Sunday, January 30, 2011

Interview with Olive Mosier

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on…………………………”

Olive Mosier is the Director, Arts & Culture, at The William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia, and the former Deputy Director of the National Endowment for the Arts. 

This is my interview with her:

Barry: What are the major priorities for your program at the William Penn Foundation in the next five years? What specific issues will you be trying to address in the next year or two? Are there any new initiatives that will launch soon? What challenges have you identified that you think must be responded to?

Olive: For the past several years, the goal of the Arts & Culture Program at the William Penn Foundation has been to try to build the financial strength of organizations to allow them to pursue their mission-driven work. In general, we provide multi-year core support, and we try to do this in a way that recognizes where an organization is in its evolution. In other words, is it in a growth mode, or trying to sustain a certain level of operations, or needing to contract its operations, either temporarily or permanently. Once we understand that, in consultation with the organization, we try to target our funding appropriately to help it succeed.

We are always trying to improve the effectiveness of our grantmaking and, to that end, in 2008, we partnered with our colleagues in the Culture Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts to better quantify just where our grantees stood financially as a sector. We retained TDC, a Boston-based management consulting firm, to conduct a financial analysis of William Penn and Pew grantees, which led to the 2009 TDC publication entitled Beyond Break Even: A Review of Capitalization Needs and Challenges of Philadelphia Area Arts and Culture Organizations.

In a nutshell, the study found that “arts organizations at all budget sizes and in all disciplines have troubling balance sheets and highly constrained capital structures.” 77 percent of the organizations TDC reviewed had weak financial structures yet strong financial literacy within their leadership. Although there were many factors identified that caused organizations to be undercapitalized, one telling factor was the tendency of us funders to stress a balanced budget rather than stressing the need to build appropriate reserve funds.

The TDC report also created a new business model lens through which to assess the type of capitalization approach, if any, that would be most useful to an organization.

Given what we learned from the insights of TDC’s work, William Penn and Pew retained TDC to create an online tool that allows organizations to use data from the Pennsylvania Cultural Data Project to better understand and project their own capitalization needs given their business model. Once it’s developed, we hope that this becomes a tool that organizations use both to talk to their boards and to funders about the capitalization needs essential to their mission. We are encouraging organizations to build the types of reserves that are appropriate to their business model, and have awarded some grants that help organizations get a running start on building a reserve fund(s) when we have deemed that to be the most effective grant for that organization.

We believe that pursuing a capitalization strategy will be our priority for the next several years. Building well-capitalized organizations is a multi-year approach that falls well outside a foundation’s normal three- to five-year outlook. We expect to continue learning when and how to make effective capitalization grants for the foreseeable future.

While we have no new initiative planned at this time, we do try to take advantage of the fact that, as a place-based foundation, we can sometimes respond, and help our grantees respond, quickly to an unexpected opportunity or challenge.

Barry: You have been one of those foundation pioneers that have actually invested in programs and projects that have tried to inform and educate the local arts field as to advocacy, including support for local programs that have sought to train arts leaders in advocacy and create and sustain infrastructure that allows for advocacy to grow and thrive. I know that your goal has been to try to create an ecosystem for advocacy that would eventually be self-sustaining. Where are you in your longer term thinking about what the William Penn Foundation can and cannot do in this sometimes controversial arena? And what do you think is a proper role for foundations in terms of financially supporting building increased advocacy capacity within our ranks?

Olive: Probably because I spent almost 20 years in Washington, D.C., working in or with national arts advocacy and public policy organizations, I have an acute appreciation for their work. In Philadelphia, we are fortunate to have local organizations that are smart and sophisticated about advocacy and public policy. But that was not the case when I arrived here in 2000. In fact, I was surprised that there was virtually no advocacy and policy work going on, and there was seemingly little interaction between local groups and the advocacy work of their national arts service organizations.

All that changed later that same year when Peggy Amsterdam became the CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. Peggy made advocacy a core strategy of the Cultural Alliance, and William Penn awarded the funding to carry out the work. And, while Peggy and I often talked about advocacy and policy priorities for the region, it was Peggy who charted the course and raised the visibility of and set the standard for everyone else. The region’s discipline-based service organizations realized that there was a role for them to play as well, both in collaboration with the Cultural Alliance and on their own, depending upon the issue. And, through this leadership, local arts groups learned the importance of having a collective voice. In 2008, when the City of Philadelphia created an Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, yet another critical voice was added that brings in the perspective of the Mayor.

This ten-year growth of advocacy and public policy within the region started with Peggy Amsterdam demonstrating the value of the work. The role the Foundation played was recognizing that a significant amount of funding was needed to make this work effective, and we provided that. We continue to provide funding to the Cultural Alliance, the Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, and others who work in arts advocacy and public policy. Our grant award contract is clear about the lobbying limitations of our funding, but I have found that organizations are pretty sophisticated in understanding the lobbying rules for 501(c)(3)s. And, last year, the Foundation brought in the Alliance for Justice to conduct lobbying training for any grantee that wanted to attend.

Lastly, I would say that an investment in advocacy and public policy is really an investment in effective leadership. The Foundation would not have given the kind of funding that was awarded to the Cultural Alliance had we not believed in Peggy Amsterdam’s leadership. The outcomes of advocacy and public policy are not always tangible, but sometimes simply create a sense of value within a community. The funding shouldn’t simply be tied to tangible outcomes but, rather, effective, sustained leadership.

Barry: What is your take on the funder conundrum of choosing between bigger (and arguably more meaningful) grants, but to fewer organizations vs. smaller (and thus less impactful) grants (but) to more organizations? What are your thoughts on support for major, mainstream (and longer standing) cultural institutions vs. newer, more avant garde, smaller, diverse organizations?

Olive: I don’t think that there is a right or wrong answer to this. Instead, I believe every funder needs to make this determination based on its own resources and mission. In terms of the arts funding at William Penn, we try to strike a balance. From time to time, we are in a position to make a significant grant to a major institution, but other times that same institution may receive a much more modest grant. We fund very small, avant-garde, and racially and ethnically diverse groups as well as major institutions. The first lens through which we look at any organization is the quality of its work in meeting its mission. We also look at the effectiveness of its staff and board leadership, its relationship to the community it seeks to serve, and its financial position. The Foundation believes that the emerging and up-and-coming organizations are as vital to the region’s cultural life as longer-standing institutions and, in fact, it is that very robust mix here in the Philadelphia area that makes the cultural scene so exciting and satisfying.

But the challenge with funding smaller groups is the IRS public support test, which often limits the size of a grant the Foundation can make directly to the organization. To overcome that limitation, we fund a variety of technical assistance providers that are able to provide consulting services and other help to small groups.

Barry: What issues would you like to see national conversations focus on in 2011? What dialogues do you think ought to be taking place that currently are not? And what concerns you most about the health of the nonprofit arts sector?

Olive: We are hoping that capitalization becomes a national conversation in 2011 and beyond. The Kresge Foundation and Grantmakers in the Arts are taking a leadership role in advancing this conversation with funders nationally, which I believe will be of enormous help to all of us as we learn how to approach capitalization effectively. Ultimately, we hope this becomes a conversation that staff leaders in arts groups have with their boards AND with their funders in an informed and candid manner.

We believe that the future of a healthy cultural sector is tied to how well it is capitalized.

But clearly there are other issues that are emerging all the time. Not too far afield from the issue of capitalization is the debate among museums around the sale of their collections and how funds from those sales can be used. Some museums that are feeling a financial pinch want to deaccession pieces and use the funds for general operations, and museums of different types are debating when or if the policy of using funds from deaccessions only for acquiring new pieces applies to them. I think this debate will continue as museums and all institutions try to work their way through the new economic realities and changes in audience expectations. The national arts service organizations will play a key role in helping us all think through how long-held sensibilities, policies, and practices may have to change in order to move effectively into the future. There are serious examinations going on across the disciplines in determining how their business models need to change.

Clara Miller, CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, put it best back in 2008 at the Independent Sector conference here in Philadelphia when she said that too many organizations were just trying to hang on and come out the other side rather than recognizing that we are at a change point. But change is hard and not all changes will work immediately or be the correct change. We as funders need to allow organizations the time and provide resources as necessary to work through new ideas and new ways of conducting business.

Lastly, given the most recent dustup at the National Portrait Gallery concerning the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video from an exhibition, we may be headed for another conversation about the artist’s voice, which could be quite worthwhile if we manage to do it with insight and civility.

Barry: As part of its current strategic plan thinking, the NEA has decided to focus more on research as the underpinning of its attempt to make the public more aware of the value of the arts. In the past, our sector’s research efforts have centered on arts education, audience development, and public participation. Where do you think the sector’s research energy and efforts should center? What areas are being neglected?

Olive: I think that, while there is certainly considerable research along the lines that you describe, there is ongoing research on many issues, but much of it is carried out locally to meet local needs. For instance, here in Philadelphia, the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy recently published a study that measured the impact and strength of the city’s creative industries (for-profit and nonprofit) over a three-year period. The Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia published research about trends within its sector. Opera America and the Opera Company of Philadelphia collaborated with the opera providers throughout Philadelphia to learn how audiences were moving through the local opera ecosystem. And the Cultural Alliance regularly publishes trend analyses and other information about the local nonprofit cultural sector, just to name a few.

I do think we need a better understanding of demographic and other changes happening in the country and how that will affect how people interact with the arts. The Cultural Alliance’s Research into Action study begins to probe that for Philadelphia. And anything that helps the public value the arts is certainly worth pursuing, as the NEA proposes. Also, I would love to see more research partnerships among national and regional funders and among national and local service organizations.

Barry: There has been an undercurrent in government funding programs for the arts (arguably attributable in part to not wanting to stir up public controversy) whereby public funds for the arts have largely gone to programs and projects (including operational support) that really center on “access” to the arts rather than on creation itself. Funding for artistic creation (and direct support to artists) has come more from private foundations in the past decade. Do you think that separation likely to continue and is the best balance for the health of the arts in America?

Olive: I think the balance you describe is about right, although I’m not sure that it has to do with avoiding controversy but, rather, because government funders are often limited in how much due diligence they can conduct around an organization. Given the vast numbers of requests they get and often limited staff and financial resources, they are more able to effectively assess a program and project separately from the larger condition of an organization. And it still gives the organization that important imprimatur of federal, state, or local government support.

Barry: What are the major mistakes you see your grantees and arts organizations in general making in the face of the challenges of the past two or three years, and what might be done to help organizations get on a better trajectory and repair the damage created by those mistakes?

Olive: My response goes back to my earlier reference to Clara Miller talking about recognizing that we are at a change point. I think that most of us – funders and arts organizations alike – were slow to recognize that we were at a change point. When we finally caught up to Clara, for funders, it meant needing to make decisions about the type of funding that was going to be most useful to organizations in the change environment and modifying existing grants, as necessary, to make them more useful. For organizations, it meant recognizing that business as usual was not going to get them through what we all came to call “the new normal.”

Going forward, I think we are all trying to build on the lessons learned.

Barry: What is the best new idea for our field that you have heard in the past year?

Olive: I love the Knight Foundation’s initiative of funding Random Acts of Culture. I think that, particularly for art forms that some may find less accessible, such as opera, these unexpected bursts of creative expression are wonderful ways of breaking down barriers. It’s been wildly successful in Philadelphia.

Barry: Much has been said about the impact of technology on the democratization of not only the creative process, - including production, distribution, marketing, and even fundraising, but also on access to all that is being created. Many have concluded that there is a new generation of artists, individual funders and even audiences that exist and act wholly outside the current nonprofit arts infrastructure. Do you think that infrastructure as an operational model is on the wane or even ultimately doomed? How do we build intersections with that public segment (including next generation artists and consumers) that may see us as irrelevant at best, and obstructionist at worst?

Olive: I don’t think I can’t answer this as well as I might like. I do think that how people, particularly younger people, want to experience the arts is changing. I agree that there seems to be a move toward people wanting more curatorial control over their experiences. And, when you read some of the statistics, such as the people who have never known the world without cell phones or the Internet, it’s clear that that would have an impact on expectations. I do see many of the cultural groups here recognizing this change and trying to respond to it, with varying degrees of success. In Philadelphia, the Knight Foundation recently launched its Knight Arts Challenge as a call for good ideas about the arts that can come from artists or arts organizations, for-profit and nonprofit businesses of any type, and individuals. I’ll be interested to learn how many of the ideas selected through this venture are centered around this very question.

Ideally, as we move forward, I hope that what evolves is funding and audience support for both approaches – the more traditional operating models as well as newer models.

Barry: Michael Kaiser is but one of many people who are concerned that as a sector we really don’t provide anywhere near enough professional development opportunities to our leaders and managers. What do you think is the role of funders in trying to address that unmet demand and need, and how do you think we can best move towards providing adequate training of our ‘managers’?

Olive: The opportunities for professional development are varied by region. I would argue that there are many such opportunities in the Philadelphia region. Technical assistance providers, the local arts service organizations, some funders and some of the schools and colleges offer various free or affordable professional development workshops, classes, and other opportunities in more areas than I could possibly begin to list. But, in regions where that is not the case, funders can support arts managers in attendance at places like the Stanford Nonprofit Management Institute or Harvard’s Executive Education Program, or to workshops and clinics at the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Also, the Nonprofit Finance Fund and many colleges have online classes and workshops. And national arts service organizations usually offer a variety of professional development opportunities throughout the year, both online and at conferences and workshops. Again, funders can help underwrite managers’ attendance at these events.

Thank you very much Olive.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Americans for the Arts NATIONAL ARTS INDEX Falls to Lowest Point ever.

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on…………….”

Released yesterday (and thanks to Randy Cohen) here is AFTA's latest Arts Index data.  No surprises really, but sobering and much to consider.


In 2009, the National Arts Index fell 3.6 points to a score of 97.7, the lowest point reached in the 12 years measured and the largest single-year change recorded. Losses during the 2007-2009 recession nearly doubled the gains made between 2003-2007 (-6.2 percent vs. +3.9 percent, respectively). This reflects declining attendance at larger cultural institutions and is compounded by losses in charitable giving—all of this as the number of nonprofit arts organizations continues to grow. In any given year, some indicators are up and others are down. In 2007, half of the indicators rose; in 2008 one-third were up; and in 2009, just one-quarter increased.

Key Findings from the National Arts Index:
1. The arts follow the nation’s business cycle. The Index is high when Consumer Confidence and GDP growth is high. As has been widely known by artists and arts organizations, demand for arts and cultural activity decreased during the recession. Figure A shows the dramatic decline of the Index during the two recent economic downturns.

2. The fortunes of the arts affect a great many people. While it may be no surprise that the arts track the economy, most people are unaware of the size of the sector: 109,000 nonprofit arts organizations and 550,000 more arts businesses, 2.2 million artists in the U.S. workforce, and billions of dollars in consumer spending. The arts are a significant social and economic force.

3. As a broad-based consumer sector, the arts are struggling to compete. The public’s spending on the arts has remained in the $150-$160 billion range, though it slipped steadily since 2002 in terms of share of all expenditures (from 1.88 percent to 1.57 percent). Inevitably, as people lost jobs and had their housing threatened, their expenditures on arts and culture, a discretionary expense, went down, too.

4. Growth in the number of nonprofit arts organizations and arts businesses. 2009 was the first year of the 12 Index years reported that saw a slight decrease in the number of artists, arts businesses, and arts-related employment. The number of new nonprofit arts organizations, however, continues to grow annually—and even grew in number by 3,000 during the 2007-2009 recession years. That one out of three failed to achieve a balanced budget even during the strongest economic years of this decade suggests that sustaining this capacity is a growing challenge and these gains are at risk. Putting this growth into context, in the past decade, nonprofit arts organizations have grown 45 percent (75,000 to 109,000), a greater rate than all nonprofit organizations, which grew 32 percent (1,203,000 to 1,581,000). Or to look at it another way, between 2003 and 2009, a new nonprofit arts organization was created every three hours in the U.S.

5. Arts nonprofits have continued to struggle, with varying degrees of success. More nonprofit arts organizations are ending the year with a deficit—41 percent in 2008, which is more than the 36 percent from 2007. In both years, larger-budget organizations were more likely to run a deficit, though no specific arts discipline is particularly more likely to run a deficit. Even during the more prosperous years of the decade, more than 1-in-3 ran a deficit.

6. Arts and culture is losing its market share of philanthropy to other charitable areas, such as human services and health. It is noteworthy that this decline began well before the current economic downturn. The share of all philanthropy going to the arts has dropped from 4.9 percent to 4.0 percent over the past decade. If the arts sector merely maintained its 4.9 percent share from 2001, it would have received $14.9 billion in contributions in 2009, instead of $12.34 billion—a $2.5 billion difference.

7. Demand for arts in education is up. The percentage of college college-bound seniors with 4 years of arts or music has grown steadily over the past decade—from 15 percent to 20 percent of all SAT test takers—a confounding finding to researchers given the evidence of K-12 decreases in arts education overall, and suggesting to researchers a significant educational equity gap. College arts degrees conferred annually have risen steadily from 75,000 to 127,000 in the past decade. Reasons for this include an increase in design degrees and more double-majors, such as science and music. This is promising news for business leaders looking for an educated and creative workforce.

Continuing Trends from the 2009 Index:
• How the public participates in and consumes the arts is ever-expanding. Tens of millions of people attend concerts, plays, operas, and museum exhibitions every year—and those that go usually attend more than once. While attendance numbers at artistic institutions has remained relatively flat over the past decade, the percentage of the U.S. population attending these arts events is shrinking, and the decline is noticeable. Between 2003 and 2009, the percentage of the population attending art museums and performing arts events both decreased (-19 percent and -22 percent, respectively).

• Americans are seeking more personal engagement in their arts participation. Personal arts creation and arts volunteerism is growing. The number of Americans who personally participated in an artistic activity—making art, playing music—rose 5 percent between 2005 and 2009. During the same period of time, the number of people volunteering for the arts has jumped 11.6 percent. One of the fastest growing areas of interest in the arts is culturally and ethnically diverse arts organizations, which have doubled in a decade (from 4,806 to 9,609).

• Technology is having dramatic effects, which is both encouraging and concerning. In just the past five years nearly half of the nation’s CD and record stores have disappeared, while online downloads of music singles have grown seven-fold to more than one billion units annually. In 2009, digital formats comprised a record 41 percent of total music sales in the United States, up from 34 percent in 2008, and 25 percent in 2007. Savvy nonprofit arts organizations are using technology to broaden their audience base and enrich the audience experience. For example, the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts 12 operas to 1,500 theaters in 46 countries—a program that sold an additional 2.4 million tickets last year alone. Also, the Washington National Opera’s annual simulcast at the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium attracts 20,000 fans.

Noteworthy Changes in the Past Year:
• Arts employment in the arts remained strong, especially when compared to labor market difficulties facing all sectors of the economy. A variety of labor market indicators in the Index report show relatively steady levels of compensation and employment.

 Self-employment is strong, with evidence that the artist-entrepreneur—active as poet, painter, musician, dancer, actor, and in many other artistic disciplines—is alive and well, growing every year between 2000 and 2008 (from 509,000 to 676,000).

 There was a 17 percent increase in the number of working artists from 1996 to 2009 (1.9 to 2.2 million). Artists remained a steady 1.5 percent share of the total civilian workforce.

 Arts worker wages kept pace with inflation and showed slight real growth, to about $49,000.

 Songwriter/composer royalties grew from 2003 to 2009, from $1.27 billion to $1.66 billion, a 30-percent increase over a six-year span, even after adjusting for inflation

• New work and innovation. Arts organizations are settings for artistic entrepreneurship—homes to new ideas and imaginative and innovative leaders. One measure of the Index is the number of premiere performances and films. While there was a 5 percent decrease in this measure between 2008 and 2009, it is still 14 percent higher than in 2005. In 2009, audiences were treated to an impressive 1,022 new opera, theater, film and symphony premieres.

• Government arts funding is mixed. Federal funding to the National Endowment for the Arts increased to $155 million in funding in 2009, which is just a portion of the $1.96 billion in total federal arts spending. As a share of the federal domestic discretionary budget, however, total arts funding dropped from 0.42 percent to 0.36 percent, between 2002 and 2009. Many arts programs are also immersed in the budgets of other federal agencies such as GSA, Transportation, and Defense (which boasts vigorous music programs throughout the armed services), but are not included in these totals. In contrast to the federal government, state and local arts funding are decreasing at a rate of about 10 percent per year.

• U.S. cultural destinations help grow the U.S. economy by attracting foreign visitor spending. Effectively, cultural tourism by foreign visitors is a form of export by domestic arts and culture industries. Since 2003, there has been a 23 percent increase in the number of tourists who fly to the U.S. and attend arts activities as a part of their visit. These data are tracked by the U.S. Department of Commerce and is evidence of the economic benefits to be reaped from an investment in the arts. Areas tracked include Art Gallery/Museums, Concert/Play/Musicals, Cultural Heritage Sites, Ethnic Heritage Sites, American Indian Community, and Historical Places.

Five New Indicators in 2010:
1. Record company sales are slipping at the retail cash register, according to data newly added to the Index from Soundscan (see indicator #8).

2. The popular music concert industry has had significant growth since the late 1990s. Pollstar Magazine, the most reliable source of concert industry data, gathers raw data on almost 35,000 concert events each year. All things considered, the 2000s have been a healthy decade for the industry. Increased grosses in 2009 distinguish this industry from some other arts industries that suffered more in the economic downturn. (#9)

3. From Books in Print, we measured the number of books published annually that are coded with the terms “music,” “theatre,” “dance,” or “art.” Overall, there was an increase of about 20 percent—from under 17,000 to over 19,000—between 1999 and 2009. (#36)

4. A new measure of corporate philanthropy from the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy corroborates the Conference Board’s findings that arts support declined steadily from 2006 through 2009, from 8.0 to 6.2 percent of total corporate giving. (#66)

5. Visual art performs as well as Standard and Poor’s 500 over the long haul . . . Since 1958, the Mei-Moses All Art Index shows that art has generated as investment returns equal to the Standard and Poor’s 500 Stock Index—a 100-fold increase (#78).

Have a good week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Deciphering the Lexicon of the Job Description

Good Morning

“And the beat goes on……………………………..”

Truth in Advertising:

Has anybody else noticed that job descriptions for positions in the arts all read remarkably the same. Whether the organization is looking for an Executive Director, or someone to head Development or Marketing, or any other open slot, everybody is looking for the exact same (unrealistic) qualities in candidates. It’s as though there is one job description that is a universal application for an iphone. Everyone uses a variation of the same description, and, if we’re honest, these job descriptions are themselves somewhat dishonest at worst, and at the least very misleading – full of tired, repetitive language that has ceased to have any real world meaning anymore. Everyone is looking for an ideal that very likely doesn’t exist.

Here is a typical advertisement:

The successful candidate will be a strong leader with excellent management and interpersonal skills. S/he will have the proven ability to build productive relationships with a broad range of internal and external constituencies, and have the demonstrated ability to work collaboratively with the various segments of the community. S/he will be an experienced supervisor with the ability and willingness to mentor staff and encourage staff development. S/he will foster an atmosphere of teamwork and collaboration among staff and volunteers throughout the organization. S/he will have a strong working knowledge of programs, production, board relations and operations. S/he will have excellent financial management skills and a track record for achieving budget goals. The ideal candidate will be able to implement a strategic plan, and will have experience working as a senior manager. The successful candidate will bring new energy and ideas, and will have the ability to unite all stakeholders in embracing a shared vision for the future of the organization. The successful candidate will be knowledgeable and comfortable with using new technology to enhance presentations, communications, and operations whenever possible to help achieve the organization’s mission. Ten plus years of active leadership required. An advanced degree is preferable.

 Blah, Blah, Blah - some go on and on.  You get the idea.

Salary and benefits commensurate with experience.

Send resume and cover letter to:_________________

What all this mumbo jumbo babble speak says basically is this: We want a smart experienced person to run the organization (department) really well. The successful candidate will (hopefully) have a great resume. Without meaning to sound glib, we want someone who can boil the perfect three minute egg in two minutes. 

How refreshing it would be to see a more honest solicitation. Something like this (tongue in cheek):

We prefer not to take a chance on somebody on the way up. We’re not really risk takers. So we want somebody who has done it all before and done it really well for some other organization that everybody looks at and marvels at its success against all odds.  We'd like someone who shares our unrealistic expectations and can make us look good.  Basically we’re looking for someone who knows everything and everybody; someone who has raised all kinds of money before and has a huge list of contacts they can hit up on our behalf (it's all pretty much about fundraising here); someone who can raise money in an environment where no one has any money to give; someone with really good foundation and rich people connections - someone who can help us stay afloat (our business model is, to put it charitably - challenged).

We want someone smart enough to help us figure out a cool vision for our future (that one is stumping us); someone who will attract great talent to the staff (though we can’t pay the staff very much) and whom the staff (despite working conditions that are hardly ideal) will love and follow anyway (someone who will hopefully get them to perform above their potential, because actually we're understaffed by all reasonable criteria). We want someone who can make various factions of the board (currently somewhat dysfunctional and at each other’s throats) work harmoniously together and take on an ever greater workload (or in the alternative someone who will assume the board’s workload for them because it’s highly unlikely they will do much more than they are doing right now – which isn’t that much). We try not to micromanage, but we still do. We're looking for someone who can get the best out of us, but someone enough like us so we are comfortable with them; someone who will push themselves, but not necessarily push us too hard.  Did we mention that we want someone who can raise a lot of money?

We want someone who can create a workable and well thought out strategic plan (lord knows we have neither the time nor inclination to do that) and make everyone feel the main components were ‘their’ ideas. We want someone who can magically double our audience size over time (tomorrow would be good) and develop real stakeholder support (and hopefully explain to us exactly what "stakeholders" are - because we're still fuzzy on that concept). We want someone who understands all the new technologies (we don't) and can apply them for the benefit of the organization (read: make young people interested in us), fix their own computer when it dies, design and maintain a website (or get some smart nerd to do it for free) and it wouldn’t hurt if s/he could get a bunch of new computers donated. We want an effective advocate (but it's a given that we don't have the time or resources nor do we want to get involved in any of that political stuff).

We want someone who can speak publicly like Obama and write like Hemmingway. We want someone who is part Mayor Bloomberg, part Spielberg, part Bill Gates and part Oprah (or at least personally knows all those people). Did we mention that we want someone who can raise a lot of money?  What we really want is a Saint who will do it all for us - without complaint. Oh, s/he should be willing to work long hours for non market competitive compensation with minimal real benefits – and love it. We want someone with passion after all.

Though we won’t say so, we will settle for someone who is willing to take us on, has done it before with some success, has a pretty good reputation, and who everybody here likes personally (and that last one might just be the most important). Before we hire someone, we will likely make them jump through some unnecessary hoops, and we will probably make this process last longer than it need to. Don’t call. If you don’t hear back from us, we’re chasing somebody else. (If we have enough money we have hired a Search Firm to do all this for us.  It's a crap shoot we know, but at least we can hope some "pro" can beat the odds for us - and, more importantly, we won't have to deal with it ourselves.)

Now this is, of course, a gross exaggeration on all levels, but there is truth in the contention that our job descriptions as often as not have become meaningless.  We can probably all save some time if we just post the opening announcement.  Wanted: Executive Director for the XYZ organization.  We all know what they are looking for in their 'ideal' candidate.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Artists and Administrators and Never the Twain Shall Meet

Good Morning

“And the beat goes on……………………………..”

Note:  You can always go to the site and enter a comment at the end of the blog.

Bridging the Great Divide:

We’re arts administrators. We run the nation’s arts organizations and the organizations and programs that serve the nation’s artists and arts organizations. Our job is principally twofold – to nurture, support and facilitate the creation of art – hopefully at the highest level of excellence, and to support and facilitate access to that art.

We are intimately involved with the artists who create. Many of them do double duty as administrators too. Some of our organizations have as their charge to directly support the needs of these artists themselves.

Yet there remains a huge divide between us as administrators and working artists. Even within a single arts organization there is artificial distance between the artistic and administrative sides of the organization; very often there is almost no communication or interaction at all between the artists and most of the staff or board.  In a sense we purposefully do not involve artists in much of our daily efforts to meet the challenges we face. Perhaps that’s because we see their role as creators and our role as administrators and we don’t want to blur that line for some reason. Maybe we think it’s our job to shield the artists from some of the more pedestrian aspects of pushing the “business” of art. Maybe we think involving them in our decision making would unfairly steal some of the time artists ought to have to devote to their art. Maybe they intimidate us and we intimidate them. Maybe we think that it is our job, not theirs, to run the businesses, set the policies and be the advocates. Maybe we think they just don’t understand the things we have to deal with to enable them to do what they do. Maybe we perceive that they don’t want us in their world and so we don’t want them in ours. Maybe we don’t want them to interfere. Maybe we fear that they have no interest in our problems and would resent our trying to include them in the solutions to those problems.  Maybe we fear they might have too much interest in what we do.

Whatever the reason, we have vivisected our workloads and separated artists and administrators into isolated silos and created a somewhat, I think, false barrier to our relationship with each other. We always include artistic performances at our conferences, but it often seems an obligatory token gesture - not much more really than a reminder, I suppose, of why we do what we do.  While artists are sometimes keynoters, there is little attempt to integrate artists onto our panels and in our discussions – no real attempt to insure their perspective is at the table. We include them on our peer panel reviews, but fail to involve them in addressing major policy issues. At times it seems we almost regard them as errant children; at other times humanity's future. There is wide divergence of opinion on whether artists are our colleagues or clients or constituents – all of those designations, or none of them. We remain, in effect, citizens of separate camps. And we are the poorer for not having their input and ideas. 

I hope 2011 might be the year we intentionally and consciously try to break down that separation and divide, and that we start by trying to involve artists more in our world of running arts organizations and setting policy. I suggest we might begin that process with an effort to involve artists more in the advocacy arena – and in our efforts to tell our stories, make the case for our value, organize the public to support us, garner media attention and lobby decision makers to rally to our cause. There are, of course, many situations and programs that do integrate artists with adminstators successfully - even if they are not the norm.  We need to identify those and replicate them.  I suggest we begin that process by staging, locally first, then regionally and nationally, opportunities for artists and administrators to interface and talk about what artists might bring to the table for these efforts and how we might integrate these two camps – a conscious effort to begin a real conversation.

I think we need – at the very least - the artist’s perspective, new directional thought, and their energy and numbers to help us jumpstart the telling of our stories, making of our case, designing our policies, advocating and lobbying and to spur further involvement of the public, and I think the artificial and false separation of artists and administrators is hurting both groups. It’s like we’re trying to fight the common enemy with one hand tied behind our backs. If you want to design a car, it seems logical to somehow involve drivers in the process.  Let’s mobilize and integrate one of our greatest assets – the working artist community - and stop trying to do everything on our own. My own experience suggests artists are more than willing to get involved. Nobody ever asks them. 

Have a good week.
Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year

Good Morning

“And the beat goes on……………………………..”

Note: For a really excellent summary of last year’s Top Ten Arts Policy stories see Ian Moss’ Createquity entry (scroll down once you get to his site).

Brain Pickings Year in ReviewOne of the most creative sites anywhere.

New Year’s Advice - Barry’s Baker’s Dozen:

1. Delete your email inbox. If there are some emails you will need, don’t worry they will still be in the trash. But start fresh.

2. Write a personal note to your 20 biggest donors. Invite them to lunch or an event. Make them feel special. Do not take them for granted. You need them – and other groups will covet them. If you can only focus on a few, pick the best candidates for moving up from one level to the next.

3. Bear in mind two concepts for 2011: Austerity and Authenticity. These might be the watchwords for the whole decade.

4. Call and make an appointment with someone on your city council, board of supervisors, state assembly or your congress man or woman and go see them. Just pick one. Begin or cement the relationship. Think 2012 and where you might be then.

5. Put someone under the age of 30 on your board of directors before the end of the first quarter. Just do it already. (The time is coming when organizations that do not have under 30 board representation will simply be ineligible for grant consideration – first from government agencies and then from foundations and corporations. At least I hope that will be the case.)

6. And while on the subject of generational representation, ask your staff for their advice on what to change in your organization in 2011. Give everyone a real voice.

7. Cut at least one expense line in your budget by 15% or more. Not possible? Are you sure?

8. Be careful using your laptop in airports – that is the number one hacker site – using false wifi connection scams. Be very, very careful of your identity – it is more vulnerable than ever.

9. Identify one person in your local community that could, if they wanted to, immeasurably help your organization to thrive in 2011 (it might be because of a big check, it might be because of something else). Talk to your senior board people and come up with a strategy to get to that person. Make it a campaign. (variation of Michael Kaiser’s advice).

10. Learn more about arts organizations in other disciplines or other sub-segments within your community. Make it a point to figure out how to interface with some of them. You may have more in common with other arts organizations in your community than you do with those in your discipline.

11. Use a sponge in your kitchen? Microwave it on high for one minute every morning. Kills 99.90% of the germs.

12. Make time at least once a week to stop to THINK about the bigger picture. Get out of your box. Yes, your organization is, and should be, your primary focus – but you and the organization are part of bigger worlds that impact what you do. Don’t forsake that.

13. Laugh every day (and if you can’t, then it’s time to consider another career).

May 2011 be a great year for you.
Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit.