Sunday, June 15, 2014

Random thoughts on Things to Blog About

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

I read about 40 arts blog posts that I subscribe to each week, as well as dozens of articles and stories on arts web sites.  I also read, on average, three or four reports and studies each week, and I surf the web constantly for arts related information.  I try to keep up with what is going on in the various disparate parts of our field and to stay abreast of recent developments and ideas.  I talk to lots of people every day. I do all of this, in part, to come up with subjects about which I might blog on this post.  That's my job.  I realize most other people in the field do not have this luxury; they have full time jobs at working arts organizations and their plates are full every single day (and night).  I hope this blog and many, many others help to make people aware of some of what is happening out there and to raise some of the issues and share some of the thinking around those issues.  I hope that at least once in awhile I may write something that strikes a chord.  Sometimes that happens.  Often I miss the mark.  That's ok with me.  When I am on target, the occasional email response I get is tremendously gratifying and makes the effort all worthwhile.

It is increasingly difficult (if not impossible) to keep up with all the information available to us.  The amount of coverage just in our field is growing exponentially at an accelerated rate.  I keep a folder of links and articles and studies to which I refer when considering what to write about.  The folder keeps expanding, and for one reason or another, I don't get back to it to chime in on what seems to me important as often, or as much, as I mean to.  Sometimes what seemed like a great idea, on reflection seems not so great.  And then there are just too many items in the folder.  I will never get to all the things out there that are worthy of some kind of analysis or look.  I enjoy it personally because it is all food for the mind.  But, as I said, I have more time than the average arts administrator to indulge myself.

Here then is a random selection of topics (and thoughts) that I mean (meant) to write about, but haven't yet (and may not ever) get to:  (Maybe there are one or two that resonate with you).

1.  Increasingly national (and some local) arts organizations are streaming at least part of their conferences live.  A recent case in point - Americans for the Arts - offered live and online the plenary sessions of their just concluded conference in Nashville.  I applaud those efforts and hope this is a trend that has legs and will expand.  Though I understand why organizations may not want to compromise their delegate registrations by offering everything online, for those who wish they could attend an event, but cannot, live and on demand streaming is of great value, and ought to be encouraged and supported.  At the AFTA Nashville conference, for example, there was a really outstanding session on: "How can arts and culture maintain or regain standing as a core public value to our communities" with Graham Beal, Marc Barmuthi Joseph and Marissa Shriver.  The analysis, observations and ideas of these three were food for thought and there were ample nuggets in the discussion that gave me ideas for at least a half dozen blogs.  More of this kind of streaming please.

2.  As I have written about before, one problem with the onslaught of so much data and information is the dearth of clearinghouses where one can find all that is available in an easy, one stop step.  Increasingly, there are more of these data, research and other clearinghouses being put online -- but the scope and depth of information available has become so large, that we are, I think, now approaching the need for a Clearinghouse of Arts Clearinghouses.  Who will mount that effort to help us save time in trying to keep up to date?

3.  Taking a page from the Open Mic protocol, what if there were a performing arts facility in our communities that employed a similar protocol (at least some of the time) whereby performing arts organizations, irrespective of their size and operating budget or any other classification, could sign up and present their piece of art much like an Open Mic night?  You could have some kind of vetting process that would establish a minimal bar so that only legitimate arts organizations qualified, but there are, I would guess, more than enough that would qualify.  Over time the public might warm to the idea that, while perhaps hit and miss, really unique and quality performances would perform at such a venue; a boon to organizations that did not have easy and ready access to such opportunities.

4.  There are some 130,000 plus schools (K-12) in America.  While we have an increasing number of extraordinary pilot kinds of programs to get the arts in those schools as part of the educational experience (thanks to the efforts of so many dedicated, passionate and able people in our field) the real elephant in the room - if we want the arts in all those schools, is the cost.  Two art teachers (which may or may not be enough) at a cost of only $35,000 each (all inclusive) means we need somewhere around  nine billion dollars a year - every year.  While that seems like an almost insurmountable bar, it is but a fraction of the cost of a couple of months of our war machinery.  Contrary to what politicians may say - we can afford it if we choose to.  While we gain more experience to make the case, and while we learn about what works and what doesn't, I would hope we would begin now to simultaneously push for government (federal, state, local) expenditure of that total, and not wait for only incremental successes.  The nation's kids need the arts now, so let's push for the final solution while we chip away school by school.  Aim high.  Aim higher.

5.  Should the arts have their own tumblr and pinterest sites?

6.  When will foundations finally shed their fear of funding direct advocacy (and even lobbying) efforts on behalf of the arts?  Is the move to fund arts education advocacy an opening of that door?  What might be done to move them in that direction?

7.  There is in France a policy of exception culturelle (cultural exception) - as noted in an article in The Guardian - "a fiercely-guarded principle that means anything considered to be of cultural value to French society should be protected by the state from market forces."  An outgrowth of that policy is "special status given to more than 254,000 workers in France's film, theatre, television and festival industry. Known as intermittents, a 1936 law gives them higher compensation, benefits and social protection than the average unemployed person in recognition of their job insecurity. They have to work 507 hours over 10-and-a-half months for performers and over 10 months for technicians to qualify for the payments" -- which policy is now under attack.  Wouldn't it be nice if we had such a policy. While I would put the chances of passage of such a policy in the current political / economical climate at zero, it may nonetheless be of some advantage to put it forth and push for it, if for no other reason than to sell the idea that culture is of special value to any society - ours included, and that artists are the actors on that stage.  Sometimes asking for way more than you think is realistic is a good strategy.

8.  Why is there no awards show on television that honors the annual (and lifetime) achievements of the artists with whom we work with, for and represent?  There seems to be an awards show of some kind every week.  Where is ours?  And why aren't the artists we are involved with regarded as celebrities?  Where is the Red Carpet for the arts? And for those who think the notion of our artists as celebrities is an abhorrent idea that dumbs down and marginalizes their artistry, I would say: 1) let the artists decide, and 2) reaching the parts of the public that we don't reach may be a goal worthy of trumping over concern with the purity of art.

9.  As the trend towards the Internet of Everything (linking, for example, cars, televisions and everything else to the internet), including the trend towards wearable devices (think primarily of devices that will continuously monitor your health, but remember there will be myriad other applications) - how might that impact live performances or the creation of art itself?  It may enhance and detract, but how?

10.  Is the Performing Arts business model - live performances in a designated venue - just about dead now, or only still evolving?  Can the current model really work without government support?

11.  Is the future development and deployment of Robotics a threat or boom to the arts?  It may, for example, make set design cheaper and better, but may cost jobs in so doing.  What other ways might robotics impact the creation or presentation of art?

12.  If funders want real transparency, shouldn't they share with us all the reasons why they do not fund specific proposals and grantees?

13.  The arts are finally gaining a seat at the tables where decisions that impact us are made; from cities and the Mayor's and Governor's Conferences, to federal and state agencies, to private sector tables - thanks to the hard work of a lot of people in our field.  As we gain more of those seats, how will we manage communication between those representing us at those tables so that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, and we maintain a consistent message across all those tables.  What kind of mechanism can we develop that will insure a pipeline for all our people who are at those tables?

14.   People are our greatest asset, and it is our best people who make for our many successes.  Why don't we allocate at least a part of our funding to support those people and their ideas themselves rather than specific projects and programs.  If you trust the track record of extraordinary people, why not fund them to come up with a project or program upfront. An editorial in Blue Avocado put it better than I can:

"These days there are so many people creating tools for nonprofit leaders and for activists. Foundations fund online tools, research studies, websites that analyze and present data, convenings on new tools, and so forth. We have a million factories making hammers.
But we don't have enough carpenters to use all these hammers. Every few months we have a dozen more foundation-funded studies on taxes, but almost no funding for nonprofits organizing for tax reform. We have thousands of whitepapers with recommendations for lawmakers, and almost no money for people organizing voters who will elect lawmakers who might take those recommendations.
In fact, if we had more carpenters, they would buy more hammers; they'd drive up demand. A carpenter-driven market would drive quality, usefulness and price in hammers. If only foundations would fund fewer new hammer factories, and instead fund a lot more carpenters, we might actually see more houses built.
And maybe pigs will fly to the stars."

15.  Is there a single bigger threat to the arts than the disappearance of the middle class?  As the one percent's share of the nation's wealth grows (at the expense of the middle and lower classes) will that take us back to the model of the Medicis as the principal arts patron funders?  What does the widening of the gap between the have and have nots mean for the future survivability of the arts field?

16.  A number of futurists suggest that the single most important business skill is "foresight".  How is it developed?  And speaking of futurists, where are the arts futurists - those who can spot the trends that impact our planning and efforts?

17.  In the supposed age of people wanting "authenticity" (and nowhere more so than in their travel experiences) why aren't the arts a part of the package of services you can pre-book and purchase on sites like Orbitz and Kayak? Hotels, flights, rent-a-cars, and the arts?

18.  And on the tourism / hospitality front - why aren't restaurant associations our biggest backers.  They, as much as any group, enjoy direct, economic benefit from the performing arts.  Where are those major intersection partnerships?  And I don't just mean restaurants giving a small discount to performance ticket holders as a one off - but sustained industry wide support.

19.  There ought to be some national model for a dedicated revenue stream for the arts - allocated on a per capita basis from its source.  What about a 25 cent per movie ticket add on?  Ticket prices keep going up anyway.  Would it discourage movie going?  The problem is the industry would vehemently oppose it (even if you provided a portion to cover any of their out of pocket costs in implementing it.  I know I tried it in California and got nowhere.)  But I think over time we might be able to guilt them into it - with the help of some high profile celebrities and well placed power brokers.

20.    What would an Arts Ombudsman do?

21.  Lots of people think that writing basic computer programming will be an absolutely essential core business skill in the not too distant future.  What are we doing to make sure arts managers are competent in that area if that comes to pass?

22.  Where is the Arts Hall of Fame?

23.  As arts managers how do we hone the skill of cutting to the chase - and quickly sifting through all the b.s. to get to the heart of the matter on any given decision?

24.  If one out of every three Executive Directors or Senior level arts managers will retire or exit their posts in the next five years (as predicted), what are we doing to preserve their storehouses of knowledge and experience for the future.  Take, for example, the recent retirement announcements of Jonathan Katz of NASAA and Patrice Walker Powell of the NEA - two of the giants of our field.  Are we just going to lose their knowledge?  Those who replace them will not be emerging leaders - they will be seasoned veterans - shouldn't there be some kind of mechanism that will allow those who fill their shoes to have access to all they know?  Some mechanism to debrief retiring leaders. Should there be some kind of 'kitchen cabinet' of those exiting the field, that can be tapped into (if only for awhile) by the new wave of leaders?  Should there be something like the Presidential Library of former Presidents wherein can be housed the papers and speeches of those who exit the field so as to protect some of the institutional memory of our current leadership?

25.  Why aren't there film / video 'trailers' about upcoming arts exhibits / performances in movie theaters?  Can't we fund some of our film grantees to produce those trailers and maybe convince movie theaters to run them by offering them a quid pro quo like inserting flyers in our programs about their coming attractions?  Win win for everyone?

26.  How do we finally organize working artists?  How do we organize all those enrolled in university arts programs with the arts as their majors?

27.  Fast Company suggests three new job titles every company needs, but no one has yet:  Chief Reimagination Officer, Chief Paradigm Officer and Chief Paradox Officer.  Anyone in the arts dealing with the kinds of issues involved?

And here's another new job title for the arts:  The Engagement Anthropologist - in charge of efforts to integrate the arts into the various communities in which an organization operates by understanding those communities better.

28.  Is there really such a thing as the "arts field" or are we really just an amalgam of specialized interest groups that, despite a lot in common, really come together only around funding for the NEA (if then)?

29.  An article in Forbes about job titles in the future suggests this to me:  If the arts join the trend towards putting together temporary teams (perhaps even from widely disparate points of origin) to solve specific problems (whether industry wide or for specific organizations), do we need to start to develop Casting Agents (as in the movie business) to help in that effort?  The team concept for problem solving is action / results oriented.  It is not about committees. And if the arts don't move towards the temporary team trend, why the hell not?  Would a casting agent for temporary teams be like a curator?

30.  In the "be careful what you wish for" category, is a cabinet level Secretary of Culture really such a good idea?  I suppose it may depend on who the appointee is, and who is making the appointment.  I can see it not working out as envisioned.  Politics injected even more so into the sphere.

31.  What if all arts organizations gave away their art for free - on the internet only - and then up sold premium memberships with additional benefits and services including live performances?  Sort of like what the regional airlines are so successfully doing.

32.  To what extent do the efforts to create arts / business partnerships cost more (in terms of time and other resources) than they yield?   Sounds good, but is it in reality?

33.  Should grantees be required to convince funders that they have a good chance to keep alive programs or sustain their capacity to continue projects after the grant runs out as a precondition to qualify for funding?

34.  As mobile internet usage surpasses desktop internet use, you have to ask whether or not your website is platform responsive -- meaning that the website technology automatically provides the best user experience for the device being used - desktop, tablet, smart phone.  All the navigation, images, buttons, menus and other content automatically adjust so the user can access the content easily - without the need for pinching and zooming.  Does your website do that?  Is your website mobile user friendly?
If not, your website is not serving its purpose.

35.  Does (will) climate change (more severe winters, hotter summers) affect audiences for us?  Should we be thinking about the impact in our long term planning?

36.  As arts revenues decrease, workloads increase and staffs shrink - how far away are we from a critical toxic stress overload on arts administrators?  Are we talking (or even thinking) about this and how to help our people handle it?

37.   Finally, two philosophical questions:

  • Which requires more faith - art or religion?  
  • And which offers more hope, art or science? 
This folder is bigger and the list is longer.  Oh my.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.