Thursday, April 21, 2005

April 22, 2005 Update #3

Table of Contents:
I. Conferences and more conferences
- Americans for the Arts in Austin, Dance USA Roundtable in Seattle
II. A New Gig for me - I've taken the position of Executive Director of Alonzo
King's LINES Ballet in San Francisco
III. Bits & Pieces - Alliance for the Arts meet on the Rand Study

Hello everybody.
"And the beat goes on............"

"I ran all the way home, just to say I'm sorry, what can I say........"
Another apology: Last week many people got the email summary of the weekly update blog several times - some as many as ten. My fault. I screwed it up by hitting the wrong key. I'm not terribly technically savvy. Please accept my apologies. I've figured it out so it won't happen again. Still working on making sure there are no typos or funny little symbols in the body of the update. I appreciate your patience.

I. Conferences, Conferences:
"It's the time of the season..........."

May seems to be the beginning of our annual "Let's All Get Together at big conferences" push. Several months ago Andrew Taylor raised a point in his The Artful Manager blog about the Panel Sessions that are the mainstay of our conferences, noting that the model doesn't seem to work all that well - Three to five people speak for five minutes each, in very general terms about the topic of the panel, then at the end there is usually enough time for maybe one or two questions from the audience, and invariably the first person recognized doesn't really have a question, but drones on about some point they think important, and that is the extent of any interchange between panel and audience.

Five minutes is not enough time for panel members to get into any depth on any subject, and usually there is very little pre-preparation on narrowing the focus. So what we end up with are general sessions that impart very little new or even usable knowledge, but rather provide a re-hash of the issue - well known for the most part by everyone who attends. I suppose there is some value in all of this, particularly for those new to the field or position they hold, but for most people it seems increasingly difficult to discern that value.

I have no idea what a more viable alternative might look like, but there must be a better approach than this one. I have to believe better minds can come up with something that might be tried.
For me, the value in attending these conferences isn't in the panels anymore anyway, but rather in the networking between the sessions. That's where the real discussions happen and new ideas are generated. I've never come away from an Americans for the Arts conference not having had some new idea or thought that was generated in the individual conversations had at the gathering, and frequently those ideas took shape and ultimately resulted in some new project or initiative. Years ago when I worked with Harriet Fulbright at the President's Committee on the Arts & Humanities, the idea of a joint meeting between the Committee and the Hollywood elite was born over drinks w/ myself, Bruce Davis of the Silicon Valley Arts Council, and Malcolm and Jane Swenson (nee Engelstadt) of the Committee' staff. Six months later Terry Semel, then President of Warner Bros, hosted a gathering at the studio attended by a virtual A LIST Who's Who of the movie industry. The failure of that gathering to yield the action it might have is another story. But the historic meeting was born over the chance meeting during the AFTA conference.

Maybe, we should have fewer panels and more time to network and talk with each other in both structured and unstructured brain storming sessions.

BTW the Americans for the Arts Conference will be in Austin, Texas (a very cool city), June 11-13 (Preconference June 9-10). I have always been impressed with the quality of those who occupy the Program Officer / Director positions at major foundations - as a group they are perceptive, savvy, extraordinarily intelligent and gifted leaders - some of the sharpest minds in the field. Moy Eng from the Hewlett Foundation is one of those foundation leaders at the very top of the field. She is one of the featured speakers in an Interview / "Conversation With" Session with Abel Lopez, the president-elect of the Theater Communications Group and immediate past president of the Board of Directors of the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, as the interviewer. That should be a very, very good session. The registration deadline for a reduced registration fee is APRIL 29TH.

For more information and registration click here:

II. A New Gig - Executive Director of Alonzo King's LINES Ballet
"Dancing in the streets........."

I've taken the position as the Executive Director of Alonzo King's LINES Ballet in San Francisco. A twenty-three year old contemporary dance company, that includes the downtown San Francisco Dance Center facility and the LINES Ballet School, it is one of the Bay Area's cultural treasures.
I took the gig for a variety of reasons: I like challenges and guiding this organization is certainly that. After ten years on the policy making stage in the arts, I thought it might be good for me to work in the trenches for a nonprofit arts organization like the ones I have ostensibly been helping to shape policy for. I have always loved dance. But the real reason I took it was Alonzo King - an artist widely regarded as the equal of Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp and the other great choreographers of modern dance. As William Forsythe of Ballet Frankfurt noted: "Alonzo King is one of the few, true Ballet Masters of our times." I have previously had the privilege of working with artists of Alonzo's stature and I know what an incredible rush it can be to be even a small part of helping to facilitate the creation of art for an artist at the top of their game. You don't get many chances in life to be a part of a creative matrix that will produce works that will outlive us all, and it is a heady experience. I am fortunate in that at this point in my life, I can afford to take the job, and to prioritize what I really want out of work.

Alonzo has already created a substantial body of work over time, but even great artists have a brief period when their creative output reaches a zenith, and everyone in this company believes that it is on the threshold of its Golden Age, and for purely selfish reasons, I wanted to again experience that ride. The question for this troupe isn't whether it can become one of the great dance companies in America - it already is. The question is can it become one of the great dance companies that ever was. I think it can. Alonzo is a collaborative artist and the plans on the board for new works include extraordinary artists from across the creative spectrum.

Dance is a hard sell; of all the disciplines perhaps the most undervalued. As an interpretive art, without a story, it often challenges audiences, and by and large American audiences are lazy. They want a plot, familiar music and celebrity artists they can relate to. Next to New York, San Francisco is the dance capital of America - and that is both good and bad news; good because the local community is supportive and somewhat sophisticated, bad because the competition is high and the resources limited. Still, LINES has a growing international reputation and base, and there are a number of assets it has yet to fully exploit. Of course, much of the job is fundraising in a far from perfect climate - but the possibilities are endless. Running a mid-sized nonprofit arts organization and joining the Presenting Community within the arts will doubtless tax my limited skills, but I am excited by the opportunity, and to be involved at the working organization level. I hope those at the forefront of these fields will give me the benefit of their experience and knowledge. I have much to learn.

III. Bits & Pieces;
* Date: May 5, 2005. Top cultural policy researchers will come together to present and discuss the latest data at Measuring the Muse: Arts Research from the Frontlines, presented by the National Arts Journalism Program and the Alliance for the Arts with support from The Wallace Foundation and the Columbia University Arts Initiative. Arts professionals will hear presentations of new cultural policy research, including the RAND Corporation report Gifts of the Muse and the Center for an Urban Future's report New York City's Creative Sector: Building an Understanding and Strategy (working title), and join a discussion with leading experts in the field. NEA Chair Dana Gioia and Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch will be among the speakers at the conference. Registration is required.
* The Governor of Maine has created a permanent Creative Economy Council, recognizing the value and impact of creativity on the state. For more details click here:
* NEA Report on Arts Funding in the US - download by clicking: (requires Adobe)
Have a good week.
Don't Quit.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

April 14, 2005 Update #2

Table of Contents:
I. Capacity / Sustainability
What's wrong with these concepts?
II. The Chamber of Commerce Opposition to the Arts Like the Trojan Horse, we should conquer from the inside.
III. Visual & Performing Arts as a major field of study for college students What connection do we have to the virtual army of students in the field?
IV. Bits & Pieces Bill Ivey article; Arts Education web links

Hello everybody.

My apologies that the URL links in last week's Update did not work. I’m new at using this blog template and I screwed it up. The links have been corrected on the blog site. Here are the working links. I think I've got it right this time:
Open Secrets:
Nonprofit Jobs site:
Chronicle of Philanthropy jobs site:
Deep Sweep jobs site:
Phuket / tsunami photos site:
Education statistics site:
Internship in a Box toolkit download:
Link to the Rand Study Blog Discussion:

And the beat goes on........

Thank you to everyone for your kind messages of support for my update / blog.
It's nice to hear from so many of you again.

I. Capacity / Sustainability
"Money makes the world go around, the world go around, the world go around..."

Building capacity has been the funding buzz word of the last decade; embraced by foundations and government funders alike, and internalized by arts organizations large and small. Many of the grants awarded under this banner have been given to hire new staff in marketing, development and public relations fields - with many mid to small size organizations adding staffing in these areas for the first time. A percentage of these grants have been for multiple years - usually two or three – so as to advance that other buzz word – sustainability. The problem is that too few nonprofits address the issue of where the funds will come from to keep these employees on salary once the grants run out. Some organizations are able to leverage funds that provide the on-going revenue source to maintain their advances, but far too many are not able to secure that additional, predictable funding, and that is likely because of a limited pool of available funding sources, increased competition and still inadequate resources to succeed in pursuing the limited funding sources that are available. The result is, in part, often one step forward, two steps back. Much of what has been accomplished has been the buying of time – keeping organizations viable or enhancing their capacity for a longer (but still limited) period. Maybe that's enough in and of itself. Whether it is or not is certainly a question worth asking.

Another aspect of the capacity / sustainability approach has been that both foundation and government funders have lacked the resources or commitment to monitor their grantees to see that they are complying with the terms of the grant as perceived by the funding institutions. Once the award is made, the nonprofit recipient usually files a report or two and that is basically it. Like the government passing laws and regulations, there is no compliance structure to insure the terms of the grant are met, and, more importantly, to help the recipient really institute change. Most grantees could benefit from having mentoring, hand-holding, and advice and counsel at a far deeper and more consistent level. And perhaps funders should consider what kind of institutionalized program might be developed to aid and assist grantees in making the changes the grant envisioned work.

We need to re-think how we can build capacity and what sustainability really means for the long term. We need to understand how capacity is really built over time and how it can realistically be sustained. Funders need to re-think the level of involvement that they can and will provide during the term of the grant, and how critical such provision might be to accomplishing the changes in capacity and the sustainability of those changes that they envision as critically important. Funders need to analyze what their role in the process of trying to effect a change in capacity is or should be.

This opens a whole plethora of other issues, including whether or not the arts field is overbuilt, whether or not arts organizations can ever really grow beyond a certain point as constituted, and whether or not the current funding matrix (foundation; government federal, state and local; corporations; individual donors; and earned) can and will support the current and future nonprofit arts community at the level necessary to accommodate the growth in arts nonprofits. But for the very large cultural institutions, with substantial major donor support, I wonder to what degree we have actually increased the capacity of arts organizations with all our money over the past ten years, and how sustainable whatever increase was realized has truly been. Do we know?

II. The Chamber of Commerce opposition to the arts

>“Blinded by the light............
” Assemblyman Mark Leno (D. San Francisco) has introduced a bill in the California legislature that will levy a one percent tax on event tickets (movies, sports events, theater etc. including, unfortunately, the nonprofit sector). Still, the levy would yield a pool of funds for support of the arts far in excess of what it would cost the nonprofit arts community. This approach has been successfully adopted in Seattle and other venues. The bill is opposed by, among others, the state Chamber of Commerce. Chambers all over the country oppose most of what the arts sector proposes as a solution to its funding problems, and that is curious, because the value of the arts to the tourism and travel industry is so obvious, and that industry is usually a vocal member constituency in most Chambers. Arts organizations are, after all, small businesses – with the same benefits and problems of other small businesses. In short, arts organizations are typical Chamber members. Except they don't join, aren't represented, and don't even register on the map for traditional Chamber members or leadership.

The Leno bill will have a hard time passing the legislature. The arts in California should consider a ballot initiative to pass such a levy (and increase the percentage; one percent of a ten dollar movie ticket is a dime. If it were a quarter, does anybody honestly think people would get to the box office and upon learning of the twenty-five percent increase would storm out of the theater refusing to ever again see a movie? Movie tickets are going to cross the ten dollar threshold very soon, and five years from now a ten dollar movie ticket will be a nostalgic memory. Hell, gasoline nears three dollars a gallon and we all meekly accept the reality).

If more nonprofit arts organizations were members of their local Chambers of Commerce, that aggregate membership sector might be able to prevent state Chambers from taking these ill-conceived opposition positions to our best interests. If every nonprofit arts organization were a member, the arts sector would have the power to make it clear to Chamber leadership that opposing the arts community and a segment of its own membership isn't a good idea. There are other advantages to arts organizations being Chamber members, not the least of which is the potential for cooperative marketing strategies for performing arts organizations - tourism related and otherwise. Most nonprofit arts groups could join their local Chamber for a nominal dues fee, so cost isn't really prohibitive. The arts must begin to reach out and become involved in various segments of the community so that it can ultimately protect itself from attacks and so that it can take advantage of possible alliances and new collaborative possibilities. It's easier to work from the inside of a system than it is if you are on the outside. We aren't doing that to the extent we should, and we continue to pay the price for it.
Continuing down this path is a mistake.

III. Visual & Performing Arts Majors

>>"Standing in the shadows.............."strong> According to the U.S. Department of Education figures (1999/2000), the Visual & Performing Arts (as a field of study for colleges and universities in America) - at 1 million plus students – is the 7th largest field of study group. One million plus students – a virtual army of supporters Do we know anything about them? Have we done studies or opinion sampling to provide us with data on them? Do we have any mechanisms to reach out to them; to inform and educate them about our field; about the issues that we face, and that, if they get involved in the arts, they will face? Is this army even on our radar screens?

We are, I fear, missing the boat here. We need to immediately begin to strategize about what it may mean to the arts sector to have this large a constituent group out there – one million plus young people who are majoring in the visual and performing arts. This has profound implications for the workforce, for the future of arts education at the K-12 level, for audience development, for advocacy support and a host of other considerations. I personally think it represents an extraordinary potential asset that might be tapped into and might dramatically change things – including our anemic political power base.

(SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999-2000 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:2000), unpublished data. This table was prepared August 2002).


Bill Ivey Article in Backstage Magazine – on wider Arts Policy considerations

Arts Education Links – A to Z links for the Arts Education field.

Have a good week.
Don't Quit!

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

April 06, 2005 Update #1

Introduction to this Update / Blog
II. Public Policy Debate: The debate surrounding the Rand
Report on Making the Case for the Arts
III. Bits & Pieces - Link Connections: news from around the country.
IV. Post Tsunami Personal Notes
- I was in Thailand December
26th and got caught in the Tsunami. This is just a
personal account of the experience, and if you
aren't interested, please skip it.

Hello everyone. ″And the beat goes oo....″

He's baaaack...........................

″You broke my heart, cause I couldn't dance, you didn't even, want me around...but now I'm back, to let you know, I can really, shake em down.........well do you love me?″

Hello. My name is Barry Hessenius and I was the Director of the California Arts Council (state agency) for four and one-half years. Prior to that, I was the President of the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies for four years.

For the last three years as Director of the Arts Council, I wrote a Weekly Update email that was sent to some 10,000 people in the arts field, mostly in California. It was a way to stay in touch with my field, to share ideas and thoughts about issues facing the arts in my state, and a means to transmit information about programs, projects, services, events and the like that I thought were of interest to some, or all, of my constituents. It was also a way to try to build a sense of community among the divergent and geographically separate sectors of the arts field in my state. More often than not, happenings in one sector had a relationship to others. I had become a Blogger, before Blogs were invented or before I knew what the term meant.

I tried to make the update stand out by introducing each item with a song lyric heading (I used to practice law and represented rock and roll artists in the 70's and early 80's). I also tried to personalize the updates and make them more friendly and folksy so as to make reading them more appealing to people who received them. I always included a Table of Contents so people could skip to items of particular interest, and tried to alert people to sections of the update that were, from time to time, of a more personal nature so that they could either take those sections with a grain of salt or avoid them completely if they so desired. As I resent unsolicited intrusion into my own email box, I tried not to waste people’s time with too much of my own self indulgence.

I was delighted that these Updates were so warmly received. Over time, many of my fellow Executive Directors around the country subscribed and were kind enough to pass the word along in their states so that the list of recipients continued to grow beyond California. I enjoyed doing them and since leaving the Arts Council it is one of the things I have truly missed.

People have been encouraging me to start a new Arts Weekly Update / Blog that would have a national perspective, and after conversations with Anthony Radich at WESTAF I have put together a new ARTS Blog / Update to be distributed by WESTAF, on a pilot basis, beginning this week (Thank you Anthony). I have changed the name slightly so as to avoid any confusion that this is the old Update I did for the CAC or that I am any longer the Director or affiliated with the CAC in any way.

I will try to provide items that will be interesting, entertaining and most of all useful and relevant to your work in the arts, no matter what you do or where you do it. Aimed primarily at those who work in the nonprofit arts sector, (as it says on the logo: news, advice and opinion for the arts administrator), I hope it will also have relevance to the wider audience of arts supporters. While I will search other sites for information that might be of interest to pass on, I will try not to duplicate other blogs and newsletters.

I am not being paid anything for doing this Update, and the opinions I express will be solely mine, for which no one else will be responsible. While an appointee of the Governor in California I had to be somewhat circumspect in voicing my thoughts. I now have a greater degree of freedom of expression. Like everyone else, I am opinionated. I believe however, that the arts must be a bipartisan issue, and thus I avoid for the most part directly challenging or alienating either side of the political spectrum (at least needlessly). There is a huge inventory of issues facing the arts that will provoke people to debate and disagreement, issues of potential major impact, issues that need to be discussed and explored. I seek to identify and offer some thoughts on these bigger policy issues facing the arts with the hope that I might help to facilitate more dialogue within our community. I also hope to use the platform to invite, from time to time, leaders in various sectors of the arts community to carry on public policy blog discussions and hope that readers will participate in those discussions by adding their own comments (see item II about an Artsjournal blog discussion).

If you find the Update of value and worthwhile, I would very much appreciate it if you would forward this (or any subsequent Update) to friends and colleagues and people on your listserv or mailing list, or otherwise circulate it, or news about it, in your states and communities - to your fellow colleagues, staffers, board members, volunteers, audiences and constituents, and ask them to consider subscribing, so that the list may grow. We will have a link for subscribing to the Update, and an archive of past Updates on the site - and if you might consider putting the link on your websites, I would appreciate it. If you don't like it, find it boring or for whatever reason don't want to receive it, you need only click the UNSUBSCRIBE link and enter your email address to quickly remove your name from the list. Some weeks the Update will be short (usually much shorter than this one), others weeks longer. Some weeks I may not be able to get it out at all.

If you have something you think I might pass on via the Update, an issue you think important to comment on, positive or negative reactions to my editorial opinions, news about some successful program or project that others should know about, or any thoughts or ideas about how I might make this vehicle work for people in the arts, I would appreciate hearing from you. Please add me to your email newsletters.

Most of you who are reading this were on my original list and are familiar with the Update. I hope you have been well, and that I am still welcome in your email boxes. I have missed you all over the past year.

I very much appreciate your consideration and your help. Thank you. A special thanks to Matthew Saunders and Mary Headrick at WESTAF for all their help, and to Theresa D'Onofrio for the initial design of the Blog logo.

″Try, try, try to separate them, it's an illusion. You can't have one without the other.........″

Several weeks ago, Arts, a daily / weekly arts newsletter, edited by Douglas McLellan, held a public policy blog discussion group addressing the recent Rand study (which called into question the validity of studies in support of the value and impact of the arts on areas ranging from economics to education, and questioned whether or not the arts might be better off embracing more "intrinsic value" arguments in their favor.) The question put to a panel of some of the arts community's best thinkers was whether or not there was a better case to be made for the arts. The discussion lasted a week, with insightful, intelligent postings back and forth by the panel (that included, among others, Bob Lynch, Americans for the Arts, former NEA Chair, Bill Ivey, Andrew Taylor, head of the Bolz Institute, Ben Cameron, Executive Director of the Theater Communications Group, and Phil Kennicott, Culture Critic of the Washington Post), and was augmented by a score of people from the field who added their thoughts and comments.

The content of the discussion centered on the pros and cons of focusing on the ″intrinsic″ value(s) of the arts vs. the more empirical data in support of the economic, educational and other benefits of the arts. There were numerous points about defining what the arts are, and to whom are we making ″ the case″ ; there were pleas to approach the task from a more realistic perspective and for more field organization; and there were serious questions regarding the Rand study itself.

It would be a mistake for the arts community to accept the Rand study on its face - to now turn away from the arguments we have used (quite effectively) and instead embrace exclusively the intrinsic arguments, a mistake to allow either the negative media coverage that has already surrounded the study, or the conclusions of the study itself, to stand unchallenged. I have worked with the Rand Corporation before, and hold them in high regard, but I share with others, serious reservations about the Rand report - not its' motives, but it's methodology and its' conclusions. I doubt five percent of all social, economic, educational research is flawless - that doesn't mean it is invalid, nor that it is valueless. The economic and educational benefit studies of the past decade have served the arts community well - they have, in fact, worked - as the progress we have made aptly demonstrates. The arts should, of course, use every argument they can possibly muster for multiple target audiences, and it may indeed be time to include the intrinsic arguments as a greater part of an overall strategy. They aren't mutually exclusive; they complement each other.

But to conclude that the studies are flawed and that, as arguments, they don't necessarily work, is an assertion that may or may not be true, and may ultimately beg the question. There are doubtless multiple reasons why the arguments we have used (any and all of them) may not yet have got us where we want to be. The reason we aren't ″there″ yet, may have nothing to do with the arguments themselves, but more to do with the lack of political power we wield. In truth, legislators and decision makers frequently embrace studies that support positions they want to take, and dismiss and diminish those that support positions they oppose; and they often take positions more for political reasons than for other reasons. While the Rand study is a wake-up call and asks important questions, it also over simplifies the issue and does us a disservice in that regard. The policy and political implications concerning the study need a lot more analysis and discussion within our community, and we should not take the Rand findings as gospel. The arts should not let the Rand Corporation's image and stature intimidate it into blind acceptance of its report as doctrine.

I have talked to a lot of people who followed all or part of the Artsjournal's fascinating blog discussion, and there is widespread applause for the effort and the content of that discussion. Clearly, we need more public policy discussion in our field - on a variety of issues. The weblog device seems particularly well suited for this kind of enterprise. Unlike conference panels, the weblog allows for far greater in-depth discussion of issues, and more time for those participating to digest ideas and respond with well reasoned points. The participants of the Artjournal's blog, all with busy schedules, nonetheless seemed to enjoy the exercise and found time to take and keep the discussion at a very high level of thought. Moreover, the format allowed for a more conversational style and that made reading the postings easier and more enjoyable for everyone. I hope we see more of these.

I urge everyone to go to and review the discussion of last week’s policy blog (and if you aren't a subscriber to Artsjournal - you should be - it is a wonderful clearinghouse of ideas and news links, and there are a number of arts related blogs available to sample as well - go to and subscribe on the upper right hand side.) My favorite arts blog is Andrew Taylor's The Artful Manager. I don't know Andrew but he is consistently insightful, more often than not right on the money, has a wonderful writing style and knows his stuff. I read him all the time and recommend him highly. Go to the Artsjournal to subscribe to any of the blogs. It's easy.

III. BITS & PIECES; (Old enough to remember the Dave Clark 5 song?)

LINK CONNECTIONS- As a regular feature of this Update, I will try to pass
on links that I find that I think may be of use or interest to you, including links to
current research.. Here's a few: - This site allows you to find out who gives money (and how much) to those running for public office - directly, via PACs and 527 funds. Type in the name, find out how much they gave and to whom. Cool.

•Looking for a job? Check WESTAF's job site Here are three other good sites listing nonprofit jobs throughout the country: - This is a government site with tons of statistics on education - broken down every conceivable way - including by state.

•Understaffed? Internship-in-a-Box is a PDF guidebook by that includes information about how an organization can design a customized internship program for high school, undergraduate, or graduate students. Definitely worth downloading.

Got a great link you're willing to share - please let me know.

NEWS FROM AROUND: I will also try to pass on news of what is going on around the country in the arts field that I think will have widespread interest (if you have any item you think might fit in this section, please let me know at the email address listed at the end of this update.)

Rhode Island:
The RI state board of regents established graduation requirements based on proficiency -- rather than credits or ″seat time″ --and the arts council successfully advocated with the regents to include the arts as a basic subject (congratulations Randy Rosenbaum and all involved). So, starting with this year's ninth graders, students will need to demonstrate their proficiency in one or more art forms in order to graduate. The Arts Learning Network is a partnership with the state departments of elementary and secondary education and the office of higher education, and others, to define "proficiency" and build partnerships with the state's educators and professional arts organizations. It's all described on , which includes portfolio-based examples of student work.

And in California, San Francisco Unified School District is spending $100,000 preparing a master plan to make art an equal part of the K-12 curriculum while Los Angeles is in the middle of their ten year plan to make the arts part of the core curriculum,1413,200%257E24781%257E2776347,00.html

"There but for fortune, go you and I, you and I........"

I spent much of the summer and fall writing a book on Nonprofit Advocacy which I am now shopping to publishers, and putting together one and two day workshops on nonprofit lobbying (more on that in the future). When I was finished (in mid-December), I returned to Southeast Asia for my annual trek (this is the 7th time I have traveled to Thailand and neighboring countries.) I was in Phuket, Thailand December 26th when the Tsunami hit, and because of good luck and the powers that be, I am here to tell the tale. It was close.

I felt the earthquake at about 8:45 in the morning. I was reading a book, laying on a divan in my rooms on the second floor of the guest house I always stay in - some three hundred yards from Patong Beach. I felt the building sway. First I thought it was my imagination - but it lasted several minutes, and as I lay there, I was pretty sure it was an earthquake. I'm a California boy, and I know an earthquake when I feel it. Most of the time anyway. It was mild, and nothing was knocked off any shelves or anything like that, and so I knew it must be pretty far away. I went back to reading my book and didn't think anything more about it. I know "diddley" about tsunamis and the possibility of one never even entered my mind. About forty minutes later I thought I would go down to the beach for breakfast.

Most mornings I had breakfast at a little restaurants right on the beach - no more than a four minute walk from my rooms. There are two main streets from the main road leading to the beach. In between, my guest house is on a small Soi (street or alley in Thai) and it veers in and around several buildings between my rooms and the main beach road. Lots of people use it as a shortcut to the beach, rather than walk to one of the two main roads a couple of hundred yards on either side of where I am located. The little restaurant I always went to was called Sabbai (meaning Happy in Thai). Having been there many times over the past few years, I knew the family that ran it - not well, but enough to say hello; they recognized me and I them. It wasn't really a restaurant in the western sense - more like tables and benches on the sand, surrounded by a thatched fence and overhang, with a ten by ten foot concrete floor / brick wall area used as the kitchen towards the back. It didn't have any real walls or roof, and you could enter from either the back (from the main beach road) or from the beach itself. The water was maybe fifty yards beyond the tables.

It had a nice feel to it in the mornings, before it got too hot, and the beach too crowded - and you could watch as the young Thais who ran the chaise lounge concession would put out the chaises and set up the brightly colored umbrellas every morning. With a gorgeous blue water beach as the backdrop – calm and quiet - with a few yachts a quarter mile or so out, it was paradise. A banana pancake, two fried eggs, bacon, and coffee would run not quite three dollars. I went there four or five days a week.

I was walking down the Soi towards the beach without a care in the world. I weaved left and then right and then left again - around a four year old, four story hotel, past a row of corrugated tin roof little shops and a little mini market with a Buddha shrine in front that usually had incense burning at all hours, (and little offerings of food, or drink or whatever in front – these little shrines are common everywhere). I was just about to approach the main beach road when I heard people yelling and then saw people running towards me. I heard someone yell "water!", and the look on their faces was enough to convince me to run with them. Better to ask why later. Within seconds, you could hear a deep roar, and behind you, you could see water pushing cars, and motorcycles and chaise lounges from the beach, and debris and anything else that was in its way - tossing everything about like they were toys. Panic set in and people shoved and moved as quickly as they could to escape. We all ran, fast. I got knocked down and fell on my right shoulder. I got up fast and ran some more. Because the little Soi was not a straight line to the beach, and there were buildings in between the beach road and my guest house, and the main road, the water was blocked from pushing all the debris towards us. We all made it across the main drag in town - some three hundred yards past where I started running, and a hundred yards past my guesthouse - and by then the water had abated, and was leveling out no higher than curb deep.

People were dazed and confused, and those that hadn't been as close were curious. Within moments you could hear sirens wailing, and people started moving towards one of the main roads leading up into the hills. Nobody knew much about tsunamis or knew if another wave - maybe much bigger - would hit. And nobody wanted to take any chances. I joined the throng moving towards the safety of higher ground, and the road was soon jammed with cars and people making their way away from the beach and towards the hills. After about twenty minutes of walking - by this time there really wasn't the same level of panic as no water was anywhere near us - the crowd reached the hills where hundreds of people were congregating on the road leading up. We all milled around, and I found other English speaking people and began to learn a little about tsunamis - that there is only one tsunami per earthquake (of at least a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale), and so if there wasn't another earthquake there wouldn't be another tsunami. As most Thai building construction is simple brick and mortar, I figured the biggest threat was an earthquake, not another tsunami, and so I began to think about staying away from buildings and power lines. After a half hour or so on the hill, it seemed silly to stay there, so I made my way back down towards the main drag. Many Thais stayed put and even spent that night on the hill, afraid to come down. Many others and most tourists came down in a steady stream over the next couple of hours. The feeling of anxiety in the air was palpable.

Sirens were now a constant background noise. The local hospital (a very modern four story building) is on the road leading down from the hills, and as I passed I could see a lot of activity going on there with people and ambulances coming and going. When I got to the main road, you could still see a little water on the road, and if you peered down the road leading to the beach, about half way down you could see a pile of rubble that included on overturned bus, several overturned cars and many crushed motorcycles. The police were out in force at that point, and wouldn't let anyone down the road leading to the beach.

I made my way back to my guesthouse which was completely undamaged (the buildings between it and the beach having protected it against most of the power of the tsunami). I crossed the main road again and went to a small cafè owned by a friend of mine. Several people had gathered and as rumors were flying and real information sketchy, we sat and tried to sift through all the information as best we could. The phones were out, but email worked and so I sent word home that I was ok. Television cable was also out, but one small coffee house a couple of sois down had satellite television, and a couple of us went there to watch the early BBC reports. It soon became apparent that this tragedy was much bigger than anyone might have thought. As more and more people came by to share what they knew, including some who had actually been on the beach when the wave hit, it also became apparent that the death toll was going to be much greater than what was being reported at the time. Days later that "sense" of the tragedy was unfortunately confirmed. We were beginning to understand that we were all part of an unprecedented global event.

Everybody remained on edge, and a couple of times, for no apparent reason, a rumor would circulate that another tsunami was coming, and then you'd see people moving away from the beach. Late in the afternoon, a friend came by with a young guy from Switzerland who he had found who was looking for a friend of his who was missing. Matthew was on his first trip to Phuket, and so Glen and I offered to help him look for his missing friend. We went to the local hospital, and the scene there was pure chaos. The influx of those with injuries and those looking for missing family or friends was too much for the staff to handle. There were no lists of who was at the hospital yet, so the only alternative was to wander the floors and look for whomever you were trying to find. The white tile floors were covered with blood and people with injuries sat everywhere waiting to be seen. It took two hours to check out the hospital, and our new friend's friend wasn't there.

There are two other hospitals on the other side of the island in Phuket Town, and we were told many people were being taken there. We got a tuk-tuk (Thai open air truck with benches on both sides and a roof - that serve as Taxis. There are real taxis but you usually have to call to book them - tuk tuks roam the roads looking for customers). We accompanied Matt to look in the hospitals in Phuket town. To make a long story short, we finally found his friend at the third hospital sometime late into the night. He was in bad shape, but alive. I guess he got caught closer to the beach and in the water as it surged forward. It's hard to imagine how powerful the tsunami wave is without seeing it. We later heard that a cubic yard of water weighs about 1500 pounds. Imagine millions of cubic yards of water along the beach, all traveling at 500 miles per hour when the tsunami first breaks (at about four stories high) and there is very little that can stand in its way as it pushes everything in its path - cars, busses, walls - and people. If you're caught in it, the water moves you where it wants, all the while smashing whatever debris it carries along into you.

We got back to Patong and after a drink or two, people went to their rooms for a guarded and uneasy night's sleep. The next day Glen and I volunteered at the hospital as they needed English speaking people to man tables to help other English speaking people who kept up a steady stream of those looking for news of missing family or friends. We took names, maintained a list of those missing, and directed people to post photographs of those missing - allowing the real medical people to do their jobs. It was heartbreaking to see the expressions on people's faces as they came back only to be disappointed that there was no news for them. Early on, one photograph of a little kid, posted on the missing bulletin board - he was maybe nine or ten years old, named Ricky something from Scandinavia - caught my eye. Over the next few days, I kept hoping that picture would be taken down indicating he had been found. It never was, and I wonder to this day what happened to him. So many missing people will never be found.

On the afternoon of the second day, we walked down to the beach road to survey the damage and were stunned by the incredible power of the tsunami. Virtually every shop, every building on the beach front road was destroyed, most just rubble or gone. There was tons of sand and mud in the street, and the beach looked eerie in its isolation - downed palm trees, broken umbrellas hundreds of yards inland, debris everywhere. Shops, restaurants, buildings that just a day before were teeming with people were now all gone. Ruined lives. Boats tossed around like toys. Windows smashed by cars rammed through them. Motorcycles on top of overturned cars. Stunned people everywhere. Bulldozers were already beginning to start the clean-up. My little restaurant was gone - just gone - nothing but the concrete floor of the kitchen area left. I still don't know how many of the family that ran it, if any, survived. By the third day the hospital had more volunteers than they needed.

Life returned to normal, if normal is the right word - and for the rest of Phuket - everything and everybody 1000 yards inland - life was just as it was before the Tsunami - not like on Banda Ache in Indonesia where the tsunami destroyed everything inland for a mile and a half. The week between Christmas and New Year's is the high season in Phuket with huge numbers of visitors from all over the world. But as the week progressed, fewer and fewer tourists walked the streets. For the most part, they left - and those scheduled to arrive, cancelled. I stayed. I had a bad shoulder, but I could live with it and I wanted to stay. Empty streets added to the muted feeling on the island. New Year's was a quiet nonevent, with none of the usual fireworks and celebration. Instead there was a candlelight vigil near the beach which a thousand people attended.

Tragedies tend to bring out the 'best' (and sadly, sometimes the 'worst') in people. In Thailand, everybody wanted to help. On New Year's eve, I was with friends making our way to the beach for the candlelight ceremony. I passed a man missing one leg and part of an arm, begging on the street (not uncommon). I usually try to give those who are missing limbs something when I encounter them (I cannot imagine being in that position). I put a 100 Baht bill in his bowl (about $2.50). Walking down the main road behind us, another group was collecting funds to help the victims. I looked back as the beggar took the 100 Baht note I had just given him and put it in the can being used by those collecting for tsunami victims. That 100 Baht meant a whole lot more to him than me giving the tsunami victims 10,000 Baht. I felt humbled. Very humbled. I went back and put a couple more 100 Baht bills in his bowl. He smiled at me. Feeling small, I moved on quickly.

I left Phuket one week after the tsunami and went to northern Thailand - where the tsunami was just a news event. That week was a very emotional time for everybody on the island. Another week later, I flew home. I had shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cup five days after I got home and it is healing nicely. I still wonder: "Why me? Why was I spared?" Three more minutes and I would have been having breakfast on the beach, and I have no doubt that I wouldn't have made it. My ticket would have been punched. The little restaurant is gone, and with it most of the family that ran it. If I had left my room five minutes earlier, that would have been it. The experience makes you ask yourself: “What am I doing?� Life is short and fate cannot be predicted. If you get only so much good luck in your account, I guess I may have used up all of my allotment, but I am alive and grateful for it. I know better than I ever have that a lot of crap that invades our daily lives is just that - crap. Doesn't matter. Just doesn't matter. Although I suppose, if experience is any indicator, a year from now I'll probably again believe it does. When will we ever learn, huh?

Southeast Asia has an incredible allure. It is an extraordinary part of the planet. I love Thailand and the Thai people. I hope people won't stay away, because what they need are tourists to come back. And for the most part, if you go, you won't even know the tsunami hit.

There is so much more to tell, but you had to be there as they say. Next year I will go back to Phuket again. I know that by that time everything will be rebuilt and it will be as though the tsunami never happened. Except that it did. And everyone who was there that day will never forget it. I know I won't.
If you would like to see an excellent photo gallery - charting, week by week, what happened on Phuket from the day of the tsunami to the rebuilding going on to date - go to

I always ended each Update with the words of the immortal Winston Churchill........

Don't Quit!
Good advice I think for all of us in the arts who are, understandably, sometimes ready to throw in the towel.......

Have a good week.