Monday, May 25, 2015

Sixth Graders Have No Time for Silly Stuff

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

Welcome back from  the Memorial Day weekend.  Summer is a month away but the season starts now. While other times of the year are sometimes more stressful, stress and anxiety in work knows no holiday.  Things seem to get more complex and with that the pressures and stresses seem to grow too.  Some stress may arguably be good; but it can easily lead to anxiety and become the enemy of sound business practices, affecting decision making, productivity, your ability to recognize the key variables in challenges that need to be met and in fashioning smart responses to those challenges, as well as your capacity for leadership, and the morale and vision of the organization itself.

Stress.  Hard to avoid.  On a daily basis, in the struggle to shepherd our organizations, we face innumerable challenges and obstacles.  In the task of navigating  treacherous pathways to keeping things running smoothly, there are often simply not enough hours in the day to get done all that needs to be done. And this takes a toll on us all.  This is, after all, our lives we're dealing with.  And what we deal with is of crucial, critical importance.

Think back to when you were in the third grade.  Not too many memories from that long ago, but you may have some general impressions of life at that age.  Even then, there were daily issues and challenges that you faced that may have caused you anxiety and worry:  Someone may have accused you of having "cooties", or some other offhand remark may have set you to fearing what it might mean.    You fretted and worried about things  back then too.  The point is that there were issues for you that to you seemed earth shattering; issues of the greatest impact and importance; stressful issues.

Now think back to when you were in the sixth grade.  If someone had asked you then if all those third grade matters of great importance still seemed important, your answer would invariably have been: "No, of course not, the things that seemed so critical back then were silly.  I was a baby."  And why would that have been true?   Because you were then occupied with truly grave matters - the really important things only a Sixth Grader could appreciate.  Third grade stuff was nonsense.

And so it goes as you grow older.  All the issues, the problems, the challenges that seem so important, so critical go by the wayside and recede into the background because you are constantly faced with ever new problems to solve and issues to face.  The crises of your teens become not so earth shattering when you are well into your twenties; and the concerns of your twenties take a back seat once you move into your mid thirties.  The past always seems not so frightening as it did when you were in its midst.  Oh and when you get into your fifties or sixties, if you could only share with your children this secret that time has a way of dealing with things. and that most of what causes us anxiety and stress at any given point in time, turns out -- not too much later -- to not have been so threatening or important after all.  In hindsight, things are always more easily managed and successfully handled.  Hindsight makes it easier to see the answers and solutions and the right path. But everybody has to learn this lesson for themselves and its all but impossible to make people understand until they have experienced it for themselves.

And there is the lesson.  All the stuff that makes you crazy and messes with your mojo isn't as critical as you think it is at the time.  Easy to say, much more difficult to internalize as a lesson and a tool to use to face the present.  For the present always seems far more intimidating and difficult.  And important.  But if you can embrace the lesson that only hindsight will verify for you - that the issues you have to face aren't as heavy or large as you think they are -- life becomes much easier, and your ability to successfully deal with life in the moment becomes much, much better.  

I've told this story before, but it fits here:

One of my closest friends has gone to the opening day baseball game of the Giants for years.  It's a kind of tradition.

When his two boys were very young, on one of these opening day occasions, there was a problem with the day care for that particular day.  Unable to find a substitute, my friend decided he would take his youngest son (who was then only about four years old) to the game with him.  He knew Ezra wouldn't likely last the whole game, but he thought he would have fun for a few innings.

So he announced this plan to Ezra the night before at dinner.  Well, Ezra was NOT thrilled with the idea; rather he was adamantly opposed: "I don't wanna go.  I'm not going.  I don't wanna."  He made quite a fuss, much to the confusion of his parents.  But in this contest of wills, a four year old has limited leverage, so Ezra lost, and to the game the next day they went.

When they got home, Ezra's mom was in the kitchen fixing dinner. She asked Ezra how he liked the game, and he told her it was alright; and quickly added that he had ice cream, and a hot dog, and some peanuts too.  Then he looked up at her and said:  "You know what mom?  They're not so big"  And then he scampered out of the kitchen.

His mom was a little confused, but then it dawned on her.  The GIANTS.  Ezra didn't want to go  because he thought they really were giants.

He learned a valuable lesson that day.  What scares us may turn out to be nothing at all.  In fact, often times we suffer anxiety and fear based on false impressions.  The same is true in our business lives.

So when things seem very dire to you.  When anxiety and stress creep up on you (and that happens to us all from time to time), try to put it all in perspective and remember that very shortly in the future you will look back on it all and wonder what possibly made you think any of it was worrisome at all.  Even the big issues in life when you are in the Sixth Grade seem kind of puny and foolish once you are in high school. And so it goes………...

All those issues and challenges and earth shattering, draconian things that can go wrong?  They're not so big after all.

When you need it, take a deep breath.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 17, 2015

$179 million for a Picasso and Zero for the Arts

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

As widely reported last week, the Picasso painting Women of Algiers sold for $179 million (including the Christie's Auction house 12+% commission) to set a new record price.  The price ($160 million without the Christie's fee) was driven (so the speculation goes) by wealthy collectors seeing investment potential and by newer collectors looking for quality pieces - and doubtless by some tax advantages.  Price is apparently no object and a number of experts see no end in sight to the amounts that will be paid for major works as they become available.  This same painting last sold in 1997 for $31.9 million, so profits are there to be made.

$179 million.  Bigger than the NEA's annual budget.  

So once again, my thoughts turned to the logic (to me) of an added fee (let's not call it a tax) on sales of major art works (let's arbitrarily say those that sell for over $10 million) that would augment (not replace) the Endowment funding.   Why not add a 10% premium to any sale of art over $10 million?  I doubt sincerely that such a premium would deter the many private investors who are playing this rarefied game for profit and prestige.  And, in the aggregate, that extra money would help fund a range of art organizations and / or arts education projects; an additional $16 to $17.9 million on just this sale.  How much might that be over the course of a year for all sales over the threshold?  I have no idea.  $50 million?  $100 million?  

Ok, back to reality.  This won't likely happen because the powers that be who are making money off this game have greater political juice than we do, and would likely succeed in killing any such attempt before it got off the ground. In the political sense, it would be difficult for us to even get a bill introduced in Congress, let alone out of committee.  I think the idea has even been put forth before.  This is yet another example of the kind of thing our political impotency closes off as a possibility to even consider.  

And even if we could mount a successful effort, there would be other problems, not the least of which would be the argument by those who think any public funding for the arts is wrong or a waste of money that with the income from this fee, the arts (the Endowment) would no longer need public funding support.  This argument that the arts ought to subsist on private funding is one that surfaces every time there is any discussion about funding for the arts.  It is premised on the unfortunate conclusion that there is a dollar amount that is enough for the arts.  That number is currently near the NEA's annual $150 million (+/-) budget, and that conclusion isn't based on anything other than the fact that that's what the budget has been for awhile.  The whole budgetary process is bizarre - including nonsensical operating premises.  

When I was Director of the California Arts Council, I floated the idea of adding 25 cents to the price of a movie ticket (in California), the money to come to the Arts Council and support Arts Education (a bit of an easier sell than general arts organization funding).  Again, I didn't think an extra quarter would discourage movie goers.  And in the past decade the price of movie tickets (depending on what city you live in) has gone up by several dollars - surpassing the ten dollar threshold in some big cities.  I even proposed that a percentage of that extra 25 cent ticket charge (again let's not call it a tax), would go to the movie theaters themselves to cover their out of pocket costs to do the accounting on the money payable to the arts council so it wouldn't cost them anything (and indeed they would likely even make a small profit on the deal).  

I had (naively) hoped the major studios might be persuaded to go along with such an idea as a way for them to support the arts (something they seemingly favor - as long as they don't really have to do anything).  It wouldn't have cost them a dime.  

As you might surmise, this proposal (never made public - just floated privately) met with the strongest possible opposition by the studios and the theaters.  It was as though the proposal personally attacked motherhood, Girl Scouts, veterans and apple pie.  And, of course, the arts didn't have the political clout to even consider any attempt to take on the film industry. And even had the idea been successful, the Arts Council would likely have faced that argument that with this income source, the Arts Council (and the Arts) would no longer need any general fund support.  

There have been some successful local area attempts to add fees, or at least get a share, of certaintax revenue, to support the arts.  The two most successful of those efforts being: 1) the TOT (tax on transit) or hotel tax income, often shared locally as a way to support the arts, and 2) the percent for arts fees charged local developers to pay for public art in municipal areas.  

But pursuit of most added fee revenue ideas - as a way to support the arts - has largely been closed off because we simply haven't got the political power to fight those who oppose us. (That we actually have the potential for that kind of power is another issue.  Because with political power we could do this kind of thing.)

If the super rich want to use major artworks as part of their investment / tax strategy, as well as one of the mechanisms they use to trade in prestige and cachet, I think they can easily afford a ten percent premium that would be "extra" support for the arts and the hundreds of projects that could be supported.

Last year's federal budget was over $3 trillion.  The NEA got a little over $150 million.  That's one half of one hundredth of one percent of the total budget.  Surely America can afford a full one hundredth of one percent to support art and creativity for its citizens from whatever source.  

One painting, in 20 years, went from about $32 million to about $180 million.  A nice profit for all those involved.  If those people had to pay ten percent more, I wouldn't feel too sorry for them.  

Maybe someday…….

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Four Areas Arts Organizations Need to Master

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

Everywhere the search for lost audiences and a safe haven continues.  We have new research every week that adds new dimensions of things we need to consider as we try to figure out who is coming, who isn't, why and what we can do about it.  We have no shortage of information and data, no shortage of questions -- yet we don't have many answers.

The world has already changed, and it's hard to get a handle on it.  We know a lot, and we know almost nothing.

There are, I think, four areas that we have to figure out, and to some degree, master - if we are to survive and thrive.  There will be no one prescription, no one best practice, no 'model' to adopt - as everything will be localized, individual and different from any mold.  While there may be much to learn from each other - what we need to learn has to do with our collective experience - not with solutions from one place that we hope can work in another place.

Here are the four areas that we need to master:

1.  The digital world:  We absolutely have to master the way digitization defines and impacts our world, and how it might facilitate our future success - and that includes access to what we do, distribution of our art, solicitation of needed support, and recruitment of talent on every level.  It has to do with how we do business, how we compete, and everything else. In literally everything we do, we have got to be on the edge of how anything and everything that has to do with computers and technology may have any bearing on the health and viability of our organizations.  Mastery of the digital world isn't an adjunct to whatever business strategy we have embraced, it is the core of the strategy and how the strategy gets applied.  We've got to equip our people with all the skills (from coding to gaming and beyond) that might be necessary, to first understand, then become expert, at using technology to do what we do.  We have to rethink what we know about technology, and, even more importantly, how we think technology ought to be part of our lives as arts administrators.  We've got to get ahead of the curve.  We have talked about this already.  But we haven't moved on it nearly as much as we need to.  We are nowhere near the head of the class in this area, and it shows.  We're still using flip phones in a smart phone world.

2.  Monetization:  We have to figure out new ways to make money.  NEW ways.  Not just some improvement on returns we have relied on for a long time.  Government money, philanthropic support (individual, corporate and foundation), and earned income (from ticket sales and maybe merchandise) are not going to be enough as we move forward.  For while we need new ways to monetize each of these areas, and improve on what we are already doing, we also need to figure out new revenue sources that don't fall under these common headings.  (Perhaps they might be enough for a few arts organizations -- but over time that number will get smaller and smaller.)    We need to think about how we can invest for profit; we need to think about new benefits and value for people to give us money or invest in us; we need more than new audiences -- we need to figure out ways our audiences can pay more - not less - and be happy to do it.  We need to figure out if there is any way we can make a profit.  This may sound glib, but we have to figure out how to offer art in a way that is valued by a large enough segment of the public to pay what it costs to mount the effort.  Absent that, we won't last long. And we haven't done that yet - except in isolated cases.

3.  New Collaborations, Partnerships, Associations:  The days of each arts organization being able to stand  on its own two feet, independent and isolated from every other arts organization, are likely to soon be over.  Increasingly, to survive,  arts organizations are going to have to find ways to work together to leverage whatever strengths that may give them to open new doors and vistas to new possibilities.  What am I talking about?  I don't know for sure.  But it will likely involve completely rethinking what an arts organization is and how it functions.  We likely won't know what might be possible until we fundamentally change how we see ourselves in the context of independence, and until some of those new doors open up. I'm not talking about economies of scale, and saving money by mergers etc.  I'm talking about what might be possible if we are open to the idea that to survive we have to be open to the idea of being part of something bigger than the way we have scaled ourselves up to this point.  That doesn't mean we have to lose our identify or forsake our mission.  It may mean finding a new identity so that we can fulfill the mission.  This may require us to rethink much of how we have done business for the past half century.  Maybe the Met can go it alone, maybe some others can too.  Most won't be able to do that into the future.  We need to redefine ourselves as a field.

