Sunday, September 28, 2014

Where is the Debate in the Arts

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

I use to watch all the Sunday morning political shows - Meet the Press, Face the Nation etc.  I quit tuning in to these television stalwarts when they became nothing more than platforms for the spin doctors of the two major parties.  Where they were once forums for real and lively debate on current issues, they devolved over time to talking heads like John McCain and Donna Brazille parroting pablum bullet points that never really say anything substantive.  Meet the Press, the ratings king and mainstay of all the Sunday morning shows, lost its cachet when Tim Russert passed away, and with his passing any hard, probative questioning was lost with him.  It's hard to really have a debate with someone else when neither you nor they actually say anything, and that's exactly what happened on these shows.  There is the illusion of a debate, but its mostly just saying the other side is wrong as a declarative statement.

Last year I did a blog on the Arts Spin Doctors - and wondered if we (in the arts) weren't also guilty (at times at least) of doing exactly what politicians have now adopted as their default modus operandi - namely, to spin the realities and facts of a situation or issue not just to one's best advantage, but to the point where there is really no substantive debate or discussion at all.

And I wonder now Where IS the Debate in the Arts?

Except for some of my fellow bloggers - who raise questions, and aren't averse or afraid to tackle real issues and debate some of the points by taking a stand - and in a couple of areas such as the research sub-sector - I don't see a lot of honest debate going on in our field - at least not public debate.  Maybe it's happening somewhere, but it isn't highly visible and readily apparent to me.  I wonder if that kind of challenging of assumptions and holding people accountable for their positions is going on out of the public window in our organizations - from funders to researchers to service groups to academia. I wonder if the kind of serious debate that is healthy for arriving at well thought out conclusions on which to base decision making is happening behind closed doors - because I don't see it happening much in our public arenas.  If it is happening in a robust fashion within the walls of organizations, there ought to be some way to share all that. It would, I think, be beneficial to us all.

 I suspect that when issues and responses are on the table across our universe, for the most part there are "discussions", but not really serious debates.  We seem to have long championed civility over heated debate, and the acceptable protocol is now for a refined approach to consideration of that which challenges us.  We don't necessarily take strong positions, we don't necessarily fight for deeply held beliefs, and we don't necessarily hold the feet of those who take contrary positions to the fire as it were. At our conferences, there are "presentations" - mostly of programs and the like that have already been launched and assumedly "vetted" first.  But "vetted" by whom and when - because there is no real debate about much of anything at these convenings.

Even the tools we use in our sessions are designed to minimize disagreement and foster blanket consensus.  We gather our ideas, write them down on easel pads and tape them to the walls, then "discuss" them rationally and logically so as to make nicey nicey with each other.   It's almost as though we have, ironically, (for the arts are arguably about passion) bred all emotion out of consideration of the issues with which we must deal.  We avoid confrontation as unseemly for our level of civilization, yet civilization itself is quite possibly a result of contentious disagreement.  We seem to fairly easily accept things as presented to us, and there are norms governing debate within our field that are almost sacrosanct, and there seems little challenge to that which is assumed to be "givens".

Is that healthy?  Shouldn't there be widespread open debate on all the major issues we face, rather than some kind of de facto ratification of what is put up as fait accompli?   Wouldn't a little actual real disagreement and spirited defense of strongly held beliefs serve us better?  What is wrong with the internal system our infrastructure has allowed, if there is so little public (at least within our own universe) debate and questioning of our decision making, of our strategies and approaches, of our blind acceptance of virtually every response to the important issues on our plate? Has real debate been systemically bred out of our approach to how we do things?  Is it reasonable to assume there is really the universal consensus on everything we do that the lack of real debate suggests?  And if we all do basically agree on everything - what does that say about us?  Why are our conferences nothing more than panel presentations where there is virtually no disagreement or debate on what is being presented?  Where are the hard questions and the healthy skepticism as to what is being presented?  Why aren't  we openly and vigorously challenging each other on a full range of positions taken?  After 15 years in this field, I know that there are lots of people with strong opinions and feelings about things and there is no way all of those people see things the same.

I'm not suggesting we be rude, nor combative and accusatorial, in our interactions with each other; certainly not contentious for its own sake. I am not suggesting we argue just for the sake of argument.  Nor am I suggesting there is no  disagreement or debate in our field. I am suggesting that there is too little questioning and debate that is open and transparent, and that the absence of real disagreement and strong, probative public debate is unhealthy for us.

Houston, we have a problem.  And it just might be possible that the problem is us.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Majority of Americans Are Now Single -- and What Does THAT Mean for Us?

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

Tectonic demographic shifts - from minority populations moving to majority, from dramatic shifts in middle class income and buying power, from retiring boomers to burgeoning millennials, from rural migration to cities - all continue to impact our strategies and approaches to surviving - to our marketing and audience development efforts.

Now comes another major revelation - a report in Bloomberg notes that a majority of Americans are now single.

"Single Americans make up more than half of the adult population for the first time since the government began compiling such statistics in 1976. 
Some 124.6 million Americans were single in August, 50.2 percent of those who were 16 years or older, according to data used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its monthly job-market report." 

Moreover, the report notes that:  "The percentage of adult Americans who have never married has risen to 30.4 percent from 22.1 percent in 1976, while the proportion that are divorced, separated or widowed increased to 19.8 percent from 15.3 percent."

It's unclear from the report how many people (though perhaps 'technically' single as they are not married) are, nonetheless, "coupled" in one form or another -- at least as they perceive themselves.  There is also no data on how this plays out differently in different ethnic, geographical, educational and income groups. Still, being 'single' - as a trend - has implications.  As Boomers age and pass on, more marriages end in divorce or separation, and fewer Millennials get married (or couple together), more people join or remain in the single ranks. And so we have yet another factor to consider in our attempts to strengthen our approaches to audiences and supporters.

Questions as to the behaviors and preferences of single people vs. those who are  married (or coupled) immediately arise.  Do single people attend arts performances or exhibitions by themselves?  I suppose some do, but I suspect most eschew the very idea.  I don't even like going to the movies by myself, though as often as not if there is no before or after meal with friends, I might as well go alone - we just sit in a darkened theater and don't talk to each other.  Then we go home.   Still, just going to the movies is a social event, and I would think an arts event is even more so.  Then there is a societal stigma to being out alone - whether at a movie, a restaurant or an arts event.  A classic SNL skit with Steve Martin had him show up at a restaurant -- alone -- and that fact was announced to the assembled diners who stared at him in disbelief and pity.  A spotlight shined on him "alone" at a center table as though he was a specimen on display.  But maybe Millennials feel differently. I doubt it, but it would be instructive if we had data on the question.  What do we know of the composition of our audiences in terms of their status as 'singles' or 'couples' and of how those in different categories behave in terms of attending our events?  What do we know about what kinds of solicitations from us they are more likely to respond to?

How do we adjust our marketing efforts if a majority of adults over 16 are now single and that cohort is likely to get bigger?  If subscriptions to performing arts events are a thing of the past, and single performance tickets are now the mainstay - what is the effect of an increasing number of single adults on our declining audiences.  What kinds of questions should we be asking?

For singles to attend an event, it is arguably more difficult as there must be more planning to coordinate with other singles (assuming they do not want to go it alone).  What can be done to incentivize them to engage in that extra effort so they will attend?  What are the barriers that keep them away?  What are the group dynamics that affect a decision to gather some friends and attend an arts event?  Like other group activities does the happening of such a gathering depend on someone who acts as the group's social leader?  How do we identify those leaders?  What are the means to motivate those group leaders?  What do we know about them and how they operate?  Are there different lessons to be learned for different generations?  Are older singles likely to respond to different stimuli and incentives than true for younger singles?

Should we consider singles only nights as an incentive? Should we differentiate between generational singles in our marketing and audience development approaches?  Should our messages and the forms of our outreach be different when directed to singles vs. couples?  Should we then have Singles LGBT nights too?  Or for other niche groups?  Should we collaborate and cooperate with others who are trying to attract these same groups in ways that are mutually beneficial?  What ways might be mutually beneficial?  And should we also promote other special group nights that would focus on the reality of the rise in singles, if not necessarily calling direct attention to that fact?  Should we consider other ways to make it easier for singles to coordinate with other singles in attending our events?  And what might those ways be?  Discounts?  Special offers?  Transportation tie ins?  How does this play with the other demographic shifts noted above?

Clearly you may need to challenge your previous assessments and assumptions, and you ought to begin to ask yourself: What is your strategy to market to singles?  Do you have one?  Does it matter?

Yet something else to think about.  It's all getting increasingly more complex.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Dinner-vention 2 Guest Briefing Papers

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

We asked the Dinner-vention 2 Guests to submit Briefing Papers encapsulating some of their preliminary thinking on the topic of Broken Models - Picking Up the Pieces and Moving Forward --as a way to begin to organize their thoughts prior to the October 9th Dinner (click here for a full description of the Dinner topic, and here for the Dinner Guest's bios, and here for a review of the project)

We've asked the guests to question the basic assumptions and assertions of our field across a number of issues and challenges we collectively face, and to offer their thoughts and analysis as to what is and  isn't working, why, and what the future might hold. We've also asked them to play Devil's Advocate with the positions of their fellow guests.  We're looking forward to a probing and penetrating dinner discussion that we hope will be provocative, and which will further the sector wide discussion on this topic.

Any discussion of moving away from what is arguably no longer working must begin with several caveats.  Rarely does any change in paradigm or process go totally smoothly, and almost always - when you replace something with something else - there arise unanticipated problems and consequences. Moreover, there are few universal situations or applications.  What may not be working for a majority, may well be working just fine for a minority.  One need ask: Do the gains and benefits of moving from one approach or strategy to another outweigh the potential negative consequences of such a move? To answer that, you need to have some idea about the benefits and drawbacks of any change. And that may be, at best, conjecture and speculation.  We've asked the guests to factor in these kinds of considerations in their thinking about the ramifications, impacts and outcomes of moving from the old to the new; from where we are, to where they may suggest we go.

The fact is old models exist.  And there is ample evidence to suggest many are not working well, if at all.  In a world where change is now a constant, some of the models that govern our actions are decades old.  Yet we cling to them.  We've suggested to the guests that the challenge is to help the field move off them to something else, and to know when, and how,  to do that.   We've asked them to try to put themselves into the shoes of someone who will listen in on their dinner conversation, and think about how what is being said might be of use to that person.

Finally, we've asked the guests to consider how we move forward in any number of areas if the very idea of working models is no longer a viable option.  Thus, for example, if there are no workable models, how can we possibly engage in any kind of a planning process?

We will live stream the dinner at 7:00 pm Mountain Time on October 9th (more to follow). And we will put a link to the video on this blog and the WESTAF website for people to access after the event.

We are delighted that the Dinner will be held at the Carmen Wiedenhoeft Gallery in Denver.  Here is our host - Carmen's - bio:

Carmen Wiedenhoeft began her work in the Visual Arts in 1993 when she interned at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. There, she worked with Catherine Coleman, the Curator of Prints & Drawings and later Photography. From the beginning Widenhoeft was interested in the concerns of living artists. She had earlier explored intellectual property concerns of artists during an internship with the estate of Tennessee Williams at the law firm of Mershon, Sawyer, Johnston, Dunwody and Cole in Miami, Florida. In 1994, she interned at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the International Program Department.

In 1995, she entered the graduate Program in Arts Administration at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York. She completed her coursework and thesis on The Internet as Public Art Space: Communication, Access and Policy in 1999. In this work she looked at the Internet as a public space and used this framework to discuss online public art, access to the arts, and the issues that arise for nonprofit arts organizations seeking to use public spaces on the Internet as a tool for fulfilling their organizational missions.

During that time she also worked for two years at the Research Center for Arts & Culture at Columbia University on the study Information On Artists II exploring the living and working conditions of artists. In 2005, Wiedenhoeft served as a Video Conference Coordinator for the Open Exchange project between 12 museums of Modern & Contemporary Art in New York and Madrid as they explored issues in Museum Education.

For nine years, until 2007, Wiedenhoeft worked to disseminate the photographic work of her father-in-law, Ron Wiedenhoeft, to art history programs across the country. The collections represented images from 200 museums around the world, were in use by 500 universities and museums, and served millions of students. The database grew to serve 3,000 educators and 5,000 registered users (educators, art historians, librarians, administrators, students) of the web site representing 2,100 institutions. She founded the Gallery, to continue her work in exploring the concerns of contemporary artists.


I.  Sanjit Sethi

The Righting Arm
I have been thinking a lot recently of the nautical principle called the Righting Arm. I want to be clear that I don’t have a maritime bone in my body: I don’t sail, I don’t go out on the water regularly, and I don’t come from a family of boaters. Despite this, I can’t get this concept out of my mind. The Righting Arm is the horizontal distance between the center of gravity and the center of buoyancy of a ship that is displaced from the upright position. The Righting Arm represents the amount of movement a ship can have and still “right” itself before it capsizes. It’s a principle of physics which is both simple and complex, and does not look at a situation in a static manner, but rather through a series of fluid variables. It’s a principle based upon gravity, buoyancy, height, weight, and an intriguing concept called a Metacenter.

As I look at the future of arts and cultural organizations, and the trials that they face in order to achieve success, I find myself compelled to look for new models of evaluating, structuring and analyzing the manner in which these organizations thrive. Examining principles like the Righting Arm that exist inherently in a fluid world, can be incredibly meaningful as we reexamine the “stable” / “concrete” environment in which arts and cultural organizations presumably operate. What happens when we attempt to do what nautical engineers do all the time - to find the Righting Moment, that point which is the absolute maximum angle a ship can pitch before capsizing? What is our center of gravity within arts and cultural organizations? Our mission? Our community constituencies? What about our center of buoyancy? Is this our ability to survive crisis? Is our Metacenter that combination of acumen and lived experience that allows us to be nimble and lead through change?

The Righting Arm defies a traditional hierarchy of looking at the way an organization operates. Here gravity, buoyancy, centers are all on relative equal footing. Change one and you effect the entire system, sometimes for the benefit for the vessel and sometimes in opposition to it. Wide and shallow or a narrow and deep vessels have Metacenters that are very quick to roll and difficult to overturn; it’s easy to imagine the implications towards organizational capacity and agility. Inherently the Righting Arm is about an acknowledgment that change exists, that multiple factors are responsible for the ability of a vessel (read: organization) to survive these changes without knowing explicitly what they are or when they are coming. I believe we are at a stage where new models, new diagnostic tools, and new ways of thinking are not just useful, but necessary. See crude diagram below.

II.  Rachel Grossman
I frequently encourage emerging artists, seeking inspiration and advice from dog & pony dc’s origin story, that they should not form a [theatre] company.
Why do you want to?” 
“To make work.”
“Then just make it. And let me tell you how to do so without dealing with all the bullshit.”

And now, the bullshit.
Because I wanted to form and run a company.
Because I love the bullshit.

What’s broken? The question we’re addressing.

The only way for me to begin wrestling with this is to travel back to the very beginning, to the genesis of every organization, and then fast forward to the present day, and at both points pose the same question: why do we exist? Why did arts organization come into being? Why do we persevere today?

I look around my city, across this country for the answer, and what echoes back are reasons to perpetuate, to continue to exist. Not of passion. Not of service to a higher calling. One of explaining our role in the universe. Of tackling conversations we shy or sprint away from. Of evoking fellowship, encouraging greater understanding, enlightenment.

What’s broken? We are in a cycle of perpetuating our own existence as organizations and cultural memorials rather than artists and cultural partners. We are in a cycle of perpetuation, not a cycle of service.

It took a collective of twelve mid-career artists four “formal” years and six devised shows to identify what dog & pony dc’s broad meta-process was for making new productions. Some of the original group of twelve had worked together for numerous years, dabbled with projects for many more, and been friends, spouses, and whathaveyou for even longer. (Some would call us “quick learners,” but I look back on this as being an arduous eternity.) And yet, in that time and even after, d&pdc assumed, threw out, and assumed anew organizational models and systems of operations through which to conduct our business affairs. The most “efficient” part of our company, all the jobs we knew how to do (e.g. create a budget, run a box office) seemed to stymie us. We couldn’t figure out how to do them “correctly” but as an ensemble; more importantly, as us.  Time and time again we returned to touchstone systems and approaches from our past experiences in regional theatre only to end up frustrated and feeling shackled. We looked at other ensemble companies, but they mostly separated “ensemble” (meaning the artists) and “staff” (meaning the administrators) from one another; wholly dissatisfying. d&pdc sought to be fully ensemble-based in all its operations. We had the gall to want an organizational model that integrated our company mission, values, and vision.

dog & pony dc’s artistic musculature grew stronger and yet remained hanging on this delicate skeleton; a precarious scenario we knew would hinder company development and success. My “organizational advancement” colleagues in the company sank into dismay as we found ourselves doing just the opposite of our charge.

Then the gift of circumstances brought us a semester-long relationship with Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Arts Management program. We were freed from our blinders by providing insight into more team and project based organization structures: podular design; holacracy (adopted by as of 2014). These structures decrease hierarchy and individual, centralized management, and increase collaboration, creativity, adaptability, and quick problem solving. I believe they create workplaces that function more like high-powered, adaptable networks in which supervisors can also be subordinates, and you can maximize the potential of every employee’s passion, interests, experience, talents, and skills to their fullest.

The CMU MAM students proposed one model, and recommended two alternatives. Ultimately, it took d&pdc under two months to synthesize their research, make a few adjustments, and approve a new organizational model. The board took a little more coaxing, but they’re accustomed to trusting a sound plan with clear vision and occasionally a vague output.  On the six-month anniversary of this change, I barely recognize us as an organization. We operate more efficiently, at higher productivity levels, include more people in decision-making and have decentralized operations faster than ever imagined. We are able to take on more projects, bring in more revenue, understand dissenting positions better, come to consensus faster, and are overall happier and more unified as an organization. This would not be possible if we did not have the shared sense of purpose at our core: the mission, the values, the vision.

A List of Behaviors that Perpetuate that Not-So-Fresh Feeling of “Broken Models”
  • Privilege
  • Opacity 
  • Specialization
  • Competition
  • Centralization of Power
  • Seeking to Own Meaning
  • Insisting on Adopting Best Practices
  • Weighting Certification/Criteria over Practical Experience
  • Hoarding Resources
  • Lack of Specificity
  • Lack of Goals
  • Lack of Self-Examination
  • Culture of Scarcity
  • Meetings as Primary Solutions
  • Email as Primary Communication
  • Disinterest in Reflection
  • The Old “Why fix it if it’s not broken” Adage
  • Short Term Vision
  • People are Expendable
  • Your Way is The Only Way
We know these are part of the problem. Why are we following the leaders to who engage in these behaviors? What if we all stopped working for those companies?

A List of Behaviors Off the Top of My Head You Could Attempt That Wouldn’t Fix But Might Counteract the Feeling of “Broken Models”
  • What if you let people make their own titles?
  • What if you got rid of job descriptions?
  • What if the entire budget was open for review by the entire staff?
  • What if you made a list of things you would never do, ranked them, and then did the least “scary” of them in the next month, documented what happens, and shared with everyone on staff and the board what occurred?
  • What if you made a list of things you really wanted to do but are terrified about the risk involved, made a plan right now to do it including a way to measure its success, did it, documented what happened, and shared the findings with everyone staff and the board?
  • What if once a week, you looked for a way to adapt a strategy from another industry into your daily work practice?
  • What if you sought out collaborations with anyone and everyone based on what you can give more than what you can get?
  • What if you accepted the assistance of someone you wouldn’t normally—the next person like that to come along?
  • What if you started to give things away that you normally wouldn’t without expecting anything in return?
  • What if you asked people what they wanted and gave them resources to make it happen themselves?
  • What if you gave staff a day create and do using company resources, provided they shared the results with their colleagues?
  • What if you used data before making your next decision?
  • What if you said “screw data” before making the next decision you felt inclined to gather a bunch of information about first, and just went with your gut?
  • What if you determined the appropriate learning curve and then really gave yourself enough time? 
  • What if you made a decision that would require more time than you can ever possibly imagine giving change to occur—like your lifetime—and then waited? 
If you were going to create an organization from the ground up, what would it look like? Where would you go to for inspiration, and why would the status quo be the most appealing option?

Adaptation. Exaptation. Evolution.

This is nature and technology attempting to teach humanity over time to respond to the needs of our environment but we are creatures of story, of pattern, of habit. When coupled with Capitalism and industrialized Western business culture, efficiency, productivity, and profit rule in American non-for-profit arts sector. And as artmakers we spin the same story year after year: self-preservation.

What if we flip the script? Stop once and for all the art-administration bifurcation, and instead embrace a more holistic physical model. Look at arts organizations like athletes in training, all systems interconnected, all bodies unique. All requiring doses of regulation, of extension, of exertion, of injury, of recovery, of victory, and, one day, of retirement. But all over a long, healthy, vibrant career.

III.  Ron Ragin

The economic and political systems that surround us make it increasingly difficult for workers across class to achieve financial stability, if not survive. Basic costs of living are rising, and real wages are decreasing for most people. In this globalized post-capitalist neoliberal moment, all labor is becoming more precarious, some kinds more urgently than others. Artists and culture workers are just that, workers, and they are grappling with the ills of this system too. Many work with few resources and little organized power, save for a few musician and tech unions in major cities. So what does this have to do with broken models? A lot, but I’ll just focus on one, “siloization,” which is linked to many others.

Let’s imagine something together: What would happen if ALL arts organizations, artists, and cultural workers understood and engaged with their work in its full political and economic context? What if EVERY arts advocate also advocated in support of community issues like affordable housing and access to health care as arts issues? Artists are part of their communities and need those things too, after all. What if EVERY arts organization saw creating a more equitable world as part of its core mission and dedicated some portion of its resources to working arm-in-arm with other community actors to make a just future a present reality – for artists, for culture workers, and for everyone? I think these shifts could unleash immense power for social change, and would also improve the lives of artists and their ability to do their work.

Most artists work multiple jobs to subsidize their creative time and meet basic needs. With few exceptions, most aren’t meeting those needs with income derived from the sale of their work or tickets to their shows. While the arts and its nonprofit institutions may popularly be deemed elite, many artists are not. And while the organizations in our field have typically acted in isolation, it’s becoming clearer that we can no longer afford to do so. More artists, culture workers, and organizations could be working in solidarity with social movements that are tackling issues that directly impact artists and others in their communities – like ensuring everyone has a living wage, providing pathways to citizenship, challenging unjust policing practices, countering environmental degradation, and more. Creative folks have stakes in these battles, important skills and tools to humbly contribute, and broadly speaking, much to learn.

The good news is that there is a long history and robust network of current-day artists, cultural workers, cultural organizers, and arts and culture organizations who are already working for change and have much to share and teach those who are new to it. There is also a growing number of funders who support work at the intersections of art, activism, and social justice.

At RRF, we believe that creative problem solving and outside-the-box thinking, which are germane to artistic practice, can be true assets to all causes and actions, and our expanded Artist as Activist program enacts that belief. Artists of all disciplines – visual, performance, media, and more – who address global challenges through their practices, can apply for travel and research grants or larger unrestricted grants. Open calls for both of these opportunities are live right now. Although our focus during this round is on individual artists and shoring up support for their part of the ecosystem, we acknowledge that organizations play a critical role, and we plan to provide a handful of operating grants (applications accepted by invitation only) to a small number of organizations that have been exemplars in supporting artists working at the intersection of art and change.

For individuals, organizations, and funders to whom this kind of intersectional work is new, stepping into activist spaces and networks may be complicated, uncomfortable, and require otherwise challenging shifts in practice. These growing pains are increasingly necessary and urgent as environmental and social crises intensify around us. We need to work for change in solidarity with other members of our communities, of which our organizations, our selves, and our art are a part.

I look forward to diving into this conversation with my Dinner-vention 2 peers! Thanks to Barry and his collaborators for making this possible.

IV.  Ebony McKinney

What’s not working?        

What is broken is the perpetually fragile nature of small and mid-sized arts organizations. This likely inhibits their ability to create value for communities. With a widening income gap, there is also a question of cultural equity and privilege. Which groups are best positioned to speak up, scale up and take risks?

What is broken is an overreliance on government and foundation funding, particularly since the pool of resources is in many cases shrinking.

What might work better?        

I won’t delve too deeply into government and foundation-funding recommendations except to write that I hope to see a move toward more general operating support and capacity building, particularly for small and mid-sized organizations developing experimental work and/or deeply rooted in under-resourced communities. Additionally, several foundations in San Francisco are now developing small cohorts of ten or more grantees who receive organizational or financial assessments and coaching or consulting services in addition to operating support. In some instances, ‘communities of practice’ form and collaborations or opportunities to share resources are considered. I find these initiatives promising, but will center my thoughts on the potential for support from the market and social realm.

A recent report titled the Birth and Mortality Rates of Arts Culture Organizations 1990-2010 found that organizations with revenue between 30% and 40% and a moderate level of contributed income rather than a heavy reliance (characterized as 90% or more) were more like to exist over time. According to researchers, “these findings highlight the important role fiscal stability and financial independence play in enabling long-term organizational sustainability”. In my work, I have found that there is also a real need for opportunity, change, facilities or equipment capital. So, if access to government and foundation support is limited or fluctuates, what are other options?

The market is related to quid pro quo exchanges, such as sales, which don’t necessarily trigger ongoing relationships. However, the arts certainly bring additional value - inspiration, empathy, civic engagement, aesthetic growth, sense of belonging and the list goes on and on. During Barry’s blogathon on Arts Enterprise Andrew Taylor noted that “with the rise of social enterprise, all sorts of values and outcomes are now deemed worthy of entrepreneurship”. Consider the growing movement toward business for social good.

In this model, business aims support, and are subservient to social aims and a triple bottom line (people, environment and profit) helps guide business decisions. What would a triple bottom line look like for arts enterprise?

Parallel or hybrid entities like 826 Valencia, combine a pirate store and writing center for students. The Center for New Music and Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, serve as co-working spaces during the day for musicians and technologists, respectively, and performance and rental spaces in the evenings. Emerging arts managers that I’ve come in contact with in the Bay Area desire flexibility in organizing structures. Some have expressed interest in learning more about Benefit corporations (B-corps), such as Ben & Jerry’s or Dansko.

A social orientation involves a greater reliance on the cultivation of networks, building trust and creating pathways for information to flow. It privileges sharing, reciprocity, gift giving and relationship building. Here we all become “participants in this conversation called art” professor Arjo Klamer wrote in Mode of Financing Matters. What is the right thing to do? (This paper provides the building blocks for this post.)

In 2012, Beck released  “Song Reader’ a booklet of songs in sheet music and invited industrious musicians to record their own versions and submit them to the ‘Song Reader’ website. Beck’s songbook is an example of a successful effort to build stronger relationships among those who share similar social norms and values. It aggregates and amplifies. It also highlights the role of the prosumer, a concept from futurist Alvin Toffler, that blends the notion of the producer with the consumer. This is the high level of participation and customization that many consumers expect today.

Recognizing that knowledge important to the group may lie beyond it, a system of open innovation allows outside research or expertise to flow in. For organizations oriented in this way, Margaret Wheatley writes in Leadership and the New Science ‘meaning can be a powerful force of attraction”. Internal cohesion around purpose and values, investment in staff, a unified strategy and a deep appreciation for learning and adaptation are key to balancing this approach.

The hacker ethos is grounded in sharing, community and collaboration. Hacks are often about building bridges to heterogeneous groups and drawing in participants outside of the regular circle. We have many examples of crowdfunding like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, but crowdsourcing can problem solve and build social capital as well. One successful site is OPEN IDEO.  The non profit arm of the well known design firm sends out big questions to it’s network, which then sends in ideas. The best are shortlisted and refined. Finally, the sponsor and OPENIDEO select the top idea.

Hackathons are spaces to problem solve, cultivate new relationships with coders, designers, makers and others. Exciting examples are the Tribeca Hacks which develop avenues for interactive storytelling and Yerba Buena Center for the Art’s (building upon a concept originated with Gray Area Foundation for the Arts) Urban Prototyping Festival wherein “San Francisco’s main thoroughfare will become a testing ground for new ideas to improve our city’s public space.”

Each of these, doesn’t translate directly into monetary gain, but if participation, connection, meaning, trust and relationship building are the new distinguishers in a busy marketplace, perhaps the arts can fashion a space between the market and social.

Built on collaborative processes, the networked economy is less about control and much more reliant on decentralization  circulation and relationship building. Collaboration among and between peers as well as producers and consumers changes what were passive encounters to active, meaningful and mutually beneficial exchanges. The arts entrepreneurs best able to create meaningful content, understand who they are, select the appropriate tools or methods, and cultivate fruitful relationships will be the richest, socially and culturally, and the most resilient.

V.    John Arroyo

Problem Solving vs. Problem Setting: A “Model” Problem
It is easy to be a realist when you accept everything. It is easy to be a visionary when you confront nothing. To accept little and confront much, and to do so on the basis of an informed vision of piecemeal but cumulative change, is the way and the solution.”
~ Cornel West & Roberto Unger

One of the most valuable lessons I gained from a mentor was learning the difference between problem solving and problem setting. “Many people can devise solutions to solve a problem, but how many people take the time to consider whether or not they are addressing the correct problem in the first place?” he asked me.  It is a lesson I have applied time and time again throughout my work in urban planning, urban research, and arts and cultural programming. When considering the major issues that stem from “broken models” in the arts and cultural sector, I cannot help but wonder if the root of the problem lies in the sector’s relentless quest to adopt neat “models” or convenient “best practices.” More often than not, a model’s applicability within local context is an afterthought.

To a deeper extent, what does our need for—and ensuing reliance on—models say about a sector that is constantly in flux, especially from organizational, programmatic, financial, and leadership standpoints? It is as if models are policy-oriented security blankets that justify arts and culture’s very existence and value in public life. Does aligning ourselves with models ultimately hamper the creativity that is the inherent to our field? Or does it validate us, at the risk of growing complacent? A good model is one that is dynamic and adaptable. However, working with such a model requires a great deal of time, energy, and contemporaneity—all luxuries in our line of work. And even if it is worth it, who measures the success brought forth by the model—ourselves or our patrons, partners, funders, government partners, and all-around allies?

I come to the (dinner) table with nearly 15 years of experience working for various nonprofits, foundations, government agencies, and research and consulting firms at the intersection of arts and culture, urban planning, urban development, and urban design. In that time, I have seen each of these fields spend more resources seeking “validation” from vetted, pre-determined strategies than actually planning for and realizing them. I have seen this range from the way nonprofit organizations strategize for board recruitment to how government agencies envision revitalized waterfronts. Time and time again, the missing variable is local context. Sure, it worked well for another city, government agency, arts service organization, or dance group, but what makes us think we can enjoy a carbon copy of all the factors that made the “model” successful elsewhere (many of which are not arts related)? This pervasive characteristic is alive and well in every conference program, public meeting Powerpoint presentation, and dusty organizational brochure you see from arts and cultural organizations and planning agencies. At what point do we transition from aspiring to be “like that” to reflecting on the many innate talents and skills that make us unique (and have gotten us this far!).

Over time, my arts and culture and urban planning and design worlds have collided. I have seen the arts and cultural field readjust its macro-value according to trends in other basic quality of life sectors. I remember a time when people used the term “arts for arts sake.” I remember when individual artists had comparable financial support as collectives and organizations. I remember when funding (at every level) diminished, leading the arts to measure their value through economic development data, spending patterns, visitor statistics, and audience attendance. The paintings, photographs, and children’s drawings that were once beloved mainstays in arts and culture reports were now replaced by charts and grafts and economic and policy terms like “attractors,” “catchment areas,” “anchor institution,” and “job creation.” The arts and cultural sector had aligned with the very same market economy that has generated both its success and competition. Most recently, I recall when arts and cultural organizations asserted their role in the planning of communities through both social and physical infrastructure. While the ongoing evolution of the sector is a natural process, it is difficult to see if the arts and cultural field has made these agenda-oriented transitions out of necessity, out of their need to experiment, or out of their panaceatic ideals.

What does the field’s need to link to pre-established momentum in other sectors say about our models up to this point? Will we continue to be late to the party or will we just host our own? Such an effort would be on our terms, where the arts are not considered a secondary or superfluous factor, but a core one that synergizes new partnerships and funding alternatives with social service organizations, housing developers, educational institutions, environmental groups, public health agencies, water boards, and transportation projects. Change has been slow, yet increasingly effective, as Adrian Ellis, director of AEA Consulting, wrote in a recent article in Grantmakers for the Arts: “Culture is still an anemic and neglected area of public policy, compared with, say, health, transport, economics, or the environment, but there is currently more sustained thought given to cause and effect and less of an emphasis on just counting things and declaring them good.

In short, at what point do arts and cultural workers stop talking and working amongst themselves and start developing what may have been previously unlikely partnerships.

There has never been an era where so many creative people co-existed in society. From designers of public places and games to designers of mobile apps and theater sets. From MFAs to self-trained, amateur makers and doers. Furthermore, people are harnessing and celebrating all of this creativity both formally and informally, in museums, theaters, and non-traditional arts and cultural venues. What it means to be creative or artistic requires a reinterpretation. While arts and cultural organizations do their best to reach their target audiences, there remain creative people who may support our general argument for the value of art in civil society, but we fail to capture because they do not fit neatly in one category, type, or model. In this day and age we’re well beyond checkboxes or singular descriptions. Organizations that once were solely 501(c)3 now also have social enterprise arms. The once known painter down the street also develops an app to teach youth about different periods of art history. And the neighbor who improves her health by teaching weekly Zumba classes at the local YMCA revels in her mastery of the rhythm, but would shy away from calling herself an artist/dancer. How can a sector so multifaceted ever find a typical exemplar that works for all of its diverse audiences? This is both the benefit and curse of being in such a dynamic and accessible field.

What is the alternative? Having no models or best practices to base our actions on in the arts and cultural sector are akin to urban planners not having zoning codes or a universal color coding system for land use patterns. I am fortunate to be surrounded by many people who believe in the value of the arts. Many times, I also have a seat at the table amongst groups where that is not the case (and I am required to make it). I appreciate these opportunities for they force me to think critically about how to frame arguments for arts and culture to those who disagree.  Yes, art can stir emotions, challenge assumptions, and suggest possibilities. It is also true that art is both an economic driver and as a force in bringing communities together.

Nonetheless, I believe the arts and cultural sector needs to move beyond “arts are valuable for ____” policy debates and focus on arts ability to become more involved and informed citizens in a democracy—without loosing site of local context. For example, if someone has worked on the national level, why should the arts and cultural field immediately (and, I believe quite ideologically) assume that it is going to work at the local level? A comprehensive paradigm shift is necessary for the way arts and cultural organizations internally manage both the front of the house (programming and production) and the back stage (operations, administration, fundraising, leadership) in the 21st century. I look forward to a dinner where we not only question broken models and propose solutions, but also question the need for depending on models at all. A nation of arts and cultural organizations that march to the beats of their own drums does have a nice ring to it.

VI.   Karina Mangu-Ward
We don't need new models, we need a new mindset.”

What's a model, exactly?

I'm a very literal person, so the first thing I did when tasked with this briefing paper was look up the definition of "model."

Model (n): 1) A standard, an example for imitation or comparison

OK, got it. A model is like a blueprint. Or a recipe. So, this DinnerVention is a debate about standard or best practices in our field. We're taking a long hard look at the routines we've replicated again and again because they work, or at least they're supposed to, or they once did.

What models are we questioning?

My next step was to plainly state what I see as the old model in each of the areas Barry mentions (plus I added strategic planning, evaluation, and artistic development).

However, I assume every model evolved to meet a particular challenge. So I also tried to name the challenge I think we're facing right now in that area. For me, there's nothing worse that poor problem definition. We can reform our models until we're blue in the face, but that's useless unless we get clear about the future we want and the challenges we’ll face in getting there.  Only then can we answer the question: why aren’t our models working?

I think this was a useful exercise, so I've shared the results below. It's wide open for debate. My hope is that it serves as a starting place for a shared understanding of the standard practices we're questioning and the real challenges we're faced with as a field, so that we can begin to understand whether our approaches are the right ones.

In each case, I see a stark disconnect. The old models we're using aren't matching up with the deeply complex challenges we're faced with right now.

Old model: Ticket sales + government + foundation + corporate + wealthy patrons + small donors + endowment income = Balanced budget
New challenge: To generate new sources of sustained revenue and capital

Audience development
Old model: Sell subscriptions and market shows
New challenge: To engage new and more diverse groups of people in meaningful arts experiences

Old model: Give/get boards focused on fiduciary oversight and maintaining stability
New challenge: To cultivate boards that are partners in change

Old model: More ticket sales, more revenue, bigger budget, nice building = Success!
New challenge: To evaluate the success of our organizations based on the value they create in people's lives

Leadership development
Old model: Attend leadership conferences and seminars, build your network, wait for your boss to finally leave/retire/die.  (Alternatively, change jobs every year.)
New challenge: To develop a generation of new leaders equipped with the tools they'll need to tackle the wickedly complex challenges the future has in store

Artistic development
Old model: MFA programs, residencies, commissions, occasionally a grant, get a day job
New challenge: To support artists in making a living and a life

Strategic planning
Old model: Decide where you want to be in 5 years. Outline the steps to get there in a long document no one will read.
New challenge: To plan for the future in a way that allows us to stay close to our core values and make incremental improvement while also making room for experimentation, failure, and rapidly changing conditions.

Funding allocation
Old model:  The money goes to whoever the funder says it to goes to. Usually bigger organizations run by white people in major cities.
Our challenge today:  To distribute funds in a way that is equitable, geographically diverse, and creates the most value

Note: I decided I was too ignorant in the areas of creative placemaking, advocacy and arts education to weigh in.  I'll leave that to my colleagues.

Here's my main argument:

Over 60 years in the field, we've developed standard practices, or models, in all these different areas. They worked for a while. Now they don't. This has given us a false notion that we need new models in each area. This is wrong.

Models, best practices, recipes, and blueprints work only when your challenge has a knowable, replicable solution. Sure, there are some challenges that fit this mold. I'd argue that having a great website, designing an effective ad, doing a successful crowd funding campaign, and producing a complicated show are all challenges where best practices, models, and experts are really valuable. You might not know the solution, but someone does, and you can find it out.

But what happens when there actually isn't a knowable solution to your challenge? When there is no expert, no model to call upon? When the only way forward is through experimentation and failure?

I'd argue that every one of the big challenges I name above falls into the realm of complexity, where the search for replicable models is fruitless. There isn't going to be a new model for generating revenue that the field can galvanize around that will work for every or even most arts organizations. Nor is there going to be a long lasting model for community engagement that can be replicated by organizations across the country. For the deeply complex challenges we face today, there simply isn't a knowable solution or model that can reliably help us tackle them. These kinds of challenges require a new way of working.

We don't need new models, we need a new theory of practice.

Instead of new models, I'd argue that we need a new theory or practice, one that champions a different set of priorities in how we do our work.

Our old models imply a vision of success that's rooted in growth, stability, and excellence. They drive us towards efficiency and competition by perpetuating an atmosphere of scarcity. They are not as creative as we are.

What if a new vision of success in our field could prioritize resilience, flexibility, and intimacy?  What if we could be enablers, not producers?  What if we could harness the abundance of creative potential around us?

This new vision of success doesn’t demand consensus around a new set of standards, best practices, or “examples for imitation,” it demands a new way of thinking and acting that empowers us to shift and change our routines all the time, as needed.  

A proposed theory of practice for the future

Here is my call to the field: a proposed set of practices that align with the world as it is today, not as it was before:
  • Let's get clear about the challenges we're facing and if they're complex, treat them as such
  • Let's ask hard questions, listen, do research, and stay vulnerable to what we learn.
  • Let's question our assumptions and let go of what's no longer working.
  • Let's embrace ambiguity and conflict as a crucial part of change
  • Let's bring together people with different experiences and lean into difference
  • Let's experiment our way forward and fail often
  • Let's recognize the system in which we’re operating.
  • Let's rigorously reflect and continuously learn
In conclusion:

When I set out to write this post, I wanted to question the premise that a conversation about "broken models" could even be useful in a time when expertise, excellence and replicability are the values of the past.  I wanted to propose that we move past the very notion of models – let’s jettison the word itself from our vocabulary.

In the end, I guess you could call what I've proposed a kind of "new model." But I'd rather think of it as a new mindset.

VII. Sixto Wagan

Many of our field’s models and systems function on assumed hierarchies: fine art over community-based; large organizations more valued than mid-sized or small; institution over artist; Western over other; New York over everywhere else.

Without radical shifts in the assumed hierarchies, the prevailing models for arts distribution will continue their march into irrelevance.

A major roadblock that prevents substantive migration of thought in this area is the existing systems of financial support prefer conformity to an “institutionalization paradigm” that keeps the assumed hierarchies firmly in place.

The corporate board model that sustains the field promotes a “sustainability” model that prioritizes increased activity, expanding audience sizes, fiscal responsibility and profitability over time. While important, these measures reinforce a transactional/object-based mentality and operational conformity.

Nonprofit arts organizations have responded to this increased demand for quantifiable metrics that promote financial sustainability over creative growth by presenting risk-averse programming, non-mission-based outré events and burdensome organizational infrastructures. This response threatens their long-term allocation of human and capital resources.

For example, how do we free artists from the burden of incorporating as non-profits? How can we use this time to invest in arts markets not based in U.S. coastal cities, which are too expensive for the majority of artists to live and practice their discipline?

Additionally, the institutionalization paradigm keeps community-based, ethnically-specific and artist-generated endeavors marginalized.  These traditionally less-resourced, program-driven entities score lower on institutional capacity metrics, and are relegated to compete for special interest money allocations. Yet, new audience engagement strategies are based on the methodology of community-based and ethnically-specific organizations. Most of these strategies are resource intensive, particularly on time and personnel, with few quantifiable results (at this time). When incorporated into larger institutions, these strategies are still relegated to the margins, and are treated as external to the core of mission of the organization – the service of Art – and will be the first to go once a modicum of stability is achieved.

To prevent that outcome, the first step for the nonprofit arts field is to become creative again. If we remove the idea of institutionalization, we can bring innovation to the new models we create.

One example is the growth of the placemaking model. The arts demanded a role as a catalyst and an equal partner in the formation of this model, and we’ve seen how places like Tucson have expanded on that community investment to create political clout.

With crowd-funding and micro lending, are there opportunities to expand on these hyper-personal relationships? If we gave the money to artists and got out of the way, what happens? The Warhol Foundation supported micro-grants in Houston that revitalized an artist-to-artist presentation network, empowered artists to reclaim neighborhood identities, and impacts we have yet to see. Maybe shift evaluation to include quality of interaction and impact over time? How do we quantify the impact of a dance project that initiated interfaith minister meetings that continued five years post-presentation?

We can embrace the philanthropic push for more data by thinking about how artists collect tidbits of knowledge from various sources to synthesize into a creative experience. We can extrapolate from that process how we can create better tidbits of data that inform and quantify organizational growth.  Can artists/organizations define the pertinent info that best serves their audiences? Can the data be at the service of the organization so that we introduce metrics that are mission/value based? Can the public conversation between an 8 year-old after-school attendee and a city councilman or the empowerment of three HIV+ Latinas hold equal importance as 500 attendees? Some of these more intrinsic/social impact evaluation metrics have been developed, but are not agreed upon, widely circulated and only available to the more resourced organizations.

Are there methods from other sectors (education, anthropology, sociology, social work) that could be translated to the arts? Would that in turn build a shared investment into a common interest?

Essentially, I’m interested in models of funding, creation and distribution that steward artist and audience so that the experience is mutually valued and rewarded.  This takes some of the assumed hierarchies and grounds them in the current reality and projected future.

VIII.  Laura Bond
Due to a crisis demand on her time, Laura was unable to submit a Briefing Paper.

We hope you will join us on October 9th at 7:00 pm Mountain Time.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, September 8, 2014

Typos, Errors and Apologies

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

Corrections to yesterday's Top 50 List:

Ian David Moss' title at Fractured Atlas is now: Senior Director of Information Strategy (not Director of Research)

Adrian Ellis is the head of AEA (not AEC)

Sandra Rupert leads the Arts Education Partnership (not the Arts Partnership), and it was incorrectly reported that she use to head the Arts Education efforts at the NEA.

Arts Journal's Doug McLennan does not spell his name McLellan

Thomas Cott's blog is entitled:  "You've Cott Mail" - (not You've Got Mail)

It's the National Guild for Community Arts Education

How embarrassing and sloppy on my part.  I apologize to each of the above and to the readership.

The above corrections have been made on the blog site.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

2014's Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Arts (USA)

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

This is the seventh annual Barry's Blog listing of the Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts in America.

If you are unfamiliar with this listing, please click here to go to last year's list and a full explanation of the list - why I think it's of value, its shortcomings and limitations, and the process of selection.  For the record, once again, this list intentionally does not include artists; it is limited to the United States; and it is, as are all such lists, arbitrary and subjective.  It is only meant to be a broad stroke snapshot of where power and influence in a small universe might lie.   I can personally think of a dozen or more people who could easily be on the list.   I do my best to make sure the input and vetting process is as representative of our field as I can make it, but it is not a perfect system.   It is not meant to be a popularity contest, nor does it purport to identify the best, most talented, most capable leaders. Power and influence are their own exclusive criteria for this list - and that is often, if not always, a judgment call.

Note that this year I invited the entire field to suggest names for inclusion on the list because I wanted to insure that - to the extent possible - I was aware of leaders who might qualify, but whom I was not familiar.  I got quite a few suggestions, and several of those suggestions ended up on this year's list.  Clearly there were (and are) scores of people who might qualify, and I seriously considered that maybe 50 names was not enough, but, in the end, kept it at the current 50 name level because it has to have a cut off point somewhere.   Note also that this list extols national leaders over more local or special sector leadership, not by design, but because the process of selection involves more people with a national perspective, and consensus on choices is more problematic for local leadership.  That by no means is intended to marginalize the power and influence of our sector's extraordinarily talented and skilled local leaders.  It also, not surprisingly, favors the people with the public face at an organization, rather than those unsung heroes who work behind the scenes to make things happen.  And finally, there are arts organizations that have a lot of power and influence apart from their leadership, and this list does not necessarily reflect those powerful institutions.  I salute all those on the list and bemoan the absence of those who are not.

The trend of this list, towards an expansion of the people (from more established leaders to newer people) who are perceived to wield influence and / or power in our sector, continued again this year, and nearly half the names on this year's list were not on last year's list.  Or, conversely, nearly half the names on last year's list are not on this year's list.  I think that churn is a healthy indicator that our sector continues to evolve and that, to a greater extent than in the past, influence and power is not necessarily concentrated in static places.

Neither I, nor any employee at WESTAF, (which distributes this blog, but in no way has any part whatsoever as the author or originator of this list) was eligible for inclusion on the list.

Here then is the 2014 List: (in no particular order of ranking)

National Leaders:

Jamie Bennett: Executive Director, Art Place America
Jamie now heads what is arguably the central focal point of arts funding in America - the Placemaking efforts under the Art Place banner.  His affability, penetrating analysis, and willingness not to parse his words continue to increase his stock across the sector, as he moves to the very forefront of national leadership.

Janet Brown:  President and CEO, Grantmakers in the Arts
She has changed the way arts funders work together and perhaps even how they think of their collective selves -- expanding, in the process, their collaboration and cooperation in tackling some big field issues.   After several years, she now has the challenge of moving forward the initiatives GIA has launched, and that will be less glamorous and more daunting “in the trenches” work -- work to which she is no stranger.  She is a major force and influence and highly regarded.

Bob Lynch:  President & CEO, Americans for the Arts
Americans for the Arts is now so omnipresent across the sector that whomever helms this organization in the future (like whomever occupies the Chair of the Endowment) is virtually assured a spot on any list of the powerful and influential.  Bob Lynch led that reality from a vision to fact.  Still on the road on a schedule that would give others pause, he is increasingly spending his time as a Senior Statesman bridging the arts and other sectors through (among other efforts) his seats on the Independent Sector, and the Department of Commerce US Travel and Tourism Advisory boards.  

Jane Chu:  Chairman, National Endowment of the Arts
By virtue of her position, she is powerful and influential in our field.  Like her predecessors she has begun the ritualistic “on the road” appearances to see and be seen as she begins to put her personal stamp on the agency.  Because the President did not appoint her for nearly a year after the departure of Rocco Landesman, Ms. Chu has an abbreviated tenure, and a ‘lame duck’ status coming sooner than it otherwise would - which adds some pressure for her to share her vision sooner as well.  From all accounts, she is knowledgable, personable and more than capable.

Mario Garcia Durham:  Executive Director, Association of Performing Arts Presenters
Under his leadership, APAP continues to lend its skills and assets to all the important efforts within the wider arts field - from arts education to advocacy to funding, while still capably serving his base of the nation’s presenting community.  No small accomplishment, that.

Adam Huttler:  Executive Director, Fractured Atlas
He continues to position Fractured Atlas as the one stop agency for small arts organization’s business needs. But more than that, he is also increasingly looked to for policy formation on a host of issues.  Nobody speaks for a generation really, but if the rising cohort of younger arts leadership were to have a single voice, he’d be a likely candidate.

Arts and Healing:
Gay Hanna:  Executive Director, National Center For Creative Aging
The intersection between the arts and aging; with healing, health care and life long quality of life has grown dramatically in just the last five years.  The field is now virtually universally recognized as one of the brightest spots in our future in terms of our value proposition, cross sector partnerships and collaboration, and interest by both the media and public.  Hanna has been working in the field for some time and is at the center of all that has been, and is, going on.

State / Regional Leaders:

Robert Booker:  Executive Director, Arizona Commission on the Arts
After some tough times in Arizona, the arts have made somewhat of a comeback in terms of government support and public value, thanks in part to his deft handling of a difficult political climate.  New innovative grant programs (including the Arts Tank) and increased activity in arts education, have helped to begin to rejuvenate his field.  As the Chair elect of Grantmakers in the Arts his national star is again on the ascendency.

Lisa Robb:  Executive Director, New York State Council on the Arts
Not the number one per capita funding SAA in the field, but still New York is New York, and its influence goes a long way in a lot of places.  And Robb is at the center of the action (and pressure).  She’s on a lot of people’s power broker lists.

Donna Collins: Executive Director, Ohio Arts Council
She was widely thought well of (even beyond Ohio) when she helmed the state arts education alliance and then the state arts advocacy group.  Now as the E.D. of the state agency, her circle is even wider, and her influence beyond Ohio likely to grow even more.

City Agency Leaders:

Kerry Adams Hapner: Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Jose, CA.
As the Chair of the U.S. Urban Arts Federation, she is the front person for the nation’s 60 largest city arts agencies.  She’s also increasingly visible in the philanthropic, arts and technology and other circles by virtue of her work on various panels.  As host to the NAMP 2011 Conference and the GIA Arts 2011 Art and Technology Conference, as well as her work with the cities, she is now well known nationally.  On the rise.

Jonathan Glus:  Executive Director, Houston Arts Council
Arts funding in Houston continues to be in better financial shape than most of its contemporaries, and Glus has played a vital role in keeping his agency at the forefront.  Hosting the GIA conference this year has added to his rising status on a national basis as a leader among the Big City Arts Agencies.  He runs a very good shop.

Roberto Bedoya: Executive Director, Tucson / Pima Arts Council
He continues to be the “go to” guy on the issues of equity and racism, and continues to be sought after as a speaker, pundit and analyst, while at the same time keeping his Arizona agency alive, relevant and at the forefront of survival innovation.

Laura Zucker:  Executive Director, Los Angeles County Arts Commission
Part arts administrator, now part University Arts Administration leader, she continues to produce work and results that are consistently the bar for others to aspire to.  She might as well just have a permanent seat on this list.

Robert Bush:  President, Arts & Science Council
Having ascended to the helm of the Charlotte based Arts & Science Council, he is finally in the leadership seat that it seems he has for a long time earned and deserved.  A major force for a decade or more at AFTA, his counsel and advice is sought by a wide range of arts leaders in various fields.  More than a survivor, he is a creator and under his stewardship his agency seems to be doing very well.

Danielle Brazell:  Executive Director, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs
She made the list last year under the advocacy banner, and it's likely she still has influence in that area as the former head of the highly successful and regarded LA advocacy arm - ARTS FOR LA.  This year she was tapped by the mayor to replace Olga Garay English at the L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs - the city’s major arts agency - much to the applause of virtually everyone in the city.  Smart, tireless and diplomatic - big things are expected from her.

Tom DeCaigny: Executive Director, San Francisco Arts Commission
With a steady hand, deep understanding of the terrain and a diplomat’s flourish he has not only righted a leaky ship in the Bay Area, he has evolved into a national leader in the LAA field.


Sunil Iyengar:  Director, Office of Research and Analysis, National Endowment for the Arts
He continues to lead the NEA and an ever diverse and ambitious arts research field - bringing professionalism, organization and common sense in the process.

Anne Gadwa Nicodemus:  Principal, Metris Arts Consulting
Highly regarded and respected, with impeccable credentials, she’s everywhere on the research stage now.  Known for her rigorous and exacting work product, she gets into the issues and isn’t afraid to voice strong thoughts, take stands and question methodologies and results.

Randy Cohen:  Vice-President, Research and Policy, Americans for the Arts
One of the grand visionaries of the arts research field, it is his pioneering work that has guided the strategies and energies of much of the field’s efforts at advocacy and building value with the public.  Tireless cross country traveller, he has one of the better networks in the entire field.  He cuts through the B.S. and zeroes in on the real issues.

Ian David Moss:  Senior Director of Information Strategy, Fractured Atlas
His blog Createquity is on hiatus as he and an expanded team are retooling, and the final product is highly anticipated.  His reruns of past posts show just how prolific he is, and penetrating his comments have been. His influence on the whole of the research agenda continues to grow, in part, because he is everywhere involved.

Advocacy / Government:

Betty Plumb:  Executive Director, South Carolina Arts Alliance
She just keeps keeping on, and people know that as long as she’s on the case, the likely outcome is victory.  She has the patience of Job, the smarts of James Carville and the likability of a Tom Hanks.  She is one hell of an advocate - and a positive example across the divide.

SPECIAL MENTION:  Tom Cochran, CEO US Conference of Mayors.
A politician who seems to actually “get” what we are talking about when we argue for the value of the arts, he’s been instrumental in advancing local support for the arts, and expanding other political support.

Arts Education:  Note: This is National Arts in Education Week.   Celebrate!  Click here for more info.

Julie Fry: Program Officer, Performing Arts Program, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Nearing the end of her term limited tenure at Hewlett, few practitioners in the arts education field know as much as she does about all the challenges and some of the solutions in arts education.  She approaches the problem of somehow making meaningful progress in the offering of arts education to all K-12 students with studied determination, diplomacy and a deep understanding of what works and what doesn’t, and why.

Ayanna Hudson:  Director of Arts Education, National Endowment for the Arts
She astutely and capably represents the Endowment in all the national and local efforts to move arts education forward, and has the talent to make everyone feel she and the agency relate to their individual situations.  A real dynamo.

Sandra Ruppert:  Director, Arts Education Partnership
She is the major domo at the Arts Partnership and at the center of the intersection of all the arts education efforts across the country.

Jonathan Herman:  Executive Director, National Guild for Community Arts Education
Under Herman’s continuing leadership, the National Guild is now foursquare at the center of all the initiatives from all over the field to move the Arts Education dime in the Community setting - linking the disparate and far flung interests of all the players - and the respect for the organization that may have once been wanting, is now established.  The Guild is part convener, part service organization, part linker, part professional development provider, and part policy formulator - and it does all those tasks effectively.


Josephine Ramirez: Program Director, Arts,The James Irvine Foundation
Irvine continues to lead the field in some crucial areas, including the challenge of how to promote true equity in funding allocations (one of the BIG issues in the field).  Currently exploring how to build a “field” that is committed to the idea of equity, they are exploring the very hard question of how to get certain segments of the established arts infrastructure to embrace equity as an idea not only that’s time has come, but that is good for everybody.  Ramirez is leading that important inquiry.  She is highly regarded for her intelligence, work commitment and understanding of the issues, and she has a great back-up staff.

Rip Rapson:  CEO, Kresge Foundation
As Chair of ArtPlace’s Funder’s Council, Rapson has stepped up his direct involvement with arts funding issues, and made important appearances at key conferences to share his very astute and well thought through theories of the value of arts and culture and maximization of impact funding.  In the process, as the head of a major foundation, he has upped the visibility and importance of all arts funding in the philanthropic community with other foundation presidents - arts funders and non funders.  He has a very quick mind and is as engaging and effective a spokesperson for the value of the arts as we have had in a long time.

John McGuirk:  Program Director, Performing Arts Program, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
He continues to be one of the key players on the West Coast philanthropic front, and in GIA,  as Hewlett continues to be in the forefront of arts education, the issues of transparency and communication, and in sustaining the California arts infrastructure.  His willingness to commit Hewlett to areas of inquiry that benefit the whole of the field, has expanded his reach and influence.

Ben Cameron:  Program Director, Arts, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
What can you say about the field’s foremost orator and his uncanny ability to distill all the rhetorical noise into coherent and understandable prose. Still, it is his funding programs at Duke that are changing - grant by grant - the circumstances of scores of individual arts organizations, and, perhaps, whole fields as well.

Dennis Scholl: Vice President, Arts - the Knight Foundation
Knight continues to champion innovation in grantmaking under his leadership, and they are basically the field leaders in the areas of communication and journalism.  Scholl remains one of the respected arts funders with substantial ties to other sector leadership.  Knight is the key funder in its ten client cities.

Huong Vu Bozarth:  The Boeing Company
Boeing’s involvement in the arts personifies the kind of relationship the entire field wants with private sector companies, and Hong Vu deftly keeps that relationship moving forward.  A model for the business community.

San San Wong:  Senior Program Officer, Arts and Culture Portfolio, Barr Foundation
Increasingly visible in the philanthropic area of community foundational funding, her keen insights and substantial experience have increased the demand for her counsel, and increased her influence in the field.  She bridges a number of areas effectively.

Ellen Michelson:  Founder, Aroha Philanthropies
Michelson is one of the major funders moving the arts and creativity and arts and aging to the “tipping point” and has influence and sway in this area - not just because of the money invested, but because she both knows what she is talking about and she cares.


Alan Brown:  Principal, Wolf / Brown Consulting
Still the Don and the Darling of all the arts research consultants, his work still guides much of what the funding community thinks about on a host of issues, and what they value too. Highly respected and influential, his power is in his ability to rationally and convincingly persuade.  His analysis and insight is almost always spot on.  And if he asks a question, the field wants the answer.

Holly Sidford / Marcy Hinand:  Helicon Collaborative
Back again, this dynamic duo continues to produce work for funders that garners widespread interest and respect across the field.  Their findings set the stage for derivative works by others that follow and their conclusions spark dialogue and reflection throughout the field.

Adrian Ellis:  Founder AEA
More than a consultant, as a senior thought leader, few people are more respected for their knowledge or insights than Ellis.  Getting the arts seated in a major way at the New Cities Summit is a major accomplishment, due principally to Ellis’ tireless efforts. People listen to him.


Steven Tepper: Dean, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University
Moving to helm the widely respected Herberger Institute school, Tepper continues his role as a respected and “go to” policy wonk, but now takes an ever more direct involvement in arts administration education at the University level - including research.  He still somehow has time to continue his involvement with SNAPP (the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project), raising its visibility year by year.  One of the sector's major thought leaders.

Ramona Baker:   Director, Master of Arts in Arts Administration Program at Goucher College
Arts leader and long time consultant, Baker is one of the sector's influences in mentoring and preparing the next generation of leadership, as well as in the growing field of University programs in arts administration.

Andrew Taylor:  Associate Professor, Arts Management, American University; AuthorThe Artful Manager
He’s been an influential educator and revered communicator for so long, he wears that suit with unequaled comfort and ease.  As an educator he has a long resume at the forefront of university programming for arts administration - both as a teacher and as a leader in the wider field.  As a blogger he is a beloved practitioner, appreciated for his ability to be succinct and insightful at the same time.

Innovation / Community Arts:

Laura Zabel: Executive Director, Springboard for the Arts
She continues to impress the field with her common sense approach to innovation for community arts organizations.  Her popularity remains on the upswing.

Richard Evans:  President, EmcArts
He’s established Emc Arts as “the” organization at the forefront of enabling innovation in the field, and grown it to major influence across the sector.  He may not have time to know everyone in the field, but increasingly, everyone knows who he is.

Discipline Areas:

Theatre: Theresa Eyring - Executive Director, Theatre Communications Group
Of all the arts disciplines, nowhere are stronger positions taken than in the theater world.  Eyring has successfully navigated the sometimes choppy waters of that field and made TCG an effective service provider to the discipline’s varied and diverse segments.  One observer noted of her skill that: "she could probably herd cats if she tried".

Visual:  David Skorton - Secretary of the Smithsonian
Former President of Cornell University he now heads the world’s largest museum and research complex.  As one person put it:  “With his $1.3 billion income statement and 6300 employees he should be on the list for sure”.   An arts supporter, he is committed to developing more thought leaders for the field, and if he can make good on that promise, his standing with all the arts people in our field will go up.

Nina Simon:  Executive Director, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History
She continues to play the role of a new generation thinking innovator with ground breaking ideas and experiments in the museum world - highly prized thinking by a broad swatch of her cohorts.  One observer described her as simply a :  "Brilliant risk taker".

Music:  Jesse Rosen - President / CEO, League of American Orchestras
He successfully keeps a diverse field collaborative and cooperative and acts as an effective front person for an entire discipline. That he knows how to put out fires and spin negative developments positively doesn’t hurt.

Dance:  Amy Fitterer, Executive Director, Dance USA -
She’s molded DANCE USA into a more effective national service provider organization that has taken an equal place among the other discipline based umbrella groups.  Her government affairs background experience puts her at the center of the Beltway politics impacting the arts.

Rural:  Maryo Ewell, Colorado
One apt description was that: "She has been, and is, the “go to” person nationally for rural arts and small community thinking."  


Joe Patti:  Butts in the Seats
Patti is prolific, insightful, and widely read.  When he’s on target, he zeros in on the issues in a direct and informative way, and he is on target most of the time.  He can cut to the chase, and he sees nuances that others might easily miss.  Plus his blog postings are fun to read.  One to watch.

Thomas Cott: You’ve Cott Mail
Doug McLennan:  - Arts Journal
The sites these two maintain, remain indispensable reading for everyone in the arts who wants to stay abreast of what is going on.  The services they provide are simply invaluable.  The Kings of arts information aggregation.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, September 1, 2014

Trying Different Approaches - The Alternate Sizing Theory

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

SIDE NOTE:  The world desperately needs optimists and those who know in their hearts that the fight for a just world not only must be waged, but who believe that it can be won.  We have lots of those good people within our ranks - none more passionate and eloquent than Arlene Goldbard - who's virtual Department of Culture has issued a call to Creative Action.  Click here for her message.

Tweaking Our Offerings By Playing with the Theory of Size:
I had a friend, who back in the 70's opened her own cookie company.  This was way before the Mrs. Field's gourmet cookie approach.  She made pretty good, but not the absolute best chocolate chip cookie I ever had, but she had a gimmick.  Her cookies were oversized.  About 8 inches in diameter.  She even had special jars made that could hold a dozen of them which she provided free to retail outlets that sold her cookies.  For about six years, she owned the market up in northern California and her cookies were everywhere.  The uniqueness and difference of a Giant cookie was very appealing.

Some years later, in thinking about her venture and her brand, it occurred to me that changing the size of a familiar product was (is) a good formula for success.  People seem to respond to the novelty of something bigger or smaller than the norm, and if the product is otherwise of quality, that is a good recipe to succeed.  And over the years, I've seen numerous examples of that same approach be successful.  The current ubiquitous Slider on restaurant menus is nothing but a miniature hamburger.  Changing the size, this time making a known product smaller.  The iPod was essentially a new technology that miniaturized the Sony walkman.  Ditto the iPad to the laptop.  Make it bigger, make it smaller than the standard and it seems to elicit a positive response.

Last week I saw a story on the news about another cookie company using essentially a variation on the same tactic.  Martha Olson, a former school teacher,  began selling cookies at the Minnesota State Fair back in 1978.  Again just chocolate chip cookies.  Normal size.  And apparently pretty good ones.  Her gimmick was she didn't sell single cookies, she sold overfilled buckets of cookies for $15.  Looked like you got 20 - 25, or more cookies (and a bucket with a handle to take what you didn't eat home to enjoy).  This formula has apparently worked well.  Her six ovens turn out 2000 cookies a minute.  She only sells her cookies during the 12 days of the fair; she has no other retail outlets - her own or through other venues. No online presence.  And, get this, this year she grossed $2 million dollars during those 12 days.  Hmmmm.  And her principal gimmick is really the overstuffed bucket size.  So the cookie stays the same, but the size of the quantity sold changes big time.

Costco has taken this idea and developed the "big box" store concept to great success.  Everything is oversized.  A while back the fast food industry had at least temporary success with the "super sizing" campaign.

I wonder then if the idea of "bigger or smaller" might somehow work for the Arts.  Obviously, we deal less in a physical product and more in a service - i.e., the provision of a performance or exhibition.  How can you adapt such a theory of "size" to that reality?

If I were an Opera, or Dance Company or Symphony or Museum, I might try this adaptation:  I might raise my ticket price slightly - by maybe ten dollars.  But then I would offer this:  Buy two tickets to any single performance / exhibition, and get four more for free (to the same performance).  That might do a couple of things.  It would allow people who bought tickets to invite some friends to go with them, thus making the whole experience more communal and social -- and more fun.  Or, it would make the cost very reasonable (even cheap) if split six ways, and still have the social element to it. For the organization, it might be less income - though the increased ten dollar ticket price would offset a little of the loss, and a sold out performance might yield as large a net.  It would make it easier to insure full houses and it would likely get new people into the venue.  It would also help with the brand and engage the community in a new way, and allow opportunities to convert those new people into regular audience members or more. And it would offer all kinds of possibilities for marketing and advertising

As an experiment, I think were I running the organization, it might be worth the risk.  Maybe I would just run it for certain performances each month, but not all.

Or maybe there would be some way to use the other end of the ploy -- miniaturization -- by offering a one hour performance for half the price of a normal two or three hour offering.  Again, get more people into the house, expand the audience and end up with some new prospects for ongoing attendance.  You could run two or even three performances on a single day perhaps.
I can tell you that the "over or under sizing" of a standard product has worked countless times.  Maybe some variation can work for you.  It's just a small idea.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.