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.