4.  Re-Programming:  We are going to have to move away from the blind and absolute loyalty to protecting and preserving the heritage of our individual art forms to the exclusion of any other purpose, and embrace those arts forms as they might now be transitioned into the new millennium.  That doesn't mean we abandon the great art that our organizations represent, but rather that we complement that art with the great art yet to be created within the form.  Art has to be more than a snapshot of how great it was at a point in time.  If that isn't true, then we aren't arts administrators at all - we are preservationists charged with protecting the zenith of a now dead form.  And we have got to embrace the new art forms that are emerging as the artists of the world themselves change.  Keep the old, but make room for the new - with a solid emphasis on the latter.

Is this simplistic.? Yes, unfortunately it is.   Getting to mastery in these areas (and others) will likely be a step by step process until we get to some milestone tipping points. While there are places, pockets as it were, where we are doing spectacular things - overall, we struggle.  We've got to re-imagine our very being on a fundamental level, or we may go the way of newspapers, records, and other platforms now virtually obsolete and gone.  I think the above four areas demand some new approaches and ideas, and at least people thinking out loud about change.  As a start.  Will that happen?  It already is in a few places.  It will grow.  It has to.  Slowly I suspect, as change is often a difficult thing.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Time for the Arts to Make A Move in the Presidential Election is Now. I hope our people are working on this.

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

So now it begins.  Republicans are falling over themselves lining up to declare their candidacy for President.  On the Democratic side, Hillary and now Bernie Sanders are in.  We will quickly be inundated with the 2016 campaign.  Whereas at one time the media might have been counted on to zero in on the issues, in all likelihood the media will zero in on scandal where they can find it, and manufacture it when it suits them.  The media long ago came to the conclusion that issues and substance are an audience 'turn-off'. Elections are decided on personality, on perceptions and impressions, on a 'feeling'.  Towards the end of the year the primary season will be in full swing, and we will see a ceaseless parade of meaningless television attack ads, and the best we can expect is a very generalized list of important issues, along with some simplistic and virtually meaningless platitudes about those issues.  Everybody will talk about what we need, almost no one will talk about how we get what we need.

Fundraising will again break records and plaintive cries will rise that money is destroying our democratic system.  Nothing will be done to change it.  Every interest group in the country will try to position themselves so that whomever is the nominee of each party, and ultimately the victor in the general election, will appreciate their needs and positions - and so they will have access to the winner. Much of the positioning will be about campaign contributions.  The few really big money players will be offset by the countless little guys.

So as we begin, I'm hoping there is some kind of discussion of a plan of action going on behind the scenes in our field; some kind of strategy to form an Arts Support Group that will reach out to Presidential candidates to try to get the Arts, and support for the Arts, on the candidate's agendas.  I am hoping some people, somewhere in our world, are reaching out to assemble a core group of our leadership, and devising ways to approach the front runners asking them to embrace the value of the arts and the need for public support; a plan on our behalf to position the arts as players (minor, but players nonetheless) in this election.  That will include ideas as to how we can be seen as valuable to the candidates we support. And that means ideas as to how we can raise campaign funds for them.  I know people in the arts don't like this, but that's how it works.

There are two political realities at stake at this stage of the campaign:  1) Being an early supporter of candidates counts -- a lot.  2) Money contributions are absolutely essential if you want your agenda to be prioritized and if you expect access to the candidate - now or after the election.

The Arts have several problems in trying to play the presidential campaign game to its own advantage.

  • First, our field is overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal.  Though it is clearly the smart political move to hedge your bets and support candidates from both parties, that is probably beyond the ability of our sector.  A wing of the GOP has made the Arts a whipping boy, and written it off as unlikely to be of any advantage, or even relevant to the vote. The Democrats see the Arts community as clearly having no real choice but to support it - and so little reason to pay it anything but lip service support (if they see the Arts community at all)
  • Second, the Arts are, if history is any indication, simply incapable of even being willing to offer any collective financial support to candidates [and for the sake of argument I'm not talking about 'organizations' making any moves towards partisan political favoritism, merely individuals within our sphere.  (And please, spare me the bogus and utterly false belief that we cannot support individual candidates for office - as individuals or organizations].   While it is within our power to bundle contributions and use our numbers to leverage support from candidates, we can't or won't do that.  
  • Third, politicians (especially presidential aspirants) are trained and experienced spin doctors whose default position is to avoid answering questions directly or making real public commitments. And if there is no reason for them to take any sides (and the only valid reasons are that a given 'side' is essential to appeal to their base, represents a substantial voting or financial bloc, or there is widespread consensus), then they won't.  We fall into that category.  There is simply no reason to champion our side.  
  • Fourth, the competition for scarce resources is growing, and it is harder and harder for any interest group to successfully make their case.

So the wise move is to work on these challenges, and I hope our people are doing just that.  And whether or not you have given up on politics, whether or not you think anything will change, whether or not you have any faith in any candidate, the question of what is best for the nonprofit arts field remains important, and I would argue that we ought to do whatever we can to increase government support for our organizations and for artists.

But isn't it really too early to declare support for anyone?    Let's take Hillary Clinton as an example.  She is the presumptive nominee.  Might something happen that would deny her the nomination?  Anything is possible.  Having been around a long time, she has baggage.  Whether or not that baggage might potentially torpedo her candidacy, no one knows for sure at this point.  But the odds suggest she will be the Democratic Party's standard bearer.  Those who get on board her wagon now have a better spot than those who don't.  And frankly the bandwagon has a limited number of good seats.  The price of admission is what you bring to the effort.  It's likely the vast majority of Democrats will have no problem in supporting her.  And the more she looks to be a winner, the more various segments of the party and special interest groups that will want to curry favor with her administration, will raise funds for her and seek to align themselves with her machine.  The same is true with any front runner.

I also have no doubt that Hillary is supportive of the arts - in a general way, and up to a point.  Does she fully get it - like we do?  No, and that might be too much to ask anyway.  When she was the First Lady - [and as Bill Ivey (then Chair of the Endowment) has frequently said:  "The NEA is the province of the East Wing - and the First Lady"], she was supportive, but not significantly.  The same has been true of the Obama Administration, and the same might also be argued to have been true under Bush as well.

White House support, no matter how tepid, is important and critical to the continued existence of the Endowment, and to the arts at all levels.  But what we really need is something more:  A recognition that continuation of the status quo of funding for the Endowment and of support for the value of the arts isn't enough.  We need vision in the White House that understands how undervalued and underutilized as policy the arts are - including arts education.  We need an administration that will fight to expand - significantly - arts funding and the presence of the arts at the decision making tables.  We've never really had that.  And we're not going to get it unless we change our approach dramatically.

How do we get that from say Hillary?  I'm not sure we can, but to even be in the running for that kind of consideration, we need to have a strategy right now about how to support her, and how to gain access to her campaign so we can position ourselves in the event of her victory.  Now if there are substantial numbers among us who prefer Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren or any other candidate (and the same is true on the GOP side) then we ought to have strategies to become involved in those campaigns too.  And the time for that kind of approach is now, not next year, not after the conventions when we will be johnny-come-latelys and indistinguishable among countless others then jockeying for position.

So I hope there are conversations going on right now among the leaders in the city, state and federal arts advocacy halls, among the major service provide organizations, and even among the funders and foundations -- conversations about how we organize support for whichever candidates we prefer (or more importantly whichever candidates we think can win - and I hope that there is talk about which GOP candidates might merit our consideration too).  I hope those conversations include how we can best put together "committees'" for candidates, and how we can approach the campaigns and get involved with them now - and that must include some discussion on how we can marshall support and how we might bundle contributions to candidates we choose to back.  I hope we are already looking for connections and intersections and bridges to the various campaigns, making phone calls, reaching out and initiating contact and building bridges.  We need to engage the candidates in a dialogue with us, and to entice them into doing that we need to bring something to the table beyond how wonderful we are and how we are good for the economy, and education and the salvation of humanity.

I hope we can mount a much more sophisticated arts effort than we did during the 2008 Obama Campaign - which effort was, at that point, somewhat of a milestone - as threadbare as it was.  I hope we can finally appreciate that this is politics in the real world; that the most important story any interest group can tell (and frankly the one that counts the most) is that they have a large committed base that cares about  their issue and votes for those who support them; that the most important numbers and data have to do not with how many jobs we create or how much we contribute to the economy, but with how many votes might be at stake for candidates considering whether or not to align with us, and how much money we might raise for those candidates.

I hope this kind of thinking is already going on behind closed doors, and that we are well along in putting a plan to action so we can benefit from whomever wins the presidency in 2016. There is a lot at stake.  I hope smart people are strategizing, and that we already have pathways into the campaigns.  I really hope that come 2016 we will have done something, and aren't still talking to ourselves; not still sitting on our hands.  Inaction on our part would be absolutely criminal, and herald, I think, our demise for another decade - and maybe longer.

And whomever is leading this charge, you need to share the plan with all of us, and soon.  There is a lot of work to do.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

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

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.

"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.

"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.” 

"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

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