Sunday, April 25, 2010


Good morning.

“And the beat goes on……………………………….”

Apologies if you get this twice, we're still working out some of the bugs on the switchover.


I remember a Peanuts comic strip from a long time ago where Charlie Brown and Linus are laying on a hill looking up at the clouds, and Linus says to Charlie Brown: “Look at that cloud Charlie Brown, it reminds me of Mozart playing the piano, and look that one over there looks like Beethoven composing a symphony. What do you see in the clouds Charlie Brown?” And good ol’ Charlie Brown answers him saying: “Well, I was going to say I see a horsey and a doggie.”

That’s about how I think the arts are in their understanding of, and involvement in, data mining and knowing how to effectively use online marketing via social networks. While those who understand the vocabulary of social networking like Facebook talk about Open Graphs, Granular data access, OAuth2.0 and other esoteric sounding tech speak stuff, most of us are still trying to figure out how we can somehow use these sites to get more people to give us money, buy tickets to our performances or in some other way connect to us – and we are a long way from understanding it. We see horseys and doggies. We remain far outside the loop of fully appreciating all the levels on which data mining and applications of the knowledge gained to social networks might benefit us.

Three things caught my eye this week.

The first was a new season brochure from the Marin Symphony I received in the mail. In the opening paragraph (of this well designed and not inexpensive to produce visually captivating piece), the Music Director Alasdair Neale, made a pitch to those who might ask – in response to a season ticket pitch: “Why bother”? by arguing that the “shared experience” of a ‘live, unedited, unprocessed, spontaneous performance (on one’s back doorstep featuring a quality Orchestra at the top of its game, couldn’t be duplicated at home, even with all the technological wizardry available to us today’. A good pitch to someone like me. I got this in the mail. And direct mail can still be effective with certain demographics and for certain organizations – though certainly no longer across the board. It wasn’t a blanket mailing to “resident” – it was addressed to me. But I don’t think it was targeted to me based on my interests or patterns as an arts consumer, but rather I am on lots of lists like this because I was once the Director of the California Arts Council and now I write a blog with a sizable reader base.

The pitch in this brochure was based, I am sure, on the growing belief in the research on the intangible benefits audience goers have expressed as meaningful from attendance at an arts performance. We in the arts want to embrace this kind of research, in part, because it clearly validates the passion and expectations we already have in our hearts. We are true believers and, even without confirming research, we intuitively believe that going to arts events, besides being competitively wonderful and worthwhile ways to spend our leisure time, have the added benefits of deeper and enriching bonding experiences that feed and nourish the soul and the brain on many levels. I am not sure the pitch was featured prominently enough in the brochure, but that is another issue.

The second item that caught my attention this week, was Facebook’s announcement  (a somewhat technical, but understandable and decent blog link on the subject) that it was expanding the ways users could include links to things, places, people, companies etc. that it “liked”, and share that information with those connected to Facebook user’s pages, and an expansion on how those to whom increased Facebook user data might be valuable might be able to access that data. The implications for business were obvious. The more Facebook users liked something, the wider that might be shared across an already virtual network that is larger than the population of every country in the world, save China and India. If there were a way to categorize the likes and dislikes, patterns of behavior, buying and spending habits and a host of other data from Facebook users, then use that data within the Facebook system to sell or hawk goods and services to which the recipient might already be sympathetic and open – well, that would be a very attractive marketing tool. Would it be to our advantage to be able to use this tool in our marketing efforts? Of course it would. The question is rather could we afford to figure out how, and then actually do it? Not likely for the typical arts organization.

The third item was a New York Times story  on web coupons and how much information about the user is carried in the bar codes. “While the coupons look standard, their bar codes can be loaded with a startling amount of data, including identification about the customer, Internet address, Facebook page information and even the search terms the customer used to find the coupon in the first place."

"Coupons from the Internet are the fastest-growing part of the coupon world — their redemption increased 263 percent to about 50 million coupons in 2009, according to the coupon-processing company Inmar. Using coupons to link Internet behavior with in-store shopping lets retailers figure out which ad slogans or online product promotions work best, how long someone waits between searching and shopping, even what offers a shopper will respond to or ignore.

The coupons can, in some cases, be tracked not just to an anonymous shopper but to an identifiable person: a retailer could know that Amy Smith printed a 15 percent-off coupon after searching for appliance discounts on Friday at 1:30 p.m. and redeemed it later that afternoon at the store.

“You can really key into who they are,” said Don Batsford Jr., who works on online advertising for the tax preparation company Jackson Hewitt, whose coupons include search information. “It’s almost like being able to read their mind, because they’re confessing to the search engine what they’re looking for.””

Should we use more web coupons and the data we might collect to more effectively market ourselves. Again, of course. Are we able to do that? That remains more problematic.

We spend a whole lot of time thinking and talking about our audiences (and about our donors and supporters). With good reason, for earned income and individual contributions are still the largest blocs in our total revenue stream. For the performing arts, earned income is mostly about ticket buyers. We do studies on what our audiences want and how happy or unhappy they are with certain aspects of what we offer them. We want to know what kind of experiences they enjoy and relate to so we can ostensibly try to provide them so more people will buy more tickets and we won’t have any empty seats.

Alas, these efforts are still somewhat primitive, if for no other reason than we have precious little money to pour into research and even less it seems to amass data on how our customers actually behave (as a precursor to asking “why” they behave as they do) that might guide our decisions about our marketing efforts. While we truly believe in our hearts (and have some research that bears out these feelings) that the “experience” of attendance at an arts event carries with it enormously valuable intangible benefits such as a sense of community and bonding with our fellow human beings, we take it as a matter of faith that somehow these types of visceral experiences are the key to convincing more people to attend our events. We have good research that shows people values these things, though we aren’t quite sure yet how to translate those findings into specific actions that will actually, demonstrably result in more tickets sold.

Of course, it is possible we are barking up the wrong tree and that the most important and significant reasons why people do or do not come to our performances may have less to do with the depth of meaningful experiences (not that they aren’t important and valued), and more to do with such mundane issues as ticket price and convenience of schedule, location and parking. More research that examined one theory in relationship to other theories of audience attendance would yield more data on which we could come to informed decisions. Again though, how on earth is a Mom & Pop sized organization ever able to do any of this (and we are almost all that size).

What we really lack is what private industry seems to rely on as the most important barometer in guiding their marketing decisions – and that is existent consumer behavior. Before Proctor & Gamble, or any major industry embarks on research and game changing marketing strategies and tactics, their first step consistently focuses on gathering data as to consumer preferences and identifiable patterns of behavior. We don’t do nearly enough of that. And so we still don’t know exactly who we should be targeting with whatever messages we ought to be using – let alone how we should send that message. Much of our research begins with basic hunches that we have about things. Guesses really. Many of which turn out to be right, and which we confirm, but which remain only part of the bigger puzzle. We really need much more data on how, then why our customers behave as they do towards our goods and services. As I have argued previously, we need to do more data mining. We remain in the dark ages.

All marketing today is a form of niche marketing – aimed at specific segments of the buying public based on whole sets of demographic characteristics and psychological behavioral models and all kinds of other sophisticated markers – and the hallmark of effective marketing has become knowing whom to target, understanding as much about the target’s likes, dislikes and behavior as is possible so that you can make informed decisions on how to reach the target and motivate them to purchase your goods or services. Theories are valuable of course, but their application is only relevant within the perimeters of your knowledge of the consumer.

So what the arts really need is more of this kind of raw data and then to explore the ways it might reasonably (and affordably) use what the data suggests to govern marketing strategies and tactics. Obviously it isn’t smart to spend a lot of an advertising budget trying to sell X Box games to senior citizens by advertising in the AARP Magazine. But questions about targets, vehicles and messages are infinitely more complex than what is common sense. It is both science and art form. The more we understand about those whom we are targeting the more we can begin to effectively craft the right message and determine how to best send that message.

This kind of data mining and analysis is simply too complex and expensive for the average arts organization to employ on any level. That is why we need to seriously rethink the business model we cling to in our sector. It doesn’t allow for us to participate at the level we need to. Somehow we must develop a model that allows us to use all the modern tools of marketing that are out there to effectively compete with the vast array of those producing other kinds of goods and services and have the same consumer targets as do we. This is yet another instance where (despite all kinds of reservations and other concerns) we must play the game by the rules that are now governing the area if we want to succeed.

We have questioned the business model before – on any number of planes. Many have previously suggested and urged us to mergers and consolidations. I have never been a huge fan of that approach – simply because I don’t think it’s practical, and also because it is too shallow a solution to apply to the whole sector. It is very difficult to bring divergent arts organizations, even within the same discipline, to the point where vastly different cultures, artistic visions, ways of doing things etc. can join their operations. Moreover, the problems we face as a whole sector aren’t likely to be solved by the few mergers and consolidations that might be joined in any given period of time. I applaud those few instances where it has worked, but they are few and far between.

Others have suggested we should simply figure out how to share some back office functions – from accounting, to marketing, to printing, etc. That makes more sense to me, but again very hard to actually make happen logistically. I think the better approach might be to consider some of the kinds of things we need to have the ability to do – like data mining and other market research, and form something akin to Trade Associations that might allow us to pool resources to compete in those arenas and then share the data, its analysis, and ways it might be applied at different levels with member organizations. The same might be true of how we more effectively conduct our advocacy efforts. Or any number of other business functions. Some kind of reasonable dues structure might justify the investment with deliverables that would otherwise be unaffordable. I think we have to look at a reinvention of our business model in terms of what we can, as separate (and even sometimes competing) entities accomplish by the economy of scale and thus afford and share – at least as the starting point for consideration of a new model. One of the first should be about date mining and market research and how we might apply whatever knowledge we might acquire.

We’re missing out on the future of marketing and falling ever further behind. Talking about how to use social networking sites in basic aggregation of target demographics is already so last decade -- and the conversation among people who understand and appreciate all of this is much farther along than are we.

Finally, and thanks to the daughter of two of my closest lifelong friends, Amanda Alef – now an intern at Americans for the Arts - for this posting on her blog.  Another sage piece of British advice.

Have a great week.
Don’t Quit

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Good morning.

“And the beat goes on…………………….”

Note:  If you would like to comment on this or any other blog, please click on the icon at the top of the email to go directly to the blog site and enter your comment by scrolling down to the end of the appropriate blog. 


According to an article in U.S. News & World Report, a recent study published in Psychological Science found that those with more optimistic attitudes had better-functioning immune systems which, in turn, helped them ward off illnesses. Might the same be true of organizations? According to the story, far too many of us assume that optimism is an inborn trait bestowed on a lucky few. That's a completely wrong assumption, says James Maddux, a professor of psychology at George Mason University. Can people (and by implication organizations) learn to be optimists? "The answer is an indisputable yes," says Maddux. He recommends the following:

1. Reframe those "disasters." Maddux recommends that we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that there's only one job (or one funding model) for us. "You may think that if you lose your job (or a funding source dries up) that you may never find another, but that's probably not the case," he says. We need to acknowledge that there will probably be other professional (and funding) opportunities that, after a period of adjustment, could potentially be as (rewarding) and satisfying, he says.

