"And the beat goes on……………….."
Sometimes I look around at what we're NOT doing, especially when compared to other sectors, and I just don't get it.
I've give you some examples:
I. I was watching the Little League World Series on television over the weekend. This is 8 to 12 year old kids playing on a big stage like their heroes in the big leagues (though I must admit that on some of the teams some of the players look like they are in their 20's or something). But it's basically kids living their dream - with all the considerable intensity and passion they can muster. It has a certain purity to it because it's kids - not professionals, and the prize in winning is the satisfaction of having gone the journey and succeeded. In many ways it isn't all that different from any number of arts pursuits that kids are involved in.
Apart from what it means to the kids, it is used by the Sports Interests as a tool to encourage kids to play baseball (and thus a future farm system for the sport; and also a tool to develop future fans) and more importantly, it is a public relations tool promoting the value of participating in sports for young people. Indeed there were commercials and on air commentary to that precise observation. The whole Little League apparatus is very organized and works very well in support of the proposition that sports are important and valuable.
I don't understand why the arts can't mount some similar efforts deploying kids' involvement in dance, music, theater and the arts as a whole. Where is the arts version of the Little League World Series? Where is the arts public relations tool to capture the same public platform touting the value of the arts to kids? There are just as many kids whose lives are positively impacted by the arts as by Little League baseball; just as many kids passionate about their arts participation as ballplayers are; just as many proud parents and communities; and just as much potential media value in kids' performances on stage as on the ball field. There ought to be some version of kids and the arts that gets that kind of media attention. But there isn't.
I don't get it.
II. The movie and music industries discovered some time ago that the public is fascinated by Top Ten Lists. Indeed, the music industry charts of the best selling singles / albums pioneered the approach. And the movie industry gets all kinds of free press on an almost weekly basis by releasing the Top Ten Box Office hits (measured by gross ticket sales) which virtually every news station in the country seems to cover in on-air time. It makes the release of new films more exciting, it gives free publicity to new releases and shows the public what is and isn't really popular. It's another on air tout for the film industry itself, including the idea of going to movies. Why don't we have something like that? There are all kinds of statistics that we could compile easily enough and release as Top Ten lists -- everything from the Top Ten Attended Museum Exhibits of the Month; the Top Ten Grossing Dance or Symphony performances to the Top Ten Grossing Theater Productions. Or maybe to garner big numbers, because the public and media like big numbers, the Top Aggregate Monthly Gross for All theater, dance, music, museum etc. attendance in the arts across the country. The point is simply that we have the means to ramp up the media coverage we get simply by reporting (and packaging that reporting) on the statistics that exist. Why aren't we doing something like that?
I don't get it.
III. Speaking of lists, if someone were to compile a list of the Top Five Issues on the Nonprofit Arts field's priority agenda, here are some that would likely be included: 1) Equity and Diversity; 2) Community Engagement; 3) Audience expansion development, particularly with younger cohorts; 4) next generation donor cultivation; and 5) recruitment, retention, training and development of the next generation of leaders.
Why then are there so few younger people on arts nonprofit Boards of Directors? The litany of justifications for the absence of anywhere near a proportional representation of, say Millennials, on our Boards (they lack commitment, they're inexperienced, they can't meet financial minimum obligations, they're unseasoned) are now seen largely as thinly disguised (lame) attempts to keep people off Boards whom current Board members don't want to share the decision making with.
1) If we truly want diversity then we have to address ageism - both against older and younger people; 2) it makes no sense for community engagement efforts to ignore the now largest age group in the country - Millennials; 3) foregoing the input of the very audience we are trying to attract is just stupid; 4) ditto our attempts to cultivate future donors; and 5) just how do our future leaders acquire the skills and experience we want them to have if we exclude them from opportunities to develop those skills and gain that experience? And keeping them off our Boards (or failing to recruit them) sends a negative message about how important they are to our future --- harming our recruitment efforts. Yet few Boards have more than a token level, at best, of younger Board membership, and there doesn't seem any concerted, sustained efforts to get more younger people on our Boards.
I don't get it.
IV. We are constantly now talking about how much work there is to do and how understaffed we are in our capacity to do that work and how pressed for time we are. Indeed, increasingly the Executive Director, across the whole spectrum of arts organizations, spends more and more time as a fund raiser - to the exclusion of other tasks. If time is an important asset, why then as a sector, does it still take most of us a thousand words to address some issue or make some point, when a twenty word response would not only suffice, but be far more to the point? Why, when we seem to love to tweet, can't we extend that discipline of the "only 140 characters" lesson of brevity to our ill served penchant to be so damn long winded about everything. (Yes, I am assuredly guilty myself). Why do we waste so much time and feel compelled to drone on and on about everything?
I don't get it.
V. Where is our anger and outrage at the relentless attempts to marginalize our attempts to secure K-12 arts education across the country. In what amounts to Grand Theft Arts (the stealing of our kids futures by failure to provide them with the opportunity to hone their creativity - which is a crime of sorts -- and we ought to hold press conferences indicting local officials as a way to gain media attention) - we continue to accept it as though it is the natural order of things. Why? Why aren't we up in arms and marching in the streets to demonstrate how important arts education (or arts funding) really is? Why don't we mobilize and demonstrate and picket school boards or legislatures? Why are we so damn polite? So darned contrite and wimpy? Why aren't we mad as hell? And why don't we fully understand that marshaling public demand is key to solving a wide range of our problems, and without that demand, most of our efforts are doomed? If an issue isn't important enough to us to demand a solution, how on earth can we expect it to be important to anyone else? The fact is that those who "push" for what they want, more often get something, than those that sit idly by on the sidelines and say nothing. Why we choose the latter approach is beyond me.
I don't get it.
Maybe some of you have the answers. I don't get it. I really don't.
Have a great week.