Sunday, November 23, 2014

You Can't Always Get What You Want

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

I always enjoy reading Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 blog.  While her focus is on museums, I more often than not find her thinking and ideas are applicable to wide areas of our field, and I invariably come away from her posts with new thoughts of my own about the issues for arts managers across our sector.

A couple of weeks ago in a post she noted that she is "part of a cohort of ten arts organizations in California funded by the Irvine Foundation to strengthen our work to engage low-income and ethnically-diverse people. We meet in person twice a year. These are all really smart, dedicated people, and I feel lucky to learn from and with them."  And she recapped three presentations that resonated with her.

One of those she described this way:
"Michael Garces (Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theater) shared about a killer workshop that made him completely rethink how collaboration is supposed to work. We usually think about collaboration as a process of compromise and negotiation. But Michael suggested that collaboration really means "You get 100% of what you want. I get 100% of what I want. And we work really hard to make it work."

For a long time, I thought that many of us, in relatively privileged positions, could, in fact, almost always get "what we want".  To be sure, one would have to pay the price for getting what we want - and that price was invariably the sacrifice of many other things as the pursuit demanded that we embrace a single-minded hyper focus on getting what we want to the exclusion of much else.  I still think that is largely true.  The problem is that often the sacrifice is too costly.

But like the Rolling Stones early song lyric:  "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need", I have come to the conclusion that a better approach is to focus not so much on what you want, but on what you actually need (to survive, to thrive, to grow, to make it all work).  What you want and what you need are not necessarily always the same thing.  What you need may be far more crucial to your goals and objectives than what you want, and trying to always get what you want may thwart getting what you need.

One has to ask the question of the relevancy and direct connection between what you want and what you need and which is the crucial variable in success.  It may also be much easier to get what you need than what you want, particularly if you develop the skill of recognizing what others may need, and approaching any negotiation - be it for collaboration or otherwise - (and all relationships are a negotiation of one form or another) with the goal of making sure all the parties get (not what they want) but what they need to make it work for them.  The process of thinking through what it is that you really need to make something work is, in itself, invaluable in helping you define what it is you need, and getting it. And knowing what the other party needs and helping them to get it can make the relationship more meaningful and successful.  In some sense, getting what you need ought to be what you want.

It would be a perfect world if all sides in any relationship could always get what they want, but I think those situations are rare. I'm not criticizing any approach that might actually yield that result, and perhaps some collaborations or other situations lend themselves to that kind of an outcome, but many more do not.  And in those other situations (which I think are probably in the majority), I think a focus on what you need and what the other party or parties need stands the better chance of making the collaboration or situation work.  If that dovetails with what each party wants, great, but it may be an unreasonable expectation going in.

Have a great week.  And Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Don't Quit
Barry


Sunday, November 16, 2014

What I Have Learned - 2014 Edition

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

Every year I invite some of the leaders in our field - those with some life and career experience - to share some of What They Have Learned that they think might be of value to the rest of us. And every year I am struck by how wise and caring are those in our field.  This exercise is yet another one of those things that make me so very proud and honored to be involved in the nonprofit arts.

Here are the entries from this year's invited group:

Moy Eng - Executive Director, Community Arts Stabilization Trust
I’ve learned how important it is to listen and to be listened to. I’ve learned that you can endure almost anything when you are hopeful and are loved. I’ve learned that it takes working smart, steadily, and very hard to follow your dream. I’ve learned (as Maya Angelou noted) that making a living is not the same as making a life. I’ve learned how important it is to take care of one’s self, more than a once-a-year vacation.  I’ve learned that enduring love at its core is kindness. I’ve learned the importance of touching beauty each day.  I’ve learned to thank those who have helped me along the way by staying in touch and returning that gratitude by helping others. I’ve learned the older I get, the more I realize how little I know and how much I have to learn. I’ve learned that when your heart and mind are in concert on a matter, you can leap into it with an open heart.


Ted Russell - Senior Program Officer for the Arts - James Irvine Foundation
As things move more quickly and my work becomes more complex and challenging, I see how important it is to value openness and honest expression. Working feverishly to launch a new initiative with grantees, evaluators, grants administrators, my fellow program officers, a program director and numerous consultants chaotically collaborating to create new moving parts to be assembled while the proverbial plane is flying, we all find it easy to criticize when the object of concern is not present. I decided at the beginning of the year to invite people to speak these criticisms, out loud, and directly to each other. It was too exhausting being the gentle translator in the middle.

So after the holidays, when the first waves of complaint began to arrive upon my doorstep, I saw in the returning flood of discord an opportunity to preserve for myself a bit of harmony.

I declared the New Age of Candor.

To improve the imperfections with polish of truth. To reward rigorous critique and invalidate callous carping. To resolve the tensions, the endless multitude of inevitable tensions, with candor.

We've all heard that the truth will set you free. I didn't know that meant during my day job in philanthropy.

Seriously, this is simple and practicable. This is how it works for me. Someone is criticizing about someone else's theory, policy, word choice, big mistake, whatever...and as the project lead I'm supposed to fix it. So here's the fix: candor. The operative question is, "would you mind talking to them and saying that?" When asking the criticizer that question starts to make me nervous, I know there's something at stake. And I do it anyway. Because for me, the work is too important, too challenging, too constantly uphill, too hard to sustain, to not ask for some truth sharing.

Last year, I was trying too hard to figure out how to explain difficult to understand things to other people and to decide which competing truths were truer. Now I know there's too much to be done for me to tie myself up in that role. Plus, I don't think it is good for one's health. Did I mention that it's exhausting? People tend to be more honest intellectually, and a little more kind, when sharing their critiques directly. The critiqued can't simply snipe in return when the mediator moves out of the way and the critic steps into the open and plainly shares their concerns. I'm convinced that all gain respect for each other...because usually, with the smart and thoughtful people undertaking this work, an honest response results. And the work improves.

The New Age of Candor. Consider this an invitation, your free trial offer. Enter it gently, with someone you trust. Ask your friend, the complainer, to go direct. You just might never go back to the old age.


Doug Borwick - CEO, ArtsEngaged; Author “Engaging Matters” (ArtsJournal), Building Communities, Not Audiences: The Future of the Arts in the United States
I am in grave danger of getting way too carried away with this topic. That said, here is some of what I have learned:

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Most people are reasonably good at more than one skill. Letting “should” force you into joyless tasks is soul killing, and, in the long run, counter-productive.

Work on those things the world most needs done and you most need to do.
The choice of activity in which to invest oneself is best found in those things that maximize benefit to the world and to your satisfaction.

“Crises” may resolve themselves if benign neglect is applied.
I am predisposed to “do.” It took holding positions in which too much was coming too quickly for me to learn that some “emergencies” are inappropriately labeled. Patient non-response is sometimes the solution.

Privilege is systemic and an existential threat to the nonprofit arts industry.
As recently pointed out in this blog, the time for viewing diversity and justice as “challenges” is past. They must become obsessions for practical (e.g., demographic) and moral reasons.

There is no “them.”
Every habit of thought and action that leads to a separation of “us” from “them” is an impediment to viability in the arts sector. We are integral parts of our communities.

Excellence is heterogeneous.
Technique is important in the arts. So are relevance, inclusiveness, and impact–to name only a few additional criteria. Excellence is best sought in everything that matters but can seldom be achieved in all categories in equal measure.

Relevance is vital and defined by beneficiaries.
Relevance is critical to the long-term viability of the nonprofit arts industry. It determines the level of public support; and it is the public, not ourselves, that is the arbiter of relevance.


Olga Garay English - Consultant
Before I entered the arts field, back in the mid-80s, I had been director of the Center for Rural Education at Florida International University. The Center was piloting a program, based on Brazilian educator and philosopher Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, to teach adult farmworkers literacy and English language skills.

Though deemed successful by independent evaluators, as soon as Ronald Regan came into power, the grants that sustained the Center were summarily pulled. And having only recently received my Masters in Community Psychology, I needed a job.

That was when I saw an ad in the Miami Herald (remember when jobs were posted in the newspaper?) for a new program launched by the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council and funded by a collaboration from the NEA’s Expansion Arts and Local Arts Agency programs to incentivize local arts agencies to create expansion arts programs (for the uninitiated that was the term used for what was then called minority arts).

I applied (as did another 100 or so folks) and Kenneth R. Kahn, Executive Director of the Council and soon my mentor, took a chance on this Cubanita and offered me the job. As they say, the rest is history.

So what have I learned? The mid-80s were a heady time for people of color. The NEA had taken a leadership role in bringing people of color on to their many peer review panels and discussing inclusivity and parity during heated discussions as a means of supporting culturally specific organizations, which had not been faring well in the awarding of NEA (and other) grants. Soon after I got the Council job, I was serving on said panels as well as participating in other national and later international forums.

