Sunday, August 25, 2013

2013's Fifty Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Arts (USA)

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

This is the sixth annual Barry’s Blog listing of the Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts.  It has become far and away the most widely read of my postings (last year it attracted 12,500 page hits in addition to the subscriber base circulation - up from 5,000 additional hits from the previous year).

While I know many (most) people skip this introduction and immediately scroll down to the list itself, two points before you rush to judgment and / or criticize:  
1.  Please don't send me a comment noting the conspicuous absence of artists on the list.  That is intentional.  There are, of course, countless artists, who because of their talent, skill, passion, genius and dedication are both powerful and influential. They greatly influence all of us.  But this list is limited to those leaders who work in the nonprofit arts field as administrators. And that means that not only are artists intentionally omitted, but the classes of curators, directors, publicists, managers, and others are also not the province of this list - though I certainly recognize these people and others have considerable influence.  There are several artists on this list, but their inclusion is because of their role in some facet of the administration of the nonprofit arts, not in their capacity as artists.  Perhaps someone else may wish to compile a list of powerful and influential artists and others, but that is another list from this one.  You have to stop somewhere.

And this list is only a list of those who work in the nonprofit arts field in America.  Obviously there are powerful, influential and admirable leaders across the globe.

2.   A few people (every year) let me know they don't like this kind of list.  More often than not, what they really don't like is the inclusion of certain of the people who are on the list.  It's not that they have anything against any of these people, rather that they want to promote power and influence accruing to a different kind of arts administrator; leaders whose thinking is different from the prevailing approaches of most of the folks on this list.  They want the future to be here now. I understand and appreciate that.  

In fact, I am heartened that the list provokes some discussion about who should have power and influence and why, and where power and influence ought to reside, and why.  One of my purposes in compiling this list every year is that I think it is important to know where the field perceives power and influence to lie, and why - because these people largely determine how the debates in our sector are framed and what the agendas will be. They drive our discussions of policy, and they are the people who control much, if not most of the money, and decide where the funding goes (at least in broad swatches).  They influence what issues should be on the front burner, and what we talk about when we meet. They define our goals and objectives, our priorities and the positions we take – and even the way we do things.  They can ‘green light’ new programs and projects and are chiefly responsible for prioritizing which challenges we address. In large part, they are our most experienced and knowledgeable people – arguably some of our best thinkers; certainly our established power brokers. Some of them represent specific segments within our larger community; others have at-large platforms. They have varied, substantial, and sometimes eclectic resumes and experience.  Some have served in the field for a long time; others are newer to our ranks.  

The reality is that some people do have more power and influence, or are perceived as such - whether anyone likes it or not.  To pretend that any world (ours included) is not stratified, tiered, territorial and subject to politics and disproportionately controlled by an oligarchy at the top is na├»ve.  If as a field, we want to change how we assign power and influence, to whom, when, and why - then that should be pushed via open and transparent dialogue across the sector.  I think it of value to know who we think the people with power are.  I believe the people who work in our field are passionate and motivated and seek the higher good, but I also recognize that they are human beings, and that our field isn’t some separate and perfect world – and that power and influence are tangible currency – sometimes spent wisely, other times needlessly squandered.  And I acknowledge that there are people who honestly think that the people on the list holding power and influence is not necessarily a good thing. 

Power is defined as “the capability of doing or accomplishing something; the possession of control or command over others; authority.”  Influence is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others”.  Thus this list does not purport to necessarily measure impact, creativity, accomplishment or lasting effect – but rather who has the ability and capacity to get things done and move others to get things done – and in this case on a large stage -  or (perhaps even more importantly) who is perceived as having that ability, for the perception itself confers a degree of power and influence.  It isn’t meant to be a popularity contest.  Indeed, some of those on the list are perhaps not universally loved - but they do have power and / or exercise influence.  Neither does this list attempt to measure or evaluate anyone’s job performance or skill sets.  

Leaders come and go, move from one post to another and their fortunes and the fortunes of the organizations they lead change from year to year, as do both the circumstances in which they operate and their own level of activity and involvement.  Thus some leaders included on this list one year, may not be on the radar screen of my nominators the next year. Some leaders are active one year, quiet the next.  Admittedly this is but a subjective exercise and the selections are arbitrary. As such this list is, of course, incomplete and flawed.   All lists are. This one is neither exhaustive nor definitive.  No insult is meant to anyone whose name is not on the list, and I am sure there are many people whose names should be on the list. While I personally agree with most of the final selections, as in prior years there are some I find surprising. I am also confused by the omission of others that I would have thought would have been consensus inclusions. Particularly surprising (and puzzling) to me this year is the absence of the nominations of leaders working so hard in the arts education field.  Some may argue that the categories included are incomplete; that some categories should include more people, others fewer.  People may agree, or disagree that the names on this list have power or influence.  I acknowledge that it is merely a “snapshot’ in time of our leadership; one that tries to recognize influence exercised over the past year, and circumstances that will likely confer the power of influence in the coming year. 

This year's list includes many who have frequently been on the list (and not surprisingly, there is heavy representation of funders who control grants), but I also note a definite trend towards another generation of leaders - included not so much because they have the power of position, or purse or long standing place - but rather because their ideas speak eloquently and convincingly, and their thinking continues to gain traction with an ever widening group.   This list is becoming less about power each year, and more about influence.  Slowly - but surely.  And more of the next generation of arts leaders are appearing on the list.  As the Boomers retire, that trend can only get more pronounced.  Power is never wholly static, nor is influence - both are in a constant state of flux and transition - nowhere more so than in our perceptions.  (Certainly the perception of who has power and influence is a fickle thing; (Half the names on this year's list were not on last year's list; almost half of this year's people have never been on the list before).

I also note that there is a shift in many places of power and influence moving from state agencies to city agencies.  That may be largely a function of the fact of state funding cuts, and cities faring better in garnering public and private financial support.  Funding cuts have curtailed the reach of state agencies and with less money for grants, programs and projects, their influence has naturally ebbed.

And as the private (foundation) funders continue to try to  pick up some of the public funding slack - there has been a rise in their visibility, and in their power and influence.  Like everywhere else in society, money talks.

There are, of course, countless unsung, brilliant leaders in our field – whose exemplary accomplishments and contributions are known to but a small circle and whose reputations are thus not yet widely established.  That they did not make this list in no way diminishes their contributions; rather it is more likely an indication that they are not yet, for whatever reason, perceived as having as much power and influence as others in our field. Doubtless the profile of many of these leaders will rise over time. Others may move on.  This list includes individuals who principally operate on a national stage, and most have long term tenures in the field and years of experience.  But even though only six years old, the list has changed over time, and will, I suspect, continue to morph in the future.

Finally, this year WESTAF and I launched the Arts Dinner-vention project, which will take place at the end of next week.  This is an attempt to give a platform and voice to some of those exemplary leaders and thinkers in our field who are not necessarily likely to be on this list -- yet.   It is a small attempt to acknowledge the influence of those coming up in the ranks.   (And actually some of the dinner guests did make the list this year - indicative of change in the wind.) 

Each year I ask leaders from all parts of our sector and all parts of the country to send me their nominations for the most powerful and influential leaders in our field.  The process is anonymous and none of the nominators know the identity of any of the other nominators.   At least 50% of the nominators in a given year are different from the previous year.  All are free to nominate anyone they thought qualified, including themselves - the only caveat being that this was about arts administration and organizational leadership, and so I asked that we leave artists off this list (that’s a whole other listing - see disclaimer above).

Neither I, nor any employee at WESTAF, (which distributes this blog, but in no way has any part whatsoever as the author or originator of this list) was eligible for inclusion on the list.

This year I continue to group those on the list in broad categories - (e.g., National Leaders, Foundation Leaders, Policy Wonks, City Agency leaders, Bloggers, Researchers etc.), in no particular ranking.

For all those on the list, congratulations.  You deserve the recognition.  As I said last year, I wish this came with a trophy, or a cash prize or some dinner in a big city to publicly laud your achievements, but I am, alas, without the means or platform to enact such luxuries. 

And finally:   Don’t shoot me.  I’m just the messenger.

Don’t Quit.


National Leaders:
Janet Brown:  President and CEO, Grantmakers in the Arts
Her star can’t get much higher -- or can it?.  She is everyone’s choice as one of the principal people responsible for moving the nation’s philanthropic and government arts funders into new roles and thinking.  Unafraid to tackle such diverse challenges as race and racism, federal funding of arts education, and the need for arts organizations to have adequate capitalization - she remains unassuming and the consummate diplomat.  She has forever changed Grantmakers In the Arts, and probably the field as well.  "Inspiring" is the word one nominator used.

Bob Lynch:  President & CEO, Americans for the Arts
The Godfather of national arts service organizations, he has built one of the largest and most effective arts organization machines in the field, with a major presence in areas ranging from arts education and research, to business and marketing, to emerging leaders, to professional development -- all on the base of local arts agencies.  It is Americans for the Arts that defends and seeks to protect the National Endowment for the Arts budget - and without those efforts the agency might not have made it this far.   Bob refuses to slow down and is on the road as much as anyone in the industry, and he is the default public spokesperson for the field. Few people love their jobs as much as he does his.  

Joan Shigekawa:  Acting Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts
Joan has astutely, competently and professionally filled in as Chair of the Endowment following Rocco’s departure, and has done so with quiet class and grace.  

Aaron Dworkin  President - The Sphinx Organization
Reportedly a serious candidate for the Chair of the Endowment, for whatever reasons he prefers to remain as the highly visible head of one of the country’s most regarded performing arts organizations.  Very adept as using the bully pulpit and working philanthropic and corporate funders, he has made the Sphinx organization a premier training ground for gifted young classical artists of color -- and in the process has become a national figure himself. 

Maria Lopez De Leon - Executive Director, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture
Her influence and cachet grew even more last year with her ongoing place on the National Arts Council and her increased profile as one of the art sector’s foremost leaders of color.  As the Latino community grows, and becomes more active in the field, her influence cannot help but expand.  On people's short list for bigger things?

Jamie Bennett - Chief of Staff / Director of Public Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts
Rocco’s, and now Joan's, Chief of Staff and the Director of the Endowment’s public affairs arm, Jamie is one of the nonprofit arts highly respected rising stars.  He has a huge network of supporters, a razor sharp analytical mind and is unafraid of sharing his thinking.  His fan base has grown substantially over the past year, due in part in appreciation of someone who cuts to the chase.  He appreciates the big picture, while understanding how the details work.  

Mario Garcia Durham - Executive Director, Association of Performing Arts Presenters
He continues to deftly attend to the needs of the nation’s presenters while simultaneously fashioning that field into a more cohesive whole.  Pressure is on as people expect big things from him.

Adam Huttler - Executive Director, Fractured Atlas
Still the most visible and successful of a new generation of arts leaders, Huttler has grown Fractured Atlas into a national influential powerhouse while keeping a “start up” buzz going.  Like others of his niche, he is tireless and refuses to parse his words to placate the past.  Has had significant influence on the way small arts organizations do business.  Future Hall of Famer maybe?

Regional Leaders:
David Fraher - Executive Director, Arts Midwest 
Described as a “savvy, go-to guy on any subject”, Farher runs Arts Midwest - one of the regional arts organizations.  Nearing his 30th year at his post, he is far more than just a survivor.  After a half a lifetime in one gig, there isn’t much he hasn’t seen or about which he can’t say; “Been there, done that.”  That kind of experience is invaluable.  His commitment to support for arts organization infrastructure and the professional development of leadership, and his forging lasting relationships with funders and other partners, coupled with strong programs of artist support have made him a national leader in the field.  

City Agency Leaders:
Jonathan Glus - CEO, Houston Arts Alliance
Awash in funding, Houston's municipal arts agency is the envy of most of the other city agencies in the country, and Jonathan is the one who heads the decision making process as to where to spend a seemingly almost endless money stream.  As the first head of the organization, his exemplary performance has significantly raised Houston’s and his own reputation.  On the way up.

Michele Boone - Commissioner, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
She reportedly has Mayor Rahn Emanuel’s ear, and is using that access to wring increasing city support for the arts, arts education and artists in the windy city.  Named to a handful of most powerful lists, she is seen as one of the “go to” people in the sector for advice and her opinion.

Michael Spring - Director, Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs
He helms one of the major urban arts agencies in the country and is a major player in the arts advocacy efforts both in Florida and on the national stage with his deep involvement with Americans for the Arts.  Savvy, down to earth, experienced and knowledgable, he is highly esteemed by his colleagues.

Roberto Bedoya - Executive Director, Tucson / Pima Arts Council
Placing himself at the center of last year’s increased dialogue on race and racism (as manifested in the larger arena of the question of equity), he has established himself as someone who must be included in any conversation about the arts as related to people of color.  He asks hard questions adroitly clothed in academic language, and is pushing the envelope.  

Laura Zucker - Executive Director, Los Angeles County Arts Commission
A fixture on this list, she remains the pen ultimate administrator who runs one of the best shops ever.  If something is on her priority list, the chances are that it is on everyone in LA’s list. 

Olga Garay - Executive Director, Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs
Having raised $21 million in additional funding for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, she, together with Laura Zucker at the County Arts agency, have put Los Angeles on a solid footing for the future.  She is a politician, knows how the game is played, and has worked well with the Mayor and City Council. 

Sunil Iyengar - Director, Office of Research and Analysis, National Endowment for the Arts
He has raised the role of, and respect for, the NEA’s research activities, as well as the value of arts research, ten fold in the past year by championing transparency and a greater understanding for research.  

Anne Gadwa Nicodemus - Principal, Metris Arts Consulting
She’s starting to climb out from Ann Markusen’s shadow and shine in her own right, and is increasingly recognized as one of the key, pivotal point people in the world of arts data and research.  

Randy Cohen - Vice-President, Research and Policy, Americans for the Arts
Still the face of arts research and data to the rank and file of the nation’s arts organizations, he criss crosses the country preaching the gospel of the value of arts as confirmed by all kinds of data. Unapologetic chief defender of the importance of the economic argument for arts support.  It works, and hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  His easy going style have made him very popular in the field.

Ian David Moss - Director of Research, Fractured Atlas
Through his blog Createquity, he has ramped up understanding and respect for both the value and the process of serious data collection and research.  This year he spearheaded the establishment of an online community - the Cultural Research Network - with other stalwarts in the research community, and it has taken off.  He also has expanded his reputation as project advisor and strategic planner.  As one nominator put it:  “While his blog is a major voice in the field, his work consulting on a number of large-scale community-based strategic planning efforts have helped us envision new models for arts organizations and the way they are embedded into their community.”  Big future in the field.

Danielle Brazell - Executive Director, Arts for LA
Los Angeles has one of the handful of the country’s best arts advocacy organizations, and Danielle is its heart, soul and brains. She has learned the ins and outs of effective lobbying by being proactive for a long time now, and has raised the visibility of her organization to the point where people across the sector have taken note.  Another rising star.

Nina Ozlu Tunceli - Chief Counsel of Government and Public Affairs - Americans for the Arts and Executive Director Arts Action Fund
Narric Rome - Vice-President, of Government and Public Affairs - Americans for the Arts
Consummate government experts, tireless protectors of the NEA and hearlded teachers and mentors to a generation of arts advocates across the country.  Nobody in the field knows more about the maze of intrigue in the political corridors of Washington D.C. than Nina.  And the Arts Action Fund remains the sector's best foray into real world lobbying.  

Arts Ed:
Yo Yo Ma - Artist
His artistry commands respect and attention, and his passion has made him the champion of the argument that the arts are essential to full growth of every individual in America.  Willing to use his celebrity to further arts education.

Darren Walker - President, Ford Foundation
With a solid background in arts philanthropy, and having played a major role in the ArtPlace efforts, his impact and influence on the field, already substantial, is expected to grow in the coming years as he assumes the leadership of the nation’s largest foundation. Since 2010, he has served as vice president for Education, Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation, where he has shaped more than $140 million in annual grant-making around the world, covering areas as diverse as media and journalism, arts and culture, educational access and opportunity, and religion.  He has been a driving force behind initiatives such as JustFilms, one of the largest documentary film funds in the world. He may walk softly, but he carries a very big stick.  Lots of eyes on him.

Ben Cameron - Program Director, Arts, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Still the best public speaker the arts has yet to put forward.  He is a thinking man’s philanthropist with money to spend, and he continues to have major influence on arts philanthropy.

Judith Jennings - Executive Director, Kentucky Foundation for Women (KFW), 
Leading a private, independent philanthropy that supports feminist art advancing social change, Jennings’ championing of women’s issues in the arts, has earned her the growing respect of the philanthropic field.  She continues to show up on more people’s radar screens as a rising voice.

Ruby Lerner - President & Executive Director, Creative Capital

Lerner’s influence on grantmaking to artists continues to expand. She’s been around the block enough to fully understand all the issues in trying to help artists not just survive, but actually "thrive" - and the funding community listens attentively to her opinions.  One nominator described her simply:  "She is a very, very smart lady."

Kary Schulman - Director, Grants-for-the-Arts - San Francisco
Another 30 year veteran, Schulman has navigated the minefield that the SF Arts ecosystem can be with consummate skill, and in the process has helped nurture and incubate scores of what are now model organizations - adhering to the philosophy of sticking with organizations while they grow.  Over her span she has overseen many times tens of millions of dollars in grants, and she has played an important role in protecting the hotel tax revenue stream that funds her organization - Grants-for-the-Arts - from the political machinations of wannabe politicians bent on cutting the funding.  Few San Francisco arts organizations would today still be around were it not for Schulman's funding help at some point.  A remarkable legacy for an unassuming stalwart.

John McGuirk - Program Director, Performing Arts Program, Hewlett Foundation
Having run both Irvine's and Hewlett's arts funding programs, and very involved in GIA, McGuirk continues to be a major voice in the sector, especially in California where Hewlett funds heavily in both arts education and performing arts.  Organizations throughout the greater Bay Area are his constituents, so he wields considerable influence. He's halfway through his tenure, and the next two years will be his legacy.  

Huong Vu Bozarth - The Boeing Company
Huong oversees The Boeing Company's Global Corporate Citizenship Pacific Northwest Region arts, culture, and civic grants portfolio. Previously, she was the senior arts program officer at The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, guest curator at contemporary performance center On the Boards, director of grants programs at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, fellow at the National Endowment for the Arts, and organizer of visual arts exhibitions. She is currently an advisory commissioner for the Seattle Arts Commission and a board trustee for the Seattle Parks Foundation, and she sits on the Board of GIA.
Deepa Gupta - The Boeing Company
Gupta is currently the Director of Education Initiatives and Strategy in the global corporate citizenship group at The Boeing Company.  Prior to Boeing, Ms. Gupta served as a program officer for The MacArthur Foundation where she managed its institutional building program called the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, the arts and culture grant program, and internal efforts to define a framework for MacArthur’s programmatic strategy development and impact assessment.  She is a member of the National Council on the Arts.

Because Boeing as a private sector corporation is so heavily involved in support for arts and culture, Huong and Deepa are in great demand as speakers, advisors, and participants in all the policy convenings of the sector.  

Carol Coletta  - former Director, Arts Place.  Now Vice-President, Community and National Initiatives, Knight Foundation
Under her direction, Arts Place became the major arm (and funder) of the Creative PlaceMaking movement, and she was the movement's spokesperson, champion and articulate defender.  Her direct experience with cities helped form her approach, and helped land her the VP position at Knight - where (while she will be once removed from the arts) she is likely to still have impact and sway on arts funding.  
Jeremy Nowak - Interim Director, Arts Place
Carol Coletta’s successor, Nowak is a Non Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution as well as a Non Resident Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Urban Research. He currently serves as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s board of directors. He was President of the William Penn Foundation from 2011-2012 in a somewhat stormy tenure, and the CEO of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) in Philadelphia, which he co-founded in 1985. Among his publications is Creativity and Neighborhood Development, a monograph that integrates art and cultural practices within a community development framework.  He certainly has the position and power to accomplish an ambitious agenda.  Time will tell where his priorities lie and how he will helm the PlaceMaking apparatus - and whether or not he has found his niche and a support base.

Josephine Ramirez -   Program Director, Arts - The Irvine Foundation
Foundations change their focus and stated strategic goals all the time, but few shifts have had as much play and influence across the philanthropic sector as Irvine's move to "Engagement" as their operating philosophy.  Whether breaking new ground, or recognizing and smartly reflecting a growing trend, their focus change has had major impact on the field, and Josephine is the one at the epicenter of the whole thing.  She has handled both criticism and applause with professionalism and humility and won a legion of fans in the process.  

Alan Brown - Wolf / Brown Consulting
Perhaps the most widely known and respected of all the arts consultants plying their trade today, Brown’s research and analysis continues to hold great sway over the thinking of the field.  One nominator described his influence thusly:  “He is so adept, and quick, at both recognizing and describing new trends, he holds the rapt attention of the nation’s arts leaders - and particularly the funders."

Russell Willis Taylor - President and CEO, National Arts Strategies
Her Executive training initiatives remain the ‘sterling’ entries in the field - endorsed by scores of participants and funders, and the network of graduates of her programs gives her a huge base of contacts seeking her advice and counsel.  

Policy Wonks:
Bill Ivey - Author, lecturer, former Chair of the NEA and Director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy 
Back in the national spotlight this past year with his book: Handmaking America,  Ivey continues his role as one of the pre-eminent thinkers on the importance and workings of creativity in America, and one of the most respected of all our policy mavens.  

Steven Tepper - Associate Director, Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy / Associate Professor, Department of Sociology - Vanderbilt University
Widely recognized as one of the leading cultural policy experts in the sector, his involvement with SNAPP (the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project) and its conference this year at Vanderbilt and the release of its report, raised his visibility even higher.           


Meiyin Wang - Associate Artistic Producer, Public Theater / Under the Radar Festival
Greatly respected and admired head of the Under the Radar festival and her championing of new, and cutting edge theater, Wang is widely seen as one of the rising voices in the theater community.   

Nina Simon -  Executive Director, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History
Back on the list again this year for her growing leadership of a new generation of museum directors.  Risk taker, thought leader, out of the box experimenter, her blog is not only widely read and discussed, it is widely quoted.  Increasingly regarded as one of the faces of the future of museums because of her bold, innovative community emphasized approach.

Marc Scorca - President and CEO, Opera America
Champion of Opera - not just for his membership but Opera everywhere.  He’s been in his post since 1990 and has overseen growth of his membership from 120 opera companies to nearly 2,500 members.  Collaborative style, he’s an effective champion of opera, music and the arts domestically and internationally.  He cares, and people respond to that.  

Jesse Rosen - President / CEO, League of American Orchestras
When Rosen talks, people listen.  Passionate, well versed in the issues facing all of the arts sector, he continues to speak for and on behalf of the nation’s music sector - bluntly and authoritatively.  

Kristin Thomson - Future of Music Coalition
Accomplished researcher in the area of musicians' revenue streams, she is shining a spotlight on artist survivability in the changing economic marketplace.  She is also a pioneer in helping arts organization’s to better utilize digital technologies.  

Diane Ragsdale - Jumper
Thought provoking blogger, she champions the artist and the underdog and asks everyone to think.  One nominator noted:  “She challenges us to reconsider our  views about fulfilling the role of arts in community, measuring success, and public obligation.”  Widely read, she has a major influence in certain policy areas.

Andrew Taylor - The Artful Manager
Back in full form as one of the nation’s most widely read bloggers and now settled in as a professor at American University,  he has an uncanny ability to find the small things that make a big difference and provokes his large readership to think outside their own areas of expertise.  Doubtful there is anyone blogging on the arts who is more respected and beloved.  

Thomas Cott - You’ve Cott Mail 
Doug McClellan - Arts Journal
As one nominator put it:  These two are “The kings of arts industry content aggregation. If you’re not following them you’re not in the loop, period.” 
Cott is also an increasingly respected expert in the area of marketing, and McClellan
leads the charge in questioning the role of arts journalism in the wider pantheon of news and commentary from his new post as a member of the USC faculty.  Those who interact with him appreciate his keen insight and his intelligence.

Michael Rushton - For What It’s Worth
Director of the Arts Administration program at Indiana University, Rushton’s no nonsense approach is winning him loyal readers across the field.  Using his economics background, he asks the hard questions,  and questions the basic assumptions of the field, as he debunks common held theories and ideas.  

Rising Voices:
Laura Zabel - Executive Director, Springboard for the Arts
As one nominator described her:  “the it girl for innovation in public community arts organizations”, she is on everyone’s list as an innovator and visionary - particularly in the support of artists.

Richard Evans - President, EmcArts
One of the field’s foremost purveyors of adaptive change for arts organizations, his organization is at the forefront of pushing for innovation in the way the sector thinks and operates.  Skilled at forging new partnerships and collaborations, he is paving new ways to respond to community needs.

Clay Lord - Vice-President Local Arts Advancement - Americans for the Arts
His blog New Beans continues to break ground in the audience development arena thinking, and he is at the forefront of raising the issue of equity in arts support and funding.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Arts Dinner-vention Guest Briefing Papers - Part II

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

The Arts Dinner-vention: Jammin' at Djerassi

Here are the second six guest briefing papers:

Kristin Thomson - Future of Music Coalition
As a musician and a social researcher, I’d like to approach this topic from three angles.

Learning from musicians:
The larger arts community can learn from the seismic shift in the music industry that has occurred from 1999 to present. The tentpole revenue stream of the commercial music industry – physical retail sales – has been radically altered. Physical CD sales are still the primary way that music is consumed, but in the past 12 years, the internet and digital distribution have made digital singles sales not only possible, but a robust market of its own.

Technology has made it incredibly easy for any musician or band to participate in the digital music marketplace. But this leveling of the playing field has also led to a massive disruption in traditional revenue streams for record labels, songwriters and performers.
While I’m happy to discuss creators’ concerns about the collapse of these revenue streams and the long-term impact on the music industry, for this dinner I think it would be wise to highlight some of the interesting ideas that have popped up as a response to changes. For example:
  • Crowdfunding via Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  In the absence of A&R support and label money, artists are approaching their fans to fund projects. It can work for musicians and filmmakers, could it work for symphonies or theatre groups?
  • On-demand production. There’s a UK-based company called Songkick that’s running a project called Detour that gets fans to “demand” an artist come play a show in their city.  Shows are, essentially, pre-sold, thus guaranteeing a good box office take. Clearly, this can’t work for every art form, but could shows or plays be pre-sold before they go into production? Does this conflict with artistic integrity?
  • Corporate sponsorships. It’s an unsavory topic, but corporate sponsors have been underwriting artistic efforts for decades. And the really ambitious sponsors (Converse, Vans, Red Bull, American Express) want more than just the back cover of the program. How far do we push this? What are some boundaries that artist organizations need to establish to ensure artistic integrity?
These are a few ideas, but I’m happy to discuss additional responses to rapid change in revenue streams.

Learning from other arts organizations:
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of writing up the results of a survey of US-based arts organizations about their use of technologies, conducted by Pew Internet and American Life Project.

I’d recommend that other dinner-vention attendees read this in advance of the event. There is a wealth of information about arts organizations’ use of technologies and social media for promotion, audience engagement, and fundraising, and their impact on their ability to do mission-driven work. Many of the tactics and experiences mentioned by survey respondents will be familiar to the dinner guests. But what’s really interesting is their responses to the challenges associated with this technological shift; dealing with unfiltered criticism of the organization, diminished audience attention span, and funders not being able to keep up with the rapid change of pace.

There are also some points about audience development that are worth considering:
  • Some arts organizations talked about finding success by taking art out of the regular confines. The Opera Company of Philadelphia has been genius at this, staging pop-up concerts inside the train station or in department stores.
  • Others talked about integrating technology into more aspects of their work. This involved everything from iPhone app tours, to Twitter seats at shows, to running Facebook-powered scavenger hunts around the city to promote a show. Clearly, there are issues about how far to push this, but there’s a lot to consider.
  • One finding resonates with this dinner topic in particular, and that’s meeting audience expectations in a world with so many entertainment options. Here’s a quote from a presenter who took the survey:
“The audience has already moved from "arts attendance as an event" to "arts attendance as an experience."  This desire for a full-range of positive experience from ticket purchase, to travel, to parking, to treatment at the space, to quality of performance, to exit – this will only increase over the next 10 years.”
This, I think, is at the center of this conversation, because it involves both audience and revenue. The public has SO MANY options about how they spend their free time and their money. How should arts organizations react to this reality, beyond offering plush seats and valet parking?  There are a lot of easy responses (online ticketing, FB and Twitter updates) but there are huge, huge issues underneath this related to funding – both from foundations and patrons – that need to be addressed.

Taking a page out of the business community playbook:
Your memo also points to questions about how to build support around an “arts movement”.  You rightly question whether this is possible. In reality, building support around the arts translates into generating support among policymakers and business leaders at the state and federal level, and the most effective way to present their value to this audience is in economic terms. That means doing routine economic impact assessments to quantify the impact of the arts on local spending and hiring. There are many orgs that do this very well, but I think the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s materials are both informative and fun to look at.

Clearly, an EIS is just a tool in the toolkit. Arts organizations join a long list of constituency groups that seek support from state and federal lawmakers, so this cannot be the only strategy. But I do think arts organizations (or regional arts councils) have to be able to quantify their value going forward.

Looking forward to the dinner conversation!

Salvador Acevado - Consultant / Researcher

PERSONAL STATEMENT - Survivability in the Arts

We hear a lot about sustainability in the arts, which basically means that we need to figure out ways to improve the arts ecosystem so it can independently thrive. I personally talk a lot about sustainability in the arts with my clients and colleagues, so imagine my surprise when I hear that this dinner-vention will be about surviving. Not thrive, not growth, not relevance, but just plain and old survive. My first instinct is to let it die. If the only chance we have for the arts world in the US is survival, I think it’s better to let it die, or to kill it, and create something new from scratch.

Obviously we cannot let the arts die, we can’t even kill it, but we can change it to the point that it feels like something new. It was at this point in my mind process that the idea of “creative destruction” came up.

Disclaimer: We were asked to think outside of our area of expertise and to come up with ideas on how a movement in support of the arts might work. The question that resonated most with me was: --What reforms need to be undertaken in the structure of the organized arts to create a strong movement for arts development? So this statement reflects on that question. The following statement is completely out of the box (at least for me).

The 6 F’s of Creative Destruction.
The term “Creative Destruction” in this document is used loosely to imply the destruction of the status quo and the creation of an alternate system instead, It has nothing to do with economics and/or communism as put forth by Marx: ...from destruction a new spirit of creation arises:  (it’d be interested ing to be considered a Marxist at this point in history). The main idea of “Creative Destruction” comes from Hegel, though, his concept of sublation:
From Wikipedia: In Hegel, the term Aufhebung has the apparently contradictory implications of both preserving and changing, and eventually advancement (the German verb aufheben means "to cancel", "to keep" and "to pick up"). The tension between these senses suits what Hegel is trying to talk about. In sublation, a term or concept is both preserved and changed through its dialectical interplay with another term or concept. Sublation is the motor by which the dialectic functions. 
Sublation can be seen at work at the most basic level of Hegel's system of logic. The two concepts Being and Nothing are each both preserved and changed through sublation in the concept Becoming. Similarly, determinateness, or quality, and magnitude, or quantity, are each both preserved and sublated in the concept measure.
With the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head, I wrote “Creative Destruction” on the white board in my office, which was the idea that came to my mind after reading Barry’s instructions for this assignment. The two first words that came to mind as important for the creative destruction of the arts sector (both start with F) were:

We know that Funding has been probably the most significant challenge in the art world in the aftermath of the Grand Recession. As Mitch Menchaca, COO of Chorus America, likes to say “we live in the new normal” meaning that the days of unrestricted and abundant funding from the 90’s and early 2000’s are over, and that we are living in a new reality in which we have to be creative about funding (and everything else for that matter). Still, there are a lot of people who don’t like this idea and keep thinking that we’ll be back to those golden years of ambrosia. But perhaps the most important challenge in my point of view is the Format of the art experience. Most are based on 18th century traditions (museums that open from 10 am to 5 pm when most people are working, two-hour concerts that start at 8 pm on Friday, dance performances that you cannot leave until the end, etc.) and we’re still having a difficult time trying to adapt to the realities of the modern world. All those traditional formats were based on the bourgeois lifestyle from the 18th century.

Then came the next F’s:
F(Ph)ilanthropy (“Ph”sounds like “F”, and at this point I was basically playing)

Finance refers to how we spend the money we raise or earn. Something that it’s in my mind a lot is the incredibly redundancy of organizations in the non-profit sector. The way we elect to spend our money is incredibly impaired, in my point of view, by the fact that we are conducting exactly the same functions of a lot other non-profit organizations, with very limited resources. If we’d elect to share (what a concept!) we’d be much more effective and could generate much more efficiency. Another option would be to share resources in order to provide educational programs for children. The other F (rather a “F” sounding word) “Philanthropy” refers to the seismic shift in the way people support and take ownership of the mission of an organization. It is not about donations only (although for some people it still is about the tax deduction), but about feeling like being part of something bigger than ourselves, and people, especially young people, tend to elect to be part of something that has an immediate impact. The days of investing in the new generations are over, now people want to invest in the now generations.

And the final two F’s:
Friends (I needed to include audiences and ‘friends’ is the closest I got to using a F word)
“Audiences/Friends” are the reason why a lot of our arts organizations exist, not all, but a lot.

Audiences/Friends are behaving differently and they demand to be catered to their needs more and more. The days of attracting people to an experience based on our needs are over, and nowadays people want organizations, products, or brands to adapt to their needs, or they will go elsewhere. It is not like there’s a lack of activities or experiences, and the ones that will survive are the ones who cater to the needs and wants of new audiences. It’s called audience-centered missions, yet we are still having a lot of trouble understanding this concept. Beyond that, audiences are looking for experiences in which they are not passive observers or contemplators of the art form. With the advent of the social web era, in contrast to the TV era, people expect now to be part of and mold the experience. So the result is the spectrum of audience involvement described by Alan Brown in the Getting In On the Act report commissioned by the Irvine Foundation. Following this trend then is the last F: “Facilities”, which refers to the place/time where the art experience is delivered, and which is more and more a challenge for the field. I’m referring specifically to the duality between the real and the virtual experience. Of course the place and time of the delivery doesn’t stop there, it also refers to the important challenges of adapting physical spaces to what people want and expect (“flexibility” seems to be the key concept here.)

So, summarizing everything in a few words, here’s what I came up with:
Format - Delivery of the promise.
Funding - Where resources come from.
Finances - How resources are spent.
F(Ph)ilanthropy - How we generate ownership.
Friends (audiences) - Who cares?
Facilities - Where is the promise is fulfilled?

So now the question is:
  Which part of the system(s) do we have to change in order to enact the most change in the whole system?

Obviously in order to answer this question we need to understand how the ecosystem interacts, and which components are dependent/subservient to others. One option is to center on the experience itself and the people who demand it (Friends and Format). The other option is to center on the resources that make it possible to create the experience (Funding, F(Ph)ilanthropy and Finances). The key is to understand which part of the system would effect the most change when altered, and by all means I think it is the Format. It is what I’d call the “Apple model”: give something to people that they don’t know they want, but that significantly impacts their experience, and they will become evangelists, affecting the whole system in the process.

Let me give you an example:
Zo Keating is a cellist based in Northern California who’s not only incredibly talented, but is incredibly savvy when it comes to engaging her fans. She sells her music directly from her website, tours around the globe in alternative/flexible venues where programming can be done in a matter of weeks so they can always present what is trending, and she communicates via email with her fan base. Not long ago, Keating sent the following email to her list, basically asking them to find a gig for her:
"Hello Listeners,  
I have a private gig in Cincinnati in late October. Rather than fly straight home, I would like to play a few concerts. So “where should I go? Since you’re the ones I want to play for, I’m going to ask you! 
I've setup an online poll with a list of cities in the region that I’ve either never or rarely visited. Some of them are North-ish and some of them are South-ish. If you would really come to see me perform in any of these cities, please vote and then we’ll crowdsource a week long October tour. 
If you have a reasonable suggestion for a city not on my poll, please enter it. By reasonable, I mean a place no more than 500 miles from Cincinnati ;-) If you're not within 500 miles of Cincinnati, don't despair. I am going to be touring more extensively once my new album is done (!!) and we'll do something like this again for the rest of North America and beyond. 
This is still a work-in-progress so thank you for doing this experiment with me. I hope to play near you sooner rather than later. 
Thanks for listening. Celloly yours,
The key here was:  “you’re the ones I want to play for. I don’t know you, but there’s nothing more enticing than hearing an artist saying that she’ll be playing for me (you become anevangelist just right there). This completely breaks the boundaries between artist and fans, and transforms fans into booking agents. It is participatory at its core, and most importantly, brings the artist back to the community.

[Aside from BARRY:  Article in today's newspaper on an internet site that takes this idea to reality:  "GiggedIn works like this:  A musical act offers to hold a concert, and fans prepay for tickets.  If enough tickets sell, the concert is on.  If not the show is cancelled, and fans aren't charged anything." ] 

Everything in the arts ecosystem is being affected by changes in society, but nothing is more important and connects with all the other parts of the system like its format. Flexible, adaptable, real, virtual, valuable, convenient, engaging, these are some of the adjectives that come to mind. It is time to bring forth the format in which we deliver the promise of arts involvement and move from the 18th into the 21st century.


The diagram above represents how I think the system should work, based on the definitions that I gave earlier. Important to note is that Friends and Format are interdependent, under the assumption that there”s a pulling energy between the two. Then Friends will be the grounding force behind generating resources (Funding) and ownership (F(Ph)ilanthropy), basically creating stakeholders for the organization, which will determine how the resources are spent (Finances). The decisions made on how to spend the resources will feed the art format again, generating a cycle that starts with the interdependency between Format and Friends.

Devon Smith - Director of Social Media / Analytics - Threespot

I believe the arts ecosystem needs a free flow of cash to survive at its current size. I believe that investment is going to need to come from a source external to the industry—whether that is the government, venture capitalists, or radically new revenue streams/cost structures.

I’ve spent the past two years taking a step back from the arts world, and instead helping all manner of nonprofits, government agencies, foundations, and think tanks learn how to better engage with their audiences online, and use the data generated by that engagement to better inform their business practices. I would like to bring to the dinnervention conversation solutions that other industries have used (or had forced upon them) to survive a decline in traditional audiences, revenue streams, and/or their perception of relevance overall.

First a clarification about what exactly it is we’re trying to save: the product, the distribution channel, or the livelihoods of the professional product makers?

By example:

  • The revenue stream of traditional media organizations, and therefore the job security of mainstream journalists, is in significant decline. And yet—there are more citizen journalists, a faster spread of breaking news, wider access to information, and a more informed citizenry than in most times in history.
  • As Napster, Pandora, Rdio, YouTube, and the rest decimated the revenue streams for record labels, recording artists struck out on their own to make money touring (selling the experience) and essentially giving away the product; vinyl sales are at record highs; and more musical artists have more exposure to the public via YouTube.
  • Television ratings are at record lows, and yet critics are calling this the golden age of TV across cable networks and streaming services, even as two decades of (mostly terrible) reality television has ruined the perception of network television quality.
  • Movie studios are addicted to sequels, and yet independent artists raise millions of dollars on Kickstarter to fund their own films, and tour them around the world in an increasingly networked festival circuit.
  • Video game companies have been pushed in opposite directions to survive—longform cinematic morality stories that take 3 years, hundreds of staff, and tens of millions of dollars to create (Bioshock Infinite; 4 million users) versus one of the most successful iPhone games, which only took a few weeks to create by a single designer (Dots; 2 million users).

In all of these examples, the product itself is doing just fine. It’s the distribution channel that has been forced to change; the amateurs that have subverted power from the professionals.

The following are several tangible suggestions I’m exploring for how to substantially move the needle in the direction of a healthy arts ecosystem. For each, I would speak to how this would work legally, how to convince key stakeholders to join the movement, what it would incentivize organizations (funders, audiences, artists, etc) to do differently/better, and what sorts of useful data would be created as a result.

  • A theatrical stock market. Let me buy shares in arts organizations, and let them use the cash to fund profitable operations, as well as research & development.
  • Open source everything—from scripts to marketing materials to choreography to the ticketing and fundraising software.
  • Incentivize arts organizations to adopt a freemium business model. The less frequently you attend, or the less you use it—the cheaper it is.  Offer your core product for free, and raise prices for all other related services.
  • Turn individual artists into rock stars much like the tech world does with startup founders through massively popular (and profitable) blogs and industry-related media coverage.

Lex Leifheit - Executive Director - SOMArts

When confronted with a question about traditional audiences declining and the deleterious effects of changing participation on traditional revenue streams, I feel pulled in two directions—on the one hand there’s a desire to be constructive and address the question in the spirit it was intended. On the other hand, how can one respond to a question of traditional audiences and revenue streams without questioning whose traditions these are? The first thing that leaps into my mind is a guest post that Tucson Pima Arts Council Executive Director Roberto Bedoya wrote for the blog Engaging Matters last spring. He was participating in an online dialogue about diversity and the question “why aren’t there more butts of color in these seats?” and responded with the question “which seats are these, and where?”

When it comes to survival, I think the question Bedoya asked later in his essay is a key jumping-off point, fundamental to exploring shifts in participation and revenue and infrastructure: “how does our sector understand and validate different worldviews and phenomenological experience that enliven our plurality?” To survive now, I believe arts workers must shift their perspective from one of diminishment to one of growth, while acknowledging that this growth will involve risk, reward and failure and will take us far outside our comfort zones.

Points for further discussion/exploration at dinner:

  • People at the dinner-vention are successfully introducing new populations into their audiences, boards and workers. What does this look like? How are they innovating? I am especially interested in hearing about Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Creative Ecosystem concept that brings leaders in different public sector categories together.
  • How do support services play a role in increasing participation and revenue? At SOMArts, support services have always been our primary way to support many cultures, skill levels and perspectives in the arts. Fractured Atlas, Etsy, Eventbrite and Kickstarter all provide technological support services and they have grown exponentially in recent years. Is the nonprofit sector missing out or succeeding in this area? As a sector do we adequately measure the impact of our support services? I am approaching this with the perspective that there are some big data initiatives (such as the Cultural Data Project) that fall short in this area. I would love to hear what Clay Lord has to say in this area due to his expertise in the area of measuring impact.
  • What role does participation and partnership play in investing or divesting in programs? Who is using participation levels and partnership MOUs as a means to evaluate their programs alongside artistic merit and artistic excellence? I’d love to hear what Nina Simon has to say in this area

Marc Bamuthi Joseph - Director of Performing Arts - Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

The Creative Ecosystem:
The Creative Ecosystem integrates disparate players from the Bay Area community into a single, collaborative, multi- year endeavor. The ultimate thesis is that art is not just the object or the outcome, but art is a process and opportunity for community. By partnering with community leaders from diverse public sector categories—such as Academics, Arts, Business, Community Organizing, Design, Environment and Holistic Health, Food and Food Justice, Politics, Sports, Technology, Youth, and Social Service—for each Creative Ecosystem theme, YBCA will incorporate grassroots momentum into its audience development strategy, exponentially broadening its constituent circle with each Creative Ecosystem project and transforming the audience-arts center paradigm from the transactional into one centered on collaboration. The themes we plan to explore include Future Soul in 2012/13, Body Politics in 2013/14, Climate in 2014/15, Gaming in 2015/16, and Economy in 2016/17.

The ecosystem begins with YBCA inviting a core group of at least 20 community leaders who repeatedly convene at YBCA over a 12-month timeframe, participating in four YBCA-organized facilitated discussions which are focused on a theme emerging from a performance project in YBCA‘s performing arts season. After the first Creative Ecosystem discussion, each participating community leader invites other influencers from their sector to join in the next discussion, so participation by community leaders in The Creative Ecosystem grows over time. Later, The Creative Ecosystem culminates in a day-long ―Field of Inquiry, giving the newly created network of community leaders an opportunity to take charge of YBCA‘s campus, inviting their various constituencies to attend a dynamic day of free activities that animate YBCA‘s indoor and outdoor spaces, ranging from a pop-up magazine of performative reflections, to keynote speakers, to panel discussions, to participatory art making, and more.

The Creative Ecosystem cohorts are organized around the deconstruction, experimentation, and physical response to emotionally potent, artist-endorsed questions derived from intellectually challenging macro-topics. For instance, the Body Politics cohort is spending its first year of inquiry working with the question ―What is on the other side of your body‘s shame? The question was developed in consultation with playwright Young Jean Lee, whose Untitled Feminist Show will be presented at YBCA in coincidence with the Body Politics‘ Field of Inquiry. This process engages both the intellectual and emotional intelligence of diverse community members, representing an investment in a complex reciprocity of ideas, and forming an activated, sustained relationship between the art we present and the thought leaders who have not had a previous formal invitation into our aesthetic profile.



Meiyin Wang  - Associate Artistic Producer of The Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival:

A movement starts as a revolt against the status quo, but is usually identified in hindsight.  The movement either dies away or gets institutionalized, and becomes a status quo. A new movement begins. To me the last significant movement in the theater scene was the regional theater movement where artists rejected the commercial values of Broadway and the work they made in their new communities reflected that.  Most institutions that came out of that movement have made the same kind of work ever since.

Conversations about arts need to begin with the art. I believe that the “traditional theater” that we are presenting to our “traditional audiences” is the reason the numbers are dying down. We are mired in “survival issues” because we are making art that is just trying to survive: pleasing the audience by being recognizable, comfortable, and easily consumable.

I believe it is the art that the audience responds to. In the 21st century, we should be making 21st century art. We should shift from the thinking that art is a commodity we produce to be consumed by the audience – to the practice that art is a relationship between the artist, theater and the audience. We should stop only “telling the story” and really look hard at what the art form has to offer. We should stop being afraid of the audience.  Elevator Repair Service’s GATZ demanded commitment from its audiences, and it was given freely. I think the upcoming movement for the arts is one that is experiential, immersive and participatory (Punch Drunk’s Sleep No More, David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim’s Here Lies Love). We have to stop pretending that the audience is not there. The focus will turn to the relationship to the viewer, to the relationship of viewership, the experiential, and the changing notion of authorship. This is being reflected in other fields, notably visual art, and they have embraced it

To make work that is of the 21st century, we should change the systems of making work and let the artists lead. I believe if the work is truly necessary, it will find its audiences.

To me, the most exciting work right now is devised - is made by ensemble companies, artists creating multidisciplinary mash-ups: The dictionary definition of “devise” isn’t just to “come up with,” it is to invent entirely new systems.  It is R&D. Many of these devised artists make work outside of the traditional system. They bring a diverse aesthetic and perspective, and are able to make risky, sexy work because they work outside of the model. Can we adjust our current ways of producing work and let the artists lead? NEFA’s National Theater Pilot program is a way of getting funding directly to the artists to create the piece, and incentivizing producing and touring partners for the finished piece. Theaters should provide resources for these artists that are tailored specifically to their needs, and not just four weeks and four walls, for example:

  • Create a real R+D environment for artists, laboratories to experiment and fail, inside and outside the theater. 
  • Abandon the idea of ownership and help artists align strategic resources (funding, space, residencies, access to intellectual or social capital etc) across organizations so that they can make the work. 
  • Dare to encourage funders to invest in individual artists.

I have some other thoughts which don’t fit this particular framework but I wanted to throw out there.

If we want to reach for a wider audience, we should reach wider for our leadership.
There should be a radical change in how we choose our arts leaders. Arts organizations need to reflect the communities that they are from, and represent those communities. We talk about diversity and inclusion but too often it is not included in our leadership (artistic, executive and board). There is a huge disconnect when 27% of the US population is non White/ European American, and only 5% (4 out of 74 – number anecdotal) of the LORT theaters are run by leaders of color. My friend Joe Haj at Playmakers Rep in NC has been a proponent of the Rooney Rule for theater. The NFL requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching jobs. 10 years later, 12.5% of the teams are headed by minority head coaches. Can we demand these of our institutions through our field organizations, our artists, or funders, or at the city/ state level?

Can artistic directors be voted in by their artists/cities/communities and not just the board?

Can we make theater polling stations nation-wide?

Thank you guests.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Arts Dinner-vention Guest Briefing Papers - Part I

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

The Arts Dinner-vention: Jammin' at Djerassi

In preparation for the upcoming (September 6th) Dinner-vention, we asked all of the Dinner guests to submit Briefing Papers on their preliminary thinking on the topic below.   Below are half of those papers - and I will post the other half next week.

There are some common threads in the guest's thinking, including:
  • Refocusing on what audiences really want, including asking such questions as:
    • How can we be part of the larger community; making them part of our efforts and joining their efforts.
    • How do we increase the value of the arts to those we want to be more involved?
    • What makes audiences happy?  Why do they really go to arts performances?  What do people 'love' about the arts - and making those the touchstone of our efforts.
    • How do we address equity questions as we engage our communities?
    • How do our four wall venues work against us?
    • How do we embrace sharing within the arts community to address common challenges?
    • How do we embrace and maximize the socialization attraction of the arts?
    • How do we make the arts a "habit"?     
  • Acknowledging that much of the challenge isn't with the art itself, but rather in the delivery systems for promoting access to the art.  (Implicit in that question is how do we monetize alternative delivery systems).
  • Focusing more on rewarding risk.
  • Moving away from exclusive reliance on the economic, and the intrinsic value of the arts arguments, as strategic approaches.
  • Rethinking how we tell the "big story" of the arts, and who might help us to tell that story

These are just a few of the threads, and these papers are only the opening thoughts of the guests (who are talking among themselves this month) about the upcoming discussion.

Framing Question:
Traditional audiences are declining and participation patterns are shifting seismically, which is having a deleterious impact on arts organization's traditional revenue streams. How can we address this pattern on a macro scale? What would a new movement around the arts look like?
Click here for the blog posting on the Topic.  And click here for full bios on each of the Dinner guests.

Here are the guest's briefing papers:

Laura Zabel - Executive Director / Springboard for the Arts

First of all, we probably need to reiterate that there is a difference between the nonprofit arts organizational structure and arts and culture itself. Arts and culture is not in trouble. Some of the delivery systems we have created for arts and culture are. Creating and culture are basic human needs and impulses. Nonprofit organizations, it turns out, are not.

I vacillate between feeling like we need to fix it and feeling a little "meh, let it fall down, something new will (already is?) rise to take it's place" but in the end there's too much good about the current infrastructure to not attempt to retrofit it and make it relevant for a new era. And that's going to take some hard work in ways both practical and attitudinal. I am thrilled and honored to be a part of this conversation with these brilliant people at the Dinner-vention event. I believe there are versions of this conversation happening all over the country with all kinds of smart people and I hope there is a way to connect and learn from other people, particularly those who don't often get invited to convenings like this.

To get things rolling here are some thoughts/suggestions/stories/provocations that the question has triggered for me:

Be optimistic.
The day I received the framing question from Barry I was visiting my family in rural northern Wisconsin. A community that has just enough tourist economy to sustain a seasonal ice cream stand. I went to the very small 4th of July parade and there was a middle school band of about 15 kids with some of the oldest instruments I've ever seen. Playing enthusiastically, playing well, much to the delight of the crowd and their young, charismatic teacher. We can despair about the state of arts education, but here is a young person, who went away to college and then chose to come back home and teach middle school band to 15 kids. Because he loves it, because it's important. Let's celebrate him.

I know what the numbers say, but in my daily life and in my work I have experienced tremendous demand and openness to new ideas and collaboration from people who want to work with and in the traditional arts structure. There are huge opportunities available to the creative sector right now and transformational possibility surrounds us.

Get over our damn selves.
Build a bigger tent. The thing about a movement is that it's not exclusive. I see no possibility for success in this effort without a bigger definition of who is in our movement. I watched So You Think You Can Dance last night with my daughter. I cried twice: once at the beauty of a dancer's passion and skill and once at the story of a dancer and all that she and her family had committed to being able to pursue a life in the arts. Isn't this what we want? Opportunities for people to be transported, moved and pushed? Opportunities to connect to our common humanity? Millions of people are engaging in the arts through reality tv, YouTube, street performers, church choirs, knitting clubs, sidewalk chalk, and flash mobs, we need to invite them to call themselves artists. Better yet, we could politely ask if we might join their movement.

Seriously, tell me this doesn't move you:

Understand we are not alone.
I had a very energizing conversation with a minister last week about the similar challenges that institutions in the faith community are facing: dwindling attendance, increasingly viewed as less relevant or out of touch with the changing communities around them, etc. We are not alone in this. There is a massive cultural shift underway and lots of folks are doing deep, thoughtful and effective work to shift with their communities. How can we share models, see adjacent possibilities and build common cause with the local food, faith, community development, small business people?

Be valuable. Be useful. Be generous. Be curious.
If there is one practical element of this conversation I am most interested in, it's this: How can we actually be more valuable? How can we be less siloed from our communities; less special, more ubiquitous? What are we doing to help other sectors thrive? How can we be one part of what a community needs to be healthy--a critical, necessary part, but no more or less important than any other?

Barry gives two examples of how we might work across sectors: the suggestion from Arlene Goldbard to require cultural impact reports from civic planners and the suggestion to infiltrate our local chambers of commerce. I love the idea of working with planners more effectively, and my organization is already a member of the Chamber of Commerce (and the Metro Consortium of Community Developers and the Independent Business Alliance) but I would flip both Arlene's and Barry's proposals around. What if we were to approach city planners and find out what they could require from us? What if we joined our chamber, not to infiltrate for advocacy purposes, but to understand more about how our community works and see if we could help?

So my proposal is simple: what if we commit to starting every conversation with "how can we help?"

Kimberly Howard - Manager Oregon Cultural Trust

It starts with engagement.    It is about a renewed sense of participation.  A new movement needs to grow from within an individual to appreciate aesthetics, conversation and community through art.  That begins at an early age.  It is then nurtured in school and home.  It flows into the arts organizations supporting artists, connecting these young people with art making that is relevant and inspiring, art that connects to their daily lives while elevating them to another place.

What does that look like in practicality?  It looks like music lessons for every child. It looks like drawing, painting, ceramics, and photography integrated in the school day curriculum, not simply relegated to an after school program for an under-privileged child or a specialty summer camp for a privileged one. It looks like every child having books in the home and an adult to read with, so the child can talk about what they are reading, discovering the simple joy of storytelling.

It means teachers and parents and artists providing everyday moments for play, exploration and discovery.  When we capture the child from the moment they become a person or before – if you believe in gestational influences of light and sound on a developing fetus – then they gain the tools to appreciate, and long for sensory experiences that can only be found in the concert hall, the museum, the theatre, the black box, or the gallery.

I am not saying that art can only happen in traditional spaces and places.  I am saying, however, that the traditions and rituals that gives birth to our art forms -from the Greek theatre to the Wooley Mammoth and beyond, provide the basis for everything that will come. When a theatre company breaks free of the boundaries of the proscenium stage to create a site-specific piece they are responding to a set of rules that were established by the Greek Theatre over 2,000 years ago.  When a dance company choreographs a contemporary piece they are influenced by the traditions of what came before, even as the aesthetic breaks free from the classic European form.

These traditions and rituals are our guide.  In this same way we use subconsciously or consciously use this tradition and ritual to define the traditional audience member: White, affluent, of a certain age.  This is the definition, but is it entirely the truth?   There are affluent Black audiences and Latino audiences, of a certain age, too, yes?  My question: how were they nurtured? Created?  Developed? My answer: the same way that the traditional white audiences were developed.  Affluence.  Exposure.

So, in order to develop the audiences of the new art movement, we need to nurture those audiences from the beginning.   Those future audiences need to become audience members from the beginning, having access to the same traditions and rituals that make up the art experiences, regardless of how traditional or avant-garde – to borrow a early 1970’s phrase – the art or artist.  From this knowledge of form and experience of participation comes appreciation, understanding and the ability to engage with the work, to be in dialogue with the art, which is the essence of what we call the new art movement.

This new movement around art requires that we create a transition period, where we provide these ‘learning’ experiences that feel more like participation and engagement than ‘teachable moments’ for audiences between 18 and 99, by point blank asking them – what are you interested in seeing on the stage, on the wall, on the pedestal, on the Marley floor?  It might mean, for a time, that we shift the paradigm, making work that we are asked to make rather than work that we are inspired to make.  It might mean that while making work that is in dialogue with the audiences we think we need, we open ourselves to the possibility of being inspired in new ways.

The two-pronged solution is to provide daily in-school experiences of literacy, art, music, dance theatre while at the same time engaging new audiences in dialogue - asking them to participate before creation, looking to find inspiration for our future as we transition into a new way of creating, presenting and seeing art in all its forms.

Clayton Lord - Vice-President, Local Arts Advancement / Americans for the Arts

In my mind, the decline of the traditional institutional arts audience base is a direct result of the rise of the idea (self-perpetuated) of the arts as (1) not for everyone and (2) not necessary, simply nice.  That idea emerged from what I would articulate as three progressive and overlapping occurrences over the past 50 or so years, namely:

1.  The creation, by an elitist class (and by arts organizations hungry for their money), of major arts institutions as exclusive places.  This was reinforced not only by price but by the creation of mores and peculiarities that are now part of the artsgoing vocabulary but which were not always—stand up, sit down, clap or don’t, what to wear, when to speak, etc.—and which included some, while excluding others.

2.  The ensuing shift in rhetoric, particularly from the right in the 70’s and 80’s, from art being a societal good to art being an elitist luxury good, and the (interesting oxymoronic) set up of art and artistic expression as against morality and radical.

3.  The subsequent attack, first by politicians and eventually by whole swaths of people who felt disconnected from institutionalized art, on both arts funding and arts education funding, which was made possible by this shift from necessity to luxury and by the corresponding shift from societal good to societal ill—the fruit of which, now, is an entire generation (or more) who have never been inculcated into (institutional) arts loving, and so find their lives full without institutionalized art.

All of this has not been at all helped by a historically reflexive reaction from the art community to its ongoing marginalization—namely a pulling away from art as a driver of community engagement, change, and dialogue and towards art as a means and end in itself.  Add on top of that the long-standing and difficult history of American institutionalized art as primarily (for all of its perceived “radicalism”) a mechanism for reinforcing white (in its more expansive, class- and wealth-based definition) points of view—a problem that is at this point tied up in the very form and presentation of the art, the buildings, the stories that we try and tell, and which contributes to a further marginalization among many of the fastest growing populations in America (populations who have their own incredibly vibrant artistic traditions, and don’t find themselves lacking for not attending institutional artistic performance).

In a nutshell (and forgive an oversimplification—there are absolutely exceptions to this), many artistic institutions have managed to alienate people of color, poor people, conservative people, young people, less educated people.  We should not be surprised that our audiences (and our public value, which I actually think is much more crucial) continue to dwindle.

To address this issue, some suggestions (the beginning of a conversation, surely, not the end):

  • Start from a place of embracing how small a part of an ever-expanding arts universe “institutional art” really is, and then move from there to expand that relevance with a better understanding of why most people don’t particularly care about such art (and with an acknowledgement that they do likely have rich artistic lives on their own terms).
  • Encourage funders to take into account community engagement and impact (and therefore, we must learn how to better measure community engagement and impact) more than they take into account longevity, budget size, or abstract artistic quality, and encourage artistic institutions to re-embrace their core role as non-profits devoted to the public good, not to art itself.
  • Engage in a frank dialogue about which organizations are making movement towards addressing the equity issues that now sit at the core of our public value issues (and who isn’t), while also embracing the fact that change of this magnitude takes time, and that incremental, stable progress is more important than forced, sudden, destabilizing change.  Engaging in that conversation respectfully, aggressively and truthfully, with thick skin and a belief in a common, shared purpose and myriad uncommon, unique missions.
  • Reward risky innovation with funding models that provide cover—with increased length of funding, better training in evaluation during development of the innovation, and a more open and honest national system within the arts field for discussing successes and failures.
  • Better disseminate the incredibly strong research into public value and community engagement through the arts by crafting a clearinghouse of “interpretations” of that research that turn them into bite-sized consumables like executive summaries, infographics, short explanatory cartoons, podcasts, etc—all in an effort to allow more people points of access into the pertinent findings so that they might then translate them into their own work, arguments and practice.

Margy Waller, Senior Fellow, Topos Partnership
The Pursuit of Happiness is a Constitutional Right

By starting with a discussion about creating a movement, we will naturally develop plans that also promote audience expansion, engagement (all kinds), and greater equity and diversity.

Where (and on whom) we focus our energy and resources matters. Creating a movement requires focusing on the broad public -- even those who don’t (and some who won’t ever) go to traditional venues, and many who won’t think of themselves as goers even though they engage in arts activities all the time. Expanding audience, engagement, and equity means focusing on smaller, more targeted groupings.  I’m proposing that we start our discussion at the widest part of the funnel.

Imagine these changes (some huge, some less so):

  • Start thinking about happiness of neighborhood/city/audience as the goal.
  • Encourage and reward innovation and risk 
  • Stop thinking and talking about our art as so terribly precious.
  • Start creating large and/or high profile public experiences designed to change the way people see the arts and make sure that even those who aren’t present learn about these events (it pays to find a good videographer).
  • Accept that people will use smart phones and other digital tools while they are at arts events and find ways to make it work, integrate the mobile for added value - don’t fight it.
  • Stop leading with and highlighting economic impact in the ROI-dollars + cents-way that we’ve all been taught to do because it isn’t working for us.
  • Reconsider the resources we’re putting into developing so much economic impact data (not that we should discard it altogether necessarily, but that we should decide whether all of the resources  -- money and time -- going into it are yielding better results than other research might)
  • Promote measuring community success by how happy people are, utilize the economics of well-being to develop the value of arts for creating places where people are happy because we should be able to compete well on that playing field

We spent a lot of time working on uncovering a strategy for communicating about the arts designed to shift the landscape of public understanding. We did our research with the goal of culture change -- toward the notion that the arts are important enough to all of us to be our shared responsibility, even for those who don’t participate.

We sought to identify the barriers that have made sharing the value of the arts difficult for us and a new way to talk about the arts could yield broad public support. We learned that people already believe the arts change places, making streets and neighborhoods busier and more fun, and connecting people, allowing them to get to know each other better, and strengthening civic bonds.

Get this: We don’t need data to persuade people; we don’t need to have a debate. These are already the reasons they value the arts. The problem is - they don’t tend to think of the arts this way because we don’t usually present or promote the arts as the thing that brings people together and makes places special. Yet.

Unfortunately, for most people — even people who are goers and lovers of the arts — the transcendent experience, the beauty of art, and educational value are not compelling as reasons for PUBLIC support of the arts and arts organizations. The public sees these individual experiences as something we are all personally responsible for obtaining: “It’s fine if you want to do that, but our TAX dollars shouldn’t have to support it.”

Moreover, they are put off by the palaces where the art happens. These are not places they want to be or are comfortable going. So it doesn’t help that when most people think about art, this is where they think it happens

Our goals (movement, audience, sustainability) are inextricably tied together. Importantly, we can’t just talk about the role of arts in creating vibrancy and community. We have to do it too. We have to work hard to show and give people something different from what they imagine the art will be. That shouldn’t be hard -- it’s already happening. But it’s not usually what the media highlights and it’s not even the way we are trained to share the ar

If we fund and highlight what people love about the arts, it can become the way they more naturally think about our category. And it may have the additional outcome of making the art more appealing to today’s non-goers. (You know, like.... marketing materials that feature people having a fun experience, not how famous or old the art is, or dozens of staged musicians in black and white sitting frozen on a stage.)
Our goal in changing the way we present the arts to the public  -- the purpose of sharing the communications strategies in the Ripple Effects research -- is to build broader support for shared funding of the arts. But the answer to “why change?” has to be real impact in our communities: more connected people and places we want to be.

We will never compete well on the playing field of ROI and economic impact in the traditional sense. However, if our measure of success is happiness, the arts have much to contribute - the evidence is already coming in. We can build a movement for things that make us happy. And we can get people to go there too.

Tamara Alvarado - Director of Community Access and Engagement /  School of the Arts and Culture - Mexican Heritage Plaza

I’m thinking about a lot of things these days, as I am sure is everyone else. Here are a few bullet points. Certainly, I am open to your feedback if only one is of interest or none for that matter.

On the topic of leadership development, I’ve been thinking about it intensely for about 7 years. Two colleagues and I conceived of the MALI program for POC, with the idea that we needed to equip ourselves with the tools to lead our communities in a collaborative way while recognizing that communities of color have particular challenges that only we can address.

On the topic of reciprocity and how as a concept and practice it interacts with our practices in communities of color… it’s been two years and change. Ever since I’ve held the responsibility (with a team of course!) of bringing a $32M investment back to life, it has been a foundational philosophical piece to our success. It’s in fact in our Guiding Principles. It is about valuing what everyone brings to the table, not just money but time and experience as well. It has worked really well increasing audiences and creating meaningful partnerships where artists, arts orgs and audiences feel valued.

In terms of the topic of race and privilege and an assortment of connecting issues for my whole life. But recently with the case of Trayvon Martin I think it’s been at the forefront of a lot of people in our sector. I’m not exactly sure what take I would take on this except to say that if anyone in the room thinks we are beyond race, we will definitely need to continue to have conversations. We are not beyond race and we still need to work on finding commonalities versus differences and I know the arts play a significant role in establishing neutral ground where that conversation can be had. Look at the conversation artists had here about race in 1963:

“Darse su lugar” as a concept. In the Spanish speaking latino communities we talk about “dares su lugar”. A direct translation is to “give oneself one’s place.” This is at the root of the creation of the MALI program. It was by POC for POC. What I mean when I talk about it in the arts/entertainment/culture sector, is the consistent surprised reaction I receive as ED of an ethnic specific/multicultural organization when I strongly request that the ED or Business owner also is present on an equal basis. As an example, recently, I was asked by an ED to meet with herself and staff about the potential for partnership. The day came and the ED did not show and sent along staff. I cancelled the meeting and asked for it to happen when the ED was available. I received an email, from a person I consider my colleague, stating that in her 12 years of being an ED she had never been required in this way. This is connected to race and privilege but she would never see it that way. It’s on me I suppose to show my colleague that her privileged background as a white woman allows her to think it’s ok to require my presence but not hers.

Open source: I realize that this is about the tech sector but I feel it applies strongly to what we are trying to accomplish in the arts. Before I was an “Arts Administrator” I was a college grad with limited real world skills. I was and am bilingual, am first generation and knew a thing or two about turning on and moving around a computer. With this set of advanced skills I got a job teaching computer skills in East Palo Alto, CA at Plugged In, one of the first non profits focused on bridging the “Digital Divide”. More importantly, they greatly influenced me by throwing me into these workshops where I was completely in over my head, taking computers unpacking them and installing “Open Source” software while online and learning to do so by people who felt that it was important to put a computer and internet access in everyone’s hands. We were working with Redhat, Linux, etc. Bottom line is that I took on the spirit much more than the tech aspect of the “open source” movement. I saw how they shared technology with each other in order to make everyone’s work more effective. That is something that I talk about now with the access to space and the how to. As an example, do I lose something if I introduce you to a funder or do I gain? You have registration forms, I don’t. I speak, read and write Spanish but you don’t. Should we share? Of course these are simple examples however, it is surprising at times to see how little sharing goes on in our sector. Is there a way to share that goes beyond the occasional trip to a conference that half of us may not have the money to attend? More to this.

Nina Simon - Executive Director / Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History

Imagine this situation:
You go to an arts event, one of a type you rarely or never take part in. Maybe it's a museum exhibition or a play. You have a great time.

What will it take for you to do it again?

I ask this question because I think there's a pretty big gulf between the occasional arts experience and the idea of art and art institutions as part of your life. For me, this gulf rears its head every time I go to a live music concert. Each time I go (about four times a year), I have a fabulous time. But it never makes me want to increase the frequency of my participation. Each time I get a flyer in the mail, I feel like I’m weighing a new opportunity—price, time commitment, who in my social circle will want to participate. It’s exhausting. I opt out.

In other recreational and social choices, I feel no such inertia. I will drop by the beach seeking a pickup game of volleyball without a single worry about opportunity cost. I will go to the farmer’s market every Saturday to buy the perfect baked potato, and I will lobby hard for my friends to share that experience with me. I will blog weekly, even if it’s at the penultimate hour of a million-hour day.

These are my recreational habits: to play sports, to eat, to socialize, to write. I do these things with ease and enthusiasm.

I don’t have the same habitual relationship with art. I realize that I may just be an arts Neanderthal—that there are many people who go to museums every Sunday after brunch, or go out to live music every Friday night. But if we think there’s a problem with audience decline and participation, I think it’s reasonable to ask whether we could be creating or supporting more effective, widespread patterns for engagement.

My work focuses on the specific value of positioning arts institutions as places for active participation and social bridging. But that’s just one particular set of engagement strategies in the context of a given arts experience. I think the most important thing we can do to address big questions of audience participation is to ask not what we should do individually as organizations or with arts programming but how we can create patterns of participation across the field that are self-reinforcing and fuel growth.

I’m talking about making the arts a habit.

When I look at industries that are doing a better job than ours at being “habit-forming,” I see a few commonalities:

  1. Addictive product; repeat exposure. The arts may not give you a caffeine high like coffee or an endorphin rush like going for a run. But we could do a lot more to position arts experiences as complementary, additive, and (hopefully) addictive. To a newcomer, it's not apparent that a museum offers many kinds of programs, or that regular attendance to the theater might provide deeper or multi-faceted experiences over time. What they see is what they get: that day, that event. Lots of motivational literature suggests that it takes multiple sessions in a short timeframe to take on a new habit, whether a new food, fitness regimen, or activity. This is why some yoga studios offer "30 day challenges" in which you get all your classes free if you come every day for 30 days. The idea is that once you've come every day for a month, you'll be sufficiently hooked to continue participating. Cultural institutions need to be similarly overt and unapologetic about the benefits of sustained, repeat involvement. Audiences, especially new ones, aren't going to connect the dots on their own. 
  2. Multi-level marketplaces in which “heavyweight” companies provide secondary advertising for smaller ones. Starbucks made huge advertising investments to convince people that $3 coffee is an essential part of daily life—and now, every tiny coffee shop benefits from that brand story. Every kid who participates in a basketball league sees how her experience is connected to a huge, multi-layered community that ranges from amateur to professional (with the NBA and Nike paying for that story). In the charity sector, race-based fundraisers, like AIDS Ride or Walk for the Cure, float the boats of dinky local walk-a-thons. In contrast, I don’t see a lot of arts organizations working together to tell the bigger story of how arts experiences are connected to each other. If I like a ukulele singalong, will I like a Hawaiian music concert? If I was bowled over by the Met, would I enjoy my local museum or gallery? Probably… but those arts organizations rarely present themselves as part of a connected landscape instead of discontinuous experiences. I would love to see the largest institutions, professional networks, and arts councils move away from advertising their specific activities and instead engage in the kind of “brand story” work that other large businesses do to open up market share and inspire attitudinal shifts about art experiences. 
  3. A focus on shared social experiences.  People like to recreate socially, and many industries (restaurants, bars, theme parks) clearly represent themselves as social venues. One of the easiest ways to hook people on a new experience is to invite them to participate with you. While the social nature of an arts experience may be implied, it is rarely explicit. This is most glaring in the case of museums; the majority of visitors attend in social groups, but many perceive museum-going as a “contemplative solo activity.” We need to promote arts institutions for date night, family night, girl time—and help people see our offerings as part of their social lives.
  4. Intrinsic desire mixed with external positive reinforcement. Arts professionals often focus on the holy grail of intrinsic desire--the theoretical participant who feels, deep inside, that they want to make the arts a regular part of their life. But for most of us, intrinsic desire is not always (nor initially) motivated by the purest intentions. We join knitting groups to meet new people, complete beautiful projects, AND be creative. We go to the gym to get out aggression, attend to our vanity, AND take care of our bodies. The “good” value of the activity may be the reason we tell ourselves we’re doing something—but it’s rarely the only reason.  

So what can we do to make the arts more habit-forming? I hope we can find a way to answer this question collectively as a field—not by arguing over the distinctions in how we choose to support audience engagement, but by coming together around the big stories about how regular, diverse art participation transforms lives and brings communities together. And gets people laid. What could be more addictive than that?

Thank you guests.  Thank you very much.

Next week the remaining Dinner guest briefing papers.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit