Monday, March 30, 2015

Programs for the Underserved; Programs for the Overserved. Time to Switch Priorities

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

Equity -- generally defined and understood as: fairness, justice and impartiality.

The issue has been center stage for us for sometime.  We have narrowed our focus on diversity as the core of the challenge of equity in the nonprofit arts - equity in access, equity in funding, equity in resource allocation and in the equation of people of color balanced with mainstream white domination in the decision making processes.  The axiom has been that if we can just make the nonprofit arts more diverse - particularly in its governance structures - then we will have met the equity challenge and it will be solved.

But diversity is a mask.  It's a symptom of the underlying issue - which is structural racism or inequity - and dealing with the symptom rather than the root cause is increasingly being recognized as an inadequate approach.

Diversity is limited in its meaning to the practical challenge of recruiting more people of color (or women, or gays, or young people,) to our Boards and staffs, and as audiences and supporters.   Diversity is a lovely word - innocuous, non-threatening; something everyone can agree on as a noble goal.  It appeals to our aspirational sensibilities.  Become more diverse?  Well, of course.  Who wouldn't want that?   In a sense, the diversity frame is a polite way to avoid digging deeper.  Whereas much of the rest of the nonprofit universe, talks about racial equity and structural racism (or ageism, or sexism or whatever).

The Woods Fund Chicago defines those two terms as follows:

“Structural racism is the cumulative impact of past and present policies and practices. Racial divisions, disinvestment, disenfranchisement and discriminatory polices have produced and exacerbated income inequality and disparate access to resources and opportunities for generations.  
Racial equity is a multi-issue framework that confronts racial disparities to  produce fair outcomes and opportunities for all communities.  It provides  proactive tools, synergistic strategies and more effective policy to address structural problems.  Racial equity strategies connect leaders and organizations across communities and bring solutions to scale.  Racial equity creates crucial spaces for those most impacted by inequities to build power and lead through collective practice and collective voice.”

Grantmakers in the Arts released an historic Statement of Purpose paper this week on Equity, recognizing the inequity of past policies and practices within the sector.

"Grantmakers in the Arts believes that:

  • Recommended solutions of the past, which have focused on diversity rather than structural inequities, have not resulted in nationwide successful outcomes in equitable inclusion and/or grantmaking to ALAANA artists and audiences. 
  • An historic societal and philanthropic bias for European artforms has undervalued the contributions of ALAANA artforms and artists. 
  • Arts funders are encouraged to implement relevant programs and create new structures in which ALAANA communities, artists, and arts organizations benefit as leaders, grantees, and partners. 
  • Addressing historic injustices is a vital component of achieving equity for ALAANA communities."

Having more diverse boards and staffs and supporters may very well help to address the structural realities that need to change in the long term, but it seems highly doubtful that our efforts to recruit a few more people of color (or age, gender etc.) will move the mountain much in the short term.  Adding two or three people of color to a thirty person board looks good, but doesn't really change the structure that has been at the heart of the inequities for so long.  Moreover, color is not the only determinant in trying to use diversity as a solution.  One can argue, for example, with some authority, that people of color appointed to an institution, that has a five figure donor requirement for Board membership, are as much defined by their economic status and kinship with Euro-centric board members as they are to their race.  The one percent is, above all, the one percent.  In many circumstances, economics will always trump other factors.  And one must consider that equity isn't just about color; for the arts anyway, its about a much fuller range of diversity - including organizational size. Diversity is both tricky and difficult as a means to correct past inequities.  Moreover, making diversity a reality is very time consuming, and I would argue that while it may be an important step in the process, the longer we take to address the inequities born from structural prejudices and biases compounds the inequities further.

The reality is that in the nonprofit arts, our progress in achieving real diversity that comes close to reflecting the actual diversity of the population, has been largely token to date.  We are, of course, legitimately trying, and many of those that are on the forefront will argue that there aren't enough people of color to populate every board, every staff.  While, on the surface that may be true, it can be also be argued that we simply aren't trying hard enough, and that we've got to radically change our approach to recruitment.

Indeed, if surface diversity is the issue, our boards, staffs, and even audiences remain white and older.  In an NEA funded study: "Diversity on Cultural Boards: Implications for Organizational Value and Impact" (Francie Ostrower, Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin) noted these conclusions:

  • "On average, 91 percent of board members were white, 4 percent were African-American or black, 2 percent were Hispanic, and 3 percent were in the “Other” category.  
  • Fully 58.7 % of the boards had only white, non-Hispanic members. Virtually every board (98 percent) had at least one white member, 26 percent had one or more African-American or Black members, 19 percent had one or more Hispanic members, and 14 percent had one or more “other” members. 
  • Diversity may also be thought of in terms of the number of different racial and/or ethnic groups represented. The picture that emerges from this perspective is also one of considerable homogeneity. Most boards (just over 59 percent) are comprised of members of just one of the racial/ethnic groups, and virtually all of these are white. Twenty-seven percent of boards reported members from two of the racial/ethnic groups queried.6 In fourteen percent of cases, boards included members of three or more groups.
  • Among organizations in the two smallest size groups, boards are on average 91 and 92 percent white respectively. The figure is 87 percent in the next two larger size groups, and drops just slightly, to 85 percent, among the largest organizations. While large organizations less often have exclusively white boards, they are still overwhelmingly white.
  • It is one thing for a board to be 90 percent or more white in a community that is 90 percent white, but quite another in a community that is 50 percent white. Even more relevant is the demographic composition of the organization’s audience members, since these are individuals that are interested in the organization’s activities.  In counties that are over 75 percent white, the average board was 96 percent white (standard deviation of 12). However, when we turn to counties where the population drops to 50 to 75 percent white, the average board is still 93 percent white (standard deviation of 12). In counties with populations that are less than 50 percent white, the average percent of white board members drops considerably – but at 74 percent (with a standard deviation of 25), it is still considerably higher than the county average."
We are quick to register our valuation of diversity, but seem slow to translate that value into action that actually builds diversity.  And diversity is only the scab on the wound of structural inequity.  Structures are by their nature more permanent and more difficult to change.  Consider the diversity challenge in terms of tenure of the very established leadership that likely has to change as described in this report from Ruth McCambridge, writing for Nonprofit Quarterly, cited by GIA.

  • "Relatively long CEO tenures:  More than 40 percent of grantmaker CEOs have been CEO for ten or more years. This is almost exactly the same percentage as was found in the recent survey of nonprofits performed by BoardSource, where it was reported that 41 percent of the CEOs who responded had been in their positions for 10 years or longer. 
  • Relatively older executive leadership: Sixty-one percent of foundation CEOs were aged 50 to 64. According to Vickie Spruill, 17 percent of foundation leaders—CEOs and Chief Giving Officers—and six percent of full-time staff in respondent organizations were aged 65 or older. Only four (not four percent, four) were under 30. 
  • The bigger the grantmaker, the older the leadership: About 90 percent of grantmakers with $500 million or more in assets were led by CEOs who were age 50 or older; this proportion drops slightly with decreases in asset size. The lowest proportion of CEOs over 50 was among grantmakers with less than $10 million."

If some groups are underserved, then others must be overserved.
One one level we do have diversity though, and have for some time -- and that is on the programming level.  We have created some very valuable and even effective programs, like those for Youth At Risk, Underserved Communities, Disadvantaged Populations, and Marginalized Groups. And though these programs are well intended and worthy, they are a damning indictment of our maintenance of the status quo of the structural problems.  The very nomenclature reveals a dichotomy.  If we recognize that there are Youth At Risk, Underserved Communities, Disadvantaged Populations, and Marginalized Groups, that is a tacit admission that our main program support has been, and continues to be, for Privileged Youth, Adequately or Overserved Communities, Advantaged Populations and Mainstream Groups. The structure of our support favors not the neediest among us then, but those that are faring best.  And it has for a long time.

If we are serious about addressing the needs of our sectors that are underserved, at risk, disadvantaged and marginalized, then we need to re-allocate more of our resources to changing the realities so that there aren't any communities that we can easily and readily define as underserved etc.  But we haven't done that.  Our moves have been incremental and small; too small.

Numerous studies confirm that the wealthiest and largest cultural organizations among us continue to reap the bounty of the long tradition and practice whereby the biggest white organizations get the lion's share of our funding and resource allocation - stunningly disproportionately so in many instances.   And that inequity has the unintended consequence of keeping the status quo of the structure which perpetuates the over served, the privileged, the mainstream and the advantaged.  And that seems true for public and private funding.

In Holly Sidford's 2011 landmark study, "Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy,"   the gulf between funding for the marginal, disadvantaged, underserved arts communities became all too apparent:

"Only 10 percent of grant dollars made to support the arts (such as visual arts, performing arts and museums) explicitly benefit the poor, ethnic and racial minorities, the elderly and other marginalized populations. Less than 4 percent of grants dollars support advancing social justice goals through the arts. 
Further, 55 percent of arts grants go to organizations with budgets greater than $5 million, which represent less than 2 percent of the more than 100,000 arts and culture nonprofits. Recent research demonstrates that the primary audience of these large institutions is predominantly white and upper-income."

For a funder with an annual grant budget of say ten million dollars, to award four or five million dollars to a single large budget, established Euro-centric cultural institution (whether it be a museum, an opera, a symphony or whatever) is really unconscionable and egregious today.  Not uncommon (and one need only look to those funder's governing Boards and the historical pattern of those people's interests and overlapping - and sometimes conflicting - loyalties) to understand why, but it ought to be unacceptable -- under any theory.  That is not to say the recipients of this favored support aren't valuable. They are and we need to support and protect them.  But no longer at the expense of those who were the victims of the inequity of the system.   As a matter of equity - it's time for a turnaround change.

How did we get to where we are?

What is equitable depends on the criteria used in any given set of circumstances.  In the earliest days of the nonprofit arts, the majority population, particularly the wealthy class, was anglo white and controlled most philanthropic efforts.  Early on the established criteria for funding was centered on artistic excellence, which was almost exclusively applied to white cultural art forms, where factors such as diversity, connection to community, and even box office success were irrelevant.  It was unnecessary to consider anything else but the excellence of the art being considered. And the only art being considered was Euro-centric. In this example, those making the art, their experience, reputations, and prior work may legitimately be considered, but only to the extent that the product itself qualifies as excellent.  What constitutes excellence is, of course, invariably subjective - even if the judgment is the conclusion of so called experts or peers (and who qualifies as a peer would be open to debate).   As long as every artist and organization had an equal opportunity to apply for the funds, and an equal chance to be favorably considered according to criteria that itself passed an equity test for fairness and impartiality, then the final conclusion - while it might be disputed on the standard of excellence (comparative or otherwise) - wouldn't necessarily be inequitable. Moreover, those making the philanthropic (and later government) decisions regarding the allocation of funding were the very white backers of the doctrine of excellence that considered only white art.  And if the only criteria, the only standards were Euro centric art, then it's not surprising that the structure of funding became a defacto one of bias and prejudice. Moving towards diversity, by itself, is not likely to change that structure.  At least not anytime soon.

The problem with excellence as the prime (and maybe exclusive) standard is its very subjectivity.  Excellence is a relative concept and must be considered not in a vacuum, but in the context (and community) of the art being considered - its legacy, audience, perceptions and practitioner techniques and skills.  If excellence was, for a time, the gold standard (and it certainly sounds like a reasonable approach), judging what qualified as excellent suffered from the prejudice of the bias of those making the decisions.  Not a prejudice against any art form or product, but a bias in favor of certain forms as created by certain artists.  Excellence needed to be judged by the standards of the ecosystem and community from which the art sprang - not always the dominant white community.  And it wasn't.

But even excellence of artistic creation was never the sole criteria for funding support.  The excellence or quality of the organization making, facilitating or enabling the art also became a factor as funder sought organizations that had the capacity to carry out their missions and which could be sustainable over time.    Funders logically and understandably wanted their limited resources to have the widest impact and farthest reach.  Not surprisingly early on the largest cultural institutions with the deepest pockets (virtually all of which tended to be Euro-centric and white) tended to come out on top under both criteria.  Though not admitted to, there was clearly a bias and prejudice at work here that justified the lion's share of funding going to these organizations.  And that reality continues today.

I'm not suggesting the arts are racist per se.  I think, compared to most fields, we acquit ourselves fairly well in terms of our genuine belief in inclusion.  But structural racism and inequity exists in the wider society, and that impacts our framework and our legacy.  And because structural inequity is often, if not invisible, then certainly harder to pinpoint and recognize, our structures are suspect too.  Whether racist, sexist, ageist or otherwise, there is substantial evidence that there has been, for a long time, an inequity in the nonprofit arts - from funding to seats at decision making tables.

Having more diversity - particularly, I think, people of color and younger people - is necessary and will help to address - over time - the structural aspects of inequity.  Meaningful, representative diversity gives us not only a better 'face' for our publics, but it increases the representation of the whole at the decision making tables.  But it is still only the face of what we do and who we are.  Even sea change improvements in the diversity of our boards, staffs (especially senior management), supporters, funders, donors, audiences and more, will not, by itself, necessarily address the structural aspects of inequity as they have existed and may continue to exist.  We've got to move away from "diversity" as the centerpiece of moving towards equity.

So what ought we to do?  Some would argue - and with moral persuasion at least partly on their side - that in order to make up for the past unfairness and injustice of the inequity in our field, the pendulum now ought to swing far to the other side, and we need to consciously allocate most of our efforts and funding and resources to those who for too long have gotten the short end of the stick.  But despite many segments of the arts being the beneficiaries of inequitable policies and practices, those art forms and those institutions are, for the most part, in my opinion, worthy of preservation, and so what we ought to do is move dramatically to the center of a balanced approach; not compound the sin by repeating it.  But moving to that center involves allocation of a huge amount of money now to those who have for so long gotten what might be argued as the 'scraps'.

There is a concept in law - he who seeks equity, must do equity - that basically holds that moving from one inequitable posture to another is unacceptable.  I think that concept applies to us.  We need to move dramatically from support for the over served, the privileged, the advantaged and the mainstream to a more equitable center approach so that those among us - multicultural organizations, smaller budgeted organizations, and others left out - can be as quickly as possible brought up to an even level - not in terms of dollar for dollar funding, not in terms of penalizing those who previously benefited at the expense of those on the other end, not an absolute equality - but as something more reasonable and reasoned -- and equitable -- fairer, just and more impartial.

Will we get there?  Yes.  The question is when.  And the answer lies not in how diverse we are.  The Trojan Horse that is diversity is a canard that masks the real challenge we face.  How we admit and accept the structural aspects of who we are that facilitated getting to the point we're at -- and then changing all that - is the only real solution.

Embracing GIA's Statement of Purpose - by private and public funders - and by individual arts organizations - and all of us really -  is a good start, but realization of its goals will not come easy and not come quick.  But it is a start.  Whether or not the goals are attained, GIA has taken a bold and historic step in moving all of us towards addressing the underlying problem of structural inequity rather than just the surface challenge of greater diversity.  If we don't embrace this manifesto, then very likely the overserved, the mainstream, the privileged and the advantaged among us will continue to disproportionately benefit, while the underserved, marginalized, at risk and disadvantaged sectors of our field will stay that way.  That's not fair.  It's not equitable.  And it's not good for anyone.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, March 23, 2015

Stakeholder Support Essential for Effective Advocacy

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

Lots of talk in the past two weeks on arts advocacy - and indirectly a conversation about using the 'instrumental' v the 'intrinsic' argument.  I am less concerned with this fundamental philosophical debate than with the practical tactics we employ to achieve whatever it is that is our ultimate goal (and I am assuming arguendo, that one of our principal overarching goals is to increase public funding).

We (the arts) lack massive and sophisticated lobbying machines, or the ability to fund that kind of political apparatus, and we also lack a highly motivated and mobilized public in support of what we want.  One of the things that interest groups in our situation can do is to leverage support of other groups of stakeholders who have an interest (direct or tangential) in our success, and who have more power and clout than we do, to help us to make our case in advocating for what we want.  Having powerful friends is a very good way to be treated the way you want.

Once upon a time, the arts had a link with the Chamber of Commerce and were quasi successful in getting the Chamber to carry our message to government decision makers. Unquestionably, the Chamber (national, state and local chapters) have access to, and clout with, those decision makers.  The arts are, like most Chamber members, small businesses. And many arts organizations are members of their local Chamber chapters. Moreover, arts organizations are interested in many of the issues most businesses are interested in: jobs, costs, regulations, and insurance among them.  Thus the relationship between the arts and the Chamber is a natural one; not contrived or artificial.

But something happened a decade or more ago that led to the arts and the Chamber moving away from each other.  I'm not sure how or why that happened, though it may have been a part of a larger political transition of the Chamber to align itself more closely with the governing faction of the Republican party -- which, at the time, began to cast the arts as an area that should not be receiving government support.  But move away from each other we did.

I took a look this past week at the national Chamber's 2015 Policy Priorities - a detailed list (31 pages) of the areas the Chamber thinks important to its membership and which it is on the record of supporting.  Generally, the Chamber is concerned with over-regulation of business (everything from energy and the environment to bidding for government contracts requirements);  government costs of programs (health care, social security, et. al) immigration reform; and other government things that are financed in large part by business (through taxes and fees including payroll taxes et. al) or which the Chamber feels may impact its business membership.   Their goals are to "advance jobs, growth and opportunity" that will "help revitalize the American economy, create jobs, spur growth and lift incomes."

Nowhere, of course, is there any mention of the arts - as a means to help achieve the stated goals and thus worthy in itself of support.  There is mention, in detail, of the goal of protecting American Intellectual Property - framed largely as part of the high tech and entertainment industries.  And there is a lengthy section on educational goals - with a mention of STEM but not STEAM.  The arts aren't otherwise mentioned directly or by inference (and to be fair, virtually no one industry or interest area is singled out specifically).  All of this would be ok, if the Chamber was visibly and vocally supportive of its' nonprofit arts membership - as that support would go a long way locally, statewide and federally in making our case to legislatures and legislators. But we don't have that.  Chamber lobbyists may or may not bend the ear of legislators for various interests within their membership when they lobby at the local, state and federal levels, but they don't do that for the arts - even though a lot of us might be their members.

I argued some time ago, that if half of all the arts organizations in the country would join their local Chamber of Commerce and assign somebody from the organization to be active in the chapter's committees, then in the aggregate (by virtue of our sheer numbers and our activity) the arts would be one of the major forces in the Chamber nationally.  And that would mean that when priorities are drafted we would have a much better chance to be included.  And more importantly, it would mean we would have the juice (voting power over Chamber leadership) to move the Chamber - as a stakeholder in our success because we too are small businesses - to lobby for us on our issues.  That's how politics works, and that's how to get us closer to our goals.  (And if you look closely as the above referenced Chamber 2015 Priority document under the Intellectual Property section (page 15), it isn't hard to see the efforts of Silicon Valley and the Entertainment Industry in lobbying the Chamber to include this section.)  The question is why don't we do this too?  And not just with the Chamber of Commerce but with a range of organizations - from those on our side - like the PTA,  to those coming to our side - like the AMA and various academic institutions.  Active stakeholder support may just be more important to our success than whether we use an intrinsic or an instrumental approach to making our case.

So, as we begin again our advocacy efforts this week, as we marshall our best stories to tell, and as we employ both instrumental and intrinsic arguments to keep the powers that be from cutting our funding (or, at best, only marginally increasing it in a symbolic way), I would hope the field would consider the specific political ways we might enlist stakeholder support to make some progress in this endless Sisyphusian nightmare of what we call advocacy.  I would hope we might be at least a tiny bit concerned with political gamesmanship, because getting what we want from government is a game with specific rules -- and we can't forever insist that we get the play the game by the rules we want to make up.

A more detailed post on the whole advocacy challenge (at least as the same relates to public funding) is coming in the near future.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Are You Meerkatting Yet? Maybe you should be!

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

Meerkatting.  (or soon to be Periscoping?)

One of the newest developments in social network communications is being called Meerkatting - named after a new (free) app that allows anyone with an iPhone (and inevitably it will be available on all smartphone platforms) to live stream video from their smartphone - and thus everyone is a potential roving reporter.  The app works by piggybacking on Twitter's network and porting people's social networks over from Twitter to the Meerkat service - the so called social graph.  Here's a brief description from an article on the latest phenom.

"The free application called Meerkat has become a virtual overnight sensation since its low-key arrival on Apple's online App Store late last month, winning over journalists, politicians, self-anointed pundits, social media celebrities and others.
Meerkat integrates with Twitter, allowing users of the messaging platform to launch live video streams with a single touch of an on-screen button.
In the rapid-fire Twitterverse, Meerkat has become a sudden hit with tens of thousands of users trying it.
Meerkat "marries the wide potential of livestreaming with the instant and social strengths of Twitter. Two great tastes that go so well together," wrote Hawaii-based consultant and blogger Ryan Ozawa."

The article goes on to note Twitter wants to own its own version of the app and so this week announced its purchase of a rival platform called periscope. And as of this writing, according to Buzz Feed, Twitter has shut down Meerkat's access to its platform, which means Meerkat users would have to build their own networks rather than have the ability to automatically push notices to their entire Twitter universe of followers (which may not be that hard for arts organizations).  So maybe the idea will ultimately be called Periscoping as Twitter rolls out its version.  Or maybe Meerkat will develop an easy way to aggregate followers for use with its app.  It hardly matters which app will become dominant; one will prevail if the idea resonates with users (and I'll bet it will).  The point is that there is now a new tool that seems to me to be readily adaptable and suited to the arts.

As we compete in the limitless world of communication, trying to distinguish our brands, our offerings, our wares, the ability to live stream dress rehearsals, museum curations, bits of performance pieces, fundraising events, informal pitches, day to day life in our organizations and more - all as part of our strategy to win over new audiences, media attention, donors and supporters - seems a natural fit; easy to do, cost effective (cheap), limitless creative applications and all built on an ever growing platform already part of our arsenal of tools (or one that would perhaps not be so hard to develop).

The original article went on:

"Danny Sullivan, founder of the blog Search Engine Land, "meerkatted" -- some are calling it "meercasting" -- a stroll around the South By Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, shortly after arriving there on Friday.
"It is kind of neat to give a taste of South-By to people who have never seen it and want a taste of it," Sullivan said, referring to the festival by its informal name. "It works surprisingly well; it is very impressive how easy it was to get going with the live stream." 
With Meerkat, a tweet is fired off containing a link that anyone can click to be connected to the stream while it is in progress. Tiny profile icons pop up to show who is tuning in to broadcasts.
Videos are available only at Meerkat while they are live, but the app gives users the option of saving what they have recorded on their devices."

Have a performance with tickets still available?  Meerkat (Periscope) a poignant one minute video, or better yet three quick rave testimonials from exiting audience goers and send it off.  Trying to complete that Kickstarter project, video a one minute synopsis of the project using your smart phone, and Meerkat (Periscope) it to your list. The possibilities are endless.  You only need a smartphone, the app and some inspiration.  Obviously, to distinguish your message, you will need to be creative in the content of what you Meerkat (Periscope), but we're suppose to be creative people.  And remember, the purpose of that kind of content marketing is not just to get people to respond, but to get them to pass your message on.  In fact, passing the message on may just be the most important goal as it increases the chances of the response level.

So, if you aren't Meerkatting yet - or Periscoping in the near future - perhaps you need to take a look at getting on the bandwagon now, and incorporate this tool into your communications / marketing strategies.  It seems a natural fit for us.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, March 9, 2015

Interview with Vickie Benson - The McKnight Foundation

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

Vickie Benson is arts program director for The McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis. Before coming to McKnight, she was vice president of the Jerome Foundation, St. Paul, program director at Chamber Music America in New York City and senior program specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C. Vickie was a member of Grantmakers in the Arts’ board of directors from 2003-10, and for her last two years, she served as the board’s president. She is currently a member of the operations committee for ArtPlace, a grantmaking collaboration of fourteen national and regional foundations focused on creative placemaking. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in arts administration from St. Paul's Metropolitan State University, and a master's degree in nonprofit management from the Hamline University Graduate School of Management. She studied music at the University of Minnesota as an undergrad. An avid advocate for artists, Vickie has a background as a folk singer and guitar player.

Here is my interview with Vickie:

Barry:  One of the major challenges for foundations today is where to allocate scarce resources.  There is tremendous pressure, from different quarters, to keep key, older cultural institutions alive on one end of the spectrum, and to giving equal support to smaller and ethnically diverse arts organizations on the other.  How do you balance those competing priorities and what is your stance on how foundations ought to allocate their resources?

Vickie:  Foundations are in business to be in support of their missions. McKnight’s arts program follows a legacy set early on by the McKnight Foundation Board of Directors—the arts program supports working artists. We rely on arts organizations to provide the support structures that working artists need to be successful--institutions of all types, sizes, and ages that support working artists. That said, McKnight has long supported small and mid-sized organizations because they are very important to a system of support for artists. McKnight has also a strong history of supporting artist founded, artist led organizations. McKnight along with other arts funders are investigating ways in which grantmaking will be culturally equitable and socially equitable into the future.

Barry:  Another issue in the arts funding philanthropic community has been how long a funder ought to stay with a grantee.  What are the factors that play in this challenge and what are your thoughts on this issue?

Vickie:  McKnight funding has been crucial over long periods of time to many key organizations that have built Minnesota’s robust arts ecosystem. These organizations have been critical to McKnight’s mission. We are transparent about the challenges. When a foundation continues to support organizations that are doing great work, it IS challenging for newer organizations to receive funding. That is the program officer’s challenge, to continue to support great work while also making recommendations for new ideas, all while staying within a set budget. Every foundation needs to answer this challenge against its own mission.

Barry:  For a couple of decades in the last century, funding was directed primarily to “projects”.  The tide has now turned, and increasingly funding basic operational costs is seen as preferential in many cases.  Venture Capital firms in the tech industry invest in ideas, but place a premium on investing in proven leadership. Should we be considering funding proven leadership rather than specific organizations.  What are your thoughts on moving to investing more in people, rather than in programs, projects or institutions?  Is that even possible?

Vickie:  I believe that foundations already invest in people—McKnight makes grants to organizations, but those organizations are driven by their people. McKnight’s grantmaking in the arts funds a system of support for working artists. There are the McKnight Artist Fellowships that are managed by artist service organizations and community institutions. The innovations within those programs come from the artists’ ideas and needs. Many of McKnight’s grants are made to organizations whose leaders are artists and innovators, whose ideas are at times on the leading edge.

Barry:  Grantee applicants often tailor their programs (and even sometimes operations) to what they think a funder will fund.  That seems a negative to both grantee and funder.  How do you change that dynamic for both parties benefit?

Vickie:  Here’s a little bit different take on that. McKnight has crafted our program, partly connecting to its legacy of supporting working artists through our Aritist Fellowship program. In our guidelines, we state that we prioritize compensation to artists and other support structures (professional development, exhibition, space, time, connection to community and other artists, etc.). This is key to our program’s strategy and it is, in part, meant to influence others’ thinking and action about support structures, including compensation, for artists. For too long, artists’ work has been devalued. It is the foundation’s job to shepherd its resources in a way that has impact.

Barry:  Professional development and management training opportunities are arguably a critical component in arts administrators being competitive business people.  But those opportunities are often inconvenient or even impossible to access, expensive, and not tailored to the needs of arts administrators.  What ought to be the role of funders in supporting a better trained pool of arts managers?  Should all grant applicants be required to have a line item in their budgets for professional development?

Vickie:  Professional development is important for all professionals. Each foundation, however, would have to consider that for its own purpose.

Barry:  GIA is a much different organization than it was five years ago.  Where would you like to see it go in the next five years?

Vickie:  I am very proud of the work that Grantmakers in the Arts has done in terms of connecting a broad and diverse group of arts grantmakers to important issues of our time. Janet Brown has done an amazing job as its President and the board of directors are serious about making sure that their leadership is broad and diverse. I only hope that it continues to be responsive and leading in the issues of the day and continues to make room for the next realm of leaders.

Barry:  A major source of friction between organization executive directors and their Boards is (real or perceived) board micromanagement.  What is the role of a funder in addressing that problem?  What ought a funder demand in terms of Boards competency and behavior, if anything?

Vickie:  As a rule of due diligence, program officers ask questions about governance, staff board relationships. etc. There are varying stages of an organization when boards of directors are needed to roll up their sleeves and serve in day to day functions of the organization and then, of course, at other stages, boards have more of a policy role. All boards have fiduciary responsibilities.

Barry:  Which should be the greater priority, funding the creation of art, or access to it?  And if a healthy balance is your answer, where is that balance?

Vickie:  The decision should be based on the foundation’s or program’s mission. Accordingly, McKnight focuses on the structures that are helpful and crucial to working artists. We surveyed the field and saw that it would be impactful for McKnight to marshall its grantmaking resources in this direction given others’ attention to access and education. One is not more important than the other, we need it all, but foundation staff and boards need to make choices about how their resources can have impact in fields.

Barry:  How do you balance allocation of foundation funds between the needs of specific organizations and the needs of the sector as a whole?  For the most part, funding goes to organizations (as project, program or operational support). Should foundations have as part of their portfolios initiatives that strengthen the entirety of the ecosystem?  How is addressing that goal constrained by the territorial limitations of working for a family foundation?

Vickie:  The McKnight Foundation staff and board realize that although we work in Minnesota, our work has impact nationally and beyond and vice versa. We know that a portion of the grantmaking resources is well utilized for support of national associations and data, in particular. Case in point is the Cultural Data Project—we know that having credible data for our field can only be helpful to the working artists in that field.

Barry:  How do you know when its time to pull the plug on a grantee?  Are legacy grantees sometimes getting an undeserved free ride, and what is the cost and impact on the whole of the arts ecosystem?

Vickie:  Program staff are thoughtful about making exit or final grants because no matter what size the organization, those funds need to be replaced and it is generally complex, regardless of the size of organization. Each foundation has to thoughtfully assess whether or not to continue funding. The one generalization that I will make is that it is better for the field when assessed on a case by case basis and not decided in a sweeping exit. That said, missions and directions of foundations change. This has occurred as long as there has been philanthropic giving—it is a reality of the field.

Barry:  Which services do you think arts service provider organizations need to do a better job at providing and why?

Vickie:  I am fortunate to live in a land of 10,000 lakes and many incredible artist service organizations. Many times the leaders of these organizations are artists and are deeply connected to artists. They are nimble at seeing opportunities ahead for artists and figure out how to connect and network the opportunities. I think it would be an interesting question to pose to the artist service organizations about how grantmakers could do a better job because I think, in general, the service organizations are incredible.

Barry:  Because things are now in a constant state of change, and there is little that any organization can completely rely on for anything but the very short term, it seems futile to engage in any long term planning.  Yet an approach that focuses on being adaptable, innovative and flexible is hardly a plan by itself.  Where is the balance between the need to be flexible and adaptive and the need to have some kind of roadmap to follow?

Vickie:  I think that you just nailed it in the last sentence—the key is finding the balance between those aspects of planning. The days of spending inordinate amount of time on a five year plan that sits on the shelf are long over. Flexible and relevant organizations moved away from that kind of planning long ago. Strategic frameworks that stay true to mission while also underscoring adaptibility are the roadmaps that organizations seem to be creating and following.

Barry:  Assess the sector’s efforts at community engagement?

Vickie:  I think that the arts and artists in particular have long been leaders in community engagement. I believe other sectors look to the arts to get ideas and inspiration.

Barry:  What drives you crazy about the nonprofit arts sector?

Vickie:  I’ve been blessed to spend my entire career in this sector—I’ve made incredible friends, I have a great network of colleagues, I am intellectually challenged on a regular basis, I’ve always felt at home in this sector, I’ve been privileged—it hasn’t driven me crazy…just the opposite actually.

 We talk a lot about technology - particularly as it may relate to our marketing, fundraising and audience development efforts.  Yet we seem perennially two steps behind mainstream private sector business in making technology work for us.  How can funders help the sector better integrate technological innovations into their businesses?

By sharing success stories and ideas. I would have you turn to the great work that Sarah Lutman has done on behalf of the Wyncote Foundation, “Like, Link, Share: How Cultural Institutions are Embracing Digital Technology.” Also, I would have us all look to Media Impact Funders who are helping us understand the possibilities for artists and cultural organizations in understanding the creative opportunities that exist in technology.

Barry:  If there were an Arts Funder Hall of Fame, who would you like to see inducted?

Vickie:  Roberta Uno. No question. Her work at Ford has been inspirational and has made great change for the sector. As she leaves the philanthropic field, I know that she will continue to make an impact in the world. I have learned so much from Roberta and for that I am grateful.

Barry:  McKnight is a family foundation with a defined territorial area of operation.  What are you not able to fund, that you wish you could, and why?

Vickie:  I have made a point in my career to remember that the resources that I’m shepherding are not mine and that when I work for a grantmaking entity, my recommendations for funding are within the mission of the foundation—McKnight’s arts goal is that “Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive.” It’s a great goal and the program is able to fund really great work.

Of course, I’m also a private citizen, so I make contributions to organizations that I want to fund with my own dollars. I’ve found it important not to mix up the two hats that I wear.

Barry:  What is the biggest lie the arts sector continues to buy into?

Vickie:  The sector doesn’t have the time or energy to buy into lies.

Barry:  For years we have been talking about capacity building. Assuming that concept includes competency building, what are the core competencies our organization leaders need to master?

Vickie:  Understanding and action regarding the changing demographics and inequities in our sector and the critical importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in grantmaking, opportunities for artists, arts access, hiring, and board development.
Leaders—board, staff—need to grasp the importance of the balance sheet, how that is tied to mission and the important stories that are embedded in the numbers.

Thank you Vickie

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

WESTAF launches the Creative Vitality Suite, a new online tool to measure the robustness of an area’s creative economy

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

WESTAF has just launched the Creative Vitality Suitea new online tool to measure the robustness of an area’s creative economy.

• The Creative Vitality Suite is a major advance for the arts and cultural field. Because it is an online tool, it provides 24/7 access to a wide variety of up-to-date data. This is very different from the traditional commissioning of a report on the creative economy, which--by the time it is completed and delivered--is usually substantially out-of-date.

• Moving beyond the advocacy-focused use of data, this tool helps organizations that seek to sit at the table with decision makers such as economic development experts, who demand credible data.  Moreover, the data helps drive informed decision making in a variety of ways.

• The Creative Vitality Suite is the initial phase of a very robust data portal for the arts. The site already contains huge amounts of data. Westaf's plan is to add much more to the site. Doing so will help ensure that the arts community has access to the data they need to make good decisions and to partner with the broader community.

• Nicole Stephan lead the design and development of WESTAFs Creative Vitality Suite online tool (formerly Creative Vitality Index). Stephan previously served as a data design lead on a Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Adviser web tool, an innovative charting platform displaying up-to-the-second economic data and market sentiment. She holds a BFA in graphic design from the College of Creative Studies and a MS in information and communication technologies for development from the University of Colorado Boulder Alliance for Technology Learning and Society (ATLAS) Institute. 

• The CVSuite tool was developed to encourage interaction and exploration of data. This investigation allows users to gain knowledge about factors in their creative economy and how to best report findings. The benefit from an organizational standpoint is controlling the variables used to report on a region’s creative economy.

Here is information from Westaf's press release:

"The Creative VitalityTM Suite is a tool that provides in depth and up-to-date employment and economic data about both the for profit and nonprofit sectors of the creative economy. Data in the tool are available on a nationwide basis and can be accessed by state, county, MSA, state legislative district, congressional district and ZIP Code. Developed by WESTAF, a nonprofit arts service organization, the online tool is now available for use at

For more information about the Creative Vitality SuiteTM, please contact Blake Brown, WESTAF Technology Services Associate or via telephone 303-629-1166.

WESTAF developed the Creative Vitality SuiteTM from the “bottom up” for researchers and administrators working in the area of the creative economy. The online tool allows you 24/7 access to creative economy data.

CVSuiteTM labor market data are based on North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes and Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes.

  • The CVSuiteTM lets you conduct custom analyses by selecting the NAICS codes you want to include in a definition of the creative economy.
  • You can pull data from competing geographic areas and compare them across multiple factors.
  • Reports on creative industry sales, employment patterns, workforce demographics and earnings data are available instantly.
  • Reports originate from independent third-party data sources.
    • National Center for Charitable Statistics
    • National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
    • Economic Modeling Specialists International collects and cleans multiple streams of creative economy data from more than 90 sources, including:
    • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The CVSuiteTM tilts toward research not just advocacy.

  • Data are updated quarterly (except nonprofit data which is updated annually)
  • CVSuiteTM reports places creative-economy advocates at the table with informed economic- development specialists, who expect to discuss findings rooted in credible data sources.

The Creative Vitality SuiteTM is a budget-friendly tool.

  • Annual subscriptions starts as low as $3,500.

The CVSuiteTM includes comprehensive data and analysis and does not require an agency or organization to assist with local data collection.

The CVSuiteTM allows for annual tracking of an array of data streams, and provides credible trend data.

The CVSuiteTM provides for timely actionable information and allows for low-impact inclusion of this measure in annual budgets.

The CVSuiteTM gives developers and planners, as well as arts advocates and administrators, concrete measures to make informed decisions about jobs, commercial cultural-business activity, and development of arts-related businesses and institutions.

WESTAF designed the CVSuiteTM as a tool for state- and local-level measurement of the creative economy.

  • The CVSuiteTM contains economic data for every ZIP Code, county, MSA, and state in the nation. + You can compare virtually any geographic and political subdivision with any other nationwide, and make relevant local comparisons with urban, rural, and demographically similar areas.
  • Grant data are accessible by U.S. congressional district and will soon be available by state legislative district.

The online tool gives you 24/7 access to creative economy data.

  • WESTAF believes this easy to access online tool will help arts advocates, administrators and researchers present reliable, up-to-date information about commercial and nonprofit arts in any community.

The Creative VitalityTM Suite helps you “picture” the data. Using the CVSuiteTM tool, you can download reports with easy-to-read charts and graphs.

Data used in charts and graphs can be customized to give a community a detailed analysis of how many creative-sector jobs already exist, how much sales activity the sector generates and taxes paid."

Check it out.  In a world where data is increasingly an essential component in making informed judgments and decisions, it may be of tremendous use and value to your organization - in everything from audience development, media support, donor solicitation, advocacy, and growing relationships with government and business partners. I'm not the most technically oriented person, but I am impressed with this tool. 

Have a great week.

Don't Quit