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.