Sunday, September 29, 2013

Twenty Major Issues GIA Members Face

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

I’m off to Philadelphia next week to attend, and blog live from, the Grantmakers In the Arts annual conference - joining fellow bloggers Diane Ragsdale and Ian David Moss (and his team).  This is my first visit back to a great city in four years, and I go with the remembrance of Peggy Amsterdam - who led the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance - and who left us far too early back in 2009.  We all continue to try to live up to the bar she set.

I was a funder once.  As Director of the California Arts Council I had a $32 million plus annual grants budget.  More than most public or private arts funders - then, or now.  Very few avocations are as satisfying as giving away money to affect change.  But while it is on many levels the best of all possible jobs, it isn’t nearly as easy as some might imagine.  There are so many variables and issues to take into consideration, that it is often frustratingly disappointing that you can only begin to have the impact you hope to have.  Virtually every decision you make satisfies someone and disappoints or angers someone else.  The pie simply isn’t ever big enough to satisfy the legitimate demand.  You are constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Then there are the internal and external politics of the arena; the ever changing landscape in which the arts operate where goals and objectives are lofty and aspirational, and sometimes, but only sometimes, realistically possible; and finally, the fragile and delicate ecosystem of the sector.  That is the nature of the beast - and where win-win more often than not seems far, far distant.

Cities, regions, states and the country all grapple with how to nurture and support the arts.  Our host city of Philadelphia is no exception.  Here is an article that describes the Philly art scene and its challenges.   The themes will be familiar to most of GIA’s Conference delegates.

As I look forward to the GIA Conference next week, and the speakers and panels and sessions that will attempt to address some of the issues arts funders face, I know that much of the serious discussion will go on outside of those planned activities - in the lobbies and hallways, at the bar, and during the breaks and at breakfasts, lunches, dinners and receptions.  I know that there are scores of issues on the minds of the different attendees - issues they grapple with all year.  I know too that there are no easy answers to most of the challenges funders face; no necessarily right or wrong answers.

Here is a quick and admittedly spartan list of Twenty of the Major Issues an arts funder (public or private) has to have on their plate.  These issues won’t go away, and they impact the entire arts funding mechanisms. Some are more critical to one group of funders, others more important to another group.   I hope to be able to come away from the GIA Conference with some of the thinking that is going on with these challenges:

Philanthropic and Government Arts Funder Issues:

1.  Allocation:  For every funder, the demand is greater than their resources.  The fundamental question for arts funders is: How to allocate limited funds?  Do you give bigger grants to fewer organizations, or less money to more applicants?  Do you fund each applicant on a case by case basis, or do you consider each as part of the health of an entire localized arts ecosystem?

2.  Equity:  Increasingly arts funders are grappling with an offshoot of the Allocation dilemma - the  Equity issue.  What is fair in terms of allocation?  How do you support both large established cultural organizations and nurture smaller, multicultural entities?  How much to the old guard, how much to the new?

3.  Fidelity:  How long should a grantor stay with a grantee?  When should / ought a grantor stop funding a grantee?  What is fair? What works best?  What are the considerations in such a determination?

4.  Due Diligence:  How extensive should / can a grantor vet grantees both before and after the grant? Where are the resources to do a reasonable job?  Are arts funders too cavalier in failing to meet this challenge?  What are the implications?

5.  Capitalization:  How to bring grantees to a point where they achieve adequate capitalization to survive and thrive in ever changing times.  Should adequate capitalization be a requirement for funding?

6.  Focus I:  Where ought the focus be?  Should the grantor invest in organizations, in programs or in people?

7.  Focus II:  Should the grantor invest in organizations or artists? In sector initiatives or individual organizations? In programs or operating expenses?  Restricted or unrestricted?

    Where are the focus balances?

8.  Impact and Measurable Results:  How to best measure and evaluate the impact of funding.  Should achievement of outcomes be important for continued funding? How to get scale in the aggregate ? - meaning how does the funder achieve large goals and objectives as a result of the aggregate of its funding efforts?

9.  Data and Research driven decision making:  What is the role of data, information and research in guiding decision making?  Is the time and cost reasonable to acquire and apply the data and research?

10.  Emphasis / Strategy:  Where ought the strategic emphasis be?  On capacity building, on sustainability, or on engagement?   On all three? Or somewhere else? Should the emphasis be short or long, long term?

11.  Client / Constituent Designation:  Who does the funder ultimately serve - the grantee, the sector or the public? Who are the funders stakeholders, who are their authorizing agents?

12.  Intersections:  Where are the intersections for synergistic collaboration between public, private, corporate, and crowdsourcing funders?  Where are the intersections to work with other sectors? How do you develop that collaboration to identify and work in concert for common goals?  Or do you?

13.  Technology:  How do you first fully understand, then promote the integration of technology into grantee thinking as part of their audience development, marketing, fundraising, professional development, management and other strategies?

14.  The Law of Unintended Consequences:  What are the possible (negative) consequences of the best of intended strategies and actions by the funder.  For example, for a decade or longer funders concentrated on funding programs and projects, but without support for the administration costs of those added programs and projects.  The intention was to expand the reach of programs to the public.  The unintended  consequence was to stretch arts organization operations budgets thin.  How do you anticipate the unintended consequences of any given approach to funding?  What do you do after the fact when unintended consequences come to light?

15.  Relationships:  How does the funder address the fundamental inequality and power imbalance by and between grantors and grantees?  How much can funders reasonably demand of grantees? What are the negative consequences of that imbalance?

16.  Leverage:  How does the funder promote leveraging its funding so the grantee diversifies its revenue stream?

17.  Internal Direction:  Often times an arts (or grants) program officer has to deal with Board / Council established protocols and priorities that tend towards the more conservative.  How does the arts program officer move the Board / Council and Senior Officers and shift priorities, processes and protocols?

18.  Transparency:  How open and public should be the decision making process of a funder?  How different is that question for private v. public funders?

19.  Framework:  All funders have to be concerned with the trends governing the health of arts philanthropic giving, and of public funding to the arts.

20.  Planning:  Compounding the challenges is the need to try to make educated and informed guesses as to what the future may hold - at least in the reasonable short term, so as to "plan".

Each of these issues is complex with layers of sub-issues. Lots of questions, fewer answers.  This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are many other issues the arts funder faces.

I look forward to the GIA Conference as it is one of my favorite gatherings - smart people and provocative dialogue and discussion.  Small enough to have a sense of intimacy, but inclusive and large enough to give voice to a full range of thinking.  GIA is a much bigger tent than it once was.  Janet and Tommer and the GIA staff are to be commended.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

Sunday, September 22, 2013

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED Blog - 2013 Edition

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

Last year I invited leaders from various sectors of the nonprofit arts from all over the country to share some of what they have learned.  I asked a simple question:  "What Have You Learned? - either in the profession of arts administration, or in life generally -- advice you can pass on to others.

It was the second most popular and widely disseminated blog I have written.  Both those willing to share some knowledge and the readers seem to delight in the assignment.  So I thought it worth repeating, and invited a new group of leaders to share their thoughts this year.

Here then is the 2013 version of the What I Have Learned Blog:

Alex Aldrich:  Executive Director, Vermont Arts Council

One of my early mentors hired me as a business manager for a performing arts center.  Each morning at 10 o’clock he’d come by my office and say “I’m going for some coffee.  Wanna come?” And for a full two months I demurred (I didn’t drink coffee and I had a lot of work to do every day!)  One morning, he stayed in my office doorway after I said no. I looked up a second time.  He said “No, I think you want to come have some coffee today.”  At the coffee shop at the end of the block his coffee and Danish were waiting for him at his usual table. His acolytes were at tables nearby waiting for the day’s lesson, but I had the coveted spot at his table. And thus commenced one of the most productive working relationships of my career.  Lesson: work is always about so much more than work, and coffee is always about so much more than coffee.  Since that day, I have always made time for my staff, for my board, for my family, and for my coffee.  It’s worked so far…

Mara Walker:  Chief Operating Officer, Americans for the Arts:

I have been working with and among humans for quite some time now and am focusing my advice in that direction rather than on advancing arts policy which is at once challenging, rewarding and thankless.  To survive it all here are a few tips:

Say yes to every opportunity (even though I am known as the “no” girl at Americans for the Arts). You will experience and learn things you never imagined.

Everyone has something to offer, even the people you want to strangle in their sleep. Learn from others and seek guidance and input. Don’t form your opinion of anyone based on someone else’s.

Always hire brilliant people who are smarter than you and who you would like to get stuck in an elevator with. You may feel compelled to rush to fill a position, but don't.  Take the time to hire right and you will love coming to work every day.

Profound moments of clarity come when you are not checking email, Face Book, twitter, voicemail, or playing Plants Vs. Zombies or Candy Crush. Give your mind the time and space to wander.
Get outside your comfort zone.  I will never zipline or eat exotic foods but I like exchanging ideas with people whose are different than mine and learning from them.

Your greatness comes from the value of the important work you do. Don't seek affirmation by asking for applause. If you are good at what you do people will recognize and respect you for it. And give others the credit.  Authority comes from sharing power, not holding it.

Lead by example and you can create change no matter what your position is within an organization. Don’t whine about a problem, take responsibility for fixing it.  And never complain about something without bringing forth a solution.

Be bold and take knowledgeable risks. Be OK with failure.  Don’t let others stop you from trying something smart and great.

Laugh. Laugh hard every day. Good hard belly laughs. You work hard. Enjoy it.

As I have said to my daughter, “I don’t care what you do as long as you change the world” (I must be a tiresome mother). Spend every day working at something that matters to you, the ones you love and your community.

Arlene Goldbard:  Author, Blogger

(1) Do what gives you pleasure, engages you fully, uses you to capacity, and enables you to feel a sense of alignment and agency. That will feed and sustain you, blurring the line between work and play and inspiring others.

Even one who has taken this advice as often as I have dished it out knows that someone has to clean the toilet, empty the garbage, and perform their administrative equivalent. But a healthy dose of work that feels good and right can lubricate quite a few less pleasant tasks.

The way we shape our stories shapes our lives. When I meet a young person who is already resigned, who sees work as doing what you hate in the hope of someday doing well, my heart breaks. It's not the task but the way you see it: if you regard your work as dues or drudgery, you're choosing a story that's unworthy of your life.

(2) Question conventional wisdom; don't assume the done thing is the right thing.

When you're new in a field, you naturally want to absorb the common wisdom. But you run the risk of repeating past mistakes simply because others are loyal to them. Many arts organizations are in the grip of a superstition, for example: if artists and their advocates look really businesslike while they rattle off economic multiplier effects and metrics, they will lull devotees of the corporate gospel into supporting them. That this loyalty is misplaced can be seen from the public and private budget cuts multiplying every year that this strategy has held sway.

Being guided by past assumptions is like navigating via the rearview mirror. What has stood the test of time—and what just seems that way because people don't question it? Learn everything, but don't be afraid to ask why something is worth learning. For anyone with maturity and wisdom, questioning in the service of understanding—rather than just memorizing and repeating what "everybody knows"—is what you hope to encounter in a young person. If honest inquiry is discouraged, move on.

Diane Sanchez:  Director of Community Investment, East Bay Community Foundation

I have always felt the need to take my work very seriously and perhaps to do too much of it at the expense of other parts of my life. On the flipside I don’t take myself too seriously & anytime I begin to feel important or clever I either try to master my garden or pay a visit to the ocean. It’s great to work like everything depends on you but to really understand that in truth little does, but keep at it anyway.

Work from values, mind your manners but know sometimes you need to take a stand that will make others uncomfortable, try to do this with grace.

If you plan to work in the arts trust artists and try to get out of their way.

I have also learned, somewhat late in life, to pause in conversation, in writing and in thinking to allow for there to be space for something unexpected to happen, for others to find room for their voice and sometimes  to even hear my own heart.

Randy Rosenbaum:  Executive Director, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts

In the movie The Graduate (1967) there’s this great scene at a cocktail party where some business guy leans in close to Dustin Hoffman (“The Graduate”) and reveals to him the secret to his future.  “Plastics!” he says.  If it was me, and Dustin Hoffman was silly enough to consider a career in Arts Administration, I would lean in to him and say “Circles!


Circles, and the consideration of circles, have been the focus of my professional life.  Circles help me define the important people in my life and the value I receive from each in return.  Properly defined, circles can suggest the important work that needs to be done, and can warn you when danger approaches.

Aside from family (the most significant circle of all), my key circle is the people that I work with on a daily basis.  I have no innate talent, but my one skill is being able to hire really great people.  I put them in place, give them a general idea what is expected of them, and then trust them to do the best job possible.

Circles define my job.  At the Arts Council we all relate to one another within the circle of our staff.  This circle is happy and healthy when everyone connects with one another on a regular basis, when we share what everyone is doing, when we collectively contribute to tasks and problem-solving.  I’m responsible for seeing that this relationship is hale and hearty, and that we’re sharing our “joys and concerns” on a regular basis.  In this my title is “Executive Director of Circles”

The issues that come up as part of this exchange help to define – in some small or significant way – my work.  Because I rely on staff to build and maintain their own circles, their relationship with their own assigned communities – arts organizations, individual artists, schools and educators and so on - filter back into our staff circle and help to define what we collectively do as an agency.  Most times this is codified as part of our strategic plan (in a very focused, OCD-sort of process).  But many times it is this exchange of information that helps “drive the bus” of our agency’s work.

Circles can be large (like our individual artist community) or small (like our community of poets and writers).  In the best cases these circles can interact, so you have the classic design of part of one circle overlapping onto another.  During our planning sessions and regular meetings I encourage staff to think about ways to overlap circles in deliberate ways.  For example, we try to encourage arts organizations to reach out – beyond their comfort zone – to communities of color.  We look for ways that artists can collaborate with agencies that support people with disabilities.  Staff helps to make those constructs possible, and the collaboration between staff members – and their circles – is some of the most rewarding stuff we do.

When all is working well these circles are humming along in a calm and pleasing way.  But all too often a circle (or a number of circles) will start to turn an alarming color.  That indicates that something is going wrong, and requires immediate attention.  One of our responsibilities is to monitor our circles, and when a relationship is becoming troubled or dysfunctional, take whatever action is necessary to address the problem.

As director of the agency I have a number of circles all to myself.  I have a circle for the Governor and his senior staff.  The General Assembly has its own circle, as does the leadership of the General Assembly.  My board (the Council) is an important circle, as are important figures in the arts, media and higher education in our state, as well as my peers at other state agencies and at state arts agencies in other states.

All of these circles are important.  Some take more effort than others, but not a day goes by when I don’t think about (and mentally assess) the status of each circle.  I try hard to a tranquil color palette of circles floating overhead.  A good day is when there are no red flashing circles in my universe.
I know we caution people not to "think in circles", but I really believe if you "think OF circles" you have an advantage over most.

Diane  Mattaraza: Consultant

After spending 30 years in and around the arts, especially with those on the front lines creating art and striving to better connect the arts with their communities, I’m very grateful for lessons learned.  Thanks for the opportunity to share them.

1.       I’ve learned best from artists, no matter what path we may choose, staying true to our passion, beliefs, and values matters most.  It keeps life joyful, meaningful, and provides the light, energy, balance, and resilience to get through just about anything.

2.       Organizations with highest levels of relevance have reached into their communities and built strong relationships. When offerings are  informed by research and authentic community connectivity,  it’s a sure strategy for success.

3.       When collective wisdom is prominent in organizations, a closer look will usually reveal there also is a culture of keeping everyone - from creatives, administrators, and board members to volunteers - well-informed, guided, enabled, and empowered. These are the organizations most facile in pursuing opportunities, navigating challenges, and achieving success.

4.       Organizations that are clearest about the strengths, expertise, and skills needed to fulfill their missions and who recruit personnel (paid and volunteer) accordingly fare best.  It’s always curious how organizations with imbalanced board representation or large gaps in staff capacity wonder why they’re struggling.

5.       Good communication doesn’t end with hitting “send.”   The truest measure of clear communication is in the comprehension. Was there follow up to ensure communication was received and understood? Was the desired end achieved?

6.       I once worked with a client whose deliberate decision making could be best described as measuring three times before cutting.  Though the uber cautiousness made me crazy, it taught me always to consider unintended consequences. Better to anticipate and switch gears than stick to the  game plan  and cause harm.

      Generosity of spirit goes a long, long way.   Always err on the side of kindness.

Roberto Bedoya:  Executive Director, Tucson-Pima Arts Council

What have I learned?

A lot… As an arts professional with some 30 plus years in the cultural sector, as a writer, presenter, curator, Executive Director, policy maker, audience member, and gadfly here are a few thoughts:

I often reflect on this quote by the poet Robin Blasé as a touchstone for what I do:

“Cultural conditions always approach what we mean by the word ‘world’ or the process of composing one… The world is never separately - by simplicity’s trick-social, political, artistic or scared but rather, it is made up of entanglement of discourses having to do with men, women, earth and heaven.”

In the entanglement of discourses that is life, I am profoundly lucky to be involved in the process of composing the world with artists, arts leaders, scholars, elected officials, community folks… troublemakers and angels. My story of composing is in many ways linked to three behaviors:

  • Ask difficult questions
  • Listen
  • Care

When I was a kid my older sister would have her girlfriends over for dance parties in the living room and I recall one of their favorite song was Little Anthony and the Imperials and “I’m on the outside looking in”- why do they love those words? Maybe because they were women, brown and poor and the laments of being outside they knew . Years later when I was working at Intersection for the Arts (SF), Patty Smith’s “Outside is the side I take” played in my head as a curatorial reference point as a counter-point to my sister’s beloved song.  And in the 90’s when I was working at the Getty Research Institute where I worked on public programs produced in collaboration with LA community- based arts organization my outside experience was along the lines that some artists and community activists saw me as an outsider cuz I worked in the Big House (the Getty) and for the some of the Getty leadership and staffers I was outside cuz I didn’t have a PHD in Arts History and was too colored for their sensibilities. These snapshots of my outside/outsider experiences is where I learned to ask difficult questions in response to them prompted by my curiosities and probably even more than that my allergic reactions to complicity. I learned to ask questions that disrupted, pushed and expanded the givens. Do it and know the importance of questions to the actions of composing of the world.

Coupled with asking difficult questions is the charge to listen. One must listen with integrity, with compassion, listen to what not being spoken, listen to the interstices. Listening is not a passive activity… it demands concentration, it leads to moments when you encounter what you don’t know, it opens doors and it invites in the good, bad and ugly. From elders, peers and young bloods I’ve benefited from listing to their passions, love, frustrations, intelligence their ways of composing of the world. By listening to these voices I’ve listen to what I don’t know, I listen to what’s outside my frame of experiences, I listen so as to discovery.

To question, to listen, is also to care. It is to care for the entanglements in our life as central to understanding the composing of the world. It is to care for the expressive life of a community. It is to be careful of the talents we work with and our human capacities. At this moment in my career I found myself thinking of care and its embeddedness to belonging and how to understand the work that many of us do as a social movement of belonging that weaves ethics and aesthetics into civic life.  We care and in doing so engage with personal memories, cultural histories, imagination and feelings to enliven the sense of “belonging” through relationships, that composes the world, that animates the plural.

So what have I learned about this sector I work in….  it’s fun work, it’s where you confront barriers, you haves success, you have failures, you learn by asking difficult questions, by listening, by being of care.

Kris Tucker:  Executive Director, Washington State Arts Commission

I’ve had to learn how to show up in a big state, with elected officials who have Bigger Fish to Fry and arts organizations who need bigger grants than ours. Showing up means being in the room, at the table, in the conversation, on the radar. Showing up is being genuinely present.

This means visiting the little all-volunteer arts organization 400 miles from my office and 30 miles from about anywhere. It also means getting out of bed for monthly early morning meetings with Seattle arts leaders to talk about arts advocacy – to think together, share news, be part of the conversation. It means meeting with the aide for the legislator who has voted against state or federal funding for the arts, and knowing when to ask about her arts experience and finding out she was a dancer, an actor, the best friend of someone whose life was saved by the arts. She hasn’t talked about it for a while, but she’s thinking about it now.  It means phone calls and emails when I can’t make it to the meeting or to keep the conversation going or to keep in touch or because I am thinking of someone.

Showing up means I have questions that remain unasked because  there just isn’t enough time to talk it all through. I am still learning to pay attention and figure out what needs to be said when, what needs to be done now, who can move things forward.

I’ve learned that every meeting needs an agenda so people think it’s worth it to show up. That my facts must be accurate because someone might be paying attention. That my publications must be clear and compelling and worth keeping around. That leadership really is about relationships – and that relationships are built by showing up.

Bill Ivey: Author; Former Founding Director, The Curb Center; Former Chair National Endowment for the Arts

What I’ve Learned:

In the early 1970s, at age 27, I became the first full-time director of a Nashville nonprofit, the Country Music Foundation.  Featuring a Hall of Fame, research library, supported mostly by earned income, the CMF was scarcely a typical arts organization.  But the NEA’s then-new Folk Arts Program was casting about for institutional partners, and since the US had almost no folk-arts nonprofits, country music’s legitimate folk roots enabled the CMF and its director to slip into America’s rarified, intellectually-charged, NEA-based, mostly-fine-arts cultural scene.  (There were a few sidelong glances.)

Glamour and excitement!  The Old Post Office!  Application review and arts policy debate with the likes of Harold Prince, Pete Seeger, and John Lewis!  And we’ve learned this was just the beginning; over the next half century museums, orchestras, dance and theater companies were launched, foundations and corporations joined in, every level of government formalized support.  This rising tide ultimately grew our sector from a few thousand big-city-clustered institutions into the 100,000-plus nonprofits that define the arts world today.

Growth like this required captains of industry.  We attracted a remarkable cohort of institution-builders: Nat Leventhal, Michael Kaiser, Nancy Hanks, Bob Lynch, Carter Brown, Speight Jenkins, Molly Smith, Jonathan Katz, Sy Rosen, Roger Mandle, Gordon Davidson, Peter Gelb.  Artists infected with the institution-building gene also kicked in: think Redford, Sills, Jamison, Keillor, Stern, Baryshnikov. Whew!  A woefully incomplete listing, to be sure, but enough to confirm the capacity of our world to find the right people for the right job at the right time.

It made for an exciting half-century: a few got rich, some did very well; many seized the opportunity to advance personal vision, enlivening the scene with improvisational management and quirky professional personalities.

But I’ve learned that nothing is forever; today our rising tide recedes.  STEM standards push arts from schools; foundations abandon culture for education, global health, the environment; museums feature Punk Rock, David Bowie, and Friday-evening “do-you-come-here-often” mixers; the NEA drifts without confirmed leadership under the cloud of a miserable committee budget number; orchestras are plagued by shortfalls and labor disputes.  I could go on.

And our first cohort of leaders is exiting; that’s ok.  Of necessity, they were masters of process.  Their accumulated understanding of board-building, development, endowments, community outreach is appropriately enshrined in the offerings of arts management programs.

So I’ve learned that we need a new generation of leaders – not entrepreneurial managers but visionaries who can engage the concerns of mainstream public policy thinkers.  Here’s truth: art making and cultural heritage offer Americans our best and most-affordable antidote to the dehumanizing social effects of technology and globalization.  But I’ve learned that this 21st-century “Arts Advantage” will only be made real if new leadership crafts and advances foundational ideas that reach beyond the worries of our sector to address challenges facing American democracy.

Jamie Bennett:  Chief of Staff, National Endowment for the Arts
I was trained as a fundraiser, and I used to worry about organizations that would fall prey to "chasing the money," organizations that would, for example, disingenuously starts an arts education program with a public school just to have pictures of smiling (preferably racially diverse) children to include with grant applications.

I now worry much more about organizations that are "chasing the audience."  The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott and the League of American Orchestras' Jesse Rosen discussed this issue recently in the New Republic.

Absolutely arts organizations need to change and adapt, but they also need to remember why they exist in the first place.

I think Cleveland’s Ensemble HD has gotten it exactly right.  They are a sort of offshoot of the Cleveland Orchestra that performs at the Happy Dog, a local bar that offers “live music, good food, cocktails.”   HD recently released their first recording – on vinyl and funded through Kickstarter.

They have drawn a bright line around what is sacred to them: the quality of their repertory and the excellence of their musicianship.  These two things will never change.  But everything else is on the table: where they perform, when they perform, the behavior that they expect from their audiences, the fact that Monday night football might be playing silently behind them – because they have decided that none of these things changes their reason for existing in the first place: to excellently perform works from the chamber repertory.

Don Randel, former president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, once worried to me that arts organizations too often fall into the trap that many cathedrals do – doing the same thing, at the same time, in the same way week after week no matter if there are 100 people in attendance or 1.

The best cathedrals, like the best arts organizations, have learned to protect the sacred, if you’ll pardon the adverb, religiously, but to consider everything else.  A friend of mine recently presided over a blessing of the bicycles at St. John the Divine in New York City – scripture is largely silent on bicycles, and it invited in a lot of New Yorkers who might not otherwise have attended.

If you are part of an arts organization, make sure you know why you exist.  Never stray from that.  And then set to work questioning everything else.

Jonathan Glus:  CEO Houston Arts Alliance

Sometimes leading means being at the front line, pushing forth an initiative in a very public way. It can be exciting work that can be rewarding through professional development and public impact.  However, the most powerful, and ultimately the most rewarding work is accomplished through leading from behind. That is often about deeper engagement and empowering others, which will bring far greater sustainability.

Many years ago Janet Carl Smith, a long time Chicago arts administrator who was extraordinary at leading by empowering others, told me that this may be life work, but balance is the only way to achieve longevity. Of course, I didn't believe it then, but I do now. Leadership means knowing one's limits and finding a balance between challenging one's self and those with whom you work and respecting other's needs. Sometimes the best approach is a few hours off.

Not everyone is a Bill Gates, but  everyone has their own Bill Gates to tap inside. Everyone's measure of achievement is different. We are good leaders when we help others achieve their own Bill Gates, not our own.

Listen to those first few words people say when you arrive in a new city or organization. "It's all about the people here," or "you learn to love this city in small bites" - it's true. Every place is wholly unique. A community's shared story or mythology is powerful whether or not it appears so at first glance.

Creating partnerships and collaborations is hard work. Set clear expectations. Don't over expect. Resources and expertise vary tremendously, even among the largest organizations. Partnering with non-arts organizations can bring great results, but be clear on the goals. They will differ and that is ok.

The artist is at the core of our work. It doesn't happen without him or her.

Always say thank you.

Andrew Taylor: Assistant Professor of Arts Management, American University; author of 'The Artful Manager' blog

I have learned that a question is almost always the best approach: to begin something, to welcome someone, to unlock a stubborn problem, to enlist enduring support, to launch a difficult conversation, or to become a part of a community rather than standing apart.

In a world of declarations that define boundaries, a question is an invitation to cross boundaries. In a room full of strong opinions, a question is a disarming force that can open minds. When I've found the courage to ask a question -- especially when every impulse in me wants to judge, accuse, dismiss, instruct, conclude, correct, or just disappear -- I've been grateful for it. And yet, I'm still learning my own advice.

In the spectrum of possible questions, though, not all are created equal. Among the lower forms to avoid are:

* the 'look how smart I am' question, a common preening behavior at conferences, where the point is to boast a personal victory rather than build a conversation;

* the 'look how dumb you are' question, intended to be cruel, embarrassing, or belittling;

* the loaded question, piled high with narrow facts and fancy rhetoric to defend your current opinion.

The best questions (like the best leaders) are genuine, generous, and courageous. Genuine, in that they signal a true interest in learning from the response. Generous, in that they offer focused space for someone else to speak. Courageous, because bold questions make you vulnerable -- to attention, dismissal, or the frightening insight that you don't know everything.

Most of all, ask questions of yourself. When tempted to blame or belittle yourself, or something you've done, or something you can't bring yourself to do, ask a genuine, generous, and courageous question instead. And invite yourself into a useful conversation.

We all deserve that kind of respect.

Douglas McLennan:  Founder and Editor, Arts Journal; Digital Projects Architect USC Annenberg School of Communication / Getty Arts Journalism Program

I’d like to think I learn something everyday. I’d like to think that learning makes me smarter. I’d like to think that being smarter makes me happy.

All these things are true in a way. And yet, you won’t be surprised to know, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Learning is like money; it doesn’t start to realize its value until you spend it. This can be more problematic than you might think.

Learning things is not the same as knowing things. Learning how to use something you know can be hard. I’d love if there were some kind of formula that produced great ideas. Something like:

                   Inspiration  x   _knowledge       =   Great Idea
                                         Learning x work

Ain’t gonna happen.

Great ideas aren’t usually all that great until you roll them around in your hands a while and try them out on people. Nothing deflates faster than a great idea you can’t explain.

Here’s something: When something is hard, there’s usually a really good reason. Try to listen harder.

Something else: Doing something by yourself because you’re brilliantly talented guarantees your own limitations. A little less talent and a lot more sharing unlocks greater potential.

Give people something brilliant you’ve made and they’ll celebrate your brilliance. Give them something they can use to make themselves more brilliant and they’ll invest in your mutual success (there’s a difference).

All this might sound great. I’ve learned a lot. But just because I’m learning doesn’t mean I can do it. Learning, it turns out, might be the easy part. Doing it, well that’s a work in progress.

Janet Brown:  President and CEO, Grantmakers in the Arts
What I’ve Learned – A lot but here are Two Big Things

1. Leadership is an art, everyone wants it, not everyone understands it.

Boards of directors and staff want leadership.  The role of an effective nonprofit leader places us in the creamy filling of the Oreo cookie…sandwiched between the board (our bosses) and the staff (our subordinates.)  Making everyone happy is an art in itself. Leadership, unlike management, is transformational and isn’t neatly outlined in rules, best practices or procedural manuals.  For the most part, it is instinctive. But I’ve learned there are some traits from great leaders that we can attempt to emulate.  Good leaders are honest, trustworthy, passionate, role models, energetic, selfless, principled, confident, inclusive knowledge gatherers and responsible decision-makers, well-spoken and ethical.  This is the short list.

Good leaders also have what I call “interpersonal strategic skills.”  This is the magic. This is Henry V inspiring his army to follow him as a “band of brothers” to certain death.  This is not taking credit for everything but allowing a co-worker or board member to get the glory. This is understanding that we are humans first, (despite who is right or wrong or what is written in the by-laws) and appealing to the better natures in all of us.  Leaders think strategically about consequences and about how others will act and react to decisions and actions.  They prepare themselves and others in advance for change or uncertainty. They instill courage through their own confidence that problems can be solved with good work and honest communication. Leadership has power but it’s not about power.  It’s about inspiring people to understand a vision and to feel safe in their attempt to achieve it.

2. Standing for something always wins over being very popular
Principles mean something. Mission means something.  Staying true to your organization’s mission and values is critically more important than pleasing a criticizing politician, disappointed artist, angry board member or aspiring donor.  Great case in point is what happened to the Corcoran Museum during the cultural wars in the 90s. Long story short, they closed a show that was controversial because of Congressional and media pressure thereby causing their base (arts patrons and artists) to denounce the museum.  Management resigns, most of the board resigns, the organization loses financial support. They betrayed the very people they were founded to support. When we stand by our values, the answers are clear.  Will everyone be happy? No. Will you lose some support?  Maybe. But the organization and you, as a leader and manager, will have stood for something you can defend with those who believe in you most. The rest don’t really matter.

Margot Knight:  Executive Director, Djerassi Resident ArtistsProgram
Eight Things I've Learned the Hard Way in 35 years and 300 words

1)  It's a mistake to confuse professional and personal relationships.  e.g. the staff who report to you are not your friends (which doesn't mean you can't be friendly) and you are agent and educator of your board, not their friends.

2)  All of life is knowing when to throw your shoe.  BEFORE drawing a line in the sand or throwing a controlled (or not) hissy fit, ask yourself, "Does my life (and/or the direction of the organization) have a clear enough settled purpose that this extreme response is NOT just a random act but critical to my and the organization's success.

3)  When in doubt, go for honesty and transparency.  Non-profits are community-owned--neither the staff nor the board owns them.  The more inclusive you are, the stronger you'll be.  Secrecy is the refuge of cowardly, controlling dictators, not non-profits in a pluralistic democracy whose currency is the community's trust.

4)  The most important relationship in a non-profit organization is that between the executive leader and the board chair (I've had 20 chairs in 23 years!).  It sets the tone and strategic direction for the organization and its work.

5)  There can be no full communication among people with unequal power.  Whether the power differential exists due to money, class or position, keeping this rule in mind as you deal with funders, board members, staff, etc is useful.  There is always more you don't know than you know because status can interfere with people's ability  to be authentic with you.

6)  Believe in the generalized theory of exchange.  Sometimes you get credit for things you didn't do.  Other times you don't get credit for things you did.  It all works out.  Share credit generously.

7)  Never give up.  HOGWASH.  I'd rather go down 100 idea-roads and give up on 10 in fast-failure mode than slog away at 10 with minimal pretend-success.

8)  Admit when you're wrong, make amends and move on.  A little contrition goes a long way.  Arrogance is the refuge of cowardly, etc. etc. (see point 3).

Jonathan Katz:  Executive Director, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

I have learned that all politics is personal and there are layers of meaning to this principle.  One layer is that different decisions affecting different policies and different resource allocations exist at the federal, state and local levels.  It takes expert advice to identify the programs, people and decisions one has to influence in order to maintain public support for any cause, including the broadening and deepening of public participation in the arts. Another way in which all politics is personal is that the vast majority of political decision makers are available for a meaningful conversation about a cause, including the arts, if approached by a constituent.  Political decision makers are interested in increasing their power and resources, pleasing people they care about, and improving the way things work. The more personal the relationship, the more what they care about can be understood, and the more effectively a cause can be presented. Multiply the human and financial resources invested in a cause and a constituency is created. The constituency for the arts has demonstrated enormous resiliency during this past decade of recessions. It can be broader, more purposeful, and even more effective in the future.

Anita Walker:  Executive Director, Massachusetts Cultural Council

It’s been a nice ride, but this train is not taking us where we want to go.  I’m talking about the “creative economy” train that barreled across the country turning the arts into economic development at every stop and crossing.

In 2000, I was an excited new state arts agency director in Iowa trying to get the attention of my governor.  It’s always all about the economystupid, so when I read Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class offering a real, live economist’s case for the arts as economic driver and community revitalizer, in compelling tasty fashion, I not only ate it up, I served it up on a silver platter.

We brought Florida, the groovy guy in a leather jacket, to Des Moines, threw the first unconference (no seats, no white linen table cloths on 8-seat rounds…cool, huh?) Legislators swooned at Florida’s grooviness and the way he said it was possible for the most backward, rural SLTs (Iowan for shitty little towns) to become a magnet for young entrepreneurs. The Governor read Florida’s book and “got it.”
We marched a thousand strong to the state capitol on advocacy day, lime green hats on our heads, the “creative economy” on our lips.  We were all about attracting workforce, creating jobs, stimulating the economy.

The legislators listened.  They increased our funding.

And thus it has been ever since.  State arts agencies across America creating new arts-as-economic-development programs, collecting economic impact data, casting the power of the arts in economic terms.  Look at the jobs we create.  Look at the taxes we collect.  We’re part of  tourism, one of our state’s largest industries.  We hitched a ride on the economy train on our way to more funding for the arts, but we’re being taken to a very different destination.
Today, fewer than half of our state arts agencies are independent agencies.  Twenty-three are divisions of multi-agency departments and eight are firmly planted in economic development agencies.  And as measurement and accountability increasingly become drivers in government, state arts agencies embedded in other departments are increasingly required to align their goals with those of their parents.  In government, the North Star is the economy and everyone wants to win the race to become its most powerful engine.

Ever try to talk to a legislator about the arts and not mention the economy?  When’s the last time you talked about the intrinsic value of the arts?  That would virtually guarantee a budget cut.

Once you’re on the economy train, it’s virtually impossible to get off.  You know the song about Charlie and the MTA…did he ever return, no he never returned…he may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston, he’s the man who never returned.

It’s time to return…to remind ourselves of what is truly the transforming power of this work.  That is creativity, human expression, human engagement, excellent art.
And it’s really hard to measure. The economy’s easy…hey, it’s made up of numbers.  Art…not so much.

In the kind of economics I do, I aggressively try to help people understand that we ought not be pricing some things,” said David Swenson, Iowa State University economist. “Arts and culture have a value to a community that is way beyond what I write on Table 8. They’re part of the core, part of the bundle of amenities that constitute a livable place.

You can’t quantify that.

This is not to say that the arts are not relevant in a conversation about the economy…or education…or youth violence…or health care…or aging…or diversity…or international diplomacy…or even climate change.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council is not an economic development agency, but when we do arts well, tourists visit and spend money, communities become destinations and better places to live, jobs are supported and created, innovators want to live here and build new businesses.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council is not an education agency, but when children have a quality experience participating in the arts…in school, and out of school…they exercise their creative minds, learn to think critically, are better observers and team players, get a better education.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council is not a human service agency, but when some of our most troubled youth participate in arts programs that give them a productive outlet for their fears and anger, provide a supportive community, build self esteem and teach skills that will last a lifetime…these young people are saved from gangs, prison, even death.

I can write about impact and outcomes, but when it comes to the arts, the heart is more articulate:

“It is a remarkable experience to witness a high school student watching a young adult with down's syndrome or cerebral palsy offer a sonnet, and think to himself, ‘I want to do that.  I want to have that kind of courage, that kind of conviction.’  Or to be a man or a woman of any age and watch someone you have typecast in your heart of hearts as somehow less than, stand in the center of a crowd and speak a truth about what it is like to dream of being seen for all of what you offer and know that a wall has just fallen...and through that kind of honest performance, know that you have been changed for the better,” writes Maria Sirois about Community Access to the Arts in Great Barrington.

John McGuirk:  Program Director, Performing Arts Program, Hewlett Foundation

At Hewlett Foundation, we’ve been exploring the critical questions: who participates in the arts, and who benefits directly from the Performing Arts Program’s financial support? This past year, we conducted a pilot study with WolfBrown and 21 grantees using various survey methods (paper, online, on-site interviews) to collect standardized demographic information and feedback from audiences and participants.

We learned that:

  • collecting comprehensive data is expensive and time-consuming, and ultimately will not deliver the scale and specificity to assess impact over time,
  • response rates varied generally from 25-50%, and there were several biases—women were over-represented by 5-10%; slighter differences were observed in regard to age and race/ethnicity,
  • there are specific barriers to collecting information from young people (under the age of 18). With large numbers of arts education programs and the diverse demographics of those served, the full story of arts participation is incomplete,
  • it takes nuanced cultural competencies to survey diverse communities, and standardized race/ethnicity categories used by the US Census are ineffective,
  • non-profit performing arts organizations need training to conduct rigorous audience research and analysis, then to apply the results.

Based on what we learned during the pilot, we recently launched a two-year initiative, Audience Research Collaborative, with the primary purpose of building the capacity of 50 grantees. This initiative will develop our grantees’ skills to collect, interpret, and utilize audience feedback to strengthen strategic planning and measure progress toward institutional and programmatic goals.

Richard Kessler:  Dean, Mannes College

What I Have Learned?

People hate change.

It’s a job, not your life.

Give credit; don’t take it.

No matter how many times I have been involved with changing an organization, I am always amazed by the apparently instinctive negative response to change. Thus, developing a set of tools to effectively manage change and in particular the fear of change is something that I have worked on for a long time. Particularly considering our volatile times, which are likely not to quiet down anytime soon, I think that any time spent learning how to help facilitate, cajole, position, find partners, find surrogates, escape straight jackets, and for that matter study Houdini’s tricks of the trade will be time more than well spent.

Okay, I struggle with the issue of work-life balance. Funny thing, I can see it clearly when colleagues come to me for advice and I end up urging them to not get lost in their work. What I tell them is that in retrospect, once you leave the organization, you realize that it was just a job. These gigs can eat your alive if you let them, but hey, if you leave, you’re gone and you might just wonder why you put your life on hold for that job. Take it from me, it’s a job, don’t let it hold you back from having the life you deserve, which after all, takes its own sort of work and attention.

I deeply believe in distributed leadership and find it to be the hallmark of the healthiest of enterprises. It helps to ensure smooth transitions as staff members come and go, it recognizes that leadership occurs across the strata of an organization, it helps people to grow in their jobs, and rewards people for their good work. In order for this sort of approach to flourish, you’ve got to be committed to giving credit and by giving credit you will in turn receive beautiful rewards for being a good leader among leaders.

Barry:  One thing I have learned that I find helpful:  Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. And sometimes, the journey actually is the destination.

Thank you to all of those who took the time to share some of what they have learned.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Interview with Deborah Cullinan

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

Deborah Cullinan is the new Executive Director of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.  For 17 years, she was the Executive Director of Intersection for the Arts, a socially conscious arts and community development organization, and one of San Francisco most respected and important arts organizations serving artists and communities. Under her direction, Intersection received numerous prestigious awards including the 2011 Philanthropedia Award for Highest Impact Arts Non-Profit in San Francisco, and during the period her national star rose significantly.  She was a 2011 Gerbode Fellow and has presented at the National Endowment for the Arts, the 2011 Andy Warhol Foundation Initiative Conference, and others. She is a co- founder and co-coordinator of Arts Forum SF, an inclusive forum committed to sustainable and forward-thinking arts policies in the city of San Francisco.  She has been active in San Francisco and statewide advocacy efforts serving on the Board of Directors of California Arts Advocates and Californians for the Arts.

Here is my interview with Deborah:

BARRY: What is your analysis of the benefits and weaknesses of creative placemaking?

DEBORAH:  To address this, we’d first have to agree on a definition. In a great article in Public Art Review in 2012, Jon Spayde talks about two different definitions. One emphasizes creating spaces that connect people. Another emphasizes the overt role artists and public art play in contributing to growth, specifically economic growth. Much of the dialogue we are having around creative placemaking makes this same kind of dichotomous distinction as if these are not inherently connected notions that should live on a continuum of placemaking that results in prosperity not for few but for many.

To my mind, we miss the point when we get stuck in age-old debates about the utility of art or 20th century notions of gentrification. Of course art has utility. It is about beauty, inspiration, connection, compassion. And, beauty for its own sake is immensely purposeful. Art fuels transformation. So do the dynamics of a rapidly changing world. Cities rise and fall. Neighborhoods grow like webs – people and streets and services and buildings connecting to make something whole. And, they fall apart in the face of crisis. Like any eco-system, they change – even fall apart - when some things thrive and others do not.

A reason to consider creative placemaking as an important practice (if an imperfect phrase) is the inevitable, and often inequitable, change that happens in our communities, in our cities. We forget that places exist. We are rarely making them from out of nowhere. Rather, we bring them meaning. Art - when it prioritizes making meaning in public places - can cultivate inclusive and equitable change by connecting people to the history of their neighborhoods, and to each other.  Without that connection – that sense of understanding, of history, of empathy – how can we begin to attempt the complex work of community development? The question, to me, is about what role artists and arts organizations can play in building healthy, connected systems that result in a change that is more mindful of what has been and more focused on what should be.

BARRY:  Intersection for the Arts’ 5M project has as its central core “connectivity”.  Please explain how that works in your 5M project, why it’s important and what the wider implications might be for the arts sector.

DEBORAH:  Intersection came to the 5M Project (a 4-acre creative development in downtown San Francisco led by Forest City Development) following an epic search for a new building that started in 2008. Telling the story of this is, in my opinion, an important way of answering the question.
At the time the story begins, the economic spiral had not yet revealed itself. Intersection for the Arts was in pursuit of two things: a new building; and, new models for artists to live more sustainable lives.

Like many cultural organizations, we thought – then – that our very own building with a bigger theater and a gallery on the ground floor – would solve all our problems. We found what we thought was that perfect building and we discovered that we were in competition for it. We figured out who it was and sat down to wrestle over it. It turned out to be the founders of The Hub Bay Area – now known as Impact Hub (a global collection of co-working communities for social entrepreneurs). Within 5 minutes of conversation, we came to the beautiful realization that we were better off together than we were in competition. We imagined a global network of social entrepreneurs and artists. Art integrated into a system of social change. Artists learning new, more entrepreneurial models.

We set out looking for buildings together. By this time the economic downturn was clear. The market was a mess. We had building after building into contract and we lost every one of them. Block by block, communities were falling apart. Block by block, the needs and challenges were different. And, we started to realize that maybe what the world needed was not another theater – but a new model for arts-focused community development. A refreshed way of thinking about how creative placemaking, community arts and collaboration work together to help make our neighborhoods better places to be.

We started building partnerships - depending on the very specific needs of each neighborhood – with community organizations, affordable housing developers, youth development organizations, and more.

After we lost the very last building, we got a call from Forest City Development about what we now call the 5M Project. What they described was uncanny in its similarity to what we had been cooking up – just larger, they had much better language for it, and with scale and the potential to change models for urban development – with art at its core - not just in San Francisco but across the country.

Forest City’s vision is that the 5M Project is designed to build our economy and strengthen our communities. At 5M, artists, makers, social entrepreneurs, technology innovators, youth leaders, and community stakeholders are coming together day and night. It is a place designed for creative people to come together and make change.

Intersection is a lead partner. This is an organization that believes that there is nothing like art for creating connections – allowing a place where people can gather and where difference is valued. Through Intersection’s work, the 5M community thrives, it makes deeper connections to the people living, working and struggling around it. And – through those connections – it makes opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Lets think about this for a minute.

Through art, we can draw people together, we can encourage movement on our streets and in our alleyways. Without that movement, we are at risk. At the 5M Project, people coming to work benefitting from San Francisco’s tech boom have a tendency to walk out the door and turn right. That right turn points them in the direction of renowned restaurants, the financial district, the convention center, and one of the most upscale shopping centers in the country. If those same people turned left, they would encounter the 6th Street corridor, which is known for blight, crime, drugs, and homelessness. It is also a corridor that represents rich and threatened cultural diversity and history. To overplay this a bit, if we don’t turn left and we don’t encounter each other – we can’t make change. If we only turn right, we can so easily further concentrate poverty and social challenges as opposed to creating movement that encourages us all to see each other – to see each other’s problems and challenges as our own. Art encourages movement and connection.

Similarly, without creativity and inspiration how will the kids who go to the neighborhood school – the one with no art and enrichment programs (without Intersection), the one where an extraordinary number of the student population are homeless or marginally housed – how will these kids know about, imagine themselves into, and prepare for the jobs of tomorrow?

Intersection’s role is to develop and implement arts-focused community development strategies that create bridges, provide inspiration, and link squarely into opportunities (internships, jobs, positive economic change).

BARRY:  Looking back on your long tenure at Intersection, what do you think you did that had the greatest impact, and what remains in your mind as important unfinished business?

DEBORAH:  When I came to Intersection, I had no idea what I was doing and I had little formal background in the arts. I was very struck by the fact that an organization that was so venerable could be so fragile, so disconnected from and even irrelevant to its immediate surroundings. I recall being very confused by the way in which arts organizations talked about arts programming and community programming as discrete and separate things. In fact, most often, the community program seemed to exist solely to serve the arts programming. In a very simplistic way, I wondered how the art could thrive if it was not connected to the notion of community. In the arts, we build venues. We want audiences – which requires that people will want to open doors and come inside. Yet, we struggle with how to create community gathering spaces that honor culture and tradition, that allow for artistry and mastery, and that mean enough to enough people that they thrive. My greatest contribution was that I was naïve – that I did not understand and in that lack of understanding I imagined that we could build an organization that was not afraid of emphasizing artistry as much as community, one that sought to be fully integrated into the systems that make up its neighborhood, one that is also not afraid to be useful to its community (put differently, one that is not concerned that the art will suffer or lose value if it also embraces its own utility and if it sometimes puts service of community in front of itself).

I could not have known it then, but I know now that this was the beginning of Intersection’s epic journey to the 5M Project and to boldly embracing its mission as an arts-focused community development organization. And, of course, this work is unfinished. It is the historic work of the organization from the early 1960’s when a group of men and women imagined an organization called “The Intersection” – one that would be responsive to its context, one that would commit firmly to pursuing positive social change, and one that would allow intersections, collisions, and experiments.

Leaving Intersection is profound. It is a bold and powerful organization. It is also an organization that had little capacity to take the enormous leap it has taken. Now, though it has not yet caught up to itself, it faces another major transition.  Organizations like this – ones that have contributed to civic life in profound ways – should have cushion, room to experiment and fail. Just as I hope that Intersection illustrates that art and community are integral, that mastery and messy go beautifully together; I hope that arts organizations can come to new more entrepreneurial models that allow them to be creative, responsive, to take risks, and push forth the best ideas.

BARRY:  What are you hoping to do at YBCA in your first six months?

DEBORAH:  Among the many things I hope to do, I want to re-ground the organization in its founding vision. Despite challenges and controversy along the way, today the Yerba Buena Gardens project - which includes YBCA - is an extraordinary example of creative placemaking and community development. It is a synergistic collection of thriving businesses, cultural organizations, vibrant gardens, and a diversity of people living, working, playing, and sometimes struggling together. YBCA was founded to fuel this vision of synergy and connective – to place art and community at the heart not only of this beautiful model for urban change but also at the very center of San Francisco’s civic life.

In whatever we do, I believe we must take pause now and then to reflect on the why – the beginnings. As YBCA contemplates complex questions and opportunities, it should do so by first visiting its founding vision as a community and cultural asset and then redefining that vision in today’s context. This likely means thinking about and improving upon how we are supporting and connecting to the local community. It most certainly means that YBCA will embrace its role as a civic institution – a leading advocate for San Francisco’s creative, cultural and community life.

BARRY:  You have long been involved in the greater SF Bay Area advocacy efforts (as well as the state organization).  This year (finally) saw the first major increase in state funding to the arts in California in a decade - a one time allocation granted by the Speaker of the Assembly.  What do you think should be the arts next step / strategy in trying to secure additional long term funding?

DEBORAH:  I think we have to continue to build networks and coalitions that can be mobilized and that link directly into the major concerns and opportunities facing our State. Arts funding, on its own, is a less compelling and isolated case to make. We have only a few strong and active advocacy networks – including Arts for LA and Arts Forum in San Francisco. We need to link those and cultivate more. From there, we will be more successful employing strategies that integrate the case for the arts into the case for a healthier California. This includes funding arts and arts education, ensuring access to culture and creativity, committing to cross-sector collaborative problem-solving, and building healthier communities.

BARRY:  Yerba Buena’s performing facility is in great demand (particularly by dance companies due to its stage and facilities).  In fact the demand greatly exceeds the availability of the space.  In the past YBCA has tried to balance its availability to both local and out of town companies (that may have a higher profile).  That position has angered some local performance organizations who would like more of the space time available to local artists and arts organizations.  As the new Executive Director, what is going to be your position on this issue?

DEBORAH:  In addition to YBCA’s curatorial programs, it has a Community Rental program that offers discounted and subsidized space and support. It might surprise people to know how much of the time is used by local artists and organizations. Specifically, the actual percentage of use of YBCA by local artists is nearly 75%. Beyond the community partnership program, the curated performance programs have traditionally been composed of 25% local artists and in the 2014-15 season, local artists make up a full third of the curated season. YBCA hired a local artist as its Director of Performing Arts a year ago in part to address this perceived dichotomy. He's clearly moving to make YBCA a global player with a local mission including the institution of a new commissioning program that resources artists' work outside of what's happening inside the YBCA buildings.

Regardless, I worry that this kind of “this or that” dialogue perpetuates perceptions and divides that may not exist and cause us to define too narrowly what a cultural organization can be. I think there are real opportunities to cultivate partnerships, to make YBCA’s space and – beyond space - resources available, and to think not only of YBCA’s facilities, but of San Francisco’s cultural facilities and how we all work together. If we reflect only on what happens in buildings and on stages, we limit the possibilities for cultural centers to cultivate and support local artists well beyond space use. I believe that in today’s world, cultural organizations –especially those that are rooted in bricks and mortar – must first connect to and be part of their immediate communities. YBCA has a role to play in supporting the growth of very important Bay Area artists just as it has a role to play making global connections through artistic exchange and engagement. However, it will not be successful if it is not deeply rooted in its own City and deeply connected to the artists who are illuminating the way.

BARRY:  How do you think San Francisco rates in terms of providing direct services and support to artists, and what do you think YBCA’s role ought to be in the provision of those services?

DEBORAH:  We continue to experience an extraordinary number of artists migrating away. San Francisco is too expensive. Artists lack affordable live and work spaces and access to quality health care. We must work harder to push for policies that ensure that Cities like San Francisco incentivize artists to live, work, and contribute to the creativity and innovation that makes Cities thrive. I think the arts organization of the 21st century should not define itself as a “presenter” or a “producer” or a “service organization,” rather it should think of how all these things work together to create a thriving creative community with more and more people actively participating. I want to be asking questions like: What are the ways in which YBCA can support creative businesses, artists, and community development? What are the incubation, commissioning, and support programs today?

BARRY:  Increasingly, more and more people are taking the position that for far too long a disproportionately large percentage of all funding (especially from the private philanthropic foundation community) has gone to the major cultural organizations, at the expense of the smaller, multicultural organizations, and that such an allocation is inequitable and unfair.  Do you agree or disagree?  And what should be done?

DEBORAH:  Funding should be aimed toward impact and should not be based on entitlement in any direction. I don’t care as much about the size of the organization from a financial standpoint as I care about why it exists and what makes it successful. I worry that by perpetuating notions of big and small based on who has what today only furthers divides and, inevitably, maintains concentrations of wealth and concentrations of need. At the same time, if we are trying to create a strong arts infrastructure across our country where more people are actively participating, expressing themselves, engaging in conversation and collaboration, then we must look at how this infrastructure is supported overall. Ideally, we think more like an eco-system and we spread our resources accordingly. Organizations like Intersection have enormous impact but never receive the boosts in capacity that enable them to grow beyond a certain kind of accepted financial dysfunction. If nothing else, it is an inefficient practice to continue to fund projects while not paying attention to capacity building. I’d suggest that we grow organizations when they are adaptive and responsive. Fund organizations – not only projects - that genuinely represent - in every way - their communities.

BARRY:  IFTA posted one of the best Interim Director job announcements that I have ever seen - in that it was a very comprehensive overview of what needed to be done to effect a smooth transition.  In short, it recognized that staff, volunteers, patrons, supporters, funders, audiences, artists, clients, constituents, community partners and stakeholders all ought to be considered in the transition period and that the usual caretaker Interim Director - whose charge would be limited to keeping the chair warm and putting out the big fires until someone new was hired - would simply NOT be enough.  Why do you think so few organizations take a comprehensive approach to the transition from one leadership to another?  What advice do you have for organizations about to undergo a major leadership change?

DEBORAH:  It is near impossible to anticipate leadership change. It rarely happens at the right time. What Intersection had was a very strong group of organizational thinkers on the Board – real, strategic, and visionary leadership. We must understand the role of Boards and not reduce them only to fundraising entities. These are the leaders who will manage transition. It is in these capable and committed hands that I left Intersection. Without naming names, I would suggest cloning at least a few of them and populating more boards with people who can think strategically, organizationally, and with vision.

BARRY:  What is your assessment of the principal challenges facing the presenting community in San Francisco, and do you have any big ideas about how you might address those issues at YBCA?

DEBORAH:  In some ways, “presenting” (as it is formally understood) is new to me. So – as a slight outsider – I think there may be an inherent challenge in the underlying assumptions. It is harder and harder today to curate experiences that masses of people will choose to participate in. We need to break down the presenting role in a way that allows for people to have a role in the curatorial structure and to gather around inquiry and possibility. Conversations that they can engage with and participate in. For example, YBCA’s approach to performing arts presenting – with Marc Bamuthi Joseph at the helm – is complex and is about creating cross-sector communities who are looking at important questions and challenges. With “Future Soul Think Tank,” Marc assembled a group of thinkers, artists, designers, programmers, scientists to respond to the question “What will Soul look like in the year 2038?” An intimate group of people come together to discuss, debate, and collaborate. The results, thus far, have included related events and a recent community gathering/installation where teams took over as much of the YBCA campus as possible with astounding projects that evoked soul, pushed paradigms, and gathered hundreds and hundreds of people to be with each other, to put their hands on objects, to dance into the future. I want to see more and more of this kind of intentional community-building where the YBCA buildings are less places where you come to watch and more and more places where you come to make, to participate.

BARRY:  What was your last “aha” moment?

DEBORAH:  It was at the SoCAP conference at Fort Mason last week. SoCAP is a world renowned conference dedicated to increasing the flow of capital to social good. It brings together social entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists and global innovators to explore how to accelerate the good economy. Close to 2,000 people participated this year. I worked closely with colleagues at SoCAP and The Hub as well as an amazing new friend – Laura Callanan – to insert artists into a dialogue that is about social impact and social investment. We asked “How can there be a conversation about innovation, social change, and meaningful investment without artists?” During the very last session track of a long and intense conference, a group of artists – Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Jon Moscone, Tareneh Hemami, Lexi Lehban, and Marcus Shelby gathered a standing room only crowd to talk about artists as storytellers and changemakers.  One of the last questions was from an investor who asked “how can we work together to make the case for investment for artists and arts projects?” When the session was over, countless people approached me to say that it was the most inspiring and hopeful conversation that they had participated in all week. One person said, “You get to work with these people every day?” Coming out of an enormous summer of transition, the “aha” was simple. I am deeply grateful. What we know about artists, working in the arts, and devoting ourselves to inspiration and transformation, we must cherish and we must share!

BARRY:  Who are some of the leaders in the arts that you hold in the highest regard and why?

BARRY:  So many people! Claudia Bernardi for her poetic humanity, her bravery. David Dower and Polly Carl for their integrity and courage. Moy Eng because she believes and she puts her full force behind it. Nina Simon for her passionate insistence that we democratize and instigate gatherings across boundaries. Chinaka Hodge for her grace, her leadership, her artistry. Jon Moscone for his willingness to use and risk his own privilege to make change. Marcus Shelby for his commitment to illuminating history. Ken Foster and John Killacky – my predecessors, mentors. Bert Crenca for his absolute vision. Theaster Gates for throwing open a new paradigm for cultural development. Evonne Gallardo because she is sassy as hell. Kate Dumbleton for her ceaseless curiosity and her commitment to the music that brings us together. Adam Fong for pushing new paradigms. Brad Erickson for tireless advocacy. Brett Cook and Evan Bissell for bringing us the faces and the stories. Ricardo Richey for bringing the stories of the street alive. Wendy McNaughton for making maps that show us who we are. Ellen Sebastien Chang for general fearlessness. Junot Diaz because he’s sexy and real. Dave Eggers because he is changing everything. Rhodessa Jones for never wavering. Carlton Turner because he stands firm. My son, Hayden, because he is an artist and a leader and because we should listen to our children! And that is just the beginning . . .

BARRY:  What one policy stance - taken or not taken by the arts field - do you think may come back to haunt the nonprofit arts in the future, and why?

DEBORAH:  In San Francisco, we are experiencing what we are calling the “tech boom.” With it, the rapid escalation of real estate on and around the Central Market corridor that follows decades of talk about making this corridor an arts district. Through City leadership (Mayors Office of Economic Development, Grants for the Arts, the Arts Commission and the San Francisco Foundation), we have made great strides in temporary activation that leads to lasting change. That said, we will (if we don’t already) regret coming up with strong anti-displacement policies for artists and long-standing, grass-roots arts organizations. The good news is that organizations like the Community Arts Stablization Trust (supported by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation) are emerging with proposals for new models for sustaining and growing capacity in our arts community.

BARRY:  What don’t most arts administrators understand and appreciate about support for working artists?

DEBORAH:  Artists need space to experiment, iterate, and develop work with community. We need to emphasize supporting the process as much as the product. We need to think of the life of an idea and not the momentary showing of a product. We need to think of the life of our artists.

BARRY:  You have a lot of experience as a fiscal sponsor.  Has the 501 (c)  (3) model reached the end of its usefulness and what should replace it?

DEBORAH:  I am not a “throw the baby out with the bath water” kind of person. I think the nonprofit and for-profit models have their place in our capitalist paradigm but both can be impproved. The 501C3 is not necessarily the problem. The problem is in not designing strong non-profit business models that support not only programs but also the ability to take risk. We need our nonprofit organizations to build structures that enable them to invest in themselves – invest to prepare for the unknown and to reach for uncertain futures. Fiscal Sponsorship - Model A, B, or C – is a good option that should be better understood and supported. We should be watching the rise of the B Corps and how collectives of designers and artists are tapping into a structure that can provide fluidity but also push for strong business creative models.

BARRY:  How do we go about raising the bar for professional development for both established and emerging arts leaders?

DEBORAH:  I think we have to stop training artists and arts leaders in isolation. To be successful in this world, we have to be fluid – able to speak multiple languages and work with people with very different goals, values and different skill-sets. Arts professional development is often insular and almost promotes isolation and discomfort moving across boundaries and working within “non-arts” contexts or across generations of leadership within the arts.

BARRY:  What ought to be a foundation’s primary strategy in funding the arts?

DEBORAH:  I am not inclined to suggest that all foundation’s should share a primary strategy. Rather, I might suggest that we should be developing strategies that ensure that the arts evolve in a changing world. We should be funding the makers and the delivery systems and think about being less “product” oriented. We need to build capacity in people, communities, and organizations – especially those that have been historically marginalized and, despite that, been carrying the important work forward.

BARRY:  What isn’t the NEA doing that it ought to be doing?

DEBORAH:  Funding individual artists, fiscally sponsored projects, and hybrid approaches. How will we build a future if our national agency does not have its hand on the heartbeat? What does it mean that artists who are changing the world are not able to receive direct funding?

BARRY:  What has been your strategy at IFTA in terms of securing community support and building meaningful relationships with your stakeholders. Do you have any advice you can offer?

DEBORAH:  Strong relationships are mutually beneficial. If we want to be supported, we have to be relevant and necessary to our stakeholders. We have to see our organizations as part of a larger system. What do we bring to that system? Why do we matter?

BARRY:  Increasingly organizations are turning to consultants for a variety of services - including temporary help, research, strategic planning, coaching, training and more.  What are the reasons organizations ought to hire consultants, and what gives you pause over an increase in this trend?

DEBORAH:  There are things that I really needed help with at Intersection that either I couldn’t see clearly or I didn’t have the capacity for.  When I had the luxury of working with a good consultant, whole paradigms shifted. Consultants bring perspective, capacity, and an ability to help work out the most stubborn kinks. We are also in a world where people are increasingly turning away from permanent, full-time employment with one organization. We are losing talent and have to adapt to keep that talent and expertise in our organizations. The flipside of this is that it is expensive and, quite often, we wind up in situations where we are paying consultants to come up with ideas that we can come up with on our own and we lack any implementation capacity.  I hope to see us continue to move in the direction of longer-term relationships that also come with implementation support. For smaller organizations, we often cannot afford to hire the level of expertise we need to get us to the next level. Can consulting relationships sometimes – or, more often – simultaneously result in outside perspective/expertise and inside capacity building?

THANK YOU very much Deborah.  Congratulations on your new post and wishing you every success during your tenure.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dinner-Vention Update

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

The Dinner-Vention - Jammin' at Djerassi was held this past Friday night, and we had a probing discussion and spirited exchange of ideas.  We video taped almost three hours, and now begin the task of editing the tape into a cogent, and we hope, compelling presentation.  I hope we can have the finished record of the conversation done and up on this blog site within a month or so.

Given our initial reaction to the event, I think it very likely we will do Dinner-Vention II next year.  Perhaps, after that (or even a third one), we might gather all the guests together for a two or three day gathering - with no agenda, no issues on the table - just the opportunity for some very smart people to share ideas. And then to share those ideas with the wider field.  We learned a lot about the processes, protocols and dynamics of this effort, on which we can build the next one.

Meanwhile I've asked all the dinner guests to consider blogging or otherwise writing about the experience - their reflections, comments and reactions to all that was said, as well as their further thinking - and will provide links to any that opt to do so.  For those of you that may not have seen dinner guest Devon Smith's thoughts prior to the dinner (posted by Thomas Cott's You've Cott Mail) , I have included them below.  We've also set up a closed Facebook Group so the dinner guests might continue the conversation they started Friday night.  It is my hope for this project that this inaugural class of the Dinner-Vention, having bonded through the process, will continue to share their thinking not only with each other, but with the wider field.

Three hours is clearly not enough time to fully address the myriad questions and issues the table put forth (let alone all the thoughts of the guests which the limitations of time prevented us from even bringing up), and we probably raised more questions than we answered, but there was considerable food for thought last Friday night - from specific ideas, to wider conceptual thinking.

I want to thank everyone involved in this project - Anthony Radich, and everyone at WESTAF, for their support; Shannon Daut for helping me to guide the project; and Margot Knight at Djerassi for her kind and gracious hospitality in hosting the event.

I especially want to thank the dinner guests themselves.

There is no doubt the Dinner guest group - representing the future of our field - was a gifted assemblage of some of the brightest minds on the rise in our sector.  And giving this cohort of our leaders a wider platform was one of the objectives of the effort.

Here then is Devon Smith's pre-dinner thinking paper:  (and I invite all the guests, if they wish, to submit their own lists of questions which I would like to post here.)

"Dinnervention is a gathering of 12 "up and coming voices" in the arts, conceived by Barry Hessenius, paid for by WESTAF, more than a year in the making, and finally happening IRL tomorrow evening over a two-hour dinner at Djerassi.  It began with crowdsourced voting of potential dinner guests. More than 350 names were submitted. Hunger Games style, 12 were chosen, though I doubt we'll be debating to the death[a]. Next came the selection of a meaty dinner conversation topic, sourced by the guests themselves, and shaped into a coherent vision by the selection committee.

Then we chosen few were asked to write briefing papers (Part I) and (Part II) about how we would address the topic of, "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?" Barry published these online, and asked us to continue ruminating and engaging via email with each other, and the organizers.

I have to admit I haven't been able to contribute to the conversation in the way I had hoped months ago when this whole plan began to take shape. There's been a dearth of open dialogue on social media by the 338 other I'm sure incredibly well deserving potential participants. I didn't get a chance myself to dive into the other 11 briefing papers until the 6 hour flight from DC to SFO I'm currently aboard. None-the-less, I find myself inspired and brimming with ideas that I hope we have the opportunity to tackle in what will amount to roughly 7 minutes of speaking time per guest.

As we were taking off, I ritualistically opened my latest copy of WIRED magazine, fortuitously titled, "The Future of Design. Invisible. Beautiful. Everywhere." And suddenly, my trusty Field Notes memo book was filled with potential. What follows is a summary of what amounts to my own Random Access Memory.
  • Google's Project Loon: where is our moonshot idea? our willingness to invest in R&D?
  • Nassim Taleb's new book, Anti-fragility, shows how randomness and complexity tend to make (some) systems stronger. In the way that recovering from Chicken Pox provides us immunity. Or the way that humans still beat computers at chess because even experts sometimes make random moves that rigid computing systems can't replicate. How do we design our arts ecosystem for anti-fragility, rather than stability, or survivability?
  • How do we align incentives across a wide spectrum of stakeholders? I want whistleblowers who will blow the doors wide open at institutions who are inefficiently using the public's funds. Not just misappropriating them, but, for any reason, not maximizing the most productive use of capital to create art.
  • I think that in a given city, our product doesn't have enough variability. People show up to museums not knowing what exhibits are showing. What makes us think they don't do the same with theatre performances? When we market the arts, it is too often about the art.
  • Why aren't there more (any?) arts think tanks? I live in the city of think tanks (DC), and see how they are moving surprisingly swiftly with 21st century needs to shine a digital spotlight on all their experts, and encourage thoughtful dialogue on important issues of policy. Policy that doesn't stop short at the Beltway, but finds itself impacting communities around the world. Great as it may be, we need more than New Beans, and Createquity. We need the authority of Brookings, the embedded evaluators of RWJF, the global perspective of Demos, the intellectual bent of Third Way, the zeal and approach to digital distribution of the Heritage Foundation and the funding of Pew
  • is advocating for the goals of the technology community, by focusing on immigration reform. What does arts policy look like, beyond tax breaks, economic revitalization zones, and more federal funding for artists?
  • What happens when people start wearing Google Glass to the theatre? The New York Times is broke, but they've already developed a Google Glass app. Does any artist, in any institution, even own a pair of Google Glass?
  • What happens when we can 3D print our props and costumes? Does any University MFA program even own a makerbot?
  • Glitch Art demonstrates an interest in the unrefined. The mistakes made beautiful. Who's producing glitch (performance) art?
  • Google has the same problems we do--declining audiences, declining time spent with their core product, and an influx of competitors that offer audiences new ways to do what Google's always offered. What do they do about it? Invent Google Glass to give advertisers entirely new performance metrics. You thought pay per click was useful? Wait until pay per glance. They develop self driving cars. Not for the data, but for the 90 minutes of time it will free up for 100 million people in the US alone. 90 new minutes of brain space for people to search Google, and click on Google's distributed ad network. They make the insane plausible with Project Loon. 3 billion people aren't yet connected to the internet (and therefore are out of our reach)? No problem, let's replace costly satellites with low-fi weather balloons to provide wi fi to the world. If we can clearly articulate the problems we're facing in the arts (which frankly, I don't think there's any agreement on), then we can start exploring moonshots.
  • What if an arts organization employed a user experience designer? What problems would they tackle first?
  • The reason we run theatrical performances so long is to recoup the costs of building them, relying on the ephemeral "buzz" to build over time. So build cheaper, and market faster.
  • There's a new wave of hyper-local living room shows. Where "Do It Together" is the new "Do It Yourself." Sometimes just giving a name to something makes it cool, and approachable, and the idea itself tangible to audiences. What does hyper-local arts look like? Maybe we've already got it, we're just not capitalizing on the term.
  • What is the quantified self data for the arts? What does a Jawbone product look like, optimized for aesthetic consumption and production, rather than for health? What could we do with that data?
  • We need more "Digital Curator meets Community Manager." Someone who is immersed in the art-making in our spaces, as much as in the community-making online. Dinnervention itself would have benefited from such a role, helping to guide and nurture the online opportunities in the run up to this IRL event.
  • Moore's Law fundamentally drives innovation in the technology world. What is our Moore's Law that can predict how (and how quickly) the landscape will change?
  • The government is now looking for Nudges, to guide users to make the right decision, of their own volition. How can the arts use behavioral economics principles to drive attendance and participation?
  • Dark Patterns refer to those online systems set up to "trick us" into doing something we otherwise likely wouldn't. Opting in to your email newsletter for example by providing a helpfully "pre-checked" box in your ticket purchase flow. They are meant to be deceptive, and in doing so, destroy our relationship with our audiences at the very moment they're forking over their hard earned cash to us. Stop doing it.
  • I want to know the moment that X% of the audience takes out their phone in a quiet theatre to check the game score. I want to be able to use that data to better optimize our performance, the same way programmers minimize bounce rates by speeding up page load times. I want to know the paths that people take through museums. I want to be able to use that data to build new museums, and new exhibits, new experiences, the same way that grocery stores silently ping my cell phone's wifi to know which aisle I walk down first, and where they should put more high-value signage for the latest sales.
  • Big data is coming to the arts. See Chris Unitt and Sean Redmond for more.
  • Impossible business models have disrupted industries not through institutions making change, but from entrepreneurs with a vision--for the product and the business model. Warby Parker disrupted the monopoly of LensCrafters by pairing two MBAs with a sense of purpose and nominal exposure to the industry. Invite the quants to the table.
  • NAMP (perhaps unknowingly) adeptly employed digital retargeting on me yesterday. I visited their website once, and then their ads followed my web browsing the entire rest of the day, courtesy of Google's distributed ad network. More like this please.
  • Speaking of NAMP, in the spirit of TCG's "doing > learning" mantra, November's conference should feature a workshop on iphone photography apps & methods. These produce incredibly high-quality and artistic opportunities to create in minutes for free what a studio photographer will spend weeks and tens of thousands of dollars on.
  • We live in a Filter Bubble. Individually, and as an industry. The most value you could probably get at a conference is to go to a Healthy Hackathon and see how that industry is using digital technology to influence behavior, not just purchases. Go to Games for Change to blow your mind on how to use art to influence behavior. Go to XOXO to be inspired. Go camping in Portland for a week to learn how to make 3D prototypes. And the very ones who put on our industry conferences should be paying you to go learn from these other conference, and bring your insight back to the industry. Foster an attendee swap partnership with your colleagues at other foundations/service organizations. You don't think healthcare professionals would be inspired to learn from the Chorus America national conference?
  • Last week I noticed a tweet asking "do we have enough conservative art." Who is our Fox News? We need them (or at least, that far end of the spectrum) to be truly diverse.
  • WIRED's 101 signals for high density information sources breaks individuals down by business, technology, security, science, culture, and design. You know what "culture" means to the WIRED generation? Music, board games, cartoons, graphic novels, TV, Film, video games, sports, and comedy. Not a museum, theatre, opera, dance company in the mix. And who are the "designers"? They are the pre-fixes of architecture, video game, industrial, visual, urban, tech-art, interaction, user experience, technology, data viz, video, graphic, typographic, and furniture -designers.
  • Where is our Angel List, matching funders with potential sources of investment?
  • Who are our Entrepreneurs in Residence? Hackers in Residence?
  • Where are our incubators?
  • Who is our Fred Wilson to provide decades worth of free insight to the up-and-coming generation, humble in his role as community moderator more than guru.
  • My first perception of your organization if of your website. Does it reflect what you want me to think about you?
  • Medium is a platform for creators. Some they pay, others they offer free "space" to, distributing the ones who become popular on their own merits, and those they believe deserve more attention. YBCA is our Medium. Where are the others?
  • Why hasn't Ben Cameron done a Reddit AMA? I demand it by the end of the year.
  • Where is our HackerNews? Ian David Moss, great as he is at link roundups, isn't enough.
  • In the past year I've joined the homebrew beer community, that connects kitchens to Twitter, elevating the amateur, who consume what they create, and idolize the craft movement while vilifying the "big beer" industry. Where is our homebrew arts?
  • The Corporation for Public Broadcasting pays local radio stations to merge together. What arts funder will be brave enough to propose the same model?
  • What arts organization would use local Google search result trends to drive their programming calendar?
  • There is a culture of craft in our midst, a renaissance of handmade goods. Where are our hand made (artistic) experiences?
  • What would this dinnervention look like, formatted instead as a presidential debate. Each of our POV on a litany of specific issues, with an opportunity to frame and rebut each other's assertions. There's a conference panel I'd like to see.
  • There will be a Massively Open Online Course this fall, using the 4th season of the Walking Dead to speak to physics, epidemiology, mathematics, and sociology. Where is our artistic MOOC?
  • The triumvirate of the Knight Foundation, Niemen Journalism Lab, and Poyntner Institute collective cover some of the most interesting experimentations and trends in the journalism world. Where are the large institutions taking risky leaps with outspoken words about what's working and not in the arts ecology?
  • In the technology world, the pro-am power dynamic is flipped. Facebook is run by a 29 year old billionaire. We trust Zuck, but not your interns?
Upon which, my flight landed in SFO. My incredibly patient driver navigated the dusty, windy, sun-drenched, and often unmarked roads to Djerassi, what must be one of the most beautiful places in the world for an artist to spend time creating."

Have a great week.

Don't Quit