofit arts - from funding to seats at decision making tables.

Having more diversity - particularly, I think, people of color and younger people - is necessary and will help to address - over time - the structural aspects of inequity.  Meaningful, representative diversity gives us not only a better 'face' for our publics, but it increases the representation of the whole at the decision making tables.  But it is still only the face of what we do and who we are.  Even sea change improvements in the diversity of our boards, staffs (especially senior management), supporters, funders, donors, audiences and more, will not, by itself, necessarily address the structural aspects of inequity as they have existed and may continue to exist.  We've got to move away from "diversity" as the centerpiece of moving towards equity.

So what ought we to do?  Some would argue - and with moral persuasion at least partly on their side - that in order to make up for the past unfairness and injustice of the inequity in our field, the pendulum now ought to swing far to the other side, and we need to consciously allocate most of our efforts and funding and resources to those who for too long have gotten the short end of the stick.  But despite many segments of the arts being the beneficiaries of inequitable policies and practices, those art forms and those institutions are, for the most part, in my opinion, worthy of preservation, and so what we ought to do is move dramatically to the center of a balanced approach; not compound the sin by repeating it.  But moving to that center involves allocation of a huge amount of money now to those who have for so long gotten what might be argued as the 'scraps'.

There is a concept in law - he who seeks equity, must do equity - that basically holds that moving from one inequitable posture to another is unacceptable.  I think that concept applies to us.  We need to move dramatically from support for the over served, the privileged, the advantaged and the mainstream to a more equitable center approach so that those among us - multicultural organizations, smaller budgeted organizations, and others left out - can be as quickly as possible brought up to an even level - not in terms of dollar for dollar funding, not in terms of penalizing those who previously benefited at the expense of those on the other end, not an absolute equality - but as something more reasonable and reasoned -- and equitable -- fairer, just and more impartial.

Will we get there?  Yes.  The question is when.  And the answer lies not in how diverse we are.  The Trojan Horse that is diversity is a canard that masks the real challenge we face.  How we admit and accept the structural aspects of who we are that facilitated getting to the point we're at -- and then changing all that - is the only real solution.

Embracing GIA's Statement of Purpose - by private and public funders - and by individual arts organizations - and all of us really -  is a good start, but realization of its goals will not come easy and not come quick.  But it is a start.  Whether or not the goals are attained, GIA has taken a bold and historic step in moving all of us towards addressing the underlying problem of structural inequity rather than just the surface challenge of greater diversity.  If we don't embrace this manifesto, then very likely the overserved, the mainstream, the privileged and the advantaged among us will continue to disproportionately benefit, while the underserved, marginalized, at risk and disadvantaged sectors of our field will stay that way.  That's not fair.  It's not equitable.  And it's not good for anyone.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry













Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stakeholder Support Essential for Effective Advocacy

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

Lots of talk in the past two weeks on arts advocacy - and indirectly a conversation about using the 'instrumental' v the 'intrinsic' argument.  I am less concerned with this fundamental philosophical debate than with the practical tactics we employ to achieve whatever it is that is our ultimate goal (and I am assuming arguendo, that one of our principal overarching goals is to increase public funding).

We (the arts) lack massive and sophisticated lobbying machines, or the ability to fund that kind of political apparatus, and we also lack a highly motivated and mobilized public in support of what we want.  One of the things that interest groups in our situation can do is to leverage support of other groups of stakeholders who have an interest (direct or tangential) in our success, and who have more power and clout than we do, to help us to make our case in advocating for what we want.  Having powerful friends is a very good way to be treated the way you want.

Once upon a time, the arts had a link with the Chamber of Commerce and were quasi successful in getting the Chamber to carry our message to government decision makers. Unquestionably, the Chamber (national, state and local chapters) have access to, and clout with, those decision makers.  The arts are, like most Chamber members, small businesses. And many arts organizations are members of their local Chamber chapters. Moreover, arts organizations are interested in many of the issues most businesses are interested in: jobs, costs, regulations, and insurance among them.  Thus the relationship between the arts and the Chamber is a natural one; not contrived or artificial.

But something happened a decade or more ago that led to the arts and the Chamber moving away from each other.  I'm not sure how or why that happened, though it may have been a part of a larger political transition of the Chamber to align itself more closely with the governing faction of the Republican party -- which, at the time, began to cast the arts as an area that should not be receiving government support.  But move away from each other we did.

I took a look this past week at the national Chamber's 2015 Policy Priorities - a detailed list (31 pages) of the areas the Chamber thinks important to its membership and which it is on the record of supporting.  Generally, the Chamber is concerned with over-regulation of business (everything from energy and the environment to bidding for government contracts requirements);  government costs of programs (health care, social security, et. al) immigration reform; and other government things that are financed in large part by business (through taxes and fees including payroll taxes et. al) or which the Chamber feels may impact its business membership.   Their goals are to "advance jobs, growth and opportunity" that will "help revitalize the American economy, create jobs, spur growth and lift incomes."

Nowhere, of course, is there any mention of the arts - as a means to help achieve the stated goals and thus worthy in itself of support.  There is mention, in detail, of the goal of protecting American Intellectual Property - framed largely as part of the high tech and entertainment industries.  And there is a lengthy section on educational goals - with a mention of STEM but not STEAM.  The arts aren't otherwise mentioned directly or by inference (and to be fair, virtually no one industry or interest area is singled out specifically).  All of this would be ok, if the Chamber was visibly and vocally supportive of its' nonprofit arts membership - as that support would go a long way locally, statewide and federally in making our case to legislatures and legislators. But we don't have that.  Chamber lobbyists may or may not bend the ear of legislators for various interests within their membership when they lobby at the local, state and federal levels, but they don't do that for the arts - even though a lot of us might be their members.

I argued some time ago, that if half of all the arts organizations in the country would join their local Chamber of Commerce and assign somebody from the organization to be active in the chapter's committees, then in the aggregate (by virtue of our sheer numbers and our activity) the arts would be one of the major forces in the Chamber nationally.  And that would mean that when priorities are drafted we would have a much better chance to be included.  And more importantly, it would mean we would have the juice (voting power over Chamber leadership) to move the Chamber - as a stakeholder in our success because we too are small businesses - to lobby for us on our issues.  That's how politics works, and that's how to get us closer to our goals.  (And if you look closely as the above referenced Chamber 2015 Priority document under the Intellectual Property section (page 15), it isn't hard to see the efforts of Silicon Valley and the Entertainment Industry in lobbying the Chamber to include this section.)  The question is why don't we do this too?  And not just with the Chamber of Commerce but with a range of organizations - from those on our side - like the PTA,  to those coming to our side - like the AMA and various academic institutions.  Active stakeholder support may just be more important to our success than whether we use an intrinsic or an instrumental approach to making our case.

So, as we begin again our advocacy efforts this week, as we marshall our best stories to tell, and as we employ both instrumental and intrinsic arguments to keep the powers that be from cutting our funding (or, at best, only marginally increasing it in a symbolic way), I would hope the field would consider the specific political ways we might enlist stakeholder support to make some progress in this endless Sisyphusian nightmare of what we call advocacy.  I would hope we might be at least a tiny bit concerned with political gamesmanship, because getting what we want from government is a game with specific rules -- and we can't forever insist that we get the play the game by the rules we want to make up.

A more detailed post on the whole advocacy challenge (at least as the same relates to public funding) is coming in the near future.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Are You Meerkatting Yet? Maybe you should be!

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

Meerkatting.  (or soon to be Periscoping?)

One of the newest developments in social network communications is being called Meerkatting - named after a new (free) app that allows anyone with an iPhone (and inevitably it will be available on all smartphone platforms) to live stream video from their smartphone - and thus everyone is a potential roving reporter.  The app works by piggybacking on Twitter's network and porting people's social networks over from Twitter to the Meerkat service - the so called social graph.  Here's a brief description from an article on the latest phenom.

"The free application called Meerkat has become a virtual overnight sensation since its low-key arrival on Apple's online App Store late last month, winning over journalists, politicians, self-anointed pundits, social media celebrities and others.
Meerkat integrates with Twitter, allowing users of the messaging platform to launch live video streams with a single touch of an on-screen button.
In the rapid-fire Twitterverse, Meerkat has become a sudden hit with tens of thousands of users trying it.
Meerkat "marries the wide potential of livestreaming with the instant and social strengths of Twitter. Two great tastes that go so well together," wrote Hawaii-based consultant and blogger Ryan Ozawa."

The article goes on to note Twitter wants to own its own version of the app and so this week announced its purchase of a rival platform called periscope. And as of this writing, according to Buzz Feed, Twitter has shut down Meerkat's access to its platform, which means Meerkat users would have to build their own networks rather than have the ability to automatically push notices to their entire Twitter universe of followers (which may not be that hard for arts organizations).  So maybe the idea will ultimately be called Periscoping as Twitter rolls out its version.  Or maybe Meerkat will develop an easy way to aggregate followers for use with its app.  It hardly matters which app will become dominant; one will prevail if the idea resonates with users (and I'll bet it will).  The point is that there is now a new tool that seems to me to be readily adaptable and suited to the arts.

As we compete in the limitless world of communication, trying to distinguish our brands, our offerings, our wares, the ability to live stream dress rehearsals, museum curations, bits of performance pieces, fundraising events, informal pitches, day to day life in our organizations and more - all as part of our strategy to win over new audiences, media attention, donors and supporters - seems a natural fit; easy to do, cost effective (cheap), limitless creative applications and all built on an ever growing platform already part of our arsenal of tools (or one that would perhaps not be so hard to develop).

The original article went on:

"Danny Sullivan, founder of the blog Search Engine Land, "meerkatted" -- some are calling it "meercasting" -- a stroll around the South By Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, shortly after arriving there on Friday.
"It is kind of neat to give a taste of South-By to people who have never seen it and want a taste of it," Sullivan said, referring to the festival by its informal name. "It works surprisingly well; it is very impressive how easy it was to get going with the live stream." 
With Meerkat, a tweet is fired off containing a link that anyone can click to be connected to the stream while it is in progress. Tiny profile icons pop up to show who is tuning in to broadcasts.
Videos are available only at Meerkat while they are live, but the app gives users the option of saving what they have recorded on their devices."

Have a performance with tickets still available?  Meerkat (Periscope) a poignant one minute video, or better yet three quick rave testimonials from exiting audience goers and send it off.  Trying to complete that Kickstarter project, video a one minute synopsis of the project using your smart phone, and Meerkat (Periscope) it to your list. The possibilities are endless.  You only need a smartphone, the app and some inspiration.  Obviously, to distinguish your message, you will need to be creative in the content of what you Meerkat (Periscope), but we're suppose to be creative people.  And remember, the purpose of that kind of content marketing is not just to get people to respond, but to get them to pass your message on.  In fact, passing the message on may just be the most important goal as it increases the chances of the response level.

So, if you aren't Meerkatting yet - or Periscoping in the near future - perhaps you need to take a look at getting on the bandwagon now, and incorporate this tool into your communications / marketing strategies.  It seems a natural fit for us.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Interview with Vickie Benson - The McKnight Foundation


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

Vickie Benson is arts program director for The McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis. Before coming to McKnight, she was vice president of the Jerome Foundation, St. Paul, program director at Chamber Music America in New York City and senior program specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C. Vickie was a member of Grantmakers in the Arts’ board of directors from 2003-10, and for her last two years, she served as the board’s president. She is currently a member of the operations committee for ArtPlace, a grantmaking collaboration of fourteen national and regional foundations focused on creative placemaking. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in arts administration from St. Paul's Metropolitan State University, and a master's degree in nonprofit management from the Hamline University Graduate School of Management. She studied music at the University of Minnesota as an undergrad. An avid advocate for artists, Vickie has a background as a folk singer and guitar player.

Here is my interview with Vickie:

Barry:  One of the major challenges for foundations today is where to allocate scarce resources.  There is tremendous pressure, from different quarters, to keep key, older cultural institutions alive on one end of the spectrum, and to giving equal support to smaller and ethnically diverse arts organizations on the other.  How do you balance those competing priorities and what is your stance on how foundations ought to allocate their resources?

Vickie:  Foundations are in business to be in support of their missions. McKnight’s arts program follows a legacy set early on by the McKnight Foundation Board of Directors—the arts program supports working artists. We rely on arts organizations to provide the support structures that working artists need to be successful--institutions of all types, sizes, and ages that support working artists. That said, McKnight has long supported small and mid-sized organizations because they are very important to a system of support for artists. McKnight has also a strong history of supporting artist founded, artist led organizations. McKnight along with other arts funders are investigating ways in which grantmaking will be culturally equitable and socially equitable into the future.


Barry:  Another issue in the arts funding philanthropic community has been how long a funder ought to stay with a grantee.  What are the factors that play in this challenge and what are your thoughts on this issue?

Vickie:  McKnight funding has been crucial over long periods of time to many key organizations that have built Minnesota’s robust arts ecosystem. These organizations have been critical to McKnight’s mission. We are transparent about the challenges. When a foundation continues to support organizations that are doing great work, it IS challenging for newer organizations to receive funding. That is the program officer’s challenge, to continue to support great work while also making recommendations for new ideas, all while staying within a set budget. Every foundation needs to answer this challenge against its own mission.


Barry:  For a couple of decades in the last century, funding was directed primarily to “projects”.  The tide has now turned, and increasingly funding basic operational costs is seen as preferential in many cases.  Venture Capital firms in the tech industry invest in ideas, but place a premium on investing in proven leadership. Should we be considering funding proven leadership rather than specific organizations.  What are your thoughts on moving to investing more in people, rather than in programs, projects or institutions?  Is that even possible?

Vickie:  I believe that foundations already invest in people—McKnight makes grants to organizations, but those organizations are driven by their people. McKnight’s grantmaking in the arts funds a system of support for working artists. There are the McKnight Artist Fellowships that are managed by artist service organizations and community institutions. The innovations within those programs come from the artists’ ideas and needs. Many of McKnight’s grants are made to organizations whose leaders are artists and innovators, whose ideas are at times on the leading edge.


Barry:  Grantee applicants often tailor their programs (and even sometimes operations) to what they think a funder will fund.  That seems a negative to both grantee and funder.  How do you change that dynamic for both parties benefit?

Vickie:  Here’s a little bit different take on that. McKnight has crafted our program, partly connecting to its legacy of supporting working artists through our Aritist Fellowship program. In our guidelines, we state that we prioritize compensation to artists and other support structures (professional development, exhibition, space, time, connection to community and other artists, etc.). This is key to our program’s strategy and it is, in part, meant to influence others’ thinking and action about support structures, including compensation, for artists. For too long, artists’ work has been devalued. It is the foundation’s job to shepherd its resources in a way that has impact.


Barry:  Professional development and management training opportunities are arguably a critical component in arts administrators being competitive business people.  But those opportunities are often inconvenient or even impossible to access, expensive, and not tailored to the needs of arts administrators.  What ought to be the role of funders in supporting a better trained pool of arts managers?  Should all grant applicants be required to have a line item in their budgets for professional development?

Vickie:  Professional development is important for all professionals. Each foundation, however, would have to consider that for its own purpose.


Barry:  GIA is a much different organization than it was five years ago.  Where would you like to see it go in the next five years?

Vickie:  I am very proud of the work that Grantmakers in the Arts has done in terms of connecting a broad and diverse group of arts grantmakers to important issues of our time. Janet Brown has done an amazing job as its President and the board of directors are serious about making sure that their leadership is broad and diverse. I only hope that it continues to be responsive and leading in the issues of the day and continues to make room for the next realm of leaders.


Barry:  A major source of friction between organization executive directors and their Boards is (real or perceived) board micromanagement.  What is the role of a funder in addressing that problem?  What ought a funder demand in terms of Boards competency and behavior, if anything?

Vickie:  As a rule of due diligence, program officers ask questions about governance, staff board relationships. etc. There are varying stages of an organization when boards of directors are needed to roll up their sleeves and serve in day to day functions of the organization and then, of course, at other stages, boards have more of a policy role. All boards have fiduciary responsibilities.


Barry:  Which should be the greater priority, funding the creation of art, or access to it?  And if a healthy balance is your answer, where is that balance?

Vickie:  The decision should be based on the foundation’s or program’s mission. Accordingly, McKnight focuses on the structures that are helpful and crucial to working artists. We surveyed the field and saw that it would be impactful for McKnight to marshall its grantmaking resources in this direction given others’ attention to access and education. One is not more important than the other, we need it all, but foundation staff and boards need to make choices about how their resources can have impact in fields.


Barry:  How do you balance allocation of foundation funds between the needs of specific organizations and the needs of the sector as a whole?  For the most part, funding goes to organizations (as project, program or operational support). Should foundations have as part of their portfolios initiatives that strengthen the entirety of the ecosystem?  How is addressing that goal constrained by the territorial limitations of working for a family foundation?

Vickie:  The McKnight Foundation staff and board realize that although we work in Minnesota, our work has impact nationally and beyond and vice versa. We know that a portion of the grantmaking resources is well utilized for support of national associations and data, in particular. Case in point is the Cultural Data Project—we know that having credible data for our field can only be helpful to the working artists in that field.


Barry:  How do you know when its time to pull the plug on a grantee?  Are legacy grantees sometimes getting an undeserved free ride, and what is the cost and impact on the whole of the arts ecosystem?

Vickie:  Program staff are thoughtful about making exit or final grants because no matter what size the organization, those funds need to be replaced and it is generally complex, regardless of the size of organization. Each foundation has to thoughtfully assess whether or not to continue funding. The one generalization that I will make is that it is better for the field when assessed on a case by case basis and not decided in a sweeping exit. That said, missions and directions of foundations change. This has occurred as long as there has been philanthropic giving—it is a reality of the field.


Barry:  Which services do you think arts service provider organizations need to do a better job at providing and why?

Vickie:  I am fortunate to live in a land of 10,000 lakes and many incredible artist service organizations. Many times the leaders of these organizations are artists and are deeply connected to artists. They are nimble at seeing opportunities ahead for artists and figure out how to connect and network the opportunities. I think it would be an interesting question to pose to the artist service organizations about how grantmakers could do a better job because I think, in general, the service organizations are incredible.


Barry:  Because things are now in a constant state of change, and there is little that any organization can completely rely on for anything but the very short term, it seems futile to engage in any long term planning.  Yet an approach that focuses on being adaptable, innovative and flexible is hardly a plan by itself.  Where is the balance between the need to be flexible and adaptive and the need to have some kind of roadmap to follow?

Vickie:  I think that you just nailed it in the last sentence—the key is finding the balance between those aspects of planning. The days of spending inordinate amount of time on a five year plan that sits on the shelf are long over. Flexible and relevant organizations moved away from that kind of planning long ago. Strategic frameworks that stay true to mission while also underscoring adaptibility are the roadmaps that organizations seem to be creating and following.


Barry:  Assess the sector’s efforts at community engagement?

Vickie:  I think that the arts and artists in particular have long been leaders in community engagement. I believe other sectors look to the arts to get ideas and inspiration.


Barry:  What drives you crazy about the nonprofit arts sector?

Vickie:  I’ve been blessed to spend my entire career in this sector—I’ve made incredible friends, I have a great network of colleagues, I am intellectually challenged on a regular basis, I’ve always felt at home in this sector, I’ve been privileged—it hasn’t driven me crazy…just the opposite actually.

 We talk a lot about technology - particularly as it may relate to our marketing, fundraising and audience development efforts.  Yet we seem perennially two steps behind mainstream private sector business in making technology work for us.  How can funders help the sector better integrate technological innovations into their businesses?

By sharing success stories and ideas. I would have you turn to the great work that Sarah Lutman has done on behalf of the Wyncote Foundation, “Like, Link, Share: How Cultural Institutions are Embracing Digital Technology.” Also, I would have us all look to Media Impact Funders who are helping us understand the possibilities for artists and cultural organizations in understanding the creative opportunities that exist in technology.


Barry:  If there were an Arts Funder Hall of Fame, who would you like to see inducted?

Vickie:  Roberta Uno. No question. Her work at Ford has been inspirational and has made great change for the sector. As she leaves the philanthropic field, I know that she will continue to make an impact in the world. I have learned so much from Roberta and for that I am grateful.


Barry:  McKnight is a family foundation with a defined territorial area of operation.  What are you not able to fund, that you wish you could, and why?

Vickie:  I have made a point in my career to remember that the resources that I’m shepherding are not mine and that when I work for a grantmaking entity, my recommendations for funding are within the mission of the foundation—McKnight’s arts goal is that “Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive.” It’s a great goal and the program is able to fund really great work.

Of course, I’m also a private citizen, so I make contributions to organizations that I want to fund with my own dollars. I’ve found it important not to mix up the two hats that I wear.


Barry:  What is the biggest lie the arts sector continues to buy into?

Vickie:  The sector doesn’t have the time or energy to buy into lies.


Barry:  For years we have been talking about capacity building. Assuming that concept includes competency building, what are the core competencies our organization leaders need to master?

Vickie:  Understanding and action regarding the changing demographics and inequities in our sector and the critical importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in grantmaking, opportunities for artists, arts access, hiring, and board development.
Leaders—board, staff—need to grasp the importance of the balance sheet, how that is tied to mission and the important stories that are embedded in the numbers.

Thank you Vickie


Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry