Sunday, June 18, 2017

High Tech May Yield Even More Space Opportunities for the Arts

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

Note:  To all the boomers out there - Paul McCartney turns 75.  If you haven't yet begun to stop and smell the roses, you might want to start soon.  Time marches on.  Ain't nobody getting any younger.

I posted a blog last month that considered the possible opportunity for the arts and for artists as retail space (and particularly Mall space) continues to open up as retailers face competition from online companies.

Now another reality brought about by high tech promises there may be even more urban space needing desperately to re-purpose itself, and which therefor may be an opportunity for the arts and artists.

An article in City Lab notes how automated cars and drones are likely to result in fewer cars and trucks on the road, and, as a consequence, make downtown parking lots unnecessary:

"Ian Siegel is a futurist. As founder and CEO for ZipRecruiter, the job-seeking site, he spends a lot of time thinking about what happens next in work. From his 11th-floor office in downtown Santa Monica, Siegel says, he can see seven different parking garages, each one capable of hosting north of 1,000 cars—none of which will be necessary in the future he foresees. “There’s an amazing amount of real estate that’s about to go underutilized,” Siegel says, “unless they find a way to repurpose it.”
Siegel is backing one of the sunnier future transportation timelines: In his mind, the coming rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs), coupled with the takeoff of drone delivery, will leave our roads empty and our parking lots derelict."

And moving the reality of automated vehicles and drone delivery to scale may well not be that far in the future:  Smart phones went from the drawing board to near ubiquitous global usage in less than a decade.  Some predict that individuals will stop buying cars within five years and rely exclusively on the widespread availability of self-driving cars via uber and lyft type services on an as needed basis.  I'm not sure people will so easily give up their love affair with their automobiles, but I suffer the biases of an older generation.  I don't doubt a tech led paradigm shift in transportation is inevitable.

If the result is that these urban parking lots will have to be repurposed, it is unlikely retail stores will be the stand in.  Like empty Malls, empty parking lots may well present the arts and artists with new possibilities for exhibition, performance and work spaces in urban settings.  Of course, many such venues would be repurposed as living residences as that may be the most profitable re-use -- but not in all locations.

Who knows what other technological developments may positively or negatively impact the arts in the future.  The only thing that is probably a certainty is that tech developments will impact us in profound ways.  While it is impossible to predict what developments may be introduced, and exactly how they may impact us, as tech rolls out ever new innovations, there are usually clues and time to make some predictions.  Thus, the near death of urban retail, and perhaps, parking spaces has only begun to happen.  We still have time to react and do something if we deem it prudent, do-able and in our interests.  And many of these opportunities will need to be acted on early.

What we need is to create some mechanism that will allow us to consider the introduction of tech developments, assess their potential (positive and negative) impacts on us, and make recommendations as to how to respond -- rather than wait until the last minute to act.  We need, as a sector, to get in front of how tech changes our businesses and core vision, so we can react early on to maximize our options. What that mechanism would look like, or how it would be created and sustained, and by whom, are open questions we ought to think about.  My own thought is that this is precisely the kind of thing an active NEA could and should effectively address.  Absent their role, the sector needs to figure out how to address the issue.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Intersections and the Arts

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

Everywhere you look, we are consumed with the realities and possibilities of varying intersections of the arts with other specific fields: arts and the economy, arts and social justice, arts and healing, and the military, and placemaking, and community engagement, and entrepreneurship and on and on.  Then too there are the intersections of the arts with other disciplines including arts and science, arts and technology, arts and medicine.  Indeed, we might well argue that there is virtually no area that doesn't intersect with the arts, and we firmly believe the arts play a role in nearly every area by bringing value, support, ideas and creativity to each.

In part, this policy of promoting relationships with other fields and interest areas stems from our strategy that our alliances with other sectors is a way for us to advance our interests and our agendas, and demonstrate our value over and apart from the intrinsic value of the arts.  And while those who decry that too much emphasis is placed on the value of the arts as a handmaiden to other values, and perhaps not enough emphasis on what the arts do for individuals, communities and society by just being the arts, the advance of the promotion and involvement of the arts where they intersect with other areas, and where they spur partnerships, is a genie not likely easily put back in the jar.

But all intersections are not the same, and we tend to ignore that fact.  We're in favor of exploring intersections, but haven't devoted energy or resources to understanding how intersections work in general, or in specific cases.  Some intersections are of two equal, major thoroughfares.  But most arts intersections are with forces and structures that dwarf (even if only in their own thinking) the arts.  Rather than as two major highways, the arts are still often seen as (and in reality often actually are)  minor intersection avenues and roads. The arts, and the proposition that they validly and meaningfully  intersect with other areas, in many such cases are almost afterthoughts to the area with which we seek to intersect.  To be sure, we have made inroads in being treated more equally, in having a more respected and vocal presence at a number of intersections, but not everywhere.  While in many cases, the arts intersections are well established and respected, in many other cases we are still at the stage of convincing the "other" area with which we intersect, to see us as we see ourselves - bringing much to the table, and worthy of being seen as not just a contributor, but as worthy of support ourselves for what we bring.

Because there are now so many arts intersections being explored, supported and nurtured (at least by us), it would be wise to take a look at the whole area of intersections, and specifically arts intersections and to try to develop some tools to analyze (or at least consider) each one - first on a case by case basis to determine our relative strength in the potential relationship, what obstacles we face, what opportunities await us, and, generally, what we need to do, and to demand, in order for us to effectively move forward; and second, while each arts intersection is different, there are common elements to all and we can learn from the whole of our effort to pursue meaningful intersections so we might be better at the effort in the longer term.  Our progress in any number of intersections that are already along the continuum has yielded us results and data and experiences that can help us with both existing intersections, and those still embryonic or yet to be opened.  And we have research on some of those intersections. But more would help us to answer two fundamental questions:   What have we already learned and how can we apply it?  And what might we still learn about the phenomenon of how intersections (best) work?

The whole idea of the arts intersecting across virtually every field and every interest area is so pervasive, widespread and endorsed, that it deserves special attention as a whole subject matter on its own, apart from each individual application.  It is an area that would benefit greatly from more data, more analysis and more consideration as it own phenomenon, so we can have some continuity across these various intersections, and have the best chance of success in each one.  So while we rush to embrace intersections and make them work, we should, I think, spend more time trying to understand intersections as a phenomenon and how they work; more time in consideration of both the art and science of these specific kinds of arts intersections.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Arts Think Tank Follow Up

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

In wondering aloud where the Arts Think Tank is, in last week's blog, several points need to be made as follow up - and I thank several of the readers for raising them with me.

First, there actually was a foundation funded Think Tank created in the 1990's - The Center for Arts and Culture, and it existed for a decade or so, but closed due to lack of continuing funding in 2005. It was affiliated with a number of researchers at major universities - including Princeton, John Hopkins, the University of Texas - Austin, Carnegie Mellon, Rutgers and Ohio State, with financial support over the years from the Ford, Rockefeller, Packard, Pew, Nathan Cummings, Andy Warhol, and Robert Sterling Clark foundations.

It's Board included Alberta Arthurs, Frank Hodsoll, Ben Wattenberg and Harold Williams among others, with Gigi Bradford as its Executive Director.

Out of sight, out of mind - I had completely forgotten about its existence.  During its existence, it published a number of papers, including several under the banner Art, Culture and the National Agenda.  One such paper, published in 2001 entitled America's Cultural Capital - Recommendations for Structuring the Federal Role called for various cultural structures within the federal government.

The Center's publications are now archived at Americans for the Arts' National Arts Administration and Policy Publications Database.

So why did the entity cease operations?  The stated reason was that they reached a point where their funding wasn't continued.  Think Tanks have to either have broad public support, wealthy angels and / or philanthropists committed to their ongoing existence, or earned income.  The Center apparently was unable to sustain any of those funding sources over time.  And it would appear that while their work was of high quality, by people with impeccable credentials, they operated more as a research arm, than an active "Think Tank"; one which sought to have direct active impact on policy decision making.  It was, it would seem, more of an academic approach, than an ongoing place for people to brainstorm and which sought to garner media and public attention from that brainstorming (supported by research).   And perhaps its biggest Achilles Heel was its lack of public involvement.

But it was a real Think Tank.

Publishing authoritative research isn't enough to affect public policy creation.  The organization that is the Think Tank has to be more activist - politically and media wise.  It must have a higher profile and seek attention.

Second, the absence of a formalized, structured Arts and Culture Think Tank (in the traditional sense of that concept), does not mean that meaningful thinking, research and brainstorming is not going on.  In fact, there may be more quality research being done by an ever wider array of qualified researchers now than at any time in the brief history of the nonprofit arts.  Moreover, there are an increasing number of publications - both academic and otherwise - with authoritative content - some affiliated with Universities, that examines a wide and diverse landscape of arts and culture policy issues.  And finally, there are more one time and ongoing forums and opportunities for cogent, disciplined conversations, dialogue and discussion of critical issues to the sector than ever before as well.

From the Kennedy Center Arts Summits to what Arlene Goldbard is doing with the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, and its' platform and Policy on Belonging, to the clearinghouse research archives of Createquity, to the NEA's vastly expanded research activity - to the literally countless meetings, conferences and other ways to exchange ideas and brainstorm.  From The Rand Corporation to Holly Sidford - provocative and far reaching studies have been done in the past decade.  All together there is ample evidence of Think Tank activity going on within our sector.

But it is so diffuse, so de-centralized, so without form and without singularity of purpose in impacting policy, that some of its energy and value are lost.  And that's a waste and a shame.

The challenge with all that activity is to centralize access to its fruits, and to find a way to aggregate it, then convey it, in ways that it helps to influence policy decision making at all levels, and which helps to support the value of the sector to the media and to the public.  That is where a modern version of an Arts and Culture Think Tank would be of value.

I would hope that another version of The Center for Arts and Cultue might be resurrected Phoenix like for the future.  While a University affiliated Think Tank, with research fellows and a management staff, has to have income and a budget, it may be possible with today's technology to run a tighter ship with more volunteer input.  It may not be necessary for a bricks and mortar home base, but rather operate as a virtual entity, and it may not have to re-invent the wheel of all the activity already going on.  Whereas the model for an Arts Think Tank has changed, so too has the model for its funding.  Think 2017, or even 2020.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, May 29, 2017

Is It Time for an Arts Think Tank Yet?

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

Floundering under the weight of the Russian Investigations and Probes, it was reported this weekend that the Trump Administration is assembling a WAR ROOM (borrowing a page from the Clinton Administration that, facing the Monica Lewinsky scandal, assembled lawyers, investigators and communications people to manage that White House situation).  An internal War Room seeks to contain, manage and respond to the investigations, theoretically allowing the rest of the White House to continue with normal business and their legislative agenda and other projects.

A War Room is akin to a Think Tank in that you assemble experienced experts who can approach the subject from a wide variety of perspectives, do their own investigations and research and lobby for specific actions based on the consensus of their findings and their own agenda.  In truth, it is an assemblage of the Generals who can fight the war to victory, then disband.

Think Tanks or Policy Institutes are independent organizations that assemble a body of experts to consider specific social, political, economic, societal or cultural issues by engaging in research and advocacy around those issues.  Unlike War Rooms, they are ongoing institutions.   Click here for a list and description of the Top 50 Think Tanks in America.

The most media covered Think Tank of late is the Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973, which originally gained recognition during the Reagan years, and more recently as the most influential conservative organization in the country by having its roadmap adopted in large measure by the Trump Administration as its agenda.

Other influential Think Tanks - both liberal and conservative (ranging from the Human Rights Watch,  to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Urban Institute to the Economic Policy Institute) center around science, the environment, the economy, technology, war and international relations.  Many are generally unknown to the public, but wield considerable power in political and government circles.  Many, but not all, are affiliated with a University, and many have full time fellows and researchers working on issues under the purview of the organization.  Well funded Think Tanks have full staffs, ambitious research, communications teams and substantial outreach to decision makers and to the media.  Over time they gain prestige and are seen as authoritative sources of information.

Two or three (The Rand Corporation, The Aspen Institute, The Urban Institute) have, from time to time, taken up studies, research and positions on Arts and Culture topics, but these have been isolated, occasional forays.  There is no Think Tank that has as its principal charge the Arts, Humanities, Creativity, Culture, Heritage and other facets and divisions of the wider field of culture and creativity.

Why not?  

Given the disparity between what the public says about arts and culture and their actions, given the repeated and regular attacks on the Arts, given both the suggested and proven value of the arts on multiple levels and given the extent to which the arts and creativity are a major facet of the American job market and economy, one would think the many disciplines under the banner of Arts and Culture would be a prime area for the formation of a Think Tank dedicated to the study and consideration of the field.

There are a number of University programs that focus on various aspects of the Arts and Arts Administration - but for the most part these are student oriented degree programs, and not Think Tanks per se.  And there are a number of national arts service organizations that have programs and events that are almost mini abbreviated Think Tanks - but again transitory and without portfolio or faculty.   And, to be sure, there is now widespread, independent, robust and rigorous research being conducted on a global basis on Arts, Culture, Creativity and the attendant subjects thereto.

But no real Arts and Culture Think Tank.  No organization with the authority, prestige and cache of an established Think Tank.   And we could use something like that.  Such an institution could play a role in protecting and sustaining the knowledge base of our most accomplished and experienced leadership as they retire.  It could also play a role in the mentoring and preparation of future generations of leadership.  And it could launch and sustain deep conversations about issues that impact all of us.  Finally, it could command media interest and attention so that the field isn't ignored.

The principal reason we don't have an Arts Think Tank is very likely no funder has ever considered the seed funding to start one.  And that is usually what it takes to launch this kind of ongoing effort.   We have within our ranks the experts - with prestigious qualifications and degrees.  We have the basis of the research apparatus.  We know the issues.  We have the need.

Maybe the time has come for a consortium of funders to consider the establishment of a legitimate Arts and Culture Think Tank (The Arts and Culture Institute),  affiliated with a University somewhere, and which could provide an umbrella for research, advocacy, dialogue, inquiry and discussion of Arts and Culture in America.  And help unite all the many disparate conversations that are already going on.

I'm not the only one over the past decade who thinks this might be of enormous value to our field.  Maybe some smart people might put together a proposal and seek funding.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Postcards for the Arts

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

The Trump Administration releases its FY 17 / 18 Budget this week.  The reported cuts are so draconian, including, very likely, elimination of the National Endowments of the Arts and of the Humanities, that the budget is likely DOA in Congress.  Now the lobbying to protect funding for hundreds of programs and projects, valued by a wide variety of interests, including the arts, will start in earnest.

Continued effort by the sector to make the case for the value of the NEA and the Arts will be essential to insure that the agency continues to exist and that funding isn't decimated.

Last Thursday was apparently International Museum Day and Arts Museum Day, and a number of museums included postcard writing stations on site - encouraging the public to fill out postcards in support of the continued funding of the NEA to be sent to people's elected officials.  This is a very simple idea that every arts organization in the country ought to include at their performances, exhibitions and other programs, starting now.

The postcards can include a pre-printed message of support citing the value of the individual sponsoring organization to the local community or a general message of support for the many contributions the arts make locally, closing with support for the NEA.  Every such postcard ought to include the message:

I am a registered voter in your district, and the continued support for the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities is critically important to our community and to me personally.  
Followed by whatever message the organization or the individual wants to include, and closed with a Signature, date, address, zip code, and phone number.  The writer may also request a response from the official.

While you can make available to those willing to fill out a card easy ways to  determine who their Congressperson and / or Senator is, and their local and Washington D. C. office addresses, that should be done at the point where the cards are being filled out.  OR in the alternative, your organization should simply collect completed and signed cards, and have staff or volunteers complete the addressing.  You can pay postage or ask the people filling out the cards to do so.  You should do the mailing.  If you leave it to the public to take the card with them and do it all themselves, a huge percentage of the card will never get sent.  The easier you make it for people to help, the more cards you are likely to collect.  And thus the greater the impact such an effort will have.

This represents a minimal investment of cash and time to defend the arts.  If every arts organization would do this over the next few months, we could generate hundreds of thousands (and maybe a million or more) messages.

Please consider such a project, or something similar.

Thanks to Hyperallergic for the story and to the museums for generating the idea.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Arts Brand

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


Over the past decade we've talked a lot about branding and our brands.  It's a somewhat confusing topic, and we are often unsure what we mean by the term.  Briefly, our brand is the public's awareness and perception of our organizations, and the goods and services they offer.  It is the sum total of their perceptions and experiences with our organizations and what they offer.  It is created by all of the various parts of our organizations.

Larger arts organizations and those that have been around for some time have a more established brand in the public's mindset.  Smaller and newer organizations have a more difficult time both creating and establishing their brand. But whereas it may be axiomatically more difficult for the larger, older organizations to change their brand image, it may be easier for up and coming organizations to grow their brand at a faster pace.

But beyond our organizations, the arts as a whole also have a brand, and this is what interests me.

Private sector industries all have brands.  Take the airline industry as an example.  For the most part, the airline industry brand is that air travel is a safe, convenient and cost effective way to travel. The major aircraft manufacturers - Boeing and Airbus - are seen as companies that produce reliable, safe airplanes.  Competition has produced relatively affordable ticket pricing.  Airline routes are extensive.  But the brand has suffered of late for a multitude of reasons - including increasing incidental pricing of services that use to be free - from baggage charges to onboard food purchases to extra charges for premium seating.  The brand has suffered from a public perception that air travel for the passengers has become unpleasant at best, and insufferable at worst.  Crowded airports and planes, security line hassles, long waits, delayed and late flights all make for an increasingly unpleasant experience.  Compounding the tarnishing of the brand has been the recent spate of individual airlines mistreating passengers.  The Friendly Skies of United are now perceived as anything but friendly.

And while the airline industry brand has thus diminished, because of the convenience, relatively reasonable pricing, and safety, people are likely to continue to fly, and the industry is likely to continue to profit.  But the brand itself may be in trouble, and over the long haul, that may cause problems for the industry.

What is the Arts Brand - not that of any individual arts organization - but the whole of the arts?

I think over the past couple of decades we have succeeded in increasing the brand's image as a sector that has an economic component valuable to both the local and national economy; as responsible for jobs and economic benefit.  We've moved the dial in the perception of the brand as valuable to placemaking, and as an important part of overall education.  We've expanded the brand somewhat to include a wider consideration of creativity and its importance.  And there has been much discussion of the wisdom of the brand emphasizing the ancillary values of art over the intrinsic values.  Both are part of our brand. While audience attendance may be down in many situations, online involvement is up and the choice of arts experiences has never been deeper.

But despite those developments, we still suffer from our brand being regarded as a  frill; something elitist and exclusive and, the evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, as not a priority item when it comes to support - both financial and otherwise.  While we may legitimately think of the arts as essential to the very fabric of society, alas, that's not our brand image.

How do we change that part of our brand?

Unfortunately, we lack the economic resources, the organizational capacity as a sector, and even the will to mount any massive and successful campaigns to re-brand ourselves as a top tier priority and the producer of goods and services that are essential and not a luxury.  But that remains the challenge if we are ever to change the necessity of continual self-defense and having to fight for our very lives (as evidenced by the ongoing struggle to protect the NEA and state and local government funding attacks, which are decidedly political), and if we are ever to elevate ourselves in the public mind.

There have been some attempts in the past to tackle the problem (I'm thinking of efforts like AFTA's television ad campaign as part of the Ad Council's program as an example), but those were limited and not part of any larger, sustained campaign.

Somehow, we have got to figure out a way to move the brand in the public mind to being considered a value of such magnitude, and one without any reasonable disagreement, that the consensus is that the arts are as important as the ecology, as necessary as education, as valuable to the individual as health.  Unfortunately, the overall brand is more than just the sum of the individual brands of the thousands of organizations that comprise the field.  It is both a part of those individual brands and something distinct and separate from them.

One problem is that all of those organizations that have their own individual brand within our sphere, very few, if any at all, spend any concerted or coordinated effort at pushing for the overall sector brand change.  What is needed is consideration by every organization, that in addition to marketing itself as valuable, is the simultaneous marking of the value of the overall arts.  And not just in times of defending the arts against specific attacks such as the recent NEA issue.  And, of course, countless of our organizations unable to do much about their own brand.

How do we mount the kind of cooperation among ourselves that might move us in this direction,? Perhaps we can build on the current effort in our own defensive, to move to a long term, sustained effort of cooperation and collaboration among ourselves to work together to rebrand the Arts as a whole, with every organization including that marketing goal as part of their wider marketing efforts in an attempt to re-brand the arts.

Mind you that effort is not simply a catchy slogan or fancy logo. While the Art Works phrasing initiated during the Rocco Landesman NEA era is of value, it simply isn't, by itself, enough to have changed the public's brand perception.  Partly that is due to the fact that for the most part, the audience for the slogan and the meaning behind it, is largely us.  It is  principally directed inward. It preaches to the choir as it were.  We haven't had the money or other resources to mount an effective campaign to make the public aware of it.  And while it's inclusion in the marketing materials of thousands of arts organizations across the country is enormously valuable in trying to assert it as a sector brand, that's not enough by itself.  The problem is more complex and at a different level, and we haven't yet spent enough time trying to address that challenge.

It would be helpful if the challenge itself were taken up by a wide variety of our national service organizations and funders.  There have been occasional murmurs about trying to strategize about the challenge, but nothing ever seems to come of it.  That's a shame.

Re-branding on that level would be of invaluable help in making our advocacy efforts easier, and might well help overall marketing efforts of our thousands of organizations, including, ultimately increasing audiences.   When we talk about increasing public value of the arts, we are talking about a re-branding effort.

The alternative is to simply let the Arts brand mean what it has meant (not to me, not to you - but to far too many) - an elitist pursuit that while valuable, is a luxury society can often ill-afford when compared to higher priorities - despite its contributions to society on other levels, and despite its theoretically widespread public support.  (I say theoretically, because while public opinion sampling polls invariably show substantial public support, the perception of us as an elitist frill still dominates decision making on every level.)  People say we are important, but rarely translate that belief into actions.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, May 1, 2017

Generations and the Seminal Events That Define Them.

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

In an article in New York Magazine by Jesse Singal, he posits that there are really two groups within the Millennial generation (roughly those born between 1981 and 2000) - what he terms Older Millennials (those born around 1983, which includes him), and Younger Millennials (those born in 1989 and after) - and that each is defined by when the seminal events that impacted the Millennial generation hit.  Those events are suggested to include the 2008 financial crisis and the rise of smartphones.

"Their impact can’t be overstated, and because of precisely when they hit, it really might be the case that in 2017 a 33-year-old is more different from a 23-year-old than at any other point in recent history. 
Take the financial crash. Many Old Millennials were either already in the workforce by then, or close enough to entering it that we were able to “sneak in” before the crisis had fully unfurled itself. Which means we were raised and educated during a period in which we were promised that if we followed the rules in certain ways, there would be gainful employment waiting for us in our early or mid-20s — which there often was. The same definitely cannot be said of Young Millennials. The crisis permanently rejiggered the world for them. They grew up, like us Old Millennials, assuming that things would more or less work out if they followed the rules laid out by adults, only to have the rug pulled out from under them entirely during a very formative period in their lives.
Then there are smartphones and social media, which hit the two halves of the generation in massively different ways. For us Old Millennials, the social aspects of our middle- and high-school-years were lived mostly offline. Sure, AOL Instant Messenger was a pretty big deal when it first caught on, but most of us didn’t even have cell phones until college, and smartphones until after. Think about all the stuff you go through between the ages of 12 and 22 in terms of your development as a person. Now think about how many of those experiences are affected by the presence or absence of a cell phone and social media.

That makes sense to me, and the same theory would apply to my generation of Boomers.  Older Boomers were just on the cusp of becoming young adults when the Vietnam War was central to American politics, while Younger Boomers were of the same age when Watergate was the dominant issue of the times.  While part of the same generation, those two events created different impacts on each segment.  The reaction to the Vietnam War, coupled with the change in lifestyle attitudes (dress, music, relationships, sex, and authority), laid the groundwork for how the second half of the Boomers dealt with Watergate and the Nixon Whitehouse and the American attitudes at the time.

So what?

