Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kicking the Can Down the Road

Good Morning

“And the beat goes on……………………………..”

Oh What A Time It Was………….

I use to do a year end wrap-up blog with a bunch of people across the sector offering their ideas as to what challenges might face the arts in the coming year. Last year I tried to do a re-cap of what had been said over the previous five years. I think we got to the point with this exercise of simply repeating the same prognostications every year. It seemed very little changed. The same problems continued to perplex us; we didn’t seem to arrive at any new ideas for solutions; we lamented the same shortcomings from our past; in short, we seemed stuck -- with things getting better in some ways and worse in others – but for the most part, while the world seems to be undergoing huge titanic changes, we seem to stay the same.

So this end of the year blog looks at the global sea changes of the past decade that have altered the world around us, and rants about why our sector seems to have changed so little. I’d like to know if people agree with me or not. (you can click on the logo above and go to the site and enter a comment at the end if the blog).

The first decade of the new millennium was anything but boring. It’s hard to imagine that ten years ago the biggest global fear was Y2K.

So much has changed in so little time. Consider that ten years ago none of the following even existed:

• Google
• You Tube
• Facebook
• Twitter
• I Pods, I Phones, I Pads and I Tunes
• Tivo
• WiFi
• Bluetooth
• Digital Cameras
• X Boxes, Playstation, Wii
• Al Quaeda
• Wikipedia
• Netflix
• Reality tv
• Hybrid cars

Profound shifts and events (all since 2000) changed global life:
• 911
• Iraq and Afghanistan wars
• The election of the first African American President
• The dotcom crash
• The housing crisis and the global economic collapse including the banking / finance industry
• The rise of China, India and now Brazil as new economic superpowers
• The re-emergence of politically important Russia
• North Korea and Pakistan as nuclear powers
• Unusual climatic changes and events – from the Tusnami to Katrina to the Haiti earthquake
• Huge demographic changes and the rise of minority immigrant populations in America (Latinos count for half the US population growth since 2000).
• Political partisanship as the new normal.

On the near term horizon:
• Universal broadband access
• Universal voice and visual communication on all devices
• GlobaL transformation from the internet to social nets as the principal means of organizing communication – including business applications of social networking.
• A reordering of global economic positions.

And that, of course, is only part of the story.

The whole world became wired and interconnected. The principal changes attributable to technology were in communications. Our access to information and our ability to find people similarly interested in what we were interested in presaged the arrival of new ways of organizing how we related to, and interacted with, those in our lives – from family and friends to colleagues and cohorts and even to people searching for those like us whom we didn’t even know. The future will be in transformations of our relationships and a movement away from the internet per se and towards more social networking.

The pace of technology made each version of each new (and dazzling) product and advance virtually obsolete on its release – with significant consequences -- newspapers died; television is on the wane. Napster came and went. Even the ubiquitous email – at least with Millennials – is on the way out.

American education took a huge hit in comparison with other nations. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer – and there are more of both – though many more of the latter. Fundamentalism is on the rebound and we are mired in a new struggle for the superiority of one religious belief over another. A modern Crusades looms on the horizon. War continues to hold a dear place in the human heart – or at least the hearts of governments and their leaders. The ecosystem of the entire planet is more fragile and while more people across borders are aware of the threat to our habitat as a species, and while there are “green” efforts everywhere to try to halt some inexorable march towards doom, nations can’t agree on any real cooperative measures and economic growth trumps a clean environment in the developing nations (Global emissions up 29% since 2000). The world is a lot less safe than it once was and because of that ongoing threat we easily accept that we virtually have to disrobe to travel – at least on airplanes.

And perhaps the most significant benchmark of them all -- in just the past decade we added about one billion more people to the planet. 7 billion total now. Most of those alive today are under the age of 25. When the class of 2010 reaches middle age around 2030, the world’s ten most populous cities will not include any of those currently in the top ten. One of every six people on the planet will live in India. On every level it is a much different world than it was just ten years ago. And unquestionably the changes to come will be even more profound.

There is so much that is going wrong, so much that we have to fix – yet the human spirit is resilient and generations remain optimistic and hopeful, if often times oblivious and ignorant. There is arguably greater awareness than ever of the essentiality of creativity to solving our problems and addressing our issues, and most certainly greater access to tools of creation and access to finished product. Indeed, technology has enabled the human artistic spirit in ways heretofore undreamt, and everywhere there is growth in communities of shared interests. And the need for us, for what we do, for the arts, for creativity will only, I think, continue to grow exponentially. While technology brings us enormous benefits and any number of new, fun, cool ways, to do things, it also brings problems. Facebook is not the same as face time and never will be. Television didn’t destroy radio, online options didn’t destroy movies. There is nothing on the horizon or even in the imagination that can destroy the value or attraction of art – whether making it or seeing it.

With all of this change – so varied, so deep, so pervasive, so all-encompassing - one would think that there would be corresponding depth and breadth of change within the nonprofit arts sector as well. Yet when I look back on the past ten years, I really can’t see that the nonprofit arts have changed all that much. Oh yes, we use the technology everyone else uses and that has changed the way we communicate and even create, but we have actually been slow to embrace and employ new technologies to our purposes. In large measure, we haven’t even kept pace and maintained connections to the large and growing segment of younger people across the globe who are engaging in our mainstay – creativity - in new ways, on their terms, and outside of our framework, with the result that we are increasingly thought by some irrelevant and increasingly disconnected from the future. While there were incredible advances in technology, and the promise of even more profound and dramatic advances in medicine and science for this next decade, there was nothing even close to comparable in terms of breaking new ground in the way we approached our work, or addressed our issues. Companies that have had the biggest success in the past decade are those we associate as leaders in innovation and imagination – Apple, Google, Facebook and so on. Where is our innovation and imagination in dealing with our issues – in our emerging as a big success?

"Kicking the can down the road" is a universally understood metaphor that has come to mean not dealing with the problem but putting a band-aid on it, knowing we will have to deal with something maybe even worse in the future – and perhaps not by choice and even in spite of our best attempts to do otherwise, I think that is what we have been doing for some time.

We continue to grapple with the same issues, the same challenges that existed back in the 90’s and even before. And astoundingly we continue to use the same approaches and apply the same strategies that we have been using for a long, long time in response to those challenges. We haven’t come up with anything remarkably new or cutting edge; we haven’t taken the changes and molded them to our needs, nor applied them to our concerns to any great extent. Where are the profound shifts in what we in the nonprofit arts in America do? We’re still trying to figure out a revenue stream model that is consistent and sustainable over time and we seem as far from finding that model as we have ever been. We’re still trying to figure out how to be competitive for audiences and supporters. We still lack political clout and have done virtually nothing to develop real political power. We haven’t yet come up with any strategy to offer real professional development and ongoing training to our leaders and managers. We are still trying to convince the powers that be that the arts – as a core subject – are essential to K-12 education and worth spending money on to include. We’re still trying to convince the politicians and the public that the arts are not some frill, some luxury, some irrelevancy. We’re still trying to figure out how we can relate to and integrate systemic technological advances into our infrastructure and strategies for helping to facilitate both creation and access. We’re still trying to find ways to include all generations in our decision making process; how to flow with new currencies of thinking; how to remain fluid in an increasingly liquid world. Our models and ways of doing things remain unchanged. The world changed, but tell me please dear readers, how have we – as a sector – really changed in the past ten years.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not criticizing just to criticize. I am stumped. Truly. I believe we do good work. On any number of levels and fronts we continue to launch complex initiatives designed to address those issues that vex us. I know there are smart people in our field and that we are making incremental progress on any number of fronts and that our failure to make quantum leaps isn’t due to a lack of trying. We enable an extraordinary amount of human creation, of the making and sharing of art – some mediocre, some extraordinary. We champion and defend an endeavor that is quite possibly one of two or three human enterprises that is absolutely essential to our making it as a species. Yet, the problems we face continue to mount and we don’t seem capable of arriving at long term, systemic change solutions. Whether it is we cannot tell our story effectively enough to have it embraced or we are simply incapable in thinking far enough out of the box to arrive at solutions, or we just aren’t very organized, I do not know. Again, I am not ignoring the substantial body of evidence that is reported weekly about places and points where we are doing well, defying the odds, thriving and even growing. I am not minimizing either our successes or the myriad intelligent attempts we are making to change things for the better. But somehow I feel we should have had some kind of breakthrough in a decade that was characterized everywhere by major breakthroughs. I keep harking back to the thought that we should have had at least one advance in how we do what we do that would have qualified as a ‘game changer’.

And why that is, I can’t help but wonder. We are as gifted and smart and astute as thinkers of any sector I can possibly imagine. We are passionate and caring and intent on moving things forward. We are not theoretically risk averse, nor overly timid. Why then have we changed so little when the external world seems to have changed so much? Is this an unfair question? If our role in the future of creativity, in nurturing and facilitating art, in assuring access across all strata depends on us dealing with some of the issues we know we face - in new and novel ways – ways that will actually make a difference - why then haven‘t we? Are we simply slow starters, or do the problems we face simply defy easy solutions – or any solution?

Take arts education as a case in point. What we want is easy enough to put into words: we want sequential, curriculum based arts education, with standards and assessments, offered by qualified and trained teachers to every K-12 student in every school – integrated where possible into the whole of the learning experience. But if you compute the costs of putting even one music, drama and art teacher into every school in America – even if part time, and even if you pay them below the market wage – the total dollar amount is so high as to be prohibitive at the outset – at least in today’s economic reality. And it is that economic reality that – in far too many instances – keeps our budgets on life support and compromises our sustainability and growth. If arts education remains outside the education of our children for another whole generation, what will that mean to the future? Not even to the future of creativity per se, but just to the future of our nonprofit arts world?

We seem just like the rest of America in either misreading the sands of time or consciously ignoring that reality. Like the rest of America there is the unspoken assumption that at some point anyway the economy will recover and return to “normal” and that when that happens we at least won’t be in the same precarious position we find ourselves right now. But honestly, there is the very real possibility that the Emperor is never again going to get dressed; that the time when America had the lion’s share of the world’s economic pie, and the lifestyle and options that went with that abnormally huge piece of the pie, is a bygone time that will not return. There is the real possibility now that the allocation of the world’s pie has shifted and that China and India and Brazil and other nations are now going to have a bigger slice and thus we will have a correspondingly smaller slice. And the march to that reality will not stop, will not change again. The West certainly won’t starve thank you very much, but neither will we again feast with abandon and at will. And what will that mean for us? The jobless rate will stay high, everyone and every entity will have to rethink lifestyles and choices, and we will someday have to deal with runaway spending we simply cannot sustain. At some point other countries may simply not finance our being the world’s policeman, even if they wanted us to continue in the role (and why not, so long as “they” don’t have to do it). And we will adapt. Even if that adaptation comes late, begrudgingly and painfully – we will adapt. I just wonder what it will mean for our nonprofit arts world and why we can’t figure out now how we might do that better and easier if and when the time comes?

If that is even close to right, then all those arts administrators and arts organizations waiting patiently for things to get back to normal, for the economy to “recover”, for us to again be dining high on the hog – all of them are going to be very disappointed. If that’s what we are collectively betting on, with all our eggs in THAT basket, what can we expect if, and arguably when, it doesn’t happen?

How that new reality will play out in the coming decade in America and what changes it will demand in our sector, I have no idea. But the challenges we face aren’t likely, in my opinion, to get easier, and the pressure for us to be more creative in addressing them will only increase  -- as a sector.  It seems irresponsible to me that there is no national effort, or even convening, to consider how we should - as a sector - proceed on all the fronts we face. 

And therein lies the real challenge we face. I don’t see how we can allow another decade to pass and remain in the exact same place we are right now in terms of our responses. Clearly neither all the challenges we face, nor the solutions that elude us, are exclusively about money. But money is one of the big factors at play in so many of the challenges we do face. Because of government and private sector cuts, there was $250 million less spent on the arts just in California alone over the past seven years – a quarter of a billion dollars. As I argued earlier this year, the models we use are largely broken. And we continue to try to fix them – each organization, each city, each state, all by ourselves. I fear that the big model – nonprofit arts itself – is now in danger; that it cannot survive / thrive as currently constituted (at least at the same size) and that we haven’t yet figured out how to change it so that it will survive / thrive.  If that is what we let happen, then I think whatever the future of what we now know as the nonprofit arts world will be dictated by people and forces over which we will have no control whatsoever. And the result will be – who knows? What kind of result is that?

I said this a couple of years ago, and now I think it’s even more critical: we need a Marshall Plan (if not to save the nonprofit arts in America, then to insure its stability and growth) and we need it soon. It just makes little sense to continue to address the issues piecemeal – yet that is exactly what we are doing.

Then again maybe I am just an alarmist. I did warn you that this was a ‘rant’. One thing is certain – the coming decade will bring more dramatic change than we are likely capable of imagining. And we are the ones who deal with imagination.

Happy New Year to everyone.
Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Good Morning

“And the beat goes on…………………………….."


GreatNonprofits is a nonprofit organization that gathers and publishes people’s personal stories about their experiences with nonprofit organizations, serving as a sort of Yelp for the nonprofit sector. They are currently preparing for an Arts Campaign, starting January 1st, to raise public awareness about the many excellent nonprofit organizations that work on arts and media issues. The campaign will highlight the nonprofits that are making a difference in this field. The idea is that the public can access this information and identify highly ranked arts organizations whose work interests them and which they might want to support. There are people involved in this effort who I respect very much and so when they asked if I would agree to be a media partner and promote their arts campaign, I agreed.

In this campaign, nonprofit arts organizations that attract ten or more positive user reviews during January will be listed on the sites’ Top-Rated Arts Nonprofits List, which will be published at the end of the campaign. The list is intended to be national in scope. While getting your own people to send in positive user reviews is sort of like stacking the deck, if in the end it helps you to attract more people to what you do and even support you, then I think that is obviously in your best interest.

If you would like to see an example of one of the campaigns in action, please check out the Arts Campaign. Should you have any questions, please email Shivam Punjya at

• The California Arts Council is announcing a nationwide search for the position of Director. This position will no longer be a Governor’s appointee, but will be hired by the Arts Council members. Please note that the Arts Council office is in Sacramento.

Qualifications, background materials, a duty statement and other specifications will be posted officially at on January 3, 2011, and the application process will be open through February 26, 2011.

No materials will be shared or contacts made until January 3rd, when the law designating that the Director be selected by the Council goes into effect.

I hope many people will apply for this position. While the California economic situation remains problematic, there is indication that newly elected Governor Brown may be more appreciative of the value of the arts to the state and more sympathetic to the needs of the sector.

• I love large public acts of art – whether planned out like this planned piece by artist Spencer Tunick (those are nude bodies comprising the piece), or this multiple city semi-flash mob of Santa Clauses. The more we can bring art to people and garner attention in the process the more we can get people to think about creativity. Good for us.

• The Wallace Foundation has posted its internal Employee Handbook as a example and possible template for organizations to use. Kudos to them for sharing things like this.

• WESTAF launches a new web based grants management system called GO – Grants Online – a fully customizable system to configure and manage all aspects of grantmaking .

• Belated congratulations to Aaron Dworkin on his nomination by President Obama to the National Council on the Arts. Aaron Dworkin is the Founder and President of the Sphinx Organization, the leading national arts organization that focuses on youth development and diversity in classical music. I met him in Chicago at the GIA conference where he delivered a keynote. I was very impressed with his credentials, his passion and his and his organization’s accomplishments. This is a very good appointment from the White House.

• Great piece from Brain Pickings –“ How Music Works”.

Wishing you all the Happiest of Holidays.

Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Connoisseurs: A Different Kind of Audience Development Perspective

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on…………………………”

Moving Beyond One Dimensional Thinking About “Audience Development”:

A documentary (entitled “Public Speaking”), directed by Martin Scorsese, about New York author and wit, Fran Lebowitz, is playing on HBO. I like her – she is the quintessential New York pontificator - acerbic, sarcastic, smart, insightful and merciless in her judgmental observations – in the best of the Dorothy Parker tradition.

In one segment of this feature – shot basically as an ongoing interview – Fran is asked some question about the AIDS epidemic in New York in the 1980s. She recounts one of the benchmark attitudes of the time, and comments that the prevailing sentiment was sadness and horror about how many people in the creative industries and the arts – from designers to choreographers, from photographers to actors – were being lost, and noted the question that remained on the table: how would the New York cultural scene survive such devastation and thinning of its creative ranks? I remember the period well and that indeed was what you heard as funerals (at least in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles) became a daily reality of life.

Then she made an observation that I think is quite insightful. Speaking specifically about the New York City Ballet, she opined that she thought it wasn’t just the talent pool that was being lost by the AIDS epidemic, it was (and she saw this as equally, if not more, devastating) also that they lost a huge and critical part of the core of their audience – the connoisseurs; a basically gay, devoted and dedicated audience who not only went to the ballet and other performance events, but who were connoisseurs of the ballet and the arts; a sophisticated audience that knew dance intimately as a discipline – its technical aspects, its history, its risk taking, its treatment of the past and the present, both the established and new dancers and choreographers and even the farm system that was the feeding pool for the whole ecosystem. This audience didn’t just go to the ballet for something to do on a Friday night, nor to be seen (though that probably was an element), but rather went to the ballet because they loved it AND appreciated it and its nuances, and followed it and cared about it -- and most importantly, they were very knowledgeable -- an audience developed over time and as much a part of the ballet as those on the other side of the curtain. Inimical only to New York? I am sure many thought so, but probably neither limited to the gay sub-sector nor to Manhattan.

It was, she offered, the loss of that audience that was perhaps the real tragedy, and the New York cultural scene is impacted to this day because of that loss. Losing the “connoisseur” base of an audience is a very interesting notion. The loss of that important segment of an audience (or arguably not just the loss, but the failure to develop such a segment in the first places) is very likely, at least, part of the reason why many New York cultural organizations (and probably those in San Francisco and a slew of other major cities as well) continue to struggle with sustaining audiences, and developing financial supporters, advocates and boosters as well.

When we talk about “audience development” in the nonprofit arts – whether we frame the issue as one of programming and content, production values, convenience of schedule and pricing, or as the depth of shared experiences – we are essentially talking about what we can do to put more bodies in seats. We think about ‘developing’ an audience as principally increasing its size and not much more. Even our forays into thinking about the “experience” of attending a cultural event settle not on expansion of the audience’s knowledge and expertise of the art form, but rather on the social experience and ‘feelings” of the attendees. Perhaps we ought to be talking – at least some of the time – about what Fran Lebowitz was talking about: How do we encourage and nurture the development of connoisseur audiences -- audiences who intimately know not only the discipline of the performance, but the specific company or organization, the history of that creative effort within the city’s history, and all the nuances of its place; people who care about the art form as much, and are arguably as knowledgeable, as those creating the art. Audiences as sophisticated as the creators – and who, because of that sophistication of knowledge, have a unique and intimate relationship with the creators and performers - and, with each other as a self-identifiable crowd of like minded individuals.

Of course, there are countless examples of those kinds of core bases across the globe over time, and the gay audience New York case in point that Lebowitz referenced was only an isolated example. The point is the sophisticated “connoisseur” key, core base is different from other segments of the audience that are in attendance at any given performance – more likely a reliable, dependable audience, more likely to be financially supportive, more likely to advocate on our behalf, more likely to recruit new people to our worlds, and if we want to be even a little more sophisticated in our efforts in “audience development” then we have to stop thinking of our audiences as a single, heterogeneous mass of people – all of whom are basically alike, and whose attendance at our events all have the same impact.  We have to think beyond numbers and just more bodies in seats.

The truth is, of course, that in any given single performance audience there are people in those seats who have never been to a performance (some of whom may never come again), some who are season ticket holders, some who are just sampling the event and discipline (for a variety of reasons), some who don’t even want to be there, some who are there for reasons other than the performance itself – from the social butterflies to the business networkers, and then finally some who are the real connoisseurs. And there is, I think, a difference (very likely a big difference) between those in our audiences we might define as our “regulars” and the connoisseurs. Both may be frequent attendees - reliable and dependable - but they are nonetheless vastly different. I suspect the connoisseurs are more financially supportive, more likely to be responsible for media interest and coverage, more important to the organization’s creative vitality and spark; essential to the recruitment of talent and the development of risk taking artists and creators. It may be the connoisseurs who help to create the positive and encouraging environment that allows creativity to flourish in the first place.  We probably shouldn’t treat each of these audience segments the same nor pre-suppose that they are all there for the same reasons and will all then react the same to our efforts to get them to attend more frequently (or to move them to become financial supporters, volunteers, advocates or other more direct participants in what we do).

I think we ought to take Lebowitz’s observation to heart and further investigate the implied notion that developing and nurturing the core connoisseur audience segment might just be absolutely critical to the health of our organizations. We ought to study that core more – particularly how they came to be the connoisseurs that they became – and why. What circumstances contributed to the formation of that connoisseur class of attendees?  It might even be instructive to examine the impact and effect on the decline of that segment in New York or other places as a result of the AIDS epidemic or even some other cause.

How do we develop and nurture the ‘connoisseur’ audience segment for any given discipline or organization? It seems logical that arts education might play a role in that effort. To the extent children are exposed to, participate in, and learn about an art form, the more likely a percentage of them might move to become part of that connoisseur base. In the first report for the Hewlett Foundation I did on Youth Involvement in the Arts, I remember a program the Los Angeles Opera instituted on local college campuses that created Opera Groups and afforded opportunities for college kids interested in the Opera to interface with the company, its artists and each other. I am sure there are other such programs for other disciplines.

It seems to me anyway that not that much (or certainly not enough) of our combined audience development research and follow up strategies center on the connoisseur audience segment, and we might do well to focus more of our energy and resources on the development of that audience segment, for it just might be the key to sustained investment by local communities in our cultural base.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

20Under40 - Interview with Edward Clapp

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on………………………………….”

“20 Under 40” – A compendium of essays by younger professional arts administrators.

There has been a lot of hype about this book (published this past week), thanks principally to the energy and savvy of its Editor, Edward Clapp – who has been, and continues to be, its’ tireless promoter. Dubbed a “project” – as opposed to simply the release of a ‘book’ – this is an ambitious attempt to aggregate thinking by younger arts administrators and practitioners on some of the major issues they (and the rest of us) face in the changing nonprofit arts sector. Clapp served as Editor of the content, and as the “Project Director” -- its’ principal architect and guardian angel.

Book publishers today are like Record Companies of the past in that they “sign” a lot of artists and then promote the ones that seem to take off on their own. Indeed, one of the most important criteria in determining which authors to sign in the first place is their ability and willingness to be able to self promote and market their work. None but the biggest sellers and celebrities ever command advances, nor do publishers spend any money hyping a book unless and until it generates some buzz (media or sales) on its own. Success is largely due to the efforts of the creators of the work itself, and the distinction between the creator and the marketer of anything has, and will continue, to become increasingly blurred. That is true I think whether the author is signed to major publishing house, to a small boutique publisher, or publishes on their own. I think in many ways this simply mirrors the reality of a lot of what "creativity" has become today. With so many more options to create and self-distribute, and so much more competition brought about by those increased opportunities, (self) marketing is now simply de facto part of the whole of any creative project.

Edward understands the necessity for an Editor or Author to be his or her own biggest booster and that this is an endless and not always easy task. This book or project is his baby and he has been carefully, relentlessly, and even, I think, lovingly tending it for over a year all across the country. I admire and respect that commitment to those he recruited to write chapters in this anthology. And I point to his efforts as a model for others.  Certainly the fact that the book has 20 participating authors, means that he is not alone in his efforts to spread the word. He has, as it were, 20 co-conspirators to assist his plan.

I think we are on the dawn of a new era that will see more and more seasoned and experienced arts administrators (and even those newer to the profession) writing books, and I already see increasing titles about issues germane to the nonprofit arts being published by people in our field. I have, just in the last six months, gotten a half dozen titles sent to me in the hopes I would mention or review them on this blog so as to help them gain some attention. I haven’t yet reviewed any (I won’t do that unless I read them first – and time is always an issue), but it is my intention to review some of those sent to me, including 20Under40 in the near future. I have read some of the abstracts of the chapters of this work on the project’s website (which includes a section that promotes discussion and dialogue on the chapter subjects), and there is much here to absorb and think about.  As one who champions both more discussion within the sector on the whole host of issues we face, and specifically the need for prioritizing the needs of the next generation’s role in arts administration infrastructure, I can applaud this effort from my exposure to it so far. I do think it important that as a field we support those from our field in their endeavors to write about our issues – so I encourage you to buy this book (make it a Christmas present).

I intend to blog more on other book releases germane to the nonprofit arts in the near future – including reviews (and I promise to be “critical”). Meanwhile here is an interview with Edward Clapp:

Edward Clapp Interview:

Barry: You have written and lectured about new forms of mentoring in the arts sector – specifically “bottom up” mentoring. Can you elaborate for my readers?

Edward: What you’re referring to is the notion of “omni-directional mentorship,” one of the five findings my colleague Ann Gregg and I identified based on our 2007 pilot study of young arts professionals. If you think about it, our traditional understanding of mentorship is directional. Knowledge and expertise flow from the top down as wizened older leaders counsel younger protégés. While the young arts professionals we spoke with identified a need for this kind of deep investment from their senior arts leaders, they also suggested that they possessed generational-specific knowledge and expertise that was largely ignored at their institutions. When this sort of knowledge and expertise flows up a hierarchical chain—from individuals of a younger generation to those of an older generation—we call this “mentoring up,” the transfer of knowledge and expertise from a “tapped in” generation to the decision makers above them who likely make meaning of their experiences form a different generational perspective. Traditional top-down mentorship, mentoring up, and lateral mentorship combine to form what Ann and I termed omni-directional mentorship. To learn more about this model of mentorship, your readers can check out my chapter in the recent NAMAC publication entitled A Closer Look 2010: Leading Creatively, To learn more about our initial pilot study and our five core findings, readers can check out the chapter Ann and I wrote for the 20UNDER40 anthology,

Barry: You have said that you think the term “managing” the generational divide in the nonprofit arts workplace is the wrong term to apply. How would you refer to the challenge of accommodating all the different generations within the workplace, and the potential therein for collision points, and how do you think that challenge can best be met?

Edward: You’re right. Lots of the management literature addressing generational differences in the workplace (little of it coming from the nonprofit sector, next to none specifically about the arts) talks about “dealing with” or “managing” generational differences in the workplace. Why look at generational difference as something that must be “dealt with” or “managed” like a problem raging out of control? Rather than strategize ways to “deal with” or “manage” generational differences in the workplace, why not figure out how to capitalize on generational differences? Clearly, this goes back to the omni-directional mentorship piece. Once all leaders become learners and all learners become leaders, we can identify the teaching and learning potential across generational platforms. From my perspective, viewing generational differences as opportunities for collective growth and institutional change seems a far better strategy than viewing the diverse array of generation-specific expertise, habits of mind, meaning making structures, and world views of young people (or old people!) as hurtles to overcome, as problems to be solved.

Barry: Your book “20UNDER40” was just published. Can you share with us some of the major themes and insights from that compendium of younger authors and leaders?

Edward: Indeed. 20UNDER40 is available in hardcover as of December 1, 2010 (ebook soon to follow). The over-arching themes of the text are innovation, hope, and devotion to the arts. A few more specific highlight points to bring up include: questioning institutional structures; critiques of the 501(c)3 model; problematizing the notion of “sustainability;” proposing crowdsourcing as a new medium for foundational giving; questioning the notion of originality as a goal (or even a possibility) of either artistry or arts education; further problematizing the concept of authorship, originality, creativity, and intellectual property in a digital world; refocusing the arts education agenda on the fastest growing audience of arts learners—adults; considering the artful use of video games and other new media in teaching and learning environments—from a neural perspective; identifying “creative coding” as the new media literacy, and; developing tactics to protect our youngest arts learners from the creativity-killing effects of art-o-phobic parents, educators, and caretakers. Your readers are welcome to read all of the chapter abstracts on the 20UNDER40 website:

Barry: What in your opinion is the major challenge for the nonprofit arts in the generational arena?

Edward: This is an easy one: the retention of our field’s highest potentials, i.e. an exodus of talent from the field when the arts sector needs the 21st century insights of young leaders the most. What’s at the root of this exodus? (1) Lack of a livable wage for young arts leaders many of whom are carrying the weight of insurmountable student loan debt in amounts their predecessors never had to bear (or even imagine), (2) Lack of clear career paths for young arts professionals eager to map out their lives and plan to achieve “life goals” (buying a home, getting married, having children) that their predecessors were able to commit to far sooner than they, (3) The frustration of glass ceilings and being mired down in middle management positions because the top positions in too many organizations are occupied and the individuals in those offices ain’t going anywhere any time soon, and, most importantly (4) A lack of agency and autonomy. There are many important issues to attend to in the arts sector, but without the leadership necessary to carry the field into the future, no amount of work on any topic in the field will prove fruitful in the long run.

Barry: If retention, not recruitment, of younger generations of leaders is the real issue, how can the average arts organization best go about creating a workplace that is attractive to, and designed to retain, the best and brightest new workers?

Edward:  Two words: agency and autonomy. One may suspect that as an answer to such a question I may say “get out of the way and let young professionals lead.” But I don’t actually think this is true—or even wise. Ben Cameron notes that he’s met plenty of young arts leaders who are eager to take the reins of leadership—but unless they are given the same autonomy and agency that Boomers had when they were young—today’s young arts leaders just are not interested. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. A common response of senior arts leaders (Boomers) to the moan of younger arts leaders complaining of the lack of a livable wage in the arts is that “no one chooses a career in the arts for the money.” What do they choose it for then? This answer isn’t hard to come up with: passion. Why were Boomers able to commit to the arts with limited financial rewards? Because a career in the arts equated to the pursuit of one’s passions—the moral uplift of pursuing one’s passion was worth the sacrifice of financial success/excess. Boomers were doing what they wanted to do—they didn’t need the Cadillac. Young people today aren’t necessarily doing what they want to do. They are doing what their senior leaders want them to do. Cameron is right, young people will commit themselves to the arts, just as the Boomers have before them—they just need to be given the agency and necessary autonomy to define and pursue their own passions as opposed to suffering the financial burden of salaries that are “less than” for the passions of their predecessors. How do we retain young arts leaders if we can’t pay them the big bucks their smarts warrant? Give them the agency and autonomy they deserve, provide the support structures/resources for them to succeed, and let go of long-standing traditions or tired old assumptions and allow today’s young arts professionals to be the game changers they’ve been groomed (by Boomers!) to be. Cameron is right. Young are leaders are ready and capable of leading the arts into the future, but if all we ask of them is to be “mere custodians” of a field they’ve inherited, they’re “not interested.”

Barry: What are your thoughts on the provision (or lack thereof) of real professional development training opportunities for our younger workers and what are your suggestions for addressing the issue? What kind of strategy will offer the widest training opportunities to the most people?

Edward: Mentorship, mentorship, mentorship. One-off workshops, grad courses, trips to conferences, exposure to visiting consultants all help (really help!) make our young leaders more efficacious and more engaged in their work. But the easiest thing an institution can do, especially when strapped for cash to pay for formal professional development experiences for young professionals, is to establish multi-directional mentorship relationships within (and beyond) institutional walls. Every organization, no matter how small, is ripe with human resources… use them! On another note, though, when providing enrichment experiences for young arts professionals, it’s important to develop the individual, not the institution. The institution will develop by default. If the goal of providing enrichment experiences isn’t focused on the individual first—fully understanding that the individual will leave one day (and should!)—then such professional development experiences will be a waste of everyone’s time and money. Arts organizations have to go beyond thinking of themselves, and focus on the field. Focus on the field, of course, means focusing on individuals who will hop from one institution to the next. No one stays with one organization for 20-30 years anymore. Ask a Millennial. Want the best thing for your arts organization? Then invest in the field by investing in individuals. It’s a long term investment. Young professionals get it.

Barry: For a great many of those younger workers seeking a career in the nonprofit arts, there are any number of benefits that trump the lack of competitive wages and compensation -- but for at least an identifiable minority, the lack of adequate pay is an issue that they say will very likely invariably lead them back into the private sector. Given the tough economic times, is there anything the sector do about that – both short and long term?

Edward: First, don’t kid yourself about paying well. Four years of undergrad plus one-three years of grad school ain’t cheap (and this is before we even go to the level of doctoral studies). Is it really unimaginable that some of the hottest young professionals’ resumes may come with a price tag of $250,000+ in student loans? I think not. So don’t discount the importance of paying young professionals a livable wage, especially when there is such an increased focus on the credentials higher education avails. Otherwise, see my response to question five. Agency and autonomy my friend… agency and autonomy.

Barry: Who in the younger arts leadership field do you think is doing exceptional work?

Edward: You know, with this question my first response was to rattle off the names of the young arts leaders I know who have the loudest voices and the best luck in getting their ideas across. And these people (Marc Vogl, Aliza Greenberg, Ebony McKinney, John Abodeely, Ian David Moss and all of the 20UNDER40 authors, ambassadors, and supporters) are indeed making great strides in the field and are in full command of my deepest respect. However, I don’t think the focus of this question should be on young people. After all, this isn’t just a young person’s issue. The future of the arts is of everyone’s concern. In my mind, the people in the field doing the most exceptional work to support young arts leadership are not solely the young arts leaders who have been able to capture our ears, but instead the more established leaders who know that this issue is paramount, and therefore devote energy towards empowering young professionals, opening doors, and pushing them along. Of course, I don’t know all of these people (and everyone has their own list), but those who I have been fortunate to encounter include Eric Booth, Steve Seidel, Victoria Plettner-Saunders, Dale Davis, Barry Shauck, Richard Bell, and many others (including you, sir!). All of them over forty, and all of them genuine rock stars in my book.

Barry: What are your thoughts and impressions on the current Emerging Leaders efforts as you see them in our sector? What is working and what isn’t?

Edward: You know, I was just talking to one of the 20UNDER40 authors about this very issue the other day. The emerging leaders networks spread throughout the field are a wonderful thing, they really are. And Stephanie Evans at Americans for the Arts is one of the sweetest, most devoted people I’ve ever met. Big hugs. Huge! However, I feel as though I would be doing the domain of emerging leaders a disservice if all I did was praise their being. In all truth, the emerging leaders networks in the arts suffer from the same problem as the rest of our industry—the siloing of themselves apart from everyone else, including siloing themselves off within their own silos. This isn’t the fault of the emerging leaders groups, of course. It’s a cultural thing. For some weird reason I have yet to comprehend, it’s the nature of the arts sector to set up boundaries and divide constituency groups from other constituency groups—even when those separated constituency groups share common interests! The emerging leaders networks are awesome, and I support what each faction on its own is intending to do. I just wish there was a way for all of those factions to come together and really gain some ground. There are dozens of people in the field working to make this happen—but there is still much to be done.

Barry: What advice do you have for funders in meeting the challenges attendant to a whole new generation of arts leaders.

Edward: Nice question! My advice to funders is to read the chapters by Brian Newman, David J. McGraw, Rebecca Novick, and Ian David Moss and Daniel Reid in the forthcoming 20UNDER40 anthology. On top of that, one of the biggest things funders need to get beyond are the restrictions of their missions. Lots of our field’s biggest funders perpetuate problems in the arts because their hands are tied behind their backs due to the stipulations of their founders’ missions. Funders need to adapt to the changing nature of our arts ecosystem and interpret their missions accordingly. Otherwise, our most tired and ineffectual arts institutions will continue to get the lion’s share of the goods, while our most innovative hopes for the future of the arts in America (and beyond) will be starved out, or spin off into obscurity due to lack of support. Arts organizations ought to be funded because they are innovating, not merely because they are still breathing. That being said, it’s high time we stopped talking about funders in the arts, and instead, talked about hybrid business models, investors, and earned income.

Thank you Edward. My best wishes to you and all the contributing authors for the success of the work.

Have a great week.

Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Science, Math and the Arts

Good morning.
Welcome back to work and I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

“And the beat goes on………………….”

Moving the Minds:

John Maeda, graphic designer and computer scientist, and President of the Rhode Island School of Design, argues “that scientists need art and artists in their professional lives in order to invent and innovate successfully, and with a particular focus on education he has toured the world to promote the idea that government-approved "Stem" subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) should be widened to include art; "turning Stem into Steam," as he puts it. Click here to go to the article

According to Maeda the answer to the question: Why does science need artists? is precisely what we have been preaching for a long time: “We seem to forget that innovation doesn't just come from equations or new kinds of chemicals, it comes from a human place. Innovation in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience. And human experiences happen through engaging with the arts – listening to music, say, or seeing a piece of art.”  Bravo!

While the U.S. Department of Education now includes art as a core subject along with math and science, in many, if not most, local districts it is not treated the same – neither as a priority nor in the allocation of funds, resources, teachers, within schedules or classroom assignments. Business and industry, especially in the high tech sector, has for decades now made prioritizing science and math education one of its highest priorities, and with marked success – at least in terms of embedding the idea that math and science education are critical to our national future.

Yet we still haven’t gotten that far in including the arts in the national psyche as equally important. We've been trying for a long time to make the case for the relationship between arts and science and math and for making the arts an equal priority.  Perhaps we have spent too much focus on working with the businessmen who run the industries and companies that tout science and math, but ignore the arts. Perhaps we should focus more on a dialogue and cooperative joint effort with the scientists and mathematicians themselves – for it may just be that those people “get it”, while their employers simply do not.

I remember reading an article years ago (that I have unsuccessfully tried to chase down) that claimed that a very high percentage (in the 90s) of all recipients of Nobel Prizes (including in all the sciences) were practicing artists – amateur not professional – but neither spectators nor patrons, but actual practitioners (musicians, writers, designers, thespians, even dancers) - and that they claimed the arts were essential to their ability to do their work. I don't find that surprising. 

I would like to see the NEA, the President's Committee on the Arts & Humanities, or some national arts organization find a way to sponsor the bringing together artists and scientists and mathematicians and let them have a conversation about the importance of each discipline one to the other, how those relationships work, and how we might integrate all of them into our education portfolio. And after (and only after) that gathering you could bring in the educators, and arts administrators and the business and industry employers to talk about how we might implement the recommendations of those on the front lines.  At least we might shine a spotlight on the issue and gain some media attention. 

Have a great week.

Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Speak Up For Art 2012 Campaign

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

Speak Up For the Arts:
The 2012 Election cycle will begin in January. Soon hopeful GOP Presidential candidates will set up shop in Iowa and New Hampshire and the media will begin with endless and relentless coverage, so called analysis, punditry and projections. The same thing will begin to happen off camera as it were for lesser races from Congress to City Halls all across the country. And all of that will filter down as the parties and special interest groups begin the process of gearing up for the defense and advancement of their own interests, pet causes and the like.

Frankly, we ought to be doing the exact same thing. In a more perfect world we would be setting up local and state committees and PACs and trying to identify arts friendly candidates to support, or even those from our own ranks that we could convince to run. We would be identifying specific legislation and policies we would hope to advance and / or defeat to protect our interests. We would begin to raise funds, do benefits, reach out to stakeholders to form alliances, and begin our media strategy to get the public on our side.

All of which takes sophistication, money, organization and commitment – none of which we have unfortunately. But we might just be able to focus on a single strategy that could help us. There are lots we could choose from. I have a suggestion: A national word of mouth and quasi media campaign (I say quasi because we can’t afford a real full blown media / advertising effort and there is probably too little time before 2012 to get an Ad Council or other pro bono effort launched) that urges people everywhere (parents of school kids, the PTA, everyone involved in the nonprofit arts and the for profit entertainment industry, artists both professional and amateur and any and everyone else we might convince to join us) to SPEAK UP FOR ART at every opportunity they get – to their local elected officials, to the media, to their colleagues at work, to people in groups to which they belong, to their neighbors – to anyone they can – and tell their stories of why and how the arts are valuable in people’s lives, to communities, to business and the economy, to education and civic life. Op Ed pieces in newspapers, a letter campaign, email petitions, viral videos on You Tube, public opinion surveys, release of new or even repackaged research and data.  A two year grassroots campaign to enlist the help of all those people for whom the arts have meaning to SPEAK UP FOR ART – loudly, often and with conviction. It would be relatively easy to set up a web site, provide people with talking points, aggregate poignant stories and the like and promote it across America.

If we could get it to catch on, we might make it grow exponentially and by the time we got to November 2012 it might make it much easier for us to leverage what we had grown to political action on our own behalf with the goal of making the arts a bi-partisan “good” which everyone supported; if not sacrosanct, then at the least, embraced by so many that attacking us would not be as easy an option.

I would call this campaign SPEAK UP FOR ART 2012 – and here’s the logo

Sé4A 2012

Speak Up For Art 2012

The point is if we want to be better positioned in the next election cycle, we need to begin to strategize and implement strategies on the local level and moving up now.  If we started some campaign like this now, we might be able to position it by 2012.  If every organization included the logo and a link to a site, and promoed it in their newsletters, advertising and the like we might have a chance to fix it in the public's mind. Of course, it would take a large percentage of all arts organizations to join in and promote and hype the logo and idea of the effort so as to involve as many people, communities, groups and organizations as possible.  Not an easy task, I know.

Random Acts of Art:
Here’s a link to a Random Act of Art from the Opera Company of Philadelphia unwritten by the Knight Foundation. I think I’ve seen one or two of these kinds of things before including a recent one at the Heathrow Airport outside of London. Basically it is a coordinated, yet unannounced and seemingly impromptu performance piece not dissimilar from flashmobs done in a public place on an unsuspecting audience. Although very rehearsed and planned out, because it appears somewhat incongruously out of place, and initially unrehearsed and spontaneous, it is all the more enthralling and captivating – and leaves the audience feeling buoyant and upbeat.

Delighting those fortunate enough to be in the area at the appointed time, it is a great calling card for art and an unforgettable reminder of the power of art to alter moods and change perceptions, and simply make people happy.

I applaud the Knight Foundation for funding it and hope they do more.  Maybe other foundations or funders could join in.

Imagine the impact of something like this if it were done on a grander scale. In California we celebrate ARTS DAY (as part of Arts & Humanities Month) on the first Friday of each October. How cool would it be if this kind of impromptu performance was done in a score of places across the state on the same day by operas and symphonies and dance companies and theater groups and choruses and even visual artists and so on -- in malls and public squares and lobbies and on the street. What if the entire state just sort of broke out in displays of art.

Or maybe even bigger – what if we did this across the whole country on some appointed day as a culminating act of the SPEAK UP FOR THE ARTS 2012 campaign. In homage’s to Cristo, Spencer Tunick the Philippine Prison tribute to Michael Jackson and many more - one day of hundreds, even thousands of unannounced performances in public places all calling attention to Sé4A 2012

Think of the media coverage and the opportunities to tell our stories - how we might drive home the power and importance of art in everyone’s daily life, and get people who never give the value of art any thought at all to talk about art and its role in our lives.

Of course, all of this would be a Herculean task no doubt, but a lot of fun and the chance to be part of something so much bigger than what we do usually. And if everyone just ran with it on their own, we wouldn’t need a lot of national from the top down organization. Just empower people to buy-in and see where it goes – a national two year viral flash mob of inestimable size. Perhaps a true work of art in its own right.  Maybe the Knight Foundation could take the lead.

Just another thought. I can dream can’t I?  And maybe smarter people than me can come up with a far better campaign idea, slogan, logo or what have you.  We could / should be able to mount some kind of effort, no?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Don’t Quit

Speak é For Art 2012

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Internet Potpourri

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

Some Random Findings from Around the Web:
  • Real World Learning:  I get lots of emails touting professional development programs, classes, workshops, seminars and the like.  Invariably all of them focus on a very narrow course or class offering.  It would seem that there are only a handful of skills you need to be a fully qualified arts administrator - including not much more than marketing, fundraising, board development and strategic planning.  That is, of course, absurd.  There are scores of skills one needs to develop or hone that are essential to becoming a competent, let alone high level, business manager no matter what the field - from accommodation of different generations to how one creates an ecosystem for new ideas in the workplace; from how to negotiate to time management -  but the arts either don't recognize any of those other skills as important enough to offer classes designed to improve them, or we simply have virtually no resources that will allow us to offer anything more than the most basic of training opportunities.  Yes, of course, our people have to have the basic skills, and need to go back and improve on them from time to time, but is that all we can offer?  I ran across this site:  The School of Life - Ideas to Live By offering a course entitled "How to Have Better Conversations".  This is exactly the kind of thing I think we need to offer our leaders - courses in how they can actually become better people managers.
  • Univision to become the Number One Broadcast Network in 3 to 5 years:  That Reuters headline caught my eye.  A projected 45% increase in the new census to 50 million people and the capture by Univision of certain ratings wars - especially in the lucrative 18 to 34 market and experts see advertisers moving towards the market.  What might that mean for the arts?  And where is the focus on multicultural arts that should be growing in our sector?  I haven't seen it at the last five conferences I've attended. 
  • Rich Americans' Philanthropy Down - but not for the Arts:  That LA Times headline caught my attention too.  Bank of America and Merrill Lynch found that households with incomes of $200,000 or more, or net worths of at least $1 million (not counting a primary home's value) devoted 7.5 cents out of their charitable dollar to the arts during 2009, compared to a penny for the population at large.
    Good news for the arts, right?  Well, maybe.  The article doesn't give any indication where in the arts sector that money went.  Very likely, those rich patrons gave to the biggest cultural institutions.  That is just speculation on my part, because there was no comparison of where the rich gave money and where the average Joe gave money in our sector.  It is an indiction that the wealthy patronage system of arts support, even if still limited to a small sub-sector of our field - is alive and well, and that is good news I think - at least for those recipient organizations.  Would be nice to have the study extended.
  • Ten Mistakes for Entrepreneurs:  A Wall Street Journal article by Rosalind Resnick listed the Top Ten Mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting a company.  As we in the arts are largely entrepreneurs ourselves, even if we're involved in running organizations that have been around for a long time, her advice seemed particularly on point to me.  For example, she cautions against "spending too much time on product development , not enough on sales."  That advice might well apply to many arts organizations that emphasize creation to the exclusion of sales.  Check out her list.
  • The Class of 2014:   Finally the Beloit College Mindset List - released each August provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall.  Born in 1992, the first time college students in the Class of 2014 are different from you and me - really different in their cultural points of reference.  For example, email has always been too slow for them.  They've always had 500 tv channels to choose from.  Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.  Most of them have never seen a carousel slide projector.  Czechoslovakia never existed.  Nirvana is played on the oldies stations. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents.  And rock bands have always played at Presidential Inaugurals.  I wonder if we're approaching the time when what we now refer to as the "generational" differences -- in our workplace, with our audiences, and even in the artist community itself -- will not be generational, but change with the entering freshman class of every five years or so.  The whole as yet underdeveloped concept of generational marketing may get far more complex before we even get a handle on it.
Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Good morning
“And the beat goes on……………………”

Post-Election Analysis:

In the aftermath of last week’s election, the question is what will be the impact on the arts sector? Of course all politics are local, and thus it is a mistake to generalize too much; nevertheless there seem some very likely reasonable conclusions we can draw about how this election might impact us.

In exit polls a very high percentage of voters (well over half) identified with the T-Party – amplifying the level at which Americans are angry, fearful of their futures, and suspicious and impatient with their government(s). As reflected in the new Congress, there is strong sentiment to cut spending, reduce the deficit, and shrink government. Indeed, for the GOP, the T-Party message is that every single Republican candidate is being watched – and that the only likely safe vote for the "now" incumbents – at least on spending issues – will be a ‘no’ vote. A number of moderate Democrats that rode Obama’s coat tails into Congress in 2008 were defeated last week. We seem to have now institutionalized the ‘no compromise’ intransigence of the last two years, and I suspect there we are in for grid lock and paralysis. The 2012 Presidential Campaign will begin in earnest – to the chagrin of many of us – in January, and will last for the next two years.

For us, I think this means two things:

1) As to the NEA allocation – there will likely be new attacks on the Endowment and cries to get out of funding the arts at all. The T-Party / Libertarian lines intersect here in calling for arts funding to be one of those spending items that is either philosophically inappropriate, or simply unaffordable in the current climate. While arts funding may be a bi-partisan issue in some states (for example, with Jerry Brown’s election, there are now doors open in California that haven’t been open for a long time), in most areas, and nationally, there remains a great (and growing) divide between Democrats and Republicans in support for our interests. We can narrow that divide in economic good times, and often, even in questionable economic times, at the national level where the balanced budget isn’t mandatory – but the same cannot be said at the state and local levels. In reviewing the Americans for Arts Senate Report Card in ranking how current members of the Senate voted on arts issues, out of 28 Senators who got an “F” grade, 25 were Republicans; out of 23 who got an “A” grade, all of them were Democrats. Once again the arts will have to defend themselves at the national level – at least in the House. I doubt the cries for getting rid of the Endowment will really amount to anything more than shouts in the dark, and that the only real battle on our hands will be the dollar amount of the Endowment’s line item in next year’s budget. Fortunately there will still remain support in the Senate and White House. But I suspect that it will be a battle to keep funding at the current level – unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the economy (which would qualify as a miracle of the first order). We are now dealing with a much more dogmatic GOP controlled House with far less room for variance in how those members will be able to vote, and that will hurt us.

2) On the local level, there will likely be some of the same sentiment where the composition of state houses, city councils or boards of supervisors has moved from the center to the right. Each will be different, and the arts may do well in some areas, and horribly in others. But because of the shift at the Federal level, many states will feel a negative impact irrespective of how the elections went locally. In Congress there is likely to be strong anti-stimulus sentiment and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to pass any bill that authorizes increased stimulus money (and that despite any consensus by a majority of economists that the economy desperately needs stimulating by the government). Couple that reality with a likely intractable anti-tax House position, and federal money that might have flowed to the states (and remember it was stimulus money last year that allowed a number of states to balance their budgets or at least reduce dramatically their deficits) will cease. That will mean that there will be more pressure on state governments for shrinking revenue pools, and that will mean more battles on those fronts to protect arts funding.  Cuts will have to come from somewhere. And as the states scramble to balance their budgets they will continue to look for local funds they can appropriate to the state level, thus continuing the cycle and putting more stress on local budgets – all of which will make it even more difficult to maintain arts support at the local level too.

What are we suppose to do then? What can we do short term to protect our funding, and what can we do longer term to move the arts towards the center as a non-partisan issue?

As to protecting what we’ve got – it will likely be a fight - at all levels. We will again have to spend precious time and resources to make our case, rally our troops and stakeholders and advocate and lobby to keep what we have. I think the earlier we get out front on the coming battles, the better we might fare. Proactive will be better than defensive posturing. This will be difficult for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are: 1) the field is getting weary of relentless attacks and having to defend ourselves with fewer real victories to be had; 2) time is an ever scarce resource as we work to survive and transition to new economic revenue stream models; and 3) as government support becomes less available it becomes less relevant and that makes it harder to recruit support to defend it.  Smart states and local jurisdictions will contremplate formation of local arts PACs to increase their political clout.

Let’s Infiltrate the Chamber of Commerce:

I think we need to begin to develop strategies that that will allow us to foster relationships and support within the infrastructure that is the backbone of the GOP. I’m not talking about just educating the Republican party leadership, nor just making our case to them, but rather to become involved in those mechanisms that constitute the skeleton of the party itself.

As to longer range efforts to establish beachheads in the Republican strongholds, I have a suggestion: The Chamber of Commerce is increasingly moving towards aligning itself with the right. In this past election, it was the vehicle for undeclared corporate money supporting various ballot propositions and specific candidates it identified as sympathetic to its agenda. There was a time, at least in some places – including California – where the arts had a decent relationship with the Chamber and could even count on its support. That reality now seems distant. The arguments that use to work in terms of convincing the Chamber to be supportive – namely that the arts were really just small businesses like most of the other Chamber constituents; that the arts were integrally important to the tourism industry and to business innovation and creativity in general; that the arts were an economic engine and a source of job creation; and that arts education was central to job preparation in an ever increasingly competitive global marketplace – all now seem unimportant to those that control the Chambers. 

In California there are some 14,000 businesses that constitute the state Chamber’s membership. Local chapters deal with local issues and the work of the state Chamber is done by committees and volunteers from those local chapters. The hierarchy of the state organization’s leadership and governing Board come from the bottom up. There are some 10,000 nonprofit arts organizations in California. If 20% of those arts organizations were to join their local Chambers of Commerce (dues are modest and local chapters welcome arts organizations) and get involved on the statewide committees and move up the ranks to chair some of those efforts – thus moving up the ranks of the organization – in just a couple of years the arts could constitute a formidable bloc within the state Chamber – and in so doing we could begin to seriously impact the policies and positions the Chamber takes. If 40% of all the arts organization would join their local chambers, and work into postions of authority, we could virtually take over the whole structure by 2016.  That's only five years from now.  And there are benefits - from networking, to resources, to local advocacy for the arts as small businesses in joining the local chapters.

When I was the Director of the CAC, some arts organizations were (as is still true) members of their local Chambers. The local membership welcomed those arts organizations as local businesses and partners and the very fact that arts organizations were involved members, helped to educate the entire local business communities as to how much in common arts organizations had with other businesses and how many mutually beneficial intersections existed for cooperation and collaboration. I went to several state Chamber conferences, and the membership of the state Chamber was very open to, and supportive of, the arts as part of the businesses community. It is only at the very upper echelon of the state and national Chambers that the leadership doesn’t seem to get that the arts are their constituents. But if we were 10% of their membership, I guarantee you everything would change. And the leadership would fall over themselves trying to address our needs. 

If we joined and got involved in the local, state and national Chamber we could change its attitude towards government arts support, and in so doing, increase the number of intersections with the GOP and the possibilities to educate them and change their perspectives on us. And it wouldn’t be all that hard, nor at all costly for us to embark on that sort of strategy. It would take some investment of time (which I know is scarce), but the benefits would arguably be direct, meaningful and (almost) immediate.  Now I know this is highly unlikely to happen.  No, we are likely to continue to plod along the way we have for decades, and with the same likely results:  the arts will continue to flounder and struggle for government support and legislation they want passed - to only marginal success.  We are, in this area alas, the very embodiment of Einstein's definition of insanity. 

This is the kind of effort we need to move towards in our advocacy and lobbying strategies if we are going to keep (and ultimately grow) government support for what we do – not just in funding, but in receptivity to a range of legislation that we might wish to put forth to protect the arts, artists, arts education and arts organizations over the next few years. If we don’t figure out a way to move arts support from being a one party issue, then we might as well resign ourselves to forever fighting the same battles over and over again, with the likelihood that, at best we will win some in good times, and that in bad times we will lose more and more of them. Both our advocacy philosophy and strategy must become much more sophisticated than just making the case for our value and defending ourselves against attacks.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Interview with Adam Huttler, Ex. Director of Fractured Atlas

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on………………………………”

Note:  The following interview with Adam Huttler, Executive Director of Fractured Atlas, is, I think, one of the better interviews I've done - thanks to two factors:  1) Adam is smart and insightful, and represents, I think, some of the best of the new thinking in the field;  and 2) he is refreshingly frank and doesn't parse his responses to the same extent a lot of us in the field do.  One of his attractive qualities seems to me that he is willing to take stands on issues and unabashedly defend his positions. 

The Interview:

BARRY: Your organization has grown very quickly. You’ve been quoted as saying that part of the reason for that explosive growth is that you were willing, early on, to provide services in areas others were not. Do you think others are now entering the areas of health care, providing fiscal sponsorship services, and some of the other things you do? And how does, or will, that affect how you expand your business operations?

ADAM: If your view of the competitive landscape is sufficiently broad and holistic, then you’ll never find yourself wholly without competition. Our programs face different levels and kinds of competition from different sources. For example, Fractured Atlas is the only arts service organization with a major liability insurance program, but there are commercial insurance brokers that consider us a serious threat and are competing aggressively for business from the arts community. Arguably the biggest competitor to our fiscal sponsorship program is the IRS itself, since the agency provides an alternate strategy (i.e. obtaining independent 501(c)(3) status) for soliciting grants and tax-deductible contributions.

That said, I’m deeply committed to the idea that we shouldn’t do anything unless we can do it in a way that provides substantially different or greater value to the field than existing alternatives. I’m not interested in “me too” programs. Hopefully that means we’re sufficiently self-aware and unsentimental to recognize when it’s time to close up shop because a program is no longer relevant.

BARRY: Whereas a great many of the national arts service provider organizations are still being led (and often largely staffed) by boomers or senior Generation Xers, Fractured Atlas seems to have a decidedly younger infrastructure. That seems to be one of the things that is attractive about Fractured Atlas to all generations. Is that by design?

ADAM: It’s true that the Fractured Atlas staff is ridiculously un-diverse with respect to age. It isn’t by design, but it’s clearly not a coincidence either. Our organizational culture is irreverent, technophilic, aggressive, and perhaps a bit cocky. That attracts a certain personality type that, while not limited to youngsters, does seem to skew that way.

BARRY: I note that there seems to be somewhat of a divide between the generations in fundamental thinking about any number of issues. For example, at the recent GIA conference, I found a concentration of reservation and suspicion about the National Capitalization Project in the younger attendees. Do you see wide generational shifts in thinking about the major issues facing the arts – and if you do, can you highlight some of those that seem particularly pronounced to you?

ADAM: Generalizations are always dangerous, but yes, I think there are some big differences in the way my generation and the baby boomers contextualize their work. The gap only gets wider when you start talking about the Millennials, etc. The biggest source of tension may be around how we define ourselves and the extent to which we operate in self-imposed silos. Andrew Taylor has described younger arts leaders as “tax status agnostic”, referring to their ability to fluidly move between the non-profit and commercial realms. I agree with that assessment, and would add that they also tend to be discipline agnostic, at least relative to their forebears. These kinds of foundational questions inevitably shape our dialogue about field-wide challenges.

BARRY: You’ve been on the record as critical of nonprofit organizations for failing to act like businesses, and for using the excuse (at least in part) of “mission trumps business considerations” for that failure. Can you elaborate on what you mean, and do you think that failure is, at its heart, an attitudinal problem that pervades the nonprofit universe psyche and culture, or is it a practical problem that nonprofit arts leaders by and large have too little training or access to training?

ADAM: Some non-profit leaders use mission as an excuse for inaction, inefficiency, or incompetence. In a capitalist society, non-profit organizations exist to provide goods or services that are considered valuable but that can’t survive without subsidy due to some kind of market failure. The word “mission” is ultimately a kind of shorthand for those inherently unprofitable objectives.

Of course, just because some activity meets the IRS criteria for charitability doesn’t mean it must be 100% subsidized by philanthropic support. On the contrary, non-profit organizations have a moral responsibility to be thoughtful and focused about how those subsidies are applied. There is a limited supply of charitable dollars out there, and to allocate them to activities that could be self-financing with a little creativity is wasteful and represents a lost opportunity.

Beyond that, there are important strategic reasons to emphasize earned revenue. Wherever possible, I want to align Fractured Atlas’s operations so that the folks paying for our services are the same ones benefitting from them. There’s no better way to test whether you’re providing real value to your constituents than to ask them to open their wallets. Artists and arts organizations rarely have disposable income, so they’re not going to spend their money on something unless it provides clear and compelling benefits to their work. If a program of ours is misguided or ineffective, we get immediate, painful feedback to that effect.

Mission-fulfillment and revenue-generation are both more effective when they’re aligned with each other. I appreciate that this isn’t always possible in practice, but it’s always a useful guiding principle. As non-profit leaders, we have a responsibility to be thoughtful and intentional about how we approach this stuff.

BARRY: Where do you think arts organizations can share business functions so as to cut costs and enjoy the efficiencies and economy of size, and where is that likely to result in artistic paralysis?

ADAM: Running an organization requires a mix of commodity and specialized resources. Commodity resources are one-size-fits-all and therefore mostly interchangeable. Email servers, bookkeepers, and office supplies all fall under this category. Specialized resources are things like artistic directors and custom software. They’re specific to the organization and much harder to swap or replace.

As an industry, we can realize economies of scale and other benefits by pooling commodity resources wherever it’s practical to do so. This can take a lot of different forms. Most of Fractured Atlas’s services are commodities, and we’re able to share the acquisition and maintenance costs across 14,000+ members. A more intimate model might involve several small dance companies sharing office space and administrative staff.

Occasionally you’ll see arts organizations try to share specialized resources, which in my view is almost always a mistake. If those same small dance companies try to share a development director, they’ll run into irreconcilable conflicts of interest, without actually seeing any scaling benefits.

BARRY: Why do you think there is so little attempt to share the functions that might so easily be aggregated and provide an economy of scale – e.g., bookkeeping / accounting / payroll / office space etc.?

ADAM: I think there’s a lot of interest in it, but there aren’t a lot of service providers. It’s tough to run a successful business when none of your customers have any money.

BARRY: Your core client base seems to lean more towards individual artists or entrepreneurs. Is the organizational membership rising as fast? Are you actively seeking a balanced mix with arts organizations? Most of your membership is New York centered and the rest is principally in larger urban states. Do you have a strategy for expansion into more rural areas at some point, or is the growth simply left to chance?

ADAM: The dividing line between individual artists and arts organizations is more fluid than it used to be. Fractured Atlas tries to be flexible enough to accommodate the various ways in which artists actually work. Many of our fiscally sponsored projects, for example, are one-time collaborations with a finite lifespan. As far as what kind of members we’re seeking… Right now it’s almost totally driven by word of mouth, so it’s a bit organic and random.

The urban vs. rural question is trickier. We need to do a better job of serving artists outside major metropolitan areas. That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, though, unless we make a specific attempt to reach out to them. I’m open to suggestions on how that might work.

BARRY: You have launched what is still an embryonic Online Course offering – principally for artists. Do you see expanding that at some point to also offer courses for arts administrators working within organizations? To what degree do you see training or professional development as a bigger part of Fractured Atlas’ offered services in the future?

ADAM: Fractured U. – our online course offering – is still a work-in-progress. We launched it a while back with a specific business model in mind that hasn’t yet panned out. We made a six-figure investment in researching best practices in online pedagogy and designing a software application to support them. The software itself is a great foundation for a web-based learning platform. The trick right now is getting the content. Fractured Atlas can’t be the sole or even primary producer of online courses. We’re talking to a number of service organizations and other groups with professional development programs about how they can reach a bigger audience by distributing their material online at Fractured U. I’m not precious about the branding, so we’re open to white-labeled mini-portals or anything else that makes sense.

BARRY: What about research. What kinds of research do you see Fractured Atlas getting involved with and to what purpose?

ADAM: Our research strategy is closely tied up with our technology strategy. We’ve been working on a new software system for cultural mapping and analysis called Archipelago. The rough idea is that a variety of web-based applications each serve a different community of users in specific ways (e.g., one application might provide a searchable database of rentable rehearsal studios, while another aggregates event listings on a central calendar). As a natural side-effect of their use, the applications collectively generate a ton of useful data that can be aggregated into a shared backend repository. The information is anonymized as appropriate, but then it can be sliced and diced in a million different ways. We see utility for academic researchers, institutional funders, policymakers, and others who are interested in a 30,000 foot view of the cultural landscape.

I’m very interested in a research tactic that might be called “organic data collection”. There’s some real data entry fatigue in the field right now. Every day we’re being told about new surveys or places where we have to record and update information about our organizations. It’s impossible to manage it all, and the data itself quickly becomes stale. The irony is that we’re creating gobs of good data all the time as a natural byproduct of our daily business operations. The challenge is to capture that information, aggregate it (anonymously where necessary), and distribute it in ways that make it useful. Done right, I believe we can end up with more data, of a higher quality, and with a much shorter time lag than currently exists, while actually reducing the data entry burden on the field.

There’s also a network effect here. When data from lots of different sources are connected, each individual data set becomes more valuable because of the ways in which it can be cross-referenced and mashed up with all the others. We can start to explore more complex metrics for tracking the health of artistic ecosystems holistically. This all lays the groundwork for the kinds of robust analytical resources that other fields, like education, transportation, and health care, have enjoyed for decades.

BARRY: Research and data collection / analysis is the one place where disparate sub-sections of the arts field (from funders to discipline based organizations) have come together for real collaboration. Do you think this continuing emphasis on that one area of cooperation is inhibiting working together in other areas, or do you think this emphasis is a transitional phase that will ultimately facilitate and broker more (and deeper) collaborative efforts in other areas in the future?

ADAM: Authentic collaboration is very hard. All of the challenges we normally face within our own organizations around communication, timelines, resource management, or goal-setting are exponentially more difficult when the work stretches across organizational boundaries. The good news is that you get better with practice. You also become smarter about identifying future opportunities for collaboration. So my instinct is that some of these wonky research-centric efforts are just a first step. Hopefully we all have the intestinal fortitude to stick with it, in which case we’re setting the stage for even more productive collaborations in other areas in the future.

BARRY: How else do you see Fractured Atlas helping artists and arts organizations better run their businesses in the future? What plans are on your drawing board? Where would you like to take the organization in the next two years?

Do you see an expanded role for Fractured Atlas in the technology area beyond simply providing consulting services to individuals or individual organizations – something that might impact the whole sector – and what might that be?

ADAM: Historically, Fractured Atlas has used technology as a tool for delivering fundamentally low-tech services. By integrating our back office systems and making all of our services accessible from our website, we’ve been able to serve a huge community of artists and organizations with a relatively modest staff and budget.

Going forward, I expect that technology will increasingly be something we provide as an end in itself. We’ve got two big projects in the cooker. One is the Archipelago cultural mapping software that I mentioned. The other is ATHENA, our open source software platform for the cultural sector. In the first quarter of 2011 we’re planning to launch the first versions of ATHENA Tix – an event ticketing system – and ATHENA People – a donor/patron-management tool. Down the road we’re looking at ATHENA components for everything from social media management to non-profit accounting. All of these tools will be available for free as open source downloads. We will also provide cloud-hosted, “software-as-a-service” versions for organizations without the capacity or interest to manage their own complex IT infrastructures.

BARRY: On your website you claim: “We can also help institutional funders, policymakers, and others refine their 30,000 foot view of the field.” How do you do that?

ADAM: This mostly comes back to Archipelago and the benefits I mentioned earlier. Over time, we believe these tools can provide unprecedented breadth and genuine nuance in our collective understanding of the cultural sector.

BARRY: Do you find the funding and policymaking sectors open to outside help in refining their rarefied view of the field, or do you find them still insular, preferring to heed their own counsel exclusively?

ADAM: Can I plead the fifth on this one? In all honestly most of the folks I talk to from those worlds are eager for more, better data that can inform their decisions. I don’t expect them to substitute my judgment for their own, however. Their conclusions are always going to be informed primarily by their own experience, insights, and biases. But I’m a big believer in the power of information. It’s hard to hold on to your insular perspective when data that undermines it is staring you in the face.

BARRY: Your business model claims to be based on earned income, though you do allow that new program development and expansion of existing program scope is dependent on outside (government / foundation) funding. Is that model replicable for a performance arts organization with ever increasing fixed artistic and production costs coupled with dwindling audiences?

ADAM: Yes, I believe this philosophy can be adopted by almost anyone with a little creativity. The first step is to clearly distinguish between start-up/ramp-up costs and ongoing operating costs. For a performing arts company, this could be conceptualized as the difference between the resources required to develop a new work vs. the costs of running the show. I know it’s hard to survive on ticket sales, especially if you want to appeal to young and/or diverse audiences, but I refuse to believe it’s impossible. The arts community is starting to get a lot more sophisticated about its approach to marketing and audience development. We’re not yet in the same universe as Proctor and Gamble, but we’re making progress.

I’m going to get into trouble here, but my personal belief is that the tension between aesthetic integrity and popular appeal is overblown. All too often this ostensibly irreconcilable conflict serves as a convenient excuse for vapid artistic pretension, incompetent marketing, or both. Shakespeare was the most popular playwright of his day, and he sold a lot of tickets.

BARRY: Is the current revenue stream model of the typical nonprofit arts organization – consisting of earned income, government support, foundation and corporate support, and individual donations – still viable?

ADAM: It can be, sure. Diversification is really important. Having a mix of revenue sources – different products or services, different types of customers, etc. – makes you more resilient in the face of change or crisis.

BARRY: In considering advocacy as part of your organization’s portfolio, you say: “Policymakers shouldn't be curators, hand picking artists and organizations to support based on perceived aesthetic merit. Instead, it's the government's responsibility to ensure a healthy infrastructure in which creativity and culture can thrive.” Does that mean you oppose the NEA and state and local arts agency model that allocates grants based on peer panel review of artistic (and other) merit? Where, ideally and specifically, do you think government money can best be allocated to ensure that “healthy infrastructure”?

ADAM: I’m not opposed to public funding for individual artists or organizations, but I don’t see it as the primary role for government to play. The NEA’s budget is $160M or so and it’s a brutal fight every year just to prevent Congress from making cuts. It’s easy for ignorant opponents of arts funding to cherry pick controversial artists who’ve received funding and use them as wedges in the culture wars. This is a grim slog of a fight, and even when we “win” the rewards are pretty skimpy.

Meanwhile, policymakers – on both a local and national level – have countless other levers for impacting cultural vitality. Zoning laws can determine whether urban cultural enclaves remain dynamic hubs of creativity or gentrify into sterile swaths of Starbucks and bank branches. Immigration rules can facilitate or inhibit international cultural exchange. Even if you’re only interested in funding, then consider that the NEA represents less than 1/20,000th of total federal spending. We need to take a more holistic view in which the arts play a role in projects funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, or the Department of Homeland Security.

BARRY: The calculation of the total amount of money spent (or available to be spent) by the federal government has always been skewed by the arts sector so as to characterize it on the lowest possible end. If you add the Humanities, Smithsonian, and Museums to the NEA, plus all the other funding that might conceivably be counted as arts support from other departments and agencies (Transportation to HUD et. al) -- not to mention factoring in state and local support – and the total is considerably higher. Moreover, the “potential” for substantially larger pools of support is arguably there IF we had more political clout. And don’t we need to be more politically savvy and organized if we are to be able to pull some of those other “levers” you are talking about?

ADAM: You haven’t even mentioned the biggest public subsidy by far, which comes indirectly through the tax code. The federal government forgoes something like $5B/year in tax revenues to incentivize private philanthropic support of the arts. But yes, we’re in agreement; it’s not all about the NEA.

You’re also correct that we’re politically impotent as a field right now. Fixing that is not going to be easy, but getting organized and nurturing young leaders who are savvy about this stuff is a place to start.

BARRY: You also state (on advocacy) that: “Rattling our tin cup for more government funding is no longer enough.” Yet you haven’t formed a sister 501 (c) (4) organization, nor started a PAC or other mechanisms that would allow you to take a more aggressive role in moving arts advocacy from rattling that tin cup to joining the ranks of other special interests, both public and private, in developing and using real political clout – based on candidate support. Why is that? Is a more active political agenda in Fractured Atlas’ future?

ADAM: For me, the tin cup metaphor is less about flexing our collective muscle and more about adopting a broader frame for thinking about the arts and public policy. Having said that, there are a lot of ways we can approach policy questions from a position of strength rather than neediness. The arts have a lot to contribute to society, and we ought to start acting like it.

As far as 501(c)(4)s and PACs go… Remember that there’s no prohibition against 501(c)(3) organizations engaging in lobbying activities. We can’t directly support or oppose specific candidates, but we’re legally allowed to do a lot more than many of us realize. Fractured Atlas is already pretty aggressive on this front, and I see us only being more active in the future. We’ve explored 501(c)(4) and PAC options and we may go that route at some point, but there’s no concrete need at the moment.

BARRY: Actually, we can legally and directly support or oppose candidates, and contribute money to them as well - we simply have to create the right mechanisms to do so (just like any other special interest group) – from 501 (c) (4)’s to PACs and beyond. Some have argued (me included) that the nonprofit arts sector (by taking advantage of its ability to do performance benefits to fund its political activities) ought to be one of the most powerful special interest groups on the playing field – with real political clout that might not only help us to obtain more funding, but pass diverse legislation on all the levels as you suggest – from tax laws to zoning regulations. Yet we do not. I continue to be somewhat dismayed that we don’t move towards that direction. Why do you think we continue to cling to the (false) notion that we aren’t permitted to give money directly to candidates we support or oppose, and why aren’t we interested in developing real political clout?

ADAM: I suspect this is just about semantics, but my point was that 501(c)(3) organizations themselves are not allowed to support or oppose candidates. Yes, if you establish a sister organization with a different tax status, your options widen considerably. Even then, however, the laws are very strict about coordination between the two companies. I think some folks are simply intimidated by the legal complexities of something they see as outside their core mission.

I can tell you that I’ve personally made a few attempts at political fundraising, mainly drawing on colleagues who I’ve met in the field, and it’s not easy. Not only do we not have a lot of disposable cash lying around, but I’ve also encountered ethical resistance based on the idea of an implied quid pro quo. That said, clearly there are some people who get it, who are politically pragmatic, and who have the resources or connections to make something happen. To anyone reading this blog who sees him/herself in that description and wants to start a PAC: give me a call.

Thank you very much Adam.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit!