Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 28, 2008


Hello everybody.

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


This wasn't such a great year. Interesting I suppose what with an endless (and often seemingly relentless) Presidential campaign full of twists and turns, the China Olympics, drama aplenty on the world stage, global economic collapse and hard times everywhere. At times it seems like the whole world is being run by crooks, morons or psychopathic dictators.

And now old earth has made it around the sun one more time and the cycle of things starts anew.

Of course, Thursday will be just another day, not really that much different from Wednesday, and the whole idea of the New Year is somewhat an artificial, human construct, but no matter, it IS a chance to begin anew; to, at least in our heads and hearts, stop, clear out the cobwebs, take stock, think things over and start once again, and that is, I think, enormously useful and valuable. It's an opportunity to leave behind some of the baggage we've been carrying over the year; it's a chance for renewed hope and optimism - a chance to once again believe in what might "be" rather than what "has been". The New Year allows us to commit again to our work, to re-dedicate ourselves to our enterprises, to resolve to do better, to "be" better. We can run the race again - the last race is over and it doesn't matter how 'it' turned out. It's the future. In the sense that the New Year is about renewal - it is the essence of the stuff of creativity and what we are all about in the arts.

I'm not sure HAPPY New Year is what we should be wishing each other. We seem so obsessed with being Happy. Happy New Year, Happy Birthday. Wishing you Happiness. Maybe what we mean is we wish each other some degree of freedom from bad stuff, some sense of satisfaction or fulfillment. Or we wish each other prosperity, or safety or good health (or even success, whatever that is). Doesn't matter I guess, the good thing is that once again, even if it's just semantics, we can start over with great expectations and high hopes, and lord knows we need that right now.


On the practical side of things, it is a perfect opportunity to clean house and empty the trash as it were, and if I could offer you one tip, it would be to spend a couple of hours at your computer this week, and delete all the stuff that you've accumlated over the past year.

You don't really need to save all those old emails, all those drafts of correspondence and memos and reports. You don't really need all those downloads and files on your desktop, do you? All that stuff you thought: "well, maybe I will need this someday." And guess what? You will NEVER need it or use it.

How much outdated info is in your 'Contacts' section? - phone numbers and email addresses no longer in existence? If you want to keep this stuff, back it up on some external hard drive, but get it off your computer. Get rid of everything except those things you are currently working on or will likely need in the next 30 days. Be ruthless. If you can, go online and buy one of those programs that will clean your computer of all the old stuff that snuck onto your machine, get rid of the malware and other junk that makes your computer run like an arthritic old man, remove the crap that is slowing down your life.

Need help? - there must be someone in your organization you can turn to that will know how to manage the technology of computer clean-up. Then you can start 2009 fresh - organized - and feeling that the junk from the past year is behind you. This is far more important than you think. Start the year by leaving the old one behind. You aren't going to get that much done on Wednesday morning anyway. Do something constructive - clean up that computer.

Wishing each of you a safe, sane, healthy, richly satisfying and fulfilling, prosperous, new beginning full of good stuff.


Have a good short week.

New Year's Resolution: Don't Quit.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 21, 2008


Hello everyone.

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


It's that time of year, and once again I have asked arts leaders from around the country to share with me their predictions for what challenges our field will face in the coming year. I want to welcome to this year's crop of contibutors a couple of younger arts administrators (Hanul Bahm and Ebony McKinney)that I met as part of the Focus Group study done as Phase II of the Youth Involvement in the Arts Initiative of the William & Flora Hewlett Fouondation - to be published in January 2009)I want to thank all of those who took time from their hectic year end schedules to share their thoughts and ideas with us.

First let me share with you my take on the coming year and what ideas, trends, external factors and new realities will mean to the arts sector:

THE ECONOMY I agree with many of the guest prognosticators - tough economic times are ahead for arts organizations of all sizes across the country. We've already had several venerable cultural organizations (large and small)close their doors, a number of other name institutions are in trouble here in California and across the country, and smaller, multicultural organizations may face increasing financial challenges. State deficits, reduced philanthropy, foundations hard hit by stock portfolio declines, and even consumer ticket buyer hesitation are all combining to make it difficult for arts organizations to get through next year. It's very likely we will see scores of arts organizations that will fail, and many, many more will have to cut budgets, reduce programming and lay off staffs. This will not likely be a good year financially for the whole sector.

As Nancy Glaze notes, the credit crisis will make it axiomatically more difficult for nonprofit arts organizations to borrow money short or long term to help shore up their declining income. As Anthony Radich points out several state arts agencies are likely to have to fight just to stay in existence. Perhaps a dozen or more moderately good sized local arts agencies (city & county) won't survive. And Bob Booker accurately, I think, points out that audiences may pull back from coming to performances as discretionary income shrinks. Bob also asks an interesting question in his query of what will younger people do in this crisis (as this is the first time many of them will have faced this kind of steep recession.

If there is any good news on the financial front, the NEA budget is likely to, at worst, stay where it is, and there might even be a small increase possible. This is good for smaller states heavily dependent on their share of NEA revenue. But it remains to be seen where the NEA grant making priorities will be in the new Obama Administration.

And the impact of the sour economy? How will we cope? The guest commentators suggest that:

1)We will see more mergers and consolidations than we have ever seen before; and are likely to entertain very different, creative and even radical new suggestions as to how arts provision in America ought to be structured in the future.

2) We will need to use technology to attract audiences and supporters to an extent, and in ways, we have yet to explore (and in many places, for the first time, real progress and change will actually occur in improving our sophistication in understanding and using technology to increase dissemination and access to the arts).

3) Content may move more towards satisfying popular demands so as to be more marketable, yet this impulse may be met by a counter movement by artists (particularly younger artists who may lead a rebellion against the status quo of arts provision within our sector and as a result of their dropping out of our ranks to go it a different way)to change our perspectives and priorities as we further question what we fund, how we fund it, and the very models and structures of our organizations.

4) There will be an increase in savvy target markeing expertise, and "marketing" will be the dominant skill set we focus on in our professional development efforts and our conferences.

5) We may see the arts turn increasingly towards a more local "community" approach - smaller shows and exhibits, more niche markets, more personalized funding pleas.

6. We will likely be more dependent than ever on volunteerism to fill the gap in our needs.

Of course, none of us have a reliable crystal ball and as a number of people who I invited to send me their thoughts declined because they honestly felt that they just didn't have any real idea what was going to happen in 2009, there are more questions for us than answers.

1. How bad will the economic forces actually hurt us? Will there be hundreds of closures or just scores? Will philanthropic, corporate and government funding be down for several years or will it be a shorter term phenomenon? Will some geographic areas be harder hit than others? Will some disciplines fare better than others? Will we see a real, fundamental, systemic change in how we organize ourselves or will we more likely see temporary changes, cosmetic moves?

2. How will the different generations in our workforce be affected by what is coming? Will aging Baby Boomers still keep retiring from our workforce or will they now stay? Will we successfully recruit and retain Millennials? How will the different generations support us - financially? as advocates?

3. Will we finally realize the need for real political clout on the local level and organize to get it? Will that effort be in time?

4. What will happen to arts education as state and local budgets are slashed? Will we still suffer the public perception that arts education is a "frill'?

5. Will we be too busy trying to survive to seize what may now be a golden opportunity to finally advance arts & culture policy to a new level, or will this instead be the opportunity and stimulus to do exactly that?

6. There will likely be an increased international effort to develop global arts & cultural policy and to institute more cross border exchanges and intersection.

I could go on - there are so many questions for us to address. I personally believe our sector is going to experience profound, fundamental changes never before seen by us. While these changes are likely going to be very painful, I think there is an opportunity here for us to move boldly into the future and accomplish some changes in our way of thinking and how we structure our organizations.


So what do we do?

I echo many of the contributors to this blog who urge us to create some sort of national committee to:
1) Advise the Obama administration (and indirectly state and local governments)on the role of arts & culture in America. Now is the time to mount a unified, massive effort to advance cultural policy on both the academic and practical levels. We need foundations and local government funders, arts leaders across the nation, to meet in some kind of emergency session to hammer out a well crafted policy statement that urges President Obama to include the arts & culture sector in any attempt to shore up the nation's infrastructure. We MUST immediately make the argument that the arts must be included in his infrastructure plans - both physical projects and job creation - and we need at least $100 million of this bailout money to go to the cultural infrastructure of this country. We need to present Obama with a detailed MARSHALL PLAN to save (and nourish) the arts as critical to this country's future.

I strongly second Wayne Lawson's suggestion to Bill Ivey to waste no time in gathering a national cabinet of arts leaders to develop this plan. I urge Bob Lynch, Jonathan Katz, Sam Miller, Wayne Lawson, Andrew Taylor and other national leaders to join with foundation leaders like Moy Eng, Ben Cameron, Marian Godfrey, John McGuirk, Olive Mosher, Claire Peeps and the whole GIA community, as well as others to get invovled in convening this kind of national panel to write such a Marshall Plan, and to do it right away - the clock is ticking. We finally have an opportunity to be proactive instead of reactive. Please don't let that door close.

2. We MUST finally figure out how to use technology to our advantage to expand access to art.

3. We MUST demand and insist that arts education be fully funded - to the same extent anyway as math & science. No more backseat.

4. We MUST become more fiscally prudent and responsible - and that includes Boards of Directors of our arts organizations finally understanding and accepting that their primary function and purpose is to protect the financial health of those organizations - to raise money, and not to micromanage programs and second guess staffs. And if they don't appreciate this is their purpose, they should resign or be thrown off those Boards. For far, far too long, Board members have thought their job was some kind of trophy appointment. Enough already.

Here are the observations of my guest commentators.

Clearly 2009, and probably at least 2010, will bring a level of pain and retrenchment in the cultural sector probably not seen in any of our lives. The deteriorating economic situation will result in reduced contributed revenues - and probably earned income as well - for virtually all arts organizations in America. Particularly fragile and undercapitalized organizations are unlikely to survive. In this context, here are a few thoughts for the new administration and whomever takes on the role of NEA

* Promote arts and culture as a critical component of the fabric of our society in a way that ensures cultural investment is not viewed as a "frill" or expendable, but as an essential element in our effort to get through these challenging times - this is the "bully pulpit" part of the job. More important now than ever.

* Ensure that any economic stimulus package, including both infrastructure investment and any large-scale employment program, includes investment in our cultural sector. This is about immediate economic stimulus - There are hundreds of major cultural capital projects around the country ready to roll instantly if funds were available. Lets take advantage of that! In addition, explore how the performing arts and commissioning of art can be incorporated into the plan a-la the WPA era. Why not special free public performances in parks, children's arts programs that would reduce truancy and violence - even touring Shakespeare, to steal a play from Gioia's playbook? What about murals and great works of public art (we have Mural Arts Program right here in Philadelphia - what about aggressively taking this program national)? What about bringing back a CETA-like program to help employ young people in the arts?

* Bite the bullet and transform the NEA Chair into a cabinet-level position. Mayor Michael Nutter has done it at the local level in Philadelphia. Let's finally join the ranks of most of the nations of the world that have a cultural minister or equivalent position. I can speak from experience and say it makes a huge difference in how the arts function within government and in the community if they are seen as meriting a cabinet level "place at the table."

* Related to the above, dramatically enhance investment in cultural diplomacy. Increase the resources available at each embassy for cultural advancement that helps other nations understand the diversity of our country better, and also invest more in large-scale cultural exchange - helping our greatest (not necessarily largest or best funded) organizations to tour internationally, and helping to bring artists of other cultures here to tour the US.

* Explore how the NEA can deal with a broader definition of the arts to encompass not just nonprofit arts organizations but arts happening in the for profit or unincorporated realm. this is a huge and growing area of the arts. By focussing only on supporting nonprofit arts organizations the NEA is missing a large swath of the arts sector, especially art forms and artists embraced by a younger generation.

That should keep our new NEA chair busy for a while!

I’m just back from a marketing conference which began a mere 5 days after President-Elect Obama’s campaign made history. I’m not sure if everyone on this blog shares my feelings, but I still feel the energy and excitement of the campaign now, as organizations mull over Obama’s arts policy and marvel at the genius of his grassroots, social network based campaign. I thought the sense of possibility and change would fade once the election was over. I am so glad it hasn’t, and I can’t wait to get more involved.

In the next year, the arts field needs to quickly and with decisiveness do two things:

1. Determine how we can advance President-Elect Obama’s arts agenda (available for download at

2. Steal as much as we can from the marketing brilliance of his campaign to help our own efforts. Smart corporations and organizations all over the world are going to try to copy what Obama’s team did. But it will only work if their cause is relevant and inspiring. The future of the arts feels pretty relevant and inspiring to me.

This will be so much more interesting than worrying about the economy, don’t you think?

We will see a downturn in contributed income, most notably from major donors who rely on stock. Cash flow in all arts organizations will be stressed and lines of credit as a tool for managing cash flow will be very limited. Organizations will be wise to focus more intently on serving their constiuents with activities that engage them in meaningful ways. Exepct donations to be more modest with even less funding from the corporate sector. It is possible that public funding will increase under the new administration but not right away. The young people who have so recently shown interest in politics will demand programming that speaks to their concerns and time of life. A renewed focus on volunteerim in the arts sector may be a factor given the recent volunteer activity by Millenial Generation (18-29). This may also be a time when some venerable institutions disappear. Those that have not kept up with the rapid changes of the past 7 years or so may find themselves out luck as the stress of financial contraints catches up with them. On a hopeful note, I expect many artists to flourish as folks look for diversion and meaning during this chaotic time.

I spent several days doing legal work for the Obama campaign in Ohio and had a chance to reflect on your questions. A couple of thoughts:

1. I believe an important 2009 arts trend is to acknowledge and support arts activity that takes place outside nonprofit arts organizations. The arts interests of the American people are overwhelmingly populist: amateur, non-institutional and culturally-based. Even younger artists with professional aims are increasingly working outside of the nonprofit arena. Especially for the NEA, it seems essential to lead on this, and not focus only on grant support for nonprofits. This may well be an important strategy for the long-term sustainability of arts organizations.

2. And, need I even mention it, in an Obama era arts education is a clear priority. The arts education field is poised, more than ever, to reintroduce and strengthen K-12 arts education in the schools. There are substantial new resources of people, information, alliances, and understanding. 2009 is the year major progress can be made.

Oh the times, they are a changin’….

My predictions for the coming year are:

1) Between five and seven state arts agencies will be threatened with closure, however, all of them will survive--though with financial haircuts.

2) Many arts-based Obama supporters will be disappointed by his actions in the arts. How can't they be? Their expectations have been high and not rooted in his track record in the area of culture.

3) The leaders of two major national-level arts service association will be pried out the door. These difficult-to-remove types will no longer be able to serve up the same old bromides for their suffering constituencies and remain as credible service organization leaders.

4) The promotional financial falsehoods regarding the economic value of supporting film production in the states will be unmasked. This will leave many arts advocates to run for cover on this issue.

5) The good side of the recession will be the closure of nonprofit arts organizations that have run out of audience and purpose. The field will lose many excellent efforts, but it will lose even more entities that should have died some time ago.

As some one who woke up one morning surprised to find that Jessie Ventura as my new Governor, I am not the best at making predictions. But, here goes...I think that due to the economy we are going to see a number of things occur in the Nonprofit arts industry.

1. Donors are going to pull back due to a combination of their investments paying poorly and simply the jitters about the economy. . This pull back may take the form of smaller gifts, delayed payments, split payments, and simply limiting the number of organizations they support in a season. However, while we may see some limited giving, meaning giving to specific causes or organizations, that could benefit some groups if they can make the case to be that "special" cause.

2. Audiences are going to pull back a bit. Think about the nesting activities we have seen in the past. Already we are seeing benefit attendance down in both the social service and arts arenas in Arizona. Attendance at these fundraising events are on average down by 1/3 in the Phoenix area alone.

3. The attendance pattern and giving pattern of young people will be of particular interest. Many of these younger workers have not actually experienced a downturn in the economy like this in the past and they may have a tendency to react more strongly to the recession. I know some of my team are particularly worried about employment, the future, and their resources.

4. Cash flow issues of nonprofit organizations will continue to be a major issue in their budgeting and this alone may cause the closure of some groups.

5. Funders, especially public funders who base their resources on a combination of investments and appropriations will have some problems making their commitments to their grantees. With mid cycle reductions to state arts agencies, we are already seeing this occur across the country.

6. A positive in these times will certainly be a growth of nontraditional arts industry models, a blending of nonprofit and for-profit initiatives, and the growth of do-it-yourself arts facilities and product. These initiatives and actions,will be led and facilitated by younger artists, young staff members, and individuals that look at arts participation based in breaking down barriers and enhansed personal participation.

Some arts and cultural groups will go out of business but the art will not die and artist will survive.
We will finally get around to seriously looking at the flaws of the 501(c)(3) structure, laws governing endowments (i.e. I have $30 million in endowment corpus but no earnings to spend) and the under capitalization of the sector

Look out for the new, innovative and very creative...this is our time to shine.


I consider myself a cynical optimist. As such, I have some hope for the next year, even in our very difficult economic times. I think that hard times force us to prioritize and use our talents and money as effectively as possible. So, in the next year I think we'll see the arts field looking for ways to innovate and reach out to new partners and communities. The incoming Obama administration gives me even more hope, as he seems to fundamentally "get" that the arts and our creative communities can be partners in improving our country.

WESTAF recently convened a symposium on State Economic Development and the Creative Economy. I was delighted by the optimistic (without the cynical) nature of the discussion--rather than focusing solely on the current economic condition, the participants discussed radically new ways to transform the arts field and our institutions into a vital economic force in state government. This kind of thinking--when translated into action--will help our arts field continue its evolution into the 21st century.

think the arts sector is facing and will continue to face the effects of the recession. Count the number of state governments facing huge deficits. Check the number and amounts of arts donations from all the various sectors who usually give. What are they going to do? Both the non-profit arts world and the public agencies that fund them are going to have to re-think how they are doing business. Where have we heard that before? Change is here---so strongly evidenced by the election of Barack Obama. And change is expected by those who voted for him---and I would gather that most of us in the arts world did. He cannot do it alone. Now----how do we effect that change in light of this recession. Business cannot be done in the same way. I would suggest that a variety of private foundations and other funders bring together folks from the arts world to have some serious discussions about this change. We are all in it together and it has only just begun. Perhaps a think tank here and there might help. I don't believe anyone can do it alone. In five years----it is going to be a very different and perhaps difficult place to do arts business. We better be part of the solution and not the problem.

I would suggest to Mr. Ivey--transition team for the NEA AND NEH--to do what the President-Elect is doing--gather around himself a variety of folks in the field from the past, the present and those he thinks will be thought provokers of the future and get as much feedback and insight that he can. Then get that position paper together and get it on the President's desk. There are so many issues which need to be discussed before new leadership is put into place: the creative economy, globalization, the role of the individual artists, funding for our arts institutions across the country---the list goes on. But start now. Don't wait. Involve as many insightful and thoughtful thinkers as you can. Change is here. Take Advantage of it.

There will be more of an emphasis on individual giving, as well as creative funding ideas rooted in entrepreneurship and social venture philanthropy.

Arts orgs. will more closely cultivate their constituencies through technology and more targeted communication and audiences/donors/patrons will make very earnest and long lasting decisions about their priorities, values, energy and money.

Arts orgs. will become more savvy about capacity building and infrastructure development as they look at ways to pool resources and instate a living wage for workers.

There will be a greater demand for peer-based learning opportunities, and arts administration-type classes (finance, strategic planning, program design, communication strategies, ect.), minus the university, plus the most contemporary thinking. Learning cohorts are in. The next generation will organize themselves and more cohesively express themselves. They will also work on advancing new frameworks and building strong networks locally, regionally, nationally and possibly globally.

We want to think in new ways.

Funders will form strategic partnerships and pool resources to build new capacity building initiatives that address these needs.

Fiscal sponsorship will increasingly allow artists, art workers and small arts orgs/initiatives to be more organized and impactful (and agile). Artists, collectives and art houses will continue to innovative in communities, creating high quality art work while working with non-artists and the non-arts sector. Demand will increase for community-based arts opportunities like the Creative Work Fund and SFAC's Arts & Communities.

A new openness, pride and curiosity will feed arts workers desire to work abroad as part of arts exchange programs and diplomacy initiatives. The most adventurous may even forgo the program and head off independently.

Going to colleges and universities abroad is also more attractive.

The art sector will emphasize self-help, collaboration, investment, knowledge and community building to not only address the present economic crisis, but the arts sustainability in the long term.

The next NEA chair should:
1. Encourage modern and expanded opportunities for professional development,capacity building and peer learning.

2. Give serious counsel to the best ways to enrich and deploy both next generation arts and culture workers and soon-to-be retiring(?) baby boomers committed to sustaining arts.

3. Seek opportunities for collaboration with non-arts.

4. Can the Arts Corp work with the Green Corp? What is the role
of art in the massive infrastructure development that is going to take place?

5. Be dynamic, analytical and engaging.

6. Communicate strategically, up and down, partly by harnessing technology.

7. Have a depth and diversity of relevant experience (working alongside artists, educators and cultural leaders and advocates).

8. Possess a well-rounded perspective on the future role of arts.
advocate of value building, knowledge building and sustained learning.

I want an innovator in the vein of Cheryl Dorsey, president of Echoing Green, and Paul Schmitz, president of Public Allies, who were both just appointed to an Obama administration team charged with developing an "innovation agenda"
for the country.

I think with the gorgeous outcome of this election, you're gonna see a lot more initiative and momentum from people who aren't usually organized or formally represented, especially emerging, self-taught, and urban artists---artists whose practice exists largely outside of the "c.v." system. In short, lots of people from the low-end. We just got a giant green light to own the sense of personal empowerment we've harbored all along, but that's been gradually beaten out of us over the years. So, you're gonna see more mobilization and stepping up from ranks that are usually under the radar of most arts administrators. And they will bring a very different ethos with them.

Overall, artists will now feel that they can beat the machine, whatever that may be. :) Artist and arts administrator both are keenly sensitive and affected by the political climes of their nation. We will feel a little more comfortable in our skins and in speaking out, addressing long-festering problems and coming up with directive, useful solutions.

Artists will also ask for more accountability and reciprocity from arts administrators. In the arts world, the "machine" is the curator / gallery / media / funder system, and the game of getting "known," "critically approved," "networked," and therefore, fundable. By this statement, I don't mean to pass any judgment on artists who've toiled for years, matured their expressive capacities, and finally got recognized for their creativity and hard work, nor on the incredibly resilient, dedicated arts administrators who bust their tail to serve artists and the public. Rather, it is about the institutionalization of the arts, and how gatekeepers relate to artists. There will be more insistence from the artists for more investment into their creative process and less emphasis on the comodification or output-driven production of their art. Many funded and sponsored artists tailor their creative output based on the tastes and needs of institutions or orgs who have been good to them, but it sometimes stymies their creative evolution. There will be more insistence for funding and technical support in all phases of the arts process, production, and post-production.

It's already happening, but you will see more and more artists working in decentralized networks, creating alliances with like-minded practitioners over the globe, to pursue their projects. And their funding, distribution, and networking models will be vastly different from what we've known. They will create their own means, seemingly overnight, borrowing from entrepreneurial models. Of course, nothing was overnight, and there will have been untold hours of labor on the front and back end.

On the flip side, you will see more artists applying through formal arts opportunities whose content and substance is less conceptual or "design-y." Their gestalt will lean more toward on the complex poetics and of culture and story-specific, especially in regards to marginalized folks. You will see great breadth, force of expression, sensibilities, and experimentation in their ranks. Their work will feel more personal and experiential. I promise you, this work will be good, just like works that come out of censorship or post-censorship nations are good. They just lived through decades of pressurizing a coal mine inside. Now, they are going to mine their diamonds.

You will see an awesome amalgamation of more veteran artists and arts administrators, using their clout, brilliance, and hard-earned wisdom to invest in new directions and ways of doing things. They will revive the revolutionary, grassroots ethos that got them into arts in the first place, and channel it into initiatives they've been wanting to unleash all along. They will take pause from the typically dizzying cycles of production and deadlines that normal envelope them, look at the elevation they've scaled, and make room to invest in a few, signature initiatives dear to their hearts.

You will see more artists stepping up in the ranks of formal and informal leadership, within organizations and communities. There will be more insistence on creative problem-solving, collaboration, teamwork, and a functional, sustainable model of doing things. No one will believe we have to continue enduring "politics as usual." And good news! There is consensus and great dialogues to be held across generational divide, between those who have clout and those who do not. And it is those without the clout who will initiate these talks. They will insist that systems benefit and serve everyone's well being. You will see leaders who are 16 and leaders who are 91. And no one will be demeaned or resented for their age. Their value will be weighed by the strength and creativity of their contributions, and how well it serves the collective good. It will not be less based on tribal identification, similarity of upbringing, pedigree, or demographics. Also, there will be an insistence for mechanisms of accountability and checks and balances within arts organizations. Well, maybe the last statement is more of a hope than a prediction...we'll see!

You will see an insistence from artists and arts organizations, with and without their 501c3, to provide seed money: larger quantities of small and mid-size grants. Not just for arts education funding, but a myriad of things, including arts creation and development; cross-city residencies; professional development; capital expenses; especially refurbishing run-down spaces, and programs where artists can serve the workforce, as consultants or contractors, as well as communities. We will be wise to explore new models of paying and commissioning artists to pursue their art. I trust that someday soon, a brilliant group of people will adapt Kiva's model of microfinance and apply it to artist projects.

Nickels and dimes. You will see more artists and arts orgs asking their communities to save their nickels and dimes for art. I'm hedging my bets toward a trend that will see arts orgs catering more to their audiences than to grant funders' requests of them. Arts organizations will need to think beyond scensters and loyal patrons and think of developing new audiences. They will need to be imaginative and expansive in how their articulate their mission and broach audience engagement. They will need to make a case for relevancy and resonance to demographics and income earners beyond the usual faces in their crowds. In economically tough times, arts organizations cannot be about the personal taste of the program folks. It will have to make a case for personal relevance and value for their audiences.

There will be more push toward sustained dialogue and engagement with audiences. And they will be happy to spend on the arts. Maybe they won't write a check if they're solicited for a donation, but they will still show up in droves to programs, performances, screenings, and openings.

Along these lines, you will see arts administrators asking for lots of professional development. Literacy in collaboration, project management, grassroots marketing, web 2.0, plus the basic triumverate---budgeting, fundraising, and grant writing---will be insisted upon. My hope is that we'll develop strategic partnerships with other arts and professional development orgs, as well as the creative private sector, to enable and fund some of these demands. There are already peer learning groups forming, including the recently established Bay Area Emerging Arts Administrator Network, that are addressing these needs. I am hopeful that there can be more dialogues, just among arts orgs, to identify and address collective challenges, identifying best practices, and sharing their resources. There is a ton of group genius in the art sector to be mined. So you will also see arts administrators asking for and creating such opportunities, wanting to know what folks in Minneapolis or Seattle are doing, wanting to meet one another, whether in a cafe or on Skype.

If I could tell the new NEA chair four things, it would be to:

1) Think of all the assets, skills, and literacies an artist brings to her communities and economies. Create a giant list. Think of businesses and organizations that can benefit from out-of-the-box, creative problem-solving. Enable programs that employ artists in these capacities, or lets them initiate projects along these lines. Find ways to keep them employed, but not over-employed, so they have time to devote to their art.

2) Invest in the professional capacities and well-being of your artists and arts administrators. This includes livable wages and pro-rated health care for people who may not work full-time or be covered by an employer.

3) Devise a way to support the whole ecology of arts in any given town. Or better yet, asks towns to identify what localized solutions they can think of to sustain optimal arts activity. Not just for the ballet, operas, symphonies, and award-winning career artists, but really, a whole new generation of practitioners---whether you're into their work or not. Seed the ground. Trust the ground. There are new paradigms, messages, and mediums of arts coming, already here, in fact. Invest in them.

4) Look outside the known, the tried and true practices of the arts field. Look at what NSF does. They fund a whole ton of R & D and have massive levels and tiers of funding they offer. Few people doubt that science and technology drive a huge economic and intellectual engine. Industries, the medical world, and the whole of developing and prospering nations all require and need scientific advancement. Science almost appears recession-proof. How can we make the same case for arts and prove its viability? What can we learn from the entertainment industry, which also seems to prosper in economic downturns? How do other countries empower and employ their artists? What best practices can we glean?


1) Many arts organization mergers and consolidations, fewer arts organization closures than might be expected.
2) Universal cutbacks in operations and staffing expense.
3)Drop off in high end arts product sales in commercial arts markets.
4) Arts audiences turn to more local and intimate arts offerings as cultural tourism slows.
5)Continued challenges and slippage in corporate and foundation arts support.
6) Confusion/lack of understanding about the value of the arts in the private philanthropic leadership (CEOs/Boards) in America
7) Private individual arts donor funding fatigue but holding somewhat steady.
8) State government arts funding severely challenged and taking some hits.
9) Local government arts funding severly challenged but holding steady.
10) federal arts funding modest increase.
11) Earned arts income modest increases for arts orgs with marketing creativity and savvy.
12) Enrollment in College level arts program will increase (go figure).

More non-profit cultural organizations will be challenged to find ways to collaborate, combine services or go out of business.

Audiences will recognize the value of having robust cultural organizations in their neighborhoods – for economic development, vitality, a sense of place and belonging. Perhaps more people will welcome the opportunity to get to know their community cultural assets and become more engaged in the arts through participation, attendance, volunteerism or contributions.

Cultural organizations must embrace the research on changing demographics and artistic directors and marketing directors must work together to market the arts.

The NEA chair will need to be a leader who focuses on cultural policy at the highest level. We must retain our image around the world and we have the assets (artists, etc) who can promote the US as a society that embraces arts and culture as a basic right. He/she must support creation and innovation and find a way to incorporate creativity into broader policy issues.

Just my quick thoughts

The non-profit arts will be in difficult straits in terms of attracting private sector donations. Governments are cutting back arts and human service programs, more competition for foundation funds as a result. These are dangerous times for the arts. I have always believed the arts community enjoyed very broad but very shallow public support. During times of austerity any program that is seen as unessential is in danger of extinction. There is of course some hope in having Obama as President just because I think he does get it. I look forward to him choosing a leader of stature at the NEA, which is not a comment on Dana Gioia who I think performed admirably but new blood with a new vision will be invigorating.

Here in California we are aggressively pursuing the digital arts as The California Digital Arts Studio Partnership Program is being embraced by Governor Schwarzenegger as a legacy program, which eventually will return dividends in the form of new resources for arts in schools and our community. I don't believe that the arts community has enthusiastically embraced all the facets of electronic marketing available to them. We have to "break into" the digital community, either by marketing the arts through digital means or through digital arts products. Serious efforts on holographic productions for example need to be undertaken in my view. My sense is our message is being drown out by all the commercial noise associated with the Internet and wireless communication.

I am hoping for the best and want to wish everyone in the arts community a big season's greeting and in the words of one Barry Hessenius "Don't Quit!"


Given the big shake-up in the Federal government, and the likely shake- down in state and local (budget deficits abound), there's a real opportunity not just for the National Endowment for the Arts, but for the collective cultural agencies of the Federal government to become more thoughtful, more intentional, and more policy focused under the Obama presidency. The National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, could grow beyond granting and discipline-specific agencies into more engaged and responsive policy actors in the sea changes to come.

While we like to moan about the minimal funding afforded these agencies, the larger fact is that the arts are EVERYWHERE in our Federal government -- in education, sciences, library services, commerce, even the military (one of the largest funders of the performing arts, once you account for military bands). Yet there's been limited attempts to align all of these various cultural, heritage, and arts efforts toward a larger public purpose. There are already efforts underway to rethink this strategy (thanks to Bill Ivey, who's on Obama's transition team). And a renewing faith and hope for collective action may make such efforts more fruitful in the coming four years.

The other big news for the arts in 2009 will clearly be the economy, and the credit and consumer crashes still to come. Disposable income and philanthropic wealth will draw more competition for a smaller supply. And many arts organizations carrying legacy strategies and business models will struggle, limp along, or fall away. The temptation will be to move toward popular content. The salvation will be in another direction: bringing true clarity of purpose and focus of intent to each organization's work. With resources evaporating, resourcefulness may emerge, and (dare we say it) innovation in the ways we organize, foster, produce, promote, deliver, and steward exceptional acts of human expression.

These will be arduous times, and awful for many creative and intelligent people in the field. But there's opportunity in this stark landscape, as well.

I can't speak for the others but who would want or dare to make a prediction at this moment in time? That things will get better? Well, perhaps in a few discreet areas - support for projects drenched in job creation might stand a chance, opportunities and policies in the realm of cultural exchange and diplomacy are likely to improve by the end of 2009 - both are a possibility. That things are likely to get worse and stay that way for a prolonged period, not a risky prediction but where is the pleasure in making such a statement - that arts organizations already struggling with limited resources will now be forced to make reductions in programs and staff beyond true viability, that closures and cancellations will migrate through the field indifferent to the size, discipline, quality, and historic resilence of its victims - who wants to be that messenger? And who wants to say that after these negative waters recede that left standing might be a smaller more determined group of artists and arts organizations, fire-hardened, lightly touched by survivor's guilt, bouyed by the support they received from their community throughout the down cycle - who wants to be that pale version of Cassandra?

So sorry not to be more forthcoming but, poised between hope and despair, who really wants to be even modestly Delphic?

Big trends:

Demographic shifts – 60 plus and youth demos increasing. Baby boomers aging and reaching retirement age. US Census forecasts an increasingly racial/ethnically diverse population and by 2040, Caucasians will become a minority. That has transpired in California in 2000.

Technology – driving changes in everyday life, unimaginable 20-30 years ago, enabling people to be connected 24/7, if you have a money to purchase the hardware and “pay rent” to be connected whether its cable, itunes, mobile device, satellite radio, and living increasingly for younger people in virtual time/settings than geophysical world.

Urbanization with fast growing mega-cities such as Mexico City, Shanghai, other cities in China.

How to most effectively address global warming and its effects from melting ice caps, thinning ozone layer.

Persistent and growing gap between the haves and have nots – the effects of the economic inequities (lack of or no access to education, inequitable trade and aid policies which negatively suppress or undermine the economic opportunity in developing countries).

Current economic crisis unfolding in the US which is undermining confidence in the financial system, reeking havoc on people’s job opportunities, retirement funds, mortgages and ability to obtain credit/loans for major life milestones: new business, business expansion, college, home purchase and improvement.

What the Obama Administration might consider in the area of arts and culture?

They are the first presidential administration I can remember with a well articulated and comprehensive platform in arts and culture. I’m particularly encouraged and excited by their interest in arts education and media policy.

A few brief suggestions:

It is time to bring together the policy/regulatory strands that affects arts, culture and entertainment under one individual or supra-agency: US Culture Minister or Senior Advisor to President on Culture.

This individual and/or agency, similar to Homeland Security, but much more positively focused on the promotion of cultural literacy and promotion and support of US culture.

I would envision an exploration and development of a new policy/regulatory and funding framework that would encompass support for individual participation in arts and culture, to make it part of everyone’s life – enhancing the quality of one’s life, improving civic engagement (see the Chorus America studies, and supporting cultural literacy. This could mean supporting programs which encompass the creation of investment forums by people like you and me to commission a new work to offering a subsidy allowance for a family to purchase one artwork of meaning to providing every child a musical instrument of his/her choice with a “how to” DVD/CD/web-based curriculum. Undergirding this framework is the belief that every individual is creative and accesses that creativity in many different ways. That cultural literacy and creativity are developed and fired by a variety of ways including arts education as part of a child’s preK-18 education.

Secondly, the impact of technology and media in our lives is profound. Access to abundant media experiences is 24/7 whether on the web or on our mobile device as is our ability to share those cultural experiences whether music, film or media is so easy. Large corporations (such as Warner Bros, EMI, Clear Channel) and transnationals increasingly control what we see/hear. Content has grown increasingly homogenized via television and music recording companies more risk adverse (less likely to bankroll new, risky, innovative) projects. As Bill Ivey writes poignantly in his most recent book, arts inc., music as cultural assets of a country are not fully understood and valuated in the way that they should be. And, how shall we rewrite (or rather refine) the rules to financially reward the creative ideas/products (e.g., song) in the face of sharing music for free? Or recognize the nuanced differences between artistic influences in a work versus plagarism?

Thirdly, a huge challenge will be to get our “arms” around the definition of arts, of culture, of diversity and what they mean in a country that grows increasingly diverse demographically, linguistically and culturally. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, more than 120 languages are spoken here. That simple factoid hints at the large question for any agency which fosters and support arts/culture and participation in arts and culture. Given the inevitable financial limitations, what art, what cultures gets to count? What is supported and why? How best to support in a full, thoughtful and effective way?

Challenges/opportunities for the next chair of the NEA:

-see that artists and arts organizations fully participate in the policy priorities of the Obama administration; these include universal health insurance and several public service corps.

-see to the implementation of the priorities identified by the Obama campaign’s arts policy committee; these include cultural diplomacy and a comprehensive approach to arts education.

-advance nation-wide understanding of the arts as a multi-sector industry that contributes to employment, a healthy economy, and a creative, competitive work force. 

-maintain a leadership role in support of the not-for-profit arts community and establish appropriate governmental leadership roles on behalf of all participation in the arts, including the for-profit and amateur dimensions; this involves engaging other federal agencies and Congressional committees.

-balance the not-for-profit arts community’s need for capacity-building policies and grant programs with the NEA’s need to communicate its value as an agency to its authorizers and the public.

-employ a strategic planning process to develop national goals related to broadening, deepening and diversifying participation in the arts; identify a locus to receive continual input related to participation in the arts from outside the agency.

-use the leadership functions of the NEA – including convening, research, and partnership building – to implement goals.

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays.

Don't Quit. Whatever you do, Don't Quit!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14, 2008


Hello everyone.

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


For years now, Gift Cards have been increasingly popular - not just during the holdiays, but all year long. It's a simple, easy and convenient choice for the giver, and allows the recipient some control over what the end gift actually turns out to be. Everybody likes them. They have been a godsend to the merchants because, first, they increase their sales & thus income, and two, a surprisingly large percentage of the cards are never used and thus the merchant gets the income at virtually no cost. I am guessing the cost of the program is minimal. They've become widely popular and you see huge displays featuring a vast choice of cards in almost every supermarket.

This year there have been a few warnings to be careful which cards you give, because you don't want to give a gift card to a merchant that might file bankruptcy or something, but I doubt that will have but a minor impact on sales, and certainly little on cards like American Express or Visa that are good wherever their cards are welcome.

So tell, me why isn't there a regional ARTS GIFT CARD for sale? One that is redeemable at any one of scores of museums, theater groups, symphonies, dance companies etc. Simple concept, you get a bunch of arts organizations to participate, all of them include some tag line in their advertising (e.g., GIVE THE GIFT OF THE ARTS CARD) and tout the card all year long on their websites, in their newsletters etc. Every participating organization sells them, and they're sold along side all the others at supermarkets etc. You get some media coverage about the great experience of the arts and what a "meaningful" gift it is. You tell grandparents to give "the unique, life enhancing experience" of the gift of the arts to their grandchildren, and so on and so on.

It would seem a natural to advertise giving people a choice of arts experiences as a gift (i.e., museums, theater, dance, music, multicultural, etc. etc.)- and one could easily imagine targeting specific constituent groups -- young people, older people, various ethic communities, etc. Wouldn't that be good for our struggling organizations? Not only an increase in income, but perhaps new people exposed to local art. The Arts Gift Card would likewise have the appeal of being welcome at a choice of places.

Yes, yes, I know. Somebody has to organize all this and it takes time that no one has, but aren't there companies already in existence who manage a lot of the commercial cards that are out there? And if no such companies exist to which we might turn, how about a simple pilot project in one region funded by a foundation to see if it works - and if it does, roll it out nationally. (I really think this is the kind of thing that ought to be on the NEA's agenda somewhere). There are accounting challenges to this concept - how to pay each arts organization when the card is redeemed for their offering, but that's certainly do-able. And obviously there is a mark-up for the supermarket or other retailer who sells these cards, and maybe a point or two to the organizing companies, but the economics make sense or no one would do this. Believe me if there is money to be made here,(and I am pretty sure there is), then I guarantee you someone will be willing to do this. And with empty seats for most performances, what would the arts have to lose anyway?

Don't many, if not most, performing or exhibition arts organizations sell their own Gift Certificates already? Maybe there is already an Arts Gift Card program (or something similar) out there (though not where I live, not conveniently available at my supermarket anyway -- and that's the whole point: widely, conveniently available everywhere). If there is such a program, does it work? Could we replicate it around the country? Why aren't we? I just think the Arts have to be as smart as retail merchants and leave no stone unturned in our attempt to market our goods & services -- especially in this lousy economy.

I've given people Gift Cards, and frankly had there been an Arts Gift Card, I would have given that as my first choice. I'll bet there are a million people out there who would feel the same. Hell, if lots of arts organizations participated, there are easily a million of us in the arts who would give these cards as gifts. And any additional income, any new bodies in seats would be welcome.

The economy is going to get worse. Things are already bad for a lot of arts organizations and that is likely to continue. We really still aren't marketing our product as smart and aggressively as we must.
I would like to give people an ARTS GIFT CARD next year - even before Christmas - like for their birthdays, or anniversaries, or graduation. I'd like to buy these cards at my local supermarket.

Just a thought.

Have a great week as the holidays ramp up.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 07, 2008


Hello everyone.

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


I've been feeling out of it lately. I don't text, I don't have a MySpace or Facebook Page and don't haunt those sites. I don't own an iPhone, Blackberry or even an iPod. I'm hardly on the cutting edge of new technology. I'm not up on what is hip and what isn't anymore (and the word "hip" probably isn't anymore), and couldn't tell you the names of any of the top 25 singles on the Billboard Charts (and that from someone who use to be in the music business, and who had always prided himself on being on the very cutting edge of the music industry). For the last couple of years I haven't even seen all the movies nominated for Best Picture by the time the Oscars are handed out. I use to be a night person, but now I go to bed so early that I have seen the first half of dozens of tv crime dramas, but have no idea how any of them ended because I am asleep before they are over. Alas I can no longer lay any claim to having any proximity whatsoever to the trend-setter, taste maker intelligentsia. I am, I suppose, growing older, less relevant and even somewhat a fuddy-duddy (for the younger readers that means I'm old fashioned).

What worries and scares me is that I am probably not alone. Though I would hope not, I suspect there are lots of people just like me out there in our sector - many leading our organizations. It's not that those like me are stupid or that we can't think analytically and make informed, intelligent choices; it's not that we don't make good decisions; it's not that we don't have insights; it's not that we don't have much to offer; it's that our generational disconnect may handicap us in guiding our organizations through contemporary rough waters and cause us to make our decisions absent a whole frame of reference of what is going on in huge segments of the marketplace. Or minimally that we marginalize certain data, fail to give due consideration to certain input and otherwise base our decision making on rather limited information. Pride may make us think that we somehow retain a monopoly on access to relevant data, and that might be, I suggest, a dangerous and costly conceit.

Doubtless past generations have been isolated too, but I think the pace, scope and depth of change in today's world, makes it absolutely critical that those of us in older generations somehow figure out how to have a constant flow of new information on which to base both our practical and policy deliberative processes and decision making. And I wonder if that is the case. Based on the findings of Focus Group sessions (composed largely of young Millennials) that I recently concluded for a Phase II of the Youth Involvement in the Arts Project being done for the Hewlett Foundation (to be published in January 2009), I think not. And that worries and concerns me.

I think both the culture and structure of our organizational models, coupled with our own myopia, biases and prejudices (all of which I think are perfectly understandable and even normal - though perhaps not defensible) are costing us in terms of how quickly we adopt new approaches to what we do -- everything from fund raising to audience development to addressing artist disconnects with the sector. I know that there are numerous, serious attempts to insure that we hear younger voices and that we reach out to be inclusive of all relevant input as we make our case for our value, seek to put bodies in audience seats, and be competitive in the wider marketplace. We do have an extraordinary wealth of younger generational talent and insight within our ranks, but I fear we may not be taking full advantage of this asset to the extent we might (and ought to). Of course, this generalization can't be taken as somehow universally applicable -- I know, full well, that it is not. But to the extent it is true, how can we change that fact.

Then again, maybe I am so far out of it that I just don't see and appreciate that some clarion call on my part is simply misplaced. But we should, I contend, all ask ourselves if we aren't just a little too much stuck in our own generational past perspectives.

I hope you all have a great week. Get whatever is on your "To Do" LIST done soon, because in a couple of weeks, the holidays start, and America begins to just shut down until the end of the first week in January. I think I will go buy an iPhone, iPod, GPS, take in a movie and hang out with some twenty somethings. Maybe I'll learn something.

Don't Quit.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

November 30, 2008


Welcome back everybody.

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

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. The world seemed to get even crazier over the holidays.
 The answer to Rodney King’s plaintive plea of: “Can we all just get along.?” seems to continue to be: “No.” Alas.

Nominees for the New Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.

As promised, here are five names of people I think would be excellent as the new Chair of the NEA – each for different reasons. I caution that I have no idea if any of these leaders might be interested in the position - and I can think of reasons they would be, and reasons they wouldn’t. This list isn’t meant to be exclusive or leave anyone out. I could probably easily think of another half dozen individuals who I personally think might also be outstanding candidates – these names just come to mind given my priorities for qualifications. I’m sure all of you out there can also think of names to add to this list. I encourage you to do so, and I hope you will do so by sending a letter to the Obama Transition Team and to your own Congressmen or women or Senators.

Here then is my short list – in no particular order: Three are women of color. Four have longtime Washington experience – three are current ‘inside the beltway’ people. Two have major Foundation grant making experience. All are dynamic visionaries, yet have practical experience and broad knowledge of the issues. All are at the peak of their careers. Any of the five would be truly excellent in the position.

1. BOB LYNCH – CEO Americans for the Arts. Visionary, yet practical. Washington insider. Loads of experience across broad spectrum of areas. Excellent managerial acumen. True leadership qualities. Facilitator extraordinaire. Familiar with all the major issues. Well travelled and networked.

2. MOY ENG – Director Performing Arts Program William & Flora Hewlett Foundation. Another big picture thinker. Extraordinary direct grant making experience. Very successful Arts Education advocate. Widely respected for launching initiatives that make a difference. Experienced administrator, with sharp mind and practical approach. Direct arts organization prior experience. Superb collaborative skills.

3. OLIVE MOSIER – Director of Arts & Culture at the William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia. Prior NEA experience as White House Director of the Office of Policy, Research & Analysis at the Endowment. Substantial direct grant making experience. Extremely smart & savvy. Diplomat too. Proven leadership qualities.

4. PATRICE WALKER POWELL – current Deputy Chair of the Endowment for States, Regions & Local Arts Agencies with long time NEA experience. Widely respected. Lots of community arts issues knowledge. Familiar with the Endowment – problems, challenges, ways to improve their mission. Collaborative expertise. Great sensitivity to the field.

5. JONATHAN KATZ – Executive Director NASAA. Huge experience with state arts agencies & issues. Outstanding advocacy experience. Another visionary. Keen analytical abilities. Excellent at getting people to work together. Skilled administrator. Well liked across diverse constituencies.

That’s my short list. Any one of these people would, I believe, be an outstanding choice for the position and represent our field very well. Again, I have no idea if any are interested, but I would hope they all would be.

If you agree with any of these nominations, or have other names to add, please feel free to do so via a comment to this blog.

And please consider making support for your choice known to the Obama people and to your elected representatives. And also, perhaps encourage others to join a dialogue on what we need in a successful candidate and who that candidate might be.

We really ought to involve ourselves NOW in this process – we all have much at stake in who the next Chair of the NEA will be. I believe for the very first time, we have an Administration which is not only open to, but would truly like to hear, our thoughts. Let’s not squander this opportunity.

I invite – and challenge - each of the state arts agencies and the regional arts agencies, and the big national arts service organizations serving the various disciplines and interest areas in our sector, as well as the vast array of diversity based constituencies, the superb cast of independent consultants and all our recently retired leaders, together, with YOU, the individual members of our field, to ALL get involved in the process of a national dialogue on what the role of the Endowment ought (and might) be in the next four (eight, twelve) years. And to solicit the involvement of the people in your areas in this dialogue – from your Boards and Staffs, to your volunteers, supporters, clients and the very artists you serve. Please. Use your email listservs, websites, board meetings, staff meetings, newsletters and events to raise the questions put forth herein to talk about the endowment, about public cultural policy, about funding and priorities and about who President elect Obama should appoint as the new Chair of the NEA.

We desperately need to make sure the proposed investment in this country includes investment in arts & culture – and there are countless issues involved in determining what that investment should be, might be, and how it should be prioritized. We need to examine public use and access of culture and what role we play in the wider society and why. And we need money to sustain our infrastructure, and to promote creativity as a national asset. We need the boldest, most astute, most ‘willing to take risks’, visionary, savvy, yet practical thinker, to ever occupy the Chair of the Endowment seat – an experienced representative of the whole of our sector; someone who can effectively lead us, galvanize our field, move us to united action, and of whom we can be proud to support. Only you can make this happen. And it really ought to happen you know.

UPDATE: By Charles Storch | Tribune reporter

November 30, 2008

"President-elect Barack Obama has his economic team in place and his national security squad is soon to be named. Somewhere down the line, he will have to fill out his culture roster.

Chairmanships of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities come vacant in January. The Obama transition corps has asked three people to lead a review of the agencies and suggest appointments.

They are BILL IVEY, an NEA chief during the Clinton Administration, current head of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, and a proponent of creating a U.S. Department of Cultural Affairs; ANNE LUZZATTO, another former Clinton official and a member of the Obama campaign's arts policy committee; and historian CLEMENT PRICE, head of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University.

With Obama having supported many issues dear to the cultural community during his campaign and that sector having provided him much financial support, attention will be paid to his picks for NEA and NEH.

For NEA chief, many arts people's dream choice is CAROLINE KENNEDY, who was an early and active Obama supporter. Some Illinois arts advocates are promoting Chicago attorney MICHAEEL DORF, a specialist in arts law who was special counsel to the late U.S. Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), a champion of the NEA and NEH. Dorf declined to comment."

REMINDER: I will be leading a Workshop on the ABC's OF EFFECTIVE ADVOCACY & LOBBYING at Compasspoint in San Francisco, on December 9th from 9:00 am to Noon. Please click here for details

Thanks. Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

November 23, 2008

What We Need in the New NEA Chair

Hello everybody.

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

A couple of weeks ago I suggested people write to the Obama transition team to put forward candidates for the NEA Chair appointment. Cynic that I am, I doubt many people took the time to do that. I understand, no time, no interest.

Still, given President-elect Obama's seeming commitment to the arts, his "big picture" approach to governing, the serious economic and other challenges we face right now, I continue to believe that this is a critically important appointment for our community AND that we should take an active role in lobbying for the kind of candidate we want.

What then should we look for in the new Chair of the NEA?

Here are the criteria I think are important:

1. Powerful Leadership & Vision:
I would like to see in the new Chair, someone who is a respected, dynamic leader within our sector. I want someone with a really good analytical mind, and someone with real vision for what we need, where we might go, and how and why the arts are worth the investment. I prefer someone who knows politics and can continue the successes in increased funding made under Bill Ivey and Dana Gioia. I want a savvy politician and advocate, but more than anything, I want somebody who thinks big and has the confidence to lead us to bigger things.

I don't want ten, twenty or even thirty million dollar increases, I want a $150 million increase -- in 2009 or 2010 at the latest. Yes, even in these tough times. If we are going to invest in the future of this country, we have to make sure that investment includes the arts. I agree a healthy banking system is critical to the country's future, and perhaps a healthy automobile industy too. But I think we all agree a healthy arts, culture and creativity sector is likewise critical. There are small, mid-sized and even large cultural organizations in dire situations right now, many cutting staff or scaling back programming or services, and some even going under and over the next year it will get worse. If the banking system is worth a $750 billion rescue investment, then arts & creativity seem to me to be worth the equivalent of one-fifth ........of one-tenth ......of one percent of that $750 billion - or $150 million. If we don't understand that as a country we are in more trouble than people think. I want a Chair at the NEA that will help the country see that.

So I want a bold leader -- someone who can think in large and strategic "policy" terms, and galvanize us into action. I want someone who will take risks and represent our real needs, as well as our lofty aspirations. I want someone to push for real "change".

2. Diversity:
It's been twelve or more years since a woman led the Endowment, and we've never had a person of color at the helm. We are a field heavily led by smart, experienced, savvy women and people of color. I think we need to be part of this historic Obama move to expand who sits at the head of the table. It is time for real diversity to come to the NEA Chair. I would love to see a dynamic woman of color considered.

3. Experience:
I would like to see someone as Chair who is familiar with our issues; preferably someone from our sector with front-line, nonprofit arts experience, and particularly in the grants making area. I want someone who knows what money is needed for, what it can do to make systemic changes in our arts organizations' capacity, long term stability, and how we can futher embed arts & culture into every community across the country. I think this is a good time to re-think the entire NEA structure and strategic approach -- not necessarily to make wholesale changes, but to at least take a long look at what works and what doesn't.

I want a Chair who knows arts organizations from the inside out.

All of us are really working to support the creation of art, and therefore artists, so I understand and appreciate those who support the installation of a working, professional artist perspective at the NEA, but NEA funding is largely about supporting arts organizations so they can support artists, and about supporting public access to the arts, so I prefer a nonprofit arts organization perspective.

4. Community Understanding:
40% of the NEA budget (I think it's still 40%)goes directly to state arts organizations, so I want a Chair who understands arts organization needs and functioning from the community level. I think we need to move away from big, national programs that promote this or that single arts experience (not that I am in any way opposed to these initiatives or those experiences - I just think we need to redirect our priorities), and move towards an appreciation that we are 50 states, hundreds of cities and thousands of communities -- all at different places at the moment, with different challenges and needs, operating in differing sets of circumstances, and I would like to see someone who, at least, intuitively understands and appreciates that 'cookie-cutter' approaches may not be the best way to go right now. I would like to see a Chair who can relate to rural areas as well as big cities, someone who sees the needs and values of small arts organizations as well as the major cultural institutions (note I said "as well", because I would like to see a "big tent" approach - excluding no one, but continuing to be more balanced.)

I woud like to see the NEA have, if not a physical branch office, at least a locally based point person in the South, the Mid-West and the West on a full time basis. Move Washington out into the country at least in part so it can begin to understand what is going on outside of the "inside the beltway" thinking.

5. Arts Education Knowledge:
As Arts Education is a big part of Obama's Cultural Platform, and the one area of what we do that resonates with elected leaders and the public alike, I would like to have a Chair with direct, personal arts education experience, particularly on the front lines of fighting for more in our schools. I would hope for a new Chair who could unite the Arts Education and the Performing Arts Organization sectors into a single, cohesive, unified force -- and let's face it, despite all of our collaboration and cooperation, we are still two distinct segments of one sector, sometimes even at odds and competition with each other (to our disadvantage I think). I want a uniter in the post.

Of course, everybody wants someone who is charismatic and inspires confidence, who is gregarious, open to ideas -- a facilitator & collaborator by nature -- as their leader. But for me, the above criteria are the big ones. Now I know it is unlikely we will find the best candidate in each area all rolled into one single person, but I hope Bill Ivey and whomever else is advising the Obama Administration on this appointment will focus on those criteria.

I was on last week's Americans for the Arts Webinar on the election results (my second webinar in two weeks, and two months ago I wouldn't have been exactly sure what a webinar was. It is basically an online gathering of people, with the audio part run via an 800 call in number so everyone can hear the presentation, and see data onscreen at the same time. A highly cost effective tool to present information to the maximum number of people. Someday the sound will be on the computer itself, and they will probably have little "live" thumb-nail photos of everybody on the call and it will be truly interactive. Ah, technology.)

150 or so people were on this webinar, but the number was doubtless much higher because a lot of organizations around the country held local meetings tapped into the presentation thus making the total number of people involved probably well over 1000 or more (I'm guessing). It lasted over an hour, but was very well organized, and while I follow this political stuff pretty closely, there was a wealth of information presented that I found highly informative (local ballot results around the country, analysis of the new Congressional make-up - in terms of arts support, strategy considerations). I also learned that the White House under Obama might consider an appointment of someone as a cultural policy advisor within it's ranks (could deal with NEA, NEH, Smithsonian, Museum / Library Services, international issues, the entertainment industry, and copyright / intellectual property, etc.) This last one will apparently, in compliance with a Congressional Bill already passed, become a reality next year -- a separate Copyright Czar who will deal with intellectual property rights on a broad scale.)

All of this may be the precursor to someday having a Cabinet Level Secretary to oversee and advocate for arts, cultural and creativity affairs and wouldn't that be a spectacular development. And why not - numerous countries around the world have had a Ministry of Culture for years.

Anyway kudos and congratulations to Americans for the Arts (Bob, Nina and everyone else involved) for ceaselessly and tirelessly pushing these and other proposals to advance our political clout. If you are not now a member of the AFTA Action Fund - why don't you join today? Surely you can skip lunch and afford a $20 donation? Click here: then click on "become a member".

And please THINK about what the crieria should be for(and who you would like to see appointed as) Chair of the NEA - then DO SOMETHING about it.

Next month I will give you five names of people I would like to see considered for the post. Hopefully you might agree with some, or have others of your own to push.

Last Friday I attended a Retirement Lunch for a good friend and colleague - Jeanne Bogardus, Executive Director of the Marin Arts Council for the past 18 years. A more passionate, dedicated, hard working arts professional could not be found. And she was a trusted advisor and friend. We will miss you Jeanne.

She had a quote on the lunch program from George Bernard Shaw with which I wasn't familiar. I share it with you:

"I believe in Michelangelo, Velazquez, and Rembrandt;
In the might of design, the mystery of colour,
In the redemption of all things by beauty everlasting,
And the message of Art that has made this life blessed:
Amen, Amen"

I can only add one more "Amen".


And, whatever you do, think of George Bernard Shaw and DON'T QUIT!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 16, 2008


Hello everybody

“And the beat goes on…………………….............”

Post election, there is considerable talk about the success of the Obama campaign in using Web 2 to revolutionize communication, organization, volunteer recruitment and management and, of course, fundraising.

What can we learn from that experiment? How can we tap into that success model to build new audiences, recruit new volunteers, tap into new funding sources, expand our communications links with supporters – current and potential?

I think the Obama campaign political model is only the beginning of a new approach to electioneering. Next election every campaign is likely to have as a key senior staff member a generational expert to oversee the crafting of different messages to different generations for different purposes. Gone will be the single message to everybody, gone will be using one means of communication across the board to everyone. Call it niche communication of whatever else you want, the reality will be increased sophistication in targeting specific groups for specific purposes. At the core will be the attempt to make a bigger world, smaller. We need to do that too.

What is Web 2? Simply put, it is the use of the internet via all of the evolving technological applications (Face Book, My Space, LinkedIn, podcasting, I Phones and the like) in new approaches to reaching diverse communities effectively and efficiently. Perhaps it's nothing more than a new way of networking, of casting the proverbial "wider net". At the heart of the Obama effort was the theoretical application of the economy of scale – i.e., it is easier to reach tens of thousands of people to raise small amounts of money, to ask for moderate commitment than it is to focus on only large donors and people willing to make major commitments. It is egalitarian in its approach.

It probably doesn’t make sense to try to sell X Box games by placing ads in the AARP magazine, but that is precisely the kind of thing we continue to do on many levels – not just our marketing efforts to audiences, but in our efforts to re-think our funding streams, the way we recruit new employees, our approaches to gaining public support.

Our sector (as well as countless other sectors) is already beginning to understand and employ new approaches based on the Web 2 approach. There are workshops, webinars, even books on how to integrate a variety of approaches to address single challenges. But we need to ramp up those efforts, we need a sector wide kind of commitment, to first learn how to use the new approaches, then aggregate our efforts collaboratively, and experiment in pilot projects how we might become more adept at employing the new technologies to develop new and expand existing audiences, garner financial support from brand new sources, and aggregate public support from heretofore untapped communities. We need to become experts in generational differences, and communicate variations of our messages to different target markets, and we need to do that on a large platform, now.

Though the economy is in trouble and predictions are that philanthropy and giving will drop, people still gave record amounts of money to Obama because they thought it was critically important. While the individual contributions were, in large part, small (and thus affordable to the donors), in the aggregate they were record setting. And the Obama model asked them for money over and over again, and it worked. Of course this election was unique. But why can't the arts replace some of the lost income from falling public and even foundation support, by taking the exact same approach? Perhaps we need to do it on a big scale instead of by individual organizations? I don't know. But I know we have an incredibly valuable product - art & culture - and I know we have enormous untapped support. Why can't we raise huge amounts of money from small individual donations? I don't know, but I personally think we could.

There needs to be a clarion call, on a national basis, for all arts organizations to acquire expertise at a vanguard level. This needs to be a kind of Kennedyesque “Land a Man on the Moon” in ten years commitment that reaches down to every organization, irrespective of its size, in every state in the country. But we need to do it in two years. Funders should take note of the challenge and needs and work together to enlist the senior leadership of our sector in making this a national priority. And all of those leaders who complain there simply isn’t the time or money to move much faster than they already are, need to re-assess and re-evaluate the consequences of not making the time, finding the resources to join this bandwagon.

The promise of the Obama Campaign success is to change the paradigm of how we market arts & culture to our audiences, how we fund our efforts and change the process of philanthropy, and how we recruit and manage a whole new level of public support for, interest and involvement in, and attitude towards our value and contributions to society.

Sometimes I think we over analyze our challenges; sometimes I think we make the potential solutions more complex than they need to be. The beauty of the Obama fundraising model was it's simplicity. Doubtless improvements on the model will get ever more sophisticated. But they aren't likely to change the premise: tap into the small donor. We need to clarify some of our thinking. The way to deal with an ever bigger world, may just be to deal again with the smallest parts.

Something to think more about. My two cents anyway.

Have a good week.

Don’t Quit.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

November 09, 2008


Hello everybody.

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

Alan Brown is one of the most influential and widely respected thinkers in our sector, particularly in the area of audience development. He graciously agreed to this interview.

Alan's Bio:

Alan Brown is a leading researcher and management consultant in the nonprofit arts industry. As a principal of WolfBrown, his work focuses on understanding consumer demand for cultural experiences and on helping institutions, funders and agencies see new opportunities, make informed decisions and respond to changing conditions. He has studied audiences, visitors and patterns of cultural participation in almost every major market in the U.S., and has led numerous strategic planning efforts. Prior to joining with Tom Wolf and Bill Keens as a partner in WolfBrown, Alan served as principal of Alan S. Brown & Associates (2003 to 2006) and as President of Audience Insight LLC and Associate Principal of AMS Planning & Research Corp. (1990 to 2003).

From 2000 to 2002, Alan directed the Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and 15 orchestras, the largest private study of classical music audiences ever undertaken in the U.S.

Within the past few years, he has directed proprietary studies for the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Long Wharf Theatre, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Aspen Music Festival and the University Musical Society, among others. From 2005 to 2007 he directed a groundbreaking study of the values and motivations driving attendance and donation for a consortium of 15 major university presenters. Currently, he is leading a large study of cultural engagement for The James Irvine Foundation in California, segmentation studies for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Steppenwolf Theatre, a major research effort for the Dallas Arts Learning Initiative, and an evaluation of the Creative Campus grant program for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Alan has directed numerous strategic planning assignments and feasibility studies for arts facilities and programs in New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, and Ohio. As a facilitator, he has supported many board meetings, retreats, expert panels, industry roundtables, and public meetings. In 2007 he facilitated a meeting of the CEOs of 10 national service organizations on the topic of knowledge management in the cultural sector.

Recently, Alan has been writing and speaking about the value system surrounding arts experiences. His essay An Architecture of Value appeared in the spring 2006 edition of Grantmakers in the Arts Reader, and his work on Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance serves as the basis for keynote addresses this year in Miami, New York, Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver and Edinburgh.

Prior to his consulting career, Alan served for five years as Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, a multi-discipline performing arts presenter in Michigan. He holds three degrees from the University of Michigan: a Master of Business Administration, a Master of Music in Arts Administration and a Bachelor of Musical Arts in vocal performance. Alan makes his home in San Francisco with a Yellow Labrador Retriever named Golden Brown.


BARRY: In your study The Architecture of Value wherein you posit a new vocabulary for discussing the benefits on arts experiences (based on the Rand Study: The Gifts of the Muse), you suggest that by expanding the terms we use when we try to describe the ‘benefits’ of arts experiences, we might better convey our meanings to a broad array of those we wish to engage in a dialogue.

At a session on the National Arts Policy Roundtable at last June’s Americans for the Arts conference in Philadelphia, a survey of school principals and business / corporate leaders - as to which skills arts education purportedly imparts to students are likely the most valuable to businesses - there was almost diametric opposing views where the school principals cited (as do we in the arts) problem solving as likely the most valuable skill arts education may deliver to corporate America, and the business leadership citing problem identification as likely the number one advantage. The business leaders apparently thought that business is pretty good at problem solving, but less adept at problem identification. This suggests that even after decades of the arts community’s concerted efforts to build bridges by and between the nonprofit arts and corporate America, hopefully leading to meaningful partnerships, we may still be talking to each other without benefit of any common vocabulary. We may, in fact, be making the mistake of assuming we are on the same page, and that fundamental lack of any consensus as to a common language may help to explain why most of our relationships with businesses continue to be surface interactions, more often than not confined to the most simplistic of relationships (e.g., Corporate sponsorship of arts events, but no real partnerships that are premised on mutual benefits). We know what we want from them – money and support. We assume we know what they want from us (if anything), and those assumptions may or may not have any validity at all.

Taking two of the sub-categories of benefits as set forth in your 2006 paper – personal development and human interaction (which seem the most promising as to providing direct benefit to business & industry - from the business perspective) – what can you suggest might be a more promising approach in beginning to craft a vocabulary that would resonate with business?

ALAN: You bring up several interwoven issues here. The disconnect between the cultural sector and the business community is not just a vocabulary problem. The business community fully understands the need for a creative workforce. It’s the only way that they can remain economically viable in the long run. They also understand quality of life and economic impact arguments.

The real disconnect is that the cultural sector is more or less frozen in a solicitous position kneeling in front of the business community, hand extended, asking for more money. Rather, arts leaders need to start an open and honest dialogue with business leaders about what value they need from the arts community (besides “opportunities to entertain clients”), and whether or not they are willing to provide it.

If I were a corporate CEO, I would be supporting arts education and participatory creative activities for my employees, because that’s the front line of the creative revolution.

The other problem we have in making the case for many of the personal and interpersonal benefits of the arts is lack of generally accepted metrics and measurement systems. Public policy tends to accrete around bodies of data. Until we can present business leaders and political stakeholders with yearly progress reports on the levels of creative capital in their community, we’re unlikely to get a high level of support. In other words, you can’t win the game unless you know the score. That’s one of the reasons I’m a researcher.

BARRY: A second question on the Architecture of Value paper: For at least the past decade the arts have been discussing and even debating how we can more persuasively Make the Case for the Value of the Arts. Considerable research has been conducted, and we have amassed significant data to bolster our claims of value to the economic, educational and civic life of communities across America. What is your current thinking, perhaps as suggested in this paper, on how we can move more systemically towards successfully making our case?

ALAN: If our programs were so relevant, so beneficial, so responsive and so demanded by the public, we wouldn’t have to argue so much about their value, would we?

The short-term answer to your question is that we have to talk differently to different stakeholders about the value of the arts. Parents will be more likely to respond to certain language, while business leaders might respond to other language, and so forth. We probably don’t want to tell our legislators about the erotic benefits of dance. Seriously, We have a lot of arrows in our quiver, and we need to get more adept at using them all. Private donors, for example, tend to respond to intrinsic benefits illustrated through stories of impact.

A first step would be for every arts institution to articulate a value agenda. To what ends to you offer programs? What benefits are you working to create in your community? When I present the value framework to arts groups, most of them can’t answer these basic questions – they sort of throw their hands in the air and say ‘we do it all!’ But I think it’s increasingly important for arts groups to develop a very focused value agenda, and then start assessing themselves on it. Of course this can be done without compromising artistic standards, although it might require rethinking mission or strategy. This is really about holding ourselves accountable to a higher standard of public value.

The same challenge applies to funders. A lot of them fund good proposals without really considering what impacts they are privileging. So they wind up supporting the visible, grant-writing parts of the cultural system, while a mounting body of research seems to suggest a shift in public value to other parts of the cultural system (e.g., participatory arts practice). Funders can be architects of impact, not just supporters of delivery mechanisms.

The long-term answer to your question is that increased public support of the arts – the big needle – will not move until much larger percentages of adults are engaged in creative activities that make the essentialness of the arts self-evident, highly personal and, therefore, worth fighting for. In the arts, we’ll never have a crisis like global warming to galvanize support, although the business community has done us a great favor by ‘problematizing’ the creative workforce issue. So I think the best arts advocacy strategy is to awaken the creative voice in every citizen, especially youth.

BARRY: In the August issue of the On Our Minds section on your website (, you cite a recent news report that the Guitar Hero game featuring Aerosmith sold half a million copies at $50 per on release – a far greater gross than the band’s most recent album release, and commented that “the real messages here are about the tectonic shift towards participatory engagement in culture, new frontiers of interactive creative expression made possible through gaming, and, of course, money changing hands at the speed of light.” I noted that press item and had similar thoughts myself. In a study I am currently doing for the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation on generational succession and management issues, I have heard in focus groups composed of Millennials and Generation Xers the repeated complaint and observation, that our sector is far too slow in adapting to, and adopting current new technological means of both communicating to and capturing our audiences. What are your observations on the way our sector is or is not staying current with the technology and using newer technology in our efforts to address a host of issues – from audience development to courting new donors to generational leadership succession? Where do you see our efforts in this area going? Are we, or should we be, figuring out how to deliver our product in non-traditional (but arguably more marketplace competitive) ways? What advice do you have for the sector?

ALAN: One of the biggest challenges facing cultural providers is how to be relevant to constituents in a range of settings. It’s not enough any more to expect people to come to a central location for a live experience. While the value system around the live experience remains strong, consumers are increasingly facile with multi-channel engagement. At the same time, setting plays a more and more important role in decision-making, particularly among communities of color. The recently released Irvine Foundation study of cultural engagement in California’s Inland Regions suggests that cultural provides that want to serve diverse communities need to start thinking more in terms of venue diversification and getting out into community venues.

The study also identifies the home as the dominant setting where cultural activity happens. Bedroom as cinema, living room as concert hall, and kitchen as crafts workshop. That’s the metaphor that a lot of people are living with. How can cultural organizations be present in this metaphor?

If you’re an orchestra, why would you care about what music people listen to at home, or in their cars? If you’re a theatre, why would you care about what TV shows people watch at home? If you’re a dance company, why would you care about social dancing in bars and clubs? If you’re a museum, why would you care about what’s hanging on the walls in people’s homes? If we truly want to scale up impact, we have to start asking hard questions about how we can involve people in the arts who will never darken the door of a theatre or museum. Until we can start making more points of relevance with people in the settings where they live, eat, drive and exercise, the impact of the arts can never be fully realized.

Then there is the matter of interpretive technologies. We are at the cusp of a new era of music visualization. In a few years, we’ll be able to project high definition images of music visualizations above the stage at concerts. Not the sort of thing you see on a PC, but 3-D animation of score-based visualizations of music in real time. You’re looking at what you’re hearing. The old folks will hate it, but it may attract a new generation of music lovers into the concert hall. Fantasia 2.0. And people will bring their cell phones to concerts, load a web site and get concert commentary synchronized to the music. This stuff is here already – what kills me is that no one is leading the R&D effort to bring it forward and scale it out. We’re already way behind the eight ball with video games, which is the real frontier of creativity in our culture. I’m afraid we’re valiantly fighting small battles but losing the war.

BARRY: In a paper for the Knight Foundation in 2004 entitled: Initiators & Responders – Leveraging Social Context to Build Audiences, in a discussion of the failure of the arts sector to cross market tickets within the sector, you asked the question: “Why shouldn’t orchestras be able to sell tickets to the opera or ballet or vice versa?” Four years later that question remains. 

What are your thoughts today about the arts not cross promoting and marketing the panoply of cultural events offerings as a way to expand the potential base for audience development? Why don’t we do that? And is that failure emblematic of a deeper problem? At that same conference you also offered: ‘that the decentralized nature of the arts sector is like having 10,000 branch offices and no headquarters. Without suggesting this is a good or bad thing, but simply a reality, we have no cultural CEO and so our decision making apparatus is hard to identify.’ Is this decentralization a good or bad thing do you think, and why? How does it hurt us competitively with other sectors for audience development or public support? Or does it actually help us?

ALAN: The nonprofit arts industry is like a huge multinational corporation with 10,000 branch offices and no headquarters. The decentralized nature of the system is both a strength and a weakness. Great work bubbles up in unexpected places – that’s a strength, as well as the ability to serve a diversity of publics. But without a coordinated diffusion system, most of the great work evaporates into the ether. A breakthrough fundraising campaign in Anchorage. A brilliant marketing campaign in Ann Arbor. A new audience engagement strategy in Chicago… a lot of this stuff just disappears year after year because no one is systematically harvesting and deploying best practices, lessons learned or human capital. It’s one of those problems without an owner. I’m trying to interest some funders and service organizations in joining together to deal with it, but they mostly want to do their own thing. The irony is that with another 10% investment, they could create the most incredible knowledge management system in the world, which every country would seek to emulate.

The other downside of a decentralized system is redundancy. Every year, donors fund staggering inefficiencies, preserving a latticework of overlapping capacities. Cooperative marketing is one of the areas where collaboration is possible, and I’m pleased to see more and more activity in this area. But it almost always takes major new funding to get arts groups to cooperate, rather than any sort of collective will to maximize efficiencies at the community level. It’s only natural and appropriate for arts groups to be self-interested, but on the other hand I think it’s also very short sighted not to be thinking at the systems level and looking for efficiencies that could free up resources for other purposes.

By the way, if you really care about your audience, why wouldn’t you help them experience other organization’s productions? Why wouldn’t you position your organization as a gateway into the larger world of art, if that’s what your community needs?

BARRY: In a 2007 Paper entitled: Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance you stated: “Perhaps customer satisfaction is too blunt a measurement tool for arts presenters and producers, and maybe this is why so many arts professionals are uncomfortable with simple satisfaction measures. From a sales and service standpoint, feedback on satisfaction with various aspects of the customer experience (e.g., quality of ticket office service, satisfaction with physical aspects of the facility) can be useful. This information can be used to better understand how to improve the extrinsic part of the customer experience – everything that happens around the program itself."

But isn’t the measurement of satisfaction with the intrinsic experience directly relevant to a quantifiable attempt to put more bodies in seats? Can’t you assess whether customers did or did not have a self-perceived intrinsically valuable (or even just a pleasurable / enjoyable) experience, one that would or would not encourage them to again be a customer of a given arts organization performance? Isn’t, in fact, whether or not I enjoyed my experience directly relevant to whether or not I will come back, recommend the performance to friends, or otherwise want to be supportive of the organization? And isn’t that, or shouldn’t, that be one (though not necessarily the exclusive) priorities for our thinking and strategies? If the mission of a performance based organization is to transform audience members lives through the experience of the art form, don’t we need to offer that experience to as many people as possible to truly fulfill the mission? Isn’t it somewhat presumptuous of us to dismiss the surface level of customer satisfaction with the experience, including the content of the performance, and focus too much on the transformative aspect? I go to movies. Some have actually had an impact on me. Most don’t. Some are enjoyable. And some not. But I continue to go to movies. Isn’t attendance at arts events largely the same deal? If I enjoy them, on balance, that is the principal reason that I will continue to attend? Would not this data at least be useful in our marketing approaches?

ALAN: When it comes to assessing satisfaction with the intrinsic experience, however, satisfaction data are less useful. Two factors mitigate against using satisfaction with ‘the product’ as a performance indicator: 1) some programs are challenging and may leave audiences unsatisfied in some respects, although these programs may be well within the organization’s mission to present, and 2) satisfaction is a proxy for, and an incomplete indicator of, impact received. In other words, satisfaction levels are a good indicator of happy customers, but are not prima facie evidence of mission fulfillment.

Ninety percent of survey respondents said the overall experience was worth the time and expense. In other words, satisfaction levels are typically very high and you have to work really hard to disappoint people after they’ve expended the resources to attend. Once they are invested in an event, they really want to feel good about their decision. Which is why we need to look beyond simple satisfaction measures. The six satisfaction measures that we tested in the impact study were highly correlated with intrinsic impact. In other words, we don’t need to measure both satisfaction and impact because they move together.

Let’s be careful not confuse scale with impact. Of course there’s a huge need for arts programs that operate on a large scale and reach a lot of people. One of the major reasons to do impact assessment, however, is to take the focus off attendance and talk about what really happened. So, for instance, if you succeed in attracting a small audience to a new production, you can talk about aesthetic growth and social bonding outcomes instead of box office receipts. We need to change the conversation.

BARRY: Americans for the Arts has been either conducting or compiling data on research (particularly in the area of measurements of the creative community), and the Rand Corporation has played a principal role in launching new research (particularly in the audience development area). What other areas do you believe we need new, and / or expanded research, on which we can build realistic strategies to move our sector forward?

And where do we currently stand on developing meaningful research into how art transforms people’s lives?

ALAN: The most pressing need in the cultural sector is to build more cultural value around learning. The most successful people in the field are constantly learning and challenging their assumptions. The most successful organizations foster a culture of inquiry and have a hard-wired connection to their audience and community.

However, the predominant mode is one of “emergency learning,” which basically means that you Google something and click on the first link and learn something immediately before you have to know it. I’ve come to the conclusion that most arts practitioners are not going to access written knowledge like research reports on their own. Rather, the most effective form of learning comes through human-to-human contact. So I would like to see large scale learning exercises, sponsored by the national service organizations, where board and staff members of arts groups across the country spend a day or two every year interviewing audience members and talking about what they learn. Honestly, I think this would take the field much farther than any scholarly research initiative. It’s so unfortunate that arts groups, with their regular inflow of audiences and visitors, aren’t talking with them more often. The irony is that most audience members would be happy to come an hour early and participate in an interview or focus group – for a cookie. So let’s start the cookie initiative.

Having said that, I do feel there are a number of research needs in the field, including better customer segmentation models, new methods of program concept testing (i.e., formative evaluation), new measurement systems for impact, and new approaches to assessing an institution’s public value. The impact work is taking on a life of it’s own. Theatre Bay Area has commissioned a study of the impact of Free Night of Theatre, and Dance/USA will be focusing on impact next year. There also seems to be great interest in impact assessment in the U.K.

BARRY: At the Center for Creative Innovation Town Hall Meeting in San Francisco last June, you opined: ‘that the arts sector is an ecology and growth is natural but cannot be forced. You can fertilize it, but not make it grow. You also offered that death in an ecology is not unnatural – but suggested that was whole other topic for another day.’ Were you referring to the often expressed opinion in our field that as a field we may be overbuilt – meaning there are too many arts organizations, too many offerings for the marketplace to support, and that it might be to the health and benefit of our sector if more arts organizations were allowed to (or allowed themselves to) simply fold their tent? Or was this a reference to something else?

ALAN: In a healthy cultural ecosystem, there is natural growth, fierce competition for resources, and regular dying and regeneration. We do a pretty good job at growth and competition, but it’s the regeneration part that concerns me.

This is an ideal time for the field to starting thinking seriously about new models for regeneration. We need a better playbook for endings. Mergers and other forms of creative alliances should be vigorously explored. Maybe we need a new receivership program – a way of transitioning distressed nonprofit organizations – to become “the third option” between bankruptcy and painful downsizing, much like an elderly parent gives durable power of attorney to a child.

Imagine that a nonprofit board votes to dissolve the corporation on a future date, the next day to re-incorporate as a new entity with a fresh start. Half the board is charged with managing the ending. The other half is charged with re-imagining what is possible, unencumbered by existing conditions. Dying is considerably more appealing when new life is part of the deal.

I do not believe that there are too many arts programs. Quite the contrary. But I do believe that the nonprofit infrastructure that supports them is in need of rationalization and conceptual repair. In some of California’s inland regions, for example, there is not enough infrastructure, at least in terms of nonprofits. But if you look harder, there is often a broad array of delivery mechanisms such as places of worship and social service agencies that could be supported. This was a major implication of the Irvine Foundation study.

BARRY: Given the current global economic downturn and the problems we face in every city and town across the country – from lost arts supportive TOT revenue to jobs to leisure income to working harder and longer – what do you think are the principal likely impacts on our sector in the next two years? What advice would you give arts organizations to weather the current storms and prepare for an uncertain future? What considerations ought they put on their agenda?

ALAN: As we enter this financial downturn, many nonprofit arts institutions are chronically under-resourced, over-extended on fixed costs, over-reliant on a few donors and have a long history of walking a financial tightrope with no safety net. Very few engage in meaningful contingency planning. Most do not have explicit policies for managing artistic risk, and few have cash reserves set aside to weather normal fluctuations in demand and support. That we have come to such a high level of vulnerability should hardly surprise anyone.

As the tightrope unravels over the next several months, many arts groups will defiantly tighten their grip on the remaining threads of their financial model, while others will welcome the opportunity to weave a new rope.

Many important strides forward emerge from crisis, for good reason. The first stage of any change process is the realization by all stakeholders that things cannot stay the same. Significant change is simply not possible while the belief persists that the status quo is an achievable outcome. I love to ask arts managers what they would do if their facility burned to the ground unexpectedly. With this license to re-imagine, they are relieved to have a blank canvas and are filled with imaginative ideas for how to emerge stronger and more relevant than ever.
But why must we wait for the house to burn down in order to create meaningful change?

The real crisis, then, is not financial stress but unfocused leadership, outdated business models, and planning methods that do not address the range of strategic alternatives. In this time of uncertainty and accelerated change, board members and staff must honestly and openly discuss a range of strategy alternatives and think about the moment in time at which protecting the status quo becomes counterproductive.

Elegant endings and thoughtful transitions are successful outcomes, not failures. So, go ahead, burn the house down. Adversity is a necessary springboard to paradigmatic change and a vibrant future.

BARRY: I ask this question in every interview. If you had one million dollars to spend any way you saw fit, how would you spend it to have the greatest positive impact on our sector?

ALAN: I would give $100 “arts vouchers” to 10,000 households in a community and let them redeem them for any arts program or activity in their area. Arts groups would then get paid for the number of vouchers they collect. I think it would be really interesting to see where the chips fall.

Thank you Alan.

REMINDER: I will be leading a Workshop on the ABC's OF EFFECTIVE ADVOCACY & LOBBYING at Compasspoint in San Francisco, on December 9th from 9:00 am to Noon. Please contact Compasspoint to register. Click here for details:

Have a great week.

And Don't Quit.