The point being that broad descriptions of a generation can be misleading, if not outright, erroneous, as likely every generation has at least two sub-groups that share similar experiences and contexts resulting in shared attitudes and challenges faced, but which groups are very different beings depending on when within the generation they transition to young adulthood.   And it's very likely that there are numerous divisions within each sub-category depending on education, income, where one grew up, religion, ethnicity, and so on.  What is the value of knowing this?  I think the reality that no generation is a monolithic entity, and no universal characteristics or attributes can be easily assigned to the whole of what we have decided to call a "generation" is knowledge that might help us as we formulate strategies that target generations - whether as audiences, supporters, donors or whatever.  Talking about and fashioning approaches to Millennials, for example, for whatever purpose, should not presuppose they are uniform in either their experience or their thinking, let alone their behavior.   It's easy to deal with them as though they all think alike and act alike, but they don't.  The appellation "millennial" is really of limited use.  In discussions involving that generation, it's more a starting point, then the final destination.  I think perhaps we've been treating it as the end point.  We bandy about the term "millennial" as though 80 million people share lots of things beyond their birthdays.  Some do, others don't, but we treat them conceptually like they are a monolithic entity.  The same applies in retrospect to the Boomers.  I went to school at UC Berkeley.  We use to think the Boomers all across the nation were a united front; we were in this together.  How wrong we were.  We may have shared the same music and the same global events, but not much more.  Certainly not politics, nor even basic values.  In the last election some Boomers were for Hillary, others for Trump.  The only real value of even having a label like Boomers has devolved into a simple way to describe people of a certain age - and not much more. And that may be as true for Generation X and Millennials as well.  If we want to single out generations, we need to dig a lot deeper than a couple of shared decades.

But as an aside, all this does make me wonder what are the events that are now - or will soon be - impacting the current generation - those born after 2000, and which would then extend to those born up to 2020 or so.  I don't know what people are calling them - say, hypothetically, Generation Q.  The early part of this generation were still kids when both the 2008 financial crisis hit and smartphones were introduced and began to change the world. Both realities were part of the fabric of the country before they reached their teens.  In 2017 they are just beginning to enter young adulthood, and so the seminal events impacting that transition period are just coming to the fore.  It seems reasonable that the global populist movement (including Trump's election) and the global march towards authoritarianism might be one of the events that will define the first half of this generation.  We can only speculate on the ramifications of these developments and how the impacts will manifest, but it seems likely they will somehow impact the first half of this generation.  It may be reasonable to suppose that the growth of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, as they proceed apace, might be the events that will significantly impact the second half of this generation, but again, we can only speculate on how those impacts will be manifested.  These are just before the fact guesses.

The question of how those events (or others, and what they might be) and their impacts, will influence and impact our sector - in terms of everything ranging from public value of the arts, to public and private funding, to audience development, to job displacement, to artistic creativity and even to organizational management and leadership dynamics - should soon be something we begin to ask.  And we would likely profit from some early consideration of what it all might mean; not now, but in a decade.  It should be obvious by now that planning for the reality of a decade in the future, needs to begin immediately.

Of course, there may soon be other (currently unknown) developments that will eclipse and dwarf these two events and more dramatically impact the next generation (pandemics, nuclear war, climate change resulting in droughts and famines or who knows what), and we can't be absolutely sure until after the fact.  But the idea of investigating the reasonable possibilities seems like something all sectors will soon be embarking on, and so should we.

This is yet more fodder (in a very long list of things) for heavy consideration by Arts ThinkTanks.  Too bad we don't have one.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, April 24, 2017

Systemic / Structural Bias / Prejudice and Privilege Embedded in Software and now Artificial Intelligence

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

When we talk about the concepts of racism and privilege being structural and systemic, we mean that the biases and prejudices, and perks and advantages are embedded in the structures and systems by which we operate and the environments in which we live.  Those systemic realities transcend individuals, situations and time, and are often invisible in the way they insinuate into our cultures and influence who we are, our attitudes and beliefs, and our decision making processes.

Everyone is to some degree prisoner to their heritages, histories, cultures and environments, and biased and prejudiced accordingly.  Many, if not most, people are largely unaware of the extent to which they have been programmed, and how those programs perpetuate social and political climates and how we function daily.  All best intentions aside, that makes it axiomatically more difficult to address the inequity challenges facing the world.

I have been interested of late in the dangers in the growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how machine learning ultimately threatens the existence of the human species as machines elevate to the superior position in the relationship with humans - greater information and knowledge, and its own learned kind of wisdom based on precepts and assumptions it (not we) may make; leading to the day when the machines tire of the human species and see no logical reason for its continued existence.  Science fiction? Maybe, but there are lots of minds out there who share that fear.   Moreover,  in the short term machines - being programmed by human beings - are likely to exhibit the same biases and prejudices as those who programmed them - thus perpetuating the inequities of modern life and the myriad problems stemming therefrom.

A recent article in the Guardian reported on troubling research that AI Programs exhibit racial and gender biases and prejudices:

"The findings raise the spectre of existing social inequalities and prejudices being reinforced in new and unpredictable ways as an increasing number of decisions affecting our everyday lives are ceded to automatons.
As machines are getting closer to acquiring human-like language abilities, they are also absorbing the deeply ingrained biases concealed within the patterns of language use, the latest research reveals.
Joanna Bryson, a computer scientist at the University of Bath and a co-author, said: “A lot of people are saying this is showing that AI is prejudiced. No. This is showing we’re prejudiced and that AI is learning it.”
Bryson warned that AI has the potential to reinforce existing biases because, unlike humans, algorithms may be unequipped to consciously counteract learned biases."

Developments in AI are happening at an accelerated rate.  This isn't science fiction way in the future stuff - this is happening now, and likely to happen ever faster.

This made me wonder to what extent (and to what damage) software that has guided our computational efforts for the past three or more decades has already been embedded with bias and prejudice?  How has privilege already been incorporated into all of the "smart" devices that now manage and empower our lives?  How many online video games that kids play millions of times a month, unintentionally reflect the human biases and prejudices and privileged positions of those who created the games - manifested in language, preferences, rewards and otherwise?  And what is the net effect of that?  How many software programs created to power the search engines we use, reflect that same unintentional bias?  How many myriad ways we use computer programs and software have further increased and deepened the structural and systemic racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious and other prejudices with which we still grabble.

The paper reported on in the Guardian above pointed out:

"The latest paper shows that some more troubling implicit biases seen in human psychology experiments are also readily acquired by algorithms. The words “female” and “woman” were more closely associated with arts and humanities occupations and with the home, while “male” and “man” were closer to maths and engineering professions.
And the AI system was more likely to associate European American names with pleasant words such as “gift” or “happy”, while African American names were more commonly associated with unpleasant words.
The findings suggest that algorithms have acquired the same biases that lead people (in the UK and US, at least) to match pleasant words and white faces in implicit association tests.
These biases can have a profound impact on human behaviour. One previous study showed that an identical CV is 50% more likely to result in an interview invitation if the candidate’s name is European American than if it is African American. The latest results suggest that algorithms, unless explicitly programmed to address this, will be riddled with the same social prejudices."

So if the problem isn't just the algorithms that will facilitate the learning by AI, but are already working their negative impacts in software and programs we use and have been using, we (in our own field of the nonprofit arts) need to try to figure out which programs, which software specifically - and in which situations - have the designers, code writers and creators imbued their work (assumedly unintentionally) with their prejudices and biases, and to what extent has that made the systemic racism and privilege more entrenched.  And what damage has already been done, and what can we do to change the reality.  And that is unquestionably a Herculean challenge given that little of all the software is specific only to us.  But where it is at least semi-specific to us - such as perhaps in some grant managing software - can we identify where the coding or algorithms may be reflective of bias and prejudice?  Is that even possible?

With some exceptions, most programmers, coders, program / software creators are probably white men of a certain age.  To the extent we use what they have created in untold numbers of ways in our business and personal lives, continued exposure to their mind set biases, eventually has an impact on our thinking and our own experiences.  The more time we spend absorbing the thinking of others - particularly without any avenue of exchange about that thinking - the more it is likely to color our own thinking.  And most of that coloring goes on unnoticed.

A good illustration came up in another article this week - this one in the Nation - about Thought Leaders, in which the author quoted a passage from Barack Obama's (2006) book The Audacity of Hope:

 "Increasingly I found myself spending time with people of means—law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. As a rule, they were smart, interesting people, knowledgeable about public policy, liberal in their politics, expecting nothing more than a hearing of their opinions in exchange for their checks. But they reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class: the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate. They believed in the free market and an educational meritocracy; they found it hard to imagine that there might be any social ill that could not be cured by a high SAT score. They had no patience with protectionism, found unions troublesome, and were not particularly sympathetic to those whose lives were upended by the movements of global capital. Most were adamantly prochoice and antigun and were vaguely suspicious of deep religious sentiment.
[A]s a consequence of my fund-raising I became more like the wealthy donors I met, in the very particular sense that I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population—that is, the people that I’d entered public life to serve.”

We have all been spending an inordinate amount of time with those who have written the software and programs we have all been using in our computers for decades - including those people's biases and prejudices from their own specific upbringing and experiences.  They likely didn't know their baggage was included in their work, and we likely didn't know it either.  But in all probability that is the reality.  This is the ugly, insidious side of systemic, structural prejudice and privilege.

Fighting against this will be a lot harder than anyone could have possibly imagined, but the battles absolutely must be on all these deep levels - and especially for the future.  A biased, prejudiced AI landscape is beyond frightening.  It may pose a threat we are simply incapable of countering.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

An Opportunity for the Arts (Maybe) as Retail Finds Itself in Deep Trouble

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

The American retail industry continues to take big hits.  Increasingly, shoppers are moving online.  Not everywhere or for everything - yet, - but more and more the trend is away from bricks and mortar shops.  Maybe it's the ease and convenience - particularly in a world where we seem to all have less and less time to do the work that needs to get done.  And while shoppers still like to hit the stores when they can - especially for certain items like apparel stores are closing, downtowns, suburban areas and even malls have more and more shuttered, empty spaces.  Rents are coming down, as more retails are either in bankruptcy or nearing it.  And the retailers being hit range from the hip and trendy to the old stalwarts.

According to Bloomberg:

"The rapid descent of so many retailers has left shopping malls with hundreds of slots to fill, and the pain could be just beginning. More than 10 percent of U.S. retail space, or nearly 1 billion square feet, may need to be closed, converted to other uses or renegotiated for lower rent in coming years, according to data provided to Bloomberg by CoStar Group."

Consider this:

"Urban Outfitters Chief Executive Officer Richard Hayne didn’t mince words when he sized up the situation last month. Malls added way too many stores in recent years -- and way too many of them sell the same thing: apparel.
“This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst,” he said. “We are seeing the results: Doors shuttering and rents retreating. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future and may even accelerate.”
Year-to-date store closings are already outpacing those of 2008, when the last U.S. recession was raging, according to Credit Suisse Group AG analyst Christian Buss. About 2,880 have been announced so far this year, compared with 1,153 for this period of 2016, he said in a report.

And not surprisingly, Amazon is far and away the catalyst of the trend:

"Even brands moving aggressively online have struggled to match the growth of market leader Inc.
The Seattle-based company accounted for 53 percent of e-commerce sales growth last year, with the rest of the industry sharing the remaining 47 percent, according to EMarketer Inc."

So what has that got to do with the arts?

It might be an opportunity for us.

We might explore a pilot program to see if the arts might do the same thing for malls and vacant retail space, whether downtown or in suburbia, that we have succeeded in doing for the revitalization and reinvention of some downtown areas across the country.  Arts organizations and artists might find a way to negotiate cheap rentals - perhaps supported by local government programs - for their being an attraction for people to come to the remaining retail space neighbors.  Artists and organizations looking for affordable space in an increasingly expensive real estate landscape might succeed in this situation where they bring with them multiple ways that might attract shoppers - from exhibitions to performances, to a vibrant arts ecosystem that is attractive to the public.

To go shopping and see artists at work, perhaps talk to them, watch rehearsals, maybe see performances, interact with arts education programs, poetry slams, dance companies, film makers and on and on might be a very attractive lure to the public.  And that might help retailers. And this might be a golden opportunity for us to target Millennials, even younger people, and to build public will in support of the arts.

It might be possible to negotiate some support for this kind of an effort from some of the major retail brands who are being threatened by the growth of Amazon and the online shopping presence.

And as more artists and arts organizations might occupy some of this space, in some instances it might grow into the spaces becoming de facto cultural centers.

It won't work everywhere, but it might work in some areas.

It's just a thought, but it seems to me our artists and our organizations need affordable work spaces, and venues to sell their product; we need new and expanded audiences; we need to interact with the public more directly beyond our normal channels,;the retail industry needs help in reinventing bricks and mortar shopping so it will attract shoppers; and the commercial real estate industry needs occupants and to stem the tide of the closures.  Win / Win?  Maybe.

I think this may be a possible opportunity for us to investigate and explore and I hope some funders will seed a couple of pilot programs along these lines to see if it might be something of benefit to us.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Interviewing For New Hires

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

Our organizations are arguably no better than our people who work for them.  Even for the largest of our organizations (which really aren't that large), every employee, every staff member, is crucial for the organization to operate at its optimum level.  And even if employees operate in silos, disconnected for the most part from each other, the organization's ecosystem is still a sum of its parts, for the work itself is connected.

Because our organizations are small, vertical promotion is often difficult, if not impossible.  Today, it is much more common for younger people to naturally expect to have multiple jobs at an ever earlier stage of their careers.  Limited and overtaxed budgets and problematic fundraising mean our sector, for the most part, and particularly at middle level management positions, can't always provide the level of compensation available in the private sector. There is the growing desire to run your own shop.  Long hours, frustration, and a variety of other forces are at work to make employee churn commonplace.   And so while we try to recruit the best people we can, and retain their services over time for continuity and other advantages, turnover is inevitable.

Finding the right people for open positions in a highly competitive job market is critical to our successes as organizations.

Once an organization narrows its candidates for an open position, reviews their resumes, and vets their recommendations and past performances, we invariably come down to two or three finalists. At that point the last stage of the hiring process is the in-person interview, where we try to glean information so we can make the best choice.

It is with that interview that I have some problems.  Increasingly, the interview has become some contest to see how clever we can be in designing the questions we ask.Too often now those questions don't really elicit the kinds of information that allow us to make intelligent, let alone, the best choice between candidates.  Too often, our interviews ignore what should rationally be our goals in favor of questions which put the interviewee on the spot - our thinking being that that will give us insight as to how the candidate will perform in our environment.

Questions such as: "What is your greatest weakness"; "How did you deal with failure?"; "Define your work ethic" - all sound reasonable, but suffer, I think, from stemming mostly from our attempts to be seen as wise and smart, and which simply don't tell us what we really need to know.  On one level, such questions are invasive and invite the interviewee to simply parrot back what they think we want to hear (which practice, I accept, is applicable to almost anything we ask, and now so widespread as to be expected - and that reality is yet another reason these kinds of questions simply mask the information that would be most valuable to us.)  To the extent we are trying to "game" the process with clever questions, the candidates will likewise try to game the process with answers they think fit our line of questioning.  We don't want the interview to be a contest of gaming each other.  We want it to be a frank, candid interchange between us; honest, transparent and fair to all.

Our obsession with everybody in the entire field needing to be a leader; our preoccupation with educational benchmarks in the form of degrees, which we equate with automatically being able to do the best job); and our laser like focus on where an applicant worked before - all color our thinking when we determine what we should ask of our finalists.

There are really only two major pieces of information we need to make an informed decision:

1) Can the applicant to a good (great) job in the position.  Do they have the experience, the thought processes, the vision and discipline to work at the organization and excel at the responsibilities that will be theirs.  How would they handle a specific challenge facing the person who will get the job.  I would be less interested in their weaknesses, or their failures, and more interested in their strengths - and I think it is the interviewer's job to determine their strengths by finding out what they would specifically do given a specific challenge.   More important than what they did in the past, is what they can do in the future - not in general, but for your organization.

2)  Every organization has its own culture.  Some are hierarchical; some authoritarian; some loose and flexible; some favor innovation and independent thinking and questioning and some have narrowly prescribed areas of decision making and how things are to be done.  The first thing that needs to be done is a realistic assessment of the organization's work culture - so that you can craft questions that will give you an idea whether or not the applicant will fit in.  The chemistry between the new hire and the extant work staff - and the organization itself - is arguably as important as their experience, expertise and vision.  If it ends up being a bad fit, the cost will be high to both the new hire and the current staff.  Too often, how the relationships might manifest get short changed or ignored in the interview process.  That is a big mistake.  One question you ought to ask yourself at the end of an interview is:  "Do I like this person?" because that is important.

It's easy to go online and seek some sample questions to ask prospective applicants in an interview, or for those that can afford to hire a search firm, to demur to that firm to come up with the questions.  But that is risky, for too often the questions then asked are the latest in the changing trend of what is fashionable at the time.  Generic questions may, if you are very lucky, give you some information that will actually be helpful in making your hiring decision, but don't count on it.  And it is an abrogation of the responsibility to take control of the process.  Nobody - certainly not a search firm - knows your organization like the people who work there.  Most search firms never bother to really research a client to determine what the ideal candidate would look like; rather they have a standardized "ideal' candidate profile that is basically a description of a candidate that is too perfect to exist in reality.

Some standardized questions might work for you, if you tweak them to fit your organization and the job slot to be filled.  But many more favored questions don't yield the kind of information they claim to.  Yes, you want to know how the candidate sees both work itself and the environment in which work is performed, and yes you want to know what the candidate values in relationships, their past successes and how they dealt with adversity - but be careful that the questions will actually elicit the information you need.  Too many questions elicit stock answers that are rehearsed and stray far from the facts.

Sometimes, it isn't what you ask of the candidate that tells you what you need to know. Sometimes, when you invite the candidate to ask you questions about the job, about the organization, those questions are more telling.  If the applicant doesn't have any questions for you, then they likely haven't done much research about your organization.  Ideally, the job interview isn't one sided; it's a conversation about the job, the applicant and the organization.  To get to that point you need to shift the power dynamic in your favor as the one doing the hiring to a more equal footing whereby the questions are back and forth and the interview becomes a discussion during which you can actually learn something about the applicant.

Hiring is often a crap shoot anyway.  You make the best decision you can given the information you have.  Sometimes you make a great hire.  Sometimes it turns out wrong and the relationship doesn't work.

But those hiring decisions, even at the lowest level of employees, are critically important and you need to treat them as such by thinking through the process before it starts.  That is true whether a Department Head, an Executive Director or the Board is making the hire.  The better you can assess the fit, the more likely you will make a wise hire.

So, please spend some time drafting questions that will give you information about your job candidates as to how they will fit into your organization, and how they will handle the actual job they will be expected to perform.  You need to be as honest with yourself in preparing for the interview as you hope the applicant will be in responding to your inquiries.  THINK about it.  Knowing everything you do about your organization and the job, if you were the candidate, what questions ought to be asked to determine if you would be the right person to hire.  My guess is your biggest failure or other such irrelevant and invasive questions wouldn't be on your list.

Good luck.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Blueprint for Saving the NEA

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

Here (IMHO) is a very brief and limited overview of what our strategy to save funding for the NEA needs to include.

We need a massive communication with Congress.  While it is important for every arts organization, whether or not they get funding, or whether or not they value the NEA, to communicate with their local Congress representative and Senator, as an organization - registering their strong support for continued funding for the Endowment - that's not enough.  Every person who is employed by an arts organization, every volunteer and supporter, and every artist (even if they are not supported by the NEA) has to likewise communicate.  And by massive, I mean hundreds of thousands of messages.  If there are a million or more people employed in the nonprofit arts, plus many times that number of artists, teachers etc., surely we can muster ten or twenty percent to take 30 minutes and communicate with their elected officials.  This kind of effort is a numbers game.  And this time around we are competing for support against a wide range of programs and funding that are all crucially important to the country's future.

If we really want to maximize our effectiveness and increase our chances of saving the NEA, we need to use social media and any other tool we have to enlist the support of neighbors, friends, co-workers, local media and businesses to join the effort in communicating with Congress.  Every single person in the arts ought to enlist the support of one person outside the arts to make that phone call or write that letter or email.

An aside to those who believe the Endowment isn't that relevant or important - either to them as an artist, administrator, or citizen - please consider that elimination of the NEA would quite possibly have a domino affect on state and local arts support and would, in countless ways, harm and injure an already fragile arts ecosystem.  Maybe this isn't your direct fight, but you are an indirect participant, and if you care about the arts, you will be affected.  And to arts organizations who haven't in the past rallied to this kind of lobbying effort, the question is why?  Are you not part of the ecosystem?

The message each individual sends to their elected representatives can include whatever arguments in the Endowment's favor that you choose - stories of how the arts make a difference in people's lives, how the NEA is important to communities, in education, or the economic arguments in favor of jobs and vibrant local economies, or the basic intrinsic value of art and culture.  It doesn't really matter.  While we can continue making the case for the value of the arts on whatever level, at this point in time we may not have time to amass a tectonic change in public will.

What does matter is this:

First, individual messages must state at the beginning of the communication that you are a registered voter in the district and that support for the NEA is a critical issue for you as a voter.

The communication ought not to be overlong, because if it is, there is a very good chance no one is going to read it - and that is another reason to state at the outset that you are a registered voter in the district (state) and that you want support for the continued funding of the NEA. 

Second, personal visits are best, then phone calls, written letters (fax them to save time), then emails.  Using a robot software program to send a template email isn't the best approach, though better than nothing.  Petitions are basically useless. Please don't think that's all you need to do, because its largely a waste of time.

Third, we need to be strategic in marshaling mass communication to Congress.  So, while it is important to communicate with every single member of Congress - House and Senate - there are target priorities:

1)  Current and past supporters.  Communications should steel the resolve of our supporters to have our back.  Don't take them for granted.  Just because you live in a district or state and your elected official is pro arts, you still need to let them know you need that support to continue at this crucial juncture.  Thank them in advance.

2)  Members of the Committees which have jurisdiction over the Endowment's budget.  These are the people with control over the budget line item at the outset.  Those who are registered to vote in these districts have a special obligation and opportunity to impact the decision making process.

3)  Representatives and Senators who are or may be opposed to funding for the Endowment who are in fact likely to be in tight races for re-election in 2018.  The greater their perceived vulnerability, the more open they are to strong voter sentiments.  That's just a political reality.  Click here for some info on early handicapping of Senate and House 2018 races.

Fourth, we need to challenge and respond to attacks on continued NEA funding that are covered in the media with facts and solid arguments as to why those attacks miss the mark.  Thus, we can ill afford to let Opinion Pieces like the flawed logic of George Will's Washington Post personal view that the Endowment should be defunded. or Budget Director, former conservative Congressman Mick Mulvaney's, absurd change that 'we can't ask coal miner taxpayers from West Virginia to use their tax dollars to pay for things like the NEA'.  
First of all Mr. Mulvaney, we're not talking about tax dollars, we're talking about 46 cents per citizen.  And we most certainly can ask West Virginians and all U.S. citizens to pay for things that make America stronger, more prosperous, improve education and job preparedness for the future, nurture creativity and add value to local communities, including in West Virginia, with programs directly or indirectly funded and supported by the NEA.  And there are West Virginia coal miner families who do benefit from the vibrancy of a strong arts and culture ecology.  Just because they voted for Trump it doesn't necessarily follow they all oppose arts funding.  

We need to counter these kinds of weak arguments against the NEA with facts and counter arguments.  Particularly in the media.

Finally, we need to follow up all our communications.  Lobbying is only as effective as your willingness to hold officials feet to the fire as it were.  A personal visit, a phone call, a letter or an email are great, but a follow up phone call, letter or email is a thousand fold more effective.

Based on past support for the Endowment, I believe the odds are in our favor to keep the agency alive and with not too substantial of cuts - BUT - we live in very different times than we've ever faced - and nothing is certain today.  We ought to mass the biggest effort in our history - for doing so not only enhances our chances to preserve federal funding and support of the arts, but it will be a foundation of which we can build the kind of advocacy and lobbying apparatus we should have cerated decades ago. And it will give us the opportunity to make a better case for the public value of the arts.

Please help.  It's worth a 30 minute to hour investment of your time to do this right.

Americans for the Arts (click here), and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (click here) are but two national organizations that provide links, news, updates, and tools to help you advocate and lobby effectively.  Start with them.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Marketing Messages - Ten Hints to Make Them Work

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

We are in a constant pursuit of trying to create marketing messages that will resonate with the target audiences; trying to tell our stories in a way that the reader / listener will find them interesting and compelling.

But for most organizations, those reader / listeners are often bored silly reading or hearing the story we are trying to tell.  Too often we present the same old presentation over and over again.  We use the same words and the same tired language that everyone in the field uses.  Moreover, we often use too many words to try to create too many images with the result that our message doesn't convey either what we want it to convey or what we hope it conveys.

It is smart to take a long, cold look at our messages - whether in our advertisements, on our website, in emails, or brochures or direct mail solicitations -- and imagine we are the intended target and ask ourselves is it boring?

Several considerations play into this review.

First, less is often more.  Try to say what you want to say in as few words as possible.  Don't make your reader or listener work too hard to get through all the verbiage.  Everyone is inundated with way too many messages competing for their attention.  The world is jammed with what amounts to noise.   And beyond the sheer volume of messages targeting us, far too many printed brochures, advertisements, emails etc. are too overloaded and busy.  If, for example, you are trumpeting a performance, you already have to provide the specifics - what, where, when and how much.  Too much additional chatter just turns people off.  People don't read things today, they scan them.  Very quickly. Better one brilliant line, than an essay.  The best messages are often very short.  Too much information drives people away.

Second, hyperbole is usually recognized as such.  Don't insult your targets by making the arrogant assumption that merely using words that promise the most, the best, the greatest experience of a lifetime.  If you are selling a performance, you need to convey what they get by attending - and very likely promising them a life transformative experience will be recognized as ridiculous - even if it happens.  You have to be more creative in making sure what you are delivering is believable.

Third, differentiate between various purposes for your messaging.  Selling people on a performance and getting them to buy tickets isn't exactly the same message you would send to people you want to donate to your organization.  Try not to confuse your targets.  Boomers and Millennials are different.  So are a score of other categories of people.  Using one single message for different target audiences is probably never a good idea.  People can easily discern what they perceive to be disrespectful marketing, and using the same old language, year after year, is disrespectful.

Fourth, craft messages that take direct aim at a desire or need for the target - be that an enjoyable night out with friends, or being part of a community that makes a local difference.  Remember the message isn't directed at you - it's aimed at people outside of "you".  What works for you is a poor gauge of what will work for your targets.

Fifth,  images are more effective than words in almost all printed materials (including emails).  The famous "GOT MILK" tagline over a plate of chocolate chip cookies was more effective than a thousand words.  The image of a battered seal pup accompanying a plea for donations to save them was all that was needed to move people to action.  But some images are better than others - and if all you do is pick some "clip art" that is somewhat related to your work, you are likely to squander this opportunity.  A generic drawing of two ballet dancers is virtually meaningless.  A photo of two of your ballet dancers in action is more memorable.  But a photo of any ballet dancer may not be the right choice.  THINK about how the image will play to the intended audience and whether or not it is likely to move that audience to do what it is you want them to do.  Do some homework.  Is it overworked?  Is it fresh and original?  Will people remember it?

Sixth, imagine you are the reader / listener.   Don't assume they are as passionate or informed about what you do as you are.  For the most part, I guarantee you they are not.  They may not even be that aware of you, and they may simply not care.  Your message has to try to make them care.

Seventh, offer something extra in return for the requested action: If you donate, your name goes on our annual honorees wall.  If you attend, we will give you a discount on the next two upcoming performances.

Eighth, play into the times.  Help Save Dance in the current era of possible political attack may hit the right emotions today for example.  You may think what you do is timeless, but your audience still lives in today.

Ninth, do some research on what fonts people most respond to, what colors elicit what reactions, what subject lines in an email increase the odds it will be opened.  There is research out there on a lot of this.  Don't just make your message choices based on what you like or what you think works.  Find out what people actually do like and what does work.

Tenth, if you don't know what works with your target audiences - take the time to ask them.  Do some surveying, get people involved in helping you figure out what will work best.  Test things.

Whatever you do, don't just keep using the same, tired old words in the same tired old messages that don't work.  You're just wasting precious time and insulting the people to whom the messages are directed.   BE CREATIVE. And being creative sometimes takes time.  Don't leave something as important as your messaging to a half hour time slot on one of your afternoon "To Do" lists.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, March 6, 2017

Robots and Artificial Intelligence - Coming After YOUR Job Soon?

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

There is underway an inexorable march in the confluence of Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Software and Robotics and the future of that progress will  impact everything from jobs and the economy to the very survival of the species.

Apart from the warnings by many of tech and science's best minds (click here for that analysis) of the existential threat to human existence from the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that may progress so quickly and so profoundly that it surpasses the very ability of the human brain to even understand it, with the possible ultimate consequence that AI will at some point simply make decisions based on its calculations that may consider human beings as either part of a problem or simply irrelevant in the mix - the more immediate impact will be on the economy, jobs and the way society organizes work.  Indeed that inevitability, which started long ago on simple terms, has now gained enough momentum that there are predictions that thirty, forty or even fifty percent of all the jobs that exist today may, at the least be substantially altered and impacted by AI and its handmaidens, or even replaced entirely by machines in the next twenty years.

In the short term, the jobs that involve predictable and repetitive work will be eliminated, and other jobs will see an an increasing portion of their work done by machines and programs.  It would be a grievous mistake to think that only assembly line kinds of jobs are at risk, as many white collar, and even creative jobs, will be impacted as well.

Decades ago the automated gas pump rendered needless those service station employees who use to do that for you, and the thousands of those for whom that was a job had to find some other employment (and most of you will not remember when you drove into a gas station, and the attendant pumped your gas, washed your windows, checked your oil and the tire pressure).  Today, self driving vehicles are getting very close to putting all the truck, bus, and taxi drivers - and there are millions of them - out of work.  And beyond those soon to be unemployed people, the self driving vehicles will impact related industries as well.  As they will be safer, thus reducing accidents, the auto coverage segment of the insurance industry will likely collapse and with it those jobs too.  There is a domino effect at play here.

There are numerous reports and articles that robots, software programming and the advances of AI have already begun to erode the need for humans to fill a variety of jobs beyond the manufacturing jobs that robots are already doing (e.g., the auto industry); everything from accounting and finance jobs, to doctors to lawyers, and that in the next ten to twenty years huge segments of people now employed in various areas will lose their jobs to the machines.

Many industries will be more vulnerable and susceptible to early job elimination - manufacturing for example.  But many others are clearly in the crosshairs.  Consider the hospitality industry - smart (AI) robots and software are already managing the reservation system, checking in guests at the front desk, tending to housekeeping cleaning, food preparation and delivery and more.   Arts administration as a field will not be immune.

In the past, technological advances eliminated some jobs, but created new ones in their place, and the benefits to society as a whole were substantial.  Today, that may still hold true - for awhile.  But experts are cautioning that many jobs will cease to exist - and in just the next two decades or so.  Whether this turns out to be a boon for humanity or a disaster is yet unknown.

So how will that impact the arts, and in particular, arts administrators?  While we would like to think that as we deal with creativity, much of what we do simply cannot be replaced by machines, there is even speculation that the machines will ultimately, on a human scale, create art - from plays to paintings to dance and beyond.  And while artists and art are likely to, for a long time and probably forever, remain a human endeavor, (machines won't for some time be capable of understanding human aspirations, dreams and ideas), eventually AI may master those human facets too.  What seems clear is that many arts administration functions are in those job categories of the first to go - in whole or in part.  And I say in part, because initially we will all use more sophisticated software and programming, then robots and finally AI to help us do our jobs better and faster.  And that will mean fewer of us necessary to do even more work.  At some point, we will be less and less crucial in that mix, and jobs now filled by us - will go to the machines.

Which arts administration jobs are likely to require only minimal human oversight and involvement in the near term (next ten to twenty years)?  Any job that is predictable and repetitive is likely vulnerable.  But that's only the beginning.  Consider the following jobs in our field:

1.  Financial - Accounting, bookkeeping, reports, taxes, budgets, money management.  All of these functions can now be done more efficiently by software, and when you add in AI (especially as it develops the capacity for self-learning)  it won't be long at all before there is no need for any arts organization to employ anyone in any financial area, except maybe one person to manage the systems.

2.  Marketing -  software married to AI will be able to determine the best and most effective marketing strategies for each individual organization - everything from which approaches are likely to work best; what messages optimize results; and how, where, when and to whom to send those messages on an individual case by case basis, based on data analysis and projections - And advertising, and public relations will likely go to the machines as well.  Eventually, AI will allow for customized, individualized marketing campaigns and strategies to be developed and managed by software and AI.

3.  Fundraising - from grantwriting to donor solicitation to keeping the patrons happy.  AI advances will be particularly useful in this area and people will no longer be necessary to do much more than manage the overall systems.  The systems will identify the most likely sources of cash flow, donations and support, make the most effective solicitations, coddle and nurture the donors and keep everyone happy.  Some human contact will, of course, still be essential - but far less than we might hope.  Perhaps those providing the funding will still make the "human" decisions, but perhaps even philanthropic decisions on fund allocation will be machine territory.

4.  Authorship - including grantwriting, reports, proposals, strategic plans, evaluations, annual reports, press releases etc. - is an area that software programs can already do, and when combined with AI, these jobs will no longer need to be filled by humans.  This includes blogs, newsletters, thank you notes, advocacy communications and more.

5.  Programming - creation, management and evaluation will all eventually be something software programs and AI can do at our bidding.  It may be a conceit to think only we will be able to deal with the creative aspects of programming.

6.  Research and Data Collection / Analysis - including even formation of what questions to ask to frame the research. Software combined with AI is very likely to completely take over this kind of work, combining the ability to both manage data collection and to synthesize and analyze data results, then write reports and make recommendations.  And do so at a far more sophisticated depth and light years quicker than we do it today.

7.  Creative Functions - there is where robotics will likely come in to our arena.  From set, lighting and costume design, to staging, from curation to exhibition  - and perhaps as far as play and script writing to choreography.  Many of these creative functions might well be done (at least in part) by machines in the future - in combination with human beings or in place of them.

So if you work in any of these areas, your job may, at the very least, undergo profound changes in the next decade or two.  It's entirely possible it may simply disappear.

The impact of all this will have profound effect on our sector. - and quicker than anyone might imagine.  In some ways, we will be able to do more for less money.  And for some time employment of early AI and robotic options will likely be expensive; too expensive given that the supply of humans who can do the job will exceed the number of jobs.  But at some point the cost will make the option affordable to all, and that may entail the elimination of the jobs of a lot of people.  Even those positions not eliminated, may see banishment to the "gig" economy sector - at far less remuneration.

What do we do?

1.  First, we need to understand how the possibilities of the roll out of AI and robotics will happen and its speed, and be realistic about how it might impact us.  We can ill afford to ignore developments that will impact our ability to be competitive and to survive on limited income.  We don't yet know whether wholesale elimination of jobs in the wider culture will result in increased leisure time for people (which might be good for us) or whether those job eliminations will result in fewer people being able to afford to sample our wares and support our work.  Those are larger societal questions that we need to monitor.

2.  Second, we need to understand how partial employment of the new technology will interact with the already ubiquitous gig economy, and affect our jobs and the way we organize our work, as well as our budgetary processes.

3.  Third, as a consequence, we need to rethink professional development and arts administration degree education.  It is probably incumbent on the field to consider how quick and wide technology based job elimination may happen, and revamp and rethink our arts administration professional development and degree programs that today are very likely teaching a number of skills that will be filled by machines and programs and no longer necessary from human beings.  Training people to do what will no longer be needed from them will be an incredible waste of time and resources.  There may already be an oversupply of professionals given the demand for their services, and we need to grapple with the question of encouraging an increase in the supply of arts administrators for which there may be no gainful employment.  And as software programs, AI and machines do more and more of the work, what new skills will we need to adapt and manage that process.  What new skills will be needed to both survive and thrive.  Very likely the concept of leadership will undergo changes.  We need to be prepared.

4.   Fourth, we need to understand how other sectors that can afford the new applications of AI and its impact on the ways of doing work (which we cannot) may pass us by.  To what extent will we be able to afford to be on the cutting edge, and to what extent will our competitiveness in the marketplace suffer if we are left at the starting gate?

5.  Fifth, we need to understand the potential opportunities for art and possible new jobs as AI becomes increasingly threatening and there is a backlash.

6.  And finally, we need to imagine how art will play a role in how AI is developed across the spectrum.  Artists will have a major role to play in the vision of the future, and we will have a role to play in nurturing and facilitating that vision.

For the future, the entire relationship between the arts and our sector and the intersections art has with technology, science, education and work ought to be a subject around which we organize conferences, summits, dialogues and thought sessions.  Conversations at those tables will happen, and we need to have a seat at them.

I don't pretend to know the future, but despite the warnings of those who fear the existential consequences of unbridled growth of AI (and I, for one, am alarmed), that genie is out of the bottle and will likely now continue to grow at frightening rates.  It will impact jobs, and some of those jobs will be ours.  It may also be an existential threat to our future.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 27, 2017

Get Real - Effective Advocacy Is About Amassing Voter Sentiment

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

All over America, citizens angry over policy changes emanating from the White House and Congress have been registering their anger and frustration at local Congressional Town Hall Meetings as well as via telephone calls, faxes, letters, emails and more.  This massive outpouring is unprecedented in recent times.  It is democracy in action.  And it is having an impact - precisely because of three factors:  1) it is from voters in the elected official's district; 2) it sends the message that angry voters will be using their votes to register their anger; and 3) it is massive.

It remains to be seen whether or not this political involvement will be sustained over time, and what effect and impact it will have long term. And the real test won't come until 2018 at the earliest, when the next election will give those unhappy the chance to unseat those politicians they blame for changes to which they object.   But make no mistake, the effort thus far has got the attention of even those who are opposed to the positions of the protesters and at whom much of the anger is addressed. This is because it hits at the one vulnerable spot that politicians have - at their chance of being re-elected.

And getting re-elected is virtually every elected politician in the country's number one priority.  Their job is at stake, and for many their job is, like jobs are to many of us, their source of income and how they maintain their lives, the way they define themselves and their purpose in life -- it is, in part who they are and what they do.  No matter how principled they may be, no matter how much they believe they want to create positive change in people's lives, no matter how honest or how hypocritical they are, very, very few will give up the power, prestige, privilege and trappings of being in Congress.  And so their election and re-election is their number one priority.  It (excuse the pun) Trumps everything else.

And massive turnout of unhappy, dissatisfied voters in their districts is something they do not ignore, nor fail to take seriously (and that is true even in the era of gerrymandered "safe districts", for nothing is ever absolutely certain, including how people will vote).  Note the use of the words: "massive", "voters", and "in their districts".

We ought to learn from the recent Town Hall Meetings reality staring us in the face.

If the Trump budget eliminates the NEA, then it will be much more difficult to fund it via Congress, than if the agency had funding in the President's budget.  We don't yet know whether or not the NEA will be axed in the coming budget, but it seems more possible than ever.  And even if the President includes some funding for the agency in his budget, there may still be attempts to cut or eliminate that funding by Congress - attempts that may have a better chance of succeeding than ever before.  If the arts really want to influence members of Congress, the sector has got to have large numbers of people who are registered to vote and reside in their district contact their Representatives and Senators directly, and let them know that they want the NEA to be funded, and that failure to vote that way will cause the voter to vote against that elected official in the next election.  This communication doesn't have to be, and should not be, nasty or accusatorial or negative.  Just the simple fact that funding the NEA is a make or break issue for the person communicating, and their future support - including their vote for or against the representative - is dependent on the official's vote one way or the other.  And it won't mean much unless there is a huge number of people who express that opinion.  And while it is important to thank those politicians who are supportive, the bigger challenge is to amass votes in the districts where the official is not supportive.

So if all the arts can manage is people signing a White House Petition or a few hundred DC visits, then we might as well just save our energy.  Of all the means of registering one's position, signing an online petition is the absolute least effective, particularly in trying to influence a month old White House administration that very likely (and with good reason) believes that people for whom NEA funding is a big issue, were not, and will not become, Trump supporters.   Whatever the Trump Administration decision on the NEA turns out to be, it is almost assuredly not going to be based on any petition of people urging the NEA's survival.  And patting ourselves on the back for getting to the magic 100,000 signatures mandating a WH response is as big a waste of time as the Atlanta Falcons celebrating a Super Bowl win at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Don't believe me?  Read this simple advice from Barney Frank based on decades in the U.S. House of Representatives on how to influence Congress.

Wake up people.  Thus far there has been reports of a number of op ed pieces in support of the NEA.  And, of course, the 100,000 signature petition.  But I haven't seen much more than that.  And frankly I think this year that is not nearly enough.  Do we really want to rely on trying to rally a few hundred people to make our case as we have in the past?  Is that the best we can do?

If the existence of the NEA is important to the sector, then it had better organize immediately to demonstrate massive numbers of people for whom the issue will determine their vote in the future.  That's the only language the elected officials truly understand and respond to.  All the stories and arguments notwithstanding - they mean very little.  You want support?  Make your elected officials understand you are talking about votes - against them.  Lots of votes.  That's how it works.   Personal visits are best. Then phone calls, then letters, then emails.  Robo-letters using templates are ignored. You don't have to have some convincing argument.  The value of the arts - intrinsic or economic or whatever? That's irrelevant.  Your argument is how you will vote.  Period.  Don't make this more complicated than it is.  

As Barney Frank advises, the only communication that matters is from voters in the official's district. And the only real position that matters is how you will vote in the future.  That may not be enough to get what we want, but it's the only way the system works.  If you think truth and justice will out, you're living in another dimension.

It's long past time the arts come to understand that the political system does not work like some fantasy textbook idea of government in action.  It would be nice if it did, but it doesn't.  If we want to continue to believe that our talking points, our stories, our arguments, our value are what persuade politicians aligned against us to support us, then we might as well ask Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy to grant our wishes.  About the same chance of success.

Get real.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit