Sunday, July 26, 2015

Open Nominations for this Year's Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential

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

Every year, for the past seven years, I have posted a list of the Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts.  This will be the 8th year.

As I note every year: This is a list of those with power and influence in our field.  It is NOT necessarily a list of the smartest or brightest people, nor a list of those who have the best vision of the future, nor even those who have had the greatest impact on our field - though the names on each year's list have had significant impact and that is (often, but not always) precisely why they have power and influence.   Those with power and influence, or at least those we perceive to have power and influence, impact decisions across the sector; they set agendas, control funding, help set our priorities and affect our strategies on multiple issues.  For that reason, among others, it is important to know who has that power and influence.  Click here for a more detailed explanation of the process and the rationale behind creating the list.

Over the past seven years, I have assembled a list of over 500 names from my group of anonymous nominators.  Some people on the list one year, because of retirement, sabbatical or inactivity, fall off the list the next year.  Some of those return in subsequent years.  Some names show up every year, but for the most part the list is very different from year to year.  Indeed, in the last two years, nearly half the names on the list were not on the previous year's list.  It is that churn in who we perceive to be powerful and influential that is, i think, a fair indication of the continuing changes in the sector's leadership.

Last year I opened up the process to the field to submit nominations of those who people thought ought to be on this list.  That proved to be valuable in identifying names of people that might not otherwise have been identified, so I am again asking all of you to help me by suggesting names of people you think have substantial power and influence in our field.  

This isn't a beauty or popularity contest.  The criteria is very limited.  It's a list of the people who wield substantial power and influence in our field.  Not necessarily the ones who are doing the greatest work, though arguably they are.  People may have power and influence because of the position they occupy, because of their reputations and renown, because they control budgets and money, because they set agendas, because they are recognized spokespeople, because they are great persuaders, because they are visionaries, because of their experience, because of what they have created, or written.  There are countless reasons people who are powerful and influential in our field are seen as such.  But it is their power and influence that the list attempts to profile - not any other quality, nor based on any other criteria.   And it is a sector wide list, so some people who have power and influence in a given discipline, or  area, or region, may not make the list because the focus of the list is national.

The 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.   Every year, I can personally think of a dozen or more people who could easily be on the list (and in my opinion should be on the list), but don't make it.   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 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, I note 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.

As some names on this list are, like Meryl Streep at Oscar time, a perennial nominee and designee, I have decided to retire some of them on the main body of the list.  Beginning next year I will designate a handful of those who are always on this list as virtual Top 50 Hall of Famers so that the list can continue to recognize them, but also include more of those whose power and influence are trending upward.  Most of them will still exercise considerable power and have major influence - at least as long as they are in their current positions.

So, please send me the name or names of those you think have real power and influence.  I need their names, organizational affiliation, and, if you have time, any other information that would help me realize a better and deeper picture of why that person is powerful and influential so I might vet those suggestions. All suggestions will remain confidential and anonymous.

I need those suggestions no later than August 17th.

Thank you very much.

Don't Quit

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Gig Economy and the Arts

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

A lot of talk lately about the GIG Economy - defined here in this Newsday piece as:

"The rise of the "gig economy" -- the world of part-time, freelance, contingent workers such as Uber car drivers or contract software engineers -- threatens to supplant an earlier model, in which long-term, stable employment with a single company was the norm."
The article goes on:

"Contingent workers" now account for about 40.4 percent of the workforce, up from 30.6 percent in 2006, according to the Government Accountability Office. This trend arguably began sometime in the late 1990s, especially in the so-called New Economy.
It intensified with the last recession. Indeed, the vast majority of new jobs being created are contingent, temporary gigs -- precisely the opposite of what happened in the 1990s.
This new face of labor is anxiety-producing, but there's not much new about it. In fact, the replacement of steady jobs by unpredictable gigs marks a return to what passed for normal for most of U.S. history. The gig economy was the economy."

Indeed, the Gig Economy has been the economic reality of artists forever - artists who go from commission to commission, patron to patron, season to season, festival to festival, play to play, writing assignment to writing assignment and from one entrepreneurial attempt to another.  This is how artists have long attempted to make a living, and it is the economic model for most artists still.  For the rest of society, it is only in the last fifty years that the dominant economic model has included job security as a fundamental core of the mix.

The current iteration of the Gig Economy has risen as companies seek to reduce their costs to maintain competitiveness and to maximize their profits.  And at stake is a hefty 30% or more in cost savings if a company can avoid expenses like medical benefits, payroll taxes, and more by classifying workers not as full time employees, but as independent contractors.  Companies like AirBnB  and Uber are at the forefront of moving from having employees, to having contract workers.

While there are advantages to being a Gig worker (flexible time, independence, better work / life balance et. al), the problem of job security and adequate pay has resulted in serious reservations about, and attacks of all kinds on, the advance (or is it resurrection) of a Gig Economy. And it is those attacks, particularly the legal attacks that go to the heart of defining what constitutes an "employee",  that threaten the growth and long term viability of the economy moving towards job contingency as the dominant new norm.  Some companies have eschewed the Gig Economy approach because they want to (again for competitive reasons) be able to train their workers; they want to be able control more of how a worker does the required work, rather than just with the outcome of that work -- thus being able to insure that the customer experience with their product or service is quality controlled.  Other companies have resisted classifying all but their executive management team as 'employees', and arguably their bottom line shareholder value is at stake in the decision to define their workers as contingent or contract.

It remains whether or not the Gig Economy will be the mainstay in the coming decades.  We don't yet know - though the trend is gaining.

Artists remain pretty firmly entrenched as contract workers - with some of the advantages, but most of the negatives associated with being in the Gig Economy.  There are some areas in which artists have moved to being employees with the attendant benefits, but often little of the real security.  Some dancers for example are now employees during a Company's season, but only for the season (which is often very short) and classified as part time employees at best.  The same may be true for theater actors and workers, and musicians and others in our field.  If some are fortunate to have some of the advantages of being employees, often that designation is, at best, short term and / or  seasonal.

Compounding this whole subject is the technological revolution in robotics, as business and industry move to replace human beings with machines for any growing number of jobs - and thus making the employee / contractor conundrum non existent as machines don't yet have rights.  Not likely to happen in the arts?  Well, that's not entirely clear.  Recently there was news about a robot performing an opera, so the issue of machines replacing artists may not be as fantasy like and far-fetched as we might imagine, and though I think it easy to make a convincing argument that we are a long way from even sophisticated AI machines being able to replicate the 'soul' of human creativity, nonetheless the door is open.

And what about us? What about the arts administrator / manager field.  Are we immune to the Gig Economic pressures of moving from being employees to contract workers?  Will the pressures on our organizations to cut costs, save money and become more efficient so as to remain viable as organizations, make it more  likely that we will move to replace some of our full time "employees" with contract workers?   There have been suggestions in the past that we combine certain back office functions (e.g., accounting, payroll taxes, etc) so as to benefit from economies of scale, and outsource certain of these jobs because we would save money, and the tasks don't necessarily have any direct link with the creativity we espouse and which is central to our missions anyway.  If that makes sense, then why not outsource other of our jobs to contract workers if by doing so we could save money, and arguably get good results?  What about fundraising and development, or marketing for example?  And how long will it really be before machines can do virtually all of the secretarial / go-fer kind of work?

With the coming exodus of baby boomer arts administrators, many with volumes of experience and high levels of expertise - and many of whom either have to, or want to, continue to work in the field in some capacity, will we see an enormous new class of consultants that will fuel the supply of contract workers for the nonprofit arts field.  And with this new pool of readily available seasoned and qualified veterans (at arguably less expenditure than younger full time arts managers), will we move more towards the Gig Economy for arts administration?

While there are strong arguments to have the spontaneity of creative minds working in the same place at the same time to give rise to those 'aha' moments where new ideas are born, technology and global access to instant interface makes virtual same place, same time reality almost as good.  And if the tradeoff is for productivity at less cost - that's going to be a hard argument to overcome.

One might make the case that for us such a move would be immoral in some way.  And at least unfair to those coming up through the ranks.   But even if that were true on a human level, on the organization level would it not be irresponsible to ignore a move that would benefit the organization and thus, in the end, the mission itself?  And might not the savings of moving to a Gig approach, be of enormous value to our organizations - including having the work that needs to be done, done well - at less cost?

What I am suggesting is that as a topic, this one isn't necessarily all black and white and easy to decide - given the imperfect world we find ourselves in, and the daunting challenges we face to survive.  And factoring into the decision are issues as lofty as what is the right thing to do, to the more mundane practical considerations of how do we survive otherwise?

All of this is, of course, an unsettling move in the already disconcerting concentration of wealth from a widespread middle class to the top one percent.  Ultimately what is at stake is the organization of human life into systems that allow for equity and value across the board.  But that's big picture stuff.  For the moment, the Gig Economy presents more real threats, challenges, perhaps opportunities and certainly questions - for artists, for arts administrators, for arts organizations -- for everyone.  For artists, all of this has been part of their existence for some time.  For arts administrators, much of what might come to pass will be new and even unexpected.

We shouldn't ignore this.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Quick Reflections on Current Issues

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

Here are some quick reflections and musings on some of the items in the recent news cycle (stuff I would probably be better off Tweeting about, if I had a Twitter account (which I don't):

1.  Works for Hollywood, Why Not Us? - In case you haven't noticed, this summer is apparently a blockbuster year for Hollywood, with huge box office numbers stemming mostly from sequels and spinoffs to previous Tinsel Town successes.  This is a formula the movie industry loves because it theoretically reduces the risk and appeals to the public's affinity for familiar material.  And they are cashing in on it big time this year.  But the same thing doesn't seem to necessarily work for the arts.  And we have been doing it for a long time.  In Theater we call it revivals, in music and dance, we call it repertoire, in museum exhibits, we call it retrospectives (we seem to like words beginning with the letter "r").  It is essentially a very similar approach to Hollywood, yet without the same result. I wonder why,  or what we might do to make it work?  Or if it is part of a larger problem for us?

2.  Latinos are the majority:  An announcement came this week that Latinos are now the majority population in California.  And if the growth trend continues, the demographic will continue to gain proportional representation in the whole of the country. And this simple fact is the real news about the Latino community this week, Donald Trump's hysterical fear mongering ranting notwithstanding.  While in the short term this milestone might not yet convince all arts organizations to act in awareness of the new reality, it is, IMHO, clearly and unequivocally, a clarion call in the long term for organizations to make changes, and for funders to align their strategies to revised goals.  And preparation for the long term, begins now.  We really must avoid talking this challenge to states of inaction on our part.

3.  Systemic technology meltdown: Last week's computer problems with United Airlines, the Wall Street Journal and the NYSE were coincidentally attributed  to "glitches", which sounds like the medical profession calling chronic and severe gastrointestinal malfunction as Irritable Bowel Syndrome - a condition for which there is no known cause nor cure.  Increased hacking, by individuals and nation states, and inexplicable technical problems that seem immune to preventative measures, would suggest that our computer systems, on which we are now frighteningly dependent for all communications and data storage, are not just vulnerable, but are very likely going to be compromised to varying degrees on an increasingly regular basis. Does your organization have a back up plan as to how it would continue its business and protect its access to important data in the event of a semi prolonged outage during which you couldn't use your computers - for anything?  (And all your information in the cloud and on back up hard drives won't do you any good at all if the bad news scenario messes with the systems you use to access so it won't function.  Something to discuss I think, because it certainly is a possibility that something may happen to compromise use of our computer systems for an extended period of time.  Then what do we do?

4.  Questionable Research:  There is a growing tendency to support research into participation in the arts that expands the perimeters of the level in which Americans participate in arts and culture, and even the very definition of that participation.  These studies are well intended attempts to demonstrate and verify the scope and depth of involvement in the arts and culture by enlarging the aperture of what is included in our understanding of that involvement, and to learn valuable lessons from understanding that expanded participation.  There are two dangers in this trend I think:  1)  By attempting to piggy back the arts on more popular frames of cultural participation (e.g., the film industry / movie watching), we run the risk of trying to justify our value based on someone else's value -- and that may be transparently false.   Clearly there is crossover between the arts that comprise the nonprofit arts sector as we know it, and other sub sectors of a more broadly defined creative cultural sector, including the private entertainment industry.  Defining arts participation as inclusive of the whole is legitimate for some purposes.  But it doesn't really help us directly -- either in making the case for our value (except as part of a much larger whole), or in understanding how we might address some of the challenges we face as a distinct and differentiated part of that whole; and 2) some of this research is moving towards laughable, if not absurdist, conclusions that make us look foolish.  If we get to the point where taking a "selfie" or listening to a song on the car radio counts as participation in arts and culture, then frankly we've succeeded in making a mockery of the whole concept.  We're not quite to that point yet, but we're getting perilously close to exactly that kind of conclusion.  We need to dial back our enthusiasm and be more focused on our approach to how we define things and in expanding our research to be pan inclusive of everything under the sun.

I hope you have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, July 6, 2015

Where Will the Displaced Artists, Arts Organizations and Administrators All Go?

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

The issue of artists being priced out of living and working in our cities is not new.

The concentration of wealth in a smaller percentage of the population, steamrolling gentrification, finite urban real estate options in many areas (including in limited premium locations), skyrocketing real estate prices, increased rents, and such things as AirBnB putting pressure on real estate to turn high, quick profits - have together have made it increasingly expensive for artists to live and work in cities across the country.  The problem continues to grow. Those who think there is still a solution might prefer to cast it as a challenge, while those who think the die is cast - at least in some cities - might see it as an unsolvable problem).  However you frame the situation, it continues to be worrisome.

On the role of AirBnB in the process of making it hard for artists to live and work in their cities, the Pacific Standard article made this point:

"In desirable urban space, the company (AirBnB) is helping to breed a gentrified monoculture that threatens the cultural diversity it piggybacks on as long as cities don't take steps to balance its effects."

We have long lamented the negative impact this can have on urban areas as the creative economy finds it difficult to exist, let alone flourish, when artists are economically excluded from a territory.  In my own backyard of the San Francisco Bay Area - long an incubator for ideas and discoveries that have changed the face of the world - from television to the Beatniks; from the Hippies to America's answer to the Beatles launched British Music Invasion; from the Anti-Vietnam War movement to the Silicon Valley computer revolution.  All of those things had their genesis in this area, and it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine that any of them would have come to pass were artists not part of the fabric of the City (and when we say the City here we mean San Francisco, but we also mean the greater Bay Area).  The same is likely true of other cities.

And yet there are few cities making a concerted effort to retain the artists, arts organizations and arts workers so as to protect and expand their creative ecosystems.  The issue is usually framed as a problem for artists - which is assuredly is.  But it's also a problem for arts managers, and for the organizations themselves.

What is to become of these oases of creativity, if the artists won't be a part of life there anymore?  As author Sarah Kendizior noted in an essay entitled "Expensive Cities are Killing Creativity":

"New York, San Francisco….and other cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed - are no longer places where you go to be someone.  They are places you live when you are born having arrived."

 She goes on in an analysis of creativity becoming the handmaiden of the rich:

Creativity - as an expression of originality, experimentation, innovation - is not a viable product. It has been priced out into irrelevance - both by the professionalization of the industries that claim it, and the soaring cost of entry to those professions.
The "creative class" is a frozen archetype - one that does not boost the economy of global cities, as urban studies theorist Richard Florida argues, but is a product of their takeover by elites. The creative class plays by the rules of the rich, because those are the only rules left. Adaptation is a form of survival. But adaptation is a form of abandonment as well."

The incasing difficulty in living and working in some major cities affects not just the artists, but the newer and the smaller and the mid-sized arts organizations housed in these cities.  Increasingly they too are being priced out.  Some of these organizations are finding it difficult to continue to stay in the very cities they might have helped create.  As landlords seek to maximize the return on their properties - aided by demand exceeding supply in many instances - arts organizations are finding they can't afford to stay in their current locations.

There are projects underway to try to address this issue for both artists and the organizations that promote, curate and present art.  Placemaking devotees understand that there is a relationship between the art that "makes" a place more viable, livable, healthy, dynamic and valuable, and the artists and the arts organizations that are the core of that effort.  But can they alone buck the trends of artists and organizations simply not having the resources to live in the cities anymore?

And then there are the arts administrators who work in the organizations and with the artists facing a forced exodus.  They haven't escaped the dilemma either.  But for the senior management at the largest cultural institutions who are competitively compensated, and for the few that are the beneficiaries of rent controlled housing, many middle and entry level arts managers are finding that they simply can't afford the rents or home purchase prices to live in the cities in which they work.  It makes little sense to support the needs of the artists and the organizations that work to support the art created, if we fail to support the managers who make that happen.  Arts administrators' needs for affordable housing have to be central in the mix, but I rarely hear them included.  This is, in my opinion, a serious threat to the development of our future leader class.

In San Francisco or down the Silicon Valley for example, rents have risen so far so fast, that a simple studio apartment can easily cost $1500 to $2000 a month, if you can find one - and not a lavish one at that.  A 2 bedroom house can fetch upwards of four or five thousand dollars.  An entry level administrator, being paid a starting salary of  $40,000 (or a middle level manager making $60,000 a year), very likely have only two choices (assuming s/he is not married to a wealthy partner or the heir to a nice fortune):  1) Share a place with several roommates (not always the most desirable option), or 2) live an hour to three hours commute time from where you work - where housing is still affordable (perhaps even a less attractive alternative).

The problem, of course, is not just affordable housing. The issue is also inadequate compensation to artists and administrators, and inadequate capitalization and budget for space for organizations.  Prices are going up.  Income is not.

Being priced out of the market is not the reality everywhere, but it is the reality in an increasing number of places.  If that trend continues, what will that do to our leadership for the future?  What happens if people in certain areas like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, when faced with having to live far from their jobs, or in unacceptable living arrangements (I mean if your in your 30's do you really want to live with roommates still?), simply opt out for something else, or somewhere else?  Will our talent pool shrink?  And what happens if that trend expands to other cities?

Or will that not be a problem, because the organization itself will be forced to move out of the city it supposedly serves?    Or will that not be a problem either, because the artists that comprise the organization will have moved on to somewhere else themselves?

If the trends continue to turn certain urban areas into the enclaves of the very wealthy - unaffordable for the middle class and for artists, arts organizations and arts administrators, where will they all go? And that doesn't even consider the question of middle class audiences.

And that might just be the crux of it.  Artists aren't going to just disappear, nor will all of them simply stop being artists.  Ditto for organizations and managers.  What is more likely is that they will simply move - to where life is more affordable and more conducive to their lifestyle and to their work.  And in so doing, it may well be that such a move will herald the beginning of a new creative burgeoning in another geographic area - another city, another town, another undeveloped venue.  And if that turns out to be the case, that will be a boon for those newly found meccas. It may also turn out to be disastrous to those cities they were forced out of; cities that over time will become transformed into something entirely different than that which gave them greatness, and which attracted people in the first place.

One hopes that the cities wake up to the challenge (problem?) and can help - with housing subsidies, tax breaks for builder / developers and tax breaks for artists.  And we ought to start thinking about tax breaks for arts administrators at a certain level, as well as for artists.  If we are to support creativity and art making, performing and exhibition as part of a place, then we ought to include support for the whole of the ecosystem, and that includes the managers who will make it all happen.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit