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.