Sunday, February 23, 2014

Questioning the Basic Approach to Arts Funding - Learning from the Venture Capital Sharks: People v. Projects and Programs

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

Couple of things of interest before I get into this week's blog:

1.  Westaf and the California Arts Council are co-hosting a remarkable Symposium:  Creativity and Innovation in Public Education: Areas of Need, Mechanisms for Change.

The Symposium addresses research and policy work needed to advance creativity and innovation in public education. Sessions will include presentations on the neuroscience of creativity; evaluation of creativity-based curriculum; innovative approaches to advance arts, science, and technology education; design thinking in higher education; and creativity as collaborative practice.  They have assembled a really quite impressive panel of presenters.

The sessions will commence on Tuesday, March 4th at 8:45 a.m. Pacific Time and conclude at approximately 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time that same day. The live streaming, provided courtesy of Charter Communications and the California Arts Council, will be accessible at no cost. Instructions for connecting to the streaming will be posted on the website,, the week prior to the symposium.

2.  Posted on the Arts, Culture and Education Forum Facebook page is a very useful list of links to celebrity postings in support of the arts.  Check it out.

Sharktank and Venture Capitalist Approach to Funding - What we might learn from their approach:

In a complementary (and excellent) blog post (actually predating my post last week on the Arizona Art Tank experiment) by Ruth Levine (Program Director in the Global Development and Population Program) on the Hewlett Foundation website about lessons to be learned from the Shark Tank she suggested that we might think about the questions venture capitalists ask - including:

  • "How original is the idea, and/or how unique is the style and quality of the product?
  • How big is the market?  Is this responding to existing demand, or is it such a new idea that it’s something no one thought they needed before?
  • Is the inventor able to sell an idea and execute on it, or is he or she just the “ideas person”?  Is there a track record of earlier success?
  • What are the financial and other risks, and how are those risks going to be distributed among the parties?
  • What are the distributors through which the product gets to the market, and what do those distributors want, in terms of a cut of the profit or a chance to put their own brand on the product?

Those questions seem to me perfectly applicable to the arts sector.  We need to start asking these and other hard questions on a regular basis.  And we need to dig much deeper into whether or not a prospective grantee is realistically ready and able to make good on whatever it is they are 'pitching'.  (A case in point:  if not the rule, it is increasingly common for grantees to project income on their budget sheets that is really nothing more than Pollyanna optimism with little to no basis in reality.  If an applicant to a prospective venture capitalist funder were to engage in a similar practice, they would very quickly be rejected out of hand.  Yet arts funders too often simply accept budget income projections as reasonable fact.  How can we make intelligent investments when we sanction that kind of sloppy vetting?).

Ms. Levine goes on to opine:
"Most interesting to me about Shark Tank is how the investors figure out whether they are a good match for the project, regardless of its intrinsic merits.  They consider what they can bring through their own knowledge of the business sector, sales ability and professional network.  When they invest and take a stake in the business, they are offering much more than money – often the money is relatively small potatoes – and they take seriously the time and other commitments required to give the enterprise a fighting chance.  “Beyond the grant dollars” in a big way.  So you hear them saying things like, “I could work with you to make this thing succeed, but I’m working on too many other high-effort projects right now, so I’m out.”  Or, “I think you’re onto something, but I won’t have anything to bring to the table in your line of business.” Also fascinating is the interplay among the potential investors, which sometimes results in a multi-party deal, with each bringing distinctive ingredients and demands into the mix. All of these are analogous to our world of grant making."
I think she has hit the nail on the head, and raises a fundamental question about our whole underlying approach to funding - which is predominately to award grants to organizations with relatively little other involvement save for reports due.  In some cases there may be site visits or interviews, but for the most part the grant is awarded or declined based on a written application.  That approach is, of course, exactly what most arts organizations want - unrestricted operating dollars with minimal requirements to get it.  But that is the diametric opposite of the venture capital model, and virtually no venture capital (Shark Tank) investment would ever happen without the investor being heavily involved in the launch (or ongoing business) of the recipient.  Indeed, the venture capital model is built on their substantial involvement after the investment - as a way to protect that investment and to maximize the chances the venture will succeed.

As Ms. Levine notes:  "we (nonprofits) have more nuanced and hard-to-measure strategies than the sharks’, which presumably is “make the most possible money.”   Clearly, mission driven v. profit driven work are vastly different areas and approaches.  And to be sure, most venture capitalist firms invest in relatively few projects in any given year - often only one or two (and thus it is much easier and more manageable for them to be "involved" with those ventures in which they invest.)  Arts funders invest (award grants) to multiple (and often scores) of grantees.

But that caveat begs the question of how we can best maximize the positive impact of our arts funding - and increase the odds that our investments succeed.  The issue is to what extent might it be smart on our part to be more involved with the organizations we fund (after we fund them); to insist on more than after the fact reporting. What would that mean?

For the Shark Tank and venture capitalists their involvement seeks to support those they invest in (and protect their investment by so doing) with their experience, business and financial acumen, networks, coaching, counseling and more.  They often insist one of their people sit on the Board of the ventures in which they invest, and there are regular interfaces to monitor and nurture the growth of those investments.

They are particularly concerned with the leadership of the prospective investment companies, and spend considerable time ascertaining whether or not that leadership is qualified, whether or not it impresses them,  whether or not it can take the embryonic organization into the future.  In large part, they are investing not only in ideas, but in the people behind those ideas.  Indeed, in one study on the criteria used by venture capitalists to evaluate new venture proposals, "five of the top ten had to do with the entrepreneur’s experience or personality. There is no question that irrespective of the horse (product), horse race (market), or odds (financial criteria), it is the jockey (entrepreneur) who fundamentally determines whether the venture capitalist will place a bet at all."  
"The question is if this is the case, then why is so much emphasis placed on the business plan? In a business plan there is generally little to indicate the characteristics of the entrepreneur-it is generally devoted to a detailed discussion of the product / service, the market, and the competition. To us, the implications are obvious-such content is necessary, but not suficient. The business plan should also show as clearly as possible that the “jockey is fit to ride”-namely, indicate by whatever feasible and credible means possible that the entrepreneur has staying power, has a track record, can react to risk well, and has familiarity with the target market. Failing this, he or she needs to be able to pull together a team that has such characteristics and show that he or she is capable of leading that team."
I suspect that in our grant making process, in a very high percentage of cases, there is no attempt to interview or otherwise make calculated judgments on the leadership of the applicant.  We don't go beyond the written application, save for perhaps some occasional anecdotal reference about who is involved.  Is that smart?  Sure, in some cases, the funder is familiar and knowledgable about the grantee's leadership.  But in many, if not most, others - even where there is a longer term relationship with the grantee - the information is heresay at best, and virtually nonexistent at worst.  Talk about taking an unreasonable risk.  Funders will respond to that criticism by pointing out that they lack the people and time resources to engage in such due diligence.  My response: then outsource the job.

In short the investor venture capitalist wants to do everything they can up front to insure that the ventures with which they are affiliated succeed, and at the top of that list is investing in people.   These involvements are not transitory, and usually last for a considerable period of time.  And rather than the companies in which they invest resenting or resisting that involvement, they welcome it for they understand it is precisely that kind of support that increases the odds they will succeed.  Do they all succeed?  Of course not; risk is inherent in venture capitalism and it ought to be inherent in arts funding as well.  But calculated risk.  Do we in the arts invest more in the program and organization than we do in the people?  And should we reassess that strategy?

Is it reasonable then for arts funders to consider that it might be wise and appropriate for them to move from being 'passive' investors, to more 'active' partners?  Would it be in both their interest (in pursuing their priorities and missions) and the interests of their grantees if they became more directly involved in providing the benefits of seasoned experience, business and financial acumen, networks and more to both the newer, smaller arts grantees and to those long established (obviously on a case by case basis).  Would it be wise for arts funders to spend more time and energy vetting the leadership of their grantees and prioritizing the commitment to people (who can make things happen) as much as to projects?  We increasingly emphasize entrepreneurship, but are we actually trying to figure out what that means and how to judge its potential?

I'll grant you that some of that already goes on.  Funders in specific cases do get more involved in trying to support grantees - both directly and by providing consultants or other outside support to specific grantees.  But it is not the norm, not an underlying principle applied across the board - but rather a more isolated and random approach.  Perhaps funders ought to consider how they might (individually and collectively in possible collaborations) organize on a larger scale those resources that might (ala the venture capitalists) increase the success level of their grantees by supporting them with more involvement.  What, for example, might a funder do systemically to provide more professional development opportunities to its grantees?  Does it any longer make any sense to like (fund) a project or an organization without such involvement over time to maximize the chances that project and organization will succeed?

In all probability many current and potential grantees would not like that approach and would argue (at least the larger, more established grantees) that more funder involvement - no matter how well intentioned and even reasonable on its face - is unnecessary and possibly even counter productive.  But the evidence of the past half decade of organizations - even big ones - making bad decisions and failing or coming close to failure (at a very high cost to the whole field) belies that objection.  Others would argue that the profit motive of the venture capitalists is so foreign to our motives (of mission) that the whole idea doesn't make sense.  But the real motive of venture capitalists is to enhance shareholder value (which may or may not dovetail with bottom line profits at any given point in time), and the nonprofit arts organization's mission motive is really not that different (for it too seeks to maximize shareholder value - in our case the shareholders are the public, and the value is not net worth but in achieving our mission(s).

So how do funders - with relatively small staffs and the reality that they make far more investments in a given year than the average venture capitalist - move from passive grantmaking to a more active approach in providing expertise, experience, business and financial skills, leadership development and a host of other support tools?

  • First, as this amounts to a fundamental shift in some of the basic underlying principles of grant making, they would have to purposefully change the culture of how they approach their fund making.  While even piecemeal change would arguably be a better approach, real involvement will demand more wholesale changes in our approach.
  • Second, they would need to figure out how to organize the provision of that support - which might entail more consultants on retainer (and to be more cost effective the option of doing that in collaboration with other funders), expanded in house staffing to mange their increased involvement, and other ways to systemically provide that involvement support.
  • Third, they would need to allocate whatever portion of their annual funding budget was necessary to accomplish the objective of "involvement" (including outsourcing some of that support) - which would likely necessitate yet another look at the now familiar question of "fewer, but larger grants, or an increased number of smaller grants to more recipients. 

As this would be a paradigm sea change away from some of the underlying assumptions on which arts funding has for a long time been based, such a wholesale change would be very difficult - likely to be met with resistance.  But the question remains:  Is the way we currently make investments in our field (with little involvement after the grant award), the smartest, most effective, most efficient way for us to nurture and support the missions of our arts organizations and those of the funders themselves?

I think the current approach of non involvement is simply the easiest way out for the majority of funders - and for grantees too.  Becoming more involved with grantees is more work for both the funder and the grantee, more of a commitment than funders or grantees want to make.  But we really do have to ask whether or not our failure to do more than simply write checks is maximizing the chance for the success of the organizations in which we invest.  And in truth, much of our grantmaking is not much more than writing checks.  Enough to give a venture capitalist nightmares.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Arizona 'Art Tank' Experiment

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

Last year the Arizona state legislature added a one time supplement of one million dollars to the Arizona Commission on the Arts' budget.  Agency Executive Director, Bob Booker, reached out - not only to those within the arts community in Arizona, but to a dozen or so other people whom he knew around the country - for their thinking on how the agency could best allocate these funds to support the arts in his state.  He wanted to both nurture and support the existing arts ecosystem and the organizations that comprise his constituent base, but to also think out of the box to support new thinking and new approaches.

Bob asked me if I had any thoughts, and in one of our telephone conversations, I suggested he might consider some form of the ABC television show - Shark Tank - wherein start up entrepreneurs had five minutes or so to pitch their idea to a panel of investors - who would then ask hard questions and either commit to invest in the idea or take a pass.  That show is really based on the long tradition in Hollywood of the "pitch" meeting - where writers, producers, directors etc. get five minutes to "pitch" their idea for a new movie project to studio executives who could "green light" the project if they so chose (a concept with which I had personal familiarity from when I worked in the entertainment industry).  The approach has also been adopted in various forms in Silicon Valley's venture capital world.

Bob liked the idea and apparently others on his staff and across his state liked it as well, and they determined to make it a go - as one - but only one - component of how they would allocate the additional funding available to them (Of the million dollar budget supplement, something in the neighborhood of $130,000 was earmarked for the Art Tank project.)

Throwing out an idea is the easy part.  Making it work is the hard part.  As they say: "The devil is in the details".  The genius is not necessarily in the idea, but in its execution.  Bob and his staff designed an intelligent, workable framework for the project - how people would apply, the judgment criteria, the desired outcomes, how to market the concept, including designing several preparatory meetings around the state, and finally, several actual events where finalists would "pitch" their ideas in front of a live audience, and a panel of judges would make the awards on the spot.  A lot of impressive work went into taking a left field idea and making it a reality.

Here is Bob's report on the project after the fact:

"It’s been a hunker-down mentality throughout the non-profit arts sector. For the last five years, arts organizations in Arizona have been struggling to survive: making that payroll, cutting programs, releasing staff. The Arizona Commission on the Arts has been operating under similar conditions, our budget cut back 4 years in a row, our staff diminished by half. When a special one-time, $1 million budget allocation to the Commission found its way into the state budget for Fiscal Year 2014, we saw new hope not only for ourselves, but for our whole sector.

Devised by State Senator Steve Farley and marshalled by broad bipartisan support in the legislature, this allocation was derived from interest accrued on the State’s Rainy-Day Fund. This innovative strategy, utilizing funds that would have otherwise lain dormant to increase funding for the arts, ensured that the state arts budget would not show a decrease for the first time in 5 fiscal years.

The majority of the funding was immediately applied to our existing statewide grantmaking activities, to help stabilize the field, but we wanted a portion of the remaining funds to go toward a new program that would give Arizona’s arts community a chance to look forward, to get beyond the present and on to something that is future-driven. We wanted to help organizations get out of the bunker.  In the same spirit of innovation and forward-thinking that we hoped to inspire in our constituents, we designed a funding initiative unlike any that we (or our fellow state arts agencies) had ever administered. We looked beyond the standard practices of our industry and borrowed ideas from the tech industry, university engineering and design programs, the world of entrepreneurship and venture capital, and even reality television. The result was Arizona Art Tank.

Arizona Art Tank is a funding initiative of the Arizona Commission on the Arts that makes strategic investments in Arizona’s best arts-based entrepreneurial ventures. At regional events held in four Arizona cities, top applicants were given six minutes each to pitch an arts-based venture to an expert panel and live audience. At the end of each evening, panels awarded top-scoring applicants with seed-funding of between $4,000 and $10,000. An additional $500 Audience Award was granted through popular vote at each event.

What is an “Arts-based entrepreneurial venture”? It could be many things, but for the purposes of this funding program we defined it as a product or idea that is innovative and entrepreneurial in spirit, that is creative and strategic, and that reaches beyond standard engagement and practice. Our tagline and mantra for the program summed up the desired outcomes of the program in one succinct statement: "Not business as usual, business unusual."

In our program guidelines, our marketing materials, our discussions of the program, and in the events themselves, we applied the metaphor of artist as entrepreneur. We used terms like venture, product, market, and seed-funding. Thus, we invited applicant organizations to see themselves and their work in a different light. It should be stated that our definition of entrepreneurship did not include a mandate to generate profits, but focused instead on the spirit of innovation, risk-taking, market responsiveness and boundary-pushing embodied by the entrepreneur.

Applicants were first asked to submit a brief written proposal, no longer than three pages in length. Aside from a general statement on how they would use funds at various funding levels, no project budget details were requested. Initial evaluations were conducted by our staff. Top applications from each of four regions of the state were selected to move on to the live pitch events.

The criteria for evaluation used by both our staff in their initial review and by our panels at the pitch events, were as follows:

  • Impact: The venture is innovative and entrepreneurial in spirit, with the potential to initiate change.
  • Responsiveness: The venture is creative and strategic in the way it responds to the concerns of an identified market.
  • Visibility: The envisioned outcomes of the venture are viable and visible, reaching the applicant’s standard engagement and practice.

At each Art Tank event, the panels were comprised of residents of the region. They included Governor-appointed Arts Commission members, state-level elected legislators, local artists, arts professionals and business leaders. Prior to the event the panelists were thoroughly instructed on the review criteria and the intended aims of the program.

Award amounts were determined by score:
  • Highest Scoring Venture:   $10,000
  • 2nd Highest:  $7,500
  • 3rd Highest:   $6,000
  • 4th Highest:   $5,000
  • 5th Highest:   $4,000
In addition to the panel-determined awards, an audience award of $500 was also up for grabs. Upon entry, each audience member was given a wooden token. At the conclusion of the presentations, audience members were invited to place their token into a jar corresponding to their favorite venture. We wanted the audience to be active participants in the event and to feel personally invested in the funding of these ventures.

Local personalities were enlisted as hosts for each event and local musicians played as audience members arrived and during a brief intermission. Arrangements were made for food trucks to be onsite for two of the events, while a concession stand was set up at another. All of these elements (secured at low-to-no cost thanks to the generosity and graciousness of those involved) contributed to a relaxed, engaging and festive atmosphere.

The presenting applicants and their ventures reflected the incredible diversity of our state’s arts & culture community. Many were focused on community building and social change, but others had more esoteric, purely artistic goals. Large, well-established organizations pitched against young, individual artists who had to secure fiscal-sponsorship to be eligible for the program.

Young upstarts represented the Tucson Museum of Art, pitching a program designed to attract visitors in their 20’s and 30’s, while a group of retirees, representing the Arts Council of the remote town of Gold Canyon, proposed a project that would assemble and showcase an oral history of their community.

Amazingly, no applicant appeared to hold, by virtue of their size, mission, or background, any distinct advantage over any other. The highest award in one region went to Arizona State University’s School of Art, while at another it went to a tiny, two-year old theatre company that creates original plays with urban youth who had never previously applied for, let alone received, an institutional grant. For one, the award means an opportunity to take a chance on exploring uncharted territory; for the other, the award means an opportunity to take a massive leap forward, far beyond what they were previously capable of achieving. Both represent the ideal of business unusual.

My staff and I are still in the process of unpacking the lessons learned from the development and implementation of the Arizona Art Tank program. Following are few additional notes and observations from these early discussions:

  • The Arizona Art Tank program allowed the Arts Commission to once again take on the role of convener. The budget cuts of the past half-decade have severely limited our capacity to host gatherings of Arizona’s artists and arts leaders. The value of this sort of activity within our constituent communities is immeasurable. Though we have made great effort to maintain open lines of communication with our constituents--via website updates, emails, social media posts, direct mailings, etc.—to be heard is no substitute for being seen, actually being present in a community, engaged with those we serve on a personal level, even for just a single evening out of the year.  
  • Watching these presentations it became abundantly clear how important it is that organizations be able to deliver information about their mission and programming in a clear, concise and engaging manner. In a world where 140 characters is the new normal, our six minute time limit was comparatively generous. Still, some applicants struggled to present a focused and coherent vision during their six minutes and left the event empty-handed. 
  • The CEO is not always an Organization’s best spokesperson. Often another member of an organization’s staff is better equipped to deliver a given message to a given audience. 
  • Arizona Art Tank helped position the Arizona Commission on the Arts as a change leader. More than a mere gimmick, Arizona Art Tank represented a fresh take on the grant review and awarding process. Time and again during these events we were thanked for trying something different. Innovation inspires innovation. 
  • Younger, less-established organizations truly shined at these events. Our applicant pool for Arizona Art Tank featured a number of new faces. Even among larger institutions, the entrepreneurial ideas often came from younger staff members or sub-departments. Not all good ideas come from the top down. 

Addressing the audience of our Tucson event, State Senator Steve Farley said, “The arts are the most entrepreneurial sector in the economy because they create value out of nothing, in every corner of the state. So, it isn’t just about supporting the arts, it’s about supporting our economy.

Here's how Kathleen Allen of  the Arizona Daily Star newspaper described one of the events:

"Every one of the proposals held promise, and some just knocked me out. But more than anything it was the passion, from the individual artists to the big organizations, that was so magical. 
The Tucson Museum of Art won the top grant — $10,000, for a project that will, in essence, periodically turn the museum over to young artists. Called Start, the museum will host new, emerging, young, old, exciting artists to perform, paint, exhibit at the museum and on the museum grounds. It's a pretty innovative program. 
Other grant winners were Opening Minds through the Arts ($7,500), with plans to develop teaching videos; Gold Canyon Arts Council, which is planning a project that will bring the stories of the elders of the community to school children ($6,000); Solar Sculptures & Dinnerware ArtSpace ($5,000), which has a pretty nifty plan to project art onto downtown buildings; and BlackBox Foundation out of Casa Grande ($4,000), which will use the grant money to train teachers so that art can become part of the curriculum. The BlackBox is an all-volunteer program and its simple proposal to bring arts education to the mostly-poverly level students was delivered with such fierce commitment. It really spoke to me.
Moises Orozco and Phoebe Jenkins won the $500 grant - the audience award - for their proposed eco-friendly mode of transportation, the Phoebe Bird."

And here is a report from Kerry Lengel of The Republic on Arizona Central:
"At the first regional event, held Tuesday, Jan. 28, at the Peoria Community Center, $7,500 was awarded to the Phoenix Center for the Arts’ Art4All initiative, which plans to take arts education mobile by bringing teachers of music, drawing, etc., into underserved communities.
“Think of it as a food truck for the arts,” went the pitch. 
A $5,000 grant went to TumbleTees, a youth-run T-shirt screen-printing business created by the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix, which serves homeless people ranging from age 12 to 25. The largest haul of the night, $10,000, went to Phoenix’s Rising Youth Theatre, which develops original plays about real life in collaboration with children and teens in the Valley. 
I am bolstered by the fact that so many people were focused on changing the lives of young people,” said Robert C. Booker, executive director of the arts commission. “That to me speaks about a great need in Arizona, which is to get arts back into our schools.” 
“Impact, responsibility and visibility” were the watchwords for the judging panels, which included arts administrators, elected officials and local businesspeople. Otherwise, the grants were open to outside-the-box ideas from grass-roots start-ups and established institutions alike. 
At the regional event held Wednesday, Jan. 29, in Chandler, for example, grants were awarded to the city of Mesa’s department of arts and culture and Arizona State University’s School of Art. 
In addition to grants ranging from $4,000 to $10,000, a $500 award winner was chosen by an audience vote at each of the four events.
On Tuesday, that grant went to Phoenix’s Orange Theatre to help fund a “digital performance lab” that aims to develop technologies to integrate electronic media into live theater.
“We can actually do a lot” with $500, said troupe founder, Matthew Watkins.
“For this particular proposal, we can use $500 to pay for the materials to use in our prototyping lab, and then maybe we can get the funding to pay for the coordination and marketing from someplace else. But this is a pretty big chunk of what we need in order to put the project into effect.” 
For the 2-year-old Rising Youth Theatre, the $10,000 Art Tank grant will have a huge impact, said co-founder Sarah Sullivan.
“This is more money than we spent on our whole second season,” she said.
“The biggest thing for me is to be able to pay our artists what they’re worth. We’ve been working on a lot of sweat equity so far, and we have a lot of incredibly talented humans giving us a lot of time and working for a small stipend.” 
The Phoenix company’s pitch was for its spring project, “The Light Rail Plays.” The idea is to pair professional artists with young people to develop short works about the way people move around the city and to perform them on and around the light rail.
“We are going into a space that is very non-traditional, and being able to invest in the production value to make a non-theater space feel theatrical is going to be really exciting,” Sullivan said.
“And marketing is huge. We’re still new. Word is getting out about us, but being able to invest in telling people who don’t already know us that we’re doing a project is going to be really transformative.”

There are likely a number of lessons to be learned from this project, and as the outcomes are evaluated and monitored, Bob and his staff will be unpacking those lessons over the course of the grants.  They certainly succeeded in generating excitement, media coverage, and both arts sector and public interest, and in the process opened the door to a variety of new entrepreneurial projects.  I would like to congratulate everyone involved on taking the risk on a new approach, and executing the project so well.  I hope that others may follow suit and consider whether the idea might work in their venues.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

We Have a New Chair of the NEA - Finally!

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

A year after Rocco Landesman left the NEA, the White House has finally put forth a nominee to replace him.

Here is the White House Press Release from last night:

"President Obama Announces his Intent to Nominate Jane Chu as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Dr. Jane Chu as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

President Obama said, “Jane’s lifelong passion for the arts and her background in philanthropy have made her a powerful advocate for artists and arts education in Kansas City.  She knows firsthand how art can open minds, transform lives and revitalize communities, and believes deeply in the importance of the arts to our national culture.  I’m proud to nominate her as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.”

President Obama announced his intent to nominate Dr. Jane Chu as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts:

Dr. Jane Chu, Nominee for Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts
Dr. Jane Chu is President and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, a position she has held since 2006.  She was a Fund Executive at the Kauffman Fund for Kansas City from 2004 to 2006, and Vice President of External Relations for Union Station Kansas City from 2002 to 2004.  She was Vice President of Community Investment for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation from 1997 to 2002.  Dr. Chu is a Trustee at William Jewell College and serves on the Board of Directors of the Ewing Marion Kauffman School and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.  Kansas City’s Nonprofit Connect recently announced her as their Nonprofit Professional of the Year.  Dr. Chu received an A.A. in Visual Arts from Nebraska Wesleyan University, a B.M. in Piano Performance and a B.M.Ed. in Music Education from Ouachita Baptist University, an M.A. in Piano Pedagogy from Southern Methodist University, an M.B.A. from Rockhurst University, and a Ph.D. in Philanthropic Studies from Indiana University.

It would be interesting to know the backstory of how Dr. Chu's name came to the attention of the Administration and ultimately rose to the top of the list, but that isn't really important.

While Dr. Chu may not be widely known throughout the nonprofit arts field, she certainly appears to embody what many of us were looking for -- someone passionate about the arts (and an artist herself), with experience in the operation of an arts organization, with a business background and knowledgable with philanthropy.  Here is a link I found to a prior video interview with Dr. Chu, and here is another one in print.   (I hope I can convince her to continue the tradition of allowing me to interview her as she begins her tenure (once confirmed by the Senate).  Finally, here is an article on Dr. Chu's appointment to a local college.

The next two months will be whirlwind for Dr. Chu.  She has to wind up her tenure at the Kauffman Center, relocate to Washington D.C. and make the rounds of the Senate offices as she goes through the confirmation process.  I see no reason at all why she won't be confirmed.

There will be plenty of time for Dr. Chu to share with us her thinking about the Endowment, it's role in our field, and what she thinks are the major issues she wants to address during her tenure.  After her confirmation, I would expect and encourage all sectors of our field to communicate and share with Chairwoman Chu their thoughts, concerns and ideas on the arts in America and the issues facing the Endowment.

I join everyone in our field in congratulating Dr. Chu.  It will be much to our collective advantage to again have someone in the position of permanent Chair.

And I also join in extending our gratitude and deep appreciation to Joan Shigekawa - Senior Deputy Chairman - who has helmed the agency for the past year with consummate professionalism and skill - and to all of those on the agency's staff who have been a part of that effort.  Thanks very much.  Well done.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

CreateAthon - A concept that might have application to the arts?

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

Interesting article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (forwarded to me by my friend Bruce Davis) on a concept called: CreateAthon - "an annual event that enlists people in advertising to work for 24 hours to create promotional items, videos, websites, social-media campaigns, and other marketing and fundraising materials for charity clients."

"The “CreateAthon” term was coined in 1997 by Riggs Partners marketing firm in Columbia, S.C., to describe its method of providing pro bono services to charities in a single-day blitz. The goal is to turn an idea into a final product within 24 hours.

“The theory was that we could actually serve more nonprofits through a constrained and focused period of time than we normally would be able to do if we sprinkled their work out all through the year,” says Teresa Coles, a partner at Riggs and CreateAthon’s co-creator. “Immediately, we saw that working together and embracing the time and budget constraints inherent in a 24-hour turnaround produced unprecedented levels of creative problem solving.”

The process benefits not only the charities, but the participating firms providing the pro bono assistance:

According to Nicole Larruri, EGC’s (one of the firms participating in the process) managing partner. “Beyond being an expression of goodwill, CreateAthon is a wonderful team-building exercise and an opportunity for people in various departments to work together in the creative process.” 

Two things strike me about this concept.  First, the obvious potential for intersections with the for profit creative communities.  A Win Win situation.  Might this be a concept that the arts could co-opt and organize on a local basis - either under the auspices of a local collaboration, or by a local arts agency? And second, I like the idea of marshaling resources to address a specific challenge in a very short, limited span of time.   Apart from working with ad agencies, design firms and the like, might the concept of a 24 hour CreateAthon be something that could be adapted to multiple uses and done internally to an organization to address a host of challenges (beyond the creation of media and marketing campaigns)?  It might be an interesting experiment to pick a challenge facing your organization, and organize a kind of CreateAthon  around it - gathering your staff, board and others involved in, or supportive of, your organization and see what you could come up with in a single 24 hour period.  And for very large challenges, the concept might work for figuring out how to accomplish the very next step that would be necessary for making progress.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Brought To You Live From.................The Nonprofit Arts Administrator Radio Station

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

The MICE (Meetings, Incentive, Conventions and Exhibits) segment of the Hospitality Industry is big business.  There are literally thousands of these events across the planet on any given day, and they fill hotel rooms, patronize restaurants, are airline and ground transportation customers and account for a meaningful portion of the tourism industry.

The arts are part of this phenomenon.  Nary a week goes by that I am not alerted to some arts conference coming up.  In America, there are the national conferences for every discipline - music, opera, museums, theaters, presenters, arts educators, community arts groups, researchers, academic programs and more.  And then there are the regional and local gatherings - meetings, symposiums and the like.  Scores of these gatherings.  Too many to keep up with.  I figure there is probably an arts conference a week, and the arts probably spend $25 million or more each year in attendance.  And that doesn't even include the growing number of international arts conferences around the world.  And I think the number of our conventions is growing.

These conferences and conventions are a signature event for many of the organizers. And for many the event is both a branding mechanism and a fund raising event.  For the attendees there is the chance to sample a wide variety of issue centered sessions and presentations; to learn, and, of course, most importantly, the chance to see old colleagues and meet new people -- to network; to be a part of the wider group of which they are members.   Unfortunately, for the most part, because of time and cost, usually only the senior management can attend these events.  The rank and file of organizational middle management staffs (let alone the newbies) can't avail themselves of these opportunities.

I have had the great privilege and pleasure of blogging from a number of these events.  When doing so my objective is to try to give all those who might be interested, but couldn't attend, some sense of what is going on -- a feeling for what it is like being there. I try to gain a sense of what the big issues are on people's minds and what the current thinking is.  Of course, I also try to impart some specific information and knowledge I might pick up by attending some of the sessions, listening to the keynotes and talking informally with other people.  It is a difficult assignment, because one person can only attend a fraction of the offerings, and talk to but a few of the other people in attendance.  And then too, there really is no substitute for actually being there in person.

Most of our conferences are siloed events in that their focus is on the many sub strata of our universe.  While there are some issues that transcend disciplines and niche interests (we're all concerned with audience attendance, with funding, with arts education, with leadership and management issues), most of the focus of each gathering is on issues of particular interest to that group.  And, alas, most of these silos don't have any idea at all as to what attendance at the other events is like.  It is, I think, a shame that we can't create possibilities for people in one sector to avail themselves of what people in another sector of our universe are talking about when they meet.  We need to find ways to break down the barriers (formal and informal) that keep us in our separate silos.  There are so many issues and challenges we face; so many things we share in common.  Intersections between us can only help to leverage our individual experiences and knowledge into a cohesive whole - which would better allow us to address the challenges that face us.

Some time ago, I began to entertain an idea.  I  thought it might be an interesting experiment were I to try to attend a whole sampling of all these conferences in a year period.  Say 25 of them.  Mostly those in America, but perhaps one or two international conferences.  And blog on each one.  I thought it might be valuable to try to give the whole of our universe some idea of how many disparate sectors are meeting, what those meetings were like, what the thinking was, and all that we have in common.  I thought it would be instructive to share the thinking of these various groups on the issues and challenges that we all grapple with - and to share findings, research and reports.   Then too, I thought it would valuable to note what is important to each of these interest groups that mean something to them, but not necessarily to everyone.  I thought it might be a small way to help bridge some of the distances between us all, and might even point to ways we might create intersections between our disparate parts.

I rejected this idea for several reasons.  First, covering 25 conferences in one year would be a full time job and the cost not insubstantial.  Factoring in air and ground transportation, registration fees, hotels, meals and something for the work involved, I thought it might cost upwards of $100,000.  But that wasn't the major reason because I (optimistically but perhaps not realistically) thought I might get funding or a grant from somewhere.  Secondly, while I earnestly believe blogging is valuable in that it is a way to share information and knowledge - a way to expand the information and communication pipeline - with a personal perspective -  I also acknowledge its limitations in that it can't possibly convey or duplicate the experience of being at one of these conferences in person -- though this was the least of my reasons for not moving forward.  The real reason I didn't pursue the idea is that at this point in my life the idea of being on the road for essentially an entire year (and having to deal constantly with airports and hotels and living out of a suitcase) is one I find very unattractive.

But the idea continued to stew in the back of my mind.  Then I came up with a different approach.  I hit on the idea of a Live Broadcast (via live online streaming) from each of these conferences.  Sort of like a live radio show.  Set up a table in the lobby, with a microphone, and grab people who walk by for quick interviews about their participation at the conference, what they are thinking about, what they are talking about in the halls, what sessions they attended and what they got out of them. All kinds of people - the known thought leaders, the heads of big and small organizations, the keynoters, the presenters and panelists, the organizers etc.  I thought you could co-opt some people who were attendees and get them to cover some of the individual sessions and share the results.  Then too you could have a roving reporter with microphone at the social events that are a part of all these conventions - asking pointed questions.  You might even arrange for and encourage the listening audience to ask questions that they wanted answers to - an interactive component to the process.  Maybe broadcast live for a couple of hours a day over the two or three days of the conference, and re-broadcast several times so as to be convenient to listeners.  

Of course, my mind also wandered into thinking maybe this experiment would morph into a full time Arts Radio Station (live or taped web streaming) that could offer not just coverage of events (enlisting people who were already going to the event thus eliminating additional travel costs), but all kinds of shows and presentations that might be useful and interesting and even fun for our sector:  Breakfast with Barry - an hour show - once a month, or Breakfast with Bob Lynch or Janet Brown or Jamie Bennett, or Ian David Moss, or Alan Brown or anyone of a hundred others.  You could have a weekly interview segment with arts leaders and / or artists, or panels talking about fundraising or audience development or marketing.  Mini versions of the Arts Dinner-vention. You could cover the latest research, studies and reports and the ideas that are circulating within our field.  You could have talk shows and even classes on skills enhancement.  You could cover events, conventions, symposiums and more.  The whole format would be directed to us - arts administrators and managers.  Focused.  You could even re-broadcast live music or other events.

You could have shows highlighting news from each arts discipline - music, museums, presenters, film, folk arts, theater, dance etc.  You could have programs focusing on arts education, or presenting, or funding, or leadership succession, or generational issues, or business and the arts.  You could do online surveys and report the results the next day.  You could have a monthly show of news from the NEA, or NASAA, or AFTA, or GIA, or APAP, or whatever.  You could have a weekly roundup of grants availability.  You could have advocacy updates and training programs. You could have tutorials and other professional development opportunities. You could have artist and arts administrator profiles.  You could have national, state, regional and local programs.  The possibilities are endless.

I've thought about this a lot.  The technology is off the shelf - ready to go now.  The expense is in the organization and management, but hardly prohibitive.  With an audio rather than visual focus, the bandwidth exists for virtually everyone.  This is do-able.  Right now.

I thought maybe this kind of tool would help bridge some of the gaps between the niches within our universe and be a way to share all kinds of information and thinking - a valuable tool to expand that information and communication pipeline.  A bridge building mechanism that might help to unite us as a field, or at least make all of us much more aware of the developments in areas of our universe with which we don't regularly interact.   Sharing.  One of the pluses of this kind of approach is that it would be an easy to access central clearing house of information and developments so our people wouldn't have to spend endless hours searching for content.

This wouldn't necessarily be a 24/7 offering.  Perhaps the station would broadcast two hours a day.  And repeat those two hours four or five times a day.  So our people could listen in on their computers while they worked - when it was convenient to them.  There is already a lot of content (podcasts, webinars and more) that exists, or is being produced, that would lend itself to this kind of effort.  And new content could be created and fed into this kind of project without any necessity of travel or other logistical costs.  A Breakfast with Whomever hour show could be done in someone's office and then uploaded.  The internet is now full of niche radio stations.  Who knows what it might someday grow into.

But then this kind of an idea would require full time commitment - and very likely require a new organization and a minimal staff.  It would take legwork and time to organize and manage.  And money.  It would have to be subsidized for its launch and likely for the first year or two of its existence.  And then maybe it could (if the listener numbers were large enough) be self sustaining based on advertising or membership or whatever.

Again, for me, at this point in my life, too big a long term commitment.

But I do think both the idea of covering all our conferences live (even if only as an experiment - and not necessarily every single session), and the idea of a permanent Arts Radio Station are good ideas.  I wish someone, somewhere would make them a reality.  And if someone does - I would love to do a monthly Breakfast with Barry show.  I've got all kinds of ideas for that, so please call.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.