Sunday, November 29, 2009

November 29, 2009


Hello everyone.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

“And the beat goes on..............”


Last week the NEA held an online Cultural Workforce Forum, “a convening of researchers reporting on current studies in measuring and understanding the work habits and the economic condition of working artists in America.” A really excellent summary of the findings on that Forum can be found on Ian David Moss’ Createquity website.
  • The data reinforces many of the conclusions we have long held
  • Artists are underpaid in relationship to other workforce segment
  • Artists are less likely to have adequate health care coverage
  • Artists work multiple jobs to support their artistic endeavors
  • Artists are concentrated in urban centers
  • Artists are more likely to be self-employed
  • Women and other minorities are under-represented as a percentage of working artists 
  • Our research methodologies and survey sampling techniques remain simplistic and somewhat flawed, and we need to rethink our data collection ideas, categories and preconceived notions.
    The summary of the data reported is just a piece of the overall research available (or soon to be available) in the pipeline on a host of topics germane to the arts & culture sector – including additional research on the artist workforce, the economic impact of the arts, funding, audience attendance figures, philanthropic giving and other areas. Added to the research of universities and national arts organizations, some generic, some discipline specific, is an even broader swatch of data collected by foundations, state and local governments, and independent arts organizations. For example, the state arts agency umbrella organization, the National Association of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), releases an annual report on per capita state support for the arts. And Americans for the Arts will release the National Arts Index in January – a new highly distilled annual measure of the health and vitality of arts in the U.S. As a sector we are conducting ever greater and more sophisticated data and information.

    What we need, of course, is a single clearing house for the sum total of all arts & culture research -- a repository we lack. It would be enormously helpful if the NEA or some other body (existent or newly created) could identify, gather, organize and cross reference all the data – on an ongoing basis. And perhaps last week’s Forum is a good step in the right direction.

    But beyond that we need to figure out what purpose all this research serves. What can we use it for, what practical application can it have to better our lot? Thus, I think the most salient observation coming out of the NEA Forum, as Ian noted in his blog, was: “The points that Joan Jeffri and Paul DiMaggio were making: it’s easy to get caught up in the data collection aspects of this research without really taking a step back and asking what it all means.”

    What can we do with this data, what purpose does it serve? Data about the degree to which working artists are not able to make a living wage, do not have adequate health insurance, do contribute to the economy ect. all help to identify and point out the needs and contributions of the artist workforce. Do we use that research to rally support for new clarion calls for more financial support, or do we use it to rethink existing programs to specifically address those needs with the resources we already have? Or is there some other purpose?

    Scores of possibilities loom:
    • We can use the data to attract media attention to our plight.
    • We can use the data to fashion more convincing and effective messages for support.
    • We can use the information to clarify our understanding of our own field, including what we consider a working artist to be.
    • We can use the data to identify the most pressing needs and demands of artists and the organizations that serve them.
    • We can use the data to pinpoint where we need to allocate existing funding given our priorities.
    • We can use the data to evaluate and measure past efforts and programs to address specific challenges.
    • We can use the data to refine and improve future research methodologies and to improve standardized data collection and analysis. For example, we have yet to resolve in any meaningful way the distinction (whether real or imagined) between amateur and professional artists. And we have yet to categorize in any practical way generational differences in accessing art.
    • We can use the information to identify intersections with other sectors that might be logical points for potential collaboration and cooperation.
    • We can use the data to guide our efforts to reach the public, audiences, donors and stakeholders.
    • We can use the data to validate and verify new concepts and trends that seem, on their face, useful. Thus the Creative Indexes based loosely on Richard Florida’s theses might be looked at anew to see if they hold up and are truly useful to us.
    • And perhaps hundreds of other uses – which need to be determined.
      I think we can finally claim that research and data collection in the arts & culture sector (including all the various permutations and offshoots of such a vaulted effort) is finally coming of age for us. But that begs the real questions – which are: So what now? How does all this research help us? To what practical benefit can (should) it be put to? And whose job is it to figure that out? How can this mega data storehouse be applied to benefit the individual artist, the individual arts administrator and the individual arts organization? How do we move from collecting raw data (counting heads as it were) to creating a framework to use that raw data to guide our decision making? Who will pay the cost to mount such an effort? Is it worth it? What good is it to fund research if no one will fund the effort to figure out how to use the research? Who but some large academic institution, some well heeled national arts organization, some major foundation or coalition of foundations, or the NEA itself will tackle this challenge? And should they?

      As a field we need to get a handle on all of this. We have made progress in moving towards a more sophisticated, albeit vivisected, data gathering effort. Now we need to take the next step and at least begin to fashion some apparatus and infrastructure that will deal with the harder challenge of making good use of what we find out. Otherwise, we are really just collecting information in a vacuum. Nice to know, but not terribly valuable.

      And that effort should not wait too much longer – the data is piling up.

      Have a great week.

      Don’t Quit

      Sunday, November 15, 2009

      November 15, 2009



      Hello everyone.

      “And the beat goes on.......”


      A paper: The dangers of common sense in the June 2009 issue of Market Leader, authored by Les Binet (as reported on the eggblogg website) dispels common basic advertising assumptions.

      This from the Eggblogg site. The stated comments below each bullet point are the blogger’s on that site, not mine:

      “ The crux of the piece is not that advertising doesn't work, just that the way we think it works just isn't the case.

      • Advertising works by increasing sales - no

      Campaigns that focus on generating sales don't do particularly well. The best thing to focus on is reducing price sensitivity. 'Using ads to firm up prices is almost twice as profitable as trying to increase sales'.

      Comment: In my experience, small businesses are more likely to try cutting prices rather than bolstering them. A sobering thought.

      • Advertising works by increasing brand loyalty - no

      Brand loyalty hardly ever changes, and it's not something that responds to advertising. Focus on increasing market penetration, however, and your campaign is likely to be three times as effective as trying to increase brand loyalty.

      Comment: small businesses need to nurture brand loyalty, but it won't happen through advertising.

      • Awareness and image are the keys to a strong brand - no

      Here, Binet is adamant. What you really want to aim for is fame. Fame means people are thinking about and talking about your brand. 'Fame is the real key to business success, and in particular word of mouth seems to be crucial,' says Binet. 'It seems we're willing to pay much more for the brands that everyone's talking about.'

      Comment: word of mouth, fame... these are not the sole preserve of global brands. With social media on the up, even small brands can make the big time.

      • Advertising works by communicating brand messages - no

      Oh dear, another lovingly-held tenet bites the dust. Forget the strategic messaging, says Binet. Emotion is why people buy. 'Ads that simply aim to generate pure emotion turn out to be twice as profitable as ads that use emotions to support a rational proposition.' So what about those ads that make you want to chuck a shoe through the TV? Surely they won't make me buy? No, you have to like it...

      Comment: I love this idea! No seriously... as they say - 'people may not buy what they need but they always buy what they want'.

      • Advertising needs to stand out to work well - no

      'According to our data,' says Binet, 'what matters most is not how well the ad stands out, or communicates, or persuades, but how much people like it.'"

      So if we aren’t expanding our audiences, and our advertising budgets are, at best, static (and more probably in this economic climate), even shrinking, what kind of advertising should we be embracing? Should we be spending money on traditional print ads, glossy direct mail brochures, radio ads, billboards and other forms of standard advertising, if in fact those venues aren’t really working?

      A Big Mac ideally is a consistent product – of the same quality wherever and whenever you buy it. Art – in the generic sense of all the “arts” - isn't the same kind of product. Selling ‘art’ is a different ball game. Some might, I suppose, argue that our audiences are shrinking because we have done a poor job in selling ‘art’ as a viable alternative to other choices consumers have for their scare time and dollars. But I think that begs the question. We are more like a film release. Going to a movie is already accepted and perceived as a good choice for our leisure time dollars and time, but each movie is not of the same quality. People like movies and long ago decided it was a good entertainment option. Perhaps we could do a little better at positioning arts events on the same platform, but our challenges are more in getting people to attend specific arts events. Experience may suggest to patrons of a certain organization (like a major dance or theater company) that the works of that particular organization are of consistent quality, but that corre audience isn't what we are talking about when we discuss expanding the audience beyond that core. People don’t go to Warner Bros. movies anymore than Paramount movies – it isn’t the studio brand that attracts an audience. It is each individual movie that is a winner or loser. I think the same is true of our performances. And while studios spend a lot of money making people “aware” of each new release, it is word of mouth that makes or breaks each one. Art is a good product just like movies are a good product. The reputation (or brand if you will) of many of our organizations may play some role in individual decisions to attend a specific performance, but each offering is largely judged on its own merits.

      The question is what kind of advertising works to sell that individual product.

      Consider that marketers are increasingly coming to the conclusion that word of mouth is the most effective advertising of all – particularly for those in the kinds of businesses we are in.

      There are a myriad of stats on what is fast becoming the holy grail of advertising Word of Mouth as summarized on the BuzzCanuck blogsite.

      Stats from that site posting (again editorial comments in each numbered point come from the site, not me:

      1) 67% of all consumer decisions are primarily influenced by word of mouth (McKinsey) - That's right - word of mouth governs 2/3rds of our economy and yet the Wall Street Journal doesn't have a page dedicated to it, I've never met a VP of Word of Mouth and I've not yet seen a marketing budget code that was labelled "word of mouth or buzz". Egads.

      2) 1 out of every 7 social conversations are word of mouth based (Northeastern University) - Think for a moment from a media perspective - how valuable is a two way, in-depth, interactive medium from a trusted source which answers all your questions and validates the way you think about a product and is something we tap into 14% of the time we talk. Ching $! Ching $!

      3) Only 3.4% of face to face WOM conversations are stimulated by a marketing organization's promotional efforts (Journal of Services Marketing) - It's not that it can't be done by a marketer, it's just that we refuse to heed the cardinal rules of word of mouth. Involve your consumer, don't carpet bomb everybody and their cousin, identify the right early evangelists, create a hard edge that stand out in your product, be honest...and a number of other word of mouth road signs we tend to drive past blindly as marketers.

      4) 90% of customers identify word of mouth as the best, most reliable and trustworthy source about ideas and information on products and services (NOP World) - It just makes sense, we tend to believe things when we receive information from a trusted source - be that friend, family or colleague. People lay their reputations on the line when they recommend something to somebody else. The currency word of mouth is thus enhanced by its most valuable characteristic - "honesty" - which makes it the purest marketing form we have.

      5) 44% of consumers claim to avoid buying products that overwhelm them with advertising/56% of people have stopped doing business with a company that doesn't respect them (Mood and Mindset Study Canada) - The consumer in 2006 has three extreme scarcities that are creating diminishing returns from mass marketing and leading to a consumer exodus - no time, no attention and no trust. Think of advertising and word of mouth as two of your best friends - who do you want to hang with - the friend who is flashy but brags to the point of lying, doesn't listen, doesn't even let you speak, interrupts what you like doing and makes you pay a lot to be with them or the friend who you trust, has the same interests, listens to your concerns, is there when you need him, introduces you to stuff that isn't widely known or available and gives just as much as she takes. Cheers to my best drinking buddy - word of mouth!

      6) Where does word of mouth happen? Answer: Everywhere. (Agent Wildfire Canadian Research) With whom, do you participate in word of mouth?
      • In your family 88.9%
      • In your social networks 77.1% In a work environment 71.0%
      • In an online community 55.0%
      • In your neighborhood 53.9%
      • In a hobby or interest group 45.7%
      Word of mouth is prolific - you find it everywhere. The more groups you're part of, the more valuable you become as a word of mouther. It doesn't come by appointment, it doesn't force you look at a screen or shout at you from a billboard - where there is oxygen, you'll find spontaneously generating word of mouth. So for the most intrusive, omnipresent form of marketing in a supporting role, please put your hands together for "word of mouth" (clap, clap).

      7) On product recommendations, 90% trust their spouse and 65% trust their friends, however only 27% trust manufacturers, 14% trust advertisers and 8% trust celebrities (Yankleovich) - to what levels have we sunk, when our profession is ranked among the least trustworthy professions alongside politicians, stockbrokers and lawyers. Gone are the days when Franklin Roosevelt considered the role of adperson as the noblest profession of them all. In 2006, if you want brand credibility, you don't invest in advertising, promotion or even many forms of PR and editorial, you invest in your friends (and the much overlooked group -employees).

      8) 7,500 - the number of committed, talented word of mouthers you would need to seed your message with, so that every single Canadian would hear about it in 12 weeks (providing you had the right product & newsworthy message) (Sean Moffitt & Multiple Sources) For those reading this in the U.S, we have about 24 million adult Canadians, so this is no small feat. The war for consumer adoption is no longer a game of "how many eyeballs" but "how many conversations". It's potency lies in its "Blair Witch"-ian nature. With conventional media, one impression means one consumer. With my word of mouth scenario above, one impression means 3,200 consumers. How 'bout those apples!”

      Then the question becomes: How do we promote and facilitate effective, consistent (and positive) word of mouth campaigns for specific performances?

      I don’t pretend to know all the answers to that question, but it should be something we explore and work at.

      Using some of the suggestions in the eggblog piece: Here are some of the considerations that I think are involved in mounting successful word of mouth:

      First, you need an “outstanding brand and product”. Our individual organization brands do matter more than a film studio brand. Your brand is the image and reputation of the sum of your previously offered products. Do you produce what is perceived as consistently high quality, entertaining, enjoyable performances, and is your current offering of the same caliber – exciting, must see art? In this regard, the objective probably isn’t to cast the widest possible net and assume everybody is your potential audience, but to achieve greater market penetration into what is your core base audience. You probably need to zero in on that audience segment that is likely to gravitate to what you offer. Boomers may prefer a certain kind of theater experience than do Millennials. I doubt that tailoring your offering to disparate tastes is the solution, but knowing to whom what you do might be exciting is the key. Market penetration. The other side of this coin is to identify those elements of the experience of your audiences that are negative. What didn’t people like? And you have to move to address those issues (inconvenient scheduling, lack of parking, uncomfortable seats, pricing, whatever). If you don’t have the established image of producing an enjoyable experience, it will be axiomatically more difficult to attract someone to your venue to begin with. Consistency of excellence is the barometer tailored to your audience segment. It might be a waste of time and resources to seek boomers to a hip hop performance. Who is your audience is the issue, and how do you get them is the question.

      Second, you need to “stimulate a conversation about that product”. The experience of both your organization and the specific performance must somehow move the audience to rave about it. By and large this is probably largely about content and execution – not unlike going to a movie. People go to movies regularly – one bad one will not stop them from attending in the future. They tell their friends about the ones they like. Some percentage of people will likely enjoy the experience of what you do over time, and developing that base is the precursor to building the brand on which you operate, but that core audience isn’t enough to fill empty seats if each individual offering doesn’t elicit a strong positive reaction. A huge King Tut exhibit generates interest and buzz – for that exhibition – but what about the next offering? Each one has to be marketed as a blockbuster – perhaps not on the same scale – but a winner nonetheless. The aggregate of those individual “shows” makes for a positive ‘organizational’ brand, but each one will have to stand on its own.

      Some people love George Clooney, and his being in a movie may bring people to the audience for that movie, but if that movie falls flat in terms of the audience’s reviews, it will not fill seats merely because Clooney is in it. Take his most recent movie – Men Who Stare at Goats. The studio advertising made people aware of the movie and Clooney being in it created a little “buzz”. But critics and audiences panned it, and that was that. You can’t start a conversation unless what you offered is generally, and genuinely, regarded by the audience as “worthy” and “special”.

      Third, you need to” recruit a rabid audience of volunteer evangelists willing to go to bat for your brand and product”. This one is more difficult for us. Where to start? Assumedly, you have a base of supporters – your season subscribers, your core base of supporters, your in-house staff and boards. All of these people need to be recruited to begin to recruit others to want to attend. We need to pay more attention to figuring out how these rabid volunteers are recruited and motivated. I don't know the answer to this one, but it is obviously the key.

      Fourth, you need a “smooth (and simple) message that people want to talk about and get involved in.” This obviously changes with each new offering, but the basic message has to be that your offering is a unique, special event worthy of competing for your audience’s precious, limited time and money. If the Binet report is right, we need to concentrate on “fame” and “emotion” as the triggers for our message.

      Finally, you need “marketing tools that make it easy to pass the along the message.” Here is where we in the arts are only beginning to understand and appreciate that different audiences pass along the message in different ways – boomers may prefer direct face to face word of mouth, Millennials may use social networking technology to pass on the message. Somehow we have got to embrace all of the various tools to make it easy to pass on the message.

      So two things stand out as preconditions for a good word of mouth effort (for our community): One, is the expectation that your organization produces quality works, and Two (and likely much more important) that the individual performance is truly special. Both of these work in tandem to allow word of mouth to put more bodies in seats.

      Clearly word or mouth or buzz is an elusive tool. It is much easier to just spend money on traditional advertising. But that isn't working for us. We have got to get a handle on how to manage and manipulate that buzz if we want to produce concrete results and more bodies in seats.

      All I am suggesting is that this should be an ongoing conversation among our marketing people.

      Have a great week.

      Don’t Quit.

      Sunday, November 8, 2009

      November 08, 2009


      Hello everyone.

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

      BITS & PIECES: Random thoughts, and links of the past week. And upcoming posts.


      If all goes as planned, I will be doing an interview with NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman on the occasion of his first 100 days in office. In part because of the rise again of the partisan nature of politics, and because much of the culture of the nonprofit arts sector is new to Mr. Landesman, he has already found himself embroiled in some minor controversies . He has also adopted some posturing which many in the sector applaud. His plate is already full and all eyes are on the new Chairman.

      There are lots of questions that come to mind for me to ask of the Chairman – many suggested by the participant comments on the NEA Forum on this blog last month. But I thought I would see if any of you have any question you would like me to ask.
      If you have a question for me to pose to Chairman Landesman, please email it to me no later than Monday, November 16th.


      Alas, a study released last week by the Foundation Center predicts a further 10% + cut in available foundation funds for 2010. As many have been warning for months, next year is likely to be worse for many organizations than was this year.


      Kennedy Center chief chimes in on in the arts on the Huffington Post.


      Some really interesting and fun connections to contemporary art via Good Magazine’s Wooster Collective.


      The Thai government considers the creative economy concept and explores the Creative Industries approach.

      • Exit Interview with Moy Eng as she transitions from her post as Director of the Performing Arts Program of the Hewlett Foundation.
      • An “Arts Blogger Roundtable” – a panel of those who write some of the best blogs directed at the nonprofit arts sector discussing what they do and why they do it.
      • Year End Observations – I again ask arts leaders from across the country to share their insights and observations about what lies ahead for our field in 2010.

      Have a great week.

      Don’t Quit.


      Monday, November 2, 2009

      November 02, 2009


       Hello everyone.

      “And the beat goes on.............”


      The GIA (Grantmakers in the Arts) gathering in Brooklyn last week captured my attention for several reasons. The obvious reason is that anytime most of the major funders in the nonprofit arts sector gather, what they talk about is of keen interest to the rest of the field. After all, they control the money. But what really captured my interest was a feeling that this conference heralded, I think, a different GIA; a more open organization; one perhaps more inclined (and arguably now more enabled because of a shift in its member’s attitudes) to promote and facilitate future collaboration and ways to work as an entity to address cross sector problems that are both common to most arts organizations and transcend those smaller entities.

      GIA has been, for most of its existence, a fairly small umbrella organization, somewhat provincial, with few resources of its own. By choice, it really spoke for no one, least of all itself. Foundations, like sovereign nations, are fiercely independent and averse to ceding any of that independent authority. The GIA member base has only, in the past five to seven years, really begun to expand beyond a small cadre of founders; its’ staff remains small and its’ charter is only beginning to undergo changes that might expand its’ mission and areas of operation. What excites me is that it may now be moving from its former Mom & Pop status and its role of being a sort of academic clubhouse for a small group of funders, to becoming more of a player – and, in the process, filling a void in marshalling resources to address big issues.

      I have always thought that it has enormous potential to advance our field. The very idea of a wide swath of money people acting in concert to realize certain big tent goals is attractive. By and large there haven’t been enough forces allied to address those bigger issues that impact us all; indeed, most of the money has long gone to individual organizations and their efforts in the creative realm, but little to those issues that might empower and enable us as a sector and thus make it easier for all those individual organizations. While this track is easily understandable, it has been, to me anyway, myopic and has kept us back to some extent. Virtually every successful sector, public or private, has at some point figured out how to support individual constituents while at the same time figuring out how to act collectively to deal with the big challenges facing the whole field. We really haven’t yet crossed that finish line in the arts. Perhaps there is now a confluence of events and circumstances that might give rise to more of our disparate parts acting in concert – for purposes of mutual concern and benefit.

      Governed by rules and regulations created by their founders, foundations have, for a long, long time, talked about collaboration and ways to strategically address common sector challenges and problems, but have been severely restricted in actually allocating funds, time and other resources to doing so. Principally and most obviously among those limitations have been mandates established by the creators of these foundations, that they spend their money within certain geographical boundaries and not outside those boundaries, and that the funds go to either organizations and their programs or to artists, but not to those organizations or projects addressing bigger tent issues. Even those few foundations that were permitted some funding of projects outside certain territories, found it difficult to stray too far from those territorial imperative restrictions. Government agencies were, of course, even more obviously confined to geopolitical venues in allocation of their financial resources. Geographic limits combined with the anathema towards sector wide challenges to keep funding local. And many problems are simply bigger than a local bent.

      Most of the collaborations and actual partnerships between foundations have centered on the easiest places for funders to cooperate – principally in the areas of research and data collection (from basic nonprofit data to audience development) and in support for lofty goals such as more arts education. There are a host of other challenges facing the sector that, arguably, can only be addressed effectively on a regional or national scale entailing cooperation and collaboration by and between many funders and other stakeholders, but, in reality, we have seen precious little of that kind of effort, despite all the talk. While the NEA and the Regional Arts Organizations (and, perhaps, even some of the larger State Arts Agencies) might have helped lead forays into this kind of more strategic cooperation, for whatever reasons, they have really not done so. Such efforts have largely fallen to some of the national arts service and discipline based arts organizations – and those organizations, for the most part, do not, of course, have the funds, staff and time to mount significant efforts.

      I have long found that the Arts Program Officers at the major foundations are some of the very best and brightest of our thinkers, and long ago came to the conclusion that were they someday to find a way to act in concert, that it would be a true sleeping giant. Most of these leaders, it has always seemed to me, would very much like to figure out ways to leverage their base funding in concert with their foundation brethren to tackle some of the big issues facing the nonprofit arts universe, but have historically been held back by Boards and bosses and legacies considerably more conservative, risk-averse and cautious than these leaders are.

      So this GIA Conference captured my imagination of what might be. There are several factors that might signal that GIA (and the larger funding community it represents) is on the verge of a paradigm shift –at least in terms of its willingness to work in concert:

      First, asking Ian David Moss to blog live from the event (at his blog Createquity) was a significant move on two levels: One, Ian is young - a Millennial generation member; and, Two, this is the first time GIA has opened up its meeting to such transparency.

      Second, Janet Brown’s ascension to the head of GIA signals a transition in thinking and leadership; she has already begun to co-opt her membership to more unified actions.

      Third, GIA’s membership has expanded to include the full range of funders (including state and local government agencies) and recent GIA leadership (e.g., Claire Peeps, Frances Phillips and others) have opened up the organization in major ways.

      Fourth, we are now in the second wave of arts program foundation leadership. Those who basically invented the field when such programs were created and came to flower over the last couple of decades, have since moved on to other pursuits within the arts or have retired (the Cora Mirikitanis, Nancy Glazes, John Orders, John Kriedlers, Michael Moores et. al.). They have been replaced by the next generation of leaders who come to their posts with other arts sector backgrounds and agendas and who, now able to build on what the first wave created, are pushing to re-define foundation arts program priorities. The Ben Camerons, Daniel Windhams, Oliver Mosiers, John McGuirks and many others are at the earliest stages of redefining and remaking the world of foundation arts programs.

      Fifth, these newer leaders are pushing the envelope at a time when the foundations they work for are undergoing profound changes in their board compositions, their funding priorities, and their basic assumptions about philanthropy and ideas and thoughts on how to leverage their grantmaking activities to produce results.

      Finally, the economic crisis and the needs of the field have given rise to inward reflective thinking and openness to changes in approaches.

      So I ask myself the rhetorical question: “Will GIA and the new arts funder community leadership finally be able to launch real cooperation and collaboration in addressing a host of challenges facing the sector – challenges that really demand a national perspective and focus? Will that effort succeed in involving government – from the NEA to local municipal funders as well? Will it spur increased thinking of ourselves as a cohesive sector?

      To be sure, there are many forces that will work against any such shift – however minor. Grantees are jealous and powerful forces in local communities who do not, understandably, want to see any funds re-directed to challenges and issues larger than their own viability, especially in these precarious financial times. Many have become addicted to, and dependent on, the foundation largess. Boards remain conservative, partial to certain larger, established cultural institutions and are still somewhat risk-averse. There are political, as well as fiscal, reservations and concerns. The arts funding community leadership itself (including not only foundations, but government agencies (at all levels) and corporations) is extremely diverse and by no means on the same page when it comes to determining which issues to address or how to address them. Not unlike every other community, there are egos involved at every level of our sector that keep consensus on where to put resources difficult to achieve. The field itself likely disagrees on what to emphasize and how to deal with problems. There is the issue of scarce resources – money and time, both in short supply, both essential to fashioning and crafting new approaches to long existent challenges.

      And then there is the tendency to talk a lot about the big issues, which talk seems to, in part, paralyze any real effort to do anything. To be blunt, we have talked about all of this (from collaborations to advocacy, from convenings to technology, many times before and little has come out of that talk. (Note: I didn’t say nothing has come of the talk, just too little – in my opinion).

      So I was fascinated with the reports on the “closed session” wherein the funding community took up identification of the major issues facing the arts, and what should be the arts sector funding community priorities. As Ian reported in his blog, Ben Cameron summarized that session as follows:

      Participants collectively identified the following four issues as the most important to arts philanthropy for the next ten years:

      1. Demographic change and social equity
      2. Technology and its role in creating a new generation gap
      3. The impact of increasing globalization
      4. The rise in arts participation that blurs the line between personal (amateur) and professional“

      Well you can’t get more general and vague and less specific than that. Who could disagree with the above? So I asked the session’s facilitator, Diane Mataraza, for some background on the session, and here’s what she told me:

      “We divided up all conference participants into 10 groups by structures and resources. Each of the 10 groups, facilitated by a peer, was asked the same three questions, based on the premise that in 2020 the creative sector (however each participant wished to define it) will be healthy and successful. Given that... we asked:

      1. In 2009 what did you do (or begin to do) to contribute to this success?
      2. Given your response to question 1, what were your priorities and who were your partners or allies?
      3. What is GIA uniquely positioned to contribute to your success?”

      In a further report on Ben’s presentation, Ian (who had access to Ben’s notes after the fact) added this in his blog post:

      “Each of these issues leads to and requires collaboration, according to Cameron, particularly efforts such as data gathering, research, convenings, and leadership development. In doing so, arts funders will need to seek out important allies that have not always been among the usual suspects, including individual artists, the media, government agencies, and others. Cameron appealed to his audience to “pledge to instill in ourselves the same principles that we seek to instill in our grantees,” namely, “showing up, speaking truth, and letting go of predetermined results.”

      The full list of anticipated interventions is as follows:
      • Data gathering, tracking and evaluation 
      • Leadership development and mentoring 
      • Advocacy 
      • Arts education 
      • Innovation/ experimentation 
      • Networks and collaborations 
      • Convenings 
      • Efforts to articulate and substantiate the value of the arts in and for their communities
      And here’s the full list of key collaborators in this work:
      • Artists 
      • Other funders 
      • The media, including TV, radio and the press 
      • Youth groups 
      • Social service agencies 
      • Non-arts government agencies (transportation, education, economic development) 
      • And many “outliers” in different groups, including casinos, libraries and energy corporations  
      • Non arts sectors, citing especially the value of other sectors to nurture and stimulate true innovation”
      All of this is still very general and vague and (for me anyway) leads to lots of questions as to specificity:

      • What kinds of data should be gathered, tracked and evaluated?

      • What do they mean by “leadership development and mentoring”? Are they referring to emerging leaders or established leadership or both?

      • What is meant by the inclusion of advocacy? It seems to surface on lists of funders priorities all the time, but the reality is that funders don’t want to be directly involved with it on any level and run from it as a funding issue as fast as they can. So, other than believing it’s an important issue, what possible involvement could they have?

      • As to the issues of collaboration and innovation – specifically what should we collaborate on?

      • Convenings – again of whom, for what purpose? When?

      • What is meant by ‘demographic changes” and “social equity”?

      • What is meant by globalization?

      The devil, as they say, is in the details. Diane informs me that they have several hundred pages of notes from the session to wade through before an anticipated report to be published in the GIA Reader this winter (The Reader is one of GIA’s really stellar signature tools and which may be the closest thing we have to an academically rigorous national arts & culture journal of policy). I hope this report, when published, has more specificity and detail, and I hope it generates increased dialogue within the funding AND the wider arts community about the role GIA might play in making funding more effective – particularly in dealing with the sector wide big issues.

      There was also (I am informed by other sources) some reflective and even difficult soul searching discussion among the attendees as to where funders may have come up short in the exercise of their best intentions. Ian described it this way in his blog:

      “I found this paragraph from Cameron’s notes particularly interesting:
      ‘Funders were self-critical as well, citing frequent isolation, the need for renewal. Moreover, there were recurring conversations about the philanthropic exchange—conversations about inadvertent burdens funders place on grantees, the degree to which funders are proscriptive vs. responsive, and the need for increased candor and transparency in these times.’”

      My other sources tell me the conversations included funder missteps in addressing issues of diversity, equality in funding opportunities and a host of other issues. This candid internal dialogue, is, I believe, a very healthy sign and a strong indication that GIA may just be on the precipice of taking a giant leap forward in becoming a more significant and major player in promoting and facilitating cooperation, collaboration and partnerships in addressing sector wide problems and challenges. As Ian concluded:

      “I’m really glad that these conversations are happening at the funder level–it shows that people are really thinking about the issues described in a serious way. It was my sense throughout the conference that attendees are very much aware of the need to institute new ways of operating in order to more fairly and accurately reflect the times, but that putting words into action will be the real challenge. As Cameron stated in his speech, “the hunger to ’shatter the box’ was palpable in many rooms, even while we are clearly at an early point in figuring out what that will mean and how we can achieve that.” Funders are often seen as a cautious group, but dealing successfully with some of these societal shifts may well require taking more risks than might initially feel comfortable. If funders can overcome the fear of what the bosses will think, or what the board will think, or what the lawyers will think if we decide to do things differently, those risks can be evaluated with their upside in mind in addition to the downside.”

      I hope so. I hope the arts program foundation leaders will be bold and take risks. I hope they can successfully challenge and sway any reticence by their bosses and boards to avoid working as a unified whole to deal with big issues and spend (at least) some part of their treasure, time, and expertise on other than just local issues; that they fund projects directed at the sector as a whole in addition to the array of deserving organizations and artists that receive grants from them. I hope they will use GIA as a platform around which they can coalesce and begin to build consensus among themselves as to how to fund and tackle the big ticket items – including (on their own list: advocacy, convening, creating real collaboration, technology, the disconnect between amateur and professional artists and the current nonprofit arts ecosystem (and by implication – generations). I hope they will use that platform to take action steps they would otherwise be unable or unwilling to do as individual foundations and funders. I hope they will help the arts field to develop more of a sense of itself; to move towards taking advantage of our sheer numbers and potential clout. I hope they will help us to think in terms of us being a sector, a profession. And I hope that in attempting to do so, they can move others – from the NEA and regional arts organizations to corporations – to work with them to address sector wide issues. GIA is, in my opinion, uniquely situated to deal with some sector wide challenges that are too big to be dealt with on any smaller level.

      A key marker as to whether or not Janet and those active GIA leaders will be able to move forward in terms of marshalling a more unified and concerted response to the bigger problems we face will be whether or not GIA’s members can, and do, allocate more funding to the organization itself (whether in the form of dues or contributions to specific projects) to increase GIA’s capacity to act – including expanded staffing, its own research efforts, and a pool for future special projects and cooperative efforts. It is that last item that will be the most telling. There are many things GIA might accomplish on its membership’s behalf which those members (at least as of this point in time) absolutely cannot and will not accomplish on their own. A strong, well funded GIA, capable of, and free to launch bold new initiatives and take risks in terms of mounting collaborative efforts (with the NEA, the Regional Arts Councils, state agencies, national arts organizations like AFTA and APAP, and with those stakeholders -- from the PTA to the Chamber of Commerce -- with whom we need greater outreach and intersections for cooperation) would be a powerful force for our growth and for our ability to address many of the big issues that currently go unaddressed. But it will take money, time, people and a willingness on the part of its membership to take risks and do some real analysis and out of the box thinking.

      I am encouraged that people like Janet Brown, Diane Mataraza and Ben Cameron might be encouraged.

      Have a great week.

      Don’t Quit.