Sunday, August 24, 2014

Announcing the Dinner Vention 2 Discussion Topic

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

There is no shortage of BIG issues facing the nonprofit arts field.
  • From the issue of equity (particularly in funding allocation), to finding an income model that will sustain our organizations; 
  • From meeting the ongoing challenge of audience decline, to managing our attempts at generational succession and leadership preparation; 
  • From figuring out how we can effectively make our case to decision makers, stakeholders, the media and the public, to grappling with our research agenda and model; 
  • From applying placemaking so as to make it effective, to exploring community engagement as a way to address a myriad of challenges; 
  • From information overload, to questioning our communication strategies and even assumptions; 
  • From moving forward to offer arts education to all the nation's students, to moving forward in the intersections of art and health care, art and science and art and corporate America.
  • From finally developing real working partnerships with our stakeholders, to uniting the various factions in our universe.

And, of course, that's just a partial list.

Behind all these challenges lies the issue of how we can be adaptive, flexible, innovative and creative in addressing these challenges and how we can be competitive in the marketplace.

In terms of selecting a single dinner topic, we wanted:
1) a topic that has widespread relevance to the entire arts field;
2) a topic under which might fit consideration of several of the above challenges (and / or others);
3) a topic that has the potential for a frank and robust exchange of ideas and positions from the dinner guest’s varied perspectives; and
4) a topic that may provide a platform for new ideas in how to meet some of our challenges.

We want to be mindful of the guest’s work and experiences so the topic will allow each to bring to the discussion ideas they have doubtless spent time refining and thinking about.  We aren't afraid of controversy or of upsetting the status quo.  We trust all the guests have strong feelings about some of these issues and how we might - as a field - go about addressing the challenges we all face.

What we do NOT want is a rehash of what everyone in the field already knows.  We don't want to cover ground previously covered umpteen times.  We don't want to repeat the obvious.  And we don't want a safe or timid discussion that goes nowhere.  We want a divergence of ideas and positions, and we hope for some strong feelings and positions from our guests.  We want a frank discussion that may question basic assumptions, delve into areas some may think are better left without discussion, and a strong dose of "real world" reality.  We want the discussion to get down to the heart of whatever issues arise at the dinner, and which readers, viewers and the field think breaks some new ground and moves us from being stuck in the same place.  We want to dig deeper than the surface platitudes often quoted when we discuss the big issues we all face.  This dinner is a platform to reach (if not the whole field), than perhaps a wider audience than the guests may have heretofore reached, so they might share their thinking about how to move forward.

In arriving at the topic, we advised the guests as follows:

We asked the guests to chose from the below lists with their top choices.

We also asked them for any suggestions for a different broad topic that would allow for an engaging discussion of, and be relevant to, the challenges the field faces, or an idea to re-word any of the suggested topics.

Possible Broad Dinner Topics (we asked the guests to indicate their top two preferences):

1.  PLANNING:  For several decades now, arts organizations have engaged in "strategic planning" as a way to approach the challenges they face.  In a world that is constantly and dramatically changing at an ever accelerated place, it has become axiomatically problematic, and at the least, increasingly difficult, to engage in realistic long term strategic planning.  Indeed the very assumptions of those plans have increasingly proven to be obsolete as our plans are being drafted.  The economic collapse of 2008 wasn't foreseen by the arts any more than by the financial field, and we missed the trend of declining audiences as the new reality.  In response to this challenge, there now seems increasing consensus that arts organizations need to be flexible, nimble, adaptive and innovative in their approaches to the problems they face.    While there are numerous examples of what is working, there is no "one size fits all" cookie cutter solution for widely different sets of circumstances, so how to we proceed in planning?  How can we incorporate the growing mass of information (including research and data) in intelligently and effectively planning for our future?  How can we incorporate flexibility and innovation in addressing the challenges of equity in support of all arts organizations?  How can we plan for a changing income revenue model that we haven't even yet successfully developed?  How does community engagement and placemaking impact our planning for the future?  How do we plan to move arts education, collaboration and public support for our value given the realities of each over which we have no control?  Are our funder's expectations and priorities a help or barrier in our planning efforts?

2.  BROKEN MODELS:  The nonprofit arts have relied on a number of models that have arguably now failed (or are failing) - including the income / revenue model, the advocacy model, the funding allocation model, the audience development (marketing) model, the arts organization governance model, the professional development for leadership model, and the business partnership model among others.  How do we come up with the ways and means to either fix what is broken in these models or to develop entirely new models that a majority of the field will embrace to allow us to make some progress in all the challenges we face,  and what might those new models look like?  How would those new models incorporate consensus policies on equity, succession, research, engagement, placemaking and leadership?  How do we move beyond the talking stage in model reformation?

3.  RELATIONSHIP BUILDING:  Success in a number of our endeavors - including building collaborations and forming partnerships, advocacy, career trajectory management and advancement, pushing forward with arts education efforts, securing funding and more - increasingly depends on developing meaningful ongoing relationships with people outside our sphere.  What impact do these various relationships have on our future success in meeting all the challenges we face, and  how do we find the time to make those relationships work?

4.  THE SILO-IZATION OF THE FIELD:  The arts field is arguably not a very unified or cohesive universe, but rather an aggregate of highly independent sub-sectors each of which has its own set of priorities, agendas, needs and aspirations - not all of which mesh well with those of other sub-sectors.  There are fundamental disagreements and sometimes antithetical positions on important issues from equity in funding to support for arts education held within both our larger sector and the sub-sectors that make up our universe.  The challenge of organizational territoriality (and its impact on collaboration) - arguably around for decades - has perhaps never been addressed.  How important in meeting (what seem on the surface at least to be common challenges and problems) is the ability of the nonprofit arts field to act in concert with all segments cooperating and collaborating to a far greater extent than is the current reality?  What is the impact on our ability to address the challenges we face of the SILO-ization of the arts, and how do we address this challenge?  How do we enhance our sense of 'community', and make the concept of a "big tent" a reality in the nonprofit arts?

5.  POLICY FORMULATION:  Policies are arguably useful in governing both approaches to action and action itself in any given field.  Where are the consensus, guiding policies in the arts for equity in funding allocation, arts education strategies, research, communications, audience development, community engagement, placemaking, advocacy, case making, leadership development, and, of course, revenue generation?    How can we establish unified national policies in these and other areas? Should we?  Why or why not? Why haven't we?

Focused Dinner Topics (we asked the guests to indicate their top top four preferences):

1.  Equity - Racism

When and how do we stop attempting to convert people to the traditional western European art forms and redirect the funds subsidizing those art forms to the classical and contemporary art forms of peoples from other parts of the world?

2.  Engagement - community, generational, other?

Is the current theory of community engagement as essential to the future of the nonprofit arts on the money or ill-conceived.  How are both ‘community’ and ‘engagement’ to be defined so as to attain consensus agreement, and does the approach really address the issues of audience development, public and private support and equity in funding allocation?

3.  Causes of the shrinking audiences; solutions.

What are the real causes of our shrinking audiences and is there anything we can do to stem the tide?”  What are the roles of: engagement, placemaking, marketing, programming, funding / resources and leadership in coming up with solutions?  What is the solution?

4.  The broken funding model; solutions.

Is the current arts organization funding model (public / private support combined with earned income) broken, can it be fixed, and what do we have to do to have a funding model that works for us?  What will that model look like?  How do government agencies (local, state and federal), foundations, corporations, patrons and donors fit into that new model?

5.  Making the case for the Arts.

Selling the value of the arts - to decision makers, the public, stakeholders, the media and constituents. What are we doing wrong, what are we doing right and what must we do to change the process and our progress?

6.  Innovation.

We spend a lot of time and energy considering, devising programs for, and promoting the importance and value of innovation.  But how innovative are we really, and what needs to be done to get the field to embrace innovative change, and then to make it happen? In what areas is innovation desperately needed and why?

7.  Placemaking; Cultural Districts.

Is the theory of Placemaking a valid approach to integrating the arts into communities nation wide?  Is Placemaking being confused with the creation of cultural districts and is that really a misguided attempt to engage in a form of artificial nation building and doomed to failure?

8.  Leadership; professional development; succession.

What are the challenges facing the field in generational succession (and what are the consequences and implications of this wholesale shift) and are we really effectively and efficiently preparing leaders to cope with the challenges facing arts administrators today (and tomorrow)?

9.  Information overload.

Have we reached a level of  information overload, wherein we simply have too much to consider for most of it to be useful in our jobs? What impact is this having?  How do we address the challenge?

10.  Collaboration models for the future

What needs to be done to identify, develop and manage truly effective collaborations that will specifically address the big challenges we face?  What partnerships are really working, and which ones are mere lip service to the idea of partnering?

11.  Research and Data

What is the role of research and data, metrics and measurements in the discharge of the mission of arts organizations?  How do we accurately assess impact? How do we get a handle on the growing body of research and make it useful to the rank and file in the arts field in all of the challenges facing us?

12.  Communication

How do we communicate in the arts - within our organizations and field, and with those outside our field (including stakeholders, the government, and the public)?  Are the tools we are using to communicate effective and efficient, and to the degree they are not, why not?  How do we (as arts administrators) get most of our information in today’s world? (through word of mouth, via the internet, from bloggers, the printed word, reports and studies, at conferences or otherwise?)  Are those means efficient?  What needs to be done to improve both our capacity to communicate and the reality of our communications?

The guests indicated their preferences and here is the reworded topic for the Dinner-vention 2 discussion:


BROKEN MODELS - PICKING UP THE PIECES AND MOVING FORWARD:  The nonprofit arts have long relied on a number of models that have arguably now failed (or are failing - if not across the board, then for large portions of our universe) - including the income / revenue model, the advocacy model, the equity in funding allocation model, the audience development (marketing) model, the arts organization governance model, the professional development for leadership model, the "making the case" model, and the business partnership model among others.  Some of these models are clearly not working, others marginally so.  Other models may be working well (e.g. Placemaking, Innovation exploration).  Which models are broken and why, and how do we come up with the ways and means to either fix what is broken in the dysfunctional models or to develop entirely new models that a majority of the field will embrace to allow us to make some progress in all the challenges we face, and what might those new models look like?  Consider:  How would those new models incorporate consensus policies on equity in funding allocation, leadership succession and development, research, engagement strategies, placemaking efforts, collaboration, moving arts education K-12 forward and others?  Without working consensus models in many areas, how do we engage in meaningful and effective planning?  How do we gain consensus for new or reinvented models given the silo-ization of our field in many areas?  What is the role of effective relationship building in developing models that work and serve us well, and how do we go about that?   And finally, how do we move beyond the talking stage in model reformation, and how do we do so in an innovative way?

Caveat:  We note, of course, that none of the models used by the nonprofit arts are universal.  Some models which are arguably broken for large segments of our sector, continue to work just fine for some organizations.  Many of the models that are widely in play, are customized and unique in their application to individual organizations and differing sets of circumstances, and we don't mean to imply that talking about models - functional or not - addresses every situation or every challenge -- nor that every strategy to deal with moving forward will work for everyone.  

AND JUST TO CLARIFY:  The chosen topic is only a means to begin the dinner discussion.  It is not meant to be exclusionary, but rather meant to be a starting off point for a wide discussion.  As far as we are concerned NOTHING is off the table, and each of the guests are encouraged to raise the points they think are important in the areas that we suggested might be focused topics, or even beyond that.  We don't want to narrow the discussion in any way.  And we want the guests to make the points they believe are important to make.  Some of them will zero in on one aspect of the topic, others may focus on another area.  Having a topic at all is simply a way to give some framework to that discussion - as a help to both the guests in organizing their thinking, and for those who will follow the dinner discussion via the live feed or thereafter.  Hopefully this topic will allow us to both go wide and deep in our discussion, but still have it tied together with an underlying, unifying theme.

Of course, a two hour discussion is hardly enough time to make every point or to solve the problems of the world, but we are excited that the discussion will provide a lot of food for thought for the field, and hopefully generate some different perspectives and new thinking.  And we hope there will continue to be conversations about all these issues across our field, and that in some small way, this event will contribute to that ongoing discussion.

We're asking the dinner guests to prepare one page briefing papers that sets forth some of their thinking on the topic and the issues that they think need to be part of the dinner discussion, and we will publish those papers on this blog within the next month.

We think we have a solid topic, and some very astute and smart guests.  We are looking forward to a lively and insightful discussion.  We hope you will join either the live stream on October 9th or tune in after the event as we post the proceedings.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit