Tuesday, October 11, 2005

October 11, 2005

HESSENIUS GROUP 2 ONLINE NOW

"And the beat goes on..........................."

Hello everyone and welcome to the second Hessenius Group (a McLaughlin style group on the issues facing the arts).

This week's Group includes:
Wayne Lawson - Executive Director of the Ohio Arts Council
Cora Mirikitani - CEO - Center for Cultural Innovation
Andrew Taylor - Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration, University of Wisconsin School of Business
Jerry Yoshitomi - independent consultant
Betty Plumb -
former co-chair of the State Arts Action Network and the current Executive Director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance.

The Group runs from today (Tuesday 10/11 through Friday, 10/14) Bookmark the URL to follow the discussion each day - www.westaf.org/blog

Please join the discussion by adding your comment at any time by clicking the comment button at the end of the scroll.

What follows is background thoughts for this week's discussion, provided by Jerry Yoshitomi:

ARTS LEADERSHIP IN TRYING TIMES AND BEYOND: 
Participation Strategies

1. Extraordinary events (positive or negative) are openings for breakthroughs in personal growth, organizational development and human progress, because they suspend beliefs about what is possible and what is not. Yet they are temporary openings as the extraordinary eventually becomes routine. Our responses to these openings, individually and collectively, shape the legacy of trying times.

2. People need to believe; people need to belong; people need to contribute; people seek transcendence. A breakthrough leader seizes the extraordinary events and uses the organization's resources, formal and informal, to facilitate the expression of human needs for believing, belonging, contributing and transcending.

3. Trying times elicit a range of emotions and deplete personal strength. People who face trying times have trouble finding meaning in activities, lose perspective, feel stress and over-focus on immediate problems. People and organizations can overcome this loss of meaning and purpose, regain personal strength and become leaders in trying times by re-envisioning what they want to create and changing their behaviors accordingly. Re-envisioning emphasizes the organization's core values and the emotions, social relationships and other personal meanings experienced by artsworkers and arts participants to foster actions of organizational compassion.

4. People need consistency and certainty in trying times and beyond. The arts provide consistency and certainty. Experiencing the arts reminds us who we are.

5. The common thread of new models and methods to increase participation is that each focuses on the needs, benefits and experiences of participants. In past months, arts events provided emotional benefits and strengthened social relationships through common experiences.

6. Arts leaders are looking to do more, yet most arts organizations are tradition bound and slow to change. There are no role models or best practices for "trying times and beyond." Action in trying times necessitates breaking standard routines and violating everyday expectations. Undertaking extraordinary action demonstrates courage.

ISSUE ONE:

As Jerry Yoshitomi has so succinctly asked: "Given the devastating impact of Katrina and Rita, rising fuel prices, an increased federal deficit to pay for disaster relief, increased donations going to those relief efforts, and as aid to storm victims throughout the country, the war in Iraq," and, I add, a still marginal economy and the fact that the arts economic eco-structure has yet to fully recover from 9/11:

1. Do you think these factors will result in a negative impact on artists and arts organizations, both in your region and nationally, over the next 12 months, and if yes, what will that impact be?

2. What steps do you think arts organizations might take to mitigate that impact?

I ask you Cora Mirikitani

CORA:
I do think that the outpouring of American giving in support of Katrina and Rita hurricane relief will result in fewer dollars going to the arts this year - I think this was evidenced after 9/11 and this pattern is likely to be repeated again.

How can arts organizations mitgate the impact? I've noticed that many arts organizations are providing links on their websites to Hurricane Relief efforts - something that I applaud. It may not result in short term giving, but it makes those arts organizations seem more connected to larger community issues and concerns, which gives the arts a greater relevacy overall. Service, integrity, loyalty, relevancy. Those are the kinds of attributes that we need to cultivate in our donors and audiences and not just focus on the short term marketing aspects.

BETTY PLUMB
After these disasters, I immediately heard from local arts and non-arts organizations that they were experiencing the post 9/11 period all over again, especially with shrinking attendance to fundraising events, and with corporate sponsorships.

One local arts council that had a scheduled art auction/dinner event within a week of the disasters, was receiving phone calls from those would-be patrons that didn't feel comfortable coming out to party or to buy art at that particular time. Another had it's corporate underwriting for a future project pulled because the powers-that-be at the home office wanted the funds re-directed toward national huricane relief efforts.

Even now our local social service organizations have seen their coffers dry up and the shelves of food pantries are near empty because of national relief efforts. What is ironic about the drop in their local support, is the extra burden these organizations have taken with assisting the displaced hurricane victims who have taken up temporary residency in our area. I'm sure that is happening elsewhere across the country.

On the other hand, I attended another art auction/dinner fundraiser on Hilton Head Island about a week ago that dared to kick up the ticket price from $50 to $125, make it "black-tie optional", sold every piece in the live auction and netted a record high profit for the arts education programs in their school district. Was it timing, the right audience, the right cause? In this case, I'm sure it was all three. I was told the same auction had been having a tough time since 9/11 and they just had to do something different.

What steps will arts organizations take to address the negative impact of these natural disasters (or otherwise)? After four years of state budget cuts, our local arts organizations have learned to make tough choices whether it's cutting programs or staff, re-evaluating what is esseential to their mission and doing more with less. They know they must change to survive.

Although we don't want to minimize the loss of funding support, arts organizations can't afford to damage relationships by whining either. We have to sympathize with those constituents, patrons, and funders who are also making tough decisions about where to spend their dollars, while embracing those that are still supportive. The arts are recognized for their theraputic ability to help us cope in times of loss and sorrow. Arts organizations may want to capitalize on that spirit by embracing community celebrations and memorial observations as inspirational and instrumental in rebuilding their base of support and participation.

Wayne Lawson - what do you think?

WAYNE:
We are all facing globalization issues, technological, human, economic and ideological issues. When one does an environmental scan--it can be quite scary or it can be quite invigorating for artists, arts organizations, and public funders. We cannot rely on just the knowledge that exists for solutions---we need to become inventors. We need to find new knowlege and connect it to existing knowledge. We need to work in our communities(artists, organizations, local communities, etc.) and find out who needs what---what are the problems--and what knowledge is going to help--new or old. We need to start with the seekers of knowledge, not necessarily the providers. We need to share what we know and don't know now more than ever. We need to have more and more conversations around each of the issues I mentioned in the first sentence--more convenings; we should stop waiting for the "experts" to tell us what to do. It is about communicating with others in new ways as Jerry states in his participation strategies.

Andrew - Jerry - give us your take on this.

ANDREW:
Artists and arts organizations were already feeling the pinch on both sides of their economic equation before Katrina and Rita (and now Pakistan). On the revenue side: a soft economy; reduced leisure travel and spending; crippling structural budget deficits at city, county, and state levels; and a down stock market affecting wealthy donors, foundation endowments, and organizational endowments. On the expense side, like any other business: balooning health insurance costs, higher construction costs (the price of steel, for example), and other increases in expenses.

The catastrophic events of the past month are certainly stretching charitable resources even further. Annual fund drives are likely to see the effects of redirected giving to these great tragedies. I would be macabre to describe it as competition for philanthropic funds. It's a sudden spike in desperate need that will certainly impact what we do in the arts.

The question I'd like to ponder in this group, relating to the second question you ask, is whether "negative impact" is really the appropriate take. If we want to keep working as we have always worked, with a similar support structure, a standardized way of engaging our world, I suppose "negative" would be an appropriate term. And as most arts managers and staffs I know are already working over capacity, more constraints on the resources that make them work will not be a welcome change.

But art embraces change, and arts organizations can do so, as well. They can be beacons of empathy, places of solace, and vessels of unsolvable questions about who we are and what we do in the world.

As we saw in New York on the heels of 9/11, art was a response to tragedy, not a victim of it.

I'm eager to discuss how arts organizations and cultural managers can take the same stand.

BARRY:
The first question is whether or not there is an "impact", and assuming there is and that the impact is a decline in revenue, then the next question may be, I suppose, is that negative or not. At a time when everyone seems to agree that funding streams are down and inadequate, then that impact seems "negative" to me. I agree that the arts have a consoling, comforting, even healing, role to play post disaster; and also, as Betty pointed out, we don't want to be perceived as petulant whiners - but what do you do about the reduction in cash flow? Will that cost jobs? Will that mean cancellation of marketing? Will that affect creativity, access to art, or what?

I HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMENT TO MAKE: I've just been informed that Wayne Lawson has been taken to the hospital. He apparently has a problem that his doctors believe they have caught in time and can successfully treat without resort to surgery. They expect him to fully recover, but he will have to remain in the hospital for now. I know everyone who knows Wayne joins all of us in wishing him a speedy and full recovery.

JERRY:
Recent articles/research findings suggest that arts organizations/artists reflect a set of core values. The core values will differ from organization to organization.

Recently, on the site of NAMM, the National Association of Music Manufacturers, there was a story posted about a high school band/orchestra that was meeting, but didn't have any instruments. It's possible for organizations to collect funds to buy instruments for these high school students on the Gulf Coast. Maybe next year we could do the same for students in the inner city. If we connect our participants to values, they will continue to be connected to us.

BARRY:
Comments to this blog seem to be focusing on your point Jerry - about "connecting" to the public on smaller, more manageable and personal levels. In the face of the possibility of increasing disaster impact (greater population density and other factors may mean that natural disasters will likely have greater, and more frequent human impact in the future), I ask you all whether or not we are moving to a period where philanthropic largess will increasingly be allocated to victims of an immediate need (and, as a consequence, away from on-going programs and organizations), and if so, what will be the effect of more relevant and personal "connecting"?

How does art become more of Andrew's "response to tragedy", and is there any danger of that response dominating what art is all about? The arts were a "beacon" offering "comfort and solace" post 9/11 - but was there a "spike" in public support as a result?

CORA:
I wanted to pick up a thread posted earlier by Andrew Taylor, and another posted by our artist colleague (R. Calloway) from Oakland, both of whom I believe are speaking to a crucial point from different perspectives. I think we're all agreed that the nation's recent natural disasters will have a negative impact on nonprofit arts organizations, at least in terms of disrupting short-term annual charitable giving patterns. And while it's likely that the majority of arts organizations will hold on and survive this down cycle, a few may not. What I'm stuck by, though, is how resistant most arts organizations (their managers, boards, et.al.) have become to change -- the kind of fundamental, uncomfortable, possibly messy, off-road kind of institutional change that will build new capacities, allow the new programs and audiences to take root, and result in a more realistic (and responsive) business model to sustain their work in the future.

So we should ponder: Why is systemic change so hard? Why are most arts organizations so resistant? And what can we do about it? Now R. Calloway from Oakland, who is an arts administrator and a working artist, provides an enticing clue - in the face of disaster, this arts organization was able to look in the mirror, dig down to their core, down to the vision and passion level, and use this to motivate immediate action and change. Maybe it's because this is an artist-run organization, and risk-taking and self-reflection come more naturally. Whatever the case, I applaud it.

On the whole, and I'm sorry to say this, I think a lot of arts organizations, managers and boards, have just gotten too complacent and too comfortable with business as usual. And because they occupy a privileged place in the nonprofit economy, there's not enough marketplace reality to force fundamental (i.e., hard, uncomfortable) business changes that are going to build stronger arts organizations in the long-run, or drive weak organizations out of business. The irony is that the arts (as a sector within the larger NP sector) claim to be the creative, edgy, innovative and risk-tolerant ones, but I wonder if this is true.

So my question back to all: Can the arts get its groove back?

BARRY:
Cora raises fundamental issues. We've talked about the twin goals of increasing arts organizational "capacity" and "sustainability" for years. My question to you all is have we failed to link the two - addressing the two goals separately; increasing capacity without regard to sustaining that increase, and has that approach contributed to the complacency Cora alludes to? Have we inadvertently "institutionalized" the way we fashion our approach to adaptation and our attepts to improve our model? Does that have anything to do with our "groove"?

Jerry and Andrew - you've both dealt with this issue for some time. What are your thoughts?

ANDREW:
In response to the great comments and probing question from Cora:

Can the arts get its groove back?

A few responses, especially related to our topic:

There's a powerful tension between creative endeavor and the corporate infrastructure we've constructed over the past 50 years to support it. In our struggle to be more professional, accountable, responsible, and responsive to our revenue sources (consumers, public, foundations, individual donors), it seems that managers and boards have become stuck in the idea that formal structure and creative innovation are somehow mutually exclusive properties. Any artist that works in a defined medium (whether haiku or oil paint or sonata or steel) knows that structure, constraint, and creation are bound together, and actually inform the power of the final work.

The other response, contrary to my first, is that we may be judging arts organizations too generally, based on limited direct observation. We're all ready to agree that arts organizations are fixed, immovable, inflexible entities. It's obviously true for some, but have we observed enough to generalize to the larger population? I'm sure we all know artists and arts organizations that are completely contrary to the common view. And we've heard from some already in this conversation.

JERRY:
Global Business Network draws a distinction between three critical environments
- Internal environment - the organization itself and its people, systems, assets, processes, and culture.
- Market environment - customers and competitors, products and substitutes, supplies and partners.
- External environment - political dynamics, economic growth, technological development, social and demographic shifts and changes in the physical environment.

In GBN's experience, most organizations pay far more attention to the first two than they do to the third. Though externally originated risk is hard to understand, it spells opportunity for someone who can separate, even partially, signal from noise. (Note 1)(See notes below)
---
A conference call this week provided an opportunity for five of the nation's brightest arts managers (Note 2) to discuss the impact of Hurricanes Katrina/Rita and their byproducts (increased fuel prices, increased travel costs, rising federal deficit, etc) on the arts.

The call began with direct concern about artists/arts organizations displaced by the hurricanes, including the many artists and the National Performance Network staff who lived in New Orleans. One call participant, Houston's Sixto Wagan just this week was able to return to his office at DiverseWorks.

Several on the call will be presenting artists from the impacted area this year and have developed emergency mitigation plans to accommodate artists' needs and plights.

The moderator (Yoshitomi) pushed the group to consider how the changing external environment might impact on each of the organizations represented on the call, even though they may be thousands of miles away from the site of direct devastation.------

We heard (in the Gulf Coast as well in other areas) about:
--Diversion of corporate contributions to assist in hurricane relief
--Arts organizations across the country stepping forward to raise funds for hurricane relief, taxing their limited resources to help others
--A reluctance by arts organizations to fund-raise for themselves when immediate survival assistance is needed
--Motels packed with refugees fleeing the devastation leaving no room in many Southern communities for touring artists
--Concern that rising fuel costs would raise touring costs as well as discourage cultural tourism and arts attendance
--Realization of the long-term impact of increased federal spending/deficits might have on government budgets/publicly supported arts programs across the country------

However, rather than just lamenting the above, the call was peppered with ideas and examples of how artists and arts organizations are/might address the above
-Arts organizations in many parts of the country are helping displaced artists finding new homes (Note 3), others are attempting to fill-in for cancelled tour dates along the Gulf Coast (Note 4)
-Residents and building owners are stepping forward to provide low-cost/free housing for touring artists, in some cases mitigating the impacts of rising transportation costs (Note 5)
-Others are considering further use of technologies to offset increased travel costs
-Displaced groups are learning on the fly about virtual and network strategies
-The crisis raised issues of race and politics of race. The arts have the capacity to deal with important and relevant issues, bringing communities closer together
-Developing a long-term strategy to seek increased individual donations to mitigate the effects of diverted corporate support and reduced public funding
-Conversation about some of the long term impacts of 9/11 like increased insurance rates and more difficult visa requirements? What will be the long term impacts of this devastation?

Those on the call recognized the value of collectively sharing our ideas of how we're addressing major environmental issues (Note 6) that will impact artists and arts organizations over the next five to ten years. What are we doing now to get ready?

Jerry Yoshitomi
Erin Boberg
Jennifer Bleill Calienes


October 6, 2005

Notes:
1. A Delicate Balance Between Risk and Reward, Eamonn Kelly, Steven Weber, September 2005, Financial Times. Kelly and Weber tackle the common perception that risk is something to be avoided and minimized. If businesses are to succeed in the long term, the authors argue, they need to remind themselves that risk-taking is a powerful source of reward and opportunity.
2. Each is a participant a group called Next Generation Arts Administrators, Jennifer Bleill Calienes, Chris Prentice, Sixto Wagan, Erin Boberg, Wesley Montgomery. The call was hosted by the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University and moderated by Jerry Yoshitomi.
3. Displaced artists are taking the culture with them, like the second line band formed by musicians resettled in Utah.
4. Arts groups in Houston are using their existing networks to discuss complementary/collaborative strategies. The NPN staff are displaced around the country and are learning the value of virtual communications and virtual space. This may be a moment where the ways we work and our sense of place start to shift.
5. New World Theatre in Amherst, Massachusetts is presenting June Bug Theatre from New Orleans this season. They've addressed the logistical/production disruptions of the company, while also highlighting the historic importance of June Bug and their relationship to the civil rights movement.
6. Although she wasn't able to join the call, in a pre-call email, NGAA participant Dana Whitco raised the specter of predictions of rapidly increasing fuel costs impacting of cross-country and international travel. She asked if presenting organizations might consider aligning themselves with the slow food movement, presenting local artists and promoting locally grown foods/farmers?

ANDREW:
Barry, to your point about my point: ''The arts were a 'beacon' offering 'comfort and solace' post 9/11 -- but was there a 'spike' in public support as a result?'' And to the other bubbling commonality in this conversation about personal connection as an essential response for the arts:

We seem to get ourselves confused about the MANY forms of arts participation...assuming that all roads should lead eventually to attendance, cash, and respect for the professional nonprofit arts.

The outpouring of art after 9/11 -- in the streets, on lamp posts, in storefront windows -- was predominately from those who would never define themselves as artists, but who still felt a compulsion to create in ink, in photos, in poetry, in prose, in quilting, in banners, in crayon.

There were certainly artist responses to the tragedy, and professional arts organization responses, as well. But the haunting power of the place came from the non-professionals.
How strange that so many professional nonprofit arts organizations now find themselves detached and separate from the power of individuals MAKING art, rather than just observing professional artists at work.

I was struck by the image by a commenter to this conversation, describing a kitchen full of kids making a massive, messy cake, and forming bonds and conversations in the process. Contrast that with the sterility of the contemporary orchestra experience (don't budge, don't clap, don't wiggle...even if the music moves you to do so), or the modern museum (don't touch, don't talk).

Ironic that so much of the arts have become impersonal and dispassionate...a bizarre achievement that must have taken us some years and some extensive effort.

BARRY:
I think your points are very well taken Andrew, and I think I understand the dispassion you reference -- though I also think there is still a great deal of passion there - perhaps hidden and cloaked because of the organizational model that has become so difficult and entrenched. A fundamental axiom of organizational dynamics is that once formed, organizations quickly take on their continued existence and survival as the reason for their being. How did this come about?

And then harkening back to Cora's query on how to get the "groove" back - or perhaps get it at all, how do the 'professional' nonprofit arts benefit from the kind of 'nonprofessional spike' in creative output that came after 9/11, or otherwise "mine" the energy and joy of the kitchen cake bakings for further support, (or for ideas and means to advance their missions)? Does the dispassion and impersonality you see lie exclusively in the arts organizational structure, or does it also bleed out to touch the artists that are the focal point for many of the organizations we are talking about (i.e., actors, dancers, choreographers, painters, musicians, composers et. al. whose work is presented, performed and exhibited by the 'professional' arts organization)?

All roads cannot, of course, lead to bigger audiences, more cash and greater respect, but for the nonprofit arts organizational field, that's what they need. What do we do, where do we go from here then? How do we convert the post 9/11 artistic involvement of the public to sustained public support for the field, how do we replicate the cake baking joy? Is that not possible? Not a worthy undertaking? And are we talking fundamental, systemic, core change as Cora asked, or are we talking tactics and strategies?

ANDREW:
Barry. Great final thoughts. Thanks. As with most shocks to the system, Rita and Katrina and other pressing social and humanitarian crises around the globe have served to highlight underlying structural challenges that were always there.

Churchill once said, "we shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us," which also goes for the corporate and support structures we've created to promote and support and professionalize the arts.
The challenge is learning how those structures have distracted or disconnected us from our original purpose and passion. To my mind, that learning is where we begin. How have our structures influenced our choices and behaviors to bring us to this place? And how can that awareness lead us to a better place?

I look forward to that conversation.

BARRY:
Alright, that wraps up this month's HESSENIUS Group, and I would like to thank Cora, Jerry, Andrew, Betty and Wayne (and wishing Wayne a speedy recovery) for their time, insights and ideas, and to everyone who was able to follow some, or all, of the week's exchange. I think we are close to hitting a "rhythm" to this experiment, and I am optimistic that it will only get better over time.

Next month's Group is scheduled to begin Tuesday, November 8th.

Have a great weekend.

Don't Quit!

Barry

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