What I learned is that in order to be counted, you have to be present. You have to participate in the national/international dialogue. You have to raise your voice for what you believe in, even if you are leaving behind your comfort zone, and to do so in an articulate but insistent way. And you have to believe and to care about the field and artists first and foremost – even before you consider your own institution and your own career. And it is especially important, when you are given the weighty responsibility to shepherd the resources of a foundation or a government entity supporting the arts that it is not YOUR money that you are shepherding. I have always considered myself, in the end, a civil servant – emphasis on both the civil and the servant parts. This keeps one both humble and honest, critical components of leadership in my book.

This stance is often laced with risk – personal and professional, as the defenders of the status quo do not take kindly to being challenged. However, it is the only way I can be, and all I wish is that in the end this way of being has led to the creation of programs and opportunities that matter to artists and the arts organizations that I continue to serve.


Ken Foster - Director Arts Leadership Program, Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California
Shibboleth [shib·bo·leth (noun)] a common saying or belief...one that is widely used or a belief that is widely held, especially one that interferes with somebody's ability to speak or think about things without preconception.

In more than thirty years of working in the nonprofit arts, directing the activities of five different organizations, large and small, urban and rural, from east to west coast and in between, I have been witness to the many trends in the arts that overtake us from time to time. I have watched -­‐ and fully participated I have to admit -­‐ as an idea emerges, gains widespread acceptance and becomes seemingly ubiquitous. At that point, it almost always also becomes a shibboleth: a clichéd truth repeated by many with great authority as if it were received wisdom that interferes with pour ability to think critically about what is really going on.

If I’ve learned anything over the last thirty years, it’s to not trust these shibboleths of the arts field. Indeed the more I hear an arts shibboleth repeated, the more likely I am to question it as well as the person repeating it. I do this not to be contrary, but to do what I can to insure that as leaders in the arts world, we operate from a place of thought, inquiry and examination. Just like artists do.

There are several shibboleths out in the field just now. So let me take this opportunity to question and challenge a few of them in the hopes that you will begin to do the same.

The nonprofit model is dying/dead – I don’t think so, though many are calling for its demise as if that would somehow solve some problem. I actually think the nonprofit model has been misused and misunderstood for so long that it seems like it should die. Not me.

Being a nonprofit is actually pretty simple – have an educational/cultural mission, create a Board of as few as three people, incorporate, file a 990. Oh, and return any excess revenue over expense back into the organization, not into shareholders’ pockets. That’s pretty much it. The rest is up to you to make work in ways that are right for you, your organization and your mission. Why would we abandon this model for the supposed virtues of the for-­‐profit model and its narrow focus on creating profit and gaining market share, values that hold true even for the much-­‐ vaunted “double bottom line” organizations?

Being a non profit does not mean committing yourself to a life of helplessness -­‐ begging rich people and cold hearted foundations for money as you work long hours for little pay and even less result. It means caring deeply about a cause and using your passion and creativity, as an artist would, to achieve that vision using whatever tools are available to you, which by the way are many and varied. Even when you are a nonprofit. I think we should stop decrying the form and figure out how we can make it work better for us.

Arts organizations should behave more like a business – After thirty plus years of believing and assiduously following this shibboleth, arts organizations generally find themselves in worse financial positions today than ever. The sad reality is that many arts organizations have actually achieved this goal and, as we saw when the Great Recession hit, realized that in so doing, we had successfully made our organizations – and our art -­‐ as disposable a commodity as toothpaste and toilet paper. When the chips were down in 2009, few people felt the need to insure that the arts thrived above all else. While we believe in our hearts that a civilized society requires the arts, we behave in our organizations as if they are a “product” to be bought and sold, consumed and disposed of when they were no longer useful.

It’s going to take a lot of work to turn this around, that’s for sure. Re-­‐creating our relationship with our communities is probably the most important step here; embedding ourselves in the life of the community so that citizens recognize that the arts are as vital to a healthy life and a healthy community as police, fire, libraries, healthcare, utilities etc. And I don’t mean “dumbing down” the art to do this -­‐ which is the most often cited excuse (and is itself another shibboleth) for not engaging with community. I mean entering into a respectful dialogue with all parts of our community and working with them (not just talking at them) to discover how the arts can transform their lives, just as it has ours.

This is key to addressing a related shibboleth that I find particularly egregious which is that “there is too much art out there” and that the problem is oversupply and lack of demand. Even if you accept this, which I don’t, the solutions are always couched in terms of reducing the supply – “letting organizations fail” – a topic recently explored in the blogosphere. Let organizations fail? As if there aren’t enough failing on their own already? Maybe it’s time to think about how organizations can revitalize themselves and their mission in ways that make them indispensable to the larger community and not just the group of friends and “people like us” that they may have relied on for too long.

As long as we continue to believe that “art is a business” we will be stuck in the losing “art as product” paradigm. But once we truly believe that art matters to humanity and is vital to creating a healthy community, we can begin to find ways to insure that art and artists can thrive, even in what feels like a largely hostile environment.

For success, find and adopt “best practices” – There are in fact no such thing as “best practices” in a field of creativity and change. There are certainly successful organizations who have used specific strategies to achieve that success. And of course, we can learn (and steal) ideas, techniques, strategies, systems and yes, even “practices” from other successful organizations. But only if these are actually the right answer for you and your organization and not because someone (who are these people anyway?) deemed it a “best practice.”

This shibboleth also contributes to the all too common mindset that somewhere out there someone has it figured out and if we did what they did we would be successful too. Interestingly, we criticize artists for being derivative, but as organizations we are nothing but derivative -­‐ suspicious of originality and new, untested ideas. After all, these are not “best practices.” This is a way of thinking that needs to change. Arts organizations should be as risky, innovative and exciting as (guess what) artists are.

People in the nonprofit arts need to strive for work-­‐life balance. Um, no, not really. This idea feeds into the neoliberal construction that has encompassed our world that equates the economy with life. Think about it. Work-­‐life balance means equating work with, well everything else. Life. Seriously?

Working in the arts does tend to be a calling, not a job, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Nonprofits are mission driven so the people running them should be mission driven as well. If you are here simply because it’s a “good job” you are in the wrong field. That said, we do tend to take on the “martyr to the cause” role which is not healthy either and leads to the burnout that has generated this very popular work-­‐ life balance shibboleth.

I prefer to think of work/life integration – that my personal life and needs are integral to my sense of my self, as is my work, and I need to find ways to integrate the multiple aspects of my life, including work, into a life that is well lived. The only person asking you to sacrifice everything to the nonprofit cause is yourself. Get over it. Create a meaningful life that includes all the things that matter to you. Otherwise why bother?

These are just a few of the shibboleths that are out there and I’m happy to say that they also form some of the cornerstone ideas of the curriculum and content of the Graduate Arts Leadership Program that it has been my privilege to originate and operate at USC in Los Angeles. It is unlike any other similarly named program in the country. We strive mightily to encourage participants in the program to question everything – especially those shibboleths that get in your way and tell you can (or can’t) do something that matters to you and to our world.

As is probably evident by now, I find inspiration in artists: creative individuals and collectives who follow their passion wherever it takes them, who thrive on innovation and originality and abjure work that is derivative and who create a complicated but rewarding life for themselves. As arts leaders, arts administrators, cultural practitioners, whatever we call ourselves, shouldn’t we do the same?


Linda Essig - Professor, Pave Program, Arts Entrepreneurship, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University
Thank you for the opportunity to participate.  You’ve posed a HUGE question, but I opted for thinking fast (intuitively) rather than thinking slow (rationally) and jotted down five “first thoughts” while on a plane.  [Bonus entry: a lot of good thinking can happen on long plane rides.]

Learning is (or should be) a lifelong endeavor; it is necessary to always be learning in order to lead, facilitate, and manage change and complexity.

We live and work in a climate that is rapidly changing both literally and figuratively.  Working in the arts and culture sector requires a commitment to always be learning. This does not mean always following the latest fads or trends, but rather always be open and willing to learn deeply about the issues that will affect the work, the people who make it, and the people who participate in it in myriad ways.  We live and work in a complex market-driven economy; whether you want to exploit that system or subvert it and beat it into submission, learn as much as you can about it.
 
Prioritize and honor relationships with individual human people ahead of honoring relationships with the work itself or the organization.

This is not a clichéd statement about “work/life balance,” but rather about the fact that people want to collaborate with people, donors want to give to people, and it is people who are in our audiences. Organizational structures matter, yes, but people matter most.  Build one-on-one relationships; pick up the phone even when an email will do; better yet, grab a cup of coffee or a meal together.

“NO” is an exercise of power, but “YES” is an exercise of empowerment.
Find a way to say “yes;” empowering others will empower you and support creativity.

The audience/community is the artist’s most important collaborator.
Nobody likes playing to an empty house and paintings piling up in the proverbial dusty garret help nobody, most especially not the artist. Artists can make work that is both for themselves and for their audience/community.  This is true in the classroom too: my students are my most important collaborators in their learning (and in mine).

To get to the point of collaboration, the community needs to invite you in.
Collaboration is a bi-directional or multi-directional relationship. An artist can’t “go into a community” or “have access to a community” unless they are invited in or generously given that access.


Kary Schulman - Director, Grants for the Arts, San Francisco, CA
What I’ve Learned: A random list of 15 aphorisms, most having no specific reference to the arts, developed over 40 years of working in arts administration and funding, and one piece of advice from an obscure U.S. President.

1. Leadership is to an arts organization what location is to real estate. If you have it not much else matters; if you don’t have it, not much else matters.

2. Whoever cares the most, wins. A small number of tenacious and highly motivated people can overcome/thwart the wishes of large numbers of adversaries with less-strongly held convictions
.
3. In times of plenty, plan for scarcity. In times of scarcity, plan for plenty.

4. Freely give credit and gratitude; be more parsimonious with blame.

5. If possible, try not to find reasons why things can’t happen. If possible, always try to find ways to make things happen.

6. When in an adversarial situation, try to find the smartest and most eloquent adversary. Your ideas are stronger after testing against the best opponents.

7. Never make excuses. Own your mistakes.

8. In a job candidate: The right attitude, energy and chemistry are generally more important than specific skills. A talented generalist can learn to do almost anything.

9. When someone says, “It’s not about the money.” It’s usually about the money.

10. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.

11. Partner relationships are important; important relationships are often with unlikely partners.

12. When asked about “cultural competency”, it occurred to me that “cultural humility” might be more appropriate.

13. The only law that’s always followed, never broken, is the Law of Unintended Consequences. (I’ve learned this from over 30 years of working in government).

14. Long ago I was given very good advice by a supervisor. He said, “Don’t do anything stupid just because you’re following your own rules.

15. All change is not “reform”.

And finally some advice attributed to Calvin Coolidge (possibly apocryphal): If you see six or seven big and overwhelming problems rolling down the hill toward you, rather than tackling all sometimes it’s better to stand still and take a breath. Often some of them will roll on their own into the ditch and then you can deal with the ones that are still coming.


Diane Ragsdale - Blogger Jumper
What have I learned in the past 20 years that seems worth sharing?

For 15 of the past 20 years my life centered on work and, as a result, when I encountered periods when I was without work I lost all sense of contributing anything of value to the world. And I was lonely. Work in various art worlds brings social and cultural capital and, when both are rising, one’s life can feel incredibly rich and rewarding. However, it’s important to have a sense of self separate from work and relationships in this world, as both can disappear in an instant.

When you finally get a seat at the table resist the temptation to start speaking immediately and loudly. Listen for a period of time. When you have the opportunity to share your thoughts, speak clearly, courageously, and with all due respect. On the flip side, after you’ve been at the table for years, and the field has heard your two cents on all the issues of the day and then some, don’t make others wrestle the talking stick out of your hand. Pass it along willingly and use your influence in the field to advance others.

Know which art forms, artists, genres, or styles you really love and which you do not. In other words, have a point of view about art. What’s your aesthetic? Can you write an essay on it? Can you name five composers, playwrights, directors, choreographers, or visual artists who interest you greatly? Do you know why they interest you? No matter your job in the arts and culture sector, make it a goal to cultivate and develop your aesthetic sensibility over time.

Make time to read some of the seminal memoirs, histories, research reports, and journal articles that have been published in your field over the past 30-50 years. If you don’t know where to start, ask a mentor for a reading list. If you don’t have a mentor, get one. As someone who has been immersed in the history of the resident theater movement for five years I can attest to the value of studying history, and talking to those who made it, in order to better understand the challenges of today and possible ways forward.

Cultivate your inner philosopher and make time to daydream. For as long as I can remember I have made it a habit to carve out time every week to, basically, think. Sometimes this is focused pondering—mapping a problem to work through it logically; and sometimes this is staring out a window and allowing my mind to roam freely. Many problems can be solved and ideas generated with an hour spent doing either.

Related to the last point, I chuckle today at dilemmas that stole entire nights of sleep when I was in my 20s and 30s. Some of this is my personality but it’s also true that with experience comes perspective. The longer you do anything the more you realize that even the most difficult problems often can be resolved if addressed (ideally, as soon as they are recognized). If you feel in over your head reach out to others and ask for guidance. The outcome may not always be the one you hoped for, but life will go on and you will be OK.

If you gain your street cred in the field as the cheeky wunderkind or fighter-of-the-establishment (and this is how many reputations are made) then the skills, tactics, personality, and behaviors that you cultivate early in your career may work against you once you find yourself in a position of authority within the establishment. You may need to shift from pay-attention-to-me mode to listen-and-learn mode. You may need to cultivate grace.

I’ve learned that I am impatient, with myself and others. This may be the flipside of being someone that generally can be counted on to deliver; but it also creates unnecessary stress in the workplace. I want to do great work and I want to be a decent human being; however, these goals can be in conflict. Walking the tightrope between them is one of my challenges. These days I try to recognize immediately when I’m sacrificing relationships to performance at work and make a course correction. One of the greatest things you will learn as time goes by is who you are, what makes you tick, your best and worst qualities (often flipsides of the same coin), the roles you perform well, and those you perform poorly. Put this information to good use and your life will be better for it.


Gary Steuer - President, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
1)      Fully engage your team in the process and the objective, not just their task. In my first job out of college, working as an aide to a United States Congressman (began as an intern and eventually joined the staff where I served for three years), the Congressman’s Chief of Staff went out of his way to explain to me how every task I was assigned, no matter how seemingly trivial or menial, contributed to a larger agenda. It would have been very easy for him to simply assign me a research project, or ask me to draft a press release. Instead he would make me feel valued and would give me the context I needed to both feel motivated in implementing my task, and to feel a part of the bigger picture. He was also a brutal but kind editor, often making me re-do a piece of writing a dozen times before it was finally acceptable. But along with the criticism came explanation of why sentences did not work, why points were not made effectively. This approach to supervising staff and building a sense of shared commitment to a vision, and to excellence, has always stayed with me. I also learned the lesson to respect and nurture everybody, including junior staff and interns.

2)      When you get to a position of leadership, being liked all the time is no longer possible. As you are working your way up in a career it is easy – and valuable – to always be part of the club of colleagues where possible. It has been my experience that while assholes and backstabbers may flourish in the short term, their duplicity and lack of humanity virtually always comes back to undermine them at some point, especially in a field like the nonprofit arts. However, when you get to be an ED or CEO, it just is no longer possible to be “part of the gang”. You will have to make tough calls about budgets and allocation of resources, about hiring and firing and compensation, and a little bit of distance from your team is essential. That does not mean you can’t be a good, humane, honest person, and have that be a part of your leadership style. The best illustration of this I saw was in a leadership training based on Shakespeare run by Tina Packer of Shakespeare and Company in Massachusetts and John Whitney (former CEO of Pathmark). They co-authored a book called “Power Plays – Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management” and taught a companion course at Columbia B-school. When I was running the Arts & Business Council we ran a televised series of arts and business forums, and they did a condensed version of one of their classes for a corporate audience for one of our forums, using live Shakespeare & Company actors. One of their Lessons used Henry V to illustrate that as young Hal grew into King Henry he had to leave behind Falstaff as part of his growth into leadership. The transition, while painful to both, was important to King Henry being respected as a leader and not distracted by Falstaff’s influence. It doesn’t mean you can’t go out for a beer with your staff now and then, but a little distance is not a bad thing…

3)      We are running businesses about changing the world for the better through the arts and that must be reflected in our values and our organizational structures. Having spent a good part of my career in arts management, policy and philanthropy at the intersection of the arts and business, I have had the benefit of observing lots of corporations in action, getting to understand their values and corporate culture. A number of years ago at an Alliance for Nonprofit Management conference, Paul Light of the Brookings Institute gave a keynote talk where he pressed back on the common nonprofit language of how we need to be more “businesslike,” to emulate the organization, rigor and strategic focus of the for-profit sector. He noted that increasingly the most successful companies were, in fact, more “non-profit-like” in that they were driven by a desire to improve people’s lives, and value and respect their employees. In fact this trend has only accelerated. Look at Google, Tom’s Shoes, the rise of B-Corps. Yet many nonprofits – including arts groups – seem to try to model themselves on IBM from the 50’s, with strict hierarchies, rigid approval and decision-making protocols, departments, org charts, job titles, etc. Let’s be humane, let’s adopt structures that are right for what we do. We are supposed to be creative – let’s be creative in how we manage as well. Let’s offer great benefits and reasonable compensation to our employees, and if that means a smaller team for now, or fewer productions or exhibitions, so be it. In the long run, that team that is valued and treated as such WILL lead to success, and ultimately better and more artistic output.

4)      Increase your tolerance for risk. No organization has ever become successful always playing it safe, nor has any leader. Yet I feel too many arts groups (and too many arts leaders) have operated in a way that is more about self-preservation than anything else. I have learned – both through success and failure – that we must learn to be risk-takers, to be bold. It may sound trite, but failure done right is a learning opportunity, and will lead to more success in the future. (AKA the start-up mantra: “fail faster.”) We must guide our boards to understand this as well. It has always astonished me how high level corporate leaders – who in their own work deeply understand the risk/return ratio – become too timid and risk averse in their trustee role, afraid somehow that failure will reflect on them, or put more pressure on them as trustees to plug the resulting hole. Of course, all risks should be taken with careful planning, and not done recklessly, but lack of certainty about an outcome should not preclude us from action. And, as I have written about before, when arts organizations have lost their artistic energy, let’s not be timid (as managers, trustees and funders) about engineering a graceful exit and moving on. Restaurants open and close all the time, and we still have an ample supply of food.


Judith Jennings - retired Executive Director of the Kentucky Foundation for Women
What I learned About Work/Life Relationships, Being Real and Having Fun

Five years ago, at age 62, I made it my mission to retire by 65. I liked my job a lot, and truly loved many aspects of it. Yet because both my parents had died in their mid-50s, I knew that being able to retire shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Rather, retirement should be planned for, and, well, seized. Three years later, in 2012, I had achieved my necessary financial goals, and I had served the foundation as Executive Director for almost 14 years. I cheerfully informed the foundation’s Board of Directors that I would like to retire at the end of December 2013.

That didn’t happen. Although my title was Executive Director, that did not mean I could always control my work life.  Unbeknownst to me then, my stated intention to retire began a process, both painful and liberating, of pealing off layers of perspectives and practices accrued by me and around me in my position as ED since 1998.  These kinds of accrued perspectives and practices are not always captured in Board meetings or in performance evaluations and can, therefore, go largely unexamined.  So I, and I daresay several other KFW community members and observers, learned a lot over what turned out to be a nearly two-year process of preparing for my departure.

In March 2014, the foundation announced my retirement and commenced a search for a new Executive Director.  On June 30, 2014, I retired at age 66, only six months behind schedule. But, ah, how much learning had transpired! In hopes that my experiences may benefit others, here are my top three lessons learned.

1. Work and life really are all about relationships.

Work relationships, including staff, Board and peers can be warm and friendly, to be sure, but what happens when they are time limited?  Short answer for me: the basis of these relationships became a lot more clear.  As the retirement clock ticks down, it becomes joyfully or painfully apparent which relationships are based on shared values, common goals and mutual respect and which derive from real or perceived positional power and authority. My impending retirement made the nature of the relationships clear, but maybe I could have been more discerning sooner?  (See learning 2)

And what about the web of every day relationships based on your place of employment: the parking lot attendant, security guard, maintenance man, cleaning woman, barrista and lunch server that you interact with weekly? What happens when these contacts become time limited? Short answer for me:  I told them how much I appreciated them and wished I had done that sooner.

And then there are your family members and dear friends.  Of course, they know you love and care for them. They understand that you are very busy and may only have time to talk to them on the weekend or even only once a month or so, right?

Since my retirement, I have spent quality time with my great nephew at the beach, gone to music class for babies and toddlers with a former colleague and sat outside a French café all afternoon on a pretty day with a dear friend. I see now that it is important to practice, not just say, that family and friends should come first because in truth, they do. Family and friends are way more important than whatever work-related task you may think you have to do first.

2. Keep it real

I was aware of and wrote about this before, but it became more obvious as I retired and bears repeating.  There are some occupational hazards of being in the field of philanthropy, and a big one is staying grounded and keeping it real. Those of us who came to philanthropy from low-income backgrounds are especially aware of how having money or access to money can have both good and bad effects. Learning number one  above was about the effect of access to money on other people. This learning is about the importance of self-awareness when practicing philanthropy.

Also, as funders we can sometimes get mixed up and think that grant money is what is most important for making art or creating social justice. But really it isn’t. People make art and work to advance social justice because of their values and their goals.  Grant money is a good thing, usually, but it is an effect and not a cause of creativity, hard work and dedication to justice.

Another variation on keeping it real is seeing how courtesy has become a commodity in our consumer culture. Like when the airline agent wishes you a good day after telling you your flight was just cancelled. When you no longer work in philanthropy, it is easier to keep it real by being yourself and also practicing courtesy as a human connection and not a transaction.

3. Have fun  

I was fortunate enough to participate in the Shannon Leadership Institute a few years back, and my group leader was the legendary Ronnie Brooks. At our closing party. one of the group members asked Ronnie if she liked to have fun.  Ronnie thought a minute and said, “if by having fun you mean engaging in mindless frivolity, the answer is no.” I actually like occasionally engaging in mindless frivolity (and may have been doing so at the time), but that is not what I am talking about here.  I mean the type of fun that Ronnie would approve of where you are your best and most relaxed self, maybe laughing with a dear friend. savoring the moment and not worrying about what might have gone wrong beforehand or what you have to do when your time of enjoyment is over.

After I retired on June 30th, I treated myself to a three-week “liberation tour” in Spain and France.  In those beautiful countries, I practiced being present and living in the moment.  I promised myself I would do the same when I came home to Kentucky. My first week at home, I happily went to the Farmer’s Market in my neighborhood on a Monday morning. I bought some beautiful tomatoes.  I was so proud of my retired self.

Then I realized I could have gone to the Farmer’s Market any Monday before that. I just didn’t take the time. Having fun means taking the time to do things you care about, being real and connecting with friends and family. But you don’t have to wait until you retire to do that.


Dennis Scholl - Vice-President, Arts, Knight Foundation
I have spent the last 35 years as a patron, a collector and recently as a philanthropist. Cheering on creators from the sidelines and providing support, but not experiencing what it takes to be an artist. All that changed for me in the last few years, when I began to make documentary films about the arts, where I was responsible for the creative content and subject to audience and critical response.

I became an artist.

This year, I debuted my first feature length documentary, “Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound” at the SXSW Film Festival, an as we approached the screening, I felt the weight of the creative process.

I began to learn how damn hard it is to make anything of worth. I had no idea how many decisions go into the creative process. While I surround myself with a team of talented people, I still felt the burden of the result on my shoulders. I also wanted, so much, to make a good film, to honor the subjects of the film, amazing soul musicians from the 60s who had been forgotten over the last 50 years.

So my big lesson this year has resulted from moving from the sidelines to the playing field. I don’t think I will ever view the creative process in the same way. I’ve learned to be a lot more empathetic toward my arts grantees. And for a philanthropist, that is a pretty good lesson.


BARRY:  And searching on the internet, I came up with these lessons learned that I thought of value to all of us:

Maya Angelou
“I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life. I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life." I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one. I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I've learned that I still have a lot to learn. I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Sean McCabe (found on Quora)  Ten of his Twenty Five Lessons Learned
1. Learn & Never Quit

2. Be Driven

3. Make Things, Not Excuses

4. You Have to Say No to a Lot of Good Things…In Order to Be Able to Say Yes to a Lot of Great Things.

5. You Are More Than What You Do

6. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

7. Focus On What Matters

8. Inspiration is Everywhere

9.  You Will Never Influence the World By Trying to Be Like It

10.  Life is Happening Outside Your Screens


Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leader, Myanmar

"Mindset in Leadership" - Here are excerpts of her speech to students at the Singapore Management University:

“Leadership must begin with commitment; with conviction.

You should be able to fulfill the need of the people who are willing to be led by you. They are willing to be led by you because you fulfill their need for hope, their need to believe in themselves. If you cannot make those people you are trying to lead believe in themselves, you cannot really be a leader. So to make people believe in themselves, you’ve got to respect them. You’ve got to truly value them.

Leadership entails vision. Otherwise where are you leading people to? If you don’t know where you want to go to, you have no right to ask people to go along with you. So that is what vision is; knowing where it is you want to go and and to be able to explain this to those whom you aspire to lead.”


Thank you to all of those who shared some of their wisdom with the rest of us.  We are richer for your generosity.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit
Barry 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What the Election Means - Part II

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

Nina and Narric at Americans for the Arts have put together a good summary of the results of the election on the new Congress and on the Statehouses around the country.  Click here.

So what is the reality?

Despite the inevitable clarion calls for unity, for working together to do the people's business, and despite dire warnings on both sides if the other side doesn't go along with what they want, the very likely reality is not much will change in Washington.  The proffering of olive branches notwithstanding, there isn't likely to be any real rapprochement in the Capitol.  To put it mildly, these people really don't like each other.  The civility that was once the hallmark of the Senate is long gone, replaced by enmity, suspicion, distrust and out and out disdain for each other.  The winning side always calls for change and to get things done.  The losers invariably play tit for tat from the last go round.  In all probability gridlock will continue to ensue and each side will try to thwart the priorities of the other.

And despite the Republican victories, their's is hardly the party of consensus and unity.  Speaker Boehner in the House, and presumptive Majority Leader in the Senate McConnell will both have their hands full trying, against the odds, to rally their membership to put on a united front.  The far right will put pressure on the moderates and vice versa.  And everybody will have their eyes on the 2016 election which will see more Republican Senate seats up for grabs that are in play - meaning their candidates are vulnerable just as the Democrats were vulnerable this cycle.  And, on the other side of the aisle, the Democrats are hardly united either, with deep south and rural Democrats leaning more conservatively, while those from the eastern and western seaboards and the bigger states and cities more liberal.  Neither side is of a single mind, and all have their own agendas based on how they assess their own constituencies.  And all have 2016 on their minds.  The American public is fickle and not in a good mood, and the next two years will not likely change that reality.

So we have a bunch of different and competing priorities pitted against each other.  The leadership will try to effect compromise, but if the recent past is any indication, compromise is not in the air.  There will be pressure from the Tea Party Republican Presidential hopefuls, and from the moderates in districts that are decidedly anti Tea Party.  On the Democratic side, there are already cries that the Democrats should hold the line on key issues.   This is a response to the tactic of many losing candidates to table anything controversial in last week's election - which tactic failed miserably.  There are many in the Democratic party who want big ideas to hold sway, and to engage the Republicans at every turn - rather than capitulating by trying to be more Republican than the Republicans.  The failure to defend what was a pretty good record over the past four years is seen as one of the reasons the Democrats couldn't get their base of Millennial and Latino voters to the polls.  John Stewart called the Democrats 'chickenshit'' and a lot of the rank and file agree.  Expect Elizabeth Warren Democrats to demand the party fight back against the Republicans.  And expect the Tea Party right wing to demand the same of the Republicans.

The public votes for change in the hope real change will come.  Not likely.  What we can expect are entrenched positions.  And while the Republicans control both houses, they don't have the magic 60 in the Senate that would allow them to foreclose the Democrats from using all kinds of maneuvers to keep the Republicans from steamrolling a legislative agenda (assuming they could agree on one).  They will take over the committee chairs and with that comes certain power of what bills to move forward.

And then there is the Presidential veto threat and the specter that he will use his Executive Order power to advance his priorities (like immigration reform).  The Republicans may pass all kinds of legislation, and the President may veto much of it.  The big issues - immigration, certain economic policies, foreign policy, the oil pipeline, Obamacare and more will be the principal focus of the infighting.  But there are scores of other issues - the arts included - that may or may not get lost in the shuffle.  Political warfare will surface relatively quickly once the honeymoon is over - if indeed there is any honeymoon at all.

So it's impossible to know for certain where the arts will come out.  At one extreme, there may be cries to defund and eliminate the Endowment; at the other extreme, will be to leave it alone and continue its funding at the current level.  The same may be true for other issues important to us, including education policy.   The arts are symbolic to some, meaningless to others.   My own sense is that we will again come under initial attack, and at the very least, there will be a push to seriously cut the Endowment's budget.  The same may be true in a few states too.  Time will tell.

Michael Rushton, in his blog For What's It's Worth, commented last week on my blog about the election results.  Click here.  Here is what he opined:

"But public funding for the arts, and the budgets of the NEA and of state arts agencies, are not the main policies that affect the arts. The Affordable Care Act has a much larger impact on artists and the country they live and work in. Education policy, including Common Core and policies for evaluating school progress and teacher effectiveness, and unequal school budgets, has an extremely important effect on the long run health of culture in the US, far more than the budgets of granting agencies. And that’s just a beginning. I support sound and stable funding for federal and state arts agencies. But in this election, they are not the major issues facing the future of the arts.

While I agree with Professor Rushton that the issues of health care, education and many others are critically important to the future of the arts, I disagree that the funding mechanism (let alone the existence) of the NEA is not equally important to our future.  I suppose what anyone thinks is important to our future depends on whom you are talking to, and what they do.  But in the big picture, any attack on the arts, like the attacks on the funding level, or even very existence of the Endowment, go towards marginalizing and diminishing the value of the arts in the public mindset.  And that marginalization or devaluation impacts everything that might be important to our future, including our success in education policy that frames the arts, and in health care for artists.

I also note that I didn't specifically suggest people write their letter in support of the Endowment or its funding at this time.  We haven't yet been attacked on that front.  Let's not anticipate it and fuel the notion.  I merely suggested people write in support of the value of the arts, and it is that value that might just help to position the arts better at the tables for other issues.

Moreover, I don't see it as an either / or situation.  We don't have to pick between things that are important to our future.  We don't have to choose between those that think this priority is important and those that think another priority is more important.  The classic strategy of divide and conquer is to get us to do exactly that.  In large part, those choices are a matter of opinion.  We ought not to get sucked into the trap of exhalting one priority over another.  For those organizations and the work they do that depends in part on funding from the Endowment, I suspect nothing is more important to their future and the work they do, than threats to the NEA's funding level or its existence.  Included in that subset are a number of smaller, rural state agencies who depend in large part on Endowment funding to survive, along with a huge number of performing arts organizations and much of the arts education programming in the country - and the tens of thousands of people supported by that work.

What the election means in a negative sense for the arts is the elevation of a number of those whose position is that the arts should not be supported by government.  That, I categorically oppose, and think its in all of our interests to oppose.  I certainly don't want to give them ammunition of the sort that suggests the Endowment is not a priority issue for the arts, or that its' existence and health does not have a major impact on the arts in America.  Why do that?  I can easily see a Congressman or Senator quoting Professor Rushton that funding the Endowment is not one of the "main policies that affect the arts", and using that to legitimize opposition to funding the Endowment.  Will they be taking Rushton's quote out of context?  Of course, that's what they do.  If I were a Senator and wanted (for whatever reason) to eliminate the Endowment, I would quote a noted professor involved in the arts to that effect.  Why give our opponents that kind of ammunition?

As I said last week, I believe the prudent thing for the arts to do is to immediately begin to rekindle old, and form new, relationships with elected legislators in Congress and the states, and begin to lobby those officials as to the value of the arts (to local constituents) on all levels - economic, cultural, educational and otherwise.  This is not, in my opinion, the time to be timid and quiet and to move slowly.  Those relationships are essential to whatever you think are the most important priorities for the arts.


Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What Tomorrow's Election Means for the Nonprofit Arts

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

Here We Go Again
For all intents and purposes, America is now in a never-ending election cycle.  Tomorrow we will elect an entire Federal House of Representatives, 1/3 of the Senate and numerous city mayors, councils, Boards of Supervisors, state legislatures, and Governors.  The day after tomorrow the 2016 cycle will start in earnest.  And for the next two years we will be inundated with candidates vying for their party's nomination for President.

What will the results tomorrow mean for us?  On the federal level, if the Democrats maintain control of the Senate, this election probably won't mean much for us at all.  If, though, the Republicans capture the Senate, as is widely being predicted, then we are likely to once again face challenges to funding to the NEA and the NEH (and maybe PBS too), and quite possibly another round where proposed cuts are the best case scenario, and elimination may be on the table.  One hopes not, but reality suggests otherwise.  Gridlock may well be inevitable.  The threat of a presidential veto will come into play, and the President may well use his power of executive order to move his agenda.  That will bring cries of 'foul' from the Republicans and again we may have stalemated government.

Will the Senate change hands?  Conventional wisdom suggests the party that occupies the White House invariably suffers some losses in mid-term elections. The current dissatisfaction of the electorate with foreign policy, their confusion over the best role for the US in the ISIS situation, fear over Ebola, and continuing lack of confidence in the economy (as the benefits accrue principally to the wealthy) don't bode well for the Democrat's chances.  And, of course, the system has morphed into covert campaigns by obfuscation.  Issues are trumped by image.  Platitudes play to manipulated emotions, and almost nowhere to be found is any real interest in reasonable solutions to unreasonable problems.  The whole crazy mess is so distorted that people don't even vote their own self-interest anymore.  It makes almost no sense, and so is likely to be fodder for historians, sociologists and psychologists for a long time to come.  I suspect that in the distant future, people will look back on this time with incredulity.  Maybe artists will help make sense of it all.

The GOP is likely to pick up seats in the House to add to their majority, and five, seven or more seats in the Senate to give them a majority.  If that happens, they are very likely to add seats in state legislatures and in Governorships too.  Turnout will be key, and as far as trends go - watch the exit polls on how women, Latinos and Millennials voted and in what numbers they turned out.

And so once again we may have to respond by organizing a vocal and vociferous campaign to minimally keep the Endowments alive and their funding at the current level.  The chances of our succeeding in that effort are, if history is any example, fairly decent.  Of course, the effort will take time and energy we could better put to other endeavors, but we may have no choice.  And it won't be any cake walk.  If we find ourselves under attack we will have to work hard and start early to win.

It is ridiculous that we have to continually face this threat and respond to it.  But we don't have much ongoing political juice, only a minimal lobbying effort, we don't organize in support of candidates, and we have few friends in any legislature or executive branch that will go the distance for us and draw lines in the sand in our favor at the outset.  It's left to us to defend ourselves and make our case.  We have a very good case to make.  That's not the problem.  The problem is having to constantly organize to make that case.  If you're always treading water, it's difficult to finally get to shore.

No matter what the outcome tomorrow, here's what every single arts organization and all the individuals who comprise our universe ought to do:

1.  Write a letter (ONE letter) congratulating the elected official on their victory (first time or re-election) stating that you (and / or your organization) reside in the elected official's district, and then outline the value of the arts in your district, including some data and study references (nothing that has to be too complicated - two or three bullet points ought to suffice), include a story about some real, live person positively impacted by the arts in your area, and finish by urging the elected official to meet with you so you can share with them why the arts are essential to his / her constituents.

Send that letter to your U.S. Congressman/woman and if your Senator was re-elected, or newly elected, to him or her.  Send  the same letter to your newly elected or re-elected state representatives and Governor.  And to the local city council / Board of Supervisors and Mayor who were elected or re-elected.

So one letter, seven or eight copies.  You just have to change the name and address on each.  Not so hard.

Maybe you can include a signed Resolution from your Board of Directors.

Ask your friends and supporters to send a letter too.  Soon.

And then follow up with a telephone call in about two weeks.  If you want to really help, you will need to stay on them for several months as the budgetary process plods forward.  Meet with them, invite them to your events, lobby them and their staffs.  Relentlessly.

Finally, just like you change your smoke alarm batteries every Daylight Savings Time, or every New Year's, maybe you could send a $10 or $20 check to your local, state or national advocacy group every election day.   It would help.

And maybe somebody out there can figure out a way we can avoid going through this every election cycle.  Perhaps someday we can convince Congress that funding for the Endowments ought to be multi-year (say on a three year cycle).  Then we would only have to defend our local and state funding budgets every year.  And the Endowments every three years.

And one more thing:  VOTE, and urge everyone else to vote too.

Maybe the outcome will be the election or re-election of solid arts supporters and we won't have to go through all the motions yet once again.  Maybe not.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts on Hiring Key Staff

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

I think we often prioritize the wrong things in our quest to search for the best leadership for our organizations.

There is a maxim carpenters use:  'Measure twice, cut once' - meaning that to be safe you need to measure any piece of wood you are going to cut two times before you make your cut.  I can, based on personal experience, testify that this is good advice. Many times I did not follow that advice and had to re-cut to get it right.  One learns over time to be cautious.

It occurs to me that we ought to follow the same line of reasoning when we conduct interviews for our most important senior staff hires.  We need to conduct two interviews for those positions.  But for the most part no one does that.  We cull down the list of candidates and then we interview the finalists.  Once.  Both interviewees and interviewers can have off or on days, both of which may create an inaccurate impression.  Making such an important decision on one single interview seems ill advised.  It's possible to right candidate may be one that we dismiss and reject based on a single interview, when a second interview might give us a much better picture of their qualifications and whether or not they might be a good fit in our organization.  And I think this makes sense even if we engage a Search Firm and they have already done one (or more) interviews.  It might also make sense to have at least some different people doing the interview so as to get other impressions.

And on the flip side, a candidate might have a single brilliant interview, but might, in fact, turn out not be the best fit for us.  I think it incumbent on us to do that second interview to validate whatever conclusions we came to based on an initial interview.  And to get a better sense of whether or not the person we like is actually the person we think they are.  Having been in the position to make critical hires over my career, I know that to a degree, a final decision is often a crap shoot - guess work - and sometimes it turns out right, and other times it turns out wrong - very wrong.

The higher up the staff rung, the more critical is the decision.  Choosing a new Executive Director or comparable CEO is quite possibly the single most important decision a Board can ever make.  Relying on a single interview is risky.

It also occurs to me that our whole approach to finding the best candidate for our leadership might benefit from re-thinking.  I have come to the conclusion that turning the whole thing over to a Search Firm is NOT always the responsible thing to do - unless you do everything possible to help that firm help you.  While Search Firms have a valuable role to play in the process - and can save us time and yield us good results due in part to their experience in that process, simply ceding the responsibility to an outside source  - and expecting they will (or can) do it all for us - may just be an abrogation of our own responsibility to be more intimately involved at all stages of looking for someone to helm the ship.  It may just be too easy to say:  "let's get a good search firm and that will insure we do this thing right." And I think that happens far too often.

First of all, not all firms are equal.  Some are good, some very good, many others are just so-so, and some are virtually worthless.  A good firm ought to help with a situational analysis in painting an accurate picture of where the organization is on a host of fronts.  Only with an accurate picture of the real challenges it faces, can you identify the skills and qualifications you need in a hire.  How much time do we spend vetting those firms before we engage one?  How often is the decision simply that someone recommends a firm, and we just then go out and hire them.  That seems risky to me.

Second, there is no way a Search Firm can possibly know your organization from the inside, and without that perspective the search itself is quite possibly flawed from the outset.  A good Search Firm will try to get background on the organization, but that effort will be constrained by time, cost and the fact that many organizations may be, for a variety of reasons, hesitant to share a full disclosure of their situation, particularly financial matters - and, let's face it, a lot of organizations don't themselves face directly all their problems and the causes thereof.  That's assuming the organization even knows all the root causes of any problems it faces.  A lot of organizations do not.  If the organization is not painfully honest with itself, there is little the search firm can do to fully know what to look for in a candidate.  Every decision we make in the process of finding our leaders is critical. We need to get more involved and we need to be more honest.

We might also more frequently consider both promotions from within, and searching in related fields, outside of the nonprofit arts.

Several years ago I wrote a satirical blog on the typical "job description" you see in the arts - which in our field is symbolic and representative of all our job descriptions  -- unrealistic and often inaccurate portraits of the Messiah we all seem to be looking for.  It's a joke.  We need to paint a much more realistic description of the real challenges facing those we hire.  And we need to much more realistically and accurately delineate the kinds of skills we are really in search of.  The point at which a key position becomes vacant ought to signal to the organization that they need to take a long hard look at what is going right, and what is going (gone) wrong and assess very specifically what is needed in the replacement hire, but very often we don't do that either.  We create an inaccurate picture in our own minds as to what we are looking for, gloss over the mistakes made, live in a somewhat fantasy world, and in being so cavalier about the challenge, we do a tremendous disservice to our own organization's future.

Back to the building trades analogy, professional house painters will tell you that painting the house is relatively easy and quick.  The hard and time consuming work is in the preparation.  And it is that preparation that is key to a satisfactory result - a professional result.  The same is true in our candidate searches.  Once the self-assessment is done so as to determine with specificity the kind of qualities, skills and experience you are really looking for (or should be), and by inference what is not necessarily needed in a candidate, the search and decision itself need not be nearly as time consuming as we make it.  I know of numerous searches in our field that take a year or longer.  That's unhealthy for the organization, puts undue pressure on the existing staff and interim leadership, puts the organization in an unfortunate limbo, and, quite frankly, is irresponsible.

Much of the due diligence in determining, before the process starts, of what you are looking for really ought to start before the key person leaves (whether voluntarily or involuntarily).  And unless people are burying the head in the sand, more often than not, you know when a change looms on the horizon.

At the very least, I would urge everyone - at least for new Executive Director level hires - to spend a lot more time in preparation for the search.

So please consider that the essence of a good search is first and foremost in searching for the keys to where your organization is currently (and for the future) at, what you need, and how you might best find what you need.  And the critical element is honest self-assessment.  When you settle on a couple of potential candidates, don't make the final decision based on a single interview.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry




Sunday, October 19, 2014

GIA Wrap Up & Thoughts on the Equity / Racial / Social Justice Issue

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

Note:  Reminder - click here to access the Dinner-vention video to watch in whole or in part at your leisure.  Thanks.

When I first got into this field, the dominant buzz was all about PARADIGM.  Irrationally, I grew to hate that word.  Over time our lexicon changes.  Here is a summary of the GIA Conference in BUZZ WORDS (all of which I heard repeatedly during the three days):

CurateUNPACK authentic Cohort ValuemappingTransforming SocialJusticeEQUITYintersection RISK  Agency CAPACITYBUILDING story telling Conversations GUARDRAILS 2.0 challenges COMMUNITYofPRACTICEDiversity Sustainability TRUST Outcomes Recipe 
MARKETING CollectiveImpact excellence 
inclusion transparency 

Whew.  Master these concepts and you too can sound erudite and informed at any gathering of the field!    While some of these are actually helpful in framing discussions, one can only hope some of the more pretentious of these will be short-lived.

The 2014 GIA Conference was, I think, very successful.  This gathering remains small enough to be intimate, but large enough so that the conversations are expansive.  As the funding community continues to grapple with some very large challenges, as a body it is making steady progress on working together to, if not collaborate on every approach, at least coordinate some of what use to be very disparate and wide ranging approaches. Perhaps the word that ought to be included in the vocabulary above is the word "SHARING".  Increasingly this community is doing just that - sharing knowledge, practices, research and data, approaches, concerns and more; sharing all of that not just with each other, but across the field.  The challenges all remain, with ever greater complexity involved. GIA is pitching a big tent, with notable success.

The EQUITY SOCIAL / RACIAL JUSTICE Issue:
Several sessions dealt with the Equity and Racial / Social Justice Issue - detailing pilot programs that are beginning to develop tools and approaches to addressing the issue.  I won't detail them here, as they really are at the beginning stages. Suffice it to say, I think we are moving steadily, if slowly, from talk to action on a practical basis. What I hope is that we can ramp up and move faster.

Personal Opinion Piece:  It strikes me that if we are to really move towards a future that corrects the mistakes and omissions of the past, we are going to have to abandon the idea that we can treat this as a challenge, and move to treating the issue of equity, of social and racial justice (within our field anyway) as an obsession.  We need to move away from the dispassionate and detached position of observer to one where we voluntarily and eagerly move as committed activists to change - not in the long term, but now.  This isn't just another issue or challenge for us - this is a defining moment for us.  We can't simply treat it as business as usual and approach it as just another issue to deal with.  It's more fundamental than that.

It also strikes me that if we are to institute real change, and do it sooner rather than later, we need to find ways to move towards equity that will unite us, not pit us against each other. Thus, on the money allocation side of equity, we have got to find ways to convince those among us who are going to have net losses by virtue of a realignment to a fairer distribution of wealth that it is ultimately in their own best interests to support that realignment. I believe that to be the case, but we need to (here I am, OMG, about to use one of the buzzwords) unpack exactly how that might play out.  We must, I think, avoid at all costs creating internal sector factions and the silo-ization of our field.  We have to avoid demonizing any group, casting blame or boxing anybody into a corner.  But saying that does NOT mean we have to now go very slowly so as not to upset any apple carts.  Just the opposite, I think.  We need to move as quickly as we can to reaching a situation where equity exists (remembering the point made in the pre conference, that equity does not always mean absolute equality.)

The questions for us are:  Are we going to exhibit real leadership and foresight for our collective future? Are we going to make course corrections that will ultimately serve us all (painful to some as those corrections may be), or are we going to procrastinate and find ways to avoid any real movement?  As I said, this is I think, a defining moment for us.  Going too slowly, too deliberately now is a mistake.  While I am not suggesting we act with total abandon before we fully understand all the ramifications and nuances and potential impacts and consequences of the pursuit of a strategy, I am suggesting that, at this point, we pretty much understand those ramifications, nuances and potential impacts and consequences, and we need to boldly move towards implementation of a new reality.  And that new reality is a fairer and more equitable allocation of resources and opportunities that will give voice (or a louder voice perhaps) to those who really haven't been seated at the big table yet.  This is just my opinion.  Others can reasonably disagree of course.

If we dilly dally, and jibber jabber, and hesitate, we will only put ourselves in the position of "also rans".  The equity issue cuts across a wide swath of our entire culture.  The change is coming no matter what.  This isn't a party we want to come late to.  We need to get out front on equity and justice issues now. Because it is the right thing to do.  Private funders and arts organizations need to convince their Boards, government agencies need to convince the decision makers, and the various parts of our field need to convince each other to act.  We don't want to be in the middle of the pack as the demographic societal shifts change the mechanisms by which our society runs itself.  The Nonprofit Arts need to be at the forefront of this leadership.  And the train is leaving (if it hasn't already left) the station.  All aboard!!

What does that mean?  To me, it means a significant shift in the allocation of funding.  That shift does not necessarily have to be exclusionary to those that heretofore got the lion's share, but it does mean a meaningful shift that now gives substantial resources to the smaller and mid-sized and multicultural organizations.  And yes, that will be somewhat, but not entirely, at the expense of the larger, more Euro centric and established white cultural organizations.  We should also bear in mind, that as to scarce and limited financial support, there are always two options.  Just like in your own personal budgets you have two options when pressed for funds:  you can spend less, or make more.  The arts need to more deeply explore both - and especially the ways we can make more (including a state of the art (no pun intended) , world class lobbying (not advocacy) campaign to get a fair share of the government largess that we help to pay for.  As I said above, we need to demonstrate to those organizations that will lose some of their base funding, that the positive benefits to them outweigh that loss.  We need to identify what those benefits are, and make them an integral part of the whole approach.

What are those benefits?  A rising tide that will raise all our boats.  Inroads and connections to the Millennials for whom this is not even a debatable issue.  New intersections, collaborations and potential windfalls for all of us.  And new ways to work together to leverage our collective numbers.  It may also yield us some new partnerships and the benefits that come with being seen as true leaders. The list goes on.

What else does it mean?  It means we have to dramatically rethink our criteria for all the things we value and how that valuation is manifested.  We will need to foster and nurture cross platform decision making and collaboration on a level that has nothing to do with programs or projects, and much more to do with conceptual thinking about how we can leverage the strength of our numbers.  It means we can no longer sit at isolated tables when we consider both sector wide cultural policy and what is right for each of our organizations.  It means we will have to build a level of trust and intimacy with each other that, quite simply, has never existed before.  It means we will not only have to pursue, but succeed in that pursuit, at finding ways that when we say art and culture, the consensus meaning of that phrase is automatically all inclusive.

It will entail some very hard decision making both at the individual organization level, and at the sector level.  It will mean that there is a general, if begrudging acceptance, that we are not going to solve everyone's problems, and that we are not going to be able to meet everyone's needs.  That will be very difficult, but it absolutely, positively has to happen.  And it means that we must redefine the reality as it exists and our relationship to, and acceptance of, the changing dynamics of the world - ours and the wider one (neither of which we have complete control over).

Can we do it?  The more appropriate question is probably: can we not?  Ebola has everybody freaked out now, and to an extent, rightly so.  It is a dangerous and frightening threat.  But it is manageable. What scares me about Ebola is that it may just be a test case.  If (or perhaps when) a deadly virus mutates so that it is airborne, then we will face a real crisis that may endanger the world.  How we handle the current Ebola threat is telling about how we may handle the future.  I think the same may be true of the future of the arts:  How we handle the big dangers to our thriving in the world right now, may tell a great deal about how we are able to handle some much bigger threats down the road.

The chief attributes we need to succeed as we remake our hierarchies and fundamentally shift from one (ugh, here it is again) paradigm to another, include, it seems to me, first and foremost mutual goodwill towards one another.  It also will include bold action and vision, risk, hard decision making, and tenacity.  It  will involve sacrifice, compromise, and new thinking about how to proceed - together.

We, of course, need to proceed methodically - but not in the sense that methodical implies dragging our feet, or plodding along; methodical in the sense that we have thought things through and are willing to do what has to be done to emerge stronger, healthier and equipped to withstand the pressures the future will surely bring.  This is about surviving and thriving - for all of us.

Have a great week.

Thanks GIA.

Don't Quit
Barry




Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Unique Practice of Arts Grantmaking - GIA PreConference

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

The Unique Practice of Arts Grantmaking - GIA PreConference (Sunday 10/12)

This all day session was intended for newer program officers, trustees and foundation executives - but the reality was that the attendees were split between newbies and those who are recognizable names in the philanthropic community with long resumes.  The combination of the two made the questions throughout the session very interesting and relevant.

As many of the readers of this post may not be involved in foundations or government agencies that make grants, my attempt here is to give those who deal with funders - but at arms length, and who perhaps don't fully understand how the grant making process really works, or what the issues are for the funders themselves.  I want, if possible, to de-mystify a little bit the world of arts grantmakers, and to try to humanize those in that field so that those dependent on the funders might have a little better idea who they are dealing with and how they do their work.

I think there are two fundamental things to bear in mind if you want to understand grantmakers:

First, like you, these people are professionals and they want very much to have a positive impact on our field.  They know very well the challenges you all face, and maybe they even have a better understanding of the challenges we face as a field - because most of them have as part of their charges and portfolios a range of arts organizations across the various disciplines -- various sizes, compositions and ages.  From your perspective, program officers can seem indifferent to your needs and situations.  That's understandable, but I can categorically state that 98% of them care deeply that the arts thrive.  They spend their waking hours trying - sometimes against the odds, and much like a lot of you - to make a difference.  Their objective though isn't specifically to make art or present it, that's what you do.  Their job is to grow it, to protect it; to enable you to do your job.  They don't want to do your job for you, they want to do what they can so you can do your job better.  Perhaps they are not always your close friend, but they are never your enemy.

Second, they are not really in charge. Their boards are.  Their job is to realize the objectives of the founder / board, and while often they disagree with some of the prescriptions and priorities imposed on them - their job is to make those priorities realizable.  That's not so easy.  Most of you have had some experience with imperfect boards, but most of your boards are on the same page with what you as the staff want to do.  That's not always true with foundations or even government funders.  The program officers don't set the overall objectives, nor construct the funder's ecosystem for determining where funding goes, and (in a general sense) to whom.  Many have input into the process at various points, but that's not the same as being an equal player in that process.  Those who have been in this arena for a long time have learned how they can move, even if only in small and seemingly unimportant ways, their organization closer to the direction they see that would benefit the field, territory and constituents they serve.  But often times they need to do that quietly, on the sly and even invisibly.  You try doing your job invisibly sometime.  As funder officers are trying to help you do your job - in part by trying to better understand you and your job - it would be equally helpful if you try to understand them and their jobs.  The more grantors and grantees can understand the challenges faced by each other, the better each will ultimately fare in meeting those challenges.  We're all on the same side here.

This all day session was divided into four sessions:  While I tried to hit the highlights, this encapsulation is by no means comprehensive.  I am merely trying to paint a general picture of what funders are doing as part of their grantmaking practice in the arts as presented in this excellent session.

Session I:  Turning Vision into Reality - led by Vickie Benson program director of the McKnight Foundation, and Regina Smith, senior program officer, arts and culture, at the Kresge Foundation.

How to move from mission statement to a fully realized funding program.

Bullet Points:

  • There isn't likely an ideal linear approach to progress; no step by step blueprint.  The point is that every funder and funding goal is unique.  
  • While aspirational, funders face multiple priorities and multiple masters.  
  • Developing program strategies is a constant negotiation.  
  • Even successful programs are in a state of constant evaluation, rethinking, adaptation.
  • While the trend of "scaling up" is gaining traction, Roberto Bedoya suggested consideration of "scaling out" as well.
  • Julie Fry of the Hewlett Foundation, offered that Asset Building is not specifically about problem solving.  It is more about problem identification.
  • It's important to embrace the fact that the paths are not always clear and that the competing conversations are often disconnected. 
  • Arts funders often work in in silos. The best option is to build bridges between the silos.
  • The program officer's job is not popularity.
The bottom line:  There is no off the shelf blueprint to design programs that are effective, efficient, fair and equitable and address the priorities of the funder.  And that makes the program officer's job very often problematic at best.  While it is enormously satisfying awarding money that can make a difference to individual organizations (and artists), it is also difficult to always be right in your assessments and conclusions.  Those seeking the money must ask themselves if it would be any different for them?  And if their answer to that question is:  "Yes I could do it better and make it all work", then my guess is they just don't have a clue.  Though it may sound wrong, it isn't as easy as it sounds to use limited money to have highly positive impacts.  


Session II:  Supporting Artists and Arts Organizations: What do Funders Need to Know to Encourage Financial Health and Sustainability - led by Janet Brown - President / CEO GIA, and Cynthia Gehrig, President Jerome Foundation.

The need to understand the financial health of arts nonprofits, of all sizes, as well as the unique marketplace in which they reside.  Turning around the undercapitalized nature of the sector.

Capitalization - not cash flow, but savings.  Having the cash to execute strategy.  Both capital and revenue are essential:  capital to change organizational structure or direction, and revenue to conduct and sustain day-to-day activity.  Adequate capital addresses risk taking.  Adequate revenue insures continuity of operation.

Bullet Points:

  • A majority of grant applicants in the arts are undercapitalized - meaning they have negative liquid cash on hand (apart from Endowments et. al.) and are basically living month to month.
  • Applicant fear is that if they have a surplus, a grantor will say:  "You don't need our money."
  • More often than not, applicants underestimate costs and overestimate income.
  • The arts funding community is very diverse.  The old adage is:  "If you've met one funder, you've met one funder."
  • GIA led a consensus agreement of its membership on a set of common principles about the urgency of the capitalization issue, including: 1) Encouraging surpluses and operating reserves - break-even is not enough.  2) Encouraging organizations with untenable business models to take steps to adjust how they do business so they can move to operating reserves.  3) Offer, whenever possible, general operating support, and 4) Support project support that includes the cost of overhead and indirect costs for the project.  
  • Funders help the field by taking harder looks at applicant balance sheets and asking questions to determine whether the applicant has an effective business model in place - i.e., one that generates revenue and capital.  
  • While there may be understandable reasons for an organization to continue to pursue programs that are ultimately unsustainable (legacy, Board and political reasons), asking questions about past commitments as ongoing Albatrosses for organizations is essential.  The field benefits if we break the cycle of under capitalization.


Session III:  Looking Deeply at the Community You Serve - led by Maurine Knighton, senior vice-president of grant making, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, and Justin Laing, senior program officer, The Heinz Endowments.  (Note:  Unfortunately, due to a passing in the family, Justin was unable to be at the conference.)

How to create an equitable funding practice with authentic community voices informing program development.

Equity is unquestionably one of the major issue in the arts field today.  What does equity mean?  Simply put, it is a fairer distribution of power, access and allocation of funds, resources, and opportunities.  Equity manifests itself in a myriad of ways. Racial equity might be defined (as does Race Forward as:  "A vibrant world in which people of all races create, share and enjoy resources and relationships equitably, unleashing individual potential, embracing collective responsibility and generating global prosperity."

The question is how do we in the arts promote and facilitate more equitable outcomes for everyone?

Bullet Points:  Advice on how to proceed

  • Get clear about what you want to accomplish; develop a theory of change and start with self-awareness.
  • Self-assessment includes appreciating your own world view (including its limitations); understanding and valuing the world views and practices of other cultures; developing the fluency and capacity to interact respectfully and effectively with cultures other than one's own.  (And we may need help with some of these steps.)
  • Don't assume you already know everything you need to know.
  • Most culturally specific arts organizations are small to mid-sized; most have missions that articulate a social justice purpose.
  • Don't automatically assume less aesthetic rigor or artistic quality for smaller culturally specific arts organizations.
  • Be creative and expansive in adjusting your approach.  One size never fits all.
  • Find the sweet spot between solid practices and responsiveness
  • Seek out important practices you are already using.  
  • Equity doesn't necessarily imply absolute equality.
  • Widen the circle - connect people; develop a 'kitchen cabinet' of trusted advisors and colleagues to help with ideas, feedback, assessment and identifying other thought partners.
  • Weigh ALL the options
  • Be humble and take the lead from those you intend to benefit.  Embrace new ways of thinking, listen more than talk, ask questions, borrow from others, keep learning and bear in mind no approach is perfect.


Session IV:  Is All This Really Working - led by Pam Korza, co-director Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts, and Edwin Torres, newly appointed Deputy Commissioner, Office of Cultural Affairs, New York City (and former program officer at The Rockefeller Foundation) and congratulations Eddie.

How can you measure and evaluate program and grantee success?

Evaluation is a systemic process to determine merit, worth, value or significance.  We do it because it promotes accountability, improves decision making, increases our knowledge base which helps us with sustainability and building capacity, and it increases our case making ability.

Bullet Points:

  • Evaluation is not an audit.  It's not about blame.  
  • Kinds of evaluations:  a)  Baseline Study - an analysis describing the situation prior to an intervention, against which progress can be assessed and comparisons made;  b) Cluster Evaluation - Looks across a group of projects to identify patterns and factors that might contribute to variations in outcomes and results across the sample; c) Formative (Real Time) Evaluation - Carried out while a program is underway to provide timely, continuous feedback as work progresses; d) Emergent Learning - learning that happens in the course of a project when goals and outcomes are not easily defined; e) Participatory Evaluation - Engages a range of participant stakeholders in the process of designing the evaluation so it is useful and relevant to all involved; f) Summative Evaluation - Assesses the overall impact of a project after the fact.
  • Theory of Change - A systematic measure of what needs to happen in order for desired outcomes to occur, including an organization's hypothesis about how and why change happens as well as the potential role of an organization's work in contributing to its vision of progress.
  • Measuring what matters - types of change:  1) Individual, organizational, community, structural / systemic, field wide; 2) Artistic / cultural (intrinsic value, access, equity, development / innovation / capacity; in pacts, excellence; 3) economic, social, environmental, educational, health etc.
  • Einstein said:  "Not everything can be counted.  Not everything that can be counted, counts."
  • Outcomes count.  "At the end of the day, what matters is the strength and usefulness of what has been built, not how elegant was the blueprint."  -- Steven Schroeder, former President, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Sometimes the tools and process of evaluation may have as much or more meaning that the results of the evaluation (Ian David Moss observation)

For those of you not funders, my best personal advice is to build a relationship with the funders who operate in your area, your world.  A relationship is a two way street.  It's not just about asking for what you need - it's shared time, mutual learning and the creation, over time, of respect, trust and the opportunity as peers to move forward.  It may sometimes be about help, but it offers much more than just that limited support; it offers the potential of real learning and true friendship.  

This was a very good session and I thank the presenters for their clear and astute thinking and for their presentation in a real world sense. 

Have a good day.

Don't Quit
Barry