Sunday, January 31, 2010


Hello everybody.

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

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Everywhere across the country, I am seeing more discussions, gatherings and convenings of arts leaders talking about “tools, tactics and strategies” for expanding the public participation in the arts.

ARTS JOURNAL’S FIVE DAY BLOGATHON: Doug McLennan of Arts Journal and Bill Ivey hosted a fascinating online blogathon discussion last week on Ivey’s concept of the “Expressive Life” and how the arts might widen the nature of what arts & culture should encompass in American life. Some very smart people exchanged ideas over five days on changing the dynamic of the discussion – from the labels and frames we use for that discussion to what is at stake in expansion of the dialogue. While the discussion was largely academic and intellectual in tone, and while it predictably (and perhaps intentionally) rambled some, the longer range practical implications are apparent. Generally this type of inquiry is a luxury for the average arts administrator who has little time for anything other than the daily grind of surviving. But it is important. Very important.

Bill Ivey is almost single handedly on a mission to keep consideration of the implications of national arts & culture policy alive and continuing. The problem with reframing the debate about arts & culture is first to get larger portions of both our sector and the wider community to participate in the process, and second to come to consensus conclusions that will lead to action steps. Unfortunately, only a small portion of those that need to participate in the process do so, and we end up talking about it ad infinitum with nothing ever changing. We are talking about a huge, almost societal movement here that might take a generation or more to finally and fully effect. But it has to start somewhere. It is entirely possible that a whole movement can be spurred on by a single person – witness the growth of the “slow food” movement created really by Berkeley chef Alice Waters.

I personally think Bill Ivey is the right person to spearhead progress in our sector for a new movement that embodies all of the diverse considerations he’s already brought to the fore in his book, Arts Inc., and which contemporary discussions have, and are adding to the mix. But he will need some support along the way and somehow he has to figure out how to cede ownership to a widely diverse and geographically spread out group of constituents, supporters and stakeholders who will have to run with the theory and implement the nuts & bolts of it on the run. And we remain a long way from that reality.

I hope he might convene a whole bunch of leaders and thinkers across a diverse swath of our sector, and rather than conduct more large, unwieldy general discussions, I would suggest he might somehow divide some people into smaller groups – charge each one of them with some specific tasks over the next six months (e.g., one group deals with the options and recommendations for changing the lexicon and labels as part of the reframing effort; another group takes on the identification of both the key major issues that would be prime areas to address in the launch of a new movement and the absolutely essential players that might help move such a sea change in thinking and approach forward; still another group devises some options for how we might launch such an effort so that it would have ripple effects and take on a growth of its own and so forth). Then let him convene all those people together in one place and that group spends a couple of days reviewing the findings of the smaller groups, and then coming up with thoughts and concrete recommendations for specific action steps to move forward. Of course, there would be dissenters and detractors from whatever plan might evolve from such an effort, but at least something concrete could come out of it and we would, at least, have a starting point that people could run with. Surely some foundation or funding source would support that effort.

Somehow we have to get a handle on what is an absolutely enormous undertaking and break free of the paralysis of too much thinking and move to action. Of course, there would be dissenters and detractors from whatever plan might evolve from such an effort, but at least something concrete could come out of it and we would, at least, have a starting point that people could run with. Surely some foundation or funding source would support that effort.

THE SF DYNAMIC ADAPTABILITY CONFERENCE: Locally in San Francisco, I attended a gathering last week called Dynamic Adaptability - sponsored by a consortium of groups including the Wallace Foundation, SF Grants for the Arts, the Center for Cultural Innovation, Helicon (the Holly Sidford – Marcy Cady consulting collaborative), the SF Arts Commission, the San Francisco Foundation, and LINC. Some 600 of 750 people who signed up for the free all day event heard a number of presentations designed to stimulate and motivate arts leaders in new ways of thinking about engagement in the arts. I offer just a few, brief personal insights that I took away from this one gathering (admitting and acknowledging that others got more / less /different take aways). Perhaps the most salient take away was, according to Daniel Windham from the Wallace Foundation, that while attendance at mainstream arts events is down, artistic production and engagement is way up. The implications of that simple fact are myriad and pose huge challenges for the sector in virtually every area – from research to marketing to the very ways access to art is framed.

Here are some takeaways from that gathering:

• A presentation on brain research by neuroscientist and author Jonas Leher who talked about the non-rationality of decision making, and argued that emotion plays a role in almost all decision making; that our instincts guide our decisions, that we use ‘meta-cognition’ (the process of the brain adjusting thinking patterns based on what it knows and knows it doesn’t know about how we make determinations) without even knowing it.

Leher related numerous studies that demonstrate that intangibles impact the process of how we decide things, including:

1. Loss Aversion: Human beings are so averse to loss, that we often behave somewhat irrationally in our decisions. Example: if you flip a coin, there is a 50 / 50 chance it will come up heads or tails, but most people will not make a bet on whether the next flip will be one or the other until you give them odds of a payoff of $1.75 to 50 cents. The loss potential is so great that the reward has to be high to justify the risk. Similarly, and illogically, people tend to keep losing stocks and sell ones that are on the rise because they just can’t accept cutting their losses. Losses hurt more than gains benefit.

2. Marshmallow Test: Four year olds were offered a marshmallow, but told if they would wait 15 minutes they could have TWO marshmallows to see how long they were willing to defer their gratification. The kids who were successful in waiting the full 15 minutes used a variety of techniques to refocus their attention elsewhere to avoid the temptation.

3. Word Association: When subjects were given a standard kind of word test that required them to focus on a specific task (i.e., what prefix / suffix word goes with these three words: pine, crab and sauce), those who were the most successful were those who found some way to relax their alpha waves and step away from the intensity of the problem at hand. Thus, the notion that time spent away from a task is wasted time turns out not to be valid. Daydreaming uses more energy than a brain focusing on a specific task as creativity is a more complex activity. But insights are easier to come to when the brain is relaxed and not so focused on solving a specific problem.

The answer to the word game was: apple. PineAPPLE, CrabAPPLE, APPLEsauce.

Alas, while these examples and insights were both entertaining and informative, and certainly food for thought, Leher never really addressed the syllabus question for this presentation: “How can understanding the science behind decision making help us better engage our audiences.”

He did offer one statistic that I found startling (and somewhat frightening): Proctor & Gamble employs more PhDs than any other company in the world and has more Nobel prize winning scientists on staff than MIT and UC Berkeley combined. Now there is a great use of scientific brainpower at work, huh? Do we need more products like Swifter?

Finally, Leher opined that there may be a danger in younger people’s increasing reliance on technology for their exposure to art and that they might be missing the value of the experience of the direct relationship in having a more personal connection.

• Judilee Reed of LINC related some facts from a survey of artists it did last year, few of which were, by their own admission, surprising, though I thought interesting the finding that internet use is highest in exploring museums and writers.

• A study conducted by Wolf Brown and Helicon to be released this spring on Donor Motivation similarly yielded predictable conclusions: Donors supporting artists become engaged via four principal points (in no order): 1) a personal relationship; 2) a passion for the art; 3) an emotional or intellectual connection to the subject matter or issue; and 4) a connection to the culture or community involved in the project. And there are five primary values that motivate arts donors: 1) localism – a focus on community outside existing institutional structures; 2) humanism - valuing social goods; 3) distinction – a focus on world class art; 4) bonding – focus on beliefs that connect people; and 5) progressivism – valuing individualism and cutting edge arts & ideas.

A presentation including working artists Margaret Jenkins and Jamie Cortez raised a couple of interesting observations:

             o Jenkins thought being surrounded by optimistic people was essential in these bad times. She also thought artists should be wary of false decoys – such as the notion that audience size was the right measurement of success. And she thought exposure to the work of an artist’s contemporaries was good for motivation.
             o Cortez opined that ‘mission drift’ – the increasing phenomenon of artists having to spend more and more time away from creativity and more time in focusing on how to pay the overhead was a problem. He also wondered if artists spending more time teaching was perhaps somewhat of a Faustian compromise.

A thoroughly enjoyable panel on new ways to engage audiences and supporters, provided the following insights I found interesting:

               • Artist Phillip Huang, a very charming and engaging young performance artist, did a fascinating experiment pitching a proposed artistic endeavor (Witness to Fitness) a performance of undetermined content on the street side of the plate glass windows in front of Bay Area 24/7 gyms where those exercising looked out towards the sidewalk. To be filmed & put on You Tube. He told the audience he needed $300, and extolled and cajoled those in attendance to contribute in a basket passed around. He invited a volunteer from the audience to propose an alternative performance piece and a young woman offered the Feminist Dressing Room project - a writer’s short story experiment invading the dressing rooms of women’s boutiques. The point was that fundraising need not be overly ambitious, that it should be fun, and that it can be spontaneous. The audience agreed and ponied up, on the spot, some $225 to Huang and $180 to the other alternative – literally tossing money from the balcony.

              • Huang – hardly shy - also offered that in the new economy today’s artist gives away most of its product for free and that you don’t need a lot of money to create. He opined that artists should go narrow and deep – and not broad – because you want an audience desperate for what you offer. He also posited that most web activity is now about finding and expanding your tribe. And finally offered the observation (quoting his friend Kirk Read) that the most dangerous thing in the world is “well meaning, fearful people” – then concluded that 90% of arts administrators fall into that category. I liked him a lot as did, I think, most of the audience.

              • Perry Chen, the founder of – a website that allows people to pitch projects to solicit small, individual donations, described the process of successful small online fundraising. Key is to offer small projects which are more exciting to people, and to offer the potential supporters something (involvement) in return. Successful users of his site tell a story of some kind and invite donors to become part of that story in some way. I think this is a good use of the web and I think he is onto something we can use.

I wondered if any of the content of the day was valuable to those who attended. While much of that which was offered was interesting , entertaining and encouraging – was it practically useful? Why, I wondered, did people attend this gathering in the first place; what did they expect to get out of it, and were their expectations met? , and so during the lunch break I interviewed a dozen or more attendees and asked them those questions. Surprisingly, there was a general consensus, at least among those I talked to (and I spoke with both artists and arts administrators – but tried to question only those people I didn’t know) – that the reason they came was that they felt somewhat isolated in their daily work (artistic or administrative) and that this kind of gathering allowed them to re-connect to the larger whole of our field, providing them the opportunity to feel less isolated. They came not necessarily because they thought they would leave with any real solutions to the problems they faced, but rather for encouragement, for motivation, for camaraderie – for making that elusive connection to those similarly situated to themselves, and for new ideas and new thinking. I thought that rather profound.

As a field we face a plethora of serious and daunting challenges and there appear no easy solutions (or, for that matter, any solutions) to some of those issues. This has created a situation that seems ripe for consideration of some fundamental, big issues and there seems to me to be a growing trend to move that ideal forward. Where it will end, or what, if anything, it will produce that will be lasting remains to be seen, but I think the process is valuable to us, and getting out of our complacency and questioning past assumptions, challenging long held tenets, and be exposed to and thinking in different ways is a good sign. I came away from this conference thinking that we need more artists at our gatherings – and not just the traditional performers.

NEXT WEEK: The long awaited in-depth interview with NEA Chair Rocco Landesman.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Hello everyone.

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


Kicking off its’ 50th Anniversary, Americans for the Arts this morning released its long in preparation NATIONAL ARTS INDEX – an annual single number score that purports to measure the health and vitality of the arts in America (both for profit and nonprofit sectors). Think: Consumer Confidence Index.

The measurement is distilled from a huge amount of data and based on 76 separate indicators - grouped in four broad categories to arrive at an “Arts & Culture Balanced Scorecard”:

• “Financial Flows” include private and public support to institutions, pay of individual artists, and revenues of arts businesses and nonprofits. All of these are payment for artistic services and provide fuel for capacity to produce arts activities and experiences for arts audiences.

• “Capacity” indicators measure relatively durable levels of institutions, capital, employment, and payroll levels in the arts and culture system. Capacity and infrastructure transform financial flows into arts activities.

•"Arts Participation” indicators measure actual consumption of those activities, which may be in the form of goods, services, or experiences.

• “Competitiveness” indicators illustrate the position of the arts compared to other sectors in society, using measures of market share and economic impact.

The purpose according to the Report is to promote dialogue and discussion on the arts and its role in American life on multiple levels and fronts. It is an enormously ambitious effort and the sheer size of the aggregated data unquestionably raises questions the sector should address.

The Index covers a ten year span from 1999 to 2008, with 2003 set to a base score of 100. The higher the score, the better arts industries in America are faring.

According to the report: "The 2008 National Arts Index fell 4 points to a score of 98.4, reflecting losses in charitable giving and declining attendance at larger cultural institutions, even as the number of arts organizations grew. The 2008 downturn in the Index was not wholly unexpected. With 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations and 600,000 more arts-related businesses, 2.24 million artists in the workforce, and billions of dollars in consumer spending, the arts industries largely track the nation’s business cycle. A score of 105.5 would return the Index to its highest point, measured in 1999.

Key findings from the National Arts Index report (as highlighted by Americans for the Arts) include:

• “Demand for the arts lags supply. Between 1998 and 2008, there was a steady increase in the number of artists, arts organizations, and arts-related employment. Nonprofit arts organizations alone grew in number from 73,000 to 104,000 during this span of time. That one out of three failed to achieve a balanced budget even during the strongest economic years of this decade suggests that sustaining this capacity is a growing challenge, and these gains are at risk.

• How the public participates in and consumes the arts is expanding. Tens of millions of people attend concerts, plays, opera, and museum exhibitions, yet the percentage of the U.S. population attending these arts events is shrinking, and the decline is noticeable. On the increase, however, is the percentage of the American public personally creating art (e.g., music making and drawing). Technology is changing how Americans experience the arts and consumption via technology and social media is also up.

• The competitiveness of the arts is slipping. While the nature of arts participation is changing, not all arts organizations are equally adept at meeting changes in demand. The arts, in many ways, are not “stacking up” well against other uses of audience members’ time, donor and funder commitment, or spending when compared to non-arts sectors."

Note on the methodology:  Doubtless critics will decry the use of a single number index to denote the health and vitality of something so complex and far reaching as the arts in America as too simplistic and as an exercise which may actually harm the arts in the longer term by pandering to popular media portrayal of the arts as just another marker in the dumbing down of the whole of society. To be sure any gathering of statistical data – and most certainly one as far reaching and ambitious as this effort – will inevitably and invariably have the methodology of how the data was gathered, analyzed, weighted and averaged criticized as being incomplete, biased and otherwise inaccurate and unfair, but I think those kinds of criticisms are both unfair and miss the essential point of this marker and the value its component parts provide and the opportunities they present.

First, like it or not, the media embraces and gravitates towards simplicity. The health of the film business cannot, of course, be completely measured by the annual Box Office of the Top 100 Film releases, but in some ways it can. And, as importantly, that marker allows for consideration of a whole host of issues germane to both the status and the health of film production in America. The same is true with this Index for the arts. It is simply a starting point and a convenient benchmark that will hopefully get us some media attention on the deeper issues relative to our future as well as facilitate and encourage discussion within our field on important issues. As a tool, The Local Arts Index, an offshoot of this national model, will, I think be very helpful to local planners and arts groups, and will provide us a common standard for measurement and evaluation that we have heretofore lacked.

Second, while the 76 separate indicators are subject to criticism by virtue of what is included and what isn’t, as well as how the data for each indicator was collected, weighted and compared to other data within each category, such criticism largely begs the question of the value of the data collected, weighted and compared – which I think is enormous. While I am not an academically trained statistician or experienced in data analysis, the framework for this index seems comprehensive and relatively equitable to me. It will provide us with a wealth of centralized data heretofore unavailable to us, and promote the dialogue Americans for the Arts hopes it will. Moreover, I am assuming that like other indices this one will, over time, morph as more sophisticated techniques are available and applied, and a wider range of considerations is developed in the composition of the indicators and the analysis of the data. In short, data collection is always a work in progress.

It seems to me that the value of this Index is precisely that the data leads to a number of inescapable conclusions (some of which may finally lead to a consensus of opinion across different strata within our ranks as to how to proceed), as well as a myriad of other conclusions on which there will legitimately be disagreement and debate – which we will need to consider and address. I have had access to this data for a month now, and I am only beginning to get into it. There is a lot here to consider and much for our sector to digest and I anticipate it will indeed help to jumpstart local and national discussion.

Rather than try to delve too deeply into the specific data findings of the Report, I urge all of you to access it for yourself . Read the summary conclusions, review the 76 indicators and consider all of the questions the Report puts forward as issues we need to consider given this data. To be sure, there are many, many more questions than those in this Report and that, I think, is precisely the point.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit


Sunday, January 17, 2010


Hello everyone.

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


California’s funding for the arts continues to be in crisis mode. There is yet again a huge deficit facing the state, and the prospect of new funds on the state or municipal levels is all but a non-starter. Foundations portfolios have lost value and budget cuts to their funding allocations continues (witness the letter from Hewlett to grantees advising them that their Performing Arts Program - cut 40% over the past two years – will remain flat at that level, and that the foundation will end its support for national arts service organizations, scale back on any new research or initiatives into the arts education arena, forego any other kinds of new initiatives, and will only accept letters of inquiry by invitation. Corporate giving continues its downward track, audiences are shrinking and individual donor giving is good for some, not for most.

The California Arts sector’s financial underpinning may be worse than many areas around the country, but it is hardly alone. In the face of this daunting funding calamity, advocacy has become particularly challenging. The sector is asked to rally to this emergency or that crisis - not to make any headway, but to keep draconian elimination of programs and services from happening. In terms of public funding the supply continues to shrink, the demand continues to increase, the competition gets more fierce and we remain less organized than other sectors and still without real political clout. And so arts advocacy could hardly get more difficult in that environment.

Last week the California Arts Advocates invited 100 leaders / thinkers from around the state to gather in Sacramento to engage in a Visioning Retreat – a two day affair to try to jumpstart a state wide dialogue and conversation on how the arts sector might envision making itself indispensable to the daily life of the average citizen.

I am seeing more of these “visioning” gatherings around the country as the times dictate that traditional advocacy and lobbying is not likely to succeed. Faced with the prospect of spinning our wheels, more of us are turning to tackling the even harder challenge of how to change our fortunes over the long term based on our (at least perceived) value to the average person in our local communities. At least at this gathering, there was a clear understanding that such an undertaking would take a long, long time to affect. But the prevailing feeling was that such a Herculean effort had to start somewhere. The unspoken feeling was, I think, that if we aren’t likely to succeed in the short term goals of convincing government decision makers to increase our funding, then we still need to do something – anything – so as to keep our coalitions alive and nurture our own. And so maybe addressing the biggest issues is the right thing to do at this point in time.

I think this is exactly right for the most part.

The Sacramento gathering started out with consideration of the changing composition of California demographics, then moved to small discussions of what a dynamic, relevant, meaningful sector that resonated really well with the average local citizen might look like. I think the organizers of this event – and similar ones that seem to be taking place across the country – are to be commended. They are trying to help us to stay joined together, to focus on something tangible (even if grandiose) and to feel empowered.

The problem with these efforts is the practical challenge of moving forward. How do you sustain momentum? How do you take a somewhat esoteric exercise and package the process so that you can replicate it and actually engage a large number of people in an ongoing conversation – first within your sector, but then (and more problematical) to the larger community? Given the challenges and demands everyone in the sector faces – how do you launch a real dialogue that will take root and last in the community? I think this particular gathering might have spent more time on the practicalities of that specific task. I am afraid that the goal of making the dialogue real got somewhat lost in the mechanics of trying to envision the scope of the problem and the form the solution might take. Unless there is some grappling with the specifics and logistics of fomenting a real dialogue it is very difficult to sustain a conversation despite the best of intentions.

But in the overall scheme, that is a minor criticism. There is much to be said about the effort itself – the involvement of those that originate it, of those they invite to join them, and of the process of moving forward. Advocacy needs involvement to stay alive; it needs some focus, the periodic sense of victory and empowerment to avoid paralysis borne of ennui.

I was one of the original founders of the California Arts Advocates back in the mid 1990s – itself a reincarnation of any earlier advocacy effort. I know how difficult arts advocacy can be - a grossly underfunded, exclusively volunteer effort that simply has too many challenges and too few victories. I have the greatest respect and admiration for those who are selflessly and tirelessly dedicating their time and energy into the current advocacy effort in California – given the times a largely impossible and thankless enterprise. The ones I know personally who are now guiding the Arts Advocates - Brad Erickson, Deborah Cullinan, Daniele Brazell, Dalouge Smith, Terence McFarland, and Kerry Adams Harper together with their board colleagues and all the participants across the state are doing a quite incredible job to keep the hope and reality of arts advocacy alive. And the same is true of other dedicated people in our ranks across the country.

I hope that those local collective efforts to launch conversations and dialogues across the sector about how we might envision a way to finally, and more fully, be considered by the public as an indispensable part of daily living in our local communities take root and grow. I hope we spend more time talking about the mechanics of how we might launch and keep those “big picture” conversations going, and how those conversations tie into arts advocacy and its future – because I think that will be key in accomplishing the goal. And the process will be a long, long one for changing public attitudes is no easy task. I hope too that in the not too distant future, arts advocacy can again return to the more mundane, practical job of trying to influence decision makers in our favor and that we keep in mind the importance of political clout to the task. Vision by itself will never be enough for successful advocacy.


Have a good week.

Don’t Quit.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on..............”

Welcome to BARRY’S BLOG on the new platform.

Here are just a few of the Blog Posts I am working on for the coming year - Don’t miss out on these 2010 BARRY’S BLOG entries:

1. A late January major interview with Rocco Landesman, Chair of the NEA.

2. An in-depth focus on the new Americans for the Arts potential game changing research: The Arts Index.

3. The Annual Top 25 Most Powerful & Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts Sector.

4. The Annual Year End Predictions of trends in the field.

5. A multi-week online Forum with national leaders on one of two subjects:

• Arts education, or

• Technology in both the creation and presentation of art.

6. At least three major in-depth interviews.

7. Several Roundtable Discussions

• The BLOGGER’S ROUNDTABLE - featuring a half dozen or more of the sector’s principal bloggers discussing why they blog, what they hope to accomplish, the ups & downs of blogging and the role blogs play in arts & cultural administration and policy formulation.

ARTS ACADEMIC ROUNDTABLE – featuring directors of major arts administration degree programs on the future of professional development and training for new (and existing) leadership.

• The MILLENNIALS ROUNDTABLE – a candid discussion with young Millennial arts leaders from around the country about their workplace experiences, role in policy making and the ups and downs of trying to carve out a career in a down economy and a boomer generation world.

Here are just some of the topics I hope to focus on in future blogs in 2010:

1. Multicultural Arts Provision in America at the end of the first decade of the century - Short shift or fair shake? - an exploration of the economic and other challenges facing the nonprofit multicultural arts communities and how they are faring in addressing those challenges. Are they getting support or are they on their own.

2. Some consideration on the CompARTmentalization of the nonprofit arts sector. How and why do we let others define us?

3. The arts and the business relationship re-examined. When will we figure out that it's a waste of time to ask for business support and cooperation until we figure out what they want and how to deliver it? How do we even get past the business world's gatekeepers?

4. Arts Administrators as Sisyphus: Does anybody (beside us) really care about arts & culture in America anymore. Why or why not? Confessions of burnt out arts administrators. Ten reasons why NOT to quit.

5. Spinning Wheels Got to Go Round. Making the case for NOT making the case. We don't need to justify ourselves, we need political and media power.

6. "Destigmatizing the arts as a charity case” – How do we change the perception of support for the arts as an investment, not a hand-out?

7. Cha, Cha, Cha Changes: The new Demographics profiles revisited. What are the results, if any, of awareness of the new data? What are the likely impacts and implications for us of the 2010 Census and what do we need to know and do now.

8. Chicken Feed to Living Wages. How do we move towards paying both artists and arts administrators living wages? Not competitive wages, but just minimal living wages?

9. What about Me? Notes from the small, rural, suburban, newer, diverse and underfunded, undervalued and underappreciated arts organizations in America. All but forgotten?

10. Five things I wish someone had told me about arts administration – advice from seasoned veterans from around the country.

11. Job or Profession? Consideration of why arts administration is (in certain quarters) not considered a profession. Where is the authoritative, credentialed, academically rigorous National Nonprofit Arts Journal? Where are the White Papers on policy issues? Where is the certification for professional administrators mechanism? Where is the ongoing continuing education of the field? Where is the relationship between the university academic degree in arts administration program and the working administrator field? Where are the unions or trade associations?

12. Organizational Crisis Intervention -- when arts organizations face meltdowns (financial, audience collapse, board of director infighting, artistic director passing) what kind of crisis intervention resources are available, and who is providing those services?

And here are five of the more theoretical questions facing us as a sector that I hope to address in future blogs this year:

a. How the high tech companies like Google, YouTube, Facebook and ones not yet in existence will co-opt and soon takeover -- if not the role of the nonprofit performing arts in America, then at least the public face and distribution of the art forms (e.g. the Goggle Youth Orchestra). What are the implications of such a scenario for arts in America.

b. Will the future of corporate philanthropy in the arts move towards exclusive sponsorship of specific cultural institutions (e.g. - Pepsi's SF Opera) and what are the implications of such a development?

c. Is word of mouth replacing all other advertising for audience development - at least among Millennials?

d. Data mining revisited -- why are the arts so slow to get on the bandwagon? Aren’t we missing the boat given the valuable information just waiting for us to develop and exploit?

e. The consequences of a failure to address the needs of the arts organization infrastructure. Real life problems and costs of the sin of complacency and omission.

That’s just a small sampling of what I hope to provide in blog posts on BARRY’S BLOG this year. I can promise you some surprises in form and content and in the expansion of this platform and its’ role in arts & culture public policy formulation.
Thank you very much.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit


Sunday, January 3, 2010

January 03, 2010



Happy New Year everyone.

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

In Memoriam: I was saddened to learn that Peggy Amsterdam, President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, passed away last week. Not only was she one of our smartest, most effective leaders --someone who not only saw the big picture but could both envision and implement the actions needed to address the issues -- she was simply a very kind and decent human being. She was a friend, and I will miss her terribly. Godspeed Peggy and thank you, thank you for all that you did for the arts in America. This is a loss for the whole sector. We need more Peggy Amsterdams in our ranks.

My favorite politician of all time, Winston Churchill (from whom I took the “Don’t Quit” tag line I end my blogs with), was counseled by a friend - after he (Churchill) had been defeated in a bid for public office early in his career - that it “was probably a blessing in disguise”. Churchill responded: “Damn fine disguise.” That is precisely how I feel about 2009. There may have been a silver lining to last year somewhere, but I’m glad the year is gone. Now it’s time to move on.


1. Make a list of the five biggest items on your agenda for the coming year, and then delegate most of the decision-making authority on one or two of them to staffers, including your junior level employees. If you are a Mom & Pop organization with little to no staff, assign the projects to an outside source or to volunteers. If you have a Millennial Generation person in your employ – turn a big ticket project over to them. An obvious choice is in communications and marketing. You can insist that they check in with you for periodic review, but don’t micromanage them. Explain your hope for the desired outcomes, but then let them run with it. I know it’s difficult to relinquish control, but I can promise you three results: 1) you will free up extremely valuable time you will need for the most important big ticket projects on your plate (admit it, you are trying to do too much); 2) you will more than likely be surprised and pleased with the work they perform and the results they achieve, and 3) you will reap the benefit of increased staff morale and enhance the reputation of your organization as a place young people want to work.

2. Taking a page from Michael Kaiser’s advice book – make a list of ten people in your community who might be in a position to really help your organization this year. Such a list might include local business people, funders (be they corporate, government or foundation), people in the media, a local marketing major domo, an elected official or stakeholder or anyone else whose skill set, pocketbook, community standing & reputation, network or whatever could benefit your organization. Then assign each of those names to a separate member of your Board and charge that Board member with the job of cultivating a real relationship with that person over the next six months. Have them report on their progress as a regular part of upcoming Board meetings. The goal is not to necessarily ask that local target for anything, but rather just to cultivate a relationship. You can ask for what you need after the relationship is flourishing. If you do that now, you can reap the benefits later in the year.

3. For the first two weeks of the year, practice the art of listening. When in conversation, resist the temptation to interrupt the person talking and to too early chime in with your thoughts and reactions. In fact, wait until the other person is finished talking, then slowly and silently count to five before you say anything. Often, during that pause the other person will fill the void and add more. Let them. Parse your response to as few words as you possibly can. You really don’t always have to say anything, even when you have a lot to say. Do this for just two weeks, and I guarantee you your take on things will change significantly. We live in a culture where everyone wants to talk, but almost no one listens anymore. We hear words being said, but we don’t hear the meaning behind them. Try as hard as you can to understand what the other person is saying to you. And reserve your comments, judgments, opinions and reactions until later. Try it and see what changes it makes. You will be surprised.

4. Make it a point – and get in the daily habit – of complementing and thanking the people in your organization. Call someone every week (staffer, donor, Board member, volunteer, stakeholder) and personally thank them for their efforts and contributions to your organization. Call it Karma or good public relations or whatever you want, but I assure you that you will be most pleasantly surprised at the net result of reaching out to people to say thank you. It’s something we too often forget. This is a good resolution whether you are Chair of the Board, Executive Director, artistic director, intern or janitor.

5. Take some time off every single week. It doesn’t have to be much, but make it a regular practice to stand back from what occupies seemingly every minute of every day all week long. All of us (and falsely I think) think we have to be workaholics to get to the finish line, and in the process we end up far too close to the daily grind. What happens is we can’t see the proverbial forest for the trees. You will make far better snap (and long term) decisions if you allow yourself the regular glimpse of the bigger picture, and you will get far less bogged down in the (really meaningless and irrelevant) minutiae and details if you stand back.

Do these five things for two months, and I assure you your work life will be better on any number of fronts.

And if none of that works for you, here’s a tip I learned from my dog: If you open your eyes really wide and then stare silently at somebody long enough, they will give you anything you want.

Don’t forget when you get the notice this month to re-subscribe to the blog as we move to a new platform, please take the few moments to do that right away. I appreciate it.

Have a great week and a great year.
Don’t Quit.