2. Take control. Pessimists tend to think bad things happen to them because they simply have bad luck or because they don't have what it takes to be successful, says Maddux, when often it is circumstances beyond one's control. Maddux recommends aiming for a balance between accepting responsibility for some of the bad circumstances and taking action (i.e., looking for another job or finding funding from another source). Allow yourself to acknowledge those things that were beyond your control, and then focus on what you can control.

3. Pay attention to what makes you feel optimistic. "Try to really tune in to what you're thinking and feeling in the moment," suggests Maddux. "If you're feeling good, try to understand what brought you there and how to get there again." You can also try to bank those positive feelings to draw on when you're feeling the darkness creep in (or you have to cut yet another program)." Remind yourself that winter is transient, that in just a short amount of time the flowers will be blooming," says Maddux. True for you as a leader and true for your organization.

4. Strive for real conversations. While making small talk is good for fostering social connections, having substantive interactions actually gives people a greater sense of well being, according to a March study from the University of Arizona. As Maddux points out, "The goal is to get people talking about things that really matter." Get your organization to focus on that and move away from useless trivial matters.

5. Do look at that glass as half full. Cultivating optimism is about breaking old thought patterns and establishing new ones, says Maddux. If you're truly looking at a glass that's filled to the halfway mark, why not see it as half full? Choosing to focus on those "half-full" things might help you to realize that you don't need your cup to runneth over in order to feel optimistic. 

To which I would add:

6. Network, network, network. The best way to deal with both personal job and organization vulnerability is to network with your peers. Knowing how others are coping may provide clues to how you can cope. New ideas and new results can often start with sharing with your colleagues what is and what isn’t working. Isolation breeds unreasonable fears and conclusions. Connect with the field.

7. Re-Prioritize: During extraordinarily challenging times, figure out what you absolutely need to survive and cut away as much of what is currently a luxury in terms of your thinking as you possibly can. You can’t have it all, you can’t do it all. But you may be able to gain more control over your situation by narrowing your focus on the basics of survival. The goal is to get through these time and emerge as whole as possible. That’s easier to do if you aren’t trying to maintain everything as it was. Reminding yourself what your real goals are may help you to find ways to realize those key objectives. Be Realistic.

8. Think long term / Act short term. Remember: This too shall pass. Don’t get caught up thinking all your strategies need to be forever altered. You need to put things in perspective and acknowledge the cyclical – 'peaks and valleys' nature of both your personal career and the organizational dynamics at play. You need to survive the crisis, but you also need to plan for the longer term. Don’t panic.

9. Balance new ideas with the tried and true. You don’t have to completely re-invent the wheel, nor should you rely exclusively on what worked in the past. Somewhere there is a middle ground of thinking outside the box and refining what has worked before. Seek that middle ground.

10. Don’t Quit. It has been said many times that a lot of success is simply showing up. Hanging in there and knowing that the odds are in your favor that you (and your organization) will survive can be empowering. Even if the glass of water is, in fact, half empty, don’t stop looking for the water pitcher.

In the final analysis, success depends to a large degree on attitude – yours as a leader and the organization’s as a whole. Try to grow a positive attitude of those about you and maybe you can improve your organization’s immune system in the process.


It was just a year or so ago, not long after Obama’s inauguration, that many in the sector were talking about a Cabinet level Secretary of Arts & Culture, or at least some person in the White House that might raise our visibility and gain us a seat at the policy making tables of the West Wing. That idea purportedly found its expression in the appointment of Kal Penn (nee Kalpen Modi - the young Hollywood actor that starred in the Harold & Kumar movies) to the post of one of the Associate Directors of the Office of Public Engagement (Reminds me of my music business days and the Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man gig). But while some didn’t think this was an auspicious beginning to us having an opening to the West Wing, others noted the newly named office was headed by long time Obama friend and confidante Valerie Jarrett who most certainly did, and does, have the President’s ear.

Kal Penn’s resignation a couple of weeks ago to return to moviemaking was probably predictable. I suspect he found out that being a White House liaison wasn’t what he imagined it might be. Rather than walking the corridors of power like in the TV show West Wing, he doubtless ended up one of scores of such appointments who never saw much of the White House interior and probably had absolutely no face time with the President or his senior advisors - including Ms. Jarrett. Moviemaking is a whole lot more fun and pays way better than being a faceless White House staffer way down on the totem pole.

It was an unusual appointment anyway. His charge, if I remember correctly, was to be a liaison with not only the Arts & Culture sector, but with the Asian / Pacific Islander community too. Strange pairing, and was, I thought at the time, an indication that the White House didn’t fully get what we in the arts were talking about. The whole idea of having one person as the “go-to” administration person – who could facilitate giving one voice to those disparate arts & culture appointees ranging from the NEA and the NEH, to the Smithsonian, to the Museums to the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities and help to build bridges to a host of government agencies and put the issues of our community in front of the decision makers seems to have gotten lost along the way. Although it may never have been part of any agenda in the first place.

The President in creating the Office of Public Engagement said: "This office will seek to engage as many Americans as possible in the difficult work of changing this country, through meetings and conversations with groups and individuals held in Washington and across the country."

The Press release on the launch of Office of Engagement went on to say: “OPE will help build relationships with Americans by increasing their meaningful engagement with the federal government. Serving as the front door to the White House, OPE will allow ordinary Americans to offer their stories and ideas regarding issues that concern them and share their views on important topics such as health care, energy and education.

In addition to its traditional White House operations, OPE will now also focus on getting information from the American people outside the Washington beltway through special public events as well as activities on the web site. The office will have a strong on-line presence, including blog postings from OPE staff and other interactive elements.”

Really? As relates to the arts, I must have missed all that.

Perhaps Mr. Penn’s real charge was to liaison to the Hollywood creative community (bigger donors than in our neck of the woods), and not really the nonprofit arts. I am not aware of any specific outreach Mr. Penn did to the arts & culture sector, nor of any meetings and conversations he or his office launched with us or the public. Perhaps it was all behind the scenes – more the back door than the front door as stated in the press release. I don’t blame Mr. Penn – but the result was not much real representation or voice for the arts in the White House – at least as far I can see. Perhaps the Yosi Sargant fiasco scared them off using the arts to change the country.

So is the issue of the arts being seated at policy making tables in the West Wing now dead again? Or, more accurately, was it actually ever alive? Would it do any good to bring it up anew?

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Good morning.

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

NOTE: This is the first blog posting exclusively on this new platform site. No further entries will be posted on the old platform. If you haven’t already done so, please enter your email address in the box on the right hand side now so that you will continue to get email notices of new postings. I would appreciate it you might pass the word. Thanks.  Please feel free to add your comment to any blog by clicking on the comment icon at the end of each blog entry. 

This one is a little long – but it's a fair highlight of a much longer week long blog on Americans for the Arts.


Last week Americans for the Arts’ ARTS BLOG (go to previous pages to read entries chronologically) featured a really wonderful discussion on Emerging Leader issues. (Kudos to AFTA for the quality of their growing Arts Blog feature).

Most of the participants were emerging leaders themselves and much of the discussion centered on some of their shared frustrations in career advancement. Other parts of the discussion focused on the need for more professional development opportunities, on positioning our organizations to benefit from that which the class of emerging leaders offers us as a sector, and finally some advice to follow. And perhaps, most importantly, there were some unanswered, yet critically fundamental questions asked as to how we can proceed to deal with these challenges. Most of the participant's observations in this online discussion mirrored the findings of the report on Youth Involvement in the Arts I did for the Hewlett Foundation, and I would again like to thank all of those who have helped leverage that report with other efforts to make Emerging Leadership and the challenges and obstacles a truly "front burner" issue. 

While I think (hope) many across our sector had a chance to follow at least some of this week long blogathon, as is usual in these events, few had (or took) the time to comment.  Moreover, and emblematic I think of one of the biggest challenges emerging leaders and the whole sector faces in this issue (and see the final comment included herein by Letitia Ivins) -- this was a discussion principally by and between the emerging leaders themselves, with little input from the current boomer generation of leaders that control virtually all of the organizations for which these emerging leaders work and which they may aspire to someday lead.

Here then are just some of the insightful postings from the AFTA Blog participants and from those who commented on those postings (and I often think the comments are as, if not more, interesting than the initial blog postings) which I found thought provoking and on target. I offer some thoughts on moving forward in this arena at the end of these blog participant entries and comments.


Tommer Peterson wondered: “Where are the young MBAs and nonprofit management grads? They seem to gravitate to entry-level positions in the larger arts institutions. Wouldn’t it be more fun to be the big fish in the small pond? When I started in this field (arts, not philanthropy) we all just made it up as we went along. A whole generation of arts leaders learned their jobs on the street and received fine educations along the way. I am a little worried that the generation of trained specialists is missing the good experience of not knowing all the rules and best practices.”

Michael Futter responded with a not uncommon refrain that I heard frequently in the Hewlett study: “After going through training, and racking up the accompanying student loans, many of us look at the field and have a decision to make: do we find a position with stable nonprofit or do we join a nascent organization that can’t reliably compensate us. For a lot of us, it isn’t a choice. We have debt and holding a pay check (or not receiving one at all) just isn’t an option.”

Marc Vogl put forth a hypothetical wherein an arts administrator (call her “Tina”) leaves the field. Then asked: “If we understand that the quality and impact of the art that is presented ‘onstage’ is a function of the resourcefulness and imagination of everyone working ‘backstage,’ then why do we funders, arts organization managers and board members, arts advocates and artists accept Tina leaving so easily? And how well do we really understand why Tina or left, or what it would take to get the next Tina to stay?"

Clay Lord responded by citing another common complaint: “Emerging leaders feel stymied by a lack of movement at the top — current leaders can’t or won’t retire. There is often a feeling of disrespect on the part of the current arts leaders — a perception that emerging leaders are impatient, not ready, and essentially rude in assuming that they deserve that leadership role. This is only exacerbated by the number of small arts organizations with a relatively flat structure, which essentially means that an emerging leader jumps into a role of some responsibility, grows into it, and then discovers that the next step is actually either up to the top or out. It’s a hard question, how to keep people with talent and voracious appetite for responsibility engaged in a community that has a limited number of high-level positions (especially when the compensation isn’t there to make a holding pattern more palatable).”

Dewey Schott added: “Our field doesn’t have a strong tradition of providing professional development and leadership development, but rather has a tradition of learn-on-your-own/trial-and-error culture. I think we’re at a point in time where emerging leaders aren’t as accepting of the tradition. A lot of our organizations are so small that there isn’t much of a “ladder” to climb, so they go sideways to another arts organization that can provide the next set of learning experiences. The problem is: what happens once they are in? Are they trained properly? Taken seriously? Are they prepared to take on new challenges with the right tools and the right information? Is there adequate support? Is power and influence being shared with them? Does their contribution meaningful?"

Shannon Daut opined - in considering that boomer EDs just move from one gig to another but never leave: “For the most part, today’s emerging (and mid-career) administrators have not been able to benefit from an environment that would take risks on “unproven” job candidates. Part of this is likely due to the fact that arts institutions have grown to such an extent that the boards and leadership have understandably become more risk averse. But what we are doing is ostensibly punting the risk just further down the road—at some point these leaders will be heading arts organizations and institutions, yet they will have not benefited from former leadership experience.
I think there will come a time in the not-too-distant future where we embrace the fact that emerging leaders are crucial to helping the field advance in our contemporary culture. And that the most risky thing of all is to not consider the approaches to the arts that emerging leaders are espousing.”

Mike Bigley added: “There isn’t the sense of upward mobility within organizations, and today’s 20- and 30-somethings are known to job hop, looking for the next career move.”


Shannon Daut offered that: “The onus for professional development must lay both in the hands of organizational leadership and in the hands of emerging leaders themselves. For organizational leadership, this could be as simple as a shift in mentality. Younger generations will play an instrumental role in this process (they already are!), whether or not the existing arts leadership taps their input and expertise. I see two possible outcomes here—either the existing arts leadership actively solicits and heeds the perspectives of emerging leaders, or the emerging leaders will do it themselves, outside of the “establishment”. Going back to the needed mentality shift, I want to stress that the worst thing well-meaning, seasoned leaders could do is support leadership development with the assumption that the result will be a continuation of the established ways of doing things. Supporting the development of emerging leaders must include a genuine commitment to being receptive to new ways of thinking and operating. While this may be difficult for some, it will be crucial to the future of the arts field.
Leadership development can take many forms, but the most effective approaches are comprised of a seasoned leader who “gets it” and values the perspectives of younger generations, coupled with an emerging leader that (appropriately, not arrogantly) recognizes their own value and will advocate on behalf of their own career.”

Edward Clapp, in a response to a posting by Deena Epstein, lamenting the unwillingness of boomer leaders to “extend themselves as mentors or even consider these young people as peers for peer-to-peer learning” offered that: (There) “is a hunger from young people to engage in mentoring relationships with their superiors. This hunger is due to a paucity of mentoring that is actually occurring in the field. In addition to having much to learn, younger arts professionals have much to teach their senior colleagues! For this reason, individuals in the field need to consider “mentoring up” as an important part of the exchange of knowledge and expertise that will drive all members of the field forward, and help us be far more efficacious in our work.”

Katherine Denny responded to a posting by Jeanne Sakamoto citing of the need of emerging leaders for more professional development and training opportunities: ”Emerging arts leaders are always hungry for more. As a whole the sector is growing, learning, and maturing. My advice for providing them opportunities is twofold: 1. whenever possible, make these opportunities free or at low-cost; and 2. consider potential duplication of services.”

Tara Scroggins added to that thought: “By accessible, I don’t just mean low cost or free (which is important), but also accessible in terms of time and location. I find that some of the current generation of EDs are skeptical of the value of professional development events and are hesitant to let employees have time off of work to attend. I can only postulate if this is related to the belief held by some that no amount of education can replace “working your way up.”

And as to the nature of what kind of professional development emerging arts leaders really need, Edward Clapp said: “I think that it is important to make emerging arts leaders knowledgeable of currents arts business structures, but ultimately believe that we will need to look for radical new systems in order to ensure the survival of the arts in the decades to come. Literature on leadership and adult development indicates that addressing adaptive challenges (those that require conceptual change) with technical fixes (traditional expertise) is a recipe for stasis at best, collapse at worst. While we consider supporting our emerging leaders, we should not only educate them in the ways of our field as it operates today, but also put the problems of our industry back on them; for there is great innovation and ingenuity that lies within our younger arts professionals, much of it that exists in the blind spots of our most seasoned arts leaders.”
In response to another post, he further opined that: “I think the future of our sector will depend upon a sharing of knowledge and information within and across generational age cohorts, with knowledge and expertise being passed down from above as well as surfacing up from below and being exchanged laterally across individuals in different scenarios operating at comparable levels of practice. It’s long been time that younger arts professionals transition from being seen as mere vessels of latent talent and opportunity to active authority figures with their own thoughts and perspectives to share.”


Ebony McKinney wondered if we can get to the point where current boomer leaders can appreciate the concerns of emerging leaders when she asked: “In the future will employers begin to make up for notoriously modest non-profit paychecks with contracts that include flex time for work that furthers your artistic practice and raises the profile of your employer? Or will wages become more competitive? How might more sophisticated use of office technology, including virtual file sharing, Google wave, and the Cultural Data Project change the way business is done?
Will the Emerging Leader Network’s “circle of influence” help replace the hierarchies that we are used to, and allow us to have deeper and more meaningful collaborations and partnerships across the country? Will shared leadership or co-leadership models rise in popularity to cope with unwieldy executive director positions? Could two-way, intergenerational mentorship help to bridge knowledge gaps, in both traditional and cutting-edge skills? Is a more holistic culture of learning possible? Achievable? Desirable? What new organizational models will catch on?”

Cora Mirikitani asked if arts administrators might learn some lessons from entrepreneurial artists and address some of those needs: “Imagine a nonprofit arts workplace that honors and rewards the individual “artistry” of emerging and next generation arts leaders – perhaps taking the form of technological and web 2.0 savvy. Or nonprofit arts employee policies that support a more flexible life/work balance. Or foundation grant opportunities that invest in next generation arts leaders to run new kinds of arts enterprises and models, rather than old ones. Given what the arts field already knows how to support and nurture individual artists to great ends, I think.”

Marc Vogl used the analogy of the Jewish Seder to consider the role younger generations might play: “Who is responsible for periodically stepping in and asking the elemental but critical questions? In the Seder it’s the kids who sing out to the elders: ‘why are we doing things the way we’re doing things’? And it is for everyone around the table to respond, and hopefully, to reflect for a moment on the history that informs that response, to consider the present circumstances and how times have changed, and maybe even to look ahead and determine what we can do going forward so that we don’t spend another year going through rote motions and taking important things (like freedom in the case of Passover, or making art that has meaning for those of us in this field) for granted."

Aliza Greenberg agreed with Marc: It’s important “for young people in the arts to have a place where they can ask questions and try out ideas without having to have them fully formed yet. So often we feel pressure (to) present things in finished form. In large conversations with leaders we want our comments to impress. At the inter-generational event that is the Seder, the same questions are asked every year. No pressure to be new and different or to bring the “unique perspective of a young person.” Just to ask the questions and explore.”

Rosetta Thurman suggested Leadership is a verb, not a noun: “What if we stopped trying to limit the parameters around who is capable of practicing leadership? A leader could be the President of the organization, but it could also very well be that college intern you hire for the summer who changes the way a program is run. Leadership scholar Ron Heifetz has said has that because you cannot truly predict who will practice leadership, you have to look for leadership in action by everyone involved in an organization or a sector. Ron also points out that we often make the mistake of equating leadership with authority. But leadership is not the same as authority. Leadership is not the fancy title on you business card. Leadership is what you do. Emerging leaders ask permission. They think they have to. Current leaders do what they know to be the right thing for the organization and ask for forgiveness later. And guess what? They rarely need it.”

Selena Juneau-Vogel thought this: “On one hand I believe any time invested in thinking about leadership is worthwhile. On the other hand, we should not expect classroom-based, curriculum-driven instruction to work in a vacuum. Whatever combination of the words “leadership,” “management,” “academy,” “institute,” “fellowship,” or even, “university” we use, if we think packing ourselves off to leader camp for a day or a week is some sort of silver-bullet solution to either our demands for professional development or our organization’s whimperings for change then we are sorely mistaken.
Yes—we can read about and listen to mantras on teamwork, ethics, giving and receiving feedback, results-based decision making, strategic planning, emotional intelligence, and business acumen but without a complimentary system with which to practice these skills are we really supporting leadership development? No amount of leadership lecturing can help a young manager who is returning to an organization that doesn’t want to change.”

And Marc Vogl offered that while we want emerging leaders to be free to be creative, we still want them to have basic training skills: “I neither want to diminish what can be achieved when you’re self-taught (Jimi played the guitar pretty well, even if he strung it backwards) but neither do I want to glorify what it’s like to hit your head against a wall (or the Filemaker Pro Database manual) knowing that there is a smarter, faster way to get something done. Is there a healthy balance to be struck? I think so. Are mentorships, skill building classes, and networks part of the answer?”


Ian David Moss concluded in one post on the seemingly unequal relationship between bosses and employees: “The balance of power may be unequal on paper. But in the case of both bosses/emerging leaders and funders/grantees, the best outcomes are to be achieved by treating it as equal in practice – and recognizing the relationship for what it truly is: a partnership toward a common future.”

Joshua Russell made what I thought was a really good analogy to baseball’s farm system: “Think about it, you’ve got Single A (new to the field), Double A (a couple of years of experience), Triple A (established emerging leaders, ready to step into a leadership position) and the Major Leagues (leaders of arts and cultural organizations). You have to stock talent in all levels of your farm system. If you have a great Triple A team, then your team might be good for the next couple of years but you can then expect a big drop off from there. So, it is critical for us as we build our network that we look to identify talent and future leaders on all ends of the spectrum.”

Tommer Peterson offered that Knot Knowing the Ropes can be an asset: “Go ahead and take a chance on the younger applicant. Sometimes people can walk through walls because they don’t know they are there.” The image has stuck with me for years. Walk through walls because they didn’t know they were there. How often did I not pursue a line of a creative solution because of a barrier that I perceived to be a barrier? How often did I assume something was impossible based on what someone more experienced had told me? How often was that later proved to be wrong. There are areas, like IRS regulations for example, where knowing the ropes can be very important. There are others, like program development, planning, creative endeavors, etc., where we need to make sure we give emerging practitioners enough latitude to shine.”

Marc Vogl took a sector wide funder perspective: “As a funder working for a program whose mission is to support an arts ecosystem, and not specific arts organizations, the salient unit of analysis for me is the sector. My problem is not whether the E.D. at Organization X has been in charge for 25 years, the next two senior managers have been there 15 years and the other 2-10 people on staff are in their 20s and turnover every 1-2 years; my problem is that when those 2-10 other people on staff leave Organization X they may not go to Organization Y and, instead, leave the arts field altogether. And when they go they are taking with them whatever investment Organization X made in their professional development, their accrued experience, and the professional networks they’ve cultivated and their own creativity and passion for the arts to deploy somewhere else. Organizations that are not attentive to the career goals of their younger staff and capable of making space for the bright lights they have on board to matriculate into positions where they not only have responsibility but real authority, will continue to struggle to hang on to those talents.”


Michael Bigley asked one of the most profound questions of the week: “Do people really care about the needs of the next generation, other than the next generation itself?”

And Letitia Ivins, noting the same frequent observation by her contemporaries as did those did in my report – the need for Xers and Millennials to balance work & life. And wondered: “Do boomers understand?”

It is to Michael Bigley’s and Letitia Ivins’ questions that I wish to respond – because they together imply a fundamental observation – change will come about very slowly, if at all, if only the younger generation cares about and understands today’s generational issues. No, Michael and Leitia, I don’t think (yet anyway) enough of the Boomers in power, really care about or fully appreciate the needs of the next generation. You guys are still, I fear, still out there alone to a large degree. I think that is changing, but there is a long ways to go. Blogathons and panels at conferences as well as institutional mandates such as foundation information required in grant applications are all changing people’s thinking, but all those efforts are still a scattergun approach and not a systemic effort to change perceptions and attitudes of those older generations in power to the issues of those younger generations coming up in the ranks. And until those attitudes change, efforts to move forward on the generational issues will stall – no matter how organized, empowered, vocal (or funded) our emerging leaders are. We can help hundreds of the new leaders, no doubt, but across California and the whole country, there are tens of thousands of them.  Time is an issue here too.

As an older Boomer, much of this seems like déjà vu to me. Today’s Gen Xers’ and Millennials’ complaints towards, and frustrations with, those currently in positions of power echo exactly the sentiments my generation expressed as forcefully as we could back in the 60’s. Move over, step aside, give us a chance, share the power, we’re at your doorstep and we are different from you. We have a lot to offer that you are missing out on; the world is changing now. Delegate some decision making to us. We're not the enemy. Help us to grow into leadership positions instead of being so resistant.

“Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,
Your old world is rapidly fading,
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand,
For the times, they are a changing.”

If anything we were less willing to compromise, more strident, more impatient, and more insistent. Like today’s emerging generations we were stymied by the reluctance of those in power to even try to appreciate our positions, our thinking, even our feelings. After all, we were their children, and they were so resistant. Why? For what? It made so little sense to us. I am sure much of today’s reactions makes little sense to current Xers and Millennials.

And now, all this time later, here we are – the Boomers - fully in power and being accused (and rightly or wrongly, please understand that for many it actually feels like an accusation) of the same intransigence, the same reluctance to share, the same myopia, the same stubbornness, the same blind eye.

Many of my generation are simply too busy to even see what is going on, too involved to recognize or acknowledge the issues for the emerging leaders on the way up, too involved to really “get it”. Many of them have forgotten what it was like when they were younger.  Based on the older cohort focus groups’ discussions as part of the Hewlett study and based on countless anecdotal stories and observations I have heard over the past couple of years – there are many boomer arts leaders (astounding as it may seem to some) who do not even see the generational divide as an issue; who do not appreciate the frustrations of the class of emerging leaders moving up (even from employees in their own organizations) or acknowledge or accept them as important; who may see the issue but do not appreciate how critical and impactful it is; and, who believe the upcoming generation should stop complaining, be patient, pay their dues and be more of a team player. It isn’t that that last group of boomers are stupid, or hard-hearted – rather they remember how they had to pay their dues, bide their time, suffer their waiting period, and have come to the conclusion that this is how the world works, how it has always worked, how it best works, and that the current crop of new leaders will ultimately be fine and will get to this exact same point themselves at sometime in the future.

I personally disagree. I am one of those who believe that if we are smart, we will let go of that antiquated notion that each upcoming generation must pay their dues and should just shut up in the short run. I believe that if we can figure out how to manage the generational divide in the workplace to everyone’s satisfaction and mutual benefit, we as a sector stand to benefit enormously and that if we don’t figure out how to do this, we will only suffer. That is not to suggest that we can actually find a path that makes everybody equally happy, but, in my opinion, we most certainly can find solutions to the challenges and address everyone’s concerns and complaints in a way that makes everyone confident in the commitment to inclusion and the worth and value of everyone in our workplaces.  I believe the current boomer leadership is well advised to acknowledge the generational issues and work to address them for the benefit of everyone - and most importantly to the very organizations they run - for we will benefit from new ideas to new problems, new thinking and new energy. 

And while I am clearly not alone in this belief, I concede that manyof the boomers aren’t yet even part of any conversation about this issue because they haven’t yet been brought into this circle.

A problem in our sector is that we have grown over the past few decades so that we are no longer Tommer Peterson's  dinosaur world and "cottage industry" wherein new leaders are welcome to invent, for the first time, new rules and protocols.  We are now more of an established field with a lot of things codified and set almost in stone as it were.  Big pond, small pond - it doesn't matter, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to rethink and reinvent things.  At least that is the perception to younger generations.  A big problem for Xers and Millennials is that the boomers set about inventing a whole lot of stuff - including the nonprofit arts - and now they are struck with that invention.  Reinventing it will be axiomatically more difficult because the boomers are so reluctant to cede them any real authority and to even entertain the notion that it is time to reinvent much of what is now tired, dated and frankly, just doesn't work all that well anymore.  But much like the music industry, of which I was a part for many years, the arts sector must realize that even though it is no longer a "garage based business" (and that's how the record business, like the computer business, and even our nonprofit arts business started), it desperately now needs to allow for new ideas and new approaches much like it were still in its infancy -- for everything has changed and we are now squarely faced with looking at almost all of our models (funding, structure, marketing, distribution, access, audiences, and beyond) in a new light if we are to both survive and again, even thrive.  I suggest we boomers have to set about to make room for younger generation new ideas; both those new ideas and the process of accepting those new ideas are, it seems to me, crucial for us solving some very difficult challenges that lie ahead.

I think a good first step to consider (and this was the single most endorsed, consensus based conclusion in the whole Hewlett Focus Group study – the number one recommendation of participating boomers, Xers and Millennials) would be to provide educational training to the current boomer arts leadership (to inform and sensitize them) to the issues of generational management and what is and isn’t important to emerging leaders and why -- so that they can see the potential consequences of a failure to act, and acknowledge, understand and appreciate what this means to them and to their organizations short and long term. Boomers may be preoccupied and have biases and prejudices, but they aren’t stupid. Many simply haven’t had it pointed out to them in a way they will hear and take to heart that there are issues here. And that the current generational issues may, in fact, be a little different from those of a generation ago. Others are reluctant to change their perspectives when the challenge comes from below and not from their own peers. But training works. That training however, (and on this point too there was near universal agreement in the focus groups) cannot come from Xers and Millennials – but will likely only work if it comes laterally from other Boomers. If they don’t hear emerging leaders to begin with, they aren’t likely to hear them on the critical point that there are problems. (That is why the participation of even a couple of Boomers on this blogathon was valuable I think).  We need, as a first step to other steps, to make the current crop of boomer leaders part of the solution and not let them remain as part of the problem. 

So I urge those working so diligently to move forward with policies and practices that will make all the generations in the arts workplaces happier and more productive, to consider offering training that will educate and sensitize the existing Boomer leader class to the issues in the generational divide in the arts sector workplace. - remind them of the differences in the generation gap, and what it was like when they were young and upward bound, and to show them how to manage those differences effectively.  And I would argue that if we don’t do that training of the boomers now – then much of our efforts to empower and enable the emerging leadership will be frustrated by not only stone walls and glass ceilings from above, but by a lack of interest in the problem and challenge to begin with.   If current arts leaders want to help emerging arts leaders, one thing they can do is to help change the prevailing leadership attitudes about the unimportance of generational issues – and try to do that in a systemic way.

I am pleased that some out there agree with this position. I have been invited by Westaf to make an abbreviated presentation -- to a meeting of the state arts agency directors in the West  -- of a training seminar based on what I have learned doing the Hewlett study and my involvement in these issues over the past four years -- designed to sensitize, educate and inform all the generations in the arts workplace (but in particular my brother boomers) to the positions and concerns of the other generations and how senior leadership can effectively manage the conflicting generational needs (and benefit enormously thereby) -- - with an eye to offering this workshop in their states. Already, Bob Booker in Arizona has asked me to present that workshop to a statewide gathering of arts leaders in Arizona this summer. And there is growing interest in doing this here in California. I am hopeful I can interest more people here and in other states in this approach as one thing to do to move forward quicker. 

Please take some time and check out the Emerging Leaders blogathon of last week. There is a lot there. I congratulate all of the participants and those who took the time to comment.  I am encouraged and buoyed by the fact that there are so many intelligent thinkers out there among our emerging leaders. 

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit!


Sunday, April 4, 2010


Good morning.

“And the beat goes on.”


I was in the music business for 15 years back in the 70’s and 80’s, representing rock n roll bands. Back then the model was based on the Record sales – bands toured and sold merchandise to increase awareness of who they were in attempts to sell records. Today, the model is the opposite – with so much music downloaded for free, bands try to get noticed through CDs and recordings so people will pay to see them live and buy their merchandise. But that model works best for established acts that are a draw for venues large enough to generate a profit.

An AP article  reported on Yahoo cited an L.A. based band that is creating a new album every month and giving it away free. “And as regular CD sales continue to fall and major recording labels pare their artist rosters, up-and-coming musicians have to find ways to promote themselves in ways that were unheard of a few years ago.

Their “album-a-month plan, along with a written blog explaining (their) inspirations, is designed to spur interest and build loyalty among fans. (They) hope that one day some real money can be made from it as well. So far, they have gotten about 100 fans to donate anywhere from a penny to tens of dollars to the project. Some have paid $59 a year for a monthly CD in the mail. As a one-time bonus, they write a personal song to each subscriber on his or her birthday and sent that in the mail, too. In the past, big record labels paid musicians large advances and then shouldered costs of recording and promoting albums. As song sales rolled in, the labels would recoup their investment. With song sales slowing, largely due to piracy, the system of big advances is crumbling.

And because free songs are so widely available, Vosotros' president, John Gillilan, said musicians' main battle is now just to get noticed.

If someone downloads one of these albums for free and puts it on their iPod and enjoys it, that's victory," says Gillilan, 24. "There's so much content out there, that for someone to care enough to seek it out and to listen to it, long term, that person is going to be a fan. They're going to come back, they're going to want more. That's really the strategy behind it."

Technology has forever dramatically altered how musicians can make a living. It remains to be seen if any new model will work for new artists.

Is this something that might have an application to other segments of the artist community? Are there perhaps more ways various art disciplines might cooperate and intersect with each other to cross promote the artists of each?

Might visual artists give away some of their work – to places (like in theater or dance venue lobbies) where its’ public display might garner them attention, publicity and hopefully new fans (and buyers) and help to move their careers forward? Might point of purchase sales in those venues benefit both?

Might other musicians – jazz artists or choral groups – do the same? Is giving away their music a way to build audiences? Will merchandising eventually be the principal source of income?

Might dance companies distribute their performances via You Tube in order to build fan bases, awareness and ultimately, new audiences? Might dance companies give impromptu performances at museums?

Might theater groups give free performances of new works prior to the official opening of a new play – and thus put more paying bodies in seats as word of mouth spreads?

There is an audience for old movie posters. Would there be an audience for a high class, new genre of theater posters created by contemporary artists? Would that collaboration of visual artists with theater artists produce income for both? Could that kind of model be developed? See this article in Brain Pickings

The new music model hasn’t yet reached the point where giving away music is a tried and true way to support ongoing careers, but new musicians (if not established artists) have to do something to get noticed, to build fan bases, to offset the dwindling sales of CDs. Are we reaching a point where other artistic disciplines will likewise soon be compelled to try new models if they are to survive?

Take the film industry. Movie companies make big money, but theater owners figured out a long time ago, that the model wasn’t working for them. So they changed the model – and now theaters make their profit not from the ticket sales (which largely go to the movie companies) but from the sale of candy, snacks and food. A captive audience, they charge $3 for a soft drink that can’t cost them more than 10 cents. Audiences pay.

I don’t know what model will work for artists in the future, but with traditional funding down from all sources, and the competition for scarce leisure time discretionary income increasingly fierce in the open marketplace, it may be time to at least consider other ways artists (and the arts) will survive in the future. Giving away art for free as a strategy to get more people to ultimately pay for the artists’ work is a risky and unproven strategy – but one that may force itself on the creative community. We should probably think about this and figure out if there is any way it might work for us. We may not have any choice.

LINKS: Speaking of Brain Pickings – the weekly newsletter of wonderful items from TED – here’s something cool

Have a good week.

Don’t Quit.