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.
Barry






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 Amazon.com 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
Barry






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
Barry

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.
Barry






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
Barry

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
Barry











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
Barry




Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 5

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

Concluding the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).


Final Question:
Equity, diversity and race remain high level priority issues for the entire nonprofit arts field.  How are you addressing the challenges in your territory?  Are the issues such that solutions will likely require a larger map approach, and is it incumbent on the whole Bay Area to work together for truly meaningful change?  What are the principal roles LAAs can, and should, play, and what role does your organization favor?

Responses:  

Kerry Adams Hapner:  Racial and cultural equity are primary goals for local arts agencies as we serve all residents. This is true in San Jose, one of the most diverse US cities. Cultural pluralism and access are guiding principles of Cultural Connection: San Jose’s Cultural Plan for 2011-2010. We address equity through cultural funding and initiatives that focus on serving immigrant populations.

Income disparity and affordability are huge pressing issues in San Jose and the Bay Area now. The Ghostship tragedy has placed a national spot light on affordable, safe live and work spaces for artists. The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs is currently working with the San Jose Housing Department to explore an affordable housing project in downtown San Jose, and we are conducting outreach to the arts community on their specific housing and space needs.

Silicon Valley Creates is developing a critical project in Japantown called the Creative Center for the Arts, which will provide rehearsal, production/studio, and administrative space for arts organization and creative entrepreneurs.

Community Arts Stabilization Trust, the Rainin Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation are among regional funders that, along with local arts agencies, are making significant investments to ensure cultural spaces are retained and sustained in the Bay Area.


Michele Seville:  These are critical issues, especially now. The Richmond Arts & Culture Commission just lost City funding for its Neighborhood Public Art program, which provided grants to a highly diverse group of youth and emerging artists. So, we are currently partnering with RYSE, a local non-profit serving youth to apply for funding, both state and federal(?), for projects similar to the ones we used to fund. Yes, I believe it is incumbent on the Bay Area to set the example of working together for change. We are leaders in the arts, and should act like it. Please help organize such collaborative events.  

Kristen Madsen:  First, we plan to watch the smartest, most thoughtful expert in this field, Roberto Bedoya, the new Cultural Affairs Manager in Oakland, and imitate everything he does that we possibly can.

But meanwhile, we are in the final planning stages for a new joint grants program, in partnership with Community Foundation Sonoma County.  The grants will fund arts education projects specifically serving diverse communities, neighborhoods, and organizations across the County.  Equity is a primary, stated goal of the grants and the guidelines are as broad and open as we can make.  Eligible grantees include arts and cultural organizations, and projects can occur in or out of schools and in non-traditional settings.  Partnerships with other community based organizations, including non-arts organizations, will be encouraged.

The next phase of work on this project will require us to dig deep into our communities to find the thoughtful work we know is being produced by individuals and organizations that may not have found their way to us on their own, and help them come in.  We are clear-eyed that the learning curve in Year One will be steepest for us as funders as we re-think our systems to be more open, inclusive, and impactful across the entire county.  And as two of the primary arts funders in the county, we hope that we are leading by example -- and are certain that the results of this work will make the case that the investment is more than worth the effort.


Tom DeCaigny:  Cultural equity is the San Francisco Arts Commission’s guiding value. In the past year, we have engaged Race Forward to train all staff members on racial equity principles and practice so that we are better able to advance racial equity through all the SFAC’s programs. We have established an internal cultural equity working group that is charged with researching promising practices in racial equity and analyzing the SFAC’s programs through a racial equity lens. The SFAC has also joined multiple SF City Departments in the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE) program where we will be contributing to a GARE issue paper on equity in the arts this coming year.

The SFAC stewards the historic Cultural Equity Endowment Fund which was founded to support artists and arts organizations from historically underserved communities. The Fund, now approximately $3 million annually, is one of the only pieces of legislation in the country to specifically name cultural equity as a focus for public arts funding. Combined with approximately $2.5 million annually to support our city-owned cultural centers, the SFAC grants out approximately $6 million annually in support of cultural equity. We also continue to work closely with our partners at Grants for the Arts to ensure coordinated investments for our shared grantees and to respond to emerging needs in the SF arts ecology, most recently co-administering a $2 million nonprofit arts displacement mitigation program to keep arts organizations in San Francisco.

It is important to work both at local and regional level because every city has unique challenges in terms of equity that might require customized solutions and policies. However, regional conversations allow us to share promising practices and a common language to discuss issues that pertain to all artists and arts organizations in the region such as displacement, which disproportionately impacts organizations working in communities of color and other underserved communities.


Olivia Dodd:  For us to see industry-wide change in our regional (and national) arts and culture field, we will need to work at all levels as well as from both within individual organizations and together through regional/national associations to address these issues. While reorienting an industry may seem a daunting task, it is also an incredibly exciting and necessary one. It is on each individual organization, speaking for our organization as well, to identify where you need to grow and to resolve as a whole to make the changes necessary to become more equitable and diverse. To address this, we have to be willing to look at and modify our representation in our own staff and board makeup, our development strategies, our choices in programming, and our audiences. This is also a process we as an industry need to support each other through by holding each other accountable, identifying common challenges, and sharing successful practices.

In Napa County, normalizing representation as well as diversity, equity and affordability are top of mind, not just for the arts but for our community as a whole, whether in local politics, education or business leadership. The arts, however, lag behind many other sectors in proactive policies and actions to address these needs. With that said, this is one of the aspects of our agency that needs the most strengthening. It is not only something we see as important to our mission but a great opportunity for our local arts to serve and make an impact. With thoughtful programming, an orientation to authentic relationship cultivation, and diverse creators, we believe the arts can flip our role to become leaders in developing equity and diversity within our communities. Specifically, we as a local arts agencies can and should be proactive centers to champion the work of those who are leading the way as well as provide connections, guidance and resources to arts organizations and artists.

Local arts agencies, whether representing a city or the nation, can help drive movement in our field by: 
  • Organizing conversation among local leadership and facilitating networking to bring new voices into the traditional structures; 
  • Providing or soliciting grants for local organizations to facilitate new transitions, outreach, and programs;
  • Gathering and disseminating demographic information, baselines to track progress, and facilitate data sharing;
  • Raising awareness for diverse voices and stories of those that are successfully evolving; 
  • Spearheading relationship cultivation across traditional boundaries;
  • And, Actively networking and promoting partnerships with sectors or programs that serve more  diverse constituents and help cultivate relationships;
Although we are early in our diversity strategy and have a long way to go in our agency, we have initiated a handful of services to drive conversation and action on equity, diversity and race locally. Beyond active recruitment for diversity within the institution and programs, we have established the ACNV Leadership Network in order to facilitate a united movement with our local nonprofit arts groups. Collectively this group, representing about 20 arts nonprofits, agreed that we do not currently represent our community and agreed that we want this to change. We recognize that these issues are institutional, not just a marketing challenge, and have begun a systematic approach to clearly articulate the specific issues for locally. This will enable us to have clear talking points, common goals, and the ability to share the initiative widely. 

The first phase is an assessment of our community demographics, our local arts leadership, and arts audiences/participants. We are in the midst of this process now so the profile is not complete, but what we can say is that our county is home to a population that is 23% foreign-born, over 30% Latino, 26% in poverty, with 50% of our students who are or were English Language Learners.  Meanwhile, our local arts administration is by a far majority made-up of college educated, upper-middle class, white, females and the majority of our audiences are white, native-born English speakers. This little bit is a powerful reminder of why diversity and equity rise to the top of issues facing our arts community. We know we have a lot to do to start seeing change, but are inspired by the vision of a more welcoming, relevant and representative leadership serving a greater diversity of voices and audiences in our local arts. 


Connie Martinez:  I think exchanging ideas and best practices around equity, diversity and race is better than a larger map approach. We favor experimenting with what works locally, with an emphasis on: 1) setting the table with diverse voices (network engagement); 2) paying attention to our pipeline of diverse leaders (genARTS and MALI – Multicultural Arts Leadership Institute); and 3) ensuring equity and diversity with our investments in people and organizations (Grants programs/Artist Laureates etc).


Deep thanks to all the participants on this Forum.

Have a good weekend.

Don't Quit
Barry







Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 4

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

Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).


Today's Question:
Arts Education remains somewhat of a Have and Have-Not proposition, with wealthy districts offering more than those that are struggling financially.  Is the solution an approach that unites all the districts in the greater Bay Area? If not, then what can each district do at this point in time to maximize the possibility of offering meaningful arts education to local students K-12?

Responses:

Kristen Madsen:  Fun fact:  Sonoma County, with a population of 500,000, has 40 school districts, while as a comparison, San Francisco, with a population of 850,000, has a single school district. And each of the remaining counties in the region is somewhere in between.  My point is that the idea of unified efforts within each of our counties is fraught with challenges – the idea of expanding that to a 9 county region is likely to implode before liftoff.

However, the idea of learning from each other and piggy-backing on existing efforts is incredibly effective.  This month, with funding from the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, the California Arts Council, and the Hewlett Foundation, we are undertaking an assessment of arts education in our K-12 schools, county-wide.  And I’ll pause here to give a lot of credit to the Hewlett Foundation for its leadership in guiding this process.  Shortly after we learned that the Arts Council of Napa County had launched a similar effort, Hewlett stepped in with access to new data and an invitation for potential funding.   They introduced us to the recently released California Arts Education Data Project produced by Create CA, also with Hewlett funds.  CreateCA has culled all the arts education data that schools report to the state Department of Education and put it online in a searchable and very user-friendly set of dashboards.  Hewlett also let us know that Marin County was also mid-stream in a county-wide arts education project.  And the Hewlett offer of funds was very helpful in leveraging additional funds from Community Foundation Sonoma County for the project.   So we are starting this work on second base.  And huge thanks go to our friends in Napa who have been extraordinarily generous with their information, tools, and process to help keep us from reinventing the wheel.

Our goal is to gain real, meaningful, accurate data about what is happening in arts education in our county’s schools.  Once we understand the current state of affairs, we can determine if there are gaps, how big they are, where they are, and more.  At that point, we can develop a strategy to begin to fill those holes, starting with the deepest first.  Stay tuned.


Olivia Dodd:  When it comes to equal access to arts education, we are all fortunate to have Joe Landon leading the California Alliance for Arts Education and helping local communities develop our own action networks to promote change. The Alliance helped us to kick-off our own local network and through this work, we have seen that this multi-front strategy, state and local, is an effective approach. There are absolutely areas where this work can be expanded and the initiatives tackled at a regional level and some that have already begun.

Our county offices of education’s VAPA representatives already meet as a region through the Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership of the Bay Area and collaborate on the Inventing Our Future integrated learning summer institute, a program of the Alameda County Office of Education.  This is a great example of a regional effort to maximize resources and leverage regional assets for the professional development and networking of arts education providers and advocates. There is a lot more to be learned and shared with each other regionally like, strategies and tactical resources for LCAP advocacy, teaching artist trainings, pooled private resources/funds, greater access to classroom teacher trainings in methods like Visual Thinking Strategies, and strategies to create access to our unique resources in museum collections, performance experiences, and teaching artist databases.
However, with as much that can grow from a regional collaboration, we will need to be mindful of and resourceful in addressing logistical challenges in implementing shared resources, like limited PD budgets, transportation, and district-based decision making. As we consider the district power base for budgets, strategic priorities and curriculum, as well as to be most impactful in our understanding and outreach to students, we have to equip ourselves for action at the local district and school level.  In Napa County, we have found that there are a lot of assets that have gone underutilized and relatively little attention spent in addressing the institutional issues that have kept socio-economic barriers in place.

One of the greatest challenges in instituting equitable arts education is, of course, sustainable funding. While the ability to allocate arts funding through the district LCAPs and now through Title 1 funds is a huge advantage to arts advocates, we have found that it will take much more support than what our underfunded districts can do alone. As we have built our local action network, the ACNV Education Alliance, we have found a wealth of resources emerge from simply bringing together the local private resources (funders, teaching artists, arts nonprofits, voters and volunteers) with the educators. The networking alone has lead to new partnerships to serve diverse classrooms, but also has lead to rich conversations and strategies about the issues that are keeping access limited.

There were a few of key actions that I have been essential in building support for the ACNV Education Alliance and I would recommend these to any local advocacy network; a) agree on common terminology in your definition(s) of “arts education” (Are you focused on sequential standards based education, integration, enrichment programs, or simply increasing exposure?), b) develop and unite under a shared mission that puts student interests first, c) be conscious and respectful of the competing interests the district has to manage, d) involve the students in the process, e) be strategic and inclusive - don’t underestimate the importance of relationship and trust building in your planning, and, f) develop a cohort of funders, small and large, to partner in matching funds and collaborate on strategies. Through sticking with these strategies, we have found that passionate and intelligent partners have emerged and when conflicts inevitably arise, despite competing agendas that we are able to go back to the shared vision of equitable access and relevant arts education for ALL students as our primary objective.


Michele Seville:  I think an appeal needs to be made to each County District, especially since federal money for the arts looks unlikely. Better at the county level than relying on the school boards, some of which are currently being challenged with regards to their use of funds.


Connie Martinez:  I believe a system wide solution for K-12 arts education is beyond the capacity of regional arts leaders.  Each school district has unique challenges and resources and so arts opportunities often need to be customized.  In Silicon Valley, we have created a marketplace for teachers to “buy” Common Core inspired arts education from our arts ecosystem with mini grants through ArtsEdConnect, a technology platform that matches teachers needs and interests with arts education opportunities and providers like Starting Arts.  Perhaps the regional opportunity is more around advocacy for the importance of STEAM, rather than STEM.  And the sharing of best practices, models.


Tom DeCaigny:  The challenges in arts education are often unique to a specific school district. A uniform solution for all districts in the greater Bay Area might not be effective in addressing those unique challenges. However, conversations at the regional level can provide insights into innovative strategies and promising practices. The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) currently provides an annual operating grant to the Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area to support their knowledge-sharing and regional convening efforts. In San Francisco, the SFAC and several other municipal agencies participate in an arts education taskforce that aims to advance the City’s Arts Education Master Plan. The SFAC works directly with the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families to enrich the out of school time programs in the school district which supplement the in-school arts education curriculum. In SF schools with limited resources, the SFAC has a grant program that places trained teaching artists at school sites for an entire school year. In addition to providing high quality arts education to students, the grant program aims to help the school build its capacity for providing a high-quality arts education to all students.


Kerry Adams Hapner:  In San Jose, there are 21 different school districts. Each of them are supported in part by the Santa Clara County Office of Education. Therefore, working at either the district level or through the SCCOE are the most effective means to advance arts education. I serve on an advisory committee for Artspiration, the SCCOE arts education masterplan. 


Friday's Question:

Equity, diversity and race remain high level priority issues for the entire nonprofit arts field.  How are you addressing the challenges in your territory?  Are the issues such that solutions will likely require a larger map approach, and is it incumbent on the whole Bay Area to work together for truly meaningful change?  What are the principal roles LAAs can, and should, play, and what role does your organization favor?

Have a good day.

Don't Quit
Barry 





Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 3

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



Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).

Today's Question:

Funding varies from area to area, across disciplines and organization size - and remains one of the key challenges to every arts organization.  Is there any kind of tax or dedicated revenue stream that might have a chance of voter passage that would include all nine Bay Area counties?  Is that kind of approach viable?  Are there other ways the funding issue might be addressed from a cooperative approach?

Responses:

Olivia Dodd:  A dedicated revenue stream for the arts that has a chance of passing is the million dollar question (pardon the pun)!  A meaningful revenue stream has been something our agency has spent a lot of time considering, as it has the potential to be transformative for not only our region but our California culture.  Although we have not yet found that there is an obvious path forward, I certainly believe there is merit to working collaboratively on the issue. There are several models deployed by other regions and industries that could be guides for us - of which many might only be lucrative if applied on a larger regional scale.

A few models we’ve discussed internally may be worth exploration on a regional level. Business Improvement or Tourism Improvement Districts have been successful for collecting pooled funds through industry-led self-assessments, helping re-development and destination marketing organizations at the city or county level. If applied to the arts, might this be an added art sales or ticket fee assessment that goes back into local nonprofit arts? In areas like Cincinnati and Louisville, regional united arts fund models have raised millions of dollars from philanthropists, special events, and corporate giving programs.  In the greater Portland area the regional governments support the operations of their local arts agency based on a cost of living formula and they even have an agreement that the arts can not be cut disproportionately to other services. Voters additionally approved an income tax levy that provides $35 per person for grants in education and access to the arts. Whether or not the Bay Area would be willing to do an income tax or sales tax like our northern counterparts is yet to be seen but worth exploring. Or, maybe, it would be better to explore a retail program that benefits a regional arts fund, like the state-run English Lottery or California vanity license plate program.  Whether privately or publicly funded, by looking at the issue of funding on a regional level we open up a much greater opportunity for our residents and arts community.
Within our county, I have seen how this sort of asset can transform an industry’s presence. Just seven years ago our county’s conference and visitor bureau was as a small agency hovering around a $250,000 budget annually. Then, the hotel industry came together and adopted a Tourism Improvement District for the county and within in each city that added an assessment to each visitor’s overnight stay in order to fund the marketing of Napa County as a destination. The CVB was then contracted as the agent for this joint marketing of the county as destination, now yielding them just over $6 million annually for our small county of just under 140,000 residents.

