Sunday, October 16, 2011

Steven Jobs Legacy

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

Considering what Steven Jobs may have left us:
Steven Jobs certainly left a mark on the world and fundamentally impacted the lives of virtually everyone. While he wasn’t a generous philanthropic supporter of the arts, or much else (in fact his reputation was decidedly that of the Scrooge as far as doing anything for nonprofits), nonetheless his legacy of the critical importance of creativity for business, of design in the packaging of products, of art in marketing, and of championing the aesthetic experience of end users did as much, if not more, over the past two decades to spur support for creativity in all aspects of our lives as anything else I can think of.

I ran across this on Yahoo -- Camile Gallo’s take in Entrepreneur on Jobs’ principles that “drove his success”. As Gallo says: “Over the years, I've become a student of sorts of Jobs' career and life. Here's my take on the rules and values underpinning his success. Any of us can adopt them to unleash our "inner Steve Jobs."

I have no idea if Jobs himself would embrace Gallo’s conclusions as ‘his’ operating principles, but they do seem to reflect his actions.

Here is Gallo’s list with my comments in italics as to how I think it applies to our field:

1. Do what you love. Jobs once said, "People with passion can change the world for the better."
This is the most universal advice handed down over the past half century. It is really so basic, that it hardly need be included in any list of life principles anymore. It is clearly at the heart of the artistic spirit and my guess is that it is the governing principle for most people who work in the arts sector. It is clearly one of the things that attracts people to work in the field and to become artists in the first place.

2. Put a dent in the universe. Jobs believed in the power of vision. He once asked then-Pepsi President, John Sculley, "Do you want to spend your life selling sugar water or do you want to change the world?"
While I think this one too is universal, I think perhaps many of us get so caught up in the daily grind that sometimes we forget that this was our motivation when we started. Sometimes I think perhaps we confuse concepts like ‘sustainability’ for belief in transformation. The arts can put a dent in the universe, and we need to consciously think about that.

3. Make connections. Jobs once said creativity is connecting things. He meant that people with a broad set of life experiences can often see things that others miss. Don't live in a bubble. Connect ideas from different fields.
I like this one very much, and think it worthy of some discussion within our ranks, particularly as we go about the ‘business’ of the arts. I think we are underachievers in making connections.

4. Say no to 1,000 things. Jobs was as proud of what Apple chose not to do as he was of what Apple did. When he returned in Apple in 1997, he took a company with 350 products and reduced them to 10 products in a two-year period. Why? So he could put the "A-Team" on each product. What are you saying "no" to?
I am virtually certain this is one we have failed yet to master, or even fully comprehend as to its value and application. I think we identify it when we talk about focus, but we would do well in the arts to say “no” more often - to ourselves as well as those we interface with.

5. Create insanely different experiences. Jobs also sought innovation in the customer-service experience. When he first came up with the concept for the Apple Stores, he said they would be different because instead of just moving boxes, the stores would enrich lives. Everything about the experience you have when you walk into an Apple store is intended to enrich your life and to create an emotional connection between you and the Apple brand. What are you doing to enrich the lives of your customers?
Jobs and Apple seemed to love the word “insanely” as descriptive of one of the goals of the organization. I think what he meant in using the word, was that ideas need to not just be out of the box, they need to be way, way out of the box. They need to reach to be different; not just to be fun and cool, but to be on the very edge of fun and cool. We would do well to set our sights higher and to shoot for the moon as it were on a regular basis as our standard operating premise.

6. Master the message. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can't communicate your ideas, it doesn't matter. Jobs was the world's greatest corporate storyteller. Instead of simply delivering a presentation like most people do, he informed, he educated, he inspired and he entertained, all in one presentation.
I am aware there was a kind of ‘cult’ around Jobs and he had a messianic presence at Apple launch events, but I’m not sure he was that exalted a “storyteller”. I do think though that he was exceptionally perceptive and gifted at understanding what the message was – and that he knew instinctively that, at least in part, self-perception of his customers was the message. And beyond that, that how his products made people feel was as important a message as their utilitarian use.

7. Sell dreams, not products. Jobs captured our imagination because he really understood his customer. He knew that tablets would not capture our imaginations if they were too complicated. The result? One button on the front of an iPad. It's so simple, a 2-year-old can use it. Your customers don't care about your product. They care about themselves, their hopes, their ambitions. Jobs taught us that if you help your customers reach their dreams, you'll win them over.
I think Jobs understood that he needed to play to people’s dreams, and that if he could help them feel as though his products helped enable them to perceive their own desired images that they would want them. I think we are moving towards that same realization in that the arts play to people’s self images and to what makes them ‘feel’ good.

To Gallo's above principles, I might add three more that it seems to me Jobs embodied:

8. Packaging and design are as important as the content. Jobs seemed to understand the value and importance of design in the appeal of the base product. It has to do with the customer’s “experience” of using an Apple product, and how that customer feels in the process of that experience. I think this applies to the arts in the obvious way that look and feel have always been integral to an artistic experience. I think it may also apply to how we package and market the ultimate art as our product. The ‘experience’ of engaging art is probably as critical as the art itself, and likely an integral part thereof. And I think we have a lot to figure out in this area. 

9. Excellence is the only acceptable standard. Jobs and Apple seemed to adhere to this maxim. Every product had to be the penultimate version of technology at a given time. Part of that standard of excellence was, of course, defined in the experience of the end user with the product. As we in the arts begin to grapple with the ultimate experience of the individual in relationship to art, we are embarking on a journey to define “excellence” as a concept beyond content, and applicable as well to interaction with content. That is a complex and ambitious undertaking, but one I think not only essential for us at this time, but one which may pay handsome dividends as we progress.

10. Don’t Quit. Finally I think Jobs embodied the notion of never giving up. Throughout his whole career from Apple to Next to Pixar and back to Apple he found other ways to continuously move forward. That is a trait I have always admired in our sector. People in the arts are nothing if not adaptable, flexible and able to roll with the punches. Simply put, we are pretty damn good at not quitting.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

GIA Wrap Up

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

GIA - Day 3:
The final day at any arts convention is usually a little anti-climatic.  People are checking out in the morning, some off for early flights; others are staying over to see friends or play tourist -- there are good byes and promises to be better at staying in touch; vague expressions of follow up on mutual projects -- some conceived this week after food and drink; and last look arounds to see if you can find long lost friends who are listed on the participant list, but who inexplicably you have not crossed paths with in three days.  There are, of course, scheduled sessions and the obligatory final plenary or meal.

BTW - congratulations to new GIA Board members elect:
  • Maurine Knighton - Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • Felicia Shaw - San Diego Foundation
  • Laura Zimmerman - McKnight Foundation 

I went to a session supposedly on one of my pet interests -- Building a Larger Table:  Cross-Sector Collaborations in the Arts - organized by two capable and unquestionably bright stars in the arts firmament, but alas for whatever reasons - this session didn't deliver.  From the title I assumed the gist of the presentation would try to center on how you can build that larger table and include case examples of what works and what doesn't in making cross-sector collaborations happen.  I had hoped that there might be a cogent, organized presentation of some basics for successful cross-sector collaborations, or at least a set up that would have encouraged some deeper discussion that would drill down to some of the obstacles encountered, and the means for overcoming those obstacles in attempting to make this kind of thing work.  In conversations during the break with other people who sat in on this session, there seemed consensus that it just didn't work. 

There were some pearls of wisdom but you had to reach to find them, as the presentation tended to wander and ramble and seemed to lack focus.  One of the lessons that was mentioned - ironically then - was that "focus" is an essential element in forming successful, workable collaborations. 

Two other quips caught my attention:
1.  I'm not sure what this was used for, but I love it as a title for an effort:  "Building a Base Before the Next Crisis."; and
2.  Everybody involved in the effort to establish a collaboration has to believe that it is a cause worth fighting for.  That is a lesson that can be, and I suspect, often is overlooked.

I think collaboration is such an important issue for funders that I hope GIA continues to include it as subject worthy of devoting time, energy and session time at conferences. 

I dropped in on the tail end of Richard Kessler's session:  The Challenge of Change:  Public Policy Advocacy for Arts in Education, and I just want to mention Richard's spot on part plea / part admonition to GIA members to fund those who are trying to work in the policy arena to change public policies to embrace arts education and the other priorities that we share in advancing our sector.  He cautioned that if funders don't fund that kind of activity -  the advocacy in the trenches and the work to make public policy reflect both the value of the arts, and the needs of those engaged in nurturing and facilitating that value - then it will not happen.  And that for us to advance arts education it must start with our involvement in fashioning public policy.  We cannot and will not move arts education anywhere near where we want it to be, if we do not engage in changing public policy.  He also asked funders to ask themselves what their role - collectively as part of GIA - which is the trade association of the arts funder world - should be. 

Janet Brown was in the session, and as much as anyone in the field, she understands exactly what Richard was saying.  She knows the essentiality of being involved in public policy formulation and she knows from practical experience how it works, and why collective 'concerted' action is necessary to compete with other sectors that have their own agendas and demands that vie for public policy decision makers to address.  One challenge for GIA will be to determine for itself how far it wants to leverage the power of its collective voice in this area.  My sense in talking to people over the past three days - from the far corners of the arts funding world - is that an increasing consensus in support of working more together in collaboration is becoming apparent, and that while individual funders are trying to find solid ground on which to stand within their own worlds, they are paying more attention to being part of this larger world together.  There are some very, very smart people involved here, and as Richard Kessler reminded them: they are the only ones in the room who really do not directly benefit from taking a stand in the policy arena -- other than moving things forward.  I hope GIA members can overcome the hurdles of convincing their own boards that support for policy formulation makes sense, and that GIA - as the trade association for arts funders - can play a logical role in leveraging the combined strength of its members. 

My take-away from this conference is that the arts funder's legacy of acting pretty much alone is no longer thought to be the preferred way to approach goals, and certainly not  a viable way to deal with the "velocity of change" that was the theme of the gathering.   I think the potential of this sleeping giant may in the not too distant future surprise even themselves.

On a personal note (and another reason I like these gatherings) --  I was able to corral several people whom I have wanted to interview for the blog, and now have those commitments (some good stuff coming up in the future).    So I enjoyed myself this week.   Had some very good conversations, saw old friends (Olive Mosier I looked and looked for you and I am so sorry I didn't get a chance to spend some time with you), I laughed, learned some things, and came away optimistic.  And but for some rain on Monday, the city shined (I was right, wasn't I Daniel Windham?)

Safe journeys home to all those who came to our city.  Thanks GIA. 

Don't Quit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

GIA - Day 2 Report

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

Tuesday, Day 2:
Day started out with a continental breakfast that included scrambled eggs, fresh fruit and croissants - a definite step up from the usual hotel continental fare - served in the Fairmont's Venetian Room -- once a high end night club in San Francisco where Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey (look her up all you Millennials out there -she was the real deal) and Tony Bennet held court.

Breakfast Roundtable on the topic of "Does Art = Creativity"?   Consensus of the group was that you can be creative and not be an artist, but that likely all artists are creative.  Though I would think some would suggest that a very creative engineer or scientist (and certainly there are such) IS arguably an artist, but then we get into semantics and who really cares?    The more interesting issue to me has to do with our employing the use of "art = creativity" as a strategy to advance our cause.  We've been making that claim for awhile, in part to try to convince the business community that they need us and we have value to them.  While they embrace the concept of "innovation", and while we have made some progress in convincing them that creativity is linked to innovation, they still basically don't buy the link (or at least don't "see it") between the arts and creativity.  That makes me wonder if we should re-think that as a strategy.  Perhaps it is coming close to having outlived its usefulness.  I don't know - I am only asking.

There was also discussion of the Richard Florida 'creative matrix' theory, and the consensus there was that it has now been so largely discredited and compromised that it may be of very limited use for us in the long haul.  It isn't that his thesis is wrong, it's just that ascribing the existence of creative communities solely to the arts is a stretch.  One tablemate hit it on the head when she opined that it is the "quality of place that attracts talent, and while the arts may play a role, Florida's argument is
really a human capital argument more than one focused on creativity.  Bill Cleveland changed our table debate when he posited that creativity is about condition and capacity -- all kids are born creative.  Still the direct link between that reality and what we know as the arts eludes us.

Breakout Session - Enabling Engagement:  Launching Irvine's New Strategy:  This session - ostensibly to explain the James Irvine Foundation's new arts grantmaking strategy -was perhaps the most important session of the conference -- not because of Irvine's do-over of its strategy per se, but because of the fundamental questions it raises.  Questions raised not in criticism, but in sussing out all the ramifications, implications and down the road impacts. 

The session was jam packed with the "A" list of major foundation funders from across the country who had obviously come to see what one of the major forces in arts funding in America was thinking.  The Irvine Foundation had invested well over a year and had enlisted some heavyweight consultant talent to help it formulate an updated strategy for its grant making.  This wasn't completely a wholesale makeover, for certain key elements of the Irvine strategy (e.g., its committment to the Central Valley and the Inland Empire geographic territories, and its commitment to the priorities of addressing the needs of low income California residents and under or inadequately served ethnic diverse communities) remain in full force and effect.  Rather it was more of a refinement, but as the devil is always in the details, refinement of the commitment is, in itself, of keen interest to others in the field because those refinements have major impact in the implementation.

The key element in the new Irvine approach - and that of others as well - is 'engagement'.  That term can mean many things on many levels - and while it has enormous appeal as indicative of our sector wide goal to broaden and deepen the experience of people in the arts - and may be transformative in changing the patterns of our thinking, my fear is that it may too quickly become the buzzword of the month and thus marginalized and end up a cliche.  The Irvine approach is to acknowledge demographic and technological change and embrace diversity that focuses on our ability to thrive together.  I think I got that right - I hope so. 

Several issues were raised in this session that I think are important.  And while they were raised in the context of the Irvine presentation, they are by no means exclusive to Irvine;  quite the contrary - they are core to all foundations and funders, and I think the whole of the funding community is going to have to deal with each of them in the near term:

1.  The first issue is symbolized by the size of the Irvine Foundation and relates to those similarly situated (but it is by no means confined to large foundations).  Irvine is a major force, not only in California, but in the entire national arts sector. It has for a decade or more bred some of the best leadership the arts have yet produced - from Cora Mirikitani to John McGuirk, and now to Josephine Ramirez. This is an important shop in our industry. Their programs and policies have an effect well beyond their grantees. Part of the reason Irvine is important is the size of the corpus of its endowment.  The best analogy I can think of is the supertanker that comes out of the Oakland port headed under the Golden Gate Bridge out to sea. If that tanker wants to stop and make a course change it cannot do so in an instant - it may take it ten miles to come to a stop and then change course. Irvine as an operation of some size similarly takes an effort to change course - and when they do so, it's a big deal.  As we move increasingly -- as a sector - to the demand that we become flexible and able to more quickly respond to changes with change within ourselves, the issue of our larger foundations (or any of our organizations) being able to somehow respond with nimbleness will be an issue.  The velocity of change will likely necessitate that responses to that change can also be quick and adaptive.  How we deal with the need for us to be able to quickly respond with changes in our approaches will be an issue for funders to address over the next few years.  It is not inconceivable that we will need some version of rapid response mechanisms of some sort.

2  A blog reader who is a recent Irvine grantee wrote me concerned that as Irvine continues its policy of requiring a budget threshold of at least $100,000 to qualify to apply for a grant, because her organization - having fallen on tough times and now under that threshold - they will no longer qualify for Irvine support.  I asked that question at this session, and Josephine Ramirez's response was, I think, reasonable and rational.  She said that because the Central Valley and the Inland Empire territories were, and remain, foundation priorities across programming, that - while the threshold remained in effect - they would, on a case by case basis, consider bending the rules to insure that the investment they had previously made in supporting local organizations continued.  

The issue of having a threshold budget size, or other base criteria for qualifying to even apply for a grant is common to most foundations -- and perfectly reasonable and legitimate for a variety of good reasons (organizational stability, consistency, ability to carry out certain functions etc. etc.).  But as Irvine consultant Steven Tepper from the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy cautioned (in a video piece played at this session) -  "change comes from replacement of what you have been doing, not necessarily from refinement.", and so all the same grantees who have previously been funded may not be the ones who can help the foundation reach its current goals and objectives.  I think Tepper was suggesting that it may be time to change the criteria and take a closer look at funding a different cohort of organizations than might have been the norm - including smaller budget sized organizations, more ethnically diverse organizations, and groups more on the cutting edge  - particularly if the articulated goals are to highlight, strengthen and sustain change as part of an expanded "engagement" of the public in the arts. 

And therein lies one of the major issues for the funding community for the future:  to what extent should we re-assess the criteria we have for whom we will fund?   To what extent is it finally time to consider whether or not we should re-direct at least some portion of our funding to a different cohort of arts organizations based on a wholly different set of criteria?  To what extent should we move some of our funding from those groups we have traditionally funded, to those we have not heretofore funded to any meaningful extent (including smaller, ethnically diverse, cutting edge, and younger run organizations serving a different matrix)? 

I think its important to note that if we do make some wholesale changes in the criteria we employ, it will not be because we are motivated by some definition of equity - of what is the "right" thing to do - but rather or not the grants we make are to the organizations that can best facilitate the achievement of our stated goals.  This will be, I think, one of the major issues for funders to deal with in the next five years.  I think it probably deserves much more attention and depth of thought - including the opinions of greater minds than my own, but I don't have more space right here.  It will not be an easy decision for most boards to make, and will involve an upending of the current culture of thinking in those boardrooms. 

3. A question raised by Bill O'Brien from the Endowment in response to a presentation made by research guru Alan Brown (also a consultant to Irvine in the process of its strategy change), touched on another fundamental issue funders (and the whole arts field) will have to deal with and that is whether or not we are consciously moving away from 'excellence' as a fundamental criteria for what we fund, in favor of something arguably more difficult to get a handle on - and that is a healthy outcome and a process that favors healthy outcomes.  In part the argument for that shift (made sort of by yesterday's keynoter Marc Bamuthi Joseph) is that defining 'excellence' has been, at best, a fool's errand - somewhat arrogant, and really in the final analysis impossible; nothing more than a subjective opinion.  Of course, defining what process produces healthy outcomes, let alone what a healthy outcome is -- will also likely be equally as problematic.  But the issue of using 'excellence' as the dominant criteria for what gets funded may well be making an exit -- and I suspect it will not go quietly or easily.  That too is yet another major issue with which funders will grapple over the next few years.

4.  The final issue that cropped up in the session was pointed out by Maria Rosario Jackson (yet another Irvine consultant) in her video presentation of some of the new metrics she saw as important for Irvine to consider in the evaluation of its new strategy.  Her thoughts on what kinds of questions we should all be asking ourselves to ascertain whether or not our grant decisions were moving us towards our stated priority goals were a real eye opener to me.  She talked about a shift away from evaluation based on audience participation and consumerism, and focusing on making, doing and teaching.   She posited that we need to think about gauging organizational evolution; about how organizations think about the concept of 'place' outside their four walls, about how well they are creating new connections to previously underserved groups.  She asked whether or not we should ask:  "who is connecting to whom, and how well?"  These are new ways to think about measuring our success, and that is my fourth major issue for the future.  How indeed are we going to measure success? 

So, this was to me an exceptional session, because the presentations of some new thinking led to some very meaningful and profound questions as to where funding strategies ought to go.  Congratulations to Irvine for developing a shift that may serve as a model -- not necessarily of exactly where we will be going, but of something that itself will be evolving over time and which risks asking the very questions that will challenge us to keep up with the velocity of change.  I think this was an important session.

I would hope to further involve these thinkers in more blog posts on the issues raised above, and on the other issues that I would suspect will come out of this dialogue.

Off site session:  Turning Museums Inside Out w/ Lori Fogarty (Executive Director, Oakland Museum) and Jill Sterrett (director of conservation and collections, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).  I went to this session precisely because it's not the kind of session I usually attend - and I'm glad I did because it was a winner.  It was a simple conversation between the above two leaders - who it turns out have been friends for a long, long time and so this exercise was hardly a stretch for them.

There is no shortage of issues for museums to deal with - and many were raised in this discussion.  I am including a brief sampling:

But first here is startling statistic from a study the Oakland Museum did on how long the average person who came to the museum spent at the museum in total time (irrespective of their demographic background, the size or nature of the current exhibit et. al) ??

Answer:  20 minutes. 

1.   A challenge to both these museums is to break down the walls between the front of the house and the back of the house as it were so as to give the public more of what it wants - which is an insider view about how the museum works - from its curating policies and practices to its trying to escape being a (self) silo structured organization with too many areas of expertise separated from each other.

2.   How do museums integrate the work of curators, designers, exhibition space experts etc. into a single approach when mounting new installations?

3.  How do museums participate in the burgeoning on-line publishing on-demand trend?

My question to them was: given that most museums have archives of works so deep that it is virtually certain the vast majority of them will never be exhibited (due to the limited wall space available in the average facility) - and admitting that the archives had differing levels of quality pieces in their inventories, the discussion for the last five years or so has been how to use technology to increase access to that treasure trove.  But before that the discussion centered around whether or not there were ways to exhibit that archive excess by loaning out the works and exhibiting them outside the bricks and mortar four walls of the museum itself - with, of course, the hoped for added bonus of further branding the museum and serving as an advertisement for new audiences.  So my question was is this second discussion still alive?  The response was that that discussion was very much alive, but that the issues that have always made such outside exhibitions impossible - insurance rates, issues of exhibition climate control etc. - remain a prohibitive barrier. 

If that answer means that that archived work will forever remain in some vault unseen by the public, then I don't think that really answers the question.  The question becomes what is the purpose of the art in the first place -- to be seen, or to be preserved.  It seems to my uneducated mind that artists create art to be seen, not to be preserved.  Should the Sistine Chapel be forever sealed because the heat and oils from the bodies of the thousands of people who view the ceiling over time degrade the paint and restoration is necessary every few hundred years - resulting to some purists in a complete change in Michelangelo's original artwork?  What would he have wanted - and does that matter?  I just think that issues of insurance and even safety of the integrity of the works themselves don't a priori trump the public's right to see them, and the value of that public access.  How long shall they remain in those vaults - for an eternity?  I know, I know -- I am unfamiliar with the issues.  But I think letting all that art across the planet sit in drawers in basements, never to see the light of day, makes no sense at all.

Don't Quit.

Monday, October 10, 2011

GIA - DAY 1 Report

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

GIA in San Francisco, Day 1:
As I live in Marin just across the bay from San Francisco, I got up early and in very San Francisco style made my way over to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill via first the Larkspur Ferry and then, on arrival, hopped onto the California Street Cable Car and very easily and quickly (and I might add comfortably) arrived at the hotel in time to work the lobby a bit and then file into the breakfast plenary session.

First news:  The conference is sold out and this is officially the biggest turnout for a GIA conference in its history.  Probably partly because its in San Francisco - which has an enormous appeal to people, and because so many California based arts people come to conferences IN the state, but very likely mostly due to the fact that Janet and Tommer and the GIA people are enjoying incredible success in their hard work to re-invent and re-brand the organization for the new century as dynamic and relevant.  Kudos and congratulations to them. 

Note:  The Velocity of Change theme of the conference is further broken down into three primary areas of expansion:  1)  Equity and Social Justice - from funding to program focus; 2) Changing Technology; and 3) Changing Demographics.  As Janet put it in her opening:  We're trying to get some sense of the space between what we "know of the past" and "fear of the future". 

Opening Keynoter / Performance - Mark Bamuthi Joseph (a very articulate and poised young voice in performance, arts education and artistic curation.  He is an artist, a performer, and a lecturer in the arts.) - spoke of the role of philanthropists in the sustainability of creativity in America.  His essential point was that 'art' must be more than an 'object' or an 'outcome', but also a "process and opportunity" for the development of real communities - and so philanthropy ought too to be more than about funding 'objects' or 'outcomes' but about 'process'.   His point was that the inter-relationship of the arts within a community is the "hidden metric" of the health of that community, and that funding for just art outcomes or finished art objects is too much an 'egosystem', and too little of an ecosystem.

To buy into his conclusion you have to accept the proposition that art needs to be more than its finished product, and while he made a cogent and convincing case, I think the conclusion remains open.  While I would certainly agree with the premise that art can certainly be about (and perhaps even the notion that ideally it "should" be about) its relationship to wider community, I'm not certain I can subscribe to the argument that it absolutely has to be about community.  Art is art and defining it is personal and - when trying to define it for others - a risky enterprise.  Still I found him to be compelling, passionate, very smart, and his comment on the velocity of change, that "at best all you can do is anticipate its direction" to be spot on.

The Breakout Sessions:
NoteWith dozens of sessions being offered in different time slots over the course of a day, picking which ones to attend is a bit like Russian Roulette in that you don't know up front which ones are likely to be great and which ones not as satisfying as the written description led you to hope.   Often times there are several that are excellent - but all scheduled at the same time and you cannot be at all of them.

Session on Arts Journalism - Five Action Plans for the Future of Arts Journalism:
This turned out to be my favorite session of the day -- a home run.
Joan Shigekawa, Senior Deputy Chairman of the NEA recounted the Endowment's review of their Arts Journalism Institutes program in association with Columbia, Duke and USC - a program which recruited new and current reporters and provided training in the arts coverage -- the goal of which has been to try to improve the quality (and I would suppose the 'quantity' too) of Arts journalism.

Joan noted that there are five designated areas of arts journalism the program recognized:
1.  Simple Factual coverage - e.g., coverage of the scheduled dates, times and places of performances.
2.  Casual coverage of artists, gallery openings, comings and goings, etc.
3.  Arts News - including investigative reporting - .e.g, the New York City Opera funding crisis.
4.  Criticism - reviews and the like.
5.  Academic and scholarly treatises on the arts or some facet thereof.

In the case of factual coverage, social networking and the internet itself have allowed organizations to do that for themselves.  The same is largely true for the casual coverage as well.  And they found that academic and scholarly coverage was soaring and on the rise.  Thus, the agency came to the conclusion that the real problems were with numbers 3 and 4 above; that is where the quantity and quality of the coverage was lacking and its absence most felt.

So the Endowment (represented by Bill O'Brien - Senior Advisor / Program Innovation at the NEA) sought a partnership with Dennis Scholl at the Knight Foundation to address that challenge, and the resultant program was a contest as it were inviting participation in bold, new brainstorming sessions in the eight Knight centered cities across the country leading to submission of ideas for funding.  Knight's own research had shown that journalism schools were training students for "jobs that weren't going to be there" and so they were quick to support a search for the best, big ideas for the future of arts journalism.

After hundreds of submissions, the quality of which were impressive, they settled on Five Ideas and - working with the local arts agency in each territory as the fiscal sponsor - awarded each $20,000 to bring the ideas to working plans, and based on those plans there will be another $80,000 available to each to implement the ideas.  Here are those ideas:

1.  Charlotte North Carolina:  "Arts News Alliance" - a collaboration between media outlets (including the daily newspaper The Charlotte Observer and the local NBC Affiliate) and the University of Charlotte to recruit and train a collective of citizen arts journalists - from high school students to adults - who will then be invited to publish (and be paid) across media platforms.  The Charlotte Observer has already committed to a two page weekly spread ("Arts Alive").

2.  Detroit Michigan:  (This one is my favorite).  The interactive " iCritic" - a mobile prototype video booth where audience members can record their video reviews of cultural events. Those reviews will be posted on local websites and shared on social media channels. Attending the performances of both established and emerging groups, iCritic Detroit will crisscross the city and weave together diverse geographic and ethnographic communities, creating a video tapestry of the city’s cultural life. iCritic Detroit also will provide a much-needed platform for residents to talk about the vibrant art scene growing in their city, provide an App. for residents to track the location of the booth, follow popular "reviewers" over time, and integrate social media with the postings.  The project managers envision being "hyper local" in their focus and want to get the smaller arts stories told as well as the major ones.

3.  Miami, Florida:  ArtSpotMiami will be an online arts journalism marketplace where citizen journalists pitch news stories about the local arts scene to the public and the public pays for the ideas they like to be produced. ArtSpotMiami will use the software created by the Knight-funded site – a crowd-funded news site (ala Kickstarter) for citizens, professional journalists, and news publishers – to create the site’s platform.

Once the financial goal for a story idea is reached, the citizen journalist will team up with local news organizations such as WLRN and The Miami Herald to produce the story. Academic institutions including the University of Miami’s Motion Picture Program at the School of Communication and mentoring programs such as those provided by Creative ED., will provide digital media training to the new journalists. In addition to media training, the citizen journalist will be paired with a member of the media to learn how to produce for major market audiences.

4.  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  Combining Forces to Increase Cultural Coverage.  Drexel University faculty, students and other contributors from the university's respected online arts and culture journals will produce stories for the Philadelphia Daily News. The paper has agreed to expand its pages to accommodate the additional coverage. will also use the material.  This project envisions training for quality journalism contributors wherein writing, style and content are all held to the highest journalistic standards.  The envision that they will be training future arts journalists.

5.  San Jose, California:  The Silicon Valley Arts Technica is a three-part endeavor lead by The Bay Citizen that features a mapping component that visually highlights arts events, a mobile app that will allow people to add reviews, images, and comments, and a series of investigative reports probing the divide in arts funding between San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

The mapping initiative will aim to address one of the biggest challenges facing the arts in Silicon Valley/ San Jose: the lack of a flourishing culture district. The Bay Citizen will work with Civic Center to develop maps that by highlighting arts events and venues throughout the city will indicate what areas have potential as arts hubs. In conjunction with mapping existing cultural assets, Civic Center will solicit feedback from San Jose residents about what kinds of art projects and venues they’d like to see in their region. 

Runner up ideas included a Yelp for the Arts site; and use of a Comic Book for coverage of the arts (which prompted me to think that somebody must have an animation idea out there that would work).  This NEA / Knight Foundation was a very cool project.

 The Plenary Lunch Keynote - Dr. Manuel Pastor - Professor of Geography and American Studies and Ethnicity at USC spoke on demographic trends and transitions - particularly the black, white, Latinor and Asian / Pacific Islander changes in the demographic composition of California and the United States.

Here is some data to consider:
  • From 2000 to 2010, there was a 43% growth in Latinos; an 11% growth in Blacks and a1% growth in whites.
  • In the cohort group of those under 18 years of age - almost all the growth was in the Latino community.
  • Surprisingly (to many) is the relative stability of immigration - one explanation being that the fertility rate in Mexico has declined, and the economy has improved leading to fewer immigrants from Mexico to the US. 
  • By 2042, the US will be a minority nation (with no ethnic group being a majority of the population).
  • The immigrant gap is increasingly suburban centered as more immigrants locate in the suburbs than in the urban areas.
  • The median age of whites in America is 41 years.  The median age of Latinos is 27 years. 
As the ethnic populations have grown and the white population growth has declined, it would have been very interesting if there had been corresponding charts over the same periods of time showing how much the grants to the various ethnic communities had grown, declined or stayed the same.  While the ethnic demographic data is interesting and has ramifications for what we do, I think the comparison of that data to the patterns of what we fund would be very telling.

Session on Support for Artists and Small Arts Organizations:
The James Irvine Foundation had a program from 2004 to 2009 that aggregated nine community foundation partners to leverage matching grant funds to small arts organizations and individual artists which grew that support by $44 million in new money.  90 new donors were recruited from community foundation donor directed funds the resulted in a 28% growth in donor advised giving (and resulted in existing donors giving more) -- all during the height of the recession and economic downturn.

The experience of the East Bay and San Francisco Foundations was representative of the whole program.  Their goal was to put more money in the pockets of artists by encouraging arts organizations to seek funds to match grants to them by the project.  The amount of the grant to be matched varied but was relatively small (+/- $2500 to $5000 or so).  Each organization participant had 90 days to get the match.  Key to the success of the project was providing 'coaching' in how to make those "asks" and in working with those organizations so they became more comfortable in making the ask in the first place and in making them better at making the ask.  The program was later expanded so that individual artists could apply directly with a 4 month period to make the match. 

In the aggregate the project had these positive results:
  • $700,000 raised in matching funds.
  • 159 projects commissioned.
  • 249 artists supported.
  • 4600 individual donors participated
  • donations ranged from $2 to $10,000.
  • the median gift was $100.  The average gift was $233.
One participant grantee was Shotgun Players - a small theater company which grew its operating budget during its participation in the project from $550,000 to $850,000 from 2004 to 2011.  They learned how to ask more of their donor base, move that base to higher donations and expand the size of the base itself. 

Laura Zucker of the Los Angeles Arts Commission unabashedly appropriated the idea (and she argues we don't really "steal" from each other nearly often enough).  She pointed out that individual donors to nonprofit organizations in general far exceed the amount individuals proportionately donate to arts organizations.  While the Irvine Foundation provided the initial grant money to be matched in the case above, that option wasn't open to Laura, nor was the option to appropriate money from her general grants fund, so she applied for and got an NEA grant for $60,000 and got that grant matched locally to yield a final pool of $120,000.  She lengthened the period of time to make the match for applicants under her program to four months, provided coaching and technical assistance to grantees and focused on changing the 'culture' of organizations in fundraising - and in particular the latent "fear of asking for money" so rampant with arts organizations (requiring applicant staffs and boards to participate in learning sessions).  The program is half way thru the four month match period.

My overall impression of this first (long day) was that despite the bad news of the last year - all the cuts to state arts agencies, all the organizations struggling to stay alive, all the money that is no longer available, the drop in audience attendance, the competition for ever scarce individual donations - there is ample evidence of just how resilient the arts sector is, and there are a lot of success stories too.  Take the above Irving program.  Jonathan Katz relayed that while several state agencies were threatened with elimination, and while the overall funding to state arts agencies has dropped over the decade precipitously from $460 million to $268 million - nonetheless 14 state agencies saw increases in their budgets for next year.  There was a certain positive energy in the room today, and one comes away cautiously optimistic that there is earnest work going on to try to make things better.  New ideas are being sought, risks are being taken, and collaboration at a new level is the new norm.

Hope remains alive in the arts then.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

GIA Conference in San Francisco

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

Grantmakers in the Arts Conference - Embracing the Velocity of Change:

I had a great time at GIA's Chicago gathering last year, and I have been waiting in eager anticipation for this conference all year.  Having been a major funder at one point in California when I was at the helm of the California Arts Council, and having had the pleasure to know and work with a lot of arts program officers at foundations of all sizes and stripes over a decade or more now - AND as this conference is in my own back yard - it is been on my radar screen as something I have been looking forward to covering. 

So Welcome to San Francisco to all the delegates from around the country.  The weather promises to be pretty good this week, and there are lots of things going on.  Monday is Columbus Day, Fleet Week ends Tuesday and the Blue Angels Navy pilots are performing over the next day or two.  Looking at the schedule, the conference organizers recognize that people want to get out and see the city (and don't want to spend three solid days in windowless conference rooms), and there are off site sessions, dine around hosted dinners in every section of the city from Chinatown and the Mission to the Wharf to the Castro's gay ghetto, and a dinner at the fantastic Oakland Museum across the bay.   Downtown is northern California's Museum corridor, theater is alive and well throughout the Bay Area, and art abounds in every neighborhood in the City.  I hope some of you can stay over -- the extraordinary Napa Valley Vineyards are an hour and half away, Carmel, the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur two hours away, Stanford and Berkeley's beautiful campuses close by, Sausalito and Tiburon waterfronts a quick ferry ride and more restaurants and shops than you could possibly seek out in a month.

As revenue from public funding sources gets harder to come by, as audiences trend downward, as the arts struggle to gain market share of all philanthropic dollars, and as the economy refuses to track better, the arts funding community becomes increasingly more important in terms of allocation of the remaining scarce resources, and because of that reality, those decisions have greater policy impact for the future of the sector.  Today there were Pre-Conferences in SF and down in San Jose.  This IS San Francisco, and so the choice of Pre-Conference themes are, not surprisingly - Social Justice and Technology -- two threads in which the Velocity of Change (the conference title) is unquestionably at warp speed.  It may be enough to try to get a handle on that change, even if impossible to fully embrace.

I will be blogging on this conference for the next three days and hope to hit the highlights of the plenary sessions, attend and report on several of the key presentations and salon discussions (alas, one can't attend but a taste of what is scheduled), and try to relay some of the dialogue going on about a host of issues, as well as some of the trends in thinking, picked up in conversations around the hotel - both public and private. 

One of the most important developments - to my mind anyway - in the arts funder community in the last couple of years is that velocity of change as applied to foundations' increasing willingness to both work in collaboration with each other on mutual goals that benefit the entire 'sector' (if only in a given area sometimes), and the willingness of those collaborations to intersect and interact more directly with the grantees at all stages of the process -- pre-application to post grant reporting.  There has been a trend towards that kind of connection that even five years ago was far less frequent and apparent.  To be sure, this kind of thinking is new to many foundation boards of directors and, as such, a kind of paradigm shift in the culture of thinking as to the role of philanthropy in the arts.  Moreover, the direct relationship of foundations and public funders in some of the earliest of these approaches to cooperation and collaboration is new to everyone, and still embryonic in what it might become.  We talk frequently about thinking outside the box, about taking risks, about facilitating collaboration -- and I think that that advice is being heeded by this subsector of our community.  That kind of thinking is going on, risks are being discussed, and real collaboration is on every one's agenda.  Remember, the funding community has been, by its legacy and nature, relatively conservative and even somewhat risk and innovation averse.  That seems to be changing.  I will be on the lookout this week to try to get some sense of the velocity of that change.

That is, I think, exciting and portends a range of possible positive outcomes as the field itself continues to contend with dire and draconian circumstances that have changed dramatically the landscape of arts provision in America over the past half decade.  So it will be interesting to try to suss out what the thinking is among the arts funders as to where things are going, what the biggest issues are, where there might be solutions and where the obstacles seem even more daunting. 

First report on Day 1 tomorrow (Monday) - to post Tuesday morning.

Don't Quit.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Shout Outs

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

From time to time I see things in other people's blogs, or in responses to something I may have posted on this blog, or on the internet, in magazines and on television, that I think are worth acknowledging, passing on, and perhaps even commenting on.  So from time to time I will include those items under the banner (for lack of a better name) of "Shout Outs". 

#1:  To Andrew Taylor for posting on his blog a piece on Tiny Interventions, recognizing a charming attempt to do 'small' things - in this case the Little Free Libraries project - "tiny shelters for books (sort of like rural mailboxes or small bird houses) for community members to find interesting things to read, and to share the books they love. They are built and maintained by members of the community, or by community groups. And they are stocked by the people who use them." 

At the end of this blog entry on his site, Andrew asks:  "What would the performing arts equivalent be of the Little Free Library? What's the diminutive version of Disney Hall?"

I think I may have found one example Andrew.  I was reading the September 26th issue of the New Yorker, and one of the entries in the Talk of the Town section was about Drew Eckmann of New Jersey who books bands into his living room and has had a hundred shows since 1997.  He normally charges $20 with a reservation, and $25 at the door, with all the money going to the musicians.  The audience brings beer and food to share.  He asks people to carpool so as not to upset the neighbors - who are basically pretty friendly to Drew's little concerts. 

#2:  Anonymous Responder (actually someone I have known for almost as long as I have worked in the nonprofit arts, but who chose not to post her comment publicly) to my Blog posting on Innovation Incubation.  She got me thinking when she said this:

"But sometimes I feel like I just can't do enough.  I'm not creative enough, I haven't innovated enough.  I never said I was Einstein or Edison.  I'm not looking for the cure for polio.  I know this about me. But I'm a good listener and if one of our members -- or others -- has an idea, I consider it --for the field. And I pass along what the members are doing, much like you.  I'd like to be appreciated once in a while, not made to feel that I'm not worthy of my job."

I try to remember to once in awhile acknowledge and honor all of you out there who toil often without thanks.  And so I replied to her with my honest appreciation for all she does daily (and I know well how much she does do).  The point is that sometimes we just forget how hard everyone works in our field, and that we should all just stop occasionally and say thank you to those around us, those we work with, those who support us and those who are trying to keep it all together.  We all forget to do that as often as we should.  Thank you for the reminder.

#3:  To Rocco Landesman for his posting on the NEA blog site his postcards from the road - personal first person accounts of his travels across the country on behalf of the arts.  I think this is a great move to humanize and personalize what he is trying to do at the Endowment and makes it all much more real.  Kudos.

#4:  To Ian David Moss for his blog posting on his site Createquity his story on KMPG's advice to client City of Toronto to ditch arts funding.  Uncovering this back story, in my opinion, borders on being a small piece of investigative journalism, and is, I think a kind of first for our field.  When we speak and think of arts journalism, we really mean mainstream media coverage of the arts - reviews as well as news - but in fact I think we are seeing the beginnings of a class of arts blogger journalists writing about the field of the nonprofit arts, and I think Ian is at the forefront of that thread.  There are others out there, like

#5  To Arlene Goldbard for her two-part series on the jobs plan we need for the arts, focusing on cultural as well as physical infrastructure.

#6:  To Margy Waller for her thoughtful response to  my blog on creating a National Arts Day.  I include it here in its entirety:

Building Broad Support with a National Arts Day
The goal of creating a greater sense of collective responsibility for the arts is one our sector has struggled with for many years.  In Cincinnati, we have some relevant experience with arts days and an idea to share.
ArtsWave, the local united arts fund, produces an annual free arts festival. Each year, the thousands of people from all over the community come together to experience all kinds of art, dance, music, theatre. In recent years, the Arts Sampler Days included about 150 events in 75 or so venues across the region. In 2011, the festival expanded to six days over 12 weeks -- five Saturdays and one Sunday.
The festival is very important to building awareness of ArtsWave (especially due to a recently changed mission and name) and of all the organizations funded by thousands of contributions to the annual community campaign for the arts. The Arts Sampler Days has helped to change the way the media and local leadership present our value proposition to the public. 
Here are a couple of examples -- and the results of our work in video format.
Just after a recent festival, our Mayor’s chief of staff asked us to quantify the return on investment in terms of economic impact for his State of the City speech. We demurred. Why?
ArtsWave commissioned research by Topos Partners to uncover what approach makes people more willing to take action on behalf of the arts:
The Arts Ripple Effect: A Research Based Strategy to Build Shared Responsibility for the Arts . The final report shares an important finding -- that the real value people find in the arts isn’t about dollars and cents ROI. In fact, talking about the dollars don’t help to build broad support.  So instead, we urged the Mayor to take a different approach, one that moves people to a new, more resonant way of thinking about the arts.
What is it? That the arts have benefits that ripple throughout our communities. Theaters and galleries mean vibrant, thriving neighborhoods where people want to live, work, and play. Music, museums, community arts centers and more mean people coming together to share, connect and understand each other in new ways. These benefits are both practical and intangible.  Based on this organizing idea identified by our research, the Mayor’s statement is exactly the kind of broadcast statement about the arts we want.
Check it out here: 
Mayor Mark Mallory of Cincinnati - Arts Create Places We All Want to Be Second, when a local TV station news producer called to ask about the economic impact of the arts sampler days, we urged him to SHOW the impact by taking a camera around town and watching people walk from a museum to a restaurant, from a theater to a shop, and so on. And he did! The news coverage that night showed the incredible quality of life we enjoy in Cincinnati because we embrace the arts.  Even those who don’t go to the venues of the anchor arts organizations themselves readily recognize how our entire community benefits.
e’ve seen the power of the right framing for this issue in our own region. A National Arts Festival Day filled with celebration, highlighting revitalized neighborhoods and emphasizing the power of the arts to connect us to each other would be a powerful reminder of the effects the arts have on all of our communities.

Barry's Comment:
I think the ROI argument works with the business community and with elected officials and other decision makers, but probably not with the general public.  I think a lot of our success or failure lies in how we package what we offer, and so I think Margy's observations have a lot of merit for us.  I was in an Apple store in the local mall last week.  The mall was actually relatively empty - not really all that many shoppers, but the Apple store was jam packed.  Quite an anomaly, and that store is packed from the time it opens until the it closes.  If you walk in you are swept up in a sea of energy and excitement and the buzz of everything going on around you.  The attraction of course is wonderful products that you really want to have.  But the way they position the products and the customer service is what separates their retail business from traditional ways of retailing in bricks and mortar stores.

It occurred to me that an interesting pilot project would be for the arts in a given area to open an Apple like store for the two months before the Christmas shopping season - with simple, clean lines in the design, with high tech monitors on tables, and a cadre of Arts Sales People available to answer questions and move the shopper through the experience of looking at all the available performing and visual arts options in the local area -- videos of the best of the operas, symphonies, museums, dance companies, theater offerings, and the other arts - and the shopper could instantly buy tickets to a single performance or season tickets  or memberships in museums etc. for themselves or as holiday gifts for others.  There would also be offerings of local classes in various arts disciplines for all ages and , opportunities to join boards of directors or otherwise volunteer at local arts organizations.  If you packaged it right you might be able to recreate some of the same kind of excitement an Apple store generates.  Bottom line:  we have wonderful products, and perfect gifts alternatives to the same old boring stuff people give to each other every year.  We just don't package how we sell well enough. 

I think, in part, that's what Margy was getting at.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.