Saturday, December 24, 2011


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

New Year's Resolutions:

Time once again to trot out the same resolutions we make every year:  get to the gym; exercise more, eat healthy; get organized; spend more time doing what we like; be a better person.  Lofty and admirable aspirations all.  Good luck.

On an ambitious but not unrealistic thread, here are some modest suggestions for New Year's resolutions the arts community as a whole early ought to make - directed principally at the funders and national arts organizations that have the capacity, resources and platforms to actually do something about these issues:

1.  Cultural Equity:  Address finally the disparity in the allocation of funding that gives short shift to the smaller, newer and multicultural organizations.  And with due respect to those of good will that recognize the challenge and want to address it - it really isn't about desired outcomes or long range objectives.  Equity is about fairness; it's about equality in application.  The simple fact is that the current systemic mechanisms we use to allocate funding simply aren't 'fair.'  They favor one class of organizations over all the rest and no amount of rationalization can justify the inherent 'inequity' in the reality.   Make it fair.

2.  Research:  We need a national consensus policy to guide our research efforts into the decade.  As good as our research is, and as capable as our researchers are - it is basically piecemeal.  We need an over-arching policy as to what we need to know, on what timeline and to what purpose.  And we need at least some modicum of cooperation so we can pursue research in some linear pattern.  Somebody please convene a national summit to deal with our currently all over the map research efforts.  At least create ways  researchers (can and will) talk to each other on some regular basis.

3.  Political Action Committees:  Every state arts advocacy organization should establish a state Political Action Committee this year.  This isn't rocket science.  It's all perfectly legal and easy to do - including, contrary to the naysayers - raising funds to support the effort (and it takes far, far less to be effective than you think).  The net result will be dramatically increased political clout,  a much needed sense of empowerment and belief that we can indeed control our own destinies, and a huge push in the momentum towards collaboration.  It will also likely to lead to better results for us.

4.  Economies of Scale:  Again somebody please look at the issue of how we can reduce our operating costs by cooperative ventures from a national perspective.  From accounting and payroll services, to marketing, to such mundane things as printing expenses - we are all paying more than we should because we do not leverage our numbers to cut costs and get discounts.  It is simply too hard for arts organizations on a local level to put together cooperatives that will accomplish these kinds of savings.  There has to be some help from at least the state level, and better on the federal level, that will create the framework so organizations can plug into it and easily enjoy the advantages of large scale buying power.  For example: There is no reason the arts sector shouldn't own it's own printing plants - strategically located around the country - that would produce all our stationery, brochures, fundraising flyers, posters, advertisements etc.  That would allow all of us access to high quality artwork and finished product at highly competitive prices and on an as good as (and maybe better) delivery schedule.  With off the shelf software and internet advances, and drop shipping widely available - there is no reason to continue to pay local high prices for quality printing.  We should start our own printing business.

5.  Local Arts Agency Funding Diversity:  We desperately need to convene our best minds to brainstorm ideas as to how we can diversify the funding streams of local and state arts agencies.  A new funding model for government funding is needed very soon if this branch of our funding infrastructure is to survive.  I don't know what the answer is, or even if there is one - but let's make it a national priority to find out.

6.  Shift in Arts Education Demands:  At the risk of offending some of those who have for so long fought the good fight to get curriculum based, sequential arts education - with universal standards and assessment - taught by qualified / certified teachers - for all students K-12 - we need to adjust our thinking to be more realistic.  The simple and unalterable fact is that the cost of one visual arts, one music, one dance and one drama teacher in every school is so enormous as to be prohibitively expensive.  It just cannot happen across all jurisdictions.  Let's resolve to identify smaller, reachable annual objectives that move us along the continuum, even if it's just steps in the right direction.

7.  Mentoring:  Here's one last resolution that would make an enormous difference, and though it would take a serious time commitment - it is within our power.  Each seasoned arts leader who has been in the field for more than ten years - resolve to find someone to mentor who has been in the field less than five years - and at least offer to do it for at least six months.  Maybe some national organization or funder would facilitate the creation of a website that would broker those looking for mentors with those willing to volunteer.

So please all you foundation people and you national organization leaders - think about resolving to address one or more of the above issues.

Happy New Year.  Let's hope it's a good one, the misinterpreters of the Mayan calendar notwithstanding.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dealing with the Data

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on..................."
Some research that raises questions for our strategies:
According to the Pew Research Center, households headed by older adults have made dramatic gains in economic well-being relative to those headed by younger adults over the last 25 years.

"The typical household headed by adults over 65 had 47 times as much net wealth as one headed by adults under 35 -- $170,494 versus $3,662 (all figures expressed in 2010 dollars). Back in 1984, this ratio had been less lopsided, at ten-to-one. In absolute terms, the oldest households in 1984 had a median net wealth $108,936 higher than that of the youngest households. In 2009, the gap had widened to $166,832.
The median net worth of older and younger households moved in opposite directions between 1984 and 2009. Older households gained 42% in median net worth while net worth for younger households fell by 68%. These age-based divergences widened substantially with the housing market collapse of 2006, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the ensuing jobless recovery. But this gap began appearing decades earlier, suggesting that it is linked to long-term demographic and social changes as much as it is to recent economic stagnation.
Housing has been the main driver of the household wealth gap. Compared with their counterparts in 1984, rising home equity has been the linchpin of the higher wealth of older households in 2009. Declining home equity has had the opposite effect on younger households."

This raises several questions:  
1) In terms of financial support, are older Americans then the best likely prime target for the foreseeable future?  Is the same true for audience development or are the two apples and oranges?
2) Though I don't think we can automatically conclude that younger cohorts will not be generous in their giving patterns nor that we should not cultivate them for both the short and long term, given their economic situation, how do we adjust our strategies?  
3) Is pricing (more than other considerations) more of an issue for younger households as they struggle economically ?  (and thus do we need to ramp up our thinking in terms of alternate delivery systems for our products)? 

In short, what precisely are the priorities of each generation in terms of our offerings?  Do we have sufficient data on different generational concerns - including different geographical and demographic differences with same set generational cohorts?  And does our marketing take these variables into consideration?

II.  This also from Pew - research on the precipitous decline in marriage:
"In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are. If current trends continue, the share of adults who are currently married will drop to below half within a few years. Other adult living arrangements-including cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood-have all grown more prevalent in recent decades.
The Pew Research analysis also finds that the number of new marriages in the U.S. declined by 5% between 2009 and 2010, a sharp one-year drop that may or may not be related to the sour economy."

While we continue the inquiry into the motivation of why our audiences do or do not attend our events (including the intangibles of depth and breadth of experience etc.), are we ignoring the more basic issue of knowing more about who are audience really is?  Do we assume (perhaps erroneously) the most of the seats at our performances are occupied by "couples"? Is our marketing premised on that assumption?  What percentage of our audiences are singles - alone or in groups?  Is there any difference, quantifiable or otherwise, between the attendance / spending patterns of married couples v. co-habitators or other living arrangement couples or singles (recognizing that younger singles act socially in packs)?  Does our marketing take any of this into consideration?  Does the trend towards accessing art via technology reflect the growing singles market - as perhaps it is less appealing for singles to attend performances by themselves (and it would be interesting to know how attendance at movies relates to this issue)? Is the philanthropic giving of couples (irrespective of how defined) and singles vastly different?  

I suppose the problem with research is there is too much to study, too many variables to take into consideration, and (especially because our resources are limited) that it is very difficult to fit all the pieces into a coherent whole, but the base of all the research we do must ultimately start with building on our knowledge base of precisely who are audiences are, and the data that most directly impacts how we might expand that group.  Are the current audiences who we think they are?  

Shifts in marriage and generational income are but two of probably scores of markers that may impact the success of our strategies.  Within each of just those two threads, there are doubtless questions of differences in patterns based on ethnicity, geography, education level, gender and more.  What don't we know?

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More on the Cultural Equity Discussion

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

Funding disproportionately in favor of Euro-Centric, Major Organizations?
The debate on cultural equity - or more appropriately - cultural inequity - ramped up this week with a GIA Blogathon on the issue (with a stellar group of contributors - but whom I feel often skirted the essence of the issue - i.e., the fact of inequality of support), and Arlene Goldbard's continuing series.

At the heart of the discussion is the legacy of both government and philanthropic support for Euro-centric, big budget cultural institutions at the expense of the array of multicultural and newer generational smaller organizations.  See Fusing Arts Culture and Social Change - High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy authored by Holly Sidfor - the excellent report that was the genesis of the current discussion..  To no one's surprise the statistics bear out that proportionately most funding goes to the larger, well established cultural institutions across the country - the operas, museums, symphonies, ballet and theater companies.

To be sure, there has been significant progress over the past two decades in moving more towards, if not true cultural equity - then at least something a little more balanced.  Many would decry it's been far too little and too slow and I would be hard pressed to disagree.  And because politics is about bloc constituency appeasement, there has arguably been more progress in equitable governmental funding support because it is more (though surely not truly) transparent, and because ultimately equity means votes.  I suspect the arts would have fared even better in achieving real equitable governmental support were we more organized politically and more willing to demand that result.  Private philanthropic support too can claim credit for inventive and impactful programs moving towards more  balance, but it cannot be denied that foundational decision making is hardly transparent, nor that the end result is clearly more often inequitable than equitable.

But the answer to the question:  "Is diversity funding a core value to the arts philanthropic community" - despite some soul searching and some notable attempts, the sorry answer born out by the reality is: "No it is not." At best we are paying lip service to what is a lofty and politically correct aspiration, but which is really - thus far - not a great deal more.  The money - the real money - flows where it has always flowed - to the biggest Euro centric arts organizations - especially money from the foundation world.  By any standard or criteria it isn't going to the vast - and huge - multicultural, experimental, newer arts organizations.  Self-serving patting ourselves on the back for our accomplishments in moving towards real cultural equity would seem premature.

Arlene posits three principal areas of causation for the ongoing continuation of that legacy: entrenched privilegeencoded prejudice; and risk aversion.  In essence, all three are intertwined in what was once called "the good old boy network" - or to use more contemporary parlance - a form of tribalism.  It isn't helpful to characterize this in any pejorative sense as evil or conspiratorial - rather it is really just the natural tendency to support one's "own" - the familiar, that with which one grew up.  And that legacy of how things are done favors what it has always favor - the larger Euro-centric cultural institutions.  The bottom line is this: we are not likely to change private decision-making as the same governs equity considerations until we change the culture of leadership currently (still) existent in the Board rooms where the decisions about who gets how much are made.  

This is a Board of Directors issue.  I believe virtually all the capable and qualified foundation arts program officers know fully well that they manage programs are that are not really equitable (with some obvious exceptions here and there), and that these people know how to, and would very much like to, move towards that more equitable  balance, but ultimately the final decisions rest not with them, but with Board members.  And the direct network crossover by and between those Board members with those very major cultural organizations that disproportionately benefit the most is the one thing that is very transparent.  It is still "who you know".  

Given that the composition of these Boards is not likely to convert to a truly demographic representation of the populace or the field in any overnight epiphany, how then do we move to address cultural inequity in as meaningful and rapid a way as possible?  

First, I think we must acknowledge and accept the reality of how public and philanthropic dollars are meted out, by whom, and on what basis.  Let's call a spade a spade.  We have a problem here Houston.  Given that reality, we can continue to move forward (albeit painfully slowly) by a relentless pushing from both inside the agencies and foundations, and by exerting outside pressure, to adopt more protocols and programs that move towards equity.  The moral imperative of Spike Lee's reminder long ago to entreat decision makers to "do the right thing" is not altogether an ineffective strategy.

Similarly we can ratchet up the cry for diversity in the Boardrooms and not just token representation either. Here a public spotlight may be out best weapon - shined ceaselessly on the organizations, their procedures and track records and most of all on the individual human Board members.  Times have changed and Board members - no matter how high up in the pantheon of the elite - are nonetheless sensitive to public opinion and want to avoid even the appearance of favoritism or inequity.  So let's point that out to them so they can address the issue.

But all of that is a kind of political approach to what is really a systemic challenge to change the cultural "mindset" of philanthropic funding allocation itself, and THAT will be harder to change and take longer than we will want -- for the current mindset is endemic to the whole modern era philanthropic apparatus that has had time to become entrenched and codified.  Sometimes you can achieve great results by insistently demanding change happen, but too often that change is merely symbolic and confined to the surface.  No, I don't think pressure on Boards in and of itself is the ultimate solution - though it is an arrow in our quiver.

So we have to continue to develop other mechanisms that address the systemic nature of the mindset, and that approach is more arduous and difficult.

I came across the site for Grantmakers for Effective Organization (thanks to Diem Jones for the link) and two recent reports on their site caught my eye as potentially effective mechanisms for moving the philanthropic mindset closer to one that is amenable to advancing cultural equity (though slowly folks).

The first has to do with making 'empathy' a core driver of grant making activity.  The report offers five suggestions for more effective grant making:

1. Make it about others, not about you.
High-empathy grantmakers look at their organizations’ grantmaking strategies, policies, processes and re- quirements through the eyes of grantees and others, and they ask questions about whether their organization is doing the right thing by its grantees and applicants for support.
High-empathy grantmakers also have an intuitive understanding of how important it is for others to feel own- ership of their work and priorities. As a result, they are conscious of ensuring that they remain behind the scenes, and that nonprofits and community members are out front in shaping and taking credit for their work.
2. Get out of the office.
Nothing beats a face-to-face visit to the very places where a grantmaker’s stakeholders live their lives and do their work. This allows grantmakers to develop and deepen relationships and to see the world through the eyes of the people who are the focus of their work.
Getting out of the office doesn’t mean simply engaging in exploratory site visits, however. Often, it means working hand in hand with others in the community — recognizing that your mandate does not begin and end at the front doors of your offices. Other ways for grantmakers to “get out there” include volunteering and serving on nonprofit boards, in local government and in civic organizations.
3. Bring the outside in.
High-empathy foundations actively try to remove the barriers that can contribute to their isolation and ano- nymity in their communities. One way they start is by bringing into the organization the kind of people it serves — including nonprofit executive directors and staff, as well as representatives of the communities that are the focus of its grantmaking.
Beyond hiring “customers,” high-empathy foundations also take other steps to ensure that they are bringing the outside in. These include adding nonprofit and community representatives to the board; adding comment pages and other interactive elements to the foundation website; inviting grantees to share stories with the staff and board in formal and informal settings; and even populating the walls of the office with stories, photos and artwork that reflect what’s happening in the community and among the people they serve.
4. Invest in what it takes.
In many ways, the shift to high-empathy grantmaking can happen through relatively simple steps that foun- dations and their people can take to connect in more authentic ways with others. At the same time, however, grantmakers should recognize that creating widespread empathy in their organizations may require stepped-up investments in operations. Some grantmakers, for example, have decided to add staff as a way to foster strong- er connections with grantees.

Beyond staffing, grantmakers also might find they have to invest in new processes, new systems and new strat- egies to nurture deeper connections between their people and the communities they serve. One caveat as grantmakers consider what they can do to forge deeper relationships with grantees and others: Always be con- scious of your impact on the capacity of grantees to stay focused on their work. Stronger connections and openness to listening and hearing grantee concerns are almost always welcome; interfering in grantees’ day-to- day operations is not.
5. Lead from the top.
One of the most essential characteristics of high-empathy organizations is a leadership team that walks the talk and demonstrates high-empathy behaviors in its everyday work.
To change the culture and overarching strategies of the organization, leaders must embrace widespread empathy as the pathway to better results for the organization and its stakeholders. That means getting everybody to focus on what’s really going to make a difference for the people and the organizations that are central to the mission of the organization.
Leaders also should review what the foundation does (and how it can do more) to promote work practices that encourage and sustain empathy, from deep listening and reflection to looking at the world through the eyes of grantees and others. 

The second report dealt with Catalyzing Networks for Social Change.  As the introduction stated: "Philanthropists are at a new crossroads of increasing fragmentation and interdependence. On the one hand, we’re living in a world where perspectives, practices and action are increasingly fragmented as people and organizations become more specialized in their interests and siloed in their actions. On the other hand, we’re living in a world that is becoming more and more interdependent as ideas, money, things and people move across boundaries of all kinds. Simply stated, philanthropists are operating in a rapidly changing, networked world where the pathways to effecting social change are far from straightforward.  There is a growing imperative for funders to combine longstanding instincts toward independent initiative and action with an emerging network mindset and toolkit that helps them see their work as part of larger, more diverse and more powerful efforts."  

Here is a quick overview of the traditional v. network approach to funding:

Traditional and network approaches to grantmaker Challenges

Traditional approach

network approach
Build community assets
Administer social services
Weave social ties
Develop better designs and decisions
Gather input from people you know
Access new and diverse perspectives
Spread what works
Disseminate white papers
Openly build and share knowledge
Mobilize action
Organize tightly coordinated campaigns
Create infrastructure for widespread engagement
Overcome fragmentation
Bring players and programs under a single umbrella
Coordinate resources and action

I was particularly caught by the section on working with a network mindset and how that might be an approach we can use as a step in altering the culture of arts philanthropic decision making.  The report describes that premise:  "Working with a network mindset means operating with an awareness of the webs of relationships you are embedded in.  It also means cultivating these relationships to achieve the impact you care about.   Working with a network mindset also means finding where the conversations are happening and taking part in them — exercising leadership through active participation.  Of course, working transparently and sharing leadership isn’t always easy. Basic grantmaking structures and mechanics, such as siloed program areas and static application requirements, inhibit working this way. In addition, there are many open questions about how working with a network mindset will mesh with current ways of doing business."

Implementing either or both these approaches (or others that may be developed that promise the same improvements) will not be easy, will take time and effort, and may not even net us the full result we seek.  But we need to take a holistic approach to dealing with the challenge.  Our whole future of relevance is likely at stake.  

Opening up the cultural philanthropic decision making so as to facilitate movement towards equity will require opening up to more and newer community relationships and involvement, and to greater transparency in the whole decision making process.  That won't be any easy conversion for most entrenched Boards that are use to going it their own way, nor will imposing empathy, but step by step by step we can apply pressure and instigate and embed new approaches that favor more openness and THAT needs to be part of the approach.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 4, 2011

We've Got Offers to Re-Locate to Another City

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

Making the Arts as Essential to a City as Sports Teams Are:
This ArtPlace grant came to my attention courtesy of Createquity:  Here's what the ArtPlace website says:  "An internationally acclaimed modern dance company, the Trey McIntyre Project has taken Boise, Idaho, as its home base and has won extraordinary popular support from the city. Through a new project, the company will limit its touring to remain in Boise, where it will engage the community to make dance and dancers ever present. The aim is to generate local identity and pride equivalent to that fostered by the university football team. By working with everyone from restaurants and bars to hospitals and schools, the project will shape how this mid-sized city sees itself and presents itself as a creative beacon".

I like this for two reasons:  First, in awarding money to an arts organization to limit its touring to local venues the grant recognizes the critical importance of the arts (and specific arts organizations) to a city.  It even specifies that the dance company is equivalent to the local university football team.  I have long thought that major city ballets, symphonies, operas, museums and theater companies are as essential to the life of a city as its major league football, basketball and baseball teams, and that we ought to more often make the comparison.  I've even entertained the fantasy that, like some major league sports franchise owners do, those organizations ought to threaten from time to time to re-locate to some city that would be more responsive to its needs.  I would love the specter of non-supportive cities scrambling to figure out how to keep a major cultural institution that was being courted to move elsewhere.

I also think whole disciplines and even the arts sector is invaluable to a city.  Take dance in San Francisco - over 200 companies that help make the city a mecca for talent, for dreams and all the energy of all those people involved (not to mention that they are economic consumers).   Organization of all those players is necessary to leverage that potential power.   

Of course that is just a fantasy and would be very difficult, if not impossible, to pull off a threat to re-locate (though it would be interesting to see some test case somewhere).  Can you imagine if the Guggenheim or the Getty threatened to move?  

The second reason I like this story is that the Trey McIntyre Project is so smart and savvy to position itself to be able to successfully secure this kind of support.  And it did so from the decision as to where to locate in the first place.  The fact is that the company is indeed  "internationally acclaimed" and very likely would have been welcomed in hundreds of cities, but it consciously chose Boise and it would seem part of that decision was likely grounded in what they could come to mean locally, and what that kind of support would mean to their future - including the freedom to be creative.  

Not every dance company can mean to a city what, say, Alvin Ailey means to New York.  But it should be the goal of every arts organization to consciously do whatever it reasonably can to mean as much as it can to the city in which it resides.  Every organization needs to think strategically to position itself as so tied to local pride and identity that losing it to some other place would be absolutely unacceptable.  

And frankly I think we ought to play the "we're considering offers to move" card every once in awhile.

Kudos to the Trey McIntyre Project, Arts Place and the city of Boise.


  • A belated congratulations to Shannon Daut on her appointment as the new Executive Director of the Alaska State Council on the Arts and best wishes to my friend Charlotte Fox on wherever she next lands.

  • The San Francisco Arts Commission mess.  I am following very closely the continuing saga of the SF Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grants Program - what was purportedly a scandal, but is becoming more of a mishandled bureaucratic SNAFU.  An important meeting for Monday, December 5th.  Whatever happens this one potentially has all the hallmarks of a real soap opera drama.  See Arlene Goldbard's blog.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.