If we were to look at funding for the arts through a nine county approach, the challenge will be in deciding what is equitable and strategic in geographic distribution of the funds as well as what sort of infrastructure would support this venture. Would we need to establish a regional arts agency that the local organizations and agencies apply to or could it be a consortium of agencies that run the fund co-operatively?  Should we explore mergers among local arts agencies to combine our administration and grantmaking?  All of these questions offer great opportunity to step back and explore what could be if we’re willing to think outside the normal territorial boundaries.


Connie Martinez: I’d like to be wrong but hard to envision a public funding mechanism across all nine counties that would speak to the values and priorities of each unique sub-region AND be able to get voter approval.   That said, funding mechanisms that align with local values and priorities are worth exploring and could be reinforced by overarching regional messages that connect to and complement local campaigns.


Tom DeCaigny:  A regional tax or dedicated public funding stream for the arts across all nine Bay Area counties isn’t a viable option. Jurisdictional authorities in California are defined by city, county and state legislative bodies. Public funding structures mirror those jurisdictions making it difficult to fund multi-county initiatives. Historically, very few regional measures have passed and critical regional infrastructure bond measures like BART have struggled for decades.

That said, the arts stand to benefit from several regional planning efforts, particularly the long-term development of a second Transbay BART tube. A second Transbay tube would allow late night entertainment and cultural workers as well as arts audiences to access BART on a 24-hour basis which will become essential as more and more artists and cultural workers seek affordable housing around the Bay Area. The recent success of the BART bond measure gives hope that critical transportation infrastructure improvements may be able to secure regional funding in the future.
The best opportunity for securing new Bay Area arts funding may be through securing community benefits from the expansive amount of development taking place in the region. In 2015, the San Francisco Arts Commission worked with the SF Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to negotiate an arts community benefit package valued at more than $12 million. The benefits package, to be paid by Forest City as part of their development of the 5M project in the South of Market neighborhood, includes the gifting of the historic Dempster Building to the Community Arts Stabilization Trust as well as approximately $3 million to seismically retrofit and restore the building. The benefits package also includes an arts programming fund for the neighborhood and a nonprofit arts displacement mitigation fund to be administered by the SFAC. By sharing promising practices and lessons learned through networks like the U.S. Urban Arts Federation, communities across the Bay Area could negotiate similar community benefit packages for the arts.


Kristen Madsen:  The list of people who are smarter than I am about the intricacies of taxes and ballot measures is … oh right … everyone.  So I’m steering completely clear of that part of this question.

And I will also caution against imagining that the voters of our 9 geographically-connected-but-still-quite-diverse counties are homogenous enough to support a new tax or proposition.  There is a lesson to be taken from very recent history on making assumptions about our fellow travelers’ life concerns.

Here’s what I am comfortable saying.  Taking advantage of existing strategies and smart work by others is always a good option.  As an example, the Sonoma County Economic Development Board has recently submitted a proposal in partnership with Mendocino County’s Economic Development Board to the US Economic Development Administration to become an officially designated Economic Development District (EDD).  This program is specifically for multi-county regions working together to improve and expand their economic development efforts.  The proposal pre-approved a list of projects that will become eligible for federal funds if the EDD designation is approved.  Plus, the imprimatur of a federal designation may be helpful with other funding sources.  Creative Sonoma has a project that has been approved as part of the Sonoma-Mendocino proposal.  So, we’re taking advantage of an existing multi-county effort, where the heavy lifting has already been done, hoping that it will help open doors to potential new arts funding in our counties.


Michele Seville:  What about a $1 allocation for the arts on income taxes?


Kerry Adams Hapner:  Funding is a perennial issue. I frankly don’t see a regional effort as a viable option in the near future as getting voters across counties to support a regional initiative is a huge effort and the mechanisms to administer it are narrow. Alternatively, I see National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and California Arts Council funding as more urgent priorities. The Trump administration has threatened the eliminate the NEA and the field must act to protect this national resource.

With an annual appropriation of $146 million, the NEA is the single largest national funder of nonprofit arts in the U.S. Locally, the NEA’s investments meaningfully catalyze cultural vibrancy. Over the past three years, the NEA has awarded approximately $9.1 million in grants to organizations based in San Jose, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Berkeley.
I urge people to join Americans for the Arts’ Arts Action Fund for free at www.artsactionfund.org.  We can’t be complacent in this environment.

Thursday's Question:   
Arts Education remains somewhat of a Have and Have-Not proposition, with wealthy districts offering more than those that are struggling financially.  Is the solution an approach that unites all the districts in the greater Bay Area? If not, then what can each district do at this point in time to maximize the possibility of offering meaningful arts education to local students K-12?

Have a good day.

Don't Quit
Barry 



Monday, February 20, 2017

Bay Area LAA Leader Blog Forum - Day 2

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

Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see yesterday's blog for the introduction and participant list).

Today's Question:
Working in the arts probably means we understand the intrinsic value/ transformative power that the arts can provide or tap into.  How is your department or arts organizations in your county building public will for the arts across it's residents, so we aren't always pitting arts against every other important experience?

Responses:

Connie Martinez:  We are working closely with the City of San Jose on their Building Public Will initiative and are using the language and messaging that the research has deemed important to building public will. As for pitting the arts against others, we use a collaborative approach in all of our work and see arts as a value add to many other sectors:  health, education, urban development, etc.  To that end, we bring the arts to the table to contribute to the strength of other sectors when we can and avoid an "us vs them" acknowledging that we are part of same community and share the goal of strengthening the common good.

Michele Seville:  Two ways: a) the Richmond Arts & Culture Commission is proposing a Percent for Art in Private Development ordinance – which will bring even more public art to our environment; and b) the commission has decided to embark on a project called “Community Conversations” where we invite unlikely partners to the table to discuss what they want to see in their community, and how to achieve it together through the arts.

Kerry Adams Hapner:  The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs is participating in a multi-phase national initiative called Creating Connection to build public will for the arts and culture.  Through aligning the arts with the existing closely-held values of San Joseans, the goal is for the arts to be recognized as a vital and essential part of the daily fabric of life.

Conceived and led by Metropolitan Group and Arts Midwest, this initiative is supported by multiple local, regional and national funders in the public and private sectors who understand that a thriving arts and cultural environment is essential to sustain strong communities. Because of its diverse population, vibrant neighborhoods and thriving cultural community, San Jose was selected by our partner the California Arts Council as the pilot community to represent the State of California for this growing national initiative. The Packard Foundation has been a wonderful supporter of the three phases of this project to date.

This public will-building approach coalesces support for social change by connecting an issue to existing, closely held values of individuals and groups. Through this connection, new expectations can influence long-term changes and achieve positive community outcomes.  This approach has a proven track record in other public policy areas, having catalyzed significant change in community expectations regarding now-commonly accepted practices as smoke-free public space, library support and improved water quality.

Phase 1 focused on national surveys, supplemented by focus groups in local communities, to uncover the core, shared public values and behaviors around community, education, self-expression, and family. The research found that the value of connection - with ourselves, the people closest to us, and the world around us - is the most strongly aligned with arts and culture.  Entitled Creating Connection, the research report for Phase 1 can be found at www.artsmidwest.org.   Key findings for the San Jose and other pilot areas include:


  • Connection is a key motivation driving personal behaviors. 
  • “Creative expression” has a greater resonance with the public than “arts and culture.” 
  • Engaging in or experiencing creative expression is associated with a beneficial personal outcome. 
  • People under 40, women, parents of younger children, and people of color are key audiences for whom creative expression is a priority. 
  • Barriers to creative expression and activities exist, but, not insurmountable. 


The research findings in Phase 1 informed the development of a national message framework which serves to communicate the connections between the inherent benefits of the arts and existing community priorities.  Recently completed, Phase 2 equipped a cohort of diverse arts organizations to take the research findings and messages to a broader audience. Organizations in the implementation cohort received message training with tools, programmatic recommendations, and funding to implement the framework. An exciting outcome of the cohort is that the organizations chose to adopt a hashtag called #408Creates that serves as a means to develop critical mass. A third phase is being launched now, which will offer another cohort and funding opportunity to San Jose groups, a social media campaign, as well as a convening of cross sector leaders to provide input on the building pubic will initiative.

In addition to working through arts partners, the OCA has designed a complementary programming initiative entitled San Jose Creates & Connects, which is designed to build a more vibrant San Jose by connecting San Jose residents across communities and within neighborhoods through creative, participatory experiences in arts and culture.

In supporting cultural activity within neighborhoods across the city, OCA’s objective is for residents to view the arts as integral to their everyday lives. Residents will celebrate their neighborhoods, connect with their neighbors, and have their voices heard through the arts. This initiative also supports the local employment and financial viability of artists and artist-run business as cultural producers, teachers, neighborhood anchors, and community organizers.

Specific initiatives being considered for inclusion over the course of two years are:

  • micro-grants and investments in place-based arts-businesses;
  • city-wide public art initiative connecting across communities, such as murals at underpasses or participatory art projects in parks, libraries and community centers; and
  • participatory arts festivals in non-traditional venues.   

Working synergistically, Creating Connection and San Jose Creates & Connects help ensure that San José’s robust cultural environment continues to thrive now and in the future.  These efforts serve to strengthen the local arts and cultural sector - by providing organizations with proven messages and strategies that demonstrate the connection between their offerings and the public’s existing values.


Olivia Dodd:  To my mind, it is critical that we (the arts most devoted fans) understand how the average person sees and feels about the arts (or at least the term) and work to: demystify the field, make it more approachable, and find relevant ways to engage in public issues.  It’s on us to speak and show why we believe so passionately that the arts matter, not in our own terms but in the language that is relevant to our broader communities. If we want to be a part of the fabric of California life, then it would go a long way to show how the arts can be a resource for the other important issues and experiences. 

While lack of access, lack of diverse arts exposure, or a distant association with the term “art”, there are a number of reasons the value of the arts haven’t yet resonated with the general public. BUT I believe that more of them have experienced the transformative power of the arts, than realize it - so I propose that it’s our task to breakdown our own walls, whether it’s between disciplines or genres or between pop, folk/traditional and academic arts. Each aspect of culture is a gateway to being exposed to another. 

As an agency, we have prioritized building public will as critical to the success of our local arts and culture field.  Beginning in 2015, we started to convene a cohort of local arts leaders to develop common language and pilot a Leadership Seminar program that focused on advocacy and public-will training. We started with an exercise in considering what our community cares about and how the arts might serve some common values within our resident populations and how we might integrate with reigning public issues of transportation, land use, agriculture, environment, affordable housing, visitor management, and immigration. Just this year, we announced the reorientation of our annual arts month, Napa Valley Arts in April, to engage the public where they already are in arts that is relevant to their lives - a locals first approach. Putting student voices at the forefront of our arts education communications for advocacy.  Public Art programs prioritizing community-build projects. 
We can look to  groups like ArtsWave in Cincinnati that have institutionalized this approach to better serve their communities, with great success. I am very appreciative to Margy Waller of Topos Research who was a part of the public will building initiative for ArtsWave and has shared insights into their work with our community through a workshop last Fall.  I also recommend we follow Arts Midwest’s national public will building campaign, being piloted locally in partnership with the City of San Jose (I am curious to see Kerry Adams-Hapner response to this question and how they are finding the work in practice.)  


Roberto Bedoya:  In light of the Ghost Ship Fire it has been invigorating to see how the artists’ DIY community who been have organizing themselves around policy matters related to “space” and in these efforts they have spoken clearly at public hearings and community meetings either at City Hall, neighborhood centers or art venues that artists are part of a larger community of folks in need of affordable housing, not a special interests group. Articulating how an underground illegal housing market whether it is a warehouse or residential garage is a civic crisis that demand remedies.

To speak of will – there’s the political will, public will and poetic will that I encounter that enliven the city. The political will of elected officials, lobbyists or get out the vote drives; the public will of a Women’s March, or the Save the Bay movement and the Poetic Will of how we imagine our plurality via images, the lyric, the story, or gestures, through acts of cultural citizenship that make a claim on civil society are woven together in my job as a civil servant.

I pay attention to the poetic will at play in civil society and how it moves in society, not so much as the I, but the we. The poetic will of art often unhinges the rational world of empirical reasoning with its images – images of freedom, beauty, possibilities, the abject, morals, or ethics as opposed to facts as definite, scientific, and absolute. The composing, the dreams, vision, utopia or dystopic energies that animate the secular, the interconnectedness that governs daily life via the promise of the city - expressive life a locale which is woven together through an interplay of people, land, arts, culture, and engagement that is a form of aesthetic ordering that roots a city in its development, its identity and creates the space and place called home. It is a form of ordering and speech that sources the work we do.


Kristen Madsen:  Let’s avoid the trap in this question that imagines the binary argument of the arts against every other cause.  If you’ve sat through a City Council of Supervisors’ budget hearing, you know that every issue and every cause is – and will always – be fighting to increase its share of the pie.  

That said, helping any resident of our community understand that creativity is in all of us – that we can get in the habit of exercising our creative muscles a bit more often – is core to the mission of Creative Sonoma.  We’re starting at the start with the recognition that providing access to arts education for all students is as likely as any other arts related issue to garner broad support.  I outline our specific plans in that regard in response to Question 4 below.  

On another, quite different track, we are working to launch a new mini-grant program, adapted from an existing program from LA Cultural Affairs:  “Pop-Up Creativity Grants.”  The grants will be made to fund production of temporary creative events, objects, installations or experiences, in neighborhoods across the county.  Projects that include engaging community members in art making will be encouraged.  We’ll market the projects as they occur and after each season’s worth of grants in an effort to show the collective creativity that exists of all kinds in Sonoma County.  This is a our first effort to remind Sonomans that they should take great pride in the creativity that is on full display every day in our county, with the ultimate goal of making “creativity” a defining characteristic of Sonoma County.  


Tom DeCaigny:  The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) is currently in the fourth year of a 5-year strategic plan. One of the issues identified in our organizational assessment during the planning process was low visibility of the City of San Francisco’s arts investments with members of the public. In response, the SFAC’s strategic plan defines several strategies to build public will for the arts. They are: 
  • Act as liaison between the arts community and policymakers to increase understanding of how artists can contribute to creative problem solving of larger policy issues.  
    • Over the past three years the SFAC has received over $2.5 million in special ‘add-back’ funding from the SF Board of Supervisors to support neighborhood arts projects that improve the quality of life for San Francisco residents and visitors. Examples of projects from our most recent Request for Proposals can be found here.
  • Collaborate with other city agencies to understand the intersection between arts and support for children, youth and families, public health, environment, etc. 
    • The SFAC currently has partnerships and work order funding from several peer City departments including the SF Department of Public Works, the SF Public Library, the SF Planning Department, the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families.
  • Participate in national research projects that highlight the importance of the arts in the local economy and improving the quality of life for San Francisco residents and visitors.  
  • Support small, grassroots organizations that serve the community directly through grants and capacity building. 
    • The SFAC’s Cultural Equity Endowment Fund received an ongoing annual increase of $1 million in Fiscal Year 2016. These new funds represent a 50% increase to the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund and have supported increased grant amounts to grassroots arts organizations for artmaking and capacity building.
  • Connect arts to other social sectors and issues.
    • The SF Arts Commission Galleries has recently expanded into a new space at the Veterans War Memorial Building. The current show, Not Alone addresses the experiences of veterans and their families and has received significant press coverage including a recent feature in Hyperallergic.  
The SFAC’s Arts & Communities: Innovative Partnerships grant program supports organizations working at the intersections of art, social justice, immigration, public health, education and the environment.


Wednesday's Question:

Funding varies from area to area, across disciplines and organization size - and remains one of the key challenges to every arts organization.  Is there any kind of tax or dedicated revenue stream that might have a chance of voter passage that would include all nine Bay Area counties?  Is that kind of approach viable?  Are there other ways the funding issue might be addressed from a cooperative approach?


Have a nice day.

Don't Quit
Barry