Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Five Rules for Information Keeping & Sharing

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

Do you do this?

In your internet searches, your online reading, your review of incoming emails and review of reports, studies, and other information which you routinely come across, do you often (even obsessively), bookmark, email a copy to yourself, or save to your reading list things you find interesting, and that you want to come back to because you think the information may have some application to your work, may be valuable to your organization and your colleagues, or because you want to pass it on to people you know - within and without your organization - because you think they will appreciate it too?

And then do you, almost always, never get around to getting back to that information, and periodically end up deleting it from your system without ever having done anything about it?  Or worse, let it pile up as a bookmark, in your reading list or email inbox? Or do you often forward things to people in your sphere because you don't have time to actually deal with it yourself, but you still think it's worth passing on?  Are you a serial information hoarder, or serial forwarder?   Do you think you are doing either yourself or other people a favor?

Is this a kind of obsession or compulsive disorder we are all susceptible to in the modern information age?  We are constantly advised to prioritize and to forego even good things for which we simply don't have the time, but that prioritization seems to be a hard lesson to learn, and impossible to implement.

In reality, things we save, hold onto or pass on, that we think are interesting and valuable - either for us or others - may be costing us valuable and scarce time, and in the long run, aren't helpful to either us or those we think we are helping when we pass them on.  In fact, this behavior may be part of the larger problem of the growing and relentless onslaught of information that compromises our productivity, makes us feel that we are not in control, and steals from us irreplaceable time.

Here are five rules that might help in addressing this now ubiquitous habit:

1.  First, DO NO HARM.  Like the medical oath, the first thing we ought to remember is that time is scarce and that not everything we come across that we think is going to be useful, really will be.  We need to discipline ourselves to get in the habit of being very tough on what we save, and what we forward, by asking whether or not the item is really likely to end up important, valuable and helpful, or merely a time waster - for us or those in our circles.  Be more discerning and critical.

2.  Assume you and the people you forward things to don't really want or need the info.   Develop a personal policy that will allow you to forego saving and passing on most of the information that you come across.  Remember, what you need most is knowledge, and information itself is not knowledge.  And remember too that just as you delete items forwarded to you without ever reading or even opening them, so too do people similarly delete things you pass on without opening them (and in today's world of scams and invasions, it's a good idea to heed the now virtually universal advice not to open anything - even if from a theoretically trusted source - unless you are absolutely sure it is safe.  We all know not to open unknown and suspect attachments in emails.  There is now evidence suggesting we not even open emails from unknown sources).

3.  Hold onto nothing longer than 3 days.  Delete, delete, delete!

4.  Information that is truly important ought to dovetail with the goals you have established as truly important.  If you can rank your immediate and longer term goals, you ought to be able to rank the kinds of information that you ought to keep or pass on.  If it doesn't help the goals you rank as high, don't save or pass it on.  Move on.

5.  Share with others the kind of information that you find valuable and would appreciate being forwarded to you, and what kinds of things you don't appreciate.   If unsure about what others may want you to pass on - ask them (at the least, the people in your own organization.  Spend ten minutes in a staff meeting talking about this). If others know what you don't want, maybe they won't forward stuff that clogs up your system.  And if you know what they don't want, you can honor their position.

Time management will become increasingly more important to individual career success and the success of our organizations.

Is this advice worth passing on?  I leave that to your best judgment.

Good luck.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ill Winds Blowing?

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

Not surprising, at least to me, is that funding remains one of  (if not) the issue challenging arts organizations.

Of the principal sources of income and cash flow for arts organizations, all are fragile, subject to cycles and external pressures over which we have limited control.  And most are in a prolonged and protracted downturn.  Audience attendance is down, and with it earned income.  Government support is subject to both limited budgets from precarious economic health, and political attacks. Philanthropic support from foundations is increasingly subject to re-prioritization and focus. Individual donor support faces ever increasing competition from other worthy causes, and indeed the arts are increasingly seen as less relevant and important than other causes.

And, increasingly the arts are measured and evaluated in terms of their power and ability to do something positive other than provide the benefits and pleasures of simply being the arts - the so called intrinsic value.  Thus, government support is conditioned on the value of the arts to the economy, to industry and other measures.  Foundation and individual donor support is conditioned on the ability of the arts to support other, larger goals such as social justice.  Arts education support is conditioned on how arts education can augment other educational goals such as college attendance, graduation rates or test scores - or something like being more creative and innovative.  Even attendance at performances and exhibitions is conditioned on the experience being the opportunity for social interaction or some sort of transformative experience.

Partly this is our own doing as we have pushed many of these agendas as a means to garner more support for the arts.  Partly it is a trend in support for all nonprofit causes.

But the trend bodes ill for out long term vitality and sustainability, and we hear examples of arts organizations closing shop, downsizing or otherwise facing calamitous survival prospects.  Studies routinely conclude that the average arts organization is seriously undercapitalized with but a few months reserves, living basically hand to mouth.  And the trends are very likely now beyond trendy, they are likely a new reality.  Not for all organizations, of course,  Some are thriving.  But not most. And not all of the above referenced income sources are conditioned on what the arts can bring to other agendas, but most are.

And yet, I can't see where we are trying to do anything to address this new reality on some kind of (even relative) macro scale.  I see excellent initiatives that recognize some of the resulting problems and are attempting to address those problems -- initiatives like GIA's Capitalization efforts.  But those programs are dealing with the results of the aforementioned trends, not necessarily the causes. Otherwise, it seems like everybody is on their own in the arts.  Absent is the effort to address the issues as a sector.

It's as though, in some ways, we are guilty of violating the adage of teaching a man to fish so that he might feed himself - rather than simply giving him a fish so he might eat.  We give away fish, one at a time.  Where are the initiatives that are helping the sector to learn how to fish?

Our money - whether federal, state, local, foundation or otherwise, is channeled almost exclusively into individual, stand-alone arts organizations, supporting both projects and operations.  That's good. The need is there.  But we also need large scale, sector wide initiatives, infrastructure and organizational apparatuses that will allow us to address big trends.  Otherwise there is little to stop the trends that bode ill for out future.  And there is evidence that if the current foundation and individual philanthropic, the federal, state and local government, and the earned income trends continue that the nonprofit arts will be in a world of trouble down the line.

This challenge is bigger than individual organizations and it needs a sector response, yet the arts seem incapable of mounting sector responses.

Let me give you some examples:
1.   We have an incredible product in arts education and we have a considerable body of evidence supporting that claim.  Education of children is every parent's concern, and priority, and the children's media market is substantial and growing.  Pixar is a company built on that market.  And Pixar is basically a private sector arts organization.  There has been considerable Hollywood talk about how providing educational programs that are entertaining is going to be a continued growth industry -- tv, movies, games etc.  The Netflick's and Amazon's and the rest are hungry for product.  Why aren't we developing a pipeline whereby we, as a sector, can provide some of that product and then allocate the profits across all our strata?  Why aren't there initiatives that finance that kind of effort (tv shows, movies etc. based on the arts) that would help to buck the trend of falling earned income.  This would have to be done (and could) on a big scale, not by single organizations, but the profits could be enormous and shared across the sector to, at least, fund grants.  Where is the seed funding for that and other profit making ventures that could fund nonprofit arts?

2.  Where is the big program to convince more foundations to support the arts, not for what they bring to other fields, but for what they mean of their own account?  Where is that educational effort?  Arts Program Officers at foundations understand the benefit, but they're not in any position to challenge the forces within their organizations that make those fundamental shift change decisions. Where is the large scale funded effort to do that which the program officers cannot do themselves?  Without some kind of effort, are we likely to see continued exit of foundations from arts funding?

3.  Where is the large scale effort to convincingly argue to a new generation of philanthropic donors that investment in the arts rivals any of the other investments being sold to them as worthy of their consideration?  Where is our big ticket effort to compete with the other worthy nonprofit causes? -- on behalf of, and in support of, all the individual arts organizations

4.  We spend a considerable amount of time and energy in touting advocacy efforts and in trying to equip our people with advocacy skills.  But where is the national initiative that focuses on moving elected leaders to value the arts?  We have campaigns to impact Congress and the White House at the Federal level.  We have state campaigns, and we have local campaigns.  Most of these are reactive to some sort of attack and threatened funding cut; none of these are truly connected and there is little coordination across the national to local lines.  With all due respect to the Americans for the Arts - Arts Action Fund - where is the real attempt to marshall a national citizen force?  I think the AAF could get to one million active members - but I think it would take a million dollars or more to make that happen. That's a small investment, considering that the payoff could be hundreds of times that over even a short time span.  Where is that investment? Hard to come by as our funding sources are all scared to death of political advocacy on any level.  Yet ask yourself just how long the arts ecosystem can survive without government support.

The arts, of course, will survive.  Art will continue to be made and people will continue to want to experience it.  But not necessarily on anywhere near the level that we know it ought to exist.

I think that the only way we are going to ever be able to support sector wide initiatives that are funded on a level so they can be competitive and effective is if we pay for them ourselves.  How?  By organizing self-funding campaigns.  Unfortunately, there isn't the seed money to begin, nor the leadership to try, and our legacy is to refuse to pay for these efforts ourselves.  We have to look beyond what we need internally - at the moment - to what we need to ultimately survive.  There are only so many fish we can give arts organizations to eat (and we're running out of them).  At some point, they need to learn how to fish.

Good luck to us.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Expanding the Charitable Deduction Model

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

Tax Deductions for Arts Tickets:

I propose we urge the IRS to re-think the public benefit corporation (nonprofit) tax policies regarding deductions for the purchase of arts performances and exhibitions tickets - the cost of which are currently not tax deductible by the purchasers.

501 (c) (3) nonprofit organizations are defined as "public benefit corporations".  They are given tax breaks (no tax on their income and gifts to them are deductible by the donor) precisely because they provide the public with a benefit.

In the case of the arts - that benefit is the art itself - whether paintings and sculptures, theater, poetry, dance, film, music, crafts or otherwise.  In the aggregate, the benefit to the public is a living, vibrant, healthy arts ecosystem that both preserves extant art and encourages, nurtures and supports new creativity and innovation - theoretically for all citizens.

But there are limitations to the tax benefits accorded arts organizations as public benefit corporations. Thus, while donations are tax deductible to the donor, the cost of accessing the arts that are supported by the tax deductible donations, via tickets to performances and exhibitions, is not.

But that makes no sense.  If the public policy underlying the notion of public benefit defacto stipulates (which I think it does), that the arts provide a public benefit, then why is access to that benefit not also tax deductible.  Arguably, if society wants to encourage public benefits via subsidizing organizations on a host of levels, (which, in the case of the arts, is what the policy is doing with tax deductions for contributions and support), then shouldn't access to the benefit being created likewise be subsidized (and in our case, by extending the tax deduction to the price of the tickets) so the people can access the benefits that have been created?   It seems limiting to help create the benefit, but then not extend that support to accessing that benefit.  It's as though the benefit lives in a vacuum, and that its limbo status is logical.

Ticket revenue is a principal source of income for arts organizations - which income goes to support the organizations providing the public the benefit(s) of the arts.  If the policy is to support arts organizations via tax deductible donations, then the policy ought logically to extend to helping those organizations survive by allowing tax deductions for the tickets.  And, it ought to extend to the public so that the public might actually be able to access the benefit.

Currently, money spent on tickets to performances and exhibitions, is not tax deductible because the purchaser gets a benefit (the performance or exhibition itself).  But if the performances and exhibitions are the benefit, then extending the benefit to purchasers paying for admission so the they may enjoy those benefits  - is really the complementary part II of the logic of supporting the benefit in the first place.  Arguably that would benefit the whole community, including segments who cannot afford the high ticket prices.  In that sense, the current logic supports an inequity in the access to the benefit as wealthier segments of the populace can afford the cost of accessing the art, while others may not.

The arts are a benefit.  So too should be the ability to be able to enjoy that benefit.  Otherwise, what's the point?

So perhaps we ought to mount a legislative campaign that would change the IRS regulations to permit tax deductions for money spent on tickets to arts performances and exhibitions.

The practical question, of course, is whether or not tax deductions for the costs of tickets to arts events would result in more tickets been sold, and thus more income to arts organizations.  Certainly, that would be the hope.  And if it did, that additional income flow would help arts organizations achieve stability,  and increase their capacity to provide more of the public benefit (i.e., art).  It would arguably make the higher (and growing) cost of admissions more affordable by lesser income brackets (again promoting the policy of public benefit across strata within our society).  And it might even allow for ticket price increases.  Ticket money is earned income to arts organizations, but, remember it isn't profit - it goes to continue the work of the public benefit.  Does that give the arts a competitive advantage that is unfair in the marketplace for other types of entertainment - like sports, or movies?  I suppose one could argue that it might - though it may be comparing apples and oranges as the majority of people who go to either sporting events or movies are not likely to go to fewer sporting events or movies even if they went to more arts events (and that is likely problematic in itself).   If the arts are a public benefit, then enabling more people to enjoy them should be part of that benefit policy, no?

I don't know how such a notion impacts the whole of the nonprofit field.  I'm only concerned with the arts and what might be good for us and, through us, a benefit for the whole of the country.  I sincerely doubt the negative fiscal income impact on the government of less taxes being paid would be substantial, but it might have a big positive impact on the arts.  Then again, I admit, it might not.  I don't know.  I'm just playing with the idea.

Of course, the paperwork for individual, itemized deductions may make the effort too burdensome for the average tax payer to take advantage of, but there might be ways like standardized deductions to address that challenge.  If not, such a proposal might disproportionately benefit the wealthy who could, for example, take advantage of the deductions to purchase season tickets for arts offerings, but isn't it already the wealthier who benefit from the charitable deductions to the arts or any other 501 (c) (3) organization?

And if the cost of tickets were tax deductible, arts organizations would no longer have to deduct their value from dinner gala fund raisers, and, might also include tickets as part of the tiered rewards for different levels of donations - particularly at the higher levels.  And logically, one might assume that that would increase donations.  And then it might increase subscription and season ticket sales too and not just to the wealthy.  Every dollar helps.

A policy that supports the existence and operation of arts organizations because those organizations are a benefit to the public (the art that is being preserved and produced), ought to include access by the public to that art, which access ought also to be tax deductible.  The reasoning to exclude that part of the public benefit seems a circuitous route of denial of the underlying principles of the policy in the first place.

If not soon, then in the not too distant future, Congress and the country will get to re-examining the tax codes (it's been coming for a long time), and that will include evaluation of the charitable tax donation policies, and the whole reasoning behind 501 (c) (3) organizations.  I think we might get out front of that coming debate and societal change by promoting a more rational and coherent tax deduction policy for the arts that would include deductions for accessing the art being supported.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

AI, Robotics, Software and the Arts

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

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Software and the Arts:

Predicting the future has always been fraught with the danger of making false assumptions and rash predictions based on limited data and information.  But that's been true in the past in part because the future took its sweet time in getting here.  That is changing - as Moore's law in technology is now applicable to areas beyond just technology itself.  The future, in short, is getting here a lot faster than it use to.  

There is little question that software programs and platforms have already dramatically impacted at least certain business models.  The clearest example is probably Kodak - a company that once dominated the photography field.  In 1998, Kodak sold 85% of all photographic paper worldwide.  They failed to appreciate the importance of the rise (increased quality and affordability) of digital photography, and a few years later they were bankrupt.  

Software has even more recent examples of fundamental changes in business models.  Uber owns no cars, but is now the biggest taxi company in the world.  AirBnB owns no hotel properties, but they are becoming the biggest hotel company in the world.   Lawyers are slowly becoming in less demand as legal advice is increasingly available on the internet at affordable prices for everyone.   Self driving cars will soon be available to consumers, and in a couple of decade the automobile industry will undergo profound shifts as the average consumer won't need to own a car.  Whenever you want to go somewhere, you will simply call up on the telephone and one will come pick you up and take you where you want to go.  No need to park it, garage it, service it or even pay for insurance.  And as self driving cars will be in far fewer accidents, the automobile insurance industry will likely become so highly cheap and competitive that it too will fade into oblivion as a business model.  3D printing is already changing manufacturing business models.

Software advances, combined with increasingly sophisticated robotics, (itself combined with advances in artificial intelligence) and the changes in how work is performed - and thus jobs in the marketplace - in fields as varied as healthcare, manufacturing, and education - will likely result in changes which render them all virtually unrecognizable from today's models; the world will be much different in just 25 years than it is now.  Not that far away really.  

So how might all that affect us in the arts?

Will software combined with robotics and AI produce "artists" who can create new, original (and perhaps exciting, interesting, beautiful works) that in any number of areas - from theater to painting to music composition and performance - rival, or even surpass, human creativity?  Or is the very definition of art limited to creativity born from human endeavor?   What about some combination of creativity that involves the collaboration of humans and intelligent machines?  Is that different?  Are these merely academic questions that have little relationship to reality, or are they fundamental questions that will demand to be addressed sooner than we would like?  

Then there are questions about how AI, robotics and software will impact us as "arts administrators".  Clearly, there are some functions we play as business people that will soon be more efficiently and effectively done by the "machines" - including financial and accounting management, but perhaps also (at least in part) in the areas of development and fundraising (grant applications, robo calling donation solicitation, donor recruitment and the like), and in such areas as program management (if not in idea generation and development).  It may be an arrogant conceit (and a dangerous one) to pre-suppose that the machines can't do all the things we do.  Like the rest of society, jobs in our sector may also disappear.  We are doubtless just a small sampling of the bigger problem of the machines doing human work and thus large segments of humans no longer having the work that sustained our economic model for so long.  What civilization will do with hundreds of millions of unemployed people (and more given the on-going rise in population) is anybody's guess.  What will we do?

Again, is consideration of these kinds of big and small issues and challenges currently no more than a diversion, or are things moving so fast that these kinds of questions ought to get more attention now - before it is too late?

Software, and the implications of the impact software is making in the models we have used in business (but also in societal and social relationships) is already here.  Robotics is here too, and just on the cusp of widespread launches across platforms too numerous to mention.  In a decade it is likely no one will think of the Rhumba vacuum cleaner or Detroit assembly lines as robotics.  Those efforts will seem primitive.  AI is in the pipeline, and very likely much more sophisticated in the labs than the computer that beat the human "GO" champion in a head to head matchup recently.  That will soon seem like just a parlor trick.

Many people already fear moving too fast into AI, and that human beings may again bumble forward in an area that may produce results with which they are ill-equipped to deal.  And this in an area that may have irreversible and draconian consequences.  The question looms that if AI advances to the point where it is on a par with, or surpasses human intelligence, how long might it be before the machines conclude that its the human species that poses a dangerous threat that must be eliminated.  That's the stuff of science fiction movies I suppose, but it might be a subject for the arts too, as the arts might play some cautionary role in helping us to go slower into the void. 

In the meantime, there are some very real likely advances that will impact both artistic creativity and the jobs arts administrators perform.  When do we seriously ask questions about the future, if the future is only a decade or two away and coming on faster and faster?   

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Saturday, April 30, 2016

2016 National Arts Index

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

I have had a number of posts ready to go, and have been meaning to get them up, but I've been in the process of moving / relocating for the past several weeks.  I apologize for the delay.  I hope to get several of them up in the next couple of weeks, starting with this one.

The 2016 (and final) National Arts index:

This month, Americans for the Arts published the “2016 National Arts Index,” its annual measure of the health and vitality of arts in the U.S.  In 2010, we published a summary of the first Index report here on my blog.  As this is the final National Arts Index report, concluding the 10-year initiative, we thought it appropriate to ask Randy Cohen to again share some of its findings and learnings:

What’s Treasured is Measured!
We have all long been in the hunt for more arts data, better data, data that demonstrates value and impact, and data that helps us track and make sense of trends. In 1967, three years before he wrote Future Shock, futurist Alvin Toffler penned an entire paper about this: “The Art of Measuring the Arts.” In it he writes, “A cultural data system is needed to provide information for rational policy-making in the cultural field and to assist those outside the field in understanding their impact on it.”

National Arts Index
The National Arts Index is an attempt at creating such a system, using as wide of a lens as possible—nonprofit, for-profit, artists, financial flows, evolving public participation, competitiveness of the sector—81 national-level indicators produced annually by the federal government, commercial data providers, and private research organizations. It is set to a base score of 100 in 2003; every point difference is a one-percent change. The National Arts Index summary score of 99.8 in 2013 is just a fraction below the 2003 Index baseline of 100.

While the Index score is composed of 81 indicators, it is the stories that emerge from these individual indicators that have proved most fascinating:

Arts Track the Economy
This year’s report provides the fullest picture yet of the impact of the Great Recession on the arts—before, during, and after.  Like many sectors of the economy, the arts recovered slowly and unevenly from the recession due to industry contraction and consolidation, the impact of technology, slow rebounds in philanthropy, and tepid consumer spending.  While some indicators may be up during a recession, we see that a majority of them we were in decline. The arts were a little slower to fully bounce back than the economy at large.

  • During the economically robust years of 2002-06, more than 50 percent of the indicators increased annually.
  • Between 2007 and 2009, however, less than one-third of the indicators increased.
  • In a key sign of continued improvement, more than half (55 percent) of the indicators increased in 2013.

Artist Employment

  • The number of working artists grew between 2002 and 2013 (2.10 to 2.22 million). Artists remain a steady 1.5 percent of the total civilian workforce.
  • The self‐employed “artist‐entrepreneur”—active as poet, painter, musician, dancer, actor, and in many other artistic disciplines—is alive and well, with numbers growing steadily between 2002 and 2013 (554,000 to 766,000).

Arts Education

  • Between 1998 and 2009, the percentage of college-bound seniors with four years of arts or music grew from 15 percent to over 20 percent. Since 2009, however, the share of SAT test-takers bringing this credential to their college application process slid, suggesting that pervasive arts education cuts in the 2000s had the downstream effect that was long a concern. In 2013, this arts educated population was about 18 percent of all SAT test takers.  
  • Demand for college arts degrees continues to increase. Even with downward trends in the number of high school arts and music classes taken by college-bound seniors, college-level demand in this area continues to increase. The number of college arts degrees rose steadily from 75,000 to 139,000 between 1997 and 2013. Reasons for this include an increase in design degrees along with the appeal to college students of double-majors combining arts with humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences. This is promising news for business leaders looking for an educated and creative workforce.
  • Similarly, the percentage of SAT test takers who indicate an intention to major in the arts grew from 6.5 percent to nearly 8 percent between 2004 and 2013.

Financial Challenges
The number of nonprofit arts organizations has grown rapidly over the decades (currently about 95,000 organizations)—evidence of entrepreneurship in the arts. (Between 2000 and 2011, a new nonprofit arts organization was created every three hours in the U.S.)  Yet, the sector has struggled financially throughout that time period. The percentage of nonprofit arts organizations filing an IRS 990 with a deficit has ranged from 36 percent in 2007 (during a strong economy) to 45 percent in 2009 (the deepest part of the recession).

  • In 2013, a time of improved economic health, 42 percent of arts nonprofits still failed to generate positive net income—a figure that raises concerns about the long-term sustainability of arts organizations that are unable to achieve a break-even budget.
  • While some of these organizations have reserves available and other deficits may be the result of federal accounting and tax filing requirements, it is clear that the budget fortunes of nonprofit arts organizations got worse during the Great Recession and are slow to recover.

Technology is changing audience engagement
The effects of technology have been undeniably swift, but it depends where one sits on the arts production-to-consumption food chain as to who the winners and losers are.

  • Since 2003, half of the nation’s CD and record stores have disappeared. The public, however, has hardly stopped listening to music. Digital downloads of singles grew from 139 million units to 1.33 billion between 2004 and 2013. Annual data about downloads was not even collected until 2004, yet in 2013 it accounted for 37 percent of total music industry sales. Streaming providers like Pandora and Spotify represent an additional 27 percent of recording revenues.
  • Similarly, bookseller revenues fell even while the number of books in print grew, thanks to more self-publishing, print on demand, eBooks, and downward pressure on prices.
  • Savvy nonprofit arts organizations are using technology to broaden their audience base and enrich the audience experience, like the successful Metropolitan Opera simulcasts (2,000 theaters in 66 countries and 3 million tickets sold annually).

Arts Engagement is Fluid
How the public participates in and consumes the arts is ever-expanding thanks to advances in technology and a public seeking more active engagement in their arts choices. The data indicate that people are not walking away from the arts, but they are finding alternatives to some of the traditional delivery mechanisms—downloading music instead of buying a CD from a retail store, or watching an opera simulcast at the cinema instead of live in the opera house.

  • In 2013, 31 percent of the adult population attended a live performing arts event—a long and steady drop from 40 percent in 2003.
  • Art museum attendance also continues a slow decline, with 12.9 percent of the population attending at least once in 2013, which is down from 15.5 percent in 2003.
  • On the other hand, Americans continue their personal involvement in the arts as maker and creator (Chorus America tell us there are 250,000 choirs in the U.S. with 32 million people singing in them), by increasing their arts volunteerism, and receiving more college arts degrees.
  • Almost certainly related is the decreasing share of households making contributions to the arts—a figure that dropped annually between 2007 and 2012, from 9.3 percent to 8.2 percent, before showing a fractional uptick to 8.3 percent in 2013.

Arts Volunteerism
Two Index measures show the range of volunteer engagement in the arts.

  • Volunteering at an arts organization was the choice of service for over 2.2 million people in 2013, up 16 percent from 1.8 million in 2010.
  • In another federal study of volunteerism, 5.7 million Americans say that arts activities (such as playing music) are their main activities while volunteering, regardless of type of organization they volunteered for (a school or church, for example).

Arts Organizations Foster Creativity Through New Work

  • Year after year, entrepreneurial arts organizations nurture new ideas, innovative leaders, and creative energy. Between 2002 and 2013, audiences were treated to more than 11,500 new works—over 150 new operas, 1,446 orchestral works, 3,054 plays, and almost 6,500 movies.
  • Regardless of the economic cycles, America’s arts industries continued to produce new and exciting work for their audiences.

Prospects are good for the arts
Since 2002, there are two indicators that help explain the health of the arts sector: total charitable giving and overall employment. These two factors explained a substantial 72 percent of the change in the Index value between 1999 and 2013. This makes sense, of course. People who are working, especially within the confidence of a growing job market, have more discretionary income to engage in the arts both personally and as consumers, and are also financially more able to make charitable contributions. Thus, the increases in employment and in overall levels of charitable giving in 2014 and 2015 are promising signs for the arts.

The Local Arts Index
The National Arts Index makes it easy to compare time periods for the nation as a whole. The Local Arts Index, on the other hand, provides a narrow time period but a deeper look—down to the county level. Visit the “Where I Live” page of Arts Index website to find tools to help you examine the arts in your community, and begin a dialogue about the character and aspirations of your arts community. Several that I always find interesting are about competitiveness and opportunity for new and emerging arts organizations.

Millennial Index: The Challenge for New Organizations
It is well known that the number of arts nonprofits grew substantially in the 2000s. In the average county, a remarkable 37 percent of nonprofit arts organizations were established since 2000. Yet, they average just 21.7 percent of total arts organization revenues in that county (the median was just 16.3 percent).

  • A mix of new and established arts organizations is one element of the character of a arts community. To what extent does funding favor the older institutions and make a greater uphill climb for the new and emerging?
  • Newer organizations are often highly innovative in their approach to their specific discipline and serve as incubators to test new ideas. If your community embraces these values, is that reflected in local arts funding and policies?

Revenue Concentration: The Challenge for Smaller Organizations
Another way to characterize a community’s nonprofit arts population is to look at the mix of small and large organizations. Some communities have a handful of “major” arts institutions that consume a relatively high share of resources, and get a lot of attention because they produce large-scale, high volume arts activities. The revenue concentration indicator measures the share of total expenditures made by the four largest arts organizations in each county. On average, the top four organizations represent an average of 58 percent of total financial activity in each county.  While the majors probably represent a similar share of the total audiences as the total expenditures, it still begs the question about how much financial opportunity there is for newer and smaller organizations.

You can download the Index reports, read about the methodology, and find county-level index data at www.ArtsIndexUSA.org. Randy Cohen, Americans for the Arts, and Roland Kushner, at Muhlenberg College, are the co-authors of the Arts Index reports.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Big Picture

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

the black dot

the black dot

the black dot


the black dot

the black dot

the black dot

the black dot

the black dot

the black dot

the black dot

Organizations also often see only the black dot.  The problem
for individuals and organizations in focusing exclusively
on the black dot - on what is wrong - is often a drain on
the most important currency we have -- time. Focusing more 
on the whole picture might offer more possible solutions, for
in the white space lies solutions.
Though it often times seems that circumstances have dealt
us an impossible situation, we all have more going for us than
we sometimes realize.  

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Communications Survey Report

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


How many hours a week do you spend dealing with email?  How many reports and studies do you get every month, and how many of those do you actually read?  Does your organization have a formal communications policy?  What is the impact of the increased information flow on your organization?  On your personnel?  How do your people manage communications?  These and other questions are critical for the nonprofit arts sector in managing their communications and information flow.

I spent considerable time last year investigating how the nonprofit arts use communications internally in their organizations and externally within the sector.  The purpose of the inquiry was to establish a baseline of information about our communications uses, habits, preferences and attitudes, as well as how we perceive the impact of our communications, and the flow of information, to and from others, on our personnel and organizations.  Communications is at the heart of vitally everything we do, and communications is one of the major occupiers of our time.  As time management is critical to our productivity, efficiency and our effectiveness, I strongly believe this effort ought to be the very beginning of a continuing inquiry into the subject - both at the organizational and sector levels.  I would hope organizations might ask themselves some of the questions asked in the survey and using that information assess their own communications, and the impact of information management on their work. 

Below is a brief Summary of Findings from the Communications Survey conducted this past fall.  I urge you to read the full report, and I think you will find the results informative.  Thank you to all 1601 survey respondents.  HERE is a link to the full report.

The Random Drawing Results:  Westaf conducted a random drawing of all those survey respondents who entered the pool.  Here are the names drawn:
Individual:  Lindsay Mauck - Philly Young Playwrights
Organization:  Viterbo University Fine Arts Center
Checks are being sent to each.

Internet and digital technologies have increased not only the volume of information available in the world, but access to that information and ways to communicate it.  That volume and the tools available to communicate it continues to grow exponentially.  The nonprofit arts field, like the rest of society, seeks to keep abreast of knowledge germane to its work, and to communicate within its own sphere, and outside of it to its constituents, stakeholders, the public and governing authorities. Communications is at the very essence of everything the sector does - key to its mission, operations, and its success as an enterprise.  No sector today lives in a vacuum distinct or apart from the technology that has changed the world.

Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Instagram, Vine and scores of other communications platforms did not exist a decade or so ago.  Smart phones, tablets, mobile apps and even email are a relatively new reality.   All of these tools make it easier to both send and access information, data, thinking, opinions and ideas, and those twin abilities are both a boon to what the nonprofit arts community does, and an increasing challenge for it in managing how it communicates.

While available information is virtually infinite, the resources of the sector and its component organizations is not.  Chief among the scarce resources with which the nonprofit arts field contends, is time.  Limited funding streams impact the ability of arts organizations to employ personnel necessary to adequately identify, analyze and apply the volume of information available in some useful way to a typical arts organization’s business operations and other objectives.  The learning curves of new technologies themselves require an increasing investment of time to master.

While a perceived information overload, and the consequential implications of such a status, is nothing new, the nonprofit arts field has a dearth of information about which communications tools we use, how we are managing that usage, and the impact of that usage on organizations and personnel within those organizations.

This report seeks to begin to provide a baseline of knowledge about the communications tools being used by nonprofit arts organizations and personnel, and the management of its communications activities - within, and between, arts organizations.

A national representative survey instrument designed to ascertain arts organization and leadership communications perceptions, behavior, habits and usage was created to obtain that baseline information in an attempt to begin to understand how arts organizations are communicating.

Specifically, the inquiry sought to understand which communications tools arts organizations and personnel use and to what extent, which sources of information are valued and trusted, how arts administrators are managing the volume of available information and the impact of the increased available information on a variety of markers relating to productivity, job satisfaction, and organizational efficiency.

It also sought to determine whether or not the increased volume of available information is thought to constitute information overload (when the volume of information being dealt with exceeds the ability to make sensible decisions) for the field.

While the volume of available information is increasing, as are the ways to communicate that information, the capacity of human beings to process the increased information is not getting any faster.  Causes of the rise of available information and resultant overload include: i)  the ease and cost effectiveness of sending more information to more people, ii) the lack of filters to simplify and summarize information, iii) the chances of factual errors and inconsistencies in the available information, and iv) the failure of people who pass on information to first process it themselves.   Every communication, ours included, adds to the potential of overload.

The natural response to the paralysis of overload is for human beings to install filters that can make the inflow manageable.  Thus, for example, one response to too many emails in your inbox, is to simply not read a certain percentage of them.  If your email to someone to whom you want to communicate falls into this category, you haven’t communicated at all.  Effective communications increasingly must concern itself with getting past the filters installed by people to manage the overflow.

How we communicate, how we manage our communications strategies and tools, and the impact of our communications choices are complex subjects, and the project recognized early on that preliminary data is needed on which future research and inquiry, by both theorists and practitioners within our field, can build.  Drilling deeper into our preferences, perceptions and behaviors will be necessary in order to better enable our field to improve the effectiveness of its communications, minimize the negative aspects of the information onslaught and maximize the positive impacts of how we manage information going into the future.

The challenge to our organizations is twofold: First, to effectively and efficiently manage the flow of communications and information, and second, to translate the information we access into knowledge that will benefit our operations and advance our missions.  Given the time expended on managing communications and information, and the centrality of those efforts to almost everything we do, it is essential for organizations to proactively address the challenges faced in this arena.


A survey of a representative sampling of arts organizations finds that their internal and external communications includes a variety of traditional and technological methods, each varying in its preferred usage and perceived effectiveness.  While this study was intended to establish a baseline of communications perceptions, behaviors and impacts, the following conclusions may be reasonably drawn from the survey responses:

1.  Communications from arts administrators and organizations, and from others to them, is a major occupier of time.  Email in particular dominates average weekly time expenditures.

2.  The field’s perception of the value and impact of the increased information available to it, and the communications it sends and receives, indicates a struggle with that volume, with a large bloc believing the sheer volume is, or is becoming, unmanageable.

3.  While the increase in information being communicated and being received is perceived as having a positive impact on organization productivity, there is a majority bloc that believes it is a negative on a personal level.

4.   While the struggle with managing communications of all types and the pervasive feeling among the respondents that there are significant negative impacts on their time and abilities to do their jobs, most arts organizations do not have any formal plan to address these issues.

5.  Due to the limitations of this survey, it is unclear the extent to which arts organizations are aware of, and are dealing with, communications and information issues, including the challenges posed to staff personnel.

6.  Most arts organizations do not have the resources to engage a full time communications officer.
Administrators are challenged to relate the increased information to their specific needs.

7.  It may be a myth that the inclusion of an Executive Summary in reports is the preferred method of review by arts administrators.

8.  For many organizations, this respondent observation encapsulates their challenge:  “We have 20th century resources in a 21st century environment.”


Preferred methods of communication:  While a wide range of communications tools are employed by arts organizations, including traditional and technological, three principal means dominate - email, face to face meetings  (one-on-one, staff / department) and the telephone - all of which might today be considered “old school”.

Communications plans / staff officers:

  • More than three quarters of arts organizations do not have a formal communications plan for internal organization communications.
  • 65 % do not have a staff communications officer
  • Nearly 60% do not have a formal plan for external communications.

These figures suggest that a large bloc of arts organizations may not be dealing directly with communication issues within their organizations.  One can speculate on the reasons for the lack of communications plans: 1) a lack of resources - time, money; 2) the difficulty in creating organization wide plans due to differences in staff / generational preferences for the use of various communications tools; 3) a belief that such a plan is / would not be of sufficient value to justify its creation; 4) the possibility that such a plan would be essentially outdated on creation; and 5) unawareness of the challenges administrators are having in this area.


Effectiveness of various external communications tools:  In order of perceived effectiveness, the top five tools are:

  • Email 
  • Website
  • Convenings / Events
  • Facebook
  • Telephone

Again, with the possible exception of Facebook, these tools are basically ‘traditional”.

Of those organizations that use Facebook, 34% post a few times a week, 22% post daily, 23% post 2 to 4 times per day, and 10% post once per week.

Preferred sources of incoming information:  Communications from sources outside the organization are most often read / reviewed from these sources - in order:

  • Colleagues / Peers
  • Constituents
  • Community leaders
  • Foundations
  • Other arts organizations within the discipline

Information from colleagues, peers, constituents and community leaders hold the most importance and sway to arts administrators.

Effectiveness of various communications:  The most effective communications tools for external communications are, in order:

  • Email
  • Convenings / events
  • Website
  • Facebook
  • Meetings


Coping with the increase:

  • 63% say the volume of information and communication is growing and becoming increasingly more difficult to keep pace with.
  • 15% said it was out of hand and they were feeling overwhelmed
  • 21% thought it a reasonable amount and had no trouble handling it.

Perhaps the single most important finding from the survey document is the number of arts administrators who view the increase in the volume of communication - to and from others - as a real or potential problem; one that is a threat / drain to their most important resource - time.

Perception of the value of the information available:

  • 38% think about 25% of the available information / received communications are of value to them.
  • 28% think about half of the available information / received communications are of value to them.
  • 18% think less than 10% of the available information / received communications are of value to them.

Challenges to managing communications:

  • Nearly 80% think that a lack of time is the biggest challenge in staying abreast of all the information available.
  • Nearly 40% think their biggest challenge in staying abreast is relating the information available to their needs.

Hours Spent Per Week Dealing with Various Communications Tools:


  • 23% spent 7 to 10 hours per week reading and responding to email
  • 22% spent 11 to 15 hours per week reading and responding to email
  • 18% spent 16 to 20 hours per week reading and responding to email
  • 16% spent more than 20 hours per week reading and responding to email

Over half the respondents spend 11 or more hours dealing with email each week - or one-quarter of a traditional 40 hour work week.

Conferring one-to-one with coworkers within the organization:

  • 33% spent 4 to 6 hours per week conferring one to one.
  • 22% spent 7 to 10 hours per week conferring one to one.
  • 13% spent 11 to 15 hours per week conferring one to one.

Other major time consuming activities:

  • 28% spent 4 to 6 hours talking on the telephone
  • 31% spent 4 to 6 hours searching the internet
  • 28% spent 4 to 6 hours attending staff / department meetings
  • 23% spent 4 to 6 hours on social networking sites.

Impact of the increased volume of communications:

  • 36% think the volume of communications / information positively impacts their productivity. 27% think it negatively impacts their productivity.
  • 44% think it negatively impacts their time to reflect and brainstorm.  28% think it positively impacts their time to reflect and brainstorm.
  • 43% think the volume negatively impacts their ability to effectively manage their time.
  • 46% think the volume positively impacts their organization’s success.
  • 58% think the volume positively impacts innovation.
  • 48% think the volume positively impacts organizational adaptability

There appears to be a split between the perceived value of increased communication / information to the organization on the one hand, and to the individual administrator on the other.  The balance of these two seemingly different conclusions poses a major challenge to organizations.

Other Findings:


Volume of reports received:

  • Nearly 40% receive 3 to 5 studies and / or reports each month.
  • 18% receive 6 to 10 per month
  • 10% receive 10 or more per month

Reports reviewed:

  • Nearly 60% read or scan 1 to 2 reports per month
  • 30% review 3 to 5 per month
  • Less than 5% review more than 10 per month

Preferred method of review:

  • 41% read select sections of the reports and studies they receive
  • 28% scan the whole report
  • 25% read or scan the Executive Summary section (and this relatively low number flies in the face of conventional wisdom that the Summary of Findings is the preferred method of report review. 


  • 19% reported having engaged in a crowdfunding campaign in the past year; of that number, 18% reported having engaged in more than one such campaign.
  • 20% of those that engaged in a campaign reported raising $5000 to $10,000; 20% reported raising $10,000 to $20,000.

It is my hope that these preliminary findings on our habits, behaviors, and perceptions about the tools we use to communicate, our management of those tools, and the impact of the increase in available information on our organizations and personnel will encourage arts organizations to take a long look at their communications and information management.

As a preliminary study, the findings suggest more questions than they provide answers.  We ought to consider: 1) the effectiveness of our communications and how we can improve them; and 2) the implications of our behaviors and perceptions on our business practices and what alternatives to current practices exist.

Special thanks to WESTAF, the Knight Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation for their support of this project.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit