Sunday, August 18, 2019

Learning How To Better Do Our Jobs is Widely Available for Free Online, Yet We Fail to Take Advantage.

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

Most of us have little aspirational lists of long term things we mean to do to improve our lives.  Sometime we even write them down, but that's usually not necessary because these things are generally big ticket items, generic in nature, and there aren't that many on the list.  Occasionally one of these items might appear on an annual New Year's Resolution list, but for the most part, they exist by themselves.  While we mean to get to these items, we rarely do, so items on this list can remain for long periods of time.  We are familiar with things on this list precisely because the list has been around so long.  This is the list of the things that will truly improve our lives and which we know for certain we ought to do.  Yet we don't.

The reasons we don't deal with these seemingly high priority, important things we ought to do to improve aspects of our lives - our health, our jobs, our relationships and more - are all too familiar:  we're too busy, we're procrastinators, we've not ready yet, they can wait, blah, blah blah.

The most familiar of these "To Do" things include improving our health in some way - exercise more, lose weight, eat healthier, stop smoking, cut out the bad stuff and the like.  Even when we check off things on this list, they still remain in some form.  So we can join a gym and commit to a work out routine, and actually incorporate that into our daily lives, but the bigger goal of doing things to stay healthy remains on the list.

Another area that has its own sub-heading on the list includes improving our skills level, learning new things that make us better at what we do, acquiring information and knowledge that better equips us to "perform" on the job.  This area includes our nascent and only somewhat formed idea that learning is suppose to be lifelong.  Most of us are already "educated".  We went to college, we have degrees, we know stuff, or at least, we 'learned' things.  But in the back of our heads, we have it ingrained that there is a lot we don't know that we should, that knowledge is power and that it is constantly changing, and so we should, really, at the least, refresh every so often.  Undeniable truths every one.  We theoretically subscribe to the notion that truly smart people continue to learn so as to stay at the top of their 'professions'.  We intuitively understand that honing our skills level not only insures we will be prepared for an ever changing future, but that it is probably essential for our ambitious career trajectories.

And so we mean to act on that.  It's definitely on our long term improvement list.  Right near the top of the category anyway, is our intent to take some courses that will augment and supplement the body of knowledge we got from our formal education, and that which we've gained from practical experience.  Only we don't.  We mean to. But we postpone it.  Put it off.  We''ll get to it, but right now is not the opportune time; there is too much going on, too many things happening.  There simply isn't the time.  Life, including work, tends to get in the way.  It's too complicated to do.

Not for everyone, of course.  There are those individuals who seem able to juggle all the demands of life, and still fit in that professional development, continuing learning thing too.  And they are the ones that seem to often succeed at work, who advance, who move up.  Damn them.  How do they do that?  They obviously belong to the superhuman class that prowl the halls and make us feel guilty.

The thing is, of all the items on the unspoken list of things we mean to do to improve our lives, and especially our work lives, the continuing education one is very likely the easiest to move from notion to reality.  Online learning is everywhere, its easy and it's largely free.  Virtually anything you want to get better at, anything you want to learn how to do, how to master, is available online at the click of your mouse. What you want, when you want it.  Improvement on your terms.  You don't need to wait until its offered to you by your organization.  You don't need to wait for any invitation.

Want to be a better fundraiser?  Want to improve your marketing skills?  Want to learn to be an effective team leader?  Want to be an effective public speaker?  Want to understand the ABC's of programing?  Want to be an effective advocate or lobbyist?  Want to learn how to move up the management ladder?  Want to understand how to go from an idea to a reality?  It's all here. And a lot more.

So maybe this is the time to take some action on that "This Will Definitely Make My Life Better" list item - learning stuff that will help you in your job and your career advancement.

There are literally dozens, if not scores, of online sites that offer and aggregate all manner of courses to teach you virtually anything you might want to know, and the vast majority of them are unconditionally and absolutely free.  And the available courses include hundreds of courses directly related to  your work as a nonprofit arts administrator in fields ranging from finance to marketing, advocacy to fundraising, leadership to programming.  Whatever it is you do, if your want to learn more to do it better, that knowledge is available to you right now.

Here are just three sites that offer online courses that you might like - many free, other low cost (and if you google free online courses you will find a lot more):

1.  Coursera:     35 million learners, 150 university partners, 2,700 courses, 250 specializations and four degrees. In addition to free courses, Coursera offers courses generally ranging from $29 - $99.

2.  edX:   more than 20 million learners and 2,400 courses from a majority of the top-ranked universities in the world. Open edX is the open source platform behind edX, and it's open to educators and technologists who want to develop new educational tools. In addition to free courses, edX also offers courses for a fee.

3.  Udemy:  30 million students, 100,000 courses in 50 languages, 42,000 instructors and 22 million minutes of video instruction. Unlike other online education platforms driven by content from colleges and universities, Udemy allows content creators to curate their own courses and teach them online.  Many free, others priced low.

So perhaps this might be a good week to finally, at least begin to, address that item on your secret list.  Up your game, increase your skills level, improve your career trajectory options, be more productive, gain confidence.

Good luck.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Christian Gaines - WESTAF's New Executive Director - Interview

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

Christian Gaines Bio:
Christian Gaines has served as the executive director of WESTAF since January of 2019. Gaines oversees the development of WESTAF’s arts-based technology projects, which currently serve approximately 3,000 arts organizations and more than 220,000 artists nationwide. He also works to support the development of the 13 state arts agencies in the WESTAF region. Gaines most recently served for five years as executive director of the international art competition ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A longtime board member of the nonprofit DisArt, he worked tirelessly to ensure that ArtPrize involved and embraced disability culture through exhibits, events, programs and support services. Gaines’ background also includes extensive work in the film industry. For five years he worked at, where he served as a specialist in festival strategy and business development, overseeing the global expansion of, a film submission and adjudication platform connecting filmmakers to film festivals worldwide. He also served for eight years as director of festivals for the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California, and for four years as festival director and director of programming at the Hawaii International Film Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Interview:

Barry:  What made you apply for the WESTAF job?

Christian:  Hello Barry and thanks for the opportunity to answer these questions and introduce myself!

I consider the WESTAF position more than a job – it’s a calling, really. Does that sound too grandiose? Perhaps. But, it’s a huge responsibility to lead an organization that’s been doing good work since 1974 and to represent such a geographically vast region, its communities of artists and its arts organizations. I had recently concluded a five-year stint as Executive Director of ArtPrize in Michigan, where I also served as a council member on the Michigan Council for Art and Cultural Affairs. My background prior to then was mostly in film festivals and technology – and through all of this work I had developed a real interest in how technology can connect art, artists and audiences in new and meaningful ways. Whether filmmakers, visual or performing artists, the complex nature of these connections is what fascinates and motivates me. In addition to the core field work at WESTAF in the areas of state and federal arts advocacy, social good, professional development and thought leadership, we also have over time built and implemented a portfolio of web-based utilities for artists and arts organizations (CaFE, ZAPP, GO Smart, Creative Vitality Suite, Public Art Archive and IMTour) – some which are thriving and well-established and others still nascent and emerging. It’s a really exciting time for WESTAF!

With the exception of a wonderful five-year stint in the Midwest, I have also spent almost all of my adult life in the West – mostly Los Angeles and Honolulu, and now Denver. So, when I read the brief for the WESTAF Executive Director position, I felt that we were a fit for each other – growing technology businesses that benefit the arts while creating new opportunities for artists, cultural workers and communities in the western field. Eventually, I met the staff and the trustees, learned more about the newly-minted strategic plan and fell in love with the people, the organization and its priorities.

Barry:   What do you see as the biggest challenges facing State Arts Agencies?

Christian:  Gosh, there are many. Some are perennial to the ongoing exigencies of support for the arts. For example, state arts agencies largely do an excellent job of demonstrating their intrinsic value to economic health and social wellness, yet often deal with an uncertain funding future due to changing political or economic climates, making planning across multiple years a challenge and sometimes impossible. This impacts the potential and quality of its programs. The west, in particular, is a study in spectacular extremes. Following recent legislative sessions, the California Arts Council is looking at its largest appropriation in 20 years ($26 million), while the Alaska State Council on the Arts is struggling to avert a complete shutdown with a much more modest $700K in state revenues at stake as of this writing. (Note:  The Alaska State Council was shut down after this interview - Barry).  How can we smooth out these disparities, and hardwire support for the arts into legislative priorities? Another challenge facing agencies is the struggle to stay relevant in programs and services as artists, educators and students move beyond traditional media, embracing new digital formats and experimenting with new technologies. State arts agencies also strive to make sure that they are providing funding, services and programs to their rural communities as well as urban ones. This can be a challenge not just in accessing and serving remote areas, but also because the needs of artists and arts organizations in rural communities are often so different than their urban counterparts. Attendant to this, a challenge for state arts agencies is staying relevant and nimble by communicating their value in a way that is meaningful to legislative and business decision-makers -- not just to arts advocates.

Barry: What role do you think Regional Arts Agencies like WESTAF ought to play in the overall matrix of the nonprofit arts?

Christian:  I see WESTAF and our five fellow Regional Arts Organizations (RAOs) as connectors. With access to a wide-ranging network of artists, collaboratives, communities, organizations and funders at local, state and regional levels, RAOs can truly facilitate, encourage, and prompt connection and growth within the arts, by connecting people to people, people to places, people to money, money to places and so on. We do this in a variety of ways, but one of the most effective ways is by convening culture workers and thought-leaders to impart and implement knowledge and best practices in the field. RAOs also serve as the operational sinew that binds state arts agencies to federal partners, including funders like the National Endowment for the Arts and advocates like Americans for the Arts and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Uniquely, WESTAF is also able to fund legislative advocacy and lobbying efforts for the arts in each of its participating states through earned revenue derived from its technology businesses.

Barry:   You’ve had previous experience in hiring people. What qualities do you look for in a potential hire, and why?

Christian:  Having held leadership positions in both nonprofit and for profit organizations, I believe in joyful and thriving work environments. It sounds obvious, but a good foundational quality for a team member is simply to be excited about the work. I also look for people who are good representatives of the many communities that we serve, so making sure that diverse identities are well-represented within the team is critical. We have so many stakeholders at WESTAF -- many of whom desire different outcomes and have very different ideas of what WESTAF success looks like to them -- so it’s important to me that WESTAF team members are advocating passionately for their constituents, whether they’re an artist, an agency, an advocate, a community or a technology customer. I value humor, compassion, thoughtfulness, thoroughness, reliability, a genuine desire to learn, an ability to listen with an openness to have your mind changed and a willingness to lean into discomfort as needed.

Barry:   You have extensive experience in film festivals, and with public art, as well as with the issues of people with disabilities. While it is still, of course, early in your tenure, do you as yet have a vision for where you want to see WESTAF? Can you share your early thinking on that and how that might relate to your prior experience?

Christian:  WESTAF has been doing truly transformative work since 1974. That’s a long time! Over this period, the people and communities that it serves has expanded, programs have come and gone, and the organization itself has grown and responded to the needs of the field, adapting and evolving with the changing times. With this transition and with a newly-launched ten year strategic plan, we saw a good opportunity to re-imagine how WESTAF is structured, and we’ve been working on this since the beginning of the year. The structure is based on a simple matrix of three divisions and three departments:

Vertically, we can see three core, purpose-driven, outward-facing divisions: Business (which includes strategy and operations for our revenue-generating, artist-supporting technology platforms like CaFE, ZAPP and GO Smart); Alliances (which includes our critical work with artists and arts organizations, state arts agencies, state and federal advocacy partners and the National Endowment for the Arts); and Responsibility (which includes DEIA work like our acclaimed Emerging Leaders of Color program, funding programs like TourWest, thought-leadership convenings, as well as plans to double down on social good work focused on the arts in rural communities, disability culture and other important areas.

Horizontally, we can see three core support-driven, inward-facing departments: Communications (this is an emerging area for WESTAF with lots of potential to better tell the story of the organization, the region and its artists through publicity, marketing, social media, guiding principles and branding); Administration (a backbone of finance, personnel and board stewardship); and Technology (which includes web development, cloud maintenance and emerging business intelligence capabilities).
These departments and divisions are not siloed; just the opposite, actually. There are dotted, porous lines that separate them, and a great deal of collaborative interdependence between their purpose- and service-driven functions. Because the arts administration world loves a good acronym, we call this structure BARCAT. When we present it we usually feature a kitten, sitting at a bar.
While we’ve had to work through a lot to socialize and implement the BARCAT structure within the organization and the transition is certainly still intense and ongoing, we have found that team members are better able to visualize the purpose and priorities of WESTAF and the ways that they intersect. With this vision, team members are all on the same starting line. When you’re launching an organization-wide, ten-year strategic plan, that is a good place for them to be together.

Barry:   It’s not easy coming into a position long held by a predecessor. What is your governing style that helps you navigate this kind of a situation and what is your advice to others who might find themselves in a similar position? What are the keys to leading a team?

Christian:  It’s true that coming into a position long held by a predecessor can often come with challenges, but actually not in this case! WESTAF’s previous Executive Director Anthony Radich went to great lengths to document the organization’s history and trajectory as well as its opportunities and challenges. For the first month in my new position I went through a kind of “WESTAF U” curriculum, which was an intensive series of informational meetings from team leaders backed up by really authoritative documentation. It was a gift. Anthony continues to mentor me and is completely open and accessible, offering advice whenever called upon. I have never been through a more thorough onboarding process. Anthony’s significant accomplishments, shrewd strategy and smart decisions are the major reasons why the organization is poised as it is for the future.  So I think that I have come into the organization during a particular and unique transitional phase, one where we can be most effective by moving from a top-down style of management to a more tiered leadership system of directors, managers and coordinators. To this end, each of the divisions in the BARCAT structure has a director which is part of a Leadership Resource Team, who in turn manage their own teams. Specifically: Director of Business Strategy, Director of Business Operations, Director of Public Policy, Director of Responsibility and Inclusion, Director of Communications and Marketing, Director of Finance and Administration and Director of Technology and Innovation. We believe this will set us up efficiently to tackle the future.

Another very important part of the WESTAF culture, as well as the cornerstone of its successful leadership is the board of trustees, and I’ve been lucky to work with our chair Erin Graham and the executive committee on establishing a set of strategic priorities for my first year. It’s exciting to work with a board that is utterly engaged and energized by the work and the potential of the organization. There is such purpose to the work of its committees — including the board development committee and the newly re-imagined equity and inclusion committee (formerly the multi-cultural advisory committee). Erin will be stepping away from leadership in October and current vice chair Tamara Alvarado will be stepping into this role, so lots of exciting transition is happening!

My advice for new leaders? Be open. Listen a lot. Don’t be afraid to be the student, and don’t feel that you have to lead decisively from day one. Observing the dynamics of the organization and then responding to what you see and understand, rather than from your sense of “what’s worked for you before” is critical. Each situation is different. Make it a priority to understand and harness your single greatest asset -- the people, the knowledge and the experience that makes up your organization.

Barry:   To an extent, everything is always about “the money”. Where do you see your funding priorities for WESTAF? Under Anthony Radich, WESTAF pioneered the development and marketing of some technical services and products such as the Creative Vitality Suite. You have experience in tech as well. Do you plan to continue that approach and/or do you have ideas for other revenue generating streams?

Christian:  After some trial and error, the technology platforms that WESTAF have developed over time have been successful. They have provided a reliable and consistent source of earned revenue for this nonprofit in a world where nonprofit fundraising is often anything but reliable and consistent. This is because we were able to see a need (measuring creative economy in a useful and dynamic way, for example, or creating web-based communities of opportunities for artists) and then develop some smart tools and integrate good customer service. While sometimes resource limited, we responded to the needs of the field, introduced new features and functionality and in some areas maintained an edge, even as a nonprofit in a mostly for-profit competitive landscape. For the near term, we are focusing on quality, stability and reliability in our products, and listening to what our customers want and need in opportunity engines like CaFE or ZAPP. We want to grow our network and reach more artists and arts administrators, and we’re developing a plan to do just that.

We are also looking at ways to diversify our revenue streams through fundraising and partnerships. These partnerships could be private sector investors in addition to other like-minded arts/academic organization that would partner with an expansion of our products. Two examples of content and applications partnerships that are exciting for WESTAF are Lyrasis, a partner in the development of our nascent Public Art Archive application -- and Emsi, a partner that provides efficient and accurate data for Creative Vitality Suite.

Additionally, we believe that our programs -- particularly in the areas where the arts intersect with responsibility and social justice -- are eminently fundable through public and private, regional and national grants and foundations. We are a mature arts nonprofit with a strong vision, sound financial audits, a good track record of financial sustainability and producing quality artist support programs at a high level. Looking ahead, we want to build capacity for our programs by partnering with foundations or corporations who share some of our values and guiding principles.

Barry:   Diversity and Equity are major, major priorities for the field. While we seem to be making some progress in increasing diversity, at least at the staff levels, equity - if one defines equity, at least in part, in terms of the allocation of funds - remains stagnant. The money still goes where it has always gone - and that is disproportionate to the larger, white cultural organizations. How do we change the structures that perpetuate that reality so we might achieve a more equitable and balanced funding playing field? What is the role of SAAs in that effort?

Christian:  Identifying, training and networking emerging leaders of color is a major initiative of WESTAF and has been for many years now. The WESTAF ELC program now sees its alumni working within legacy institutions and playing a major role in transforming these cultural organizations, art museums and arts agencies for the better. It’s important to realize that progress in this work doesn’t just come from diversifying white cultural organizations (although that’s important), it also comes from leading institutions of color, as well. When there are only a few new leaders of color diversifying traditionally white institutions, this creates an opportunity cost that is widely felt by organizations of color. The wealthy foundations that fund arts and culture are most often headquartered in the bigger cities where these legacy white cultural organizations are most commonly located and where their contribution will be most visible. Remote, rural areas sparsely populated by underserved communities, often of color, do not get the attention that cities do. Funders could be well served by first addressing this problem.

Recognizing the important role public funding plays in sustaining cultural orgs in light of the imbalance that exists in private philanthropy is something that we try to speak to continually as an organization. It can help close the gap -- but only if those public funders acknowledge the gap exists and are willing to prioritize orgs that are not in the top 2% - a tall order.

Our DEIA consulting work with a variety of arts institutions led by Chrissy Deal, Director of Responsibility and Inclusion, is an effort to do this. For example our work with Salt Lake County’s Zoo Arts & Parks (ZAP), we lead and educate the staff and leadership on the funding statistics, orient them to the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion, provide ways for them to think about their processes through an equity lens, show them where their money has gone over 3 years --- essentially challenge them to stretch their thinking about how to level the playing field for organizations rooted in or run by underrepresented groups.

Barry:   Research has been a growth area in the nonprofit arts over a decade. What kinds of research do you think is most valuable to us as decision-makers, and how can we better help arts administrators access and act on that research?

Christian:  In addition to valuable research and awareness around DEI (as described above) to make sure that arts organizations are keeping this work front and center, we are also excited with research that revolves around the creative economy. For too long, understanding the creative industry in a specific region has revolved around a method for justifying funding to legislators, business leaders or foundation program managers. Usually this is in the form of static reports with some multiplier formulas, and the requisite “good news” has been extracted for this purpose. While this is somewhat important, we’re missing the point. Creative economy research can (and should) be dynamic, surprising, revealing and frustrating. It should be a useful way to determine how to build and shape our regional creative industry. There is so much that has yet to be learned about the ebb and flow of creative industry workers in a given region or municipality. WESTAF’s Creative Vitality Suite product is in the right space to address this. Additionally, we’re excited about other projects in this space, including the development of various “Top 25” Lists revealing interesting and accessible data points around regional creative economy achievements or variances, and also the development of a multi-module curriculum that will educate and certify all kinds of community investors to better understand and explore the creative economy space. These projects are just now emerging and you’ll be hearing about them over the next year or two.

As laid out in our strategic plan, one of the metrics we’re primed to use in our research and measurement of impact is the Net Promoter Score in both thought leadership (participants of convenings) and in our software-as-a-service (SaaS) products. We will always continue to expand our offerings within our existing SaaS products because we understand that data is a key factor for our clients, and that developing Business Intelligence tools for them to use with their users and applicants is a key way forward.

Barry:   The arts have, for years, touted and encouraged risk-taking - at least conceptually. And for many smaller arts organizations, mere continued existence might qualify as risk. What is your perception of how the field might take more, and/or smarter, risks? And to what effect?

Christian:  Initially trite as it may sound, I think the field needs to keep asking “What is Art?” The definition of how an agency can be effective in its work has been narrowly defined for a long time. Art in schools, public art management, community grants -- these are all essential activities of agencies, but artists and the art world in general are constantly morphing and changing definitions of art, so it makes sense that the services we provide should adapt and change, as well. For example, agencies spend a lot of time focusing on “hard art” -- durable, often sculptural, public-facing pieces that can withstand the elements etc. It would be exciting if arts organizations could get involved in more site-specific and ephemeral work that might endure later only in communal memory. This work might temporarily surprise and amaze -- or confound and infuriate -- but might engage a community around the meaning of the work itself and lead to conversations around what art is, and why it matters. That kind of work is pretty risky but the rewards can be pretty great.

Barry:   WESTAF’s constituency, by definition, is the western states. A more diverse set of political realities would be hard to find. The west is a conflicting amalgam of the politically left and right, urban and rural, large and small, wealthy and poor, old and young, including ethnicity and religion. Where do you see WESTAF being able to brook cooperation and collaboration between the states on policies that may not play as well in one jurisdiction as another?

Christian:  I think that WESTAF has a great opportunity to implant and communicate new perspectives on leadership around historically underrepresented communities. For example, the Building Movement Project’s “Race To Lead: Confronting the Racial Leadership Gap” report shows the disparities between white leaders and leaders of color in the nonprofit sector. A conversation with leaders of color in the field could help illuminate the possibilities for narrowing this gap.
In this and other areas, I see WESTAF as an essential convener around the issues that confront each state. This is important work that we’ll keep doing as long as their is the need and the appetite, and both remain very strong among our participating states.

Barry:  What kind of advice have you gotten so far?

Christian:  Three major pieces of really good advice: listen, listen and listen.

Barry:   There isn’t enough money to put an arts teacher in every school in America (let alone to put different arts disciplines teachers - plural - in every school). And what money is available is inequitably distributed between wealthy school districts and poor ones. Students in the poor ones simply do not have the same access to quality arts education, and they haven’t,  for two or more generations now. What can state arts agencies - whose budgets themselves vary widely - do to make standards and curriculum based, sequential arts education, taught by qualified and trained teachers, available to more students? If it’s true that the best marker for future audience growth is prior arts education participation, is the fact that arts education is a have v. have-not reality damning arts organizations in poorer areas to failure?

Christian:  I feel like there are some answers already embedded in this question! I think that in order for states to pull up the quality of arts education so that all students have access to quality arts education is three fold: 1) a national understanding of the importance of arts as part of education -- the “STEAM” argument has gathered lots of momentum in national conversation recently which is encouraging. Making sure that budget decision-makers understand that the arts actually help to mint the next generation of problem-solvers in science, math, technology and engineering is essential. We’re making progress. 2) making sure that all available private partnerships in a given state have been leveraged. Legislators listen to companies and businesses that employ people and pay taxes in their regions. If these companies are also expressing their opinions about the importance of the arts in schools and doing what they can to make sure that programs get stronger, this will help. 3) make sure that your state or region’s federal relationships in the arts and the humanities are as strong as they can be.

Barry:   One thing RAOs like WESTAF do very well is convene various groups within the arts to meet, consider, discuss and debate specific issues, and report on those gatherings. Do you yet have any ideas of the kinds of convenings you would like WESTAF to do in the future?

Christian:  Yes -- convening thought-leaders is a really valuable function of WESTAF in my opinion. In this regard, we will continue to host a performing arts consortia through the annual SAPAAD gathering that includes state arts agency performing arts directors to discuss the latest and most pertinent issues in performing arts touring and presentation. Similarly, we always have an annual professional development session for state arts agency culture workers to discuss best practices and tackle commonly-held issues and concerns. Twice yearly, we do something similar for agency executive directors as well.

We’re currently looking at a variety of topics that need to be addressed now and into the future, including prosperity and rural arts; socially responsible investment; diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility; engagement within the green industry, and how the arts can work with them while avoiding federal funding hazards.

Barry:   We are at the beginning of the generational shift in leadership within our field. Despite the fact that many baby boomers, some out of necessity, are not retiring as quickly as they might, the shift is on. You are part of that shift. What do you think will be the most significant impacts of that shift over the next five years? How will things change because of the arrival of new leadership that had meaningfully different life experiences from the Boomers?

Christian:  First off, if we achieve our strategic planning goals ten years from now, WESTAF will have contributed to the elevation of leadership roles held by people of color.

I also think the arts field as a whole will shift to be more time-based, virtual and gig-economy based. It will feel less permanent and more ephemeral. The younger generation wants to spend money on experiences and actually interact with art and communities, not necessarily purchase and collect. We are already seeing how this generation self-curates everything from music to movies to the content that is consumed. The traditional curatorial gatekeepers are having their relevance questioned and institutions like galleries and museums are asking important questions about their roles moving into the future. In this regard, the expectations around philanthropy will change. The next monied generation is looking at how to address huge issues -- housing and clean water, for example. The idea of making a major gift to a regional arts institution is going to seem quaint and old-fashioned pretty soon.

Arts organizations must become nimble, flexible and be able to measure the quality of experience rather than just the quantity of its attendees. Success metrics will change. We now have to define what those metrics might be. WESTAF would play a role at that policy level to really be able to measure what a valid creative experience looks like, and how we build on that experience. Old funding mechanisms based upon old ways of collecting data will be outmoded. New data streams will instead be used to measure success. For example, is the length of time a user/consumer chooses to engage in an experience more valid than the total number of experiences they engage?

Barry:   One problem for arts organization staffs is that those on the lower staff ranks, including the most recent hires, don’t get many opportunities for professional development that would both help them in doing their jobs better, but also in their career trajectory planning. In large part that is simply a function of limited budgets, where the professional development money is more often allocated to senior leadership. What can be done to afford more opportunities for professional development to all levels of arts organization staffs? Is there a role for WESTAF to help the SAA’s help their local organizations?

Christian:  As I mentioned earlier, WESTAF does focus a lot on professional development for culture workers in the field. In our own shop, WESTAF is also going through a major revamp of not just its organizational structure, but also in the way we manage performance across all levels of the organization. We’re establishing goals for each individual team member that transcend performance; we’re interested in development, aspiration and fulfilling the promise of guiding principles established by the organization as a whole. It’s an exciting time!

WESTAF strength is also to build a network of professionals in the field. We can help leverage this network to influence decision makers. Growing that influence over time with authentic relationships are key. So for example, it's not always about hosting a giant diversity conference as much as it is about building key authentic relationships with emerging leaders of color to support their growth and needs.

Barry:   Though still arguably embryonic, there has been an increase in foundations working with each other to fund projects that are larger than those within their normal territorial limits. What role might WESTAF play in brokering partnerships between different foundations, and between those partnerships and government agencies, in terms of collaborative funding of various projects that have an impact on the field as a whole.

Christian:  As you know, WESTAF’s relationship network with regional and national, public and private grants and foundations is still emerging. Nearly two decades ago, we did something wholly unique and quite risky as a nonprofit; we developed an earned revenue stream which afforded us independence and financial sustainability. Existential threats of an open competitive market notwithstanding, this portfolio of businesses is relatively stable and thriving today. We’re now just beginning to turn our attention to what foundation-funded capacity-building programs might look like at WESTAF over the next 1-4 years and we’re extremely excited to explore this. Naturally, including content partners in such an endeavor makes a “one plus one equals three” value proposition that is very attractive and also best for the field. In general, WESTAF is excited to pursue a range of partnerships and collaborations as long as it tracks to our mission, values and guiding principles and most importantly inures to the benefit of the constituents that we serve.

Barry:   The RAOs are a largely independent group, each pretty much going their own way. While they have in common their relationship to the NEA, and while they do talk to each other and meet occasionally, for the most part they don’t often join forces on mutually agreeable projects that their collaboration and cooperation might help bring to scale, Do you have any feelings about exploring ways that the RAOs might change that pattern?

Christian:  This is a momentous time for Regional Arts Organizations, as there is a lot of leadership change, which is really exciting! Of the six RAO Executive Directors, the one who has been there the longest now has been there just five years. So, we’re all quite new! Recently we voted to change our periodic meetings from bi-annually to annually, and there is definitely an appetite among RAO leadership to collaborate on projects and to see how we can leverage our collective influence to the benefit of the fields we serve. The nature of these projects is still emerging (our least retreat was just a few months ago), but watch this space.

Barry:   Like the rest of the country, there are a number of states in the west, that do not have a truly functioning advocacy organization. In the past, WESTAF provided funding to each member state to help in this area, yet the number without ongoing, staffed advocacy organizations didn’t really change. What can WESTAF do in the future to change that dynamic so that every state has a real advocacy presence?

Christian:  I see this as being in alignment with the question about the biggest challenges facing state arts agencies. I see this as a collaborative and customized effort with each participating state, as each are so different in their dynamics, challenges and approaches. We are on the verge of hiring a brand new position -- a Director of Public Policy -- which will significantly impact for the better WESTAF’s approach to exactly this kind of work. Having a full-time member of our leadership resource team engaged in this issue will make a real difference. We’ll soon be adding a fourth strategic planning cohort (in addition to the ones currently operating, which are Business, Communications and Equity), focused solely on alliances and advocacy, which will also help in radically shaping WESTAF’s approach in the next 1-3 years.

Barry:   What would you like people to know about you?

Christian:  I am extremely proud of my two spectacular children Lola (23) and Luke (20). I come from a big, close family (I’m the youngest of six) and I am thankful every day for that good fortune. This is how I described myself when I was out and about looking for my next career challenge: “A film, art and technology leader who is passionate about bringing opportunities to artists, inspiring teams to do their best work and creating joyful spaces where everybody can belong.” I think that sums up pretty well what drives me professionally. I try my hardest to meet people where they’re at. I collect snow globes.

Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to answer these questions, Barry!

Thank you Christian.

Have a great week everybody

Don"t Quit

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Exit Interview with WESTAF's Anthony Radich

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

Note:  Anthony Radich joined WESTAF in August 1996, and retired at the end of 2018.   I previously interviewed him in 2013.  You can read that interview here.  Next week I interview his successor, at WESTAF, Christian Gaines.

Anthony Radich Bio:
Anthony Radich served as the executive director of WESTAF since August of 1996. In that capacity he was responsible for providing leadership to the thirteen-state regional arts organizations’ programs and special initiatives. He oversaw WESTAF’s work in the areas of research, advocacy, and online systems development designed to benefit the cultural community. Prior to accepting his position at WESTAF, Radich served as the executive director of the Missouri Arts Council for eight years. There he led the successful effort to create a state cultural trust fund supported by a stream of dedicated state funding. Preceding his work in Missouri, Radich was the senior project manager for the Arts, Tourism, and Cultural Resources Committee of the National Conference of State legislatures (NCSL). As senior project manager, he worked with state legislators from across the country to develop state-level legislation and policy concerned with the arts, tourism, and historic preservation. While working for the NCSL, Radich was appointed by Denver Mayor Federico Peña to chair the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs, the city’s arts agency.

Radich earned a bachelor's degree in physical anthropology and a master's degree in art education from the University of Oregon. He also earned a doctorate from the Graduate School of Public Affairs of the University of Colorado Denver.

The Interview:

Barry:  You spent most of your nonprofit arts involvement at the helm of WESTAF.  In an interview  I did with you back in 2013, I asked you what were the three most important big ticket lessons you'd learned in your nonprofit arts career.  You replied that you'd answer that question closer to the conclusion of your career.  Can you answer it now?

Anthony:  I have very much enjoyed my career in the arts and hope to never stop learning, but  here are three significant things I have learned over the years:

The arts field is full of creative people. In spite of the intense creative environment in which we work, however, I find arts administrators to be quite conservative in the execution of their work. Most prefer not to take chances, and they tend to be very late adopters of contemporary business practices. This conservatism of the field initially surprised me. Today, it frustrates me.

When developing a network to support an arts organization, reaching out to include individuals who are unlike you—even very unlike you--can be very helpful. Many times over the years, I have been helped—even saved—by people who appreciated and trusted me even when they did not really care about the arts.

Completing some tasks at a “good-enough” level and other tasks at a high level of excellence is a good strategy. Those who seek to do everything extremely well all of the time fail to get much done.

Barry:   WESTAF is an RAO - Regional Arts Organization - serving state arts agencies.  What are the biggest current challenges facing state agencies and how are they coping with those challenges?  What’s different now than say five or ten years ago?

Anthony:   As a group, the agencies have not grown, and most now have budgets and staff levels that in inflation-adjusted terms are lower than they were 20 years ago. Referring to their diminished nature, I used to call them “cultural policy closets.” I think they are now of such little significance in state government they are “cultural policy desk drawers.” The agencies have been very slow—nearly terminally so—to understand the value of cultivating and supporting strong and effective statewide- advocacy efforts. The field and its leaders have been negligent in their lack of focus in this essential area. Developing and maintaining viable and progressive advocacy efforts to stay alive—let
alone grow--is the principal challenge facing state arts agencies today.

Barry:   Let’s get specific.  Funding.  It seems public funding for the arts is a roller coaster ride - when the economy is good, funding is more likely to be there, and when state income is under economic pressure, funding tends to often dry up.  This seems particularly true with Republican controlled state legislatures.  We know this, and we know that other interest groups have more sophisticated and better funded lobbying efforts to work to protect their public funding.  Why can’t the arts seem to raise the funds to mount a competitive advocacy effort, and what can be done to change that?  Across the country, and including the West, there are still many states that don’t even have a staffed and functioning arts advocacy organization.  What can be done?

Anthony:   Your metaphor of state arts funding as a roller coaster is an appropriate one because when you finish a roller-coaster ride, after some stomach-churning moments, you end up where you started. That sounds a lot like state-arts-agency funding today. Many arts- agency leaders excuse their funding failures by pointing out that there really is no money, and when there is money, their agencies will receive money.  While I agree that a rising tide tends to lift all boats, very few arts agencies have developed plans that could free their agency budgets from very limited tidal growth. Look around. There are examples of old and new (non-arts) agencies receiving money outside of the tidal flows. They got to that place by: a) creating a multi-year (five-to-ten-year) plan to acquire significant new funds; b) designing and launching an advocacy strategy that is broadly inclusive and reaches far beyond the agency’s board and staff; and c) identifying a use for new funds that the public finds compelling. This sounds simple, and it can be, yet the arts agencies as a group have repeatedly failed to get these fundamentals of budget advancement right.

Barry:   The RAOs all seem to focus on different services to their state arts agency constituents, and approach their work from different perspectives.  Describe WESTAF’s focus and priorities under your leadership.  What do you think the future of RAO cooperation and collaboration might be?

Anthony:   The RAOs have collaborated on a number of small-scale programs but nothing on the level of what might be expected of them due to their size and reach. The RAOs have difficulty collaborating because they still largely consider themselves arts programmers rather than large-scale cultural policy influencers. They find collaboration difficult because their leadership tends to be reactionary. I have been at many RAO leadership meetings in which the group--in reaction to the climate of the moment--decides to take some sort of ambitious action. Usually, that action has a “dissolve-into-nothing” time span of 12 to 18 months. Significant collaborations are not successfully built on such sandy ground.

Barry:   State Arts Agency senior leadership, including Boards of Directors or governing bodies, tends to be predominantly white, which likely often reflects the population base in much of the west.  What needs to be done for the future to insure inclusion and diversity in SAA leadership, and how can that happen?

Anthony:   A place to start is for the leadership of state arts agencies to work to know who is available for potential employment and board service in communities of color and in other communities. This means getting out and creating a network that contains individuals who will not only respond to requests for service on an agency board but who also will feel comfortable brainstorming with the arts agency about possible other candidates. This work needs to be combined with the proactive management of gubernatorial appointments to the governing boards of state arts agencies. There needs to be a thoughtful and disciplined multi-year strategy that pushes the governor’s office to appoint people who address the agency’s need for diversity in its leadership. Finally, in order for the agency to be attractive to candidates for board service, it needs to support policies, funding allocations, and programming that reflect the interests of diverse communities. Without that commitment, any effort to increase the diversity of an SAA governing board is one that can best be described as superficial.

Barry:   There has been a movement afoot over the past decade for the arts to collaborate and partner more with other government and nonprofit agencies.  Thus, for example, in California there is the arts in prisons project.  In other states, we are seen partnerships between the arts and senior citizen centers, hospitals and nursing facilities.  Where do you see more such cooperation opportunities for the future that aren’t yet being tapped?

Anthony:   Partnerships can be great things and provide huge benefits. Unfortunately, I find many arts agency partnerships to be diversionary. For the last 20-plus years, there has been a strong theme in the public arts funding arena that because funds coming to the arts field are limited and are seemingly going to be limited for a long period of time, the field should partner with those in other fields of endeavor who have funds to get things done. Practiced in moderation, this strategy can be effective. I would argue, however, that the approach has distracted many arts agencies from their core mission and has served as a ready excuse for not doing the hard work of imagining a compelling reason to expand support for public funders of the arts. I am always suspicious of partnerships that are instituted in place of a focus on meeting core organizational goals.

Barry:   The arts have never really figured out how to use social network platforms to increase audience attendance at their performances and exhibitions.  At least not to the extent those platforms were suppose to hold promise for us.  In hindsight, was that promise basically a lie, and is using social networks not really a viable way for us to expand our audiences or bases of support, donors, volunteers and board membership?

Anthony:   Social networks are a now not-so-new tool that can be deployed to build engagement and support. From time to time, we hear of an arts-related social network-based effort that yields amazing results. But those tend to be exceptions, and those who expect social networks to be panaceas for the arts will be disappointed. The social networks are now utilities. We need to use them effectively, but there is no magic to them. There is, however, a price to pay for not understanding how to use social networks as a basic tool.

Barry:   Recognizing, of course, that we need a balance in all things, when speaking of Boards of Directors, should the arts right now focus on Board members with strong current or former arts backgrounds, or should we concentrate on recruiting members from outside the arts, who may bring other perspectives and talents?  Where should the emphasis lie?

Anthony:   We live in a time of tremendous change and change that is cross sectional. While any arts board needs individuals with an understanding of the arts and how they play a role in our society, now more than ever arts boards need leaders who understand what is going on outside of the arts. This is the case because in order to remain viable, arts organizations and arts agencies need to sell themselves to their outside worlds. Information about how to do that is only partly held by members of the arts community.

Barry:   What is the single best trend you’ve seen in nonprofit arts management in the past few years and what about that trend gives you optimism for our future?

Anthony:   One great trend is a growing commitment to inclusion and diversity. In the old days, that work was largely done in reactive fashion when a funder made it a priority, or there was a need for a response to a public incident. During that period, when funders no longer pushed such efforts, they greatly diminished or died. The current trend of commitment to inclusion and diversity has come very slowly, but I believe the kernel of an authentic commitment to the task is now there and that it will grow.

Barry:   The availability and quality of arts education is a function of whether a local district has money.  Will then arts education always be a have / have not proposition and is there any alternative then to writing off arts education for a large percentage of each generation’s students?

Anthony:   Making arts education of quality available to everyone is a really big challenge. I believe there is broad-based public support for it; however, national and state level advocacy efforts have not been developed to a point of sophistication and funding to effectively address this issue. At the state level, when arts-education advocates have organized and really pushed, they have generally advanced. But in order to make a sustained and long-term impact, state and national arts advocacy entities need to be far more robust and sophisticated, and their efforts need to unfold across a five-to-ten-year time line.

Barry:   As the generational leadership transition moves from Boomers to Gen Xers and eventually to Millennials, what do you see fundamentally changing in our sector and why?

Anthony:   I see several things happening:  a) Support for traditional art forms and the “save-the-art form” approach will diminish; b) Interest in community arts participation may take a higher level of priority than artistic quality; and c) The newly in charge Millennials will find ways to more effectively use technology and social media in their work. After all, many of them are addicted users of social media, so who better to provide leadership in this area?

Barry:   Why haven’t the arts mobilized the huge bloc of artists in this country to act as lobbyists, advocates and ambassadors for public support for the arts?  Why hasn’t there ever been any real attempt in that direction?  Is the problem that organizing artists is liking herding cats, or is the problem that artists really just don’t want to be activists for the nonprofit sector?

Anthony:   The core of the challenge of mobilizing the artists in this county is rooted in the exclusionary nature of public funding. By this I mean that amateur, avocational, community, and many other artists who are devoted to the arts have long been excluded from national and state advocacy.  They have been excluded not only from the grant opportunities of public funders but, more important, from the conversation about advocacy for the many things public funds can do to serve their interests.

I provide as an example of this the approximately 80,000 artists WESTAF serves through its ZAPPlication® online system that services outdoor art fairs. A high number of artists participating in these fairs are professionally trained and have a strong grounding in their local arts communities. Yet, whenever I have suggested to national arts organizations that they engage this group, I have been rebuffed—this crowd does not fit into their circle of who they consider to be legitimate artists. Another reason artists have not been mobilized is that a compelling national vision that includes the interests of all artists has not been developed. Rather, public arts funding and seats at tables have been handed over to a curatorial claque that favors what is an important but actually a fairly small number of practicing artists.

Barry:   We talk a lot about innovation and adaptation; about our organizations being flexible and nimble and responsive to what is going on outside them.  Is all that talk just a way to say we have to learn to “do without”; to function on less?

Anthony:   I would not consider arts organizations and arts agencies to be nimble. They are largely conservative entities that need to be shoved into action. They demonstrate nimbleness only when budget reductions force them to contract. For many years now, I have proposed that state arts agencies need a more nimble organizational structure in the form of a quasi-governmental entity.  Such structures would allow the agencies to be more nimble.

Barry:   University degree arts administration programs keep popping up, and students keep enrolling in them.  Are there enough jobs for all those graduates?  And while our senior leadership is now getting paid better, if not wholly competitive with the private sector, our middle level and entry level staffs continue to struggle with often less than real living wages.  How do we get to the point where we can pay our people better?

Anthony:  In terms of pay, the arts field is one of haves and have nots. Looking at the salaries of many of the top administrators of arts organizations, many are being paid very well and some to considerable excess. Those who are not receiving adequate pay are usually facing a major challenge—they are working for organizations that probably have never been properly capitalized, have never had an adequate and sustainable cash flow, and are structured outside of a prosperity consciousness frame of thought. Arts organizations need to take a broader view of where their funds come from and try to create organizations that are rooted in abundance rather than scarcity. The scarcity model can be great for learning, but it is not so great for those who seek to have a financially stable life with a minimum of financial stress.  Isn’t that nearly everyone?

Barry:   We are doing more research in the sector than we ever have, and that research is across all areas.  It’s not easy for over worked arts administrators to always keep up on, and use - to their advantage - all that research.  What ought to be done to help them?  And where aren’t we doing research, that needs to be done, and soon?

Anthony:   Periodically, there is a conversation about a national research agenda in the public sector arts area. Conversations about what should be on the national, regional, state and local research agendas need to occur, but they are not happening much at the present time. However, a more immediate need is for the field to receive education and training regarding how to evaluate research output and how to properly use research findings. I find the field to be rather bad at evaluating the quality and usability of research. Often desperate for another advocacy hook, arts leaders at all levels have historically misused research results and, by doing so, have made themselves targets of criticism by those who know better.

Barry:   Are we ever going to achieve any real kind of equity in the arts unless and until we start to move a meaningful portion of our grant funding from those that have gotten it forever to those that have not?  The real decision makers in the arts are the Boards of Directors.  If they remain insular to attempts to diversify them, will anything really ever change?

Anthony:   There are two big issues here. One is legacy funding. The field does a great deal of that.  The Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland recently broke up its legacy funding patterns. Watching that result should be most interesting.

Legacy funding is a problem in part because the public funding pie is not growing. When  the funding pie grows, legacy grantees can receive smaller or no annual increases, while other endeavors are able to receive new or more money.  Creating equity out of a growing pie is relatively painless.  However, in most states, the arts-funding pie is not growing and, due to the regular march of inflation, it is actually shrinking!

Many of the large legacy-funded arts organizations have considerable power to assist with advocacy for additional arts funding. Unfortunately, over the years, state arts agencies that have not grown in their funding capacity have lost influence with larger cultural organizations or simply ceded that influence. Instead of finding a way to engage the large legacy entities in something meaningful to them, many agencies have let those once-robust relationships wither. Any push for major funding usually needs this group on board, so equity issues need to be considered in this context.

Barry:   The nonprofit arts live in silos.  Symphonies rarely interact with dance companies, who rarely cross paths with theaters, who almost never work with museums.  State arts agencies, at least, have a larger viewpoint of the whole of the field.  What ought they be doing to promote and support more integration of our sectors various component parts so that we might better enjoy the economy of scale?

Anthony:   Years ago, state arts agencies were leaders in weaving together various arts communities. All of these communities wanted to be at the table because there was an expectation that the agencies would grow and become significant funders of all the components of parts of the arts community. With stagnation in state arts agency funding, the power of the arts agencies to convene the full range of interest groups in the arts community has faded. In addition, the historic grant-review peer-panel process has largely changed. For many years, it served as an important tool to convene the breadth of the arts community in meaningful discussions about the arts in a state or the nation. The in-person review meetings and their numerous side conversations and social events helped weave a strong national network outside of the standard silos of the field. Unfortunately, many public art funders have ceased convening panels in person, using the excuse that technology can be deployed in place of in-person meetings to save money.

Finally, in most states, the arts agencies lack a compelling long term vision that would attract the interest of the full range of arts leaders. There is no multiyear plan to generate meaningful money that might accrue to these entities, and there is no compelling vision that can be used to inspire the arts field to help.

There are a number of things a state arts agency can do to build community: a) Host inclusive convenings around issues of field-wide concern; b) Actively invite the field to advise the agency on changes to rules and procedures; and c) Devise research and other projects that invite the participation of a wide array of arts groups.

Barry:   What advice do you wish you had gotten when you first assumed the helm at WESTAF?

Anthony  When I joined WESTAF in 1996, the organization had completely reorganized itself.  Part of that reorganization was the directive that the organization would deploy a “strong CEO” model. Because of that, I had a very free hand in providing leadership from the staff side of WESTAF, so I don’t have an answer to this question as I understand it.

Barry:   And what advice would you give to your successor?

Anthony  I very much believe that departing executive directors need to leave their successors  alone. But since you ask, I would pass on the following advice:

--The embrace of entrepreneurship has been very important to the success of WESTAF. Entrepreneurial activity in a place like WESTAF needs to remain a significant force in the organization.

--Avoid the temptation to seek to succeed through process and organization--you can’t. Innovation and creative risk taking are the roots of success.

--You don’t want to be disliked by too many people, but being liked by too many people can indicate a lack of decisive action.

Barry:   Where do you go from here?

Anthony  I continue to be interested in the public arts agency field, especially state arts agencies. I plan to further research and then present the field with some insights about how it can prepare itself to move forward in substantial ways over the next five to ten years. I am doing this work because most state arts agencies no longer hold the place in state government they had when I started relating to the agencies. That first contact was in the early 1970s in my work at the University of Oregon Museum of Art, where the Oregon Arts Commission supported a traveling-exhibition program with which I worked. That early visual arts touring program made a difference for both artists and communities.  Helping the arts agencies become more robust so they can offer similar but contemporary opportunities is something I find quite appealing.

Thank you Anthony.

Have a great week everybody

Don"t Quit