Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kicking the Can Down the Road

Good Morning

“And the beat goes on……………………………..”

Oh What A Time It Was………….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year to everyone.
Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Good Morning

“And the beat goes on…………………………….."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you all the Happiest of Holidays.

Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Connoisseurs: A Different Kind of Audience Development Perspective

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on…………………………”

Moving Beyond One Dimensional Thinking About “Audience Development”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

20Under40 - Interview with Edward Clapp

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on………………………………….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Clapp Interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week.

Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit.