Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year and Thank You

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

As I wish all of you a safe, sane, successful and joyous, healthy, prosperous new year, I want to extend my deepest appreciation for your continued support and kind and gracious feedback.

This has been a very good year for my blog.  Subscribers are up, independent page hits are up and readership is up.  The interviews posted here over the past year have garnered increased readership, the annual Top Fifty Most Powerful and Influential list and the annual What I Have Learned Blog compendium of advice and counsel from lessons learned have both continued to hit new highs, and the blogathons and guest conference reports are up as well.  And the Dinner-Vention 2 posts have had an even wider readership than last year.

Thank you all.

I've come to the conclusion that making year end predictions is beyond risky; it borders on folly.  Two polar opposite phenomenon are at play.  One: things change so quickly and so dramatically today, that it's virtually impossible to know what will happen; and Two: even with that accelerated change, in many ways, things hardly change at all.

If I were to hazard one guess at 2015, it would be that we are likely to see the floodgates begin to open on the exodus of the baby boomers from the leadership positions in the nonprofit arts, and that exiting is  likely to grow substantially over the next five years.  And that transition will have profound implications and impact for, and on, our field.

I'll be back after the first with new interviews, new blogathons this Spring and some new features.  I hope for your continued support and that you will perhaps even help me to increase the subscriber base further by recommending the blog to your colleagues and friends.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Twas the Night Before Christmas - Arts Edition

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

Twas the Night Before Christmas (nonprofit arts version)

Taking some liberties with the original:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not an artist was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that the grantmakers soon would be there;

The development directors were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of major grants danced in their heads;
And the Board Chair in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my laptop to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew for a look,
Tore open the browser and pulled up my Facebook.

The Twitter and Buzzfeed and Instagram posts
Gave a lustre of midday to all of our boasts,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,

With a little old driver so lively with thunder,
I knew in a moment he must be the Funder.
More rapid than conference goers his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Now, Equity! now, Data! now Stability and Vixen!
On, Placemaking! on, Engagement! on, Capacity and Blitzen!
To the top of the Dress Circle! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As arts organizations before the wild hurricane fly
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of artworks, and St. Nicholas too—

And then, in a tweeting, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and planning my next blog,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came like a log.

He was dressed all in stage costumes, from his head to his feet
And his clothes were all tarnished like butts in the seats;
A bundle of art he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a Kickstarter just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples like a donor!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a loaner!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And his beard was as long as our budgets are low;

The iPhone he held tight to his ear,
And the cries for his ending he failed to hear;
He had a little round belly that hung to his knees
And I just knew he believed in our arts advocacy.

He was chubby and plump, like a right jolly old E.D.,
And I laughed when I saw him, from what I could see;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Gave me to know my application had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, nothing was said,
But by the toys in the stockings, I knew he favored Arts Ed,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a cry,
Like the pleas to our audiences, our tickets to buy.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
"Indigo go "Ho Ho Ho" to all, and to all a good night!”

Wishing you all Happy Holidays

Don't Quit.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Clueless in Calcutta and the Plight of the Siloed, Solo Artist

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

I'd like to recommend to you a new novel by a long time friend of mine.  Content wise, it has nothing to do with our field (but as a project, it does), and I am writing about it for two reasons:  One I have known the author for over 40 years; he is one of my closest friends and I really loved the book (and if you can't help your friends, well………); and Two I'm fascinated by what he has tried to do to market his own work - much like so many of the artists we try to serve in our field.  My friend's effort is, for me as an observer, a first hand, up close and personal, attempt to navigate the marketing waters and to be creative in trying to 'stand apart' from everyone else.  And that is a challenge faced by artists of every stripe.

Clueless in Calcutta by Lou Vincent is a crazy romp - a combination of gonzo journalism meets the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera, with endearing, unforgettable characters, and an off the top, but not entirely implausible, plot of expats and senior citizens fighting the odds against the modern corporation guided by greed and the 'let the buyer beware' shield - all improbably set in Kolkata India where the hapless seniors are stuck.  Set just slightly in the future, the hero is a just out of law school lawyer, who just happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to President Barack Obama - on his way to India to what he only thinks is a relatively sure thing retainer, to help some people who got screwed by a major domo retirement community builder.  From the moment of his arrival almost nothing is as it seems, and virtually nothing goes according to plan. But for all the twists and turns and insanity, at heart it's really a sweet story - and a homage to the craziness that is modern India.  Mindless, escapist entertainment of the first order.  And very funny.

It would make a fabulous stage play or a Wes Anderson or Coen Brothers type movie, with shades of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - and it's right in that vein.  I can mentally cast it right now.  If those filmmakers are your cup of tea, then you'll probably like this book a lot.  If you're looking for some creative, left field escapist entertainment bound to leave a reader smiling - as a last minute Christmas present - or for yourself during the holidays when you might want to curl up for a day - I can recommend Clueless in Calcutta wholeheartedly.   Check it out on Amazon.

What's interesting to me is that, as a first time author, with virtually no chance of a major publishing house taking on his work, my friend has had to don the same hats most solo or contract type artists of any kind must adopt today - that of marketer, pr person, scheduler and salesman, distributor and more.  As a literary artist, his motivation was similar to all artists - he wanted to tell a story.  But as a 21st Century unknown first time author, he has had to do what many of those artists we try to serve have had to do.  He had to come up with ways to try to market his work.  And so he did.  Check out his -- entirely by himself --created website, humor testimonials, and even video pieces.  All very creative I think.  Today, every artist has to be a social media expert, a videographer, a publicist, and rack their creative brains to try to compete in a world where everyone and everything is competing for everyone else's finite attention spans.  And while they learn all those jobs, there is no guarantee they will succeed in widening the sphere of those even aware of their work; a big challenge we in our field can only hope to occasionally and marginally help to address with training and advice.   No matter how well we succeed in equipping artists to brave this new reality with skills and knowledge, and no matter how creative a marketer each of those artists may be, it's still largely a matter of the fates deciding their success.

I know this experience first hand.  I wrote a book several years ago entitled Hardball Lobbying for Nonprofits.  I was fortunate enough to land a major publisher - McMillan and Co.  But as an unknown author, I was hardly on the top tier of their priority marketing / promotion plans.  I basically had to market it myself in the earliest stages.  That's not uncommon in the publishing world today.  In fact, publishers look for whether or not you have a platform and can get the ball rolling in deciding whether or not they want to publish your work at all, and they certainly look for your initial success before they will commit to any effort on your behalf.   I suspect the same is true in any number of other creative / artistic pursuits.  An artist is not just an artist.  An artist is also a business person.

On the one hand technology has given artists a fighting chance to have their work out there in the marketplace.  On the other hand, technology has made it a challenge just to attract an even small niche. While technology has opened a door to an ever widening array of creative product, it has also made it harder for any of that product to find an audience.  And the same situation may apply not just to solo artists but for arts organizations presenting the work of artists - famous and not so.

The challenge for us is to identify even more ways and means we might be able to help artists, and there are scores of projects and programs we have developed that try to do just that.  Still, the solo artist remain siloed and must often rely on themselves to try to make headway - most without any kind of budget.  And the same is likely true of our organizations as well.  This challenge is likely one of the single greatest challenges artists on their own (and we who serve them) face today.

To all you amateur (and professional) authors and artists -- and to all of the organizations working on their behalf -- keep doing it.  Tell your story - whether in word, paint, dance, voice, music or otherwise.  Be your own marketers and pr people, sell it yourself and learn and have fun in the process.  And may the fates smile on all of you.

And check out Clueless in Calcutta.

Wishing the Happiest of Holidays to everyone.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reflections from the Conference for Community Arts Education from Talia Gibas

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

I wanted to attend last month's National Guild for Community Arts Education conference, and blog on it, but a conflicting schedule made that impossible.  I reached out to Guild Executive Director Jonathan Herman to see if someone on his staff might want to report on the outcomes.  I had in mind Heather Ikemire from the Guild, as I had long been an admirer.  But, of course, that was a really inconsiderate thought on my part, as Heather was one of the point people for all the planning and operations of the conference. Heather was kind enough to find me someone to report; and not just someone, but Talia Gibas, who to my mind is one of the best of the new cohort of arts administrator leaders on the horizon. Her work is impressive on multiple levels.   I am deeply grateful to Jonathan, Heather and especially Talia.

Here's Talia's bio:

Talia Gibas

Talia Gibas is Arts for All Manager at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and a member of the editorial team of Createquity, a research-backed investigation of the most important issues in the arts. Arts for All is the Los Angeles County arts education initiative dedicated to making the arts core in K-12 public education. Working closely with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Talia is responsible for arts education professional development programming for school district leaders. She also manages grant programs that support those leaders and connect school districts with teaching artists and arts organizations throughout the County.  With Createquity, she works to make high-value information and analysis about critical issues in our field available to current and emerging decision-makers across the sector.

Talia earned her A.B. in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities from the University of Chicago, and Ed.M in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  She currently serves on Americans for the Arts’s Arts Education Council. In her non-arts life, she is an avid endurance athlete and proud member of California Triathlon.

Here is Talia's informative personal report on this important conference:

Reflections from the Conference for Community Arts Education
By Talia Gibas

The National Guild for Community Arts Education recently held its 77th annual conference in Los Angeles, California. As a first-time attendee, I was asked to share personal reflections from the gathering, paying particular attention to high-level takeaways.  My observations are informed by my background, the difficult choices I made in attending sessions, and work commitments that required I miss highlights such as the conference keynote address. I was impacted nonetheless, and what follows is a synthesis of the big questions, concerns, and points of inspiration that remain weeks after the fact.

As you read, please keep a few things in mind about me:

 My expertise is in in-school arts education. I work for Arts for All, an initiative that supports school districts and arts organizations in their effort to strengthen arts education during the school day. Much of what was covered at the Guild focused on out-of-school time – new territory to me.

I heart data. A big chunk of my work is to support assessment and evaluation practice. I’m also a member of the editorial team of Createquity, a research-backed investigation of the most important issues in the arts. I believe strengthening our research and assessment practices can make things better for students.

I jumped around a lot. The conference offered several tracks to promote “field building.” One explored the Creative Youth Development movement (more on that later) and the other focused on teaching artist development and pathways. In an attempt to get outside my comfort zone while attending sessions that relate to my work, I charted a winding path that touched on a number of different themes.

The Color and Chaos of the Big Tent

Two things stand out as the most delightful aspects of the conference. The first was the opportunity to interact with an inspiring array of individuals who represented in school, out-of-school, and community practice. The second was the energy of the gathering. The conference theme, “catalyzing positive change through arts education,” resonated through an emphasis on social justice that ran through sessions, presentations, and informal conversations. We gathered during a fraught week. President Obama announced executive actions to change our immigration system. The conference plenary speaker, Ron Chew, took the stage with mixed emotion, noting he was the son of illegal immigrants. The grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, had not yet been announced, but hints of frustration and despair drifted in the air. I saw three people weep openly in sessions. Yet through it all was a palpable sense that we have a critical role to play in making change. More than anything, I appreciated the Guild’s efforts to demonstrate how our work pushes up against big, thorny issues.

Those efforts, set inside the colorful and chaotic tent of people who identify as “arts educators,” left me with a number of questions. To what extent can and should we seek firm definitions around and within the work that we call “arts education”? As a group, how do we come to consensus amidst competing – and sometimes dissonant – priorities? Do we even need consensus? And if we don’t, how do we make sure we learn from one another despite the pressures of time, funding, and occasional divergent ideology?

Firming up the Edges 

Many of these questions germinated during the first day of the conference, when I attended a full-day session on Creative Youth Development (CYD). A relatively new focus area for the National Guild, the core principles of CYD have been around for a while, but began to formalize last year during a national summit in Boston.

The summit, co-hosted by the Guild, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, generated a policy agenda and five broad priority areas:  building collective impact to improve youth outcomes; contributing to community development; facilitating social change and social justice; documenting and communicating program impact, and funding and sustainability. Long-term goals include aligning the efforts of CYD practitioners and illuminating work across the country. There was also, at several points throughout the session, mention of the possibility of unlocking “arts-adjacent funding.”

“Arts-adjacent funding” is an intriguing but awkward term, one that I think refers to money that currently supports youth social services. I say “I think” because while the CYD conversation had palpable energy throughout, it did not leave me with a clear understanding of what creative youth development is. When the session concluded my best guess was that it refers to programs that a) take place primarily outside of school, b) target adolescents and young adults, c) incorporate creative endeavors, and d) promote social change. The subtleties of the definition are still being worked out, and the role of social change appeared particularly contentious among session attendees. To some, framing CYD as a social change effort makes it distinctive and creates a home for arts organizations whose primary goals for youth are neither purely academic nor artistic. To others, the focus was unnecessarily exclusive. A community music school, for example, may not see social change as part of its mission, but believes it contributes to youth development. Shouldn’t there still be room for that school in the CYD movement?

We are an inherently welcoming and collaborative bunch, and putting firm definitions on things is not easy.  CYD may evolve into a commonly accepted label for a small but vibrant subset of our sector, or into a trendy term used to refer to pretty much any arts education program. With all due respect to organizations who worry they will “miss out” if their missions do not align with the CYD framework, I hope it is the former. Arts educators have an important role to play both inside and outside our outmoded systems of K-12 and higher education. Too many young people fall outside of or suffer through those systems. Engaging with them to build new and different safety nets is vital.

Conversations about CYD are exciting but underscore the need to create constructive boundaries while maintaining a commitment to open exchange. Other aspects of my conference experience, all against the backdrop of the national sociopolitical headlines of the week, reminded me how hard that can be.

From Rallying Cry to Next Step

At the closing awards luncheon, three young women from the wonderful local organization Get Lit delivered a powerful spoken word piece on the unconscious, ugly “truths” we reinforce for students every day. The performance punched us in the gut; then the lights came up and the rules of luncheon dictated it was time for chitchat and salad.

My bewilderment in that moment reminded me of a late night years ago when I finished the first draft of a piece of fiction I’d labored over for a month. The piece contained turns of phrase I loved, transitions I hated, and a good deal of rambling. I was at once anxious to keep working at it, and at a near-exhausted loss with where to start. Staring at the pages I could only think, “But… now what do I do?”

I doubt I was alone in my impatience. Given the state of our world, impatience -- not to mention frustration, or even anger – is a given. We know things need to be improved, and we know those improvements are urgent. How to reconcile urgency with pragmatism or thoughtful prioritization is something we all struggle with, illustrated by my mixed emotions moving from one focal point of my conference to another.

I balanced my sessions on creative youth development and social justice with sessions on student assessment and data-driven decision making. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I felt I was moving between two different conferences. The passion, excitement, and slippery definitions of the former were balanced with charts and graphs in the latter. By the time National Guild Service Award recipient Margie Reese, in the middle of a fervent call for us to “launch a revolution,” declared paying evaluation consultants to be an unconscionable decision when children have immediate needs, I realized research and assessment are still widely perceived as millstones rather than supports. “Data has been banged up a bit at this conference” one participant ruefully observed after the luncheon. I was left wondering how the sense of sincerity and spontaneity Margie recalled in talking about the civil rights movement can reconcile with the pragmatism and patience “data-driven decision making” implies.

To me, both derive from our natural impulse to ask questions – questions that challenge authority, the status quo, our own assumptions, or the assumptions of people who came before us. We must ask questions – thoughtful, probing questions—without falling into paralysis, and without waiting for some abstract sense of permission to do our work. Sometimes we seek the permission in the form of a glossy report; other times we wait for a broad consensus on the best way to move forward. As I noted earlier, however, consensus may not be possible in a tent as colorful and crowded as ours. Perhaps our challenge is not to move in lockstep together. Perhaps our work – and the role of organizations such as the National Guild – is to create meeting spaces where we can put creative pressure on one another. Our tent is a noisy, frayed space where we bump up against each other, look each other in the eye, and ask questions. New people enter, others leave, and some set up new camps next door. If it’s a chaotic space, fine. It’s still a place where we can imagine how to transform the field outside into a more vibrant and fertile place.

Thank you Talia.

Have a great week, and stay sane during the holidays.

Don't Quit

Monday, December 8, 2014

Reports on Alternative Venues, Eliminating Budgets in Grant Applications, and Thoughts from Thomas Cott

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

Several items this week that are well worth taking a look at:

I.  The James Irvine Foundation released a report last week entitled Why "Where"? Because "Who", authored by Brent Reidy of AEA Consulting, addressing the issue of alternate venues for the presentation of art, examining "why place has become an important variable for arts practitioners to consider as they chart a course for the future."

This is an outstanding contribution; well researched, well written. The tendency for most of us is to read the Executive Summary of these kinds of reports and often skip the rest.  That would be a mistake with this offering; there is a lot of meat here.  You really ought to take the time to read the whole thing.  Particularly prescient is the section on "context", making a convincing case "challenging the assertion that the trend towards presenting arts in "unusual spaces for new audiences" is a recent one.  In discussing 'placemaking' Mr. Reidy offers:

"An irony of these initiatives (towards the presentation of arts in "unusual" places) is that the places being creatively “made” have for much of the long history of the arts been primary sites for creative expression and engagement, and the public these projects reach was once less distant than it is today. The arts have not existed for eternity in stand-alone cultural facilities apart from our shared public life. In this respect, these efforts do not create a new paradigm, but rather restore one that was lost over the last two hundred years."

Bricks and mortar 'in-house' temples to the arts are the new development in arts presentation, not those venues we now think of as unusual.  As the arts shifted from being considered as the popular culture of the mainstream to being presented as "something to be worshipped in its own right", the arts moved away from the common venues of bars, taverns, public gardens and the like to what would soon become 'temples' where the power of the arts could be appropriately worshipped.  As we moved from art as something to "delight and wonder" audiences, to something to "educate and improve" audiences, that sacralization moved presentation further from the audience - a trend that seems to have plowed forward over the past fifty years.

And now we are again trying to consider what kinds of places might lend themselves to expanding a narrowing audience for art; where arts presentation might again find favor with a wider public - and in that pursuit the perhaps unspoken attempt to again allow the arts to simply entertain and be enjoyed without the requirement that the arts act as a moral compass or an attempt to represent some deep truth.

And why this shift?  Because the audiences have been shrinking. Because there is heretofore unheard of competition for the public's attention and interest.  Because, perhaps, the attitude that the arts are sacred, is seen as patronizing - at least by mushrooming populations.  But mostly because we are having a hard time surviving under that now dated rubric.

In some senses, presenting art in less formalized environments (e.g., outdoors or in public places) allows audiences the freedom they may have once enjoyed when art was presented in people friendly venues; audiences can eat and drink and talk among themselves and still enjoy and wonder at quality art - much like sports fans do when they attend sporting events.  The hallowed halls of our expensively built temples to our art has made it off putting to a lot of people.  It worked for us, but not, necessarily, for the wider audiences we wanted to share it with.  Anything outside those temple walls came to be considered as 'non-traditional".  And the truth is that any mission statement that confines its objectives to the presentation of the art to the true-believers in what are (only) now "traditional" places is a mission that is in trouble in today's world.

As the author argues:

"The word “nontraditional” is relational; it refers to something that is not traditional to some person or some group. In this case, the people who view some spaces as “nontraditional” are not the people to whom many of these efforts try to reach. The term is therefore self-defeating — it sets one up in opposition to the very audience one is attempting to cultivate."

The report goes on to consider the successes (and lessons learned) of ten individual organizations as case studies in exploring options for 'non-traditional' venues.  In arguing for an expansion of the 'places' art might be presented, Mr. Reidy offers six recommendations on moving forward:

1. Plan the approach. Just showing up isn’t enough. Successful efforts in new spaces that connect with new participants are often the result of many months of planning and engagement.

2. Share ownership. Invite communities to fully participate by sharing ownership. Don’t just go to new places to “give” art to the people there. Listen to that community and learn from it.

3. Partner up. Efforts of this type are enabled by a broad array of partnerships involving community groups and other local organizations, private businesses, donors and foundations.

4. Prepare to invest and adapt. This work is often labor-, time- and resource-intensive. Pursuing it may require rethinking programming, business models and funding.

5. Aim for engagement. This work is not about luring audiences back to a conventional venue. There may be some audience crossover, but project objectives should focus on engagement at the chosen locations, not hope for engagement somewhere else later on.

6. Open new doors. It’s not an all or nothing game. New sites have been successfully integrated as part of an organization’s total offering, the majority of which still occurs in less unusual places.

Placemaking has gained wide traction in our field based on the common assumption that the arts can play an instrumental role in defining and making meaningful 'place'.  This report intelligently suggests that 'place' itself plays an equally defining and meaningful role in the health of the arts.

Great report.

II.  The second report that caught my eye was on the GIA site:

Entitled:  "Why One Funder Eliminated Grantee Budgets to Improve Financial Due Diligence"

"The Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock on Long Island awards approximately $12 million annually to nearly 200 organizations nationwide. After working with a consultant to overhaul the financial component of its application process, the program eliminated requests for budgets last year. The Foundation Review published the case study titled, "In Other Words, the Budgets Are Fake: Why One Funder Eliminated Grantee Budgets to Improve Financial Due Diligence." Through this report, the Veatch Program proposes one model for reducing administrative burden on applicants while simultaneously getting a clearer picture of an applicants' financial well-being and capacity to fulfill project goals."
While this report will have particular meaning to funders, it ought to be read by rank and file arts organizations as well - as it examines the problems attendant to the lack of standards in budgetary preparation, having multiple budget approaches for multiple purposes and the confusion that results from unrealistic projections of income.  As a field, we really need to get a handle on our budgets and the financial health of our organizations those budgets purport to represent.

III.  Finally, here is a link to a brief interview with Thomas Cott - he of the highly regarded and widely praised You've Cott Mail blog (and if you don't subscribe to his blog, you really ought to).

We don't get enough of Thomas' own insights and thinking.  He is a very smart marketer and observer of the issues in our field.

Here's a sample:

Question:  "What do you see as the live entertainment industry’s biggest challenges?

TC: There are any number of challenges I could cite, but here are three big ones which I view as interrelated: (1) the marginalization of the arts, despite great public interest; (2) the conundrum of how to present performances on a set schedule in an “on-demand” world; and (3) the generally slow speed of change in the way the live entertainment industry works."

Happy reading.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Five Tips to Get Through the Holidays Productively

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

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are over.  And now we begin the holiday season.  And that means increasing pressures on limited time, and countless obstacles to productivity and to getting anything accomplished.

Here are five tips to get through the holidays on the business front (hopefully they will be helpful to you):

1.  Recognize and Accept the Reality that is the Season:  While a month seems long enough that we still have time to get through our end of the year TO DO lists, we really don't have a full month.  The reality is that business will be fairly normal for the next two weeks until around the 15th.  After that things will pretty much shut down as people turn their attention to travel arrangements, gift buying, holiday gatherings and anticipation of the new year. Work will go on of course, but attention spans will often be elsewhere.  Pressures on time will mount.  Last minute things will arise.  It will become increasingly harder to get anything done.  Understanding that reality and accepting what you cannot do anything about is key to getting something done during the next month, and positioning yourself for January 3rd.  Remember the Steinbeck quote from Of Mice and Men:  "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray".  Expect things to go differently than your plans - especially in terms of available time to do everything.  The world will still be here January 3rd  and so will most, if not all, the problems, challenges and things to get done that you don't get done by the end of the year  (and the reality is that work really begins again normally and in earnest the week following New Year's - not the day or two after).  That's ok.  Focus on the big stuff and get done what you can early in the month.  Don't expect that people will be as responsive to you during the season.  It just doesn't happen that way.   And two more things:  Take good care of yourself. Eat right and get sleep.  Getting sick in the holidays is a disaster.  And second, give yourself some time for yourself.

And while the holiday season is unkind to productivity, it nonetheless offers great value in winding down, networking with colleagues (old and new), taking stock and availing oneself of all the performances, exhibits, parties, dinners and celebrations.  Make the most of that.  But don't overdo it.

Finally, remember that it is easier to get finished with something if you break it up into smaller things that have to be done and concentrate on those - one at a time.  Here are a couple more tips from Daniel Pink:

1. "Honor the 2-Minute rule.
This one comes from the great David Allen, whose Getting Things Done methodology I’ve used for 15 years. In short, if you’ve got something to do that takes less than two minutes, do it right now.

2. Don’t waste your most productive hours.
A growing stack of research shows that each day, we reach our peak productivity a few hours after waking.  Don’t devote that window of time to checking email or playing around on social media. Use it to do your most important work."

2.  Prioritize Now:  Make two lists and do it today.  The first list is the things you absolutely must get done by the new year.  The second list are the things that, if you were to get to them, would make it so much easier to move forward on January 3rd.  Break down the first list into the things YOU have to do to get through that list, and the things you need OTHER PEOPLE to do if you are going to succeed.  Calendar what you need to do in the next two weeks.  Focus on the other people's work because if you can get from them what you need by mid-month, you can operate on the rest yourself during the last two weeks, when it will be axiomatically much more difficult to get others to finish their work. And don't be surprised when it is hard or impossible to get what you need from other people after the 15th. You will need to carve out as much uninterrupted time as you can to focus on what is on your priority lists after the 15th.  And if, by chance, you have a late December deadline that you just may not make -- notify those expecting something from you and try to negotiate a postponement.  You will go crazy if you end up with the old college standby of trying to pull an "all nighter" to meet a deadline.  (In my coaching sessions I advise people to never schedule a deadline for any important report, study, memo etc. between Thanksgiving and the New Year.)

3.  Minimize Meetings of all kinds:  Don't call any meetings yourself unless they are absolutely necessary, and beg off attending as many meetings called by others that you can.  If you have to schedule meetings, cut way back on the time they take.  If you need feedback and brainstorming ideas, try to get people to email you their brief and concise responses.  Be clear on what you need from others, but remember the pressures of the season impact us all.  Don't have unrealistic expectations of input from other people, but DO make unambiguously clear what you expect from staff subordinates and from co-workers alike.  Try as you will, you won't be able to squeeze 30 hours into a 24 hour day - though one wishes one could.

4.  Manage your communications:  Clean out your email box asap.  And do that daily.  Remember you don't have to respond to every email you get.  And the more emails you send, the more responses you will get.  Same with phone calls.  Cut back.  Way back.  Again, prioritize what information you need from others and what information you need to communicate to others.  The reality is that you don't have time to communicate as you normally do most of the year.  Forget social networking.  You've got to say NO to a lot of things.  The key is to focus on your lists.

5.  Plan out that first week in January now: Know in advance what you will need to do to begin the new year on the right foot.  Schedule essential contacts / meetings now that will be important for you then.  If you wait until January, you could easily waste an entire week just trying to schedule calls and meetings.  It will be much easier to do that now.  Put yourself in a position to be productive on your return to work.  Don't squander that first week or postpone things until the second week.  That is wasted and valuable time.

The holiday season can be stressful and exhausting. And its aftermath may be to make you feel as though you are behind on everything - and that's not good for your morale or for the morale of those who work for you or with you.  Forget New Year's resolutions.  Instead, resolve now to be really organized and productive for the next two weeks, and to position yourself to hit the ground running come January 3rd. And to the extent it is possible, try to get your subordinates and co-workers to adopt a similar attitude.

Good luck and enjoy your holidays.  And bear in mind that the holidays, and all their ups and downs, will pass.  Keep your perspective.

Have a productive week.

Don't Quit

Monday, November 24, 2014

You Can't Always Get What You Want

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

I always enjoy reading Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 blog.  While her focus is on museums, I more often than not find her thinking and ideas are applicable to wide areas of our field, and I invariably come away from her posts with new thoughts of my own about the issues for arts managers across our sector.

A couple of weeks ago in a post she noted that she is "part of a cohort of ten arts organizations in California funded by the Irvine Foundation to strengthen our work to engage low-income and ethnically-diverse people. We meet in person twice a year. These are all really smart, dedicated people, and I feel lucky to learn from and with them."  And she recapped three presentations that resonated with her.

One of those she described this way:
"Michael Garces (Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theater) shared about a killer workshop that made him completely rethink how collaboration is supposed to work. We usually think about collaboration as a process of compromise and negotiation. But Michael suggested that collaboration really means "You get 100% of what you want. I get 100% of what I want. And we work really hard to make it work."

For a long time, I thought that many of us, in relatively privileged positions, could, in fact, almost always get "what we want".  To be sure, one would have to pay the price for getting what we want - and that price was invariably the sacrifice of many other things as the pursuit demanded that we embrace a single-minded hyper focus on getting what we want to the exclusion of much else.  I still think that is largely true.  The problem is that often the sacrifice is too costly.

But like the Rolling Stones early song lyric:  "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need", I have come to the conclusion that a better approach is to focus not so much on what you want, but on what you actually need (to survive, to thrive, to grow, to make it all work).  What you want and what you need are not necessarily always the same thing.  What you need may be far more crucial to your goals and objectives than what you want, and trying to always get what you want may thwart getting what you need.

One has to ask the question of the relevancy and direct connection between what you want and what you need and which is the crucial variable in success.  It may also be much easier to get what you need than what you want, particularly if you develop the skill of recognizing what others may need, and approaching any negotiation - be it for collaboration or otherwise - (and all relationships are a negotiation of one form or another) with the goal of making sure all the parties get (not what they want) but what they need to make it work for them.  The process of thinking through what it is that you really need to make something work is, in itself, invaluable in helping you define what it is you need, and getting it. And knowing what the other party needs and helping them to get it can make the relationship more meaningful and successful.  In some sense, getting what you need ought to be what you want.

It would be a perfect world if all sides in any relationship could always get what they want, but I think those situations are rare. I'm not criticizing any approach that might actually yield that result, and perhaps some collaborations or other situations lend themselves to that kind of an outcome, but many more do not.  And in those other situations (which I think are probably in the majority), I think a focus on what you need and what the other party or parties need stands the better chance of making the collaboration or situation work.  If that dovetails with what each party wants, great, but it may be an unreasonable expectation going in.

Have a great week.  And Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What I Have Learned - 2014 Edition

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

Every year I invite some of the leaders in our field - those with some life and career experience - to share some of What They Have Learned that they think might be of value to the rest of us. And every year I am struck by how wise and caring are those in our field.  This exercise is yet another one of those things that make me so very proud and honored to be involved in the nonprofit arts.

Here are the entries from this year's invited group:

Moy Eng - Executive Director, Community Arts Stabilization Trust
I’ve learned how important it is to listen and to be listened to. I’ve learned that you can endure almost anything when you are hopeful and are loved. I’ve learned that it takes working smart, steadily, and very hard to follow your dream. I’ve learned (as Maya Angelou noted) that making a living is not the same as making a life. I’ve learned how important it is to take care of one’s self, more than a once-a-year vacation.  I’ve learned that enduring love at its core is kindness. I’ve learned the importance of touching beauty each day.  I’ve learned to thank those who have helped me along the way by staying in touch and returning that gratitude by helping others. I’ve learned the older I get, the more I realize how little I know and how much I have to learn. I’ve learned that when your heart and mind are in concert on a matter, you can leap into it with an open heart.

Ted Russell - Senior Program Officer for the Arts - James Irvine Foundation
As things move more quickly and my work becomes more complex and challenging, I see how important it is to value openness and honest expression. Working feverishly to launch a new initiative with grantees, evaluators, grants administrators, my fellow program officers, a program director and numerous consultants chaotically collaborating to create new moving parts to be assembled while the proverbial plane is flying, we all find it easy to criticize when the object of concern is not present. I decided at the beginning of the year to invite people to speak these criticisms, out loud, and directly to each other. It was too exhausting being the gentle translator in the middle.

So after the holidays, when the first waves of complaint began to arrive upon my doorstep, I saw in the returning flood of discord an opportunity to preserve for myself a bit of harmony.

I declared the New Age of Candor.

To improve the imperfections with polish of truth. To reward rigorous critique and invalidate callous carping. To resolve the tensions, the endless multitude of inevitable tensions, with candor.

We've all heard that the truth will set you free. I didn't know that meant during my day job in philanthropy.

Seriously, this is simple and practicable. This is how it works for me. Someone is criticizing about someone else's theory, policy, word choice, big mistake, whatever...and as the project lead I'm supposed to fix it. So here's the fix: candor. The operative question is, "would you mind talking to them and saying that?" When asking the criticizer that question starts to make me nervous, I know there's something at stake. And I do it anyway. Because for me, the work is too important, too challenging, too constantly uphill, too hard to sustain, to not ask for some truth sharing.

Last year, I was trying too hard to figure out how to explain difficult to understand things to other people and to decide which competing truths were truer. Now I know there's too much to be done for me to tie myself up in that role. Plus, I don't think it is good for one's health. Did I mention that it's exhausting? People tend to be more honest intellectually, and a little more kind, when sharing their critiques directly. The critiqued can't simply snipe in return when the mediator moves out of the way and the critic steps into the open and plainly shares their concerns. I'm convinced that all gain respect for each other...because usually, with the smart and thoughtful people undertaking this work, an honest response results. And the work improves.

The New Age of Candor. Consider this an invitation, your free trial offer. Enter it gently, with someone you trust. Ask your friend, the complainer, to go direct. You just might never go back to the old age.

Doug Borwick - CEO, ArtsEngaged; Author “Engaging Matters” (ArtsJournal), Building Communities, Not Audiences: The Future of the Arts in the United States
I am in grave danger of getting way too carried away with this topic. That said, here is some of what I have learned:

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Most people are reasonably good at more than one skill. Letting “should” force you into joyless tasks is soul killing, and, in the long run, counter-productive.

Work on those things the world most needs done and you most need to do.
The choice of activity in which to invest oneself is best found in those things that maximize benefit to the world and to your satisfaction.

“Crises” may resolve themselves if benign neglect is applied.
I am predisposed to “do.” It took holding positions in which too much was coming too quickly for me to learn that some “emergencies” are inappropriately labeled. Patient non-response is sometimes the solution.

Privilege is systemic and an existential threat to the nonprofit arts industry.
As recently pointed out in this blog, the time for viewing diversity and justice as “challenges” is past. They must become obsessions for practical (e.g., demographic) and moral reasons.

There is no “them.”
Every habit of thought and action that leads to a separation of “us” from “them” is an impediment to viability in the arts sector. We are integral parts of our communities.

Excellence is heterogeneous.
Technique is important in the arts. So are relevance, inclusiveness, and impact–to name only a few additional criteria. Excellence is best sought in everything that matters but can seldom be achieved in all categories in equal measure.

Relevance is vital and defined by beneficiaries.
Relevance is critical to the long-term viability of the nonprofit arts industry. It determines the level of public support; and it is the public, not ourselves, that is the arbiter of relevance.

Olga Garay English - Consultant
Before I entered the arts field, back in the mid-80s, I had been director of the Center for Rural Education at Florida International University. The Center was piloting a program, based on Brazilian educator and philosopher Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, to teach adult farmworkers literacy and English language skills.

Though deemed successful by independent evaluators, as soon as Ronald Regan came into power, the grants that sustained the Center were summarily pulled. And having only recently received my Masters in Community Psychology, I needed a job.

That was when I saw an ad in the Miami Herald (remember when jobs were posted in the newspaper?) for a new program launched by the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council and funded by a collaboration from the NEA’s Expansion Arts and Local Arts Agency programs to incentivize local arts agencies to create expansion arts programs (for the uninitiated that was the term used for what was then called minority arts).

I applied (as did another 100 or so folks) and Kenneth R. Kahn, Executive Director of the Council and soon my mentor, took a chance on this Cubanita and offered me the job. As they say, the rest is history.

So what have I learned? The mid-80s were a heady time for people of color. The NEA had taken a leadership role in bringing people of color on to their many peer review panels and discussing inclusivity and parity during heated discussions as a means of supporting culturally specific organizations, which had not been faring well in the awarding of NEA (and other) grants. Soon after I got the Council job, I was serving on said panels as well as participating in other national and later international forums.

What I learned is that in order to be counted, you have to be present. You have to participate in the national/international dialogue. You have to raise your voice for what you believe in, even if you are leaving behind your comfort zone, and to do so in an articulate but insistent way. And you have to believe and to care about the field and artists first and foremost – even before you consider your own institution and your own career. And it is especially important, when you are given the weighty responsibility to shepherd the resources of a foundation or a government entity supporting the arts that it is not YOUR money that you are shepherding. I have always considered myself, in the end, a civil servant – emphasis on both the civil and the servant parts. This keeps one both humble and honest, critical components of leadership in my book.

This stance is often laced with risk – personal and professional, as the defenders of the status quo do not take kindly to being challenged. However, it is the only way I can be, and all I wish is that in the end this way of being has led to the creation of programs and opportunities that matter to artists and the arts organizations that I continue to serve.

Ken Foster - Director Arts Leadership Program, Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California
Shibboleth [shib·bo·leth (noun)] a common saying or that is widely used or a belief that is widely held, especially one that interferes with somebody's ability to speak or think about things without preconception.

In more than thirty years of working in the nonprofit arts, directing the activities of five different organizations, large and small, urban and rural, from east to west coast and in between, I have been witness to the many trends in the arts that overtake us from time to time. I have watched -­‐ and fully participated I have to admit -­‐ as an idea emerges, gains widespread acceptance and becomes seemingly ubiquitous. At that point, it almost always also becomes a shibboleth: a clichéd truth repeated by many with great authority as if it were received wisdom that interferes with pour ability to think critically about what is really going on.

If I’ve learned anything over the last thirty years, it’s to not trust these shibboleths of the arts field. Indeed the more I hear an arts shibboleth repeated, the more likely I am to question it as well as the person repeating it. I do this not to be contrary, but to do what I can to insure that as leaders in the arts world, we operate from a place of thought, inquiry and examination. Just like artists do.

There are several shibboleths out in the field just now. So let me take this opportunity to question and challenge a few of them in the hopes that you will begin to do the same.

The nonprofit model is dying/dead – I don’t think so, though many are calling for its demise as if that would somehow solve some problem. I actually think the nonprofit model has been misused and misunderstood for so long that it seems like it should die. Not me.

Being a nonprofit is actually pretty simple – have an educational/cultural mission, create a Board of as few as three people, incorporate, file a 990. Oh, and return any excess revenue over expense back into the organization, not into shareholders’ pockets. That’s pretty much it. The rest is up to you to make work in ways that are right for you, your organization and your mission. Why would we abandon this model for the supposed virtues of the for-­‐profit model and its narrow focus on creating profit and gaining market share, values that hold true even for the much-­‐ vaunted “double bottom line” organizations?

Being a non profit does not mean committing yourself to a life of helplessness -­‐ begging rich people and cold hearted foundations for money as you work long hours for little pay and even less result. It means caring deeply about a cause and using your passion and creativity, as an artist would, to achieve that vision using whatever tools are available to you, which by the way are many and varied. Even when you are a nonprofit. I think we should stop decrying the form and figure out how we can make it work better for us.

Arts organizations should behave more like a business – After thirty plus years of believing and assiduously following this shibboleth, arts organizations generally find themselves in worse financial positions today than ever. The sad reality is that many arts organizations have actually achieved this goal and, as we saw when the Great Recession hit, realized that in so doing, we had successfully made our organizations – and our art -­‐ as disposable a commodity as toothpaste and toilet paper. When the chips were down in 2009, few people felt the need to insure that the arts thrived above all else. While we believe in our hearts that a civilized society requires the arts, we behave in our organizations as if they are a “product” to be bought and sold, consumed and disposed of when they were no longer useful.

It’s going to take a lot of work to turn this around, that’s for sure. Re-­‐creating our relationship with our communities is probably the most important step here; embedding ourselves in the life of the community so that citizens recognize that the arts are as vital to a healthy life and a healthy community as police, fire, libraries, healthcare, utilities etc. And I don’t mean “dumbing down” the art to do this -­‐ which is the most often cited excuse (and is itself another shibboleth) for not engaging with community. I mean entering into a respectful dialogue with all parts of our community and working with them (not just talking at them) to discover how the arts can transform their lives, just as it has ours.

This is key to addressing a related shibboleth that I find particularly egregious which is that “there is too much art out there” and that the problem is oversupply and lack of demand. Even if you accept this, which I don’t, the solutions are always couched in terms of reducing the supply – “letting organizations fail” – a topic recently explored in the blogosphere. Let organizations fail? As if there aren’t enough failing on their own already? Maybe it’s time to think about how organizations can revitalize themselves and their mission in ways that make them indispensable to the larger community and not just the group of friends and “people like us” that they may have relied on for too long.

As long as we continue to believe that “art is a business” we will be stuck in the losing “art as product” paradigm. But once we truly believe that art matters to humanity and is vital to creating a healthy community, we can begin to find ways to insure that art and artists can thrive, even in what feels like a largely hostile environment.

For success, find and adopt “best practices” – There are in fact no such thing as “best practices” in a field of creativity and change. There are certainly successful organizations who have used specific strategies to achieve that success. And of course, we can learn (and steal) ideas, techniques, strategies, systems and yes, even “practices” from other successful organizations. But only if these are actually the right answer for you and your organization and not because someone (who are these people anyway?) deemed it a “best practice.”

This shibboleth also contributes to the all too common mindset that somewhere out there someone has it figured out and if we did what they did we would be successful too. Interestingly, we criticize artists for being derivative, but as organizations we are nothing but derivative -­‐ suspicious of originality and new, untested ideas. After all, these are not “best practices.” This is a way of thinking that needs to change. Arts organizations should be as risky, innovative and exciting as (guess what) artists are.

People in the nonprofit arts need to strive for work-­‐life balance. Um, no, not really. This idea feeds into the neoliberal construction that has encompassed our world that equates the economy with life. Think about it. Work-­‐life balance means equating work with, well everything else. Life. Seriously?

Working in the arts does tend to be a calling, not a job, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Nonprofits are mission driven so the people running them should be mission driven as well. If you are here simply because it’s a “good job” you are in the wrong field. That said, we do tend to take on the “martyr to the cause” role which is not healthy either and leads to the burnout that has generated this very popular work-­‐ life balance shibboleth.

I prefer to think of work/life integration – that my personal life and needs are integral to my sense of my self, as is my work, and I need to find ways to integrate the multiple aspects of my life, including work, into a life that is well lived. The only person asking you to sacrifice everything to the nonprofit cause is yourself. Get over it. Create a meaningful life that includes all the things that matter to you. Otherwise why bother?

These are just a few of the shibboleths that are out there and I’m happy to say that they also form some of the cornerstone ideas of the curriculum and content of the Graduate Arts Leadership Program that it has been my privilege to originate and operate at USC in Los Angeles. It is unlike any other similarly named program in the country. We strive mightily to encourage participants in the program to question everything – especially those shibboleths that get in your way and tell you can (or can’t) do something that matters to you and to our world.

As is probably evident by now, I find inspiration in artists: creative individuals and collectives who follow their passion wherever it takes them, who thrive on innovation and originality and abjure work that is derivative and who create a complicated but rewarding life for themselves. As arts leaders, arts administrators, cultural practitioners, whatever we call ourselves, shouldn’t we do the same?

Linda Essig - Professor, Pave Program, Arts Entrepreneurship, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University
Thank you for the opportunity to participate.  You’ve posed a HUGE question, but I opted for thinking fast (intuitively) rather than thinking slow (rationally) and jotted down five “first thoughts” while on a plane.  [Bonus entry: a lot of good thinking can happen on long plane rides.]

Learning is (or should be) a lifelong endeavor; it is necessary to always be learning in order to lead, facilitate, and manage change and complexity.

We live and work in a climate that is rapidly changing both literally and figuratively.  Working in the arts and culture sector requires a commitment to always be learning. This does not mean always following the latest fads or trends, but rather always be open and willing to learn deeply about the issues that will affect the work, the people who make it, and the people who participate in it in myriad ways.  We live and work in a complex market-driven economy; whether you want to exploit that system or subvert it and beat it into submission, learn as much as you can about it.
Prioritize and honor relationships with individual human people ahead of honoring relationships with the work itself or the organization.

This is not a clichéd statement about “work/life balance,” but rather about the fact that people want to collaborate with people, donors want to give to people, and it is people who are in our audiences. Organizational structures matter, yes, but people matter most.  Build one-on-one relationships; pick up the phone even when an email will do; better yet, grab a cup of coffee or a meal together.

“NO” is an exercise of power, but “YES” is an exercise of empowerment.
Find a way to say “yes;” empowering others will empower you and support creativity.

The audience/community is the artist’s most important collaborator.
Nobody likes playing to an empty house and paintings piling up in the proverbial dusty garret help nobody, most especially not the artist. Artists can make work that is both for themselves and for their audience/community.  This is true in the classroom too: my students are my most important collaborators in their learning (and in mine).

To get to the point of collaboration, the community needs to invite you in.
Collaboration is a bi-directional or multi-directional relationship. An artist can’t “go into a community” or “have access to a community” unless they are invited in or generously given that access.

Kary Schulman - Director, Grants for the Arts, San Francisco, CA
What I’ve Learned: A random list of 15 aphorisms, most having no specific reference to the arts, developed over 40 years of working in arts administration and funding, and one piece of advice from an obscure U.S. President.

1. Leadership is to an arts organization what location is to real estate. If you have it not much else matters; if you don’t have it, not much else matters.

2. Whoever cares the most, wins. A small number of tenacious and highly motivated people can overcome/thwart the wishes of large numbers of adversaries with less-strongly held convictions
3. In times of plenty, plan for scarcity. In times of scarcity, plan for plenty.

4. Freely give credit and gratitude; be more parsimonious with blame.

5. If possible, try not to find reasons why things can’t happen. If possible, always try to find ways to make things happen.

6. When in an adversarial situation, try to find the smartest and most eloquent adversary. Your ideas are stronger after testing against the best opponents.

7. Never make excuses. Own your mistakes.

8. In a job candidate: The right attitude, energy and chemistry are generally more important than specific skills. A talented generalist can learn to do almost anything.

9. When someone says, “It’s not about the money.” It’s usually about the money.

10. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.

11. Partner relationships are important; important relationships are often with unlikely partners.

12. When asked about “cultural competency”, it occurred to me that “cultural humility” might be more appropriate.

13. The only law that’s always followed, never broken, is the Law of Unintended Consequences. (I’ve learned this from over 30 years of working in government).

14. Long ago I was given very good advice by a supervisor. He said, “Don’t do anything stupid just because you’re following your own rules.

15. All change is not “reform”.

And finally some advice attributed to Calvin Coolidge (possibly apocryphal): If you see six or seven big and overwhelming problems rolling down the hill toward you, rather than tackling all sometimes it’s better to stand still and take a breath. Often some of them will roll on their own into the ditch and then you can deal with the ones that are still coming.

Diane Ragsdale - Blogger Jumper
What have I learned in the past 20 years that seems worth sharing?

For 15 of the past 20 years my life centered on work and, as a result, when I encountered periods when I was without work I lost all sense of contributing anything of value to the world. And I was lonely. Work in various art worlds brings social and cultural capital and, when both are rising, one’s life can feel incredibly rich and rewarding. However, it’s important to have a sense of self separate from work and relationships in this world, as both can disappear in an instant.

When you finally get a seat at the table resist the temptation to start speaking immediately and loudly. Listen for a period of time. When you have the opportunity to share your thoughts, speak clearly, courageously, and with all due respect. On the flip side, after you’ve been at the table for years, and the field has heard your two cents on all the issues of the day and then some, don’t make others wrestle the talking stick out of your hand. Pass it along willingly and use your influence in the field to advance others.

Know which art forms, artists, genres, or styles you really love and which you do not. In other words, have a point of view about art. What’s your aesthetic? Can you write an essay on it? Can you name five composers, playwrights, directors, choreographers, or visual artists who interest you greatly? Do you know why they interest you? No matter your job in the arts and culture sector, make it a goal to cultivate and develop your aesthetic sensibility over time.

Make time to read some of the seminal memoirs, histories, research reports, and journal articles that have been published in your field over the past 30-50 years. If you don’t know where to start, ask a mentor for a reading list. If you don’t have a mentor, get one. As someone who has been immersed in the history of the resident theater movement for five years I can attest to the value of studying history, and talking to those who made it, in order to better understand the challenges of today and possible ways forward.

Cultivate your inner philosopher and make time to daydream. For as long as I can remember I have made it a habit to carve out time every week to, basically, think. Sometimes this is focused pondering—mapping a problem to work through it logically; and sometimes this is staring out a window and allowing my mind to roam freely. Many problems can be solved and ideas generated with an hour spent doing either.

Related to the last point, I chuckle today at dilemmas that stole entire nights of sleep when I was in my 20s and 30s. Some of this is my personality but it’s also true that with experience comes perspective. The longer you do anything the more you realize that even the most difficult problems often can be resolved if addressed (ideally, as soon as they are recognized). If you feel in over your head reach out to others and ask for guidance. The outcome may not always be the one you hoped for, but life will go on and you will be OK.

If you gain your street cred in the field as the cheeky wunderkind or fighter-of-the-establishment (and this is how many reputations are made) then the skills, tactics, personality, and behaviors that you cultivate early in your career may work against you once you find yourself in a position of authority within the establishment. You may need to shift from pay-attention-to-me mode to listen-and-learn mode. You may need to cultivate grace.

I’ve learned that I am impatient, with myself and others. This may be the flipside of being someone that generally can be counted on to deliver; but it also creates unnecessary stress in the workplace. I want to do great work and I want to be a decent human being; however, these goals can be in conflict. Walking the tightrope between them is one of my challenges. These days I try to recognize immediately when I’m sacrificing relationships to performance at work and make a course correction. One of the greatest things you will learn as time goes by is who you are, what makes you tick, your best and worst qualities (often flipsides of the same coin), the roles you perform well, and those you perform poorly. Put this information to good use and your life will be better for it.

Gary Steuer - President, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
1)      Fully engage your team in the process and the objective, not just their task. In my first job out of college, working as an aide to a United States Congressman (began as an intern and eventually joined the staff where I served for three years), the Congressman’s Chief of Staff went out of his way to explain to me how every task I was assigned, no matter how seemingly trivial or menial, contributed to a larger agenda. It would have been very easy for him to simply assign me a research project, or ask me to draft a press release. Instead he would make me feel valued and would give me the context I needed to both feel motivated in implementing my task, and to feel a part of the bigger picture. He was also a brutal but kind editor, often making me re-do a piece of writing a dozen times before it was finally acceptable. But along with the criticism came explanation of why sentences did not work, why points were not made effectively. This approach to supervising staff and building a sense of shared commitment to a vision, and to excellence, has always stayed with me. I also learned the lesson to respect and nurture everybody, including junior staff and interns.

2)      When you get to a position of leadership, being liked all the time is no longer possible. As you are working your way up in a career it is easy – and valuable – to always be part of the club of colleagues where possible. It has been my experience that while assholes and backstabbers may flourish in the short term, their duplicity and lack of humanity virtually always comes back to undermine them at some point, especially in a field like the nonprofit arts. However, when you get to be an ED or CEO, it just is no longer possible to be “part of the gang”. You will have to make tough calls about budgets and allocation of resources, about hiring and firing and compensation, and a little bit of distance from your team is essential. That does not mean you can’t be a good, humane, honest person, and have that be a part of your leadership style. The best illustration of this I saw was in a leadership training based on Shakespeare run by Tina Packer of Shakespeare and Company in Massachusetts and John Whitney (former CEO of Pathmark). They co-authored a book called “Power Plays – Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management” and taught a companion course at Columbia B-school. When I was running the Arts & Business Council we ran a televised series of arts and business forums, and they did a condensed version of one of their classes for a corporate audience for one of our forums, using live Shakespeare & Company actors. One of their Lessons used Henry V to illustrate that as young Hal grew into King Henry he had to leave behind Falstaff as part of his growth into leadership. The transition, while painful to both, was important to King Henry being respected as a leader and not distracted by Falstaff’s influence. It doesn’t mean you can’t go out for a beer with your staff now and then, but a little distance is not a bad thing…

3)      We are running businesses about changing the world for the better through the arts and that must be reflected in our values and our organizational structures. Having spent a good part of my career in arts management, policy and philanthropy at the intersection of the arts and business, I have had the benefit of observing lots of corporations in action, getting to understand their values and corporate culture. A number of years ago at an Alliance for Nonprofit Management conference, Paul Light of the Brookings Institute gave a keynote talk where he pressed back on the common nonprofit language of how we need to be more “businesslike,” to emulate the organization, rigor and strategic focus of the for-profit sector. He noted that increasingly the most successful companies were, in fact, more “non-profit-like” in that they were driven by a desire to improve people’s lives, and value and respect their employees. In fact this trend has only accelerated. Look at Google, Tom’s Shoes, the rise of B-Corps. Yet many nonprofits – including arts groups – seem to try to model themselves on IBM from the 50’s, with strict hierarchies, rigid approval and decision-making protocols, departments, org charts, job titles, etc. Let’s be humane, let’s adopt structures that are right for what we do. We are supposed to be creative – let’s be creative in how we manage as well. Let’s offer great benefits and reasonable compensation to our employees, and if that means a smaller team for now, or fewer productions or exhibitions, so be it. In the long run, that team that is valued and treated as such WILL lead to success, and ultimately better and more artistic output.

4)      Increase your tolerance for risk. No organization has ever become successful always playing it safe, nor has any leader. Yet I feel too many arts groups (and too many arts leaders) have operated in a way that is more about self-preservation than anything else. I have learned – both through success and failure – that we must learn to be risk-takers, to be bold. It may sound trite, but failure done right is a learning opportunity, and will lead to more success in the future. (AKA the start-up mantra: “fail faster.”) We must guide our boards to understand this as well. It has always astonished me how high level corporate leaders – who in their own work deeply understand the risk/return ratio – become too timid and risk averse in their trustee role, afraid somehow that failure will reflect on them, or put more pressure on them as trustees to plug the resulting hole. Of course, all risks should be taken with careful planning, and not done recklessly, but lack of certainty about an outcome should not preclude us from action. And, as I have written about before, when arts organizations have lost their artistic energy, let’s not be timid (as managers, trustees and funders) about engineering a graceful exit and moving on. Restaurants open and close all the time, and we still have an ample supply of food.

Judith Jennings - retired Executive Director of the Kentucky Foundation for Women
What I learned About Work/Life Relationships, Being Real and Having Fun

Five years ago, at age 62, I made it my mission to retire by 65. I liked my job a lot, and truly loved many aspects of it. Yet because both my parents had died in their mid-50s, I knew that being able to retire shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Rather, retirement should be planned for, and, well, seized. Three years later, in 2012, I had achieved my necessary financial goals, and I had served the foundation as Executive Director for almost 14 years. I cheerfully informed the foundation’s Board of Directors that I would like to retire at the end of December 2013.

That didn’t happen. Although my title was Executive Director, that did not mean I could always control my work life.  Unbeknownst to me then, my stated intention to retire began a process, both painful and liberating, of pealing off layers of perspectives and practices accrued by me and around me in my position as ED since 1998.  These kinds of accrued perspectives and practices are not always captured in Board meetings or in performance evaluations and can, therefore, go largely unexamined.  So I, and I daresay several other KFW community members and observers, learned a lot over what turned out to be a nearly two-year process of preparing for my departure.

In March 2014, the foundation announced my retirement and commenced a search for a new Executive Director.  On June 30, 2014, I retired at age 66, only six months behind schedule. But, ah, how much learning had transpired! In hopes that my experiences may benefit others, here are my top three lessons learned.

1. Work and life really are all about relationships.

Work relationships, including staff, Board and peers can be warm and friendly, to be sure, but what happens when they are time limited?  Short answer for me: the basis of these relationships became a lot more clear.  As the retirement clock ticks down, it becomes joyfully or painfully apparent which relationships are based on shared values, common goals and mutual respect and which derive from real or perceived positional power and authority. My impending retirement made the nature of the relationships clear, but maybe I could have been more discerning sooner?  (See learning 2)

And what about the web of every day relationships based on your place of employment: the parking lot attendant, security guard, maintenance man, cleaning woman, barrista and lunch server that you interact with weekly? What happens when these contacts become time limited? Short answer for me:  I told them how much I appreciated them and wished I had done that sooner.

And then there are your family members and dear friends.  Of course, they know you love and care for them. They understand that you are very busy and may only have time to talk to them on the weekend or even only once a month or so, right?

Since my retirement, I have spent quality time with my great nephew at the beach, gone to music class for babies and toddlers with a former colleague and sat outside a French café all afternoon on a pretty day with a dear friend. I see now that it is important to practice, not just say, that family and friends should come first because in truth, they do. Family and friends are way more important than whatever work-related task you may think you have to do first.

2. Keep it real

I was aware of and wrote about this before, but it became more obvious as I retired and bears repeating.  There are some occupational hazards of being in the field of philanthropy, and a big one is staying grounded and keeping it real. Those of us who came to philanthropy from low-income backgrounds are especially aware of how having money or access to money can have both good and bad effects. Learning number one  above was about the effect of access to money on other people. This learning is about the importance of self-awareness when practicing philanthropy.

Also, as funders we can sometimes get mixed up and think that grant money is what is most important for making art or creating social justice. But really it isn’t. People make art and work to advance social justice because of their values and their goals.  Grant money is a good thing, usually, but it is an effect and not a cause of creativity, hard work and dedication to justice.

Another variation on keeping it real is seeing how courtesy has become a commodity in our consumer culture. Like when the airline agent wishes you a good day after telling you your flight was just cancelled. When you no longer work in philanthropy, it is easier to keep it real by being yourself and also practicing courtesy as a human connection and not a transaction.

3. Have fun  

I was fortunate enough to participate in the Shannon Leadership Institute a few years back, and my group leader was the legendary Ronnie Brooks. At our closing party. one of the group members asked Ronnie if she liked to have fun.  Ronnie thought a minute and said, “if by having fun you mean engaging in mindless frivolity, the answer is no.” I actually like occasionally engaging in mindless frivolity (and may have been doing so at the time), but that is not what I am talking about here.  I mean the type of fun that Ronnie would approve of where you are your best and most relaxed self, maybe laughing with a dear friend. savoring the moment and not worrying about what might have gone wrong beforehand or what you have to do when your time of enjoyment is over.

After I retired on June 30th, I treated myself to a three-week “liberation tour” in Spain and France.  In those beautiful countries, I practiced being present and living in the moment.  I promised myself I would do the same when I came home to Kentucky. My first week at home, I happily went to the Farmer’s Market in my neighborhood on a Monday morning. I bought some beautiful tomatoes.  I was so proud of my retired self.

Then I realized I could have gone to the Farmer’s Market any Monday before that. I just didn’t take the time. Having fun means taking the time to do things you care about, being real and connecting with friends and family. But you don’t have to wait until you retire to do that.

Dennis Scholl - Vice-President, Arts, Knight Foundation
I have spent the last 35 years as a patron, a collector and recently as a philanthropist. Cheering on creators from the sidelines and providing support, but not experiencing what it takes to be an artist. All that changed for me in the last few years, when I began to make documentary films about the arts, where I was responsible for the creative content and subject to audience and critical response.

I became an artist.

This year, I debuted my first feature length documentary, “Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound” at the SXSW Film Festival, an as we approached the screening, I felt the weight of the creative process.

I began to learn how damn hard it is to make anything of worth. I had no idea how many decisions go into the creative process. While I surround myself with a team of talented people, I still felt the burden of the result on my shoulders. I also wanted, so much, to make a good film, to honor the subjects of the film, amazing soul musicians from the 60s who had been forgotten over the last 50 years.

So my big lesson this year has resulted from moving from the sidelines to the playing field. I don’t think I will ever view the creative process in the same way. I’ve learned to be a lot more empathetic toward my arts grantees. And for a philanthropist, that is a pretty good lesson.

BARRY:  And searching on the internet, I came up with these lessons learned that I thought of value to all of us:

Maya Angelou
“I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life. I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life." I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one. I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I've learned that I still have a lot to learn. I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Sean McCabe (found on Quora)  Ten of his Twenty Five Lessons Learned
1. Learn & Never Quit

2. Be Driven

3. Make Things, Not Excuses

4. You Have to Say No to a Lot of Good Things…In Order to Be Able to Say Yes to a Lot of Great Things.

5. You Are More Than What You Do

6. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

7. Focus On What Matters

8. Inspiration is Everywhere

9.  You Will Never Influence the World By Trying to Be Like It

10.  Life is Happening Outside Your Screens

Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leader, Myanmar

"Mindset in Leadership" - Here are excerpts of her speech to students at the Singapore Management University:

“Leadership must begin with commitment; with conviction.

You should be able to fulfill the need of the people who are willing to be led by you. They are willing to be led by you because you fulfill their need for hope, their need to believe in themselves. If you cannot make those people you are trying to lead believe in themselves, you cannot really be a leader. So to make people believe in themselves, you’ve got to respect them. You’ve got to truly value them.

Leadership entails vision. Otherwise where are you leading people to? If you don’t know where you want to go to, you have no right to ask people to go along with you. So that is what vision is; knowing where it is you want to go and and to be able to explain this to those whom you aspire to lead.”

Thank you to all of those who shared some of their wisdom with the rest of us.  We are richer for your generosity.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What the Election Means - Part II

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

Nina and Narric at Americans for the Arts have put together a good summary of the results of the election on the new Congress and on the Statehouses around the country.  Click here.

So what is the reality?

Despite the inevitable clarion calls for unity, for working together to do the people's business, and despite dire warnings on both sides if the other side doesn't go along with what they want, the very likely reality is not much will change in Washington.  The proffering of olive branches notwithstanding, there isn't likely to be any real rapprochement in the Capitol.  To put it mildly, these people really don't like each other.  The civility that was once the hallmark of the Senate is long gone, replaced by enmity, suspicion, distrust and out and out disdain for each other.  The winning side always calls for change and to get things done.  The losers invariably play tit for tat from the last go round.  In all probability gridlock will continue to ensue and each side will try to thwart the priorities of the other.

And despite the Republican victories, their's is hardly the party of consensus and unity.  Speaker Boehner in the House, and presumptive Majority Leader in the Senate McConnell will both have their hands full trying, against the odds, to rally their membership to put on a united front.  The far right will put pressure on the moderates and vice versa.  And everybody will have their eyes on the 2016 election which will see more Republican Senate seats up for grabs that are in play - meaning their candidates are vulnerable just as the Democrats were vulnerable this cycle.  And, on the other side of the aisle, the Democrats are hardly united either, with deep south and rural Democrats leaning more conservatively, while those from the eastern and western seaboards and the bigger states and cities more liberal.  Neither side is of a single mind, and all have their own agendas based on how they assess their own constituencies.  And all have 2016 on their minds.  The American public is fickle and not in a good mood, and the next two years will not likely change that reality.

So we have a bunch of different and competing priorities pitted against each other.  The leadership will try to effect compromise, but if the recent past is any indication, compromise is not in the air.  There will be pressure from the Tea Party Republican Presidential hopefuls, and from the moderates in districts that are decidedly anti Tea Party.  On the Democratic side, there are already cries that the Democrats should hold the line on key issues.   This is a response to the tactic of many losing candidates to table anything controversial in last week's election - which tactic failed miserably.  There are many in the Democratic party who want big ideas to hold sway, and to engage the Republicans at every turn - rather than capitulating by trying to be more Republican than the Republicans.  The failure to defend what was a pretty good record over the past four years is seen as one of the reasons the Democrats couldn't get their base of Millennial and Latino voters to the polls.  John Stewart called the Democrats 'chickenshit'' and a lot of the rank and file agree.  Expect Elizabeth Warren Democrats to demand the party fight back against the Republicans.  And expect the Tea Party right wing to demand the same of the Republicans.

The public votes for change in the hope real change will come.  Not likely.  What we can expect are entrenched positions.  And while the Republicans control both houses, they don't have the magic 60 in the Senate that would allow them to foreclose the Democrats from using all kinds of maneuvers to keep the Republicans from steamrolling a legislative agenda (assuming they could agree on one).  They will take over the committee chairs and with that comes certain power of what bills to move forward.

And then there is the Presidential veto threat and the specter that he will use his Executive Order power to advance his priorities (like immigration reform).  The Republicans may pass all kinds of legislation, and the President may veto much of it.  The big issues - immigration, certain economic policies, foreign policy, the oil pipeline, Obamacare and more will be the principal focus of the infighting.  But there are scores of other issues - the arts included - that may or may not get lost in the shuffle.  Political warfare will surface relatively quickly once the honeymoon is over - if indeed there is any honeymoon at all.

So it's impossible to know for certain where the arts will come out.  At one extreme, there may be cries to defund and eliminate the Endowment; at the other extreme, will be to leave it alone and continue its funding at the current level.  The same may be true for other issues important to us, including education policy.   The arts are symbolic to some, meaningless to others.   My own sense is that we will again come under initial attack, and at the very least, there will be a push to seriously cut the Endowment's budget.  The same may be true in a few states too.  Time will tell.

Michael Rushton, in his blog For What's It's Worth, commented last week on my blog about the election results.  Click here.  Here is what he opined:

"But public funding for the arts, and the budgets of the NEA and of state arts agencies, are not the main policies that affect the arts. The Affordable Care Act has a much larger impact on artists and the country they live and work in. Education policy, including Common Core and policies for evaluating school progress and teacher effectiveness, and unequal school budgets, has an extremely important effect on the long run health of culture in the US, far more than the budgets of granting agencies. And that’s just a beginning. I support sound and stable funding for federal and state arts agencies. But in this election, they are not the major issues facing the future of the arts.

While I agree with Professor Rushton that the issues of health care, education and many others are critically important to the future of the arts, I disagree that the funding mechanism (let alone the existence) of the NEA is not equally important to our future.  I suppose what anyone thinks is important to our future depends on whom you are talking to, and what they do.  But in the big picture, any attack on the arts, like the attacks on the funding level, or even very existence of the Endowment, go towards marginalizing and diminishing the value of the arts in the public mindset.  And that marginalization or devaluation impacts everything that might be important to our future, including our success in education policy that frames the arts, and in health care for artists.

I also note that I didn't specifically suggest people write their letter in support of the Endowment or its funding at this time.  We haven't yet been attacked on that front.  Let's not anticipate it and fuel the notion.  I merely suggested people write in support of the value of the arts, and it is that value that might just help to position the arts better at the tables for other issues.

Moreover, I don't see it as an either / or situation.  We don't have to pick between things that are important to our future.  We don't have to choose between those that think this priority is important and those that think another priority is more important.  The classic strategy of divide and conquer is to get us to do exactly that.  In large part, those choices are a matter of opinion.  We ought not to get sucked into the trap of exhalting one priority over another.  For those organizations and the work they do that depends in part on funding from the Endowment, I suspect nothing is more important to their future and the work they do, than threats to the NEA's funding level or its existence.  Included in that subset are a number of smaller, rural state agencies who depend in large part on Endowment funding to survive, along with a huge number of performing arts organizations and much of the arts education programming in the country - and the tens of thousands of people supported by that work.

What the election means in a negative sense for the arts is the elevation of a number of those whose position is that the arts should not be supported by government.  That, I categorically oppose, and think its in all of our interests to oppose.  I certainly don't want to give them ammunition of the sort that suggests the Endowment is not a priority issue for the arts, or that its' existence and health does not have a major impact on the arts in America.  Why do that?  I can easily see a Congressman or Senator quoting Professor Rushton that funding the Endowment is not one of the "main policies that affect the arts", and using that to legitimize opposition to funding the Endowment.  Will they be taking Rushton's quote out of context?  Of course, that's what they do.  If I were a Senator and wanted (for whatever reason) to eliminate the Endowment, I would quote a noted professor involved in the arts to that effect.  Why give our opponents that kind of ammunition?

As I said last week, I believe the prudent thing for the arts to do is to immediately begin to rekindle old, and form new, relationships with elected legislators in Congress and the states, and begin to lobby those officials as to the value of the arts (to local constituents) on all levels - economic, cultural, educational and otherwise.  This is not, in my opinion, the time to be timid and quiet and to move slowly.  Those relationships are essential to whatever you think are the most important priorities for the arts.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit