Thursday, December 22, 2016

Dear Santa

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

Dear Santa:

I've got a long list this year.  I don't mean to be greedy, but these are things I need.  And not just me Santa, but everybody on your list I think.  Now I know most of those who write to you are kids and that kids want toys and stuff.  I'm no kid anymore.  And I don't want toys.  But what I want is, I think, crucially  important to not only the future of those kids, but their very survivability.

The world's in a mess Santa.  Across the planet there has been a trend towards authoritarian regimes, and now frequently those governments are military dictatorships.  Increasingly freedom is under attack - free speech, academic freedom, freedom from hunger and pain, freedom to live one's life quietly and with dignity.  Increasingly, Santa only a select few are able to enjoy the economic freedom to live quality lives.  Wars are everywhere. Intolerance and hatred is growing.  

And I understand Santa, that most people when asked, will tell you they want money and things, and I'm sure they do.  But I think deep down, most people want what I am going to ask you for - and that the things I hope you will bring to the world are the very things that will make them safe and protect their children.

So here's what I want for Christmas Santa.  I'll spell it out for you:

Civility.  The world could use a little more civility Santa.  Just some common respect and fair treatment for everyone no matter who you are, where you are, your station in life or what you believe.  Enough so we can at least communicate.

Honesty.  Public corruption and greed are on the rise Santa.  Too often, lies and deceit are the norm. It's hard to know where the truth lies anymore. It's become far too common to just make stuff up and falsely accuse, and, unfortunately, too many people are swayed by false arguments and end up acting against their own self interests.  And more than that Santa, it's as though everyone sees everyone else as fair game, as a target to be exploited.  We need a return to when honesty was a value worth preserving, a value which everyone saw as the underpinning of our living together.  And we need the courage to embrace that value in our public lives, and challenge those that trash it.

Reason.  I'm afraid that rational thought and reasonableness are being threatened Santa.  Facts are no longer important, evidence is irrelevant.  It's as though it's fashionable to be irrational.  We decry thinking, and applaud raw emotion, and that can't serve us long.

Intelligence.  We use to value intelligence Santa.  We use to understand that what we called being "smart" was a good thing; that as human beings, use of our faculties and cognitive thinking to meet the challenges we face was to be lauded.  We use to put a premium on the evolution of our brains, but now that seems something to fear, to make fun of and disparage. It's almost as though being stupid is "cool", or at the very least it just doesn't matter.

Sanity.  Santa, a certain malaise, a form of insanity, seems to have engulfed the world.  It's hard to offer any other explanation for the things people are doing, then that sanity is on the wane.  It's like a collective mental breakdown is at hand.  We need to restore basic sanity to the world somehow.

Tolerance.  Intolerance has gripped the planet Santa.  Everywhere dogma rules thinking.  It seems nowhere any longer are people willing to live and let live, nowhere are people willing to let other people have any beliefs different from their own.  At the very least Santa, we need some decency in this world, where people can find it within themselves to mutually allow other people to live their lives with just a modicum of respect.  It's become far too easy to demonize all the "others" in the world, and dismiss them as the enemy, and that Santa has resulted in increased cruelty and indifference everywhere.  We won't survive if that continues.

Maturity.  Santa, it seems like too many of the adults in the world are acting like petulant, spoiled children, and this immaturity is celebrated rather than criticized.  We desperately need to bring back some maturity to how we act - especially by our public officials.  We don't just need a grown up in the room, we need everyone in the room to be a grown up.

Art.  This is a very personal and selfish item on my list Santa,  I include it because art is one of the few things left that speak to our higher instincts and better qualities.  Art represents an affirmation of life; it's our appreciation of  beauty and a manifestation of our more lofty aspirations.  Our souls and spirits need the kind of nourishing that art provides.

Sensitivity.  There is too little caring in this world now Santa.  We need more compassion for our fellow human beings, and to encourage people to act to help where possible.  Suffering is so ubiquitous that we've become indifferent.  Callousness ill serves our species.  No one person can save the world Santa, but together, we might.  A little goodness in the collective psyche might be a start.

Merry Christmas Santa.  Can you help?

I know my list is usually beyond what you do, but I and the world are desperate Santa.  It will take a miracle for my wish list to come true, but your very existence is a miracle - you are the very embodiment of all the things I'm asking for.  

And it's all these things that are essential Santa, if we are ever to truly have PEACE ON EARTH AND GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN.

Thanks Santa.   And if these things don't come to pass right away,  I understand Santa that it's each of our jobs to try to get us there somehow.  

Merry Christmas, and the Happiest of Holidays to you all.

Don't Quit

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Stallone Passes on the NEA Gig

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

Media reports that, though flattered, Sylvester Stallone has said that "he thinks he'd be better suited for a role helping veterans", and has thus apparently removed his name from consideration as Chair of the NEA.

So now where does that leave us?  If the original stories are true (and who knows what is and what isn't true today), and Trump wanted Stallone for the NEA job, then that means the Endowment is on his radar screen.  Or somebody's on the transition team.  I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

And if it's true that Trump thought Stallone, as an 'A' Lister from Hollywood, would bring a needed cachet to the agency, now what does he do?  His list of 'A' (or even 'B' or 'C') celebrity supporters seems on the short side, (if the stories of his difficulties in attracting performers for his inauguration are true), and so what's his next logical choice?

Andrea Bocelli had been scheduled to perform, and Trump apparently loves him, but due to public pressure has backed out.  Maybe he would look favorably on the NEA appointment.

Otherwise, it may be down to:   Ted Nugent or  Scott Baio.

Of course, there are untold numbers of very qualified nonprofit arts leaders who could effectively helm the agency, but it seems a long shot that they would have a real chance.  If it's an inside game, then maybe Michael Kaiser is on the short list - as he is close to Department of Education Secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos.  There may be others of whom we aren't aware.

I liked the Stallone appointment and thought it would go a long way to keeping the agency's critics and detractors from pushing to defund or eliminate it.  Without a Stallone, are those forces emboldened again?

Who knows.

Have a nice week.

Don't Quit

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rumor: Trump Favors Sylvester Stallone for NEA Chair

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


Two developments that might impact the field:

First, the bad news: Trump's pick for his budget director is a slash and cut guy who favors deep cuts to balance the budget.  See article here.  By itself, this might indicate that arts funding could be in trouble, as it would likely be one of those items the new budget director would have on his list to get the axe.

Second, news broke in the last two days indicating that Trump will offer the Chairmanship of the NEA to Sylvester Stallone, and that Stallone would take the offer.  Though denied as a "done deal" by the Trump Transition team, what gives this report some credibility is that it was reported not only by Fox News and others, but by the Breibart site (the "news" site of Trump's senior White House advisor).

Irrespective of what you may think of Mr. Stallone, or his credentials, this appointment, if it happens, might very well be a positive development for the arts.  First, Stallone is an actor and painter, and aside from any detractor's negative assessments of his talent or skill at each, I think it clear he would bring a sensibility to the post as someone who both values the arts on a personal basis, and sees their value and relevance to society at large.  Plus, he has had great success and enjoys enormous contacts within the entertainment industry, and that experience might be useful as the arts have tried for years to build bridges between the ecosystems.  And like former NEA Chair, Rocco Landesman, who did not have a nonprofit arts background, but came from Broadway, and who did, in my estimation, an excellent job, I believe Mr. Stallone might well be an inspired choice.  And he just may have the ability to eventually increase federal funding for the arts, and more importantly, raise public awareness and valuation.

Moreover, with his professional and public cachet, and as Trump's friend, and having Trump's backing, his appointment would go a long way to protect the agency from those in Congress and the conservative right who would like to see it eliminated or at least severely cut back.

For those reasons, I could easily see supporting this choice.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Overtime Rule Put On Hold by Court

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

According to a post by the National Council of Nonprofits, (confirmed by a post of the Department of Labor here) on November 22, 2016, a Federal District Judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Department of Labor from implementing its Overtime Final Rule (requiring overtime pay to a wider class of employees (including nonprofits) that was to take effect on December 1, 2016.  The Department of Labor has appealed asking for an expedited process, but it's apparently anybody's guess how long before a court will determine if the rule can be implemented.

The rule had the potential to be very detrimental to the financial health of financially struggling nonprofits, who have historically depended on employees to work (in some cases, unreasonable and outrageous) overtime without additional compensation.  Indeed, in the arts, for virtually all arts organizations below the very largest and financially well heeled major institutions, it became almost accepted procedure that many "management" employees (and which employees qualified as "management" was a fairly loose definition) routinely worked far more than the forty hour week.  It was simply part of the way arts nonprofits were able to get the work done, on the budgets they had.

The new rule proposed to redefine which employees had to be paid additional compensation for that overtime work, and, in so doing, dramatically increased that pool of employees.  Unquestionably, this was - from the perspective of fairness to the employees - long overdue.  But it threatened the very existence of many nonprofits who could neither afford to keep every employee, yet couldn't do what they did without them, or at the least put them in a quandary:  layoff employees, raise the salaries of "management" designated employees to keep them as "exempt" from the rule, or cut back on expenses by jettisoning or terminating certain programs and services,  so as to comply with the new rule.  Of course, increasing revenues would be the best option, but also the most problematic.  Rock and a hard place.

As there are now even greater political threats to arts nonprofits, failure to comply with the rule, when implemented, would be a very dangerous thing for any arts nonprofit to even consider.  If you haven't yet determined how you will comply, and taken the steps necessary to be able to activate that plan, you may have caught a break with this court injunction, but I would immediately consult an attorney as to the whole matter if you haven't done so yet.  The rule may need to be re-written and changed, but we don't know that for sure yet.  It may end up less draconian, or it may stay the same.

The above post from the National Council of Nonprofits provides a convenient step-by-step process for determining whether or not your organization is covered by the proposed Overtime Final Rule, how to comply and how much it might cost.  I will assume most arts organizations already had a plan, and a process to implement that plan, to comply with the rule (had it taken effect, as expected, on December 1st).  Because there is a certain level of complexity to understanding and complying with the rule, it is good advice for each organization to consult a local attorney familiar with labor law - both federal and state, for advice; and bear in mind that some states may have stricter requirements for overtime pay than others, or even the federal government.

But for the moment it would appear there is a "stay" in implementation of the federal law rule change, and arts organizations should use the time to again think through how they will handle this challenge, including, if necessary, tweaking their original plans to comply with the rule.  At the above Department of Labor site, you can sign up for email notices as to the status of the rule, and what court action may have been taken.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Staying On Message

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

"Ok, you there on the end.  This is a chorus.  Everybody sings - and the same song please.  No solos.  No sitting it out.  Get with the program.  We need your voice here, so stay on message."

(Note:  I seem so IT incapable, that I am unable to include photos in this blog.  So if the blog post in your email box doesn't have the above photo of five baby birds - four of them with their mouth wide open waiting for food - and a fifth on the end, tight lipped and out of synch with the rest --- my apologies.  I think it might show up on the blog site itself - but that might just be a wistful hope.  Sorry. But if, on the other hand, the birdie photo shows up, then hallelujah, it's a miracle) 

What the Republicans do very well is to craft messages that are designed to reach a specific objective, and then (most importantly) they uniformly stay on that message - no matter what.  It seemingly doesn't always matter if the message bears any resemblance to truth and reality, or even if it is transparently slanted and one sided.

They understand (and no one more than the President elect:  "Lying Ted", "Crooked Hillary", "Loser Jeb) that messages, like advertising, need to be repeated over and over and over again, and in that process they begin to penetrate the public's consciousness and become embedded as truth in the collective psyche.  It is the repetition that is the key - staying on message.

Tide detergent is the perfect example of this phenomenon.  Every since it was introduced decades and decades ago, every six months or so, the packaging forcefully proclaims that the newest version of Tide is new and improved.  They literally claim to make it new and improve it a couple of times a year, every year.  How is that possible?  It's soap.  How can you make it better every few months?  If they actually did make it better that many times, then it makes you think maybe in the beginning this product wasn't much more than a box of dirt.  Tide understands how repetition of the message is what is important.  The same seems true in politics.

The Democrats are, of course, no match for the Republicans in this activity.  If the shoe were on the other foot, and the Republicans were leading the strategy for the situation the Democrats find themselves in, here's what we would be seeing:

1.  They would be filing for recounts in a dozen or more states.  Filing lawsuits claiming voter fraud, voter suppression, interference and hacking by the Russians and anything else they could possibly think of to call the legitimacy of the election into question.  If the Republicans were in charge of the Democratic party, they would be claiming Trump stole the election - illegally no doubt - and would stay on that message for the next four years - calling into question the legality and legitimacy of his administration - to the point where that would become accepted fact and gospel to a segment of the populace.  They would browbeat the media into covering these claims, and they would fan far and wide to promote them.  Delegitimizing the administration would be the objective.  Hammering away at that theme on a dozen fronts is staying on message.

2.  They would add to that claim, that there was not only NO mandate for the Trump administration (since he stole the election) but that since Hillary got two million more votes, the public endorsed her issues, her ideas, not his.  They would again repeat this message over and over and over, calling into question any proposals by a Trump administration or the Republican controlled congress.

3.  They would have already announced that they would oppose any and everyone Trump nominated to the courts, and many of his Cabinet appointments as well.  They would declare their goal to still have a Supreme Court Justice position open and unfilled four years from now (the GOP, in fact, did this when they thought Trump would lose).

And on and on.   The point is to craft messages in furtherance of a specific objective, and then honor the commitment to stay on message.  And why not, it has worked effectively for the Republicans for over a decade now - maybe longer.

I don't expect the Democratic party to embrace such a strategy.  It seems beyond their ability and mindset.  Not since Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn have the Democrats been any real competition to the Republicans in terms of playing hardball politics.  It seems it's just not in their DNA.

But the arts need to take a page from the Republican strategy book.  We need to craft messages in support of specific objectives - whatever those objectives may be - whether a funding goal, a piece of legislation, or something as vague as valuation.  And we need to act as a bloc in universally staying on those messages.

We are a large, unwieldy, diverse field spread out over a massive geographical, economic, political landscape.  Yet, we are able, from time to time, to act with one voice towards a shared, common goal.    We've actually had decent success with the "arts are an economic engine" message, and in staying on that message over the past two decades.  Those that decry that the data is suspect and flawed, or that it is the intrinsic value of the arts that is really important, miss the point.  What's relevant is not the veracity of the claim, but that you succeed in establishing it within a public mindset.  This is politics, not academia.  I don't expect Tide to come out and publicly admit that their soap is about the same as the other guy's soap.  Given the current political realities, it would seem we are at a point where sharpening our messages and then staying on those messages, at least in a political sense, may well be critical to our future.  And this likely applies for the ecosystem of an individual organization as well as the whole sector.

I don't know what the exact message or messages ought to be. That's for the field to determine. But we need to arrive at some consensus (not necessarily unanimity) as to what the message(s) are, and then rally behind them to universally stay on those messages.

I think that for those who feel threatened by a Trump administration, and / or who simply disagree with some / most / all of the proposed policies and agenda - the best thing we can do as a sector is to try to get our messages across.  If every other sector tries, in earnest, to do the same thing, then, in the aggregate, we will be as effective a loyal opposition as we can be.  Theoretically at least, that is how a democracy works.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Election Aftermath - Thoughts on the Future

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

"It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times."  

I am still trying to process this election. I can't seem to wrap my brain about the reality, nor what it is going to mean for the future.  "President Donald Trump" - I say that every morning and it still doesn't register.  The past two weeks of appointments and GOP talk of their "agenda" haven't inspired confidence or optimism for me.  It's hard to even consider the notion of healing the country, or reaching out to build bridges when someone is stabbing you with a knife.  The only thing you need to reach out for in that situation is something with which to defend yourself.

At first, I was genuinely surprised I had got it so completely wrong.  Now I believe I understand why I was so far off the mark. First, I relied on the pundits and pollsters.  Not since the "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline have the so-called pros been so wrong.  Second, I think I simply projected a result I wanted and in that conceit, I misread and misunderstood the breadth and scope of the feelings of those who voted for Trump.   Like the Paul Simon lyric: I heard what I wanted to hear, and disregarded the rest."  And third, I have spent virtually my entire life in California, and it is painfully clear that California is an isolated, oasis, fantasy land that has little relationship to the reality of the rest of the country.  My world, my America is not the reality.  The Trump people are the reality right now.  For the moment anyway, it's their America.

What Happened?
The Monday morning quarterbacking as to why Hillary lost will go on for years.  I think the obvious reasons are now apparent.  The Blacks who stayed home and didn't vote in the same numbers as they had come out for Obama, and the protesting group of Millennials who rallied around third party candidates because they "just couldn't vote for Hillary", including those Bernie supporters who were bitter at his loss, were arguably the statistical difference.  (And Bernie was marginally helpful to Clinton as his support was little and late).

She lost the three key states of Wisconsin (by about 20,000 votes), Michigan (by about 20,000 votes) and Pennsylvania (by about 90,000 votes); in the aggregate less than 150,000 votes. Assuming the recounts will not change the result, nor will anything come of various charges against Trump before he is sworn in, then the Millennials, who will likely be most impacted by many of the proposed Trump and GOP priority changes, will pay the price.    Welcome to the school of hard knocks kids - your votes to make yourselves feel cool may be the hammer that drives the nails into the coffin of climate change response.  Way to go.

And then there is the far right wing element - the American Taliban - the racists, bigots, homophobes, anti-semitics, sexists who have been unleashed by the Trump success.  Nobody in either party really wanted to believe this group was anything other than a fringe anomaly.  Nobody understood how how deep and wide this endemic and systemic prejudice ran.  While likely not a majority of the Trump camp, it was, and is, a far larger presence than imagined.  Now we know.

But its too simplistic to assign blame and point to just one cause for her defeat.   Beyond the failure of those who had every reason to support her, but did not, was the James Comey last minute release of meaningless information that amounted to no more than specious innuendo.  The GOP is superb at crafting a message and universally staying on that message - in this case, the basically, in  reality, inconsequential Clinton email probe.  That message wasn't really that Clinton had done anything illegal, but that she was somehow "untrustworthy".  The Republicans successfully pounded home that message relentlessly, and it struck.  That cost Clinton votes.  How many, we can't tell.

Americans, of course, like frequent change.  Nixon after Kennedy and Johnson.  Reagan after Carter. Clinton after Bush.  Bush after Clinton.  Obama after Bush.  It's almost predictable.

A core of Trump's supporters clearly fit into the category of "deplorable".  For them, in my opinion, this was not about Making America Great Again, it was about Making America White (and Christian, macho, straight) again.  It was about a rise to power of the white dominant structure and a rebuke and refutation of the last five decades of moving the country to a greater tolerance and acceptance of every corner of our society.  Born out of fear that their privileged position, racial superiority and clearer relationship with God was being threatened by people different from them (different looking, different thinking, different acting), they invested that fear in Trump and, he, unfortunately played to it for his own self-aggrandizement and personal gain.

But to conclude that every voter for Trump fits that narrative continues our misunderstanding of how this happened in the first place. For many (and maybe even most) Trump voters, their vote was a last straw as it were; their vote was a protest that the powers that be - both public and private - had for too long ignored their plight.  Things the Democrats thought were important to the country, simply weren't that important to them.  Climate change, the shift of wealth to the one percent - those were too remote and conceptual to be threatening.  Jobs, paychecks, the future their kids might have, healthcare were the important things, and they simply did not make the connections the Democrats tried to make that all those things were linked to things the Democrats were bent on fixing.  What the Republicans and Trump in particular succeeded in doing was playing on fear - the fear of injustice and unfairness and of relevance and control, for these voters believed that it simply isn't fair that the country's scarce resources and attention is paid to illegal immigrants rather than them as citizens.

Americans like simple, direct answers to even complex issues.  They don't want to dig deep and analyze.  They want villains and heroes.  So Trump's promise to stop jobs from disappearing overseas hit the mark.  Never mind that the real reason jobs are disappearing in traditional corporate America isn't greedy unions, isn't flawed trade policies  - though that sounds right.  The real reason may have more to do with the pressure the hedge funds and private equity firms put on companies to squeeze out profits and cut expenses so as to enable the companies to buy back more stock, for that process instantly raises the stock prices and benefits the funds.

This group of Trump Americans don't believe themselves racist or homophobic or anti-semitic or even intolerant.  They genuinely believe they have gotten the short end of the stick from everybody and the only recourse they had was to vote for an outsider who seemingly sympathized with them and promised to do what they believed would help their plight:  refocus on Americans - from our immigrant policy to our policies on trade with China and the world.  This was about a universal value:  Self interest.

And very likely the biggest reason she lost, was that her campaign, and the Democrats, misread the sense of the rust belt, white middle class, for whom the election was both a protest and about their futures.  This group felt ignored, abandoned, isolated and that America was turning its back on them. Except for Trump, who seemed to understand their plight.  It was though he was saying, clumsily and inelegantly, what Bill Clinton had said in 1992:  "I feel your pain."  Hillary and the Dems simply didn't get that this large bloc of voters weren't really overtly racist, nor leaning supremacist bigots, but those who held their noses and voted for Trump because he promised to: 1) go after those who were sticking it to them (Wall Street); and 2) understood and gave voice to the resentment and fear in this group that the country (and Hillary) were focused on providing for the segment of the population whom the rust belters believed didn't play by the rules.  The welfare cheats, the illegal immigrants, the Wall Street crowd.

So , for example, when Hillary thought she was talking to these people by assuring them she would tax the rich, raise the minimum wage and address the issue of the wealth shift to the one percent - her message didn't play the way she assumed it would.  No, what the target audience believed was that even if she taxed the rich in a move for more equity, that new money to the government would only be spent (again) on programs and services for the very segment that were cheating the system.  The tax on the rich wasn't likely to in any way benefit them - the money would only be spent on immigrants, welfare cheats, minorities, or otherwise end up in the pockets of the rich - like the Clintons.   Most of those in this group made more than the minimum wage. That wasn't an issue to them.  The issue was that their jobs didn't pay enough for them to keep pace with even reasonable expectations.  Minimum wage talk was again about providing for the very poor (immigrants, those who refused to better themselves etc.).  So the message Hillary thought she was sending, was construed (with ample help from the GOP) as something almost entirely different.  That reinforced her image of untrustworthiness and the allegation that she was in the palm of Wall Street.  Once again, the Democrats were inferior in both crafting and delivering key messages to target audiences.

Some of these Trump voters may have actually voted for Obama in 2012.  They are not necessarily ideologically wedded to the right wing oligopoly, nor are they necessarily devotees of Fox News spinmasters.  We didn't see them, in part, because we didn't want to.  In many ways, like the right wing, we see what we want to see. We too disregard the rest.  These are the people we need to reconnect with.

Finally, Trump superbly played the media - which loves dirty laundry.  In part, his success was attributable to the constant media attention on him as a phenomenon - and not on his, or anyone else's, policies and positions.  True investigative journalism seems dead.  What media isn't clearly aligned with one side or the other, has little interest in truth.  What we have in its place, particularly in the case of broadcasting,  is unabashed and unapologetic entertainment - for the bottom line is ratings.  Trump understood the media and the Kardashians as a cultural reality far better than did Clinton.

What's Happening Now, What's Going to Happen?
Just a couple of months ago, the talk was all about the Republican party imploding and questions about whether or not it would stand in anywhere near its current form.  Today, it is the Democratic Party that is in that position.  The Republicans, to be sure, still have fundamental problems, as the rank and file established Congressional and State leaders are not of the same mind or ilk as the rank and file Trump supporters.  There is still a divide between Trump and the rest of the party.  There is still a divide between the traditional Conservatives and the breed of Trump supporter that is more clearly racist and white first crowd.  Sides are being taken, and lines drawn in the sand, as various elements of the Trump world jockey for positions and influence in his Administration.

The traditional Republican leadership has its agenda - from Paul Ryan's privatization of Medicare, to the undoing of Obamacare, from deregulation of the financial industry, to tax reform, from neocon foreign policy to immigration, and where that agenda intersects with Trump's positions - the two sides of the Republican party will work hand in hand together to realize their objectives.  And that is why there will likely be no serious investigation of anything having to do with Trump - conflict of interest or any other allegation against him - in the first two years of his tenure.  And certainly no impeachment proceedings.  The old guard wants as much of its agenda passed and into law as it can get.  Thereafter, well that might be a very different situation, and the Congressional Republican leadership, with no love for Trump, might well then see his impeachment (and the rise to the Presidency of Pence - a solid, in the mold, Conservative) as a worthy end.  The Republicans control both houses of Congress and with Trump in the White House, have a real chance to move forward long held Conservative positions - not least of which will be the Supreme Court appointments likely to come up.  They will argue that their victory gives them a mandate.  (Never mind that Hillary won the popular vote, and that Trump's victory may be in doubt - making claims of a mandate laughable).  They aren't likely to do anything to rock that boat, and despite how much many of them abhor Trump and his core, they certainly don't want to do anything that would alienate that core and precipitate an internal civil war.  The establishment wing doesn't want to change the system, they want to game it and finally win the victories they have long imagined.  The other side wants the system thrown out.  That fight looms in the future for the party.

On the Democratic side, one group wants to adopt the GOP playbook and essentially become even more obstructionist than the Republicans were under Obama - i.e., vehemently oppose everything Trump and the Republicans propose.  Fight tooth and nail against any court nominee.  Filibuster, and sanction mass protests and gatherings to send the clear message to the Republicans that they will have to fight for everything.  This wing wants the current leadership, which they see as clueless, and which they blame for the losses the Democrats have sustained over the past decade, and which they view as basically gutless and incompetent, to resign.  This wing believes the Democratic leadership basically concedes the fights to the Republicans without engaging them.  They believe the basic Democratic DNA is surrender and Kumbaya.  And they are in no mood for more of the same.  They want massive coordinated street action for the next four years.  On the other side, are the establishment Democrats, who will support Pelosi's leadership in the House and Chuck Schumer (NY) in the Senate.  This wing is traditionalist.  They play by rules set in motion decades and decades ago.  This wing is in control of the party at present,  has no intention of handing over power, and is likely to continue flawed policies.  But they will be challenged like never before.  This ideological and strategic split may well wreck havoc on the party to the extent it will shoot itself in the foot yet again and play into the hands of the GOP.  That result may well spell the end of the Democrats as we know them, because those left in the party will not, in the future, have the numbers to win elections except in the bluest of blue states.  

And the Arts?
So what about us?  How will the new reality affect the arts?

We are likely to be under attack on multiple levels.  The fights we face will be more difficult than what we've faced in the past.  All bets are off.  Virtually nothing is, at this point, predictable.

Federal Funding:
We're really talking about the budget after March and then the 2017 and subsequent budgets.

The only clue we have as to Trump's position is his campaign statement that he would consider funding for the NEA to be up to Congress.  But does that mean, he wouldn't include any funding in the budget he ultimately sends to the House, but rather takes the stance that if the House wanted to fund the agency, they could add the line item to the budget.  Such a stance makes it much less likely the agency could survive.  

And there is certainly a group of Republicans who would like nothing more than to eliminate the Endowment as symbolic of the new normal.  In a world where the GOP wants to privatize Medicare, it's hard to see how the NEA gets the necessary support to even survive the argument that public funding for the arts is unacceptable.   The arts will, of course, again mount as massive an effort as they can to apply local pressure on members of Congress, arguing the economic benefit and the direct monies to their districts from the 40% share of the Endowment with the states. But there is likely to be a long list of critical issues for which the Democrats will want to fight that will (no pun intended) trump funding of the Endowment as a priority.

Bottom line - we just don't know what will happen at this point.

But even with the Endowment under threat, there is still considerable funding in other agencies and departments for the arts.  Those are arguably somewhat easier fights to win as the issue isn't so prominent and symbolic.

I believe the loss of the Endowment is a greater possibility now than at any time since its creation.  It's end would be a major blow to our field - not just the immediate loss of the money, but as emblematic as to how the country values the arts, and as a signal to state houses, governors and local officials who are not arts supporters, that it's ok to rethink government involvement in the arts on any level.  If we can't escape by staying under the radar, I fear we are in for the biggest fight we've ever had.  But that doesn't mean we will lose the fight.  Do not underestimate our chances.

Bigger Issues:
But government funding may not be the biggest issue for the arts.

In the zeal for tax reform, and simplicity in a new code, there may be increased attacks on the charitable deduction, and its compromise or elimination will negatively impact the entire nonprofit sector.  That is a challenge that may well threaten the existence of a large percentage of arts organizations.

It is often when threats are in the air, when one side is pitted against another, that artists are most motivated and active in using their art to push for increased awareness of what is at stake.  Arguably this election with its layers on layers of challenges and issues, will herald a dramatic increase in artistic expression and public interest.  Unfortunately, it is increasingly clear from examples around the world, that this is also a time when artistic expression as a form of free speech is seen as threatening to the controlling powers and is targeted.  We may very well expect attempts to censor, curb, and silence artists, and that is a fundamental attack on democracy itself.

Yet, with issues as profound as climate change, and war - artists will have a major role to play in facilitating intelligent and reasoned thinking in the populace.  The arts may be under attack, but will likely be more relevant and important than in some time.  It will be a distressing, yet exciting time for the arts.

In many ways, the Trump victory was a aggregation of a hodgepodge of unlikely bedfellows, and was but a continuation of the global trend towards embracing the far right.  Across the planet, the number of countries living under a military dictatorship now encompasses most of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  In other parts of the world, regimes are moving towards authoritarianism.  And even in the hallmark democracies of the world (e.g., Britain - Brexit, and America - Trump) we are moving towards the right.  These trends may be born out of fear that the world is changing and the desire of the new majorities to keep the world as it has been.  It poses a huge and unique threat to freedom.

The urge to now demonize and label all those who voted for Trump as clear racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, sexist bastards is a mistake.   And even those who deplore Trump's campaign, now have to see if there is anywhere they might be able to work with him, and if there is, then, despite the acrimony and the past, have to avail themselves of that opportunity; not meekly, nor hat in hand, but at arm's length, ready, willing and able to play hardball, and with the knowledge that there is power in the tens of millions of people who now feel disenfranchised and threatened.  Cooperate when it is in our interest and fight doggedly the rest of the time.

America is worth fighting for.  And the country is now smack dab in the middle of a titanic fight.  The future won't belong to the meek.  There are scores of ways citizens can fight for the principles of freedom on which the country is built.  Some will opt to be more political, some will be less political.   I suppose the most important thing is to take whatever action seems reasoned and worthy to you - rather than sit on the sidelines as an observer.  There is so much more to say, yet at this moment, nothing left to say.  

One hopes that the office itself changes the man and that he turns out to do the right thing.

Ah, the curse of living in interesting times.

Whatever you do..........

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Election Predictions and Implications for the Arts

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

The long national nightmare that is the 2016 Election is almost over.  But not really.  Tuesday will only mark the close of Phase I.

The pollsters and pundits have conflicting data, but there is some unanimity that the odds favor Hillary to gain the necessary 270 electoral votes, and she will be elected President.  But it is entirely possible the predictions are wrong, and Trump may yet be victorious.  It's close.

Here's what to look for as the results coming pouring in on Tuesday night:

1.  There are three critical early state results that will tell you which way the wind is blowing:  Florida, North Carolina, and New Hampshire.  If Clinton wins two of them, then very likely the curtain falls on Trump and it's all over (and it is probably enough if she just wins Florida).  But it's entirely possible that Trump will win both Florida and North Carolina, making it then critically important for Clinton to win New Hampshire.  If she loses all three states, she may well be in trouble.  And if Clinton loses Pennsylvania, it may be curtain time for her as well.

2.  The next wave of results is not likely to produce any big surprises or game changers - unless Clinton loses in Michigan (or Minnesota, or Wisconsin), or Trump loses in Ohio.  None of that is likely to happen, though a victory by Trump in Michigan is possible, and a potential game changer in his favor.  But unlikely.

3.  Then watch what Colorado and New Mexico do (both should be in Clinton's camp), and most importantly, Nevada - which may be the final victory needed by both Clinton and Trump to put them over the top.

4.  Right now (Sunday night) Clinton is about a 2 to 1 odds on favorite to win - both the popular vote and the electoral college vote.  And she wins the electoral vote by winning either New Hampshire or Nevada.  But her national popularity margin projection is slim - 2 1/2 to 3 percentage points.  If she loses the popular vote she will likely lose the election.  It's possible Trump can lose the popular vote and still win the electoral vote.

Note:  The FBI Director's clearance today of Clinton on the email charges, is likely to have at least some positive impact for her, and might now be enough to clinch the election for her.  

Confused?  Bottom line is that Clinton has several possible ways to get to the 270 electoral vote threshold, while Trump has fewer routes.

There are several variables that the polls and pundits can't know in this election.  The biggest determinant will likely be voter turnout.  If Clinton is successful in turning out African American, Latino and Millennial voters in really big numbers, her odds go up, and the bigger the turnout, the bigger her victory is likely to be.  And she has the far superior ground game designed to turn out supporters.  But the opposite is also true:  smaller Democratic turnout, and bigger Republican (white male and female voters without a college education) and the scale tips to Trump.  If Clinton loses, and people look to assign blame, the logical place will be those communities that didn't turn out to vote.  Which is more likely - massive Clinton or massive Trump turnout?  That's the big unknown, though here again, Clinton is favored.

The other missing variable is the voter mindset.  How many voters are there who identify with Trump's outsider message, who feel he represents some of their interests, who want to vote for him (or against the establishment), but just can't do it because of all the negatives associated with him, including women?  If there are a substantial number of people who, once in the voting booth, just can't bring themselves to vote for him, then even if they vote for a third party candidate, and not Clinton, the Clinton victory could be a borderline landslide.  Yet, the other side of that coin is also true.  If there is a substantial number of voters who secretly identify with Trump, or who think maybe a vote for him would be an ok protest because he probably won't win, and they end up voting for him - then he just may pull off the victory.  There is no way to accurately poll and gauge that sentiment.

There is also the horrible possibility that the electoral vote will end in a dead even tie (269 electoral votes each) and the race would then be sent to the House to vote on the winner.  Republican House = Trump victory.

My Prediction:  Clinton wins both Nevada and New Hampshire (she theoretically only needs one) and keeps her firewall states from Pennsylvania to Michigan and beyond and wins.  I suspect it will be more in her favor than the polls might indicate, and it may well be, if not a landslide, then a significant victory.

Senate:  For some time, the Democrats looked in good shape to recapture the Senate by picking up enough seats (four to five) to either give them a one vote majority or a tie, allowing for Vice-President elect Tim Kaine to cast the tie-breaking vote on every vote that came up on party lines.  (That scenario assuming, of course, a Clinton / Kaine victory).  Current predictions have the race for Senate control a virtual tossup.

The bigger a Clinton national victory, the better the chance the Democrats have for recapturing control of the Senate.  A closer popularity vote will favor the Republicans.

House:  While the Democrats are expected to pick up as many as 17 seats, virtually no one gives them much of a chance at this point to regain control of the House.

My Prediction:  The Senate will end up either 51 / 49 in the Democrats favor, or a 50 / 50 tie, giving the Democrats control by virtue of the Kaine vote tie-breaker.  The other possibility is that it stays in Republican hands 51 /49, but I'll stay with the prediction that the Democrats regain control on the tie.  The House stays Republican, but with a narrower margin.

The reason this is important - and why control of the Senate is so important to the Democrats is threefold: First, control gives the victor the power to assign Committee Chairs and control the agenda  and timetable of the chamber; 2) it makes it easier to confirm judicial and other appointments; and 3) it makes impeachment of Clinton a non-starter (though that won't discourage the extreme members of the House and you can expect to see attempts at impeachment and maybe success.  Note:  The House votes to impeach, the Senate to convict.)

Phase II of the Nightmare:
Unfortunately, whoever wins, this nasty contest won't be over.  No matter who wins, there are likely to be very close contests in any number of states, and so charges of voter tampering, rigged results and counter charges of voter suppression are to be expected.  Recounts will be demanded.  Some of those challenges may end up in court and throw some results into doubt.  That is possible in the Presidential race, and in Congressional races too. And you can almost count on some report, from somewhere, of hacking into the system - whether that turns out to be true or not. And whichever side loses, you can expect a percentage of the core of that side to simply refuse to accept the results.  How that refusal will manifest itself is potentially scary.

Phase III - The Next Four Years:
Even after the election is over, and the winners in office, this nasty episode is likely to continue.  If Clinton wins, there will very likely be four years of an obstructionist Republican Congress opposed to virtually everything her administration might propose, and certainly every judicial appointment, and many other appointments too.  Very likely the email investigation will linger on and result in impeachment proceedings against her, and cries for special prosecutors to go after the Clinton Foundation at the least.

Moreover, Trump's core may well harbor deep seated ideas that the election was rigged.  And whether he wins or loses, the Republican Party as we knew it prior to this election cycle is likely never to again re-emerge as it was.  What a new Republican party might look like were he to win, or to lose, is mere conjecture at this point.  The Republican leadership is likely to remain at odds with the Trump rank and file.

If Trump wins, and the Democrats are not in control of either the House or Senate, they will still have enough sway and juice to box him in on a number of fronts and keep him from wrecking too much havoc, and they will play the obstructionist role (note that both sides have core factions that believe obstruction is warranted and to be applauded).  And if they control the Senate, he will have a difficult time on most major pieces of legislation and his court nominations. Much of what he has promised has zero chance to become reality.  A percentage of his supporters may well find that unacceptable and react in ways that are hard to predict - blaming not him, but either the Democrats, the traditional Republicans or the system - or perhaps all three.

One thing is virtually certain, the divide in the country will be more pronounced, more divisive, more entrenched than at any time in memory. - at least in the short run.  No matter who wins, we are facing a period where we will not be a united people, but a nation at odds with itself.  It only portends to get worse, perhaps much worse, in the short run.  Where will the real patriots and statesmen to bind the nation come from?  And if they even exist today, will anyone listen to them?  Or are we inexorably headed towards divisions so pronounced that the country is headed to some kind of realignment and breakup?

One of the hallmarks of American Democracy that sets this country apart from so many others in the world is the long history of a peaceful transition of power from one election to the next. One hopes and prays that transition, as a cornerstone of how we govern ourselves, is not reversed, not trampled on.  Ultimately, as Al Gore concluded, the country is more important than almost any one event.  How this will play out for America this time around, remains open.  There is a lot at stake.  But the country is strong enough to weather the storm - provided there is enough good will to allow for reconciliation.

And the world - how will they react?  I suspect not much will change if Clinton wins, because she represents pretty much maintenance of the status quo. Trump is a different bird - Wall Street and the financial markets don't like instability, and a Trump victory represents a level of, if not instability, then uncertainty -  at least initially.  Then too, a Trump defeat and the reaction of his followers may likewise create instability and the markets in both cases, at least short term, are likely to react negatively.  A Trump victory would likely bring a muted response from the international community, which would wait to see what unfolded -- as would much of America I think.  But there would very likely be suspicion and concern among allies and enemies alike.  And perhaps the dawn of a radically new foreign policy to which the world would at some point react - and we would simply have to wait to see how that all unfolded.

Impact on the Arts:
And what does any of this mean for us in the arts?  As mentioned above, if Clinton wins, the net impact won't be much.

If Trump wins, then the impact is, I believe, unknown.  I suspect he would consider federal funding of the arts something for Congress to determine.  There is virtually no evidence to suggest any position he might take on the arts.  We have seen early signs of his propensity to push off a host of decisions by declaring them to be the decision of the states, or local government, or Congress.  And I would guess the House would be under pressure from the far right to finally make a public statement by cutting, or defunding, the NEA.  It wouldn't be surprising for the far right to call for the elimination of the Endowment under the banner that support of the arts is a private sector matter - not an area for government involvement.  I'm pretty sure Trump's core base is not the percentage of the populace that believes in the value of the arts and certainly not its public funding.  That core would likely applaud a decision to step away from funding the Endowment or any arts.

On our side, with such a tectonic change in leadership, it's entirely possible that the arts just aren't important enough to warrant the time, and so might continue to skate by with tepid support and essentially the same budget as the past decade.  The arts might just fly under the radar.   The bigger impact for the arts of a Trump victory might very well be the sending of a message to the states that they can decide arts support on their own, by themselves.  That may, or may not, be good for the arts.

While in the past, the sector was able to marshall support from people who had access to, and some sway with, the then current administration, irrespective of the party in power, that is less likely in a Trump Administration.  His inner team doesn't look anything like a traditional party apparatus.  And who would you turn to for support that might have Trump's ear - his children?  Chris Christie?  Rudy Giuliani?  Who?

At least Phase I will end Tuesday night, and hopefully, there will be some measure of a break from what is tearing the country apart.  I think everyone is sick of it.  But the nightmare is likely far from over.


Don't Quit

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Does Our Moral Superiority Cloud Our Decision Making?

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

I was listening to an interview with solo rocker and former lead singer of Genesis, Phil Collins, in which he was taking stock of his life and talking about his plans.  At one point he made the observation that after three failed marriages and half dozen or so kids who've chosen not to be involved in his life, he had to come to the conclusion that:  "well you know, maybe it'"

That's actually a bold admission, because most of us naturally see things almost wholly from our own perspectives and are, at least, somewhat reluctant to lay any blame at our own doorstep for things that have gone wrong  - for decisions we have made.  Whether it's a biologically built in defense mechanism, learned social behavior, some kind of character flaw or a psychological neurosis - the bottom line is we tend to feel that our behavior, our viewpoints, our judgments are correct and that we are just a little bit smarter, wiser, more attuned, and better people than most others.  It's easier to believe that.  It makes life simpler.

I ran across a paper that suggests that: "We Are Absurdly Confident of Our Superiority".  

"Decades of psychological research reveal that, in fact, most of us strongly believe in our own superiority.  The latest evidence comes in the form of two newly published studies, which find we consider ourselves both more virtuous and less biased than others."

These two studies find most people think they are both morally superior to other people and less biased and prejudiced.  That doesn't, of course, mean people think they are omnipotent or without any fault; scions of excellence that can never be challenged.  Most people will admit they have flaws and aren't always right.  They make mistakes.  But the idea that we truly believe in our own moral superiority and believe that we are less biased than other people, logically may cloud our whole decision making process.  Most of us like to believe we are reasonable people, open to debate and other viewpoints, willing to compromise and hear other sides of things - but in truth, are we really then?

My question is how does this bias in our own favor cloud our judgments, and is that complicated by situations in which we are surrounded by people who generally share our world outlooks and reinforce our beliefs?  How, for example, does this play into the question of equity and awareness of structural racism in our sector, or in the wider society?  And on a more base level, how does this affect, color and impact even our mundane daily business decisions and the way we interact within our organizations.  If our decisions are shaded by this belief in our own "decency" superiority, does it follow that we believe that our decisions are likely better made and more considered than other people's decisions?  After all, other people are then more biased and prejudiced than we are.  Does that put us at a real disadvantage because we then have real trouble being open to other viewpoints and ideas - and, criticism or evaluation - despite our denials?

Is awareness that we are susceptible to this kind of clouding of our judgment based on some notion that we're above others, enough to overcome it and allow for the negative effect it might have on our decision making?  What might we do to minimize its negative impact across a whole spectrum of decisions we are expected to regularly make?

This maybe something to think about and discuss within the organization.  If you want to ask probing questions that might help you move your organization to a really new level, perhaps this is a good one.  The fact is that decision making is a process that is affected by countless intangibles of which we are unaware, or which we simply don't want to consider.  We all want to make well reasoned, sound and defensible decisions about everything, its in our personal and organizational best interests, but we don't spend that much time questioning the process or how we come to it.  

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Equity Funding - No Change Yet

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

There's a line in an Eagles song that goes:
"Things in this life change very slowly. if they ever change at all."
I was, well not surprised I guess, but somewhat disappointed, to learn from reading a blog post by Ebony McKinney from a session at the Grantmakers in the Arts conference last week in St. Paul, that the lion's share (60%) of funding - grants, gifts and contributions - continue to go to the largest budget cultural institutions across the country (those with budgets over $5 million) and that, in fact, the funding to the smaller organizations, with budgets under $1 million has actually declined, and "that is a drearier future than we saw in 2011".  

These figures are from a report yet to be released from Helicon Collaborative updating the 2011 landmark Holly Sidford authored funding equity study for the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy - which study's findings on the inequitable distribution of funding is largely credited with kicking off the current ongoing attempt by the field to consider and address the wider equity question in the nonprofit arts sector.

Consider the following data points (from Ebony's blog post):

  • "Total giving by the top 1000 foundations show (in aggregate) approximately $2B given for non profit arts and cultural activities
  • Of those allocations, the largest 2% of arts and cultural orgs in US (those with budgets over 5M) see nearly 60% of all grants, gifts and contributions. That’s a drearier future than we saw in 2011
  • Groups with annual expenditures of under $1M saw their share of all gifts, grants and contributions drop by 5 points
  • That group, (37,000 organizations) represent the fastest growing cohort in total of arts organizations
  • They represent 90% of all groups and are the organizations serving communities of color, LGBTQ populations and disabled populations."

What are we to think of this.  Several points:

First, when it's released, the whole report may provide context and further refinement of the situation and thus we need to hold off presuming too much.  Still, if the base facts as reported are accurate (and I assume they are), then the inescapable conclusion is that in the five years since the Helicon Report, things really haven't changed.  If anything, things might be worse in terms of the inequity in funding.

Second, it's important to bear in mind that change itself is a process, the dynamics of which are that it is often the getting to Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point that takes the most time, and that once that point is reached, change often happens at breakneck speed (consider gay marriage as one example).  So we need to move towards the tipping point in any way we can.

Third, there are some identifiable possible reasons why funding has remained static over these past five years, including: 1) Prior funder commitments - legal and ethical - made to fund (over multi-year periods) certain organizations, projects and approaches, and as those commitments are satisfied, we can move in other directions;  2) some funders have adopted overarching goals and objectives for their funding, including funding stability, an emphasis on research, focus on audience development, legacy programs, and certain specific arts education and other projects; 3) some foundations and some public funders have crossover "old boy" style relationships with specific large cultural institutions and those networks continue to influence funding, if not officially, then by degree.  And historically, big donors have similarly been an insular group that followed traditional giving patterns.

Fourth, funders continue to support programs that are successful with verifiable benchmark support data, and are managed at the highest level of skill, and an understandable majority of those programs are executed by a small percentage of resource rich cultural institutions with long-term experience.

Fifth, the funding community is just really beginning to fully understand and appreciate the extant inequities in funding allocation, how structural racism has impacted the field, and how the lack of diversity is adversely affecting the sector on multiple levels.  As it grapples with the challenge of equitable funding, it is now just beginning to consider how to make changes.

Sixth, the internal structures of funding organizations and their histories may obviate against change of any kind, and may make the process of change slow.  

All of the above is likely true, legitimate and telling.  Still, one other underlying reason for the seeming lack of progress may well be one of the primary causes of the inequity in the first place:  the well heeled, white, Euro-centric, large budget cultural institutions, by virtue of relationships with decision makers, being the beneficiaries of a legacy of funder priorities,  and superior staffing, resources and experience from having benefited from decades of preferential treatment, have a lock on the funding decision making process, and are loathe and reluctant to voluntarily give up what they have for so long gotten as a matter of course, and, to a degree, on which they have built their houses.  

While some may chide them for selfishness, and others criticize them for myopia and a failure to see the future, I think it not completely unfair of them to defend their legacy status quo, especially as for some of them their survivability depends on a continued flow of the revenue streams that are the result of inequity.  Then again, whether or not that kind of position is in the best interests of the entirety of the arts and for the public is open to rigorous debate.

That said, the challenge then is to develop a system for funding allocation that represents a more fair, equitable and just situation for all the arts organizations within the ecosystem; one that, while it probably cannot please everyone, at least, addresses the needs of all.  That objective, we haven't gotten anywhere near yet.  And we need to begin to make some tangible and measurable progress to advance that goal.  

I wonder what the landscape might look like if we made a pledge (as our fallback minimal position) to arbitrarily allocate a third of the available funds across the board to the same institutions that we have funded for years (the $5 million + budget organizations) , a third to those with budgets between $1 million and $5 million, and a third to those with budgets under $1 million.  Oh yes, I know such an arbitrary and rigid framework would doubtless create many unjust and unfair instances, wreck some havoc in some places, and sink some worthy and valuable projects and programs.  But overall, over time, might it not be more just and fair and equitable, reduce havoc and foster more worthy projects and programs than the ongoing inequity with which we continue to live?  

I doubt such a simplistic, yet teutonic proposal, has any chance of even being seriously discussed.  I'm not naive.  And I fully understand that any eventual change in this area is going to be funder by funder by funder on an individual case basis -- until, at least, we reach that magic tipping point.  The problem with change moving slowly is that there continues to be a lot of unnecessary suffering during the wait.  

The big question ought to be: which approach will be in the best interests of the overall arts ecosystem

I look forward to the full Helicon Collaborative report, and applaud the continuing efforts of GIA to address the issues.  

Have a great week.

Don't Quit


Sunday, October 16, 2016

I'm Just Saying

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

On My Mind:

GIA Conference:  It's that time again - for the annual Grantmakers in the Arts Conference - this year in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Alas, personal reasons won't allow me to attend what has become my favorite conference.

Judging from the session topics, and recent conversations with funders I know across the country, this year the GIA delegates are continuing the serious inquiry into the equity / diversity / race issues as the same relate to the nonprofit arts sector, including the issue of the relationship between the arts and social justice.  Initially GIA played host to a general consideration of equity and diversity within the framework of conceptual structural racism - both in the wider society and as played out in our own field (even if unwittingly), and begin consideration of the subject by first introducing the topics and making people aware of them, then digging into the nuts and bolts of how equity, diversity and racism were played out in our field.  Now this year it seems the inquiry is drilling down into the topic to explore in more depth the myriad aspects of how the equity and diversity issues impact what we do, how we do what we do, and our successes or failures in doing what we do.   Consider these session topics as part of the evolution of dealing with the challenges:

  • Innocent Giving: Building Authentic and Functional Relationships with Communities of Color.
  • Arts at the Service of Juvenile Justice:  A Public-Private Partnership Focus of High-Risk Youth.
  • Towards Beauty or Towards Justice:  Must We Choose?
  • The Enrich Switch: Breaking Down the Racial Equity Arts Movement
  • Bridging Difference, Connecting Cultures
  • Looking at Racial Bias in the Panel Deliberation Process
  • Intersectional Philanthropy: Power, Privilege and Practice
  • Three Funding Agencies Walk into a Bar: Partnership for Equity
  • The Practice of Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy
  • Racial Equity Policies and Practices Define the Future of Local Arts Agencies
  • Arts-led Conflict Transformation in the American Community
  • The Role of Arts and Culture in Countering Islamophobia
That's a sampling.  While a major focus, the conference is by no means limited to a single issue. Other major topics generating sessions over the course of the conference include: Arts Education; Capitalization (and by implication, the survivability of arts organizations); Data collection and application; Rural Arts; and individual artist issues among others.  What I have always liked about this conference is a discussion of big ideas by some of our best thinkers. This isn't so much a How To conference, as it is a How Come discussion.

I'm just saying..........

Every year the President of the United States issues a Proclamation proclaiming October as Arts and Humanities Month.  This year's proclamation is like all the others in that it contains a lofty and impressive narrative of how valuable the arts and humanities are to the country.  Indeed, these things are exercises in hyperbole and don't vary that much from year to year.  Presidential proclamations are, in fact, not very rare - there are scores of them every quarter and number in the hundreds over the course of a year.  They range from designating days, weeks or months to celebrate and honor everything from the arts and humanities, to secretaries to military spouses, and commemorate things as varied as boating safety week, the great outdoors month, and national alcohol and drug addiction recovery month.

I went back to take a look at all of President Obama's Arts and Humanities Month proclamations, and interestingly, the initial ones from 2009 and 2010 (I couldn't find one from 2008), include noting that the arts contribute to the nation's economy in important ways.  In effect, they included our economic impact argument about how we bring financial value to communities and the country.  All the ones from 2011 to this year, however, make no direct mention of the economic argument, but instead, like this year's. they are basically about our arguments that the arts bring intrinsic value -- wonder and awe -- and build bridges, expand minds and like that.  

I wondered why the mention of the economic argument seemed to disappear from the later proclamations.  Odd, in that we not only continued to make that argument, we actually doubled down on it and it became our calling card argument, not only at the federal level, but at the state and local levels as well.  Now, it's highly unlikely that the President actually writes any of the proclamations himself.  There are too many issued every month; it's a full time job, and there might actually be a staffer whose sole job is to write the proclamations - with, of course, an appropriate title - something like:  Director of White House Values Recognition Memorialization.  Or maybe just "Speechwriter Junior".  This individual must have, above all else, an extraordinary vocabulary - at least of adjectives.  No doubt s/he has a dog eared copy of Roget's Thesaurus on their desk, because while all of the Arts and Humanities Proclamations are elegantly laudatory, they are all different.  It is a testament to the writer's resourcefulness that they are able to say essentially the exact same thing, every year, gushing about how great we are, while never repeating a phase or even re-using a particularly lovely descriptive word.  Why though was the economic argument exorcised from the later treatises?  I suspect that maybe a different writer penned the first two.  Maybe it was Kal Penn, who worked in the White House back then and had the arts as part of his portfolio.  He would have been very aware of the economic argument, whereas someone later assigned the task may not have noted how important we regarded it.  We might want to try to get more input to the drafting of this annual proclamation.  

I'm just saying..........

Arts Policy Statement
Back in early September I wrote a blog calling for the arts community to unite to present the eventual winner of the Presidency and the new administration with evidence as to our value, accompanied by a policy paper that set forth what we needed and wanted, and the policies we thought important to the health and vitality of the arts in America in the future.  

Shortly thereafter I came across a cogent, intelligent document entitled:  Advancing the Arts to Support National Policy Priorities, signed by over three score of national arts service organizations and networks, which document was drafted in September, and does exactly what I had called for.  Now, there is no way this document was created in response to my clarion call - it is too good to not to have been worked on for some time - and doubtless long before I brought it up.  I would like to thank and acknowledge those organizations that signed it, and the uncredited authors who drafted it.  I hope it comes to the next President's attention, and that it is used by the next administration's transition committee to better understand the nonprofit arts sector.  And I think it would be of enormous use at the state and local levels too. I'm surprised it didn't get wider play - or maybe it did.  Now maybe a representative committee of those same organizations could take it upon themselves to make sure we try to get to the next administration's transition committee with this message.

I'm just saying..........

The Election Aftermath:  
Whoever wins the Presidential election, it will be a relief to some, and a bitter disappointment to others.  This has been the most contentious election of my lifetime.  What concerns me now, is that no matter who wins, there will likely be a percentage on the other side that simply cannot, will not accept the result.  I worry now that that hardcore percentage may constitute a new and dangerous fringe element that threatens the very principles of democratic rule.  We talk about the arts as a bridge builder, a joiner, a healer.  Maybe we should be seriously pushing efforts right now for the arts to do just that after November 8th.  There may be precious little time to launch efforts to heal the country.

I'm just saying...........

And finally Bob Dylan:
Those who denounce and reject the Nobel Prize going to Bob Dylan are just, IMHO, irrelevant, stupid bores and snobs.  Give me a break with your arrogant pontificating and judgmental jibber jabber.  He's a poet, and he knows it.  

I'm just saying...........

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 9, 2016

If Everyone is a Leader, Where are the Followers?

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

We talk a lot about leadership: We have courses and university programs, seminars and coaches to train them, prepare them. Separately we talk about the idea of leadership.  We wonder where they will come from, how we can help them transition in and out of our sector.  We ponder their role in our success.  We have come to the conclusion that effective leadership is key to our success and everywhere we are concerned with our leadership future.

But for something seemingly so important to us, and with which we spend considerable time and energy to analyze and manage, I wonder if we have really thought the concept through.

What exactly do we mean by a leader or the concept of leadership?  When we talk about leaders and leadership, it seems like the category includes nearly everyone in the whole sector.  Is that right?  Definitionally, when you talk about leaders, doesn't the very word conjure up that there must be followers too?  If everybody is a leader, or potential leader, who exactly are they leading?  I'm not trying to be facetious here.  Sometimes I get the impression that we cavalierly toss about the concept of leadership when what we are really talking about is simply trying to improve the skills level of all of us.  That's reasonable, and an objective that doesn't necessarily imply that everyone who ought to have access to improve what they do is necessarily a leader, or will become one.  Sometimes, it appears that, like giving every little kid who participates in something like a sporting contest a trophy and telling them they are a winner, we bandy about the idea of leadership that everyone in every organization either is, or will become, a leader.  We have seasoned leaders and emerging leaders and everyone seems to fit neatly into one of our leadership boxes - you are a leader or you are becoming a leader.  As a sector, we are a nation of leaders.  What then does that mean anymore?  At some point the very word becomes almost meaningless -- unless, we give it some meaning by defining it.

If we are talking about preparing and training everyone to be good at what they do, and, in addition, to see the whole picture and act and react in accordance with that big picture then perhaps we are redefining what leadership really is, and what it means.

One might make the argument that leadership is vastly different in today's flexible, nimble organizational structure than it once was, and that indeed, each member of an organizational team might well be the leader in some aspect of what the organization does and how it functions at a given time, and a follower at another time.  Leadership in such a case must be a fluid concept.

Do we then not need some clarification of what we are talking about when the idea of leaders and leadership is raised?  And do we not need to understand that being a leader at times does not mean that one is automatically the leader at all times. 

If we consider the traditional definition of a leader and leadership -- implying the possession of qualities that allow an individual to move an organization or change a situation by motivating and moving others to action -- then maybe we do a disservice to some of our people and to our organizations by automatically assuming everyone not only wants to be a leader, but is one in fact.  Have we created a situation of entitlement to those who work in our sector that they are all leaders or soon will be?  Is this creating unreal expectations that will inevitably result in dissatisfaction and stilted ambition?  Is that an abrogation of leadership?  Or is this just a semantical issue? a tempest in a teapot? an issue that doesn't really exist?

Should an effective leadership program or approach have as one of its first objectives to weed and thin out the field of potential leaders to a group that already has some of the prerequisites to become effective leaders, so we can develop those people as leaders?   Or is this some kind of egalitarian issue where everyone must be accorded the mantle of being a leader?

To what extent is the success or failure of our organizations and of our efforts in the field due to effective or ineffective leadership, and to what extent is it all a matter of fate given that the forces that determine success or failure cannot be controlled?  Do we yet really understand what effective leadership is, how it works, and to what extent it can mean success?  And conversely, do we really understand the mechanisms and inner working of a failure of leadership - why it happens and the dynamics of the process?  Aren't those two variables important in trying to understand what leadership is?  Is leadership a quality or a learned skill?  If a quality, then is leadership a unique quality - a rare occurrence that we need to figure out how to seek and identify?  Or is it inherent within every individual?

We celebrate and cherish leadership victories, but spend precious little time considering leadership failures.  Have we only successes in our field - even if but a few?  Why don't we talk more about leadership failures?  Is it because we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings?  Is that a good attitude for an organization to have?  Do we end up sweeping a lot of leadership failures under the carpet because we don't want to, or don't know how to, deal with them so as to learn from them?  To what degree are our organizational failures attributable to a leadership failure, and to what degree to other causes? And what are those other causes?  Do we take leadership responsibility for failures, or do we seek to assign casualty elsewhere for our bad decisions.

Is the advertising of leadership institutes and courses available to everyone who applies a kind of a lie in that the truth might be that just because you want to be a leader doesn't necessarily mean you will be able to become one?  Or, is the promotion of (what we call) leadership opportunities of invaluable benefit to everyone in the sector not because it makes everyone a leader, but because it improves the ability of everyone to be more effective in their jobs by honing what skills they do have and giving them a larger lens through which to view not only their work but the work of the entire organization?

I am not sure there are any right or wrong answers to any of these questions, but I am sure that asking questions is essential to our better understanding of what a leader and leadership is, or ought to be, and how it relates to how we succeed or not.  And I think that's true at the organization level as well as the sector level.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Place is More Than Space - Feeling Uncomfortable Where You Feel You Don't Belong

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

A place is more than just a space.  It is defined and influenced by a host of external variables - ranging from its purpose, history, location and geography, its environment (furnishings, decoration), and its political and cultural tone as influenced by its occupants, users, guests, and more over a period of time.  One of the variables is how inviting the space is; is it welcoming and nurturing, or does it convey the opposite message of exclusion or even danger?  A space / place can be nurturing and inviting or it can be foreign and distant - and the same place / space may well be different things to different people at different times.  Perception counts.

I came across a posting by Solange Knowles, Beyonce's sister, and an artist in her own right, in which she explains why 'Black People Are Uncomfortable in 'White Spaces' entitled "Do You Belong, I Do".  In the article she recounts an unpleasant, distasteful and arguably racist experience at a concert - which she puts into the context of prior similar experiences to illustrate how spaces / places (in this case an essentially white audience for a white band), and environments of those spaces / places (at least in certain cases) can be intimidating, threatening and uncomfortable for people of color; if not overtly than by the tone of the ambiance.  I have no doubt that she speaks for millions who will recognize her experience. 

When I was nine years old,  I had a Japanese friend in grammar school.  I went to a very diverse grammar school in an area of Los Angeles that was essentially lower end middle class, and my classmates and friends were Black, Latino, Japanese, White, and more.  Anyway, David (my Japanese friend) invited me to go with him one day to a Church Bar B Q event.  When I arrived it struck me to discover that virtually everyone there was Japanese.  I had never before experienced being the racial outsider. I shouldn't, of course, have been surprised, but in my insulated world, I hadn't before experienced cultures where I was in fact the minority interloper.  At nine years old stuff like that doesn't matter so much and I had a great time.  But I remember feeling just slightly out of my element -- for a moment anyway.

Flash forward ten years, and I remember when I was in college going to see a Smokey Robinson concert at Winterland (a SF venue that hosted Bill Graham promoted rock acts ranging from Janis Joplin to Otis Redding to the Band's The Last Waltz.)  It didn't dawn on our group of five that the audience would be essentially African American with few white people in attendance.  Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were, after all, enormously popular across all strata of the rising boomers. We felt his music was our music.  But indeed, in the audience of perhaps four hundred, we were five of maybe twenty white kids.  We became very aware that we were in unfamiliar territory, that we stood out (obviously), and it made us a little uncomfortable and ill at ease.  No one harassed us in any way.  We got a few looks, but in fact, we were pretty much ignored.  Still, we felt like we didn't belong.  And we left early.

Over the past twenty years, more often than not as part of being involved in the nonprofit arts, I have , on several occasions, found myself in African American churches.  While on those occasions I was among just a handful of white people, I never felt awkward or ill at ease.  I think that is in part because on those occasions we knew where we were going, what to expect, and that we had been invited.  The hosts always made us feel welcome.  That made all the difference I think.

There are many places that feel foreign to us culturally, and make us feel like outsiders, thus making us uncomfortable and ill at ease.  We tend to avoid those spaces when we consciously can.    That's true for all groups - and people of color doubtless feel uncomfortable in many spaces that are defined as white, much as white people may feel uncomfortable in spaces that are predominantly occupied by people of color.  And those feelings of being uncomfortable transcend color, as I am sure people with disabilities may feel uncomfortable in spaces that clearly make no accommodation to them.  I know too that LGBTQ people still feel uncomfortable in places where they perceive they are held in contempt by prejudice and bias. All of this is, of course, sad - yet the reality.

For those to whom these spaces are "home", many times they simply cannot hide their feelings of territoriality when they perceive those who do not belong are trespassing on their space.  To them it may simply be an unconscious protective reaction, but to the outsider it sends a clear message that 'this is somewhere you don't really belong'.  That attitude, of course, even when subliminal and unintended makes a place even less comfortable to people from the outside.  And even when those spaces and the people to whom they belong try to be genuinely welcoming, it can be difficult to overcome the "feeling" of exclusion perceived by groups to which the space is foreign.

But there are many reasons beyond racism or cultural prejudice that can make us uncomfortable.  People often find the unfamiliar uncomfortable, and I suspect that some of our arts venues suffer from that same problem,   I can imagine on some levels that Euro-centric arts culture performances, held in places that are dedicated to the art form, can be uncomfortable to some people - unfriendly, foreign, and, in a way because the experience of these / spaces is perhaps completely new to some, even intimidating.  Perhaps those feelings are unreal and unwarranted, but that doesn't alter the fact that people may feel that way anyway.   Different neighborhood, decor, dress, behavior, food, how to react and more  - let alone an unfamiliar art form - can all contribute to feelings of being uncomfortable though no such feeling was intended to be created.  Places / spaces have a history and legacy to them because of the art form presented in them, and they may be off-putting to those unfamiliar with that.  Not to everyone of course, but to many.

People may attribute their lack of interest in sampling a new art form as it "just isn't their cup of tea" as it were, and that's legitimate, but being uncomfortable in the situation may play an undisclosed role in the decision making.

So the question becomes, does a given place / space have the problem of making people who aren't part of those places uncomfortable?  And what can we do, if anything, to address that challenge and make our spaces / places more inviting and friendly so that they are comfortable to everyone? How do we make people who may be unfamiliar with certain art forms, to whom a great part of the experience is foreign and may make them uncomfortable, feel invited to sample what is offered and welcome when they arrive?  How does any legacy art form do that?

It certainly won't be easy to transcend generations of walls and barriers and the growth of great divides between people - legitimate and imagined.  But there are encouraging signs of change, and nowhere is bridge building likely to be more a part of the situation than in the arts.  While culture may divide and separate, it also unites and binds.  And art has the power to make the uncomfortable safe and welcoming.  We can start with an awareness that people's feelings of comfort and belonging are critically important.  Perception, not intention, is sometimes everything.

Apart from the racial issues inherent in this kind of inquiry, and despite the wider, deeper questions of acceptance, inclusion, exclusion and barriers and obstacles created by forces both in our control and way beyond our control, the simple issue of people feeling comfortable in trying something new and going somewhere foreign, is a BIG, BIG issue that we need to consider in any dialogue about audiences, places, support and diversity. And the issue cuts across the whole spectrum.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit