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