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.