Sunday, December 17, 2017

What Millennials Really Want in Professional Development

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

In a recent edition of Blue Avocado, I found an article on what millennials really want from Professional Development.  

"In December 2016, the Board of Directors at Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Los Angeles (YNPN LA) conducted a PD needs assessment of our constituents. More than 50 individuals completed a survey asking respondents to rate whether a PD training on 29 different topics would be Not Very Helpful (1), Somewhat Helpful (2), or Very Helpful (3)."

Of the seven highest ranking choices, four are clearly absent from virtually all professional development offerings in the nonprofit arts field, including: Personal financial management #4), and Salary and Benefits Negotiation #1).

Of the former, the article notes:

"A recent study showed huge deficits in financial literacy for American college students. Forty-four percent had "little or no knowledge on creating or maintaining a budget," and sixty-five percent gave themselves a grade of C or lower on their money management skills. Knowing these statistics, organizations could help their youngest employees manage their finances--and stress levels--by providing financial literacy training for their young professionals." 

And on the top choice:

"Forbes recently reported, "Average millennial salaries are disproportionately low compared to the national average--and are 20 percent lower than baby boomers' salaries when they were the same age." Millennials also face a combination of barriers to advancement: subpar economic conditions, holding more than a trillion dollars in student debt, weak wage growth, and ever-rising costs of living. At the same time, reports that feeling "uncomfortable negotiating salary," not wanting "to be perceived as pushy," and being "worried of losing my job," all factor into millennials' attitudes toward pay negotiations. Indeed, in a recent study, only 38% of millennials negotiated with their employers after receiving an offer, while 75% of hiring managers "typically had room to increase their first salary offers by 5% to 10%." So it's no surprise that millennials rated a salary negotiation workshop the highest." 

Bottom line, our professional development offerings shy away from helping our youngest managers with things that would help them with their own career trajectories, and focus principally on skills that help the organization with its business.  That's understandable, but myopic.

Now this study was limited to only fifty responses, so it is by no means a definitive reflection of what all millennials may desire from professional development, but based on my own anecdotal experience, I think it is accurate.

Certainly we need to tout mentorships, promote enhancement of management and leadership acumen and ability, and help our people to improve their communications skills, and all of those are also on the list of this study.  But we need to balance what development will directly benefit the organization, with the development of personal skills that will help the individual arts manager succeed in their career aspirations - for that will ultimately benefit both our organizations and the field as a whole by yielding confident, ambitious young managers to move into full leadership positions over time.

Professional development must be about more than just organizational skills.  It must be about helping fully developed, skilled and satisfied individuals.

Unfortunately, professional development is very often a neglected part of a job in the arts.  Budgets too frequently lack any line item allocation for any kind of professional development, and young managers in particular can expect, at best, some internal feedback, but little opportunity to avail themselves of tutorials, seminars, conferences, lectures, coaching or meaningful mentorships.   Too often those opportunities go exclusively to middle or senior management, if they are available at all.    Even when those opportunities are offered free online, the young manager is expected to find ways to plug into those options by themselves.  We need to get to a point where every young and upcoming arts manager has quality professional development programs available to them on a regular basis.

Smart organizations will take the time and effort to help all staff members grow professionally, on all levels - organizational and personal - and work conscientiously to facilitate their people being able to avail themselves of growth possibilities.  Organizations would be wise to ask their management staff what kinds of professional development they would most value.  Funders ought to insist on it.  Staff ought to demand it.  Boards ought to embrace it.  The field ought to make it a major priority.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, December 10, 2017

SWOT Analysis

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

One of the mainstay lynchpins of business strategic planning has long been the SWOT Analysis tool.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  An analysis of a business simply consists of identifying the organization's strengths and weaknesses and considering how each impacts opportunities for the organization to advance its' mission, and are interconnected to the threats and barriers to taking advantage of those opportunities.  The purpose is to better understand how the organization functions within its environment, and how it might strategically plan to compensate for its weaknesses and exploit its strengths to recognize and take advantage of opportunities within the ecosystem in which it operates.

Not Rocket Science, but a very useful tool in the planning process.  Arts organizations are familiar with strategic planning and engage periodically in the process - usually every two to five years, though five years in today's rapidly changing world may not make sense anymore as circumstances change with rapidity.

Strengths are everything from a loyal subscriber base, sold out performances, stellar critical reviews, big budgets, large donor pools, talented and experienced key staff and so on and so on.  The list can be much broader and deeper than many organizations realize as they overlook strengths or minimize the relevance and importance of others.

Weaknesses likewise run the gamut - from inadequate budgets, small staffs, weak donor pools, struggling ticket sales, lack of philanthropic relationships, new entry into the field, heavy competition and so on and so on.  Again, even seemingly minor things can be a weakness, including those things hard to quantify - such as weak Board leadership.

Opportunities include any number of potential advantages - including a rich local donor pool, the presence of supporting foundations, growing respect and critical acclaim for the organization, the possibility of increased ticket sales and so on and so on.

And Threats include competition, cash flow challenges, lack of key staffing and so on and so on.

The Analysis part comes after an exhaustive identification of all the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, as you try to relate them to each other.  What opportunities might open because of the strengths?   How can the weaknesses be converted to strengths? What needs to be done to exploit the opportunities?  How are the threats best dealt with?

Doubtless many of you have done a SWOT Analysis before, even if called by another name.  Unfortunately, most of us don't consider that it might be a good idea to doing a SWOT Analysis on a regular basis.

The SWOT tool can be particularly useful if employed on an annual basis irrespective of the strategic planning process.  It doesn't take an inordinate amount of time, and it can help crystallize and clarify where the organization finds itself - for staff and Board.  There is value in the process of considering the SWOT matrix, which can lead to new insights into what the organization faces and what it might do.  And that better understanding can lead to ideas to move the organization forward, and capitalize on the opportunities and neutralize the threats.

What would be really interesting would be to do SWOT Analyses beyond the organizational level - at the regional, state, and even national levels as to the arts field's environments.  Beyond the obvious listing in each of the SWOT categories, it would be fascinating - and perhaps telling - to see what we really think our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, as a field, truly are.

Perhaps you might consider scheduling a SWOT Analysis session with staff and / or Board soon.

Have a great week.  And remember:  if you're healthy, it is a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, November 27, 2017

Giving Tuesday - Asking Questions.

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

Today is Giving Tuesday, a program to encourage people to donate to nonprofit organizations and causes. The Arts participate in this effort widely - if my email in box full of solicitations is any indication.  And so do a wide range of other nonprofit groups and charitable causes.

Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday - the retail industry's kickoff of the holiday season wherein fantastic bargains are offered to lure shoppers into spending money.  The Thanksgiving to Christmas month accounts for some 30% of total annual retail sales, and for some industries like toys and jewelry the period accounts for 40% of the year's sales.  Saturday was Small Business Saturday, where people were encouraged to shop local, smaller shops. Monday was Cyber Monday - launched as a program to compete or complement Black Friday by encouraging shoppers to spend money for online purchases.  Everybody wants on the bandwagon.  Current estimates are that Americans will have spent record billions of dollars on Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year, with an increasing amount spent online.     

And so now it's Giving Tuesday as follow up to the big retail spending days.  This year Americans are projected to donate some one hundred eighty million dollars to nonprofits on Giving Tuesday - which is roughly the same as last year.  And that's a guess, because it's difficult to accurately report exactly how much was donated - or where the money went.  The total is not much in comparison to the retail expenditures, but nothing to sneeze at taken by itself.  Indeed, any donations that help nonprofits are clearly welcome.  This money is spread out over all the nonprofits and other causes that wave the Giving Tuesday banner.  We don't know how many that is, and so we don't know how much each participant realizes within each category of nonprofit.

The idea behind Giving Tuesday is to make sure nonprofits and the work they do isn't forgotten in the mad rush to buy stuff.  It's like a call to do something charitable in addition to the holiday spending for gifts and personal stuff.  The income generated is minor compared to the retail spending, but it is something, and apparently growing according to the Giving Tuesday people in its DataKind report.

I have some questions I think we ought to be asking ourselves:

First, does the Giving Tuesday campaign work and is it worth it?
While there are some statistics on the average donation, and that it is higher for regular, frequent donors to nonprofits and causes - it's unclear if the average donation is to one organization, or an aggregate of donations parceled out to several organizations.   The problem is that even if there is an increase in money raised over time - either by single donors, or by an increased number of donors - it's hard to attribute any specific gains causally to the campaign.  Is this money that wouldn't have come to us but for the Giving Tuesday program effort and our participation therein, or would those increases - or portion thereof - have been realized anyway - say by our traditional end of year solicitations?  The Giving Tuesday DataKind Report isn't really conclusive.  Very likely, it works well for some organizations, and not as well for others.

If all you do is promote the idea of Giving Tuesday to your base - via email blasts, or newsletters, or even at events, performances and exhibitions, then the questions is: Is there really any net gain that justifies the time and resource expenditure?  The key seems to be to expand the idea beyond your base to attract new donors - or at least get your current donors to pony up more.  But that's not so easy.

Is the timing smart? 
First, by promoting Giving Tuesday are we merely shifting the time period during which people give from the very end of the year to early December?  And does that time shift result in more, or larger, donations and thus more money, or once having made a Giving Tuesday donation is the attitude of donors:  "I already gave on Giving Tuesday" and thus do end of year campaigns no longer succeed to the same extent they once did.  The Giving Tuesday people ask this same question and argue that much of the day's donations come from new donors, or that the donations of previous donors are increased. - though I am not sure their data completely confirms this claim.  In their recent data analysis report, they posit that the Arts are one of the classifications of nonprofits that have seen a rise in their fortunes from Giving Tuesday - but they don't provide a lot of statistics that support the claim, and, in any event, there will be wide variations between organizations.  We lack data on which organizations do well, and if there is any commonality for them as a class - location, size, type et. al.

Certainly, individual arts organizations can, with some effort, determine for themselves if Giving Tuesday has resulted in a net gain in new donations during the month of December compared over years the data is available, and even whether or not loyal donors have increased their gifts with participation in Giving Tuesday.  And its probably a good idea to run the numbers and do just that to see how the campaign plays out for your organization so you can determine whether or not the program is a net increase, or it is discouraging larger gifts, or just shifting the time for receipt of essentially the same net income.  And over several years, it would be advantageous to know whether or not new donors - of whatever donation size - were converted from first time / one time donor status to loyal annual donors.

Second, after huge personal spending on the retail days - Black Friday / Cyber Monday, and even Small Business Saturday - how motivated is the public to support nonprofits via Giving Tuesday?  Do people feel in the giving mood, or are they feeling like they ought to compensate for perhaps overspending on retail by being more frugal.  In our quest to be part of the retail frenzy, are we committing to a time for one of our "major asks" that might not be optimal.  Is the theory that they will feel guilty and so give more to nonprofits?  Or is the theory that they are in the giving mood during the holidays and we are simply capitalizing on that mood by framing the opportunity in a single day - not unlike Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  But do either of those theories hold water?  Is the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday the best possible date for asking America for more support?  If not, what might be considered a better date?

Has the Giving Tuesday campaign supplanted the End of Year Donor Solicitation that for a long time was a hallmark for nonprofit fundraising?  That campaign urged end of the year altruism with the deal sweetened by the year end tax deductibility self-interest advantage. If Giving Tuesday has taken some of that thunder way, we need to know if it has yielded more, less or essentially the same as the old campaign.  If utilizing the Giving Tuesday campaign and still using an end of year "ask" too, has the net income increased?  By how much?  Can you identify the sources of contributions from each?  New donors?  Old donors?  Does participating in one form but not the other have any impact on donor fatigue?  There are lots of questions that it makes sense to ask.

The big longer term question for Giving Tuesday is: Can the total dollar take grow bigger?  And what would it take to dramatically increase the Giving Tuesday concept total donation for each individual arts organization?  Can Giving Tuesday somehow be better connected to the volume of activity on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

No criticism of the idea for Giving Tuesday is intended here.  I applaud the effort to codify in some way the idea of giving to worthy causes as part of the holiday season - or at any time really.  Indeed, that altruism is suppose to be at the essence of the season.  I suspect it has, at least in some ways, had a positive impact.  And I think Giving Tuesday needs time to sink into the collective public psyche on a deeper and wider level before it will realize its potential - or not.  But I think too that we ought to ask some questions about how well it is working for each organization? What, if any, unintended consequences it may have?  How we might better manage it?  I'd like to see some data on how arts organizations have done on Giving Tuesday, whether bigger or smaller organizations do better, the relationship, if any, between Giving Tuesday and other fund solicitation efforts, differences in success based on geographical location and even on demographics.  This kind of information can help us to make the Giving Tuesday campaign more effective.

Perhaps some of these questions are relevant to your organization's situation.  

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Place at the Smart Cities Tables

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

Happy Thanksgiving.  Despite the past year being difficult and heartbreaking - the devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston, and the horrific fires in Northern California; the genuinely frightening attacks on a free press, secularism and democracy here, and across the globe; and the personal challenges and tragedies that are part of life for many people each year -- there is still much to be thankful for.  Me?  I'm thankful I am still alive.  And you should be thankful you are alive too - for life truly is an extraordinary gift, full of highs and lows yes, but full too of wonder, beauty and sheer enjoyment at each day's dawning.  So I wish you and your family and friends a very Happy Thanksgiving.

The Bill Gates Smart City
Last week came news that one of Bill Gates investment companies paid eighty million dollars for a large tract of barren land near Tonopah Arizona, with a plan to develop a smart city complete with residences, schools, parks and commercial space - all with a high tech component including sophisticated communications, transportation and other cutting edge high tech offerings.  Of course, nowhere in the brief press release was any mention of the role of the arts.

We are going to see more of these kinds of projects in the very near future - promulgated and supported by governments - local, state, federal and even by other countries, and by private enterprise and the philanthropic community.  And the arts absolutely must be at the tables where these projects are conceived, developed and implemented.

While it is unclear the extent to which Gates and / or Microsoft will be directly involved in this effort, and it will likely be some time before any plans are formalized - this is the time for us to begin to demand that the arts are, as a matter of course, included.  We cannot afford to be an afterthought or an add-on in the future. We need to be there from the inception of the idea.

So how do we do that?  Local arts agencies, be they county, city or state need to make a connection with the owners / planners of the smart cities projects,, and make the case for their inclusion in the decision making process.  We need to provide strong evidence of our value, and, more than that, make a case with media and the public that no city without an arts component in both the planning and execution is truly "smart" in any sense of the word.  This can't be some meek request on our part -- we need to insist and make noise if we meet any resistance.  We need to actively and assiduously keep track of these efforts, and move decisively early on to include us.  The bar ought to be that the arts are essential to any effort to realize smart cities.

But this is also something the NEA should take on.  They have the imprimatur of being a national agency, and they have more of a chance to get phone calls returned and sympathetic ears for our rationale.  They need to take ownership of insuring we are part of the process of the future, and should be joined by a strong coalition of our philanthropic supporters and partners.  We need to enlist supportive City Council and Board of Supervisor officials, along with Mayors, members of state legislators and of Congress to carry our banner.

We also need to reach out and form a national Blue Ribbon committee with arts people joined by a cachet of highly recognized players from the high tech industry, bankers, the media, and private companies involved in culture to spearhead our efforts and give those efforts a public face that will command attention.

There is too much at stake for the future for us to be timid. We don't just need to be at these tables, we have to be.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Arts Funding Ecosystems and Major Impacts

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

Every arts territory - major regional areas, cities - big and small - counties, towns, rural areas - all have a funding ecosystem.

Some are robust, some are weak.  Some areas have major foundations which fund the arts, others do not.  Some have strong local government support, some struggle with public funding.  Some have legacies of major patrons, others have meaningful smaller donors.  Some organizations within a territory are skilled and successful at earned income, others have miles to go.  In some territories, major cultural organizations have near monopolies on funding support, in other areas there is much more of a balance.  In some fortunate areas, there is a healthy balance of all the sources of revenue streams.

And in some territories there are but a few organizations, and so the competition for funds, plentiful or scarce, is not pronounced.  In others, there are so many viable and worthy candidates for support that the competition for resources is intense.  Whether or not organizations are consciously competitive begs the question.  The question is how big is the total pie, and what are the variables that bear upon any organization in its quest for funding.

And every one of these ecosystems is different, with their own histories, way of doing things, and unspoken rules and protocols that govern how money is sought and how it is allocated.

And like most ecosystems, there is a relationship between the resident organizations with intersections at numerous junctures and points.

We haven't spent much energy trying to identify and understand these interactions, relationships and their impacts.  Thus, we don't know how the fundraising efforts of one organization, or the organizations in one discipline, in any given territory, affect and impact other organizations or disciplines in that same territory.  Or those outside the easy classifications.

Given that all funding sources in a given area are likely finite at any given point in time, there is competition for those funds.  The amount may very well be liquid over time, in that it moves up or down depending on all kinds of variables.  I wonder to what extent the actions of the players within each territory is one of those variables, and whether or not it is significant or irrelevant to the success of any or all of the contestants.

So, for example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are estimated some 200 dance organizations / companies.  Like New York and other territories with a significant dance organization presence, the local scene is dominated by a few major players:  In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Ballet, and three or four other major companies dominate.  These organizations receive major foundation and public support, and also have healthy donor pools.  Many of the other dance organizations have less robust funding source pools, and many more struggle with anemic funding efforts.  Dance is largely supported in the Bay Area, but I wonder how the crowded field and the actions and campaigns, and the success of some, impact the chances of the others to successfully raise funds.

Do we know whether or not donors spread their wealth around, or remain consistently loyal to specific programs?  Do we know if the behavior of donors is different depending on the size of their largesse?  Are smaller donors more, or less, likely to support one organization one year and a different one another year?  Is the donor behavior of those who support capital campaigns different from those who support programs or operations?

Another example:  the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in celebration of its One Hundredth Anniversary, has embarked on a very ambitious campaign to raise $500 million, of which they claim to have already raised $300 million.  Now, Los Angeles is a large and diverse territory, with access to foundation, local government and corporate support.  There is also a healthy population of contributors - major and minor - within the territory.  And the L.A. Phil is a major institution with deep ties to the community, an enviable reputation, and impressive creative and managerial competencies.  So I don't doubt that they will get very close, if not fully funded, with this major effort.

But that is a lot of money.  How does their drive to reach their goal, impact the rest of the L.A. arts fundraising ecosystem.  Is there no effect, or a dramatic effect on the plans, strategies, and abilities of other arts organizations to raise funds in this climate?  How long might such an impact, if there is one, last?

I don't know the answers.  Obviously, a campaign this ambitions and grand is going to target sources that aren't generally on the radar screens of much smaller - and therefore the majority - of other arts organizations in the same geographic territory.  Deep pocket patrons historically have tended to fund specific large budget cultural organizations, and not smaller ones.

But does the L. A. Phil's campaign make it harder for its peer cultural organizations - museums, theaters, opera and others - to raise funds while the L.A. Phil's campaign is going on?  What impact does a campaign like this have on the efforts of all the arts organizations in the area?  Does it syphon off so much of the available funds as to make it more difficult for others to attract funds? Is it possible, that the opposite is true - that a major campaign and its attendant publicity serves to spur more, not less, donations across the board?  Or is there simply no impact at all?

The base question is this:  As the field grows, with ever more organizations launching, all seeking funding, how does a local funding ecosystem function?

We don't seem to have data on those kinds of impacts, or lack thereof.  We can identify, over time, the rise and fall of the aggregate of funding in a territory, but we haven't investigated how the efforts of the competitors within the territory bear upon the efforts of others within the same classifications.  Virtually no dynamic works in a vacuum.  Everything is interconnected.  Do major capital campaigns have any effect on fundraising for either their peer groups, or the local field as a whole?  Does the existence of an arguably overcrowded field in a particular discipline, affect the fundraising of all the members of that single class?  What are the variables in a local funding ecosystem that play a role in the success or failure of the fundraising efforts of all those in the area, and in particular, the efforts of each?  Do some efforts result in a cannibalization of scare opportunities, or is the success of anyone a boon to the efforts of all?  Does the power inequity work to the disadvantage of some, or is it irrelevant.

And then there is the question of how the arts funding ecosystem relates to the wider overall nonprofit funding ecosystem - within each territory.

This kind of data might be useful in analyzing funding prospects within a territory and serve to identify how the strategies and campaigns of some of the players impact the plans and efforts of others.  That kind of data might also illuminate different kinds of inequity within the territory.  And that information might be valuable for funders and fundraisers alike.   Research into arts funding ecosystems might be a reasonable, and fertile line of inquiry.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Interview with Ian David Moss - The End of Createquity and More

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

Ian David Moss Bio:
Ian David Moss is founder and CEO of Createquity, a think tank and online publication investigating the most important issues in the arts and what we can do about them, and Knowledge Empower, a strategy consulting firm helping grantmakers and knowledge infrastructure organizations make evidence-based decisions for the benefit of all. Previously, Ian was Vice President, Strategy & Analytics for Fractured Atlas, where he worked to build a culture of learning both within the $20 million nonprofit technology company and in the field more broadly. Evidence-based strategic frameworks that Ian helped create have guided the distribution of nearly $100 million in grants to date by some of the nation’s most important funders, including the William and Flora Hewlett and Doris Duke Charitable Foundations.

Ian is a serial entrepreneur with a strong track record for envisioning and implementing creative solutions to longstanding problems. In addition to Createquity, his successful ventures include the Cultural Research Network, an open resource-sharing forum for self-identified researchers in the arts that serves hundreds of members worldwide; and C4: The Composer/Conductor Collective in 2005, the first organization of its kind and the largest chorus exclusively singing music from the past 25 years. Ian has been named one of the top leaders in the nonprofit arts sector six times in an annual nationwide poll of arts administrators, and is in demand as a writer, editor, speaker, grant panelist, consultant, and guest lecturer. He holds BA and MBA degrees from Yale University and is based in Washington, DC.


Barry:  You started Createquity as an arts blog.  Because of the depth and scope of the issues you covered in its earliest iteration, and because you quickly gained the reputation of someone who went the extra mile in intelligent preparation and execution of your positions on the important issues, it rapidly gained the attention and respect of the field.  Over the years, it has grown from being a blog to something much, much larger.  And now you’ve announced that you intend to shut it down. Walk me through the most critical milestones in its transformation, and why you’ve decided to close the shop?

Ian:  I had very modest ambitions for Createquity when I started it a decade ago as a first-year student in business school. The most frequent commenters in the early days were my girlfriend (now my wife) and my dad. It’s pretty funny now to take a look back at some of those early posts; they don’t fit the tone of the site today at all!

Createquity’s growth began in earnest in the spring of 2009. I was finishing up my MBA degree, and I’d arranged to do an independent study on arts policy for which I assigned myself blog posts to write and publish on the site. Around the same time, some of my posts began getting picked up by You’ve Cott Mail, ArtsJournal, and other syndicators, which brought Createquity a new audience of arts administrators who I didn’t know. That fall, I got invited to be the official blogger for the Grantmakers in the Arts conference, the first time they’d had such a role, and that’s when Createquity started to reach people in the grantmaking community.

This pattern of gradually increasing scope and ambition continued for several years. I wanted to publish content more frequently and get more voices into the mix, so in 2011, I set up the Createquity Writing Fellowship, which was the first formal opportunity for people other than me to contribute to the conversation. In 2013, I invited Talia Gibas, who was one of our star alums of the Writing Fellowship program, and Daniel Reid, a friend from grad school, to join me as part of an expanded editorial team. The biggest change, though, was in 2014 when we decided to relaunch Createquity as more of a research organization and a think tank. That summer, we redesigned the website, doubled the size of the editorial team (which subsequently doubled again), started raising money and paying our people for the first time, and began to take a much more strategic approach toward understanding the arts sector and considering what we could do to advance the conversation.

The past three years of running Createquity in this new incarnation have been both exhilarating and exhausting. When I started Createquity, it was very much a hobby, just a fun side project for me. It had long since ceased being that. I was more passionate about the work we were doing than ever before, but it was unquestionably work. Our editorial team had grown to encompass as many as 12 paid contributors (including four team leaders leading distinct function areas) and 25 volunteers. I was personally regularly spending upwards of 30 hours a week on the project, and some team members weren’t far behind me. In order to continue, we needed to resource Createquity at a different level, at least temporarily. We developed what I thought was a great plan to do that as part of a business planning process we completed with an external consultant in 2016. Unfortunately, despite a huge push on the part of many people, we weren’t able to secure the leadership support that was needed to get that initiative off the ground. That left us no choice but to shut down.

Barry:  You positioned Createquity as a 21st Century Arts Think Tank. Was it your ambition to move Createquity into the role of traditional Think Tanks by increasingly being the public face of arts policy, or the go-to entity when the media want an authoritative perspective on issues that impact the arts and society?  Now that Createquity is ending its run, what might fill that vacuum?

Ian:  When Createquity relaunched in 2014, we called ourselves a think tank in all of our fundraising and organizational identity materials, and we were dead serious about doing so. I wasn’t necessarily looking to turn Createquity into a traditional, bricks-and-mortar think tank that would become my and others’ full-time job, but over time it became clear that we would need to build up at least some organizational infrastructure if we were going to accomplish our long-term objectives. Research syntheses are time-consuming – our initial projects each took hundreds of hours on the part of the team to pull off – and that’s just very hard to manage on a budget that’s less than what I got paid to stuff envelopes in my first post-college gig.

With Createquity ending its run, as you noted, the vacuum persists. Indeed, there is a long and formidable history of failed think tanks in the arts. From the Center for Arts and Culture at Georgetown in the 1990s to the policy institute that Pew tried to get off the ground in the early 2000s, to more recent efforts like CPANDA at Princeton and the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago until recently. There have also been efforts to integrate arts into existing cross-issue think tanks, like the Urban Institute, Brookings, and RAND. All of these efforts put out some valuable work, but ultimately couldn’t be sustained.

I’d say some reflection on the arts field’s chronic inability to support high-quality knowledge-building is warranted. Think tanks themselves are not inherently unsustainable. If you look beyond the arts, there are some think tanks out there that rake in contributions or have tremendous endowments. But in our field we have not been able to make these efforts stick.

Why is that? It’s an important question to ask. It’s not that we don’t have the resources. As a sector, we regularly raise hundreds of millions of dollars to enable a single arts institution to build a single fancy building. But it’s basically impossible to scrape together even 1% of that total to study whether building fancy buildings is among the best uses of philanthropic dollars.

It’s a real problem, and one that makes me concerned for the sector. And unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to get solved until we make some changes to how and what research gets funded. Any arts think tank’s product is going to be too niche to be supported by small donations, ads, or subscriber fees. So it really is up to the funders to step up and take a leadership role. And the combination of geographic restrictions and aversion to long-term general operating support among that base make these sorts of field-building initiatives very difficult to capitalize.

Barry:  Two of our long standing, and deeply entrenched sacrosanct funding categories have been capital campaigns for anchor buildings, and support for big budget major city cultural organizations (primarily what we have been calling white Euro-centric discipline organizations).  How does the field get foundations (and their decision making boards) and deep pocket patrons, to transition from that legacy to fund other kinds of projects, including those of benefit to the entire field?

Ian:  You’re absolutely right to focus on the board members and donors – that’s where the buck stops (or starts, to be more accurate) in all of these conversations. One thing I’d like to see is more engagement of foundation board members and individual donors in spaces where field needs are discussed, like the Grantmakers in the Arts annual conference. A couple of years ago I attended a session at GIA that was specially designed for those audiences, and it was great. A number of the folks who attended have continued to stay involved with GIA in subsequent years. Another effort that could make a difference is bringing these conversations to the rare spaces where individual donors and family foundation board members congregate, like the Exponent Philanthropy conference. A third strategy could be to encourage arts institutions with strong donor bases to hold donor salons about the health of the arts field, with the goal of getting more individual major donors engaged in national conversations. That would actually be an interesting fieldbuilding strategy for a foundation to subsidize.

Barry:  One of the tasks Createquity has taken on is to identify and research the major issues facing the nonprofit arts sector. Can you outline, in your thinking, what those major issues are today?  And what growing issues of concern are likely to dominate our efforts in the future?

Ian:  The issue that’s dominant right now is racial and cultural equity in the arts. It’s been a focus topic at field gatherings and such for a long time, but in the past 5-6 years the level of interest and concern has just exploded. Now, diversity, inclusion, and equity issues are almost guaranteed to be on the table in every national convening, every strategic plan, every executive search, and increasingly in professional development workshops offered to arts organizations. What’s been really striking to me is that whereas equity, race, and social justice conversations used to sort of have their own silo that existed alongside other silos like creative placemaking, research, specific disciplines, etc., now equity is more likely to be a global lens applied across all of those silos. So, for example, if you talk about creative placemaking now you’re expected to consider gentrification and displacement, and that is a huge change from when the placemaking conversation was getting started back in 2011 or so. In addition, a number of the major discipline-specific national conferences (League of American Orchestras, American Alliance of Museums, etc.) had equity as the organizing theme in 2016, 2017, or both.

These are important and necessary conversations, and finding solutions to these challenges is long overdue. That said, in focusing on one issue you inevitably push others to the side, and there are some other topics that I’d argue deserve attention as well. For example, Createquity’s research has uncovered strong reasons to believe that age and health should be a focus for the field. Some of the strongest evidence we have shows that the benefits of arts participation are particularly relevant to older adults. Participatory activities like singing, in particular, help to reduce anxiety and depression, improve subjective wellbeing, and even fend off the onset of dementia. And when it comes to attendance, according to the NEA’s research, nearly a quarter of adults aged 55 and older in persistent poor health were interested in going to an exhibit or performance in the past year but could not, which is a greater percentage than any other demographic examined in the report. And if you narrow the dataset to retirees in poor health who live alone, the proportion goes up to 36%! So there’s actually a very clear research-based case to make for programs to benefit older adults through the arts, but I know of very few programs and funding initiatives with that focus.

Looking forward, I believe a major issue on the horizon will be how artificial intelligence changes the game for the arts. I believe that AI has the potential to wreak societal havoc in the coming decades on a scale we’ve rarely if ever seen. The implications for the arts sector go far beyond whether computers will be able to write commercial jingles or poetry, or whether we can tell Siri to book our theater tickets for us. If automation ends up decimating the pool of jobs available to humans, as many analysts predict, what will people do with their time? Already, there’s a trend of unemployed young men not bothering to look for work because they’d rather stay home and play video games. Art has the potential to be a huge force for inspiration, malaise, or both in that environment. And that’s not even to mention the doomsday scenarios where AI becomes an existential threat to humanity’s existence. While keeping a laser focus on the political situation right now is tempting and totally understandable, there’s a risk that in doing so we are ignoring the proverbial White Walkers coming in from the North.

Barry:  You are probably most identified with arts research, data collection, evaluation processes and the application of logic models to our issues, and that was your long time role with Fractured Atlas.  Make the case for that research as critical to the nonprofit arts solving the various challenges it faces.

Ian:  My thesis is simple: knowledge is power. Why not put that power to work for all of us? There are many components to a good decision, but arguably the most critical is information. We make decisions all the time with limited, incomplete, biased information. Some of those decisions carry millions of dollars at stake. Some of those decisions affect thousands of people. Research can never give us perfect information, but it can help us avoid wasting precious resources and spot under-the-radar opportunities to make a difference. The methods, the tools, the ideas, the research are all there – why not use them?

Barry:  While there is a far more robust and active research contingent in our field now than even a decade or so ago, still the average arts administrator at our organizations has precious little time to review, assimilate and even consider the increasing research that is out there.  You’re on record as arguing for the role of research in intelligent decision making.  What would you advise our legions of administrators adapt in their approach to understanding, appreciating and utilizing the expanding knowledge base of research and data in doing their daily jobs?  How can we make research and data knowledge work better for our people and go beyond the concern of wonks?

Ian:  I believe that the system for knowledge production and consumption in the arts is fundamentally broken. A growing body of evidence, including the study you did last year, suggests that arts leaders are finding it impossible to keep up with the enormous flow of information cascading over them and need strong, trusted filters to help make sense of it all. The irony of funders directly or indirectly commissioning hundreds of new research studies about the arts every year, yet declining to support interventions that would help ensure that research actually gets read and used, is pretty strange to see.

I think it’s too much to expect rank-and-file administrators to keep on top of all the relevant research coming out. That’s, frankly, more than a full-time job on its own, and arts administrators are already overworked and underpaid as it is. That’s why it’s so important to have a functioning infrastructure for curating, interpreting, and translating research into actionable advice for practitioners. Knowledge is a public good; we don’t need to ask everyone to duplicate this work in their own silos a thousand times over. But the infrastructure to centralize the process basically doesn’t exist at all right now.

The good news is that this is an easy problem to solve if we can just muster the will to act. If nothing else, our experiences with Createquity demonstrated that there is an enormous pool of talent out there eager to participate in the process of building knowledge, and it’s possible to organize that talent in an extremely cost-efficient manner, relatively speaking. Furthermore, formal methodologies for research synthesis have been advancing rapidly in other areas of the social sector, so there is no need for us to reinvent the wheel. Again, we have everything we need – what’s stopping us?

Barry:  Speaking of arts research in general, what are the major areas in which the sector needs to continue to expand its efforts, and which areas have we yet to be as fully involved as you think we need to be?  Backup question:  is there any area which has been overdone and hasn’t been all that productive?

Ian:  My basic take on arts research is that we’re doing a good job with the research that’s inherently easy, and crapping the bed when it comes to the research that’s inherently hard. There’s a lot of really good work that’s been done on the benefits of the arts, for example, and the best-quality research has concentrated in environments where isolated variables are relatively easier to control, such as medical settings.

I think the biggest area of growth for the sector is to invest in more research that is designed to influence decision-making rather than research to support advocacy. The reason we have so much research on the benefits of the arts is because arts practitioners believe that their work matters, and so whenever they have the chance they commission research that they hope will make their case to the folks who control the purse-strings. There’s certainly a role for that kind of knowledge, but if it’s the only thing we invest in, it leaves almost completely open the question of what we should do with the resources once we have them. I’m much more interested in the latter question, personally. But the research that exists doesn’t give us that much in the way of guidance.

That’s partly because, as a field, we haven’t invested deeply enough in articulating what exactly we’re trying to accomplish by supporting the arts and how each organization fits in to the bigger picture. That’s something we tried to address at Createquity by developing a definition of a healthy arts ecosystem. Our healthy arts ecosystem definition isn’t just a bunch of platitudes; it gets specific about what kinds of opportunities should be available to whom and under what circumstances, and is realistic about the tradeoffs that become necessary in a resource-constrained environment (i.e., every environment that has existed ever). I’ve also argued for integrating support for the arts into a foundation’s broader strategic priorities rather than leaving it in its own silo.

Overall, my sense is that the vast majority of arts research is not very valuable, but the most valuable research is often very expensive to conduct. I’d like to see the sector be willing to invest in bigger, more ambitious projects, even if it means doing less research overall.

Barry:  Equity, and the attendant issues of social justice in the face of structural racism and white privilege, have dominated the discussion of the arts as well as elsewhere over the past couple of years.   Assess our progress in dealing with the issues within our insular world, in light of Helicon’s recent update showing absolutely no change in funding allocation.    What do we need to do in the short term to advance equity and break down and eliminate structural racism?

Ian:  I think the first thing we need to do is get clear on what counts as success. I know that for many, it seems self-evident that the goal is to redistribute funding from white-led institutions to organizations led by people of color. But that agenda has unclear implications for the Misty Copelands, Yo-Yo Mas, and Gustavo Dudamels of the world who are artists of color working primarily with white-led institutions in art forms with European roots. If we try to use money as an incentive to push white-led institutions to diversify their boards, staff, and programming, which is one of the suggestions coming out of the New York City cultural plan for example, then that slows the push toward broader redistribution. And then, of course, there are some cultural practices rooted in communities of color that exist outside of the frame of capitalism and monetary exchange, so more funding—especially if it comes from white wealth with forms to fill out and strings attached—isn’t necessarily what anyone wants. Createquity wrote a long piece last year about these different paradigms for cultural equity. There are very real tensions between these visions that almost always go unacknowledged in public debates. I would love to see the sector start to get more sophisticated about articulating exactly what the priorities are and what an arts world without structural racism looks like in practice.

Barry:  In addition to the creation of Createquity, you also launched the Cultural Research Network (CRN), a now global aggregation of a large portion of the nonprofit arts research sector.  This is another major accomplishment, as this network is now an authoritative, active intersection of a veritable who’s who of people doing research in the nonprofit arts field - and, as a group, they use CRN as a major communications tool.    Walk me through the milestone developments of its launch to its current status.

Ian:  CRN started out as part of a cultural asset mapping initiative I led with support from the Hewlett Foundation right after I graduated from business school. I knew there were other people out there who had developed cultural asset maps, and I thought it would be fun and useful to convene them virtually as part of a knowledge-sharing network. I was able to get a bunch of great people to sign on to join, but usage was very light for the first couple of years. After a while I realized this was because, even though the network didn’t have my or Hewlett’s name attached to it, people still saw it as my project and would only participate when I prompted them to. To get around this challenge, I broadened the scope of the network to include all self-identified cultural researchers and started recruiting other folks to take ownership of the community with me. Kiley Arroyo was my chief co-conspirator for this phase and contributed a lot of time and energy to the cause. We were eventually joined by Andrew Taylor, Jean Cook, and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, who together with Kiley and me became the original steering committee for the network.

I’ve launched several social ventures in my career, and this is the second one where I intentionally made myself superfluous almost from the get-go. Of everything about CRN, I’m proudest of the fact that after two and a half years on the steering committee, I was able to relinquish all leadership responsibility and watch the network go on to thrive without me. There’s an article of faith among many philanthropists that you need to invest in strong leaders. And I think it’s true that a strong leader can have a great impact over a short period of time. But I have to say that in my experience, the ventures that end up being most resilient are the ones where the center of gravity is a compelling idea, not a charismatic individual.

Barry:  Arts philanthropy, if it wants to have the maximum impact and maximize the value of the arts, absolutely must_________________________________________ over the next five years.  Fill in the blank.

Ian:  Be more willing to think beyond narrow, local concerns.

You thought I was going to say something about research and data, right? I certainly think that’s an important piece of the solution, but just investing more in research without solving the problem above won’t get us anywhere. We need to coordinate (not just collaborate) more, act proactively to fill gaps, and free our organizations as much as possible from the ongoing constraints of decisions that were made decades ago and are no longer relevant to today’s world. Once we’ve conquered that issue, then more investment in research will really be able to make an impact.

Barry:  In advocacy and lobbying, research and data have proven to be one effective tool as we make the case for our value.  Yet many people in the field decry reliance on the economic or other practical arguments for our value, and instead believe that we ought to be emphasizing instead the intangible and intrinsic value of the arts to individuals and society.  Still others argue for a balance.  Where are you in this ongoing debate?

Ian:  Createquity’s take is basically that the intrinsic vs. instrumental dichotomy is overblown. We instead use a framework of wellbeing (or quality of life) that is inclusive of both. The basic idea of wellbeing is that there are certain components to the kind of life that everyone deserves. Those include, depending on the specific definition, things like having a decent standard of living, access to education, and social connections, but also sources of pleasure and delight. What matters at the end of the day is how satisfied you are with your life – whether the arts contribute to that directly or indirectly is beside the point. More important is to have a realistic understanding of what the benefits of the arts actually are, as demonstrated by the evidence.

Barry:  But isn’t the danger that the arts - as one source of wellbeing - are regarded by some as less important than other sources of wellbeing (economic security for example), and that as such the arts (as they have long been regarded) are seen as a luxury that is a non-essential.  How do we deal with the overarching bias and prejudice against the value of the arts being equal to other values?

Ian:  Is that really a danger? If the arts are not as critical a component to happiness and life satisfaction as economic security, then I think it’s justified to focus more on economic security. Especially if having more economic security will help people make choices about how they want to spend their time, like, say, buying tickets to arts events.

I’m confident that no matter what happens to public funding sources and the professional nonprofit arts field, the arts will live on. They always have. But too often in our field’s research, we’ve asked the question “what is the value that the arts provide to society?” when the more useful question is “what is the value provided to society by subsidizing nonprofit arts organizations?” Because the reality is that we couldn’t get rid of the arts even if we wanted to.

Barry:  What is next for you?

Ian:  Thanks for asking. Earlier this year, I left my job at Fractured Atlas and set up a consultancy working with funders and related organizations at the intersection of knowledge and strategy. I offer services including theory of change, evaluation planning, research synthesis, strategic decision-making workshops, and a new Decision Doctor service. I’m also exploring a few full-time opportunities with the same audience.

I’ve been interested in how resources get allocated in the social sector for a long time. One thing I’ve begun to notice is that there are all these interesting schools of thought about strategy and effective decision-making from different fields, but there’s very little overlap or communication among the practitioners in those fields. So I’m in the process of devising a unified framework for leveraging knowledge for impact that can work regardless of whether you’re in a foundation, government or investing environment. It’s an interdisciplinary approach that takes inspiration and insights from the corporate world, the international development community, Washington policy wonks, cognitive psychology, and the rationalist community (yes, that is a thing), among others. That’s one of the major things I’m planning to write about over the next year and beyond.

Thank you Ian.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Grantmakers in the Arts in Transition

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

Grantmakers in the Arts is meeting in Detroit for its annual conference.

For the second year in a row, health considerations necessitated my declining GIA's generous invitation to blog from the conference - an opportunity I enormously enjoyed in years past.  The GIA conference was my favorite arts leadership gathering for several reasons, including the amassing of many of the sector's smartest thought leaders, the chance to gauge the prevailing winds of where the field's focus lied, and where it was going, and, on a personal note, the increasingly important to me, chance to again see old friends, and meet new leaders.  This year is special, for this year GIA is saying goodbye to its extraordinary and visionary leader, Janet Brown, as she retires.  It's hard to minimize the superlatives in characterizing the impact and effect Janet's leadership has had - clearly on the arts philanthropic community, but really far beyond that into the policy climes of everything we do.  And I am sorry not to be able to share with others the privilege of paying acclimations to her as she departs - not the field, but the GIA gig.

Well done Janet Brown.  Well done.  And thank you.

This transition period is a monumental one for GIA.  With Eddie Torres now assuming Janet's position and the organization relocating from Seattle to New York City, I am informed that none of the Seattle staff is making the move and staying on, and so GIA is in a major hiring operation.  This wholesale change in the running of the organization, and its move to the center - along with D.C. - of the East Coast hierarchy of national arts organizations, is both an opportunity and a challenge for the collective arts philanthropy community's organization.

Clearly, being on the east coast will offer the organization some new opportunities for interaction with other national arts leadership groups, with outside funders, with government and with the private sector.  That geographic change comes at a cost though.  The move is a blow to the West Coast's presence on the national stage, emblematic to some degree of a diminution of the presence of more outlying areas in favor of major urban areas - particularly East Coast centered.  GIA is, of course, a national organization, with members in all places and along all strata of the nation, but its hard to estimate or appreciate the influence not being an east coast New York, but still national, organization had on a number of areas from policy thinking to the luxury of some detachment from the hectic pace of a more urban setting.  Moreover, with a brand new staff, there will be less institutional memory to guide this transition and temper any too radical change.

But on the plus side, this new beginning will give the organization and the philanthropic community it represents a chance to evaluate where it's come from, and moving to, and most importantly, where it now wants to go.   This is a rare opportunity for a national organization to re-think policy and protocol and move in new directions while solidifying its deepest commitments.  It isn't very often, that a new important organization leader gets the chance for a kind of clean break with the past operation, and the opportunity to mold a new future.  Not jettisoning the past, but aligning it with a new future.  A new location and a new staff are a big deal.

Of course, GIA has a really smart Board that provide continuity, stability yet can still allow leeway and freedom.  And Eddie Torres is an experienced leader with a steady hand and who knows well that moving too fast to make changes is always fraught with problems.  Still, he gets a chance to make a big impact early on as he helms a new GIA to a new trajectory.  I'm not talking about some wholesale change in priorities or even programs.  No, GIA has spent years, under Janet, developing a commitment to its arts philanthropy's support of capitalization of financial stability of arts organizations, and to meeting foursquare the challenge of equity, diversity, inclusion and racism. That work isn't finished and continues.   Indeed, the sessions and plenaries at this year's conference confirm that the issues of equity, diversity, and social justice, together with arts and aging and arts and healing, are major arts philanthropic pursuits along with the continuing involvement of arts funding with arts education, data and research, assessment and evaluation.  These core issues will remain high on GIA's agenda.

New York is a different city from much of the rest of the country. Certainly from Seattle, GIA's base since its inception.  New York runs on its own time clock, its own energy and sense of urgency.  There is a sense of impatience to business in New York, a rush to get things done, and it is, in part, this insistence on results that nurtures New York as a place of action.  That is an extraordinary asset, and it attracts a high level of talent, ideas and acumen in as diverse a workforce as exists anywhere.  Headquartering in New York colors the whole of an organization, just as centering in Washington D.C. or Silicon Valley colors organizations located in those capitols.  Eddie Torres knows New York well.

There will be fundamental questions for GIA and its new leadership as it moves forward.  One area that will be an unspoken elephant in the room, perhaps not in everyone's full consciousness, but one which will underpin everything else it does, will be how it sees the nature of the demand of the challenges it wishes to continue to address, and the new ones it determines to add.  And that issue is in its timeframes.

Lara Davis, currently blogging from the conference, and whom I had the pleasure to co-blog with in the past, and who is one of the sector"s bright leadership stars, covered the Pre-Conference on Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy in her blog today.  In it, she ended with a summation put forth by the session's organizers of "the responsibility of our racial equity work as follows:

  • Training on structural racism is important to build common vocabulary and perspective 
  • Language matters 
  • Community involvement matters 
  • Cultural change and perception takes time 
  • Be patient and adjust as you go 
  • Take action from where you are – don’t wait for perfection

Bullet point number 4 is, of course, a truism about change in general - it takes time.  And so the next bullet point advising patience would seem to make sense too; of course, we need to be patient.  But how patient is an issue that is, I think, open to debate.  The timing issue I think GIA and the philanthropic community must grapple with will be the need for urgency.  As Martin Luther King coined the phrase: "The fierce urgency of now." The forces aligned against that which we believe is important for people and society are on the march.  We can't be too patient in our settling for small gains.  We need to exert and extend ourselves if we are to make meaningful progress.   I think the field needs a fierce debate on how fast we need to act in these areas.  I saw an article that urged patience as Puerto Rico tries to recover.  But for those with no house, no clothes, no food, no electricity - whether in Puerto Rico, Houston, Florida or Santa Rosa and Napa -  the absence of urgency is no virtue.  Complacency and acceptance is part of the problem, not the solution.  Similarly, for us, for our small field, while patience is an inevitable reality to be endured, it ought not to be always embraced.  For those arts organizations that remain underfunded because we can't get to equity, for those schools that lack arts education because of an unequal and inequitable funding system, for those agencies that still have to fight just for survival funding, patience is no virtue -- patience is often code for not now, not yet.  We need a greater sense of urgency.  We need to move the needle - finally and faster.  I think it growingly unacceptable that we preach too much patience, and fail to demand more of ourselves to move quicker.  

I'm not arguing for acting the fools rushing in, for knee jerk reactions without thought.  I am hoping for a higher bar in our demands and on what timeline.  I am hoping for pushing ourselves more to get not what others think we need, but what we know we need.

There are a score of other areas GIA stakes positions in; areas which demand its attention and benefit from its involvement - and these issues will be on the organization's agenda as it makes this historic move.  And I know full well that GIA members are not the ones truly in charge of all arts philanthropic funding decisions.  More often than not, GIA denizens work for those who make the final decisions.  That's why I, like the field, look to GIA for continuing bold leadership.

Again, thank you Janet Brown, and congratulations Eddie Torres.

Have a great conference.

P.S. Janet has agreed to do an exit interview here prior to the end of the year.  I hope Eddie will do an interview too - maybe in six months after he's had time to come up for air.

Don't Quit

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Job Interviews Are Pointless

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

Note:  Arlene Goldbard, at the hypothetical U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, has issued a call to acknowledge and honor Native Land.  

"IN COUNTRIES SUCH AS NEW ZEALAND, AUSTRALIA, CANADA, AND AMONG TRIBAL NATIONS IN THE U.S., it is commonplace, even policy, to open events and gatherings by acknowledging the traditional Indigenous inhabitants of that land. While some individuals and cultural and educational institutions in the United States have adopted this custom, the vast majority have not. Together, we can spark a movement to change that.

JOB INTERVIEWS - Antiquated and useless?

The job interview is a staple in our hiring process, as sacrosanct as anything we cling to.  But it is largely a waste of time for both the hiring organization and the candidate.

Increasingly, we rely on search firms to conduct the whole of the process of finding qualified, and ideally, the right person to fill our open slots.  That includes narrowing down the list of potential new hires, and it is often the search firm that does the initial interviews to winnow the applicant pool to a few candidates to present to the organization for their final consideration.  In and of itself, that process is fraught with the danger that candidates that might be the best match for us are eliminated early on.  Search firm recruiters can't possibly know your organization well enough to always make the best decision.  Moreover, they have their own biases and prejudices and like us, they too suffer confirmation bias - whereby they zero in on candidates that check off their list of qualifications, and favor those who meet their own pre-determined criteria for the position.  It is a mistake, I would argue, to abrogate the decision making to the search firm.  Despite their seeming expertise, they are really just guessing too.

We suffer the same shortcomings in that we, often subconsciously, favor experience over other less obvious qualifications.  We have internalized the notion that a university degree equates with greater ability to perform the work.  We subscribe to the idea that experience trumps other qualifications.  We may even succumb to certain racial, gender and age prejudices.  All of these false narratives move us to prejudge and predetermine who we think we ought to be looking for in our hiring.

And when we finally get down to a couple of possible candidates, we steadfastly cling to the "job interview" as the way to make the best final decision.  It's a tool that is largely unquestioned; a given so rooted in our organizational dynamic that it is rarely, if ever, challenged.

And so we focus not on the value, or lack thereof,  of the interview itself, but rather how to conduct it, who should be present and especially what questions to ask.  Again, tradition dictates that the interview is conducted by the senior management or department heads.  But if one of the objectives of the interview is to try to identify who among the finalists will best fit in with the culture of the organization, limiting those from the organization who conduct the final interviews makes little sense - for several reasons:  First, in truth, the conclusions based on the interview are a crap shoot.  We're really just making a guess as to who is the best fit.  So the more people who can offer input to the process may make it less of an individual decision that is subject to the human error factor.  Moreover, the ideal candidate is not necessarily the one who pleases the highest level of management, but one who fits in the niche of a department.  And that decision might be better made by the people the person will work with.  Ditto the process of the Board hiring the Executive Director - for it is arguably more important that the titular leader has to get along and be a good fit with the staff, than with the Board.

Second, the interview really is a poor way to confirm or judge the candidate's qualifications and experience.  The questions we design have become standardized, and the internet is full of advice to the interviewee how to respond to all of these questions.  In the tech world, devising the questions to ask candidates became a game of how to trap the candidate in a difficult situation; ostensibly to see how they would react under stressful circumstances.  But the reality is that crafting almost impossible questions became more a oneupmanship game to show how clever the question makers were.  And some of that ego-centric approach seeped into our processes too.  The interview became a contest between combatants - with no winners, and losers on both sides.  The best candidates are often eliminated for specious reasons.  And we never know it.

And now comes new research to show that the job interview is largely a waste of time.

"An assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management, Jason Dana, has argued in The New York Times that job interviews are “utterly useless” even harmful, in identifying the best candidates for the job.
Dana claims that interviewers typically form strong impressions about applicants that often turn out to be completely false. "
People who have studied personnel psychology have known this for years, he argues. For example, in 1979, when the University of Texas Medical School was ordered to increase its incoming class size it admitted more than 50 students who had previously been rejected at interview stage. These students subsequently did just as well as their classmates in terms of academic performance, clinical performance and honours earned.
In other words the judgement of the interviewers would seem to have no role in discerning the most able applicants.
More worryingly still, job interviews can actually detract from other more valuable information about candidates. 
In one example from Dana’s own research, 76 students were asked to interview other students. Using information gleaned from the interview along with previous academic results and an upcoming course schedule, the interviewer was then asked to predict the future success of the interviewee. They were then asked to predict the future success of a second student based on paper alone — that is, without the interview. 
The result? The predictions made without the interview turned out to be by far the more accurate."
"Dana concludes that people are overly confident in their own ability to build an accurate picture of someone from a face to face conversation.

We believe that chatting to someone for a mere 10 minutes gives us a better sense of who they are and what they can offer than their CV, experience, references and records. The management professor strongly argues that this is a mistake."

This overconfidence in our reliance on our gut feeling and ability to discern deep insight into how someone will function on the job is a conceit we aren't quick to admit.  I've been on both sides of the interview, as have most of us.  As a candidate, I was always aware that there are answers to questions that seem more right to an interviewer than others, and I played to that reality.  Most interviewees do that.  They want the job, so they have rehearsed their answers to maximize their chances of impressing the one asking the questions.  They, of course, don't always turn out to be right in their assessment, but that this is the norm skews the process and makes it even more irrelevant and useless.    As an interviewer, I succumbed to the false belief that I could design questions that would allow me to make the right decision as to a hire.  Sometimes, long after the fact, that self-assessment turned out to be wrong, and left me wondering if I had hired one of the other finalists if that might have been a smarter decision.  Hindsight in hiring is always 20/20.

There are no magic questions to ask a candidate that will definitively improve your chances of making the right hiring decision.  And a 30 minute, or one hour, interview isn't likely to give you that insight.  To think otherwise is a delusion.  The game is rigged.

So relying on Goggle to provide you with the Ten Best Questions to ask in an interview, and thinking that will be any better than tossing a coin in terms of choosing the candidate who will best benefit your organization, is a fiction, best abandoned.

What do we do then?  If you insist on continuing the interview process, at least include many more people from the organization so that you have more input and opinions about the ultimate decision.  If a fit into the organizational culture is a determinant, then accept that the higher up in management, even in small organizations, the further away from the daily culture you are.  Include people on the ground floor.  If experience is the determinant, there aren't many questions you can ask that will confirm how that prior experience will mesh with your organization.  While recommendations aren't always reliable either, it may be a more accurate gauge than interview questioning. And if out-of-the-box thinking and innovative, creative aptitude is important, that is ultimately proved in the practice, not confirmed by verbal gymnastics in an interview.  Rock and a hard place.

It's highly doubtful we are likely to abandon the job interview.    That's ok.  Go into it by changing the rules where you can, bearing in mind the prejudices and biases we bring to the process and understanding that the interview reveals the determined candidate, not necessarily the idea employee or team member.  Use the interview then to assess, as best you can, the personality and drive of the candidate.  Just bear in mind all your questions are not going to reveal any reliable truths.

Obviously, you will want and need to meet a future hire in person.  There may be alternatives to the interview to meet the candidates.  Perhaps you might invite them to a staff or department meeting, preferably one where ideas or strategies will be discussed and invite their participation.  Or even a social situation may allow you to take their measure.  Arguably a less structured and less stressful situation will allow them to be more at ease and forthcoming, and you to learn more.

Hiring is always somewhat of a crap shoot.  The interview itself mocks the intent and goals by not only making a game of the process, but by believing that process actually accomplishes what it is theoretically designed to do.  Nobody wants to leave such important decisions to a coin toss, but the reality may be that the coin toss is just as accurate as our attempts in an interview to reach the right decision.

If a candidate seems a good fit on paper, based on their past performances, and a goodly number of your current staff can reach consensus on one over another candidate, particularly if they have the opportunity to interact personally, you might not even need an interview.  Though I'll bet you will find it hard to give it up as an option.

I understand.

Good luck.

Don't Quit


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Creative Vitality Suite Adds Race and Ethnicity Data to its Online Tool

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

Diversity is a priority challenge for the entire field.  We know our boards and staffs don't always reflect the general population, and we know that our funding has historically been inequitable.  We also intuitively know that the value of diversity transcends process and protocol, and is inherently intertwined with who we are and what we do.

We have some data as to diversity, or the lack thereof, but perhaps not enough.  WESTAF's Creative Vitality Suite - a custom data tool providing regional and localized statistics on the creative sector's economic impact, "has just added race and ethnicity data to its online tool. In the past, such data have been available to a limited degree. Now, however, the new ability for CVSuite users to access and analyze demographic data has the potential to greatly broaden the creative economy field’s understanding of such things as trends in employment diversity. This is important because research increasingly suggests that diversity in the workplace stimulates creativity, adds perspectives to problem solving, and contributes to the generation of revenues."

Here is a summary:

Creative Occupations: Diversity in the Arts:


"Using its new data capability, the CVSuite team investigated the presence of racially and ethnically diverse employment in creative economy occupations throughout the United States. The team then compared those findings to the level of such employment in all occupations throughout the economy of the United States. For the purpose of this investigation, racial and ethnic groups other than white are classified as minorities. Using the latest update of data that was available for the first quarter of calendar year 2017, the CVSuite team found that when compared to employment patterns in all other occupations at the national level, creative occupations were 8.2% less racially/ethnically diverse.

The racial and ethnicity data used in the CVSuite originates from a combination of national sources, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment & Wages (QCEW), Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), National Industry-Occupation Employment Matrix (NIOEM), the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), and the Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI). Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), CVSuite’s data partner, cleans and revises these data by geographic region. The Q1 2017 data in this analysis are from the most recent projections by EMSI on this subject.

The Analysis

To better understand the role racial and ethnic diversity plays in creative economy employment, the CVSuite team analyzed the earnings and minority percentages in 59 creative occupations. One finding was that, 33% of workers in the overall economy classify as a minority, while in the creative occupations, only 25% of all workers classify as a minority. Thus, creative occupations are 24% less racially and ethnically diverse than all occupations. The team also discovered that in creative occupations with high levels of racial and ethnic diversity, there are greater concentrations of employees in low-salary positions."

A review of the top and bottom quartiles of minorities in creative occupations reveals which creative occupations are more and which are less diverse. The occupations with the greatest concentration of minority employees include makeup artists, interpreters and translators, and media and communications workers. The occupations with the least diversity include higher paying occupations such as curators, archivists, and public relations and fundraising managers.

Why Diversity Matters

The CVSuite can be used to reveal information about a number of features of the creative economy. The level of racial and ethnic diversity among employees in creative occupations is one dynamic that should be of interest to those seeking to build thriving creative economy sectors. In recent years, a number of researchers have suggested ways that diversity in the creative economy workforce matters. While some of their writings are preliminary and exploratory in nature, they are presented here because we believe a review of current thinking in this area will help users of the CVSuite understand why making use of the new demographic data in the CVSuite tool can support their overall efforts to build a stronger creative economy.

Articles addressing the value of diversity in the creative workforce are appearing with increasing frequency. In Why Diversity Matters in Tech, author Murray Newlands states, “Diversity is not just a ‘right thing to do’ issue; it’s not even a ‘good-for-society’ issue. Diversity is absolutely integral when it comes to swiftly developing STEM industries.” In the article Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable –– and That’s Why They Perform Better, David Rock, Heidi Grant, and Jacqui Grey discuss how diversity can highlight differences, making teams more creative. According to the article, a 2012 study tasked three teams with designing a creative business plan for a theater. The study found that “on some teams, members were assigned distinct roles (Artistic, Event, and Finance Manager), thus increasing diversity of viewpoints. These teams came up with better ideas than homogeneous teams.”

Diversity doesn’t just foster more creativity; there are now studies that highlight how diversity can stimulate earnings. The Harvard Business Review’s Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter by David Rock and Heidi Grant references the 2015 McKinsey Report on 366 public companies, noting “that those [public companies] in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.”

Check it out.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 8, 2017

People Who Volunteer, Give Twice As Much to Charity, Research Shows

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

Many sectors of the nonprofit universe depend on volunteers, and the Arts are no exception.  We use volunteers for a variety of work, much of which we couldn't afford to hire people to do.  From office functions to performance and exhibition support, to event organizing, we cultivate volunteers and manage volunteer programs.  Unfortunately, we regard most of this effort  as simply free help.

We may offer training, and even recognition of these volunteers, but generally that's the extent of how we see them.  Perhaps we ought to be looking more intently at them as donors.

Research from Australia shows that people who volunteer for a charity (nonprofit) give, on average, twice as much as those who simply donated money.

"The lead researcher for the Giving Australia report, Queensland University of Technology associate professor Wendy Scaife, said people who volunteered gave on average $1017.11, while those who only donated money gave $536.69 over 12 months in 2015 and 2016.
"If you are a volunteer, you can see and feel and touch the difference that's being made, so you're very much aware of the need and you're very much aware of how the organisation is filling it," she said.
"Of course related to that, you can trust where the money goes because you can see it first hand. You know the people and see the practices are not wasteful, and that it's an effective solution to the problem. "
"The fact you have that extra touch point with the organisation would suggest you know a lot more about that particular cause, so you're more interested in doing more about it."

The article notes that helping people and doing something that has a positive impact motivates many volunteers, and the opportunity to network in the community with others plays a role too.

"The Giving Australia report, based on data collected from national surveys, showed people aged 35 to 44 were the age group most likely to volunteer, with 50.7 per cent indicating they volunteered.  Professor Scaife said people tended to spend more time volunteering as they aged - those in the 65-year-plus group spent 193 hours volunteering - and the average number of hours spent volunteering had increased from the 2005 average of 132 hours to 134 hours in 2016."

And the report noted too that:

"The amount of time people spent volunteering may have increased, but the percentage of people giving money had dropped from 85 per cent in 2005 to 81 per cent in 2016." 

The amount of time volunteering, and the amount people donate who do volunteer, may be different in Australia than here at home, but I suspect the underlying conclusion that volunteers donate more probably holds here too.  And I also suspect that while our volunteering may also be up, our donations may likewise be dropping.  The Australian drop off may coincide with the universal drop off post the 2008 recession.  The report also noted the older demographic tended to give more money.

I think the point is that we shouldn't necessarily come to conclusions without more data, and that we should consider that this is a source of funding that may well be expanded.

This leads to the conclusion that we might spend more time on cultivating volunteers, involving them in our work and both encouraging and facilitating increased donations on their part.  This may be a relatively untapped source of additional funding for us, and I think we are probably not taking as much advantage of its potential as we might.  It ought to rank higher as a donor source potential, and increased efforts to see if we can expand it seem worthwhile.

If a volunteer is already a donor, they probably already show up on your Development Department lists and radar screens.  But we're talking about treating volunteers as a class of donors that we can target and cultivate in specific ways, and not just as individuals who donate at a certain level.  They are certainly different from the occasional audience member donor, or the anonymous small donor, or even the major patron donor.  It's as a class of people that we might have success in expanding and keeping their ties and their donations to the organization.  And their extant nexus to the organization as a volunteer already provides for a relationship that may not exist with other donors.

So what do you do?  Unless you're a large organization, you probably don't have a staffer who spends a lot of time on organizing and coordinating your volunteer effort.  That's ok.  It needs to be a team effort, and that can include volunteers managing it. But you need to involve your development director and your E.D., along with volunteer coordinators - who include in their charge, both moving more volunteers to donate, and increasing current donor amounts.  Your volunteer effort should include ways to:

  •  Deepen and broaden volunteer involvement in the organization and their stake in its' success.
  •  Expand the number of volunteers, including those from different demographics. 
  •  Encourage volunteers to support the organization via donations - preferably through a defined      and sustained program.
  •  Amass more data on volunteer donations.
  •  Continually recognize and honor volunteer efforts.  

Something to think about.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, October 1, 2017

WESTAF Symposium on Advocacy Report

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

Last year I conducted a scan of the nation's state arts advocacy organizations for Westaf as preparation for their Symposium on Advocacy.  (See blog post here).

The scan was limited in its scope to determine which states had active general arts advocacy organizations (as opposed to state arts education advocacy organizations - though some of those spent some limited time on general arts advocacy) and the nature and extent of each state's advocacy assets and resources (e.g., paid staff, employed lobbyist, budget size et. al).  

The chief finding was disturbing.  Nearly a third of the states had virtually no functioning general arts advocacy organization.  An additional 15 % had a barely functioning organization.  That's nearly half of all states with only minimal assets and resources to carry on the important work of arts advocacy - at the federal, state and local levels.  This is a major issue for the field, and has been percolating for quite some time.  

Westaf released, last week, its report on its Symposium,  It is one of the best Symposium reports I have seen, and, though long, I urge everyone to download it, read it and share it widely.

Note:  The Symposium was held in October 2016 - a year ago, and prior to the Presidential election.  I suspect most participants anticipated a victory by Hillary Clinton.  I believe the comments, insights, suggestions and questions raised at this Symposium are as germane and relevant today as they were last year.  

There are several key take-aways, among them:  First, a fully functioning state arts advocacy arm requires:

  • Full time paid staff, (which means a budget and sustainable income), 
  • Ideally an engaged lobbyist, 
  • Real leadership (preferably with experience in advocacy and organization at the community level) and familiarity with how politics and the systems work,    
  • Buy-in and support from a substantial portion of the local arts community.  

Those exemplary state and local arts advocacy organizations in our field have substantial budgets, with a minimum in the neighborhood of $100,000.  Those organizations with that minimal (and substantially higher budgets nearing $500,000 or more) have foundation support and an involved local arts organization ecosystem support base.

Second, successful arts advocacy is marked by increasing collaboration and partnership with other sectors of the community - both public and private.

Third, rather than positioning the value of the arts as exclusively intrinsic or economic, incorporating the arts as a factor in solving community issues and making life for the community better is increasingly the benchmark for success.

Fourth, every state and every local community is different, and thus successful models will not all look alike.

Fifth, we haven't yet entirely figured out what our advocacy vision is, including who we are serving and how.

Doubtless you will come away with other take-aways, insights and be left with questions.  I couldn't quote all of the participants, nor do much more than present a surface sample of their discussion.

Here are some random excerpts from the Report to whet your appetite:

In the Symposium's Keynote, Tim Storey, Director of State Services, National Conference of State Legislatures, opined on the future of state arts funding:

"Although fiscal conditions in the states have improved, mandated expenditures in the states have increased at a rate greater than state revenues, thus largely eradicating any net gains states might otherwise experience. In addition, nationwide, the Republicans have control over more houses of state legislatures and governorships than they have had in a very long time. Although Republicans can and have been supportive of public funding for the arts, the party has a strong wing of fiscal conservatives interested in controlling and/or reducing the size of state government. This strong political undercurrent does not bode well for arts advocates who seek to increase state funding for the arts. One way to address the current crop of elected officials is to focus on the job-creating aspects of the arts and to work with state legislators to craft solutions to the evergreen challenge of job creation. Job-creation-oriented arguments are likely to appeal to the current group of state legislators far more than quality-of-life and art for art's sake arguments. The road ahead looks pretty difficult for arts advocates. They will need to be very skilled in order to retain their current budget allocations, let alone grow them in state government."

Matthew Wilson, Executive Director, MassCreative - (Massachusetts' arts advocacy arm).
● "You have to start with what I call the triad of support. You need money.  You also need an effective partnership with the state arts agency. It is imperative that you work hand-in-hand with the arts agency. You do not have to be totally in sync with the agency in terms of your strategies, but you need strong alignment on mission and goals. Finally, you need to build the broad support of the arts and cultural community. These three areas of support are what you need as a base to start.
● You need to create an effective narrative. I get concerned when the focus of advocacy is just on obtaining more money for the arts. That approach comes off as the special interest ask, which is, “Give it to us, give it to us,” and, “It is all about us.” You need to broaden that narrative to justify being the recipient of public money from the city or state. Because we are a public good, we are something that benefits the economy, enriches our education system, and builds livable communities. We have to tell that broader narrative. The work that is currently being done around public will is important to the enrichment and expansion of our narrative. 
● We can’t be shy about power and politics because they are the venue we play in. I find that politicians do things for two reasons. One is because they think something is a good idea. The other reason is because they think that something is a good idea in political terms. They need to know that the public is behind them and that, if they vote to support arts/culture-related items, they are going to get re-elected. We need to build power; we can’t shy away from it.
● We have to run focused issue-advocacy campaigns. We first need goals and a vision from which we can develop pieces of legislation. Then we can provide opportunities for people to engage. When I first took this job, people said, “It is going to be impossible to organize arts supporters or artists because they are all over the place.” That is not the case. People are eager to engage and to tell their stories, they just don’t know when to do it or how to do it. That is why Sofia Klatzker and the work she is doing in Los Angeles is so great. She is giving local folks training on how to tell their story and when to tell their story and providing them with opportunities to tell the story. That is what we try to do. We give them opportunities to tell their stories and engage because they really want to. The symphony of voices that we bring together helps us build our power.
● Also, I believe it is important to use elections. Elections are a time in our country when we talk about priorities, challenges, and the vision of our community. Over the past years, arts and culture have not been showing up at those discussions. As a result, candidates do not talk about arts and culture and, because of that, we are often left out. We must engage in elections in a non-partisan way. 
● Finally, but importantly, we need to hire political people and organizers to lead advocacy efforts. We have to understand that an arts advocacy staff with a political orientation is very important."

Pam Breaux - CEO, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies:

"At NASAA, when we look at advocacy efforts from the national perspective, we have found that the most successful advocacy efforts across the country tend to embody four strategies. I want to remind you that I am talking about advocacy today. The four strategies that tend to lift up the most successful advocacy case-making are:
● A tailored case for government investment in the arts 
● A well-mobilized, popular support effort
● Champions in positions of power and influence
● Programs that embody public value"
Pam also noted the historical reactive approach of arts advocacy:

"Our model is largely responsive, and I think that gets at something Larry Meeker noted. We respond to the current political environment. That is important, and you have to do that. But I think that by doing so, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture because you are making all of your work about that––about responding. In doing so to the exclusion of a larger vision, you are not carving out the space for that future-thinking piece, that proactive piece, that long-term piece, that eye-on-the-prize that is the game-changing piece. It is so easy to get lost in responding to the muck that is today. But I think there always has to be space to do both. It is not one or the other, but both."

And Anthony Radich, Westaf's Executive Director, noted some of the challenges facing arts advocacy:

'"State arts agencies, which tend to benefit most from the work of state arts advocacy organizations, could be more helpful to the advocacy effort. Sometimes, leadership in the state arts agency field think that their agency is something like an errant meteorite that has landed by accident on the planet of politics and state government. They find the situation problematic, and they really would rather be a private foundation that is free of government. This anti-government posture places them in a very disadvantaged position when it comes to advocacy. The agency leadership needs to realize that they were born within state government and that, in order to sustain and expand the agency’s position within state government, one needs to engage in government and politics––not be repelled by them.
A manifestation of this posture is an all-too-familiar choice that I observe almost every day. Given the choice of applying the administrative time necessary to support one more dance performance in a state or scheduling a conversation with an ornery but powerful state legislator, the additional dance performance wins more times than not. In a number of states, this balance of choice needs to be reset. State arts agencies are organs of state government, and their governing boards and staff leaders need to proactively engage in the bureaucratic and political games of state government in order to succeed.
One factor related to the relative health of state arts advocacy organizations that has not yet been mentioned is the lack of involvement of large nonprofit arts organizations in them. With some exceptions, many states have completely lost the attention and active participation of large nonprofit arts organizations. I think we all know why. When the state arts agencies were initially established, all arts groups considered them a potential source of significant annual funding. But that vision of significant funds for large arts organizations has, again, with some exceptions, not been realized. Because the original bargain was large group advocacy for potential large funding return, the large groups decided they were no longer going to actively participate in state arts advocacy because it was not worth the time and resources they needed to expend. I think the non-participation of large arts organizations in state arts advocacy is an important issue that we need to discuss further. I think we need to talk about that during the next couple of days. We need these organizations. I understand that they can be difficult partners, even obnoxious. I know; I have worked with them before. But they can be strong allies; they have very deep roots in communities. They also have really good––and often underutilized–– political connections. We need to consider ways to make use of them for state arts advocacy purposes and generally re-engage them. They are involved in this work in some states. However, in many more states, they are totally not in the picture."
In an early summary of the discussion, Virginia Gowski, WESTAF's Chair offered:

"From these presentations, I took away five “haves:” 1) Have a leader with a vision; 2) Have a plan and, ideally, a plan developed in collaboration with your state arts agency; 3) Have a story; 4) Have a champion or three; and 5) Have the courage to go for something big. 
Matt Wilson also made an important point about how we staff these organizations. We tend to staff them with arts lovers––with people who work in the nonprofit field or who are recently retired from the nonprofit arts field. We do not staff them with community activists. We do not staff them with advocates with non-arts experience.

In a discussion that followed:

Sofia Klatzker - Executive Director, Arts for LA, added:
"We need to be more concerted about how we partner with organizations. I partner with the League of Women Voters, the United Way, Community Coalition, and a cluster of other organizations. The first year of a campaign that focuses on, maybe, registering youth to vote, we'll follow their model. But we'll bring what we bring best, which is the attention and the visibility of the arts and artists. Following the first year that we work on a campaign, we are smarter, and we can actually help direct the campaign in ways that we know are more successful. Our organization partners then start to adopt some of the ways that we have been working. But we can all start incorporating the best lessons we have learned from those community-organizing experiences. The iterative learning of campaigns has been really helpful to us."

And Matthew Wilson commented:
"I would agree that it is important to engage and to learn from others. I would also say that there is no replacement for professional training. I was trained for four years to be an organizer. You talk about the lobbyists. They're professionals, and it's a real skill––it's not just something you pick up in a weekend of training. It is a skill; it is a craft.

To the point of playing the political game, Rusty Foley,  Executive Director, Arizona Citizens for the Arts, added:

"The arts community remains resistant to being engaged in the political sphere. This is even the case for those who acknowledge they are working in a political environment. Certainly, in the state of Arizona and many states throughout the West, the political orientation of the arts sector is not in tune with the political environment in most state Houses. Arts folks are very resistant to acknowledging that. One thing you learn as a lobbyist––and certainly as a corporate lobbyist–– is that you have to play the game that is on the table. It doesn't matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. If the Republicans wield the power in the state House, you better get to know them, and you better learn how to get along with them. And vice versa is true as well.
The real challenge that we have, which is unlike my experience in the utility industry, is that the public interests served by the arts really are less well defined in the minds of policymakers. We have not done a good job of explaining that public interest. Even in the day-to-day, on-the- ground activity in which we engage, very often that interest is very one dimensional. It is about the money: How much funding are we getting for the state arts agency? In this environment, especially in these times of scarcity, it is very problematic that success appears to hinge on how much money you get for the state arts agency."

John White,  InHouse Consultants, Inc.

"The money that you put toward a lobbying effort is only as good as you can direct it. What that means is you, as the constituent, have to understand the big, broad themes playing out in the body you are trying to impact.
It is your job to make sure the lobbyist you hire makes calls. It is your job to make sure that the work is getting done." 

A robust discussion on tactics, strategies, and case making, included some insightful advice to arts advocates, like that from Michael Hillerby, Director of Legislative Affairs, Kaempfer Crowell

"I received some advice early in my career that is still good today: Become valuable to someone. While becoming valuable to the chair of the Appropriations Committee would be great, becoming valuable to nearly anyone in the process who will look out for you is very important. They become like your aunt or uncle who will remind you of some of the details of the process and provide some helpful tips from time to time.

And the sage advice of Sofia Klatzker    

"Success is not just having a lobbyist. I think that point is well taken. Knowing how you are going to use someone and understanding what the value is or what you are trying to do are very important. Assessing the field, assessing leverage, applying leverage gently––I like the term gently there. It's about human relationships. Everything that we're doing is about humanity and that our roles inside that change. Who you're working with today is someone that you're going to need to expand and figure out how to leverage tomorrow."

Added Janet Brown, President and CEO, Grantmakers in the Arts

"I would argue that if we want to be successful moving forward, that it was never about us. It is always about how we do a better job of impacting the community around us. When I think about where we have gone wrong in terms of the public perception of the arts–– about institutionalized arts in our last 40 years––I believe it is because we have become specialists instead of generalists. We have taken the arts out of homes and put them in higher education programs and institutions. All of that has been specializing, specializing, specializing away from the public.
But at the same time, we have to recognize that art making includes arts and education, arts and health, arts and well-being, arts and corrections, arts and economic development. The arts are innate in all of those other activities. We have to learn how to talk about them. It certainly is a trend where funding is going. It's as if we've stepped back 50 years and said, “Oh my gosh–– now we have to be relevant!” We've lost our relevance. We’ve lost how to talk about our relevance."

In a concluding discussion on a future vision, Janet, as well as others, talked about where to focus:

"We talk about the arts, and most of the rest of the world does not know what we are talking about. I think we are talking about artists––from professional artists to the guy and gal who sing in the shower––we all have those creative abilities. We are all artists, and every community is better with artists in it. So we need to talk more about artists and less about organizations because institutions are never true or faithful. Institutions will always betray you. People will not. Artists will not. Let us define ourselves in terms of advocating for artists and arts organizations to make our lives better" 

And as the discussion moved to consider a "movement model" for the future of arts advocacy, and what kind of narrative we might embrace in positioning arts advocacy relative to our communities, Matthew Wilson suggested:

"When we talk about narratives, we talk about three stories we need to tell: The story of self, the story of us, and the story of now. I think we do a pretty good job telling the story of self. We are good at talking about ourselves and self-interests. We need to work on is the story of us. What is our broader interest in the larger community? We need to be able to create that narrative. The story of now is what we want. What is our platform actually asking for? So, for me, those are great discussions to have. The second is structure. I am just a firm believer in the need to increase capacity to do this work. So how do we create and build those models and support them? To me, it is exciting. We have potentially 50 laboratories to try to figure this out. We have 50 different states with 50 different identities. I think it would be great to focus on a few of them and figure it out and focus energy and resources and go. We can actually do this." 

The above excerpts are but a tiny slice of what was as rich and robust a discussion of arts advocacy as I have yet seen in the field.  I strongly urge you to read the report so you can get a better sense of the depth of the complexity of trying to re-envision and reimagine how the field and, in particular, individual states, might improve their advocacy situations and best prepare for future efforts.  From practical and tactical considerations to more lofty questions of vision and purpose, advocacy is a critical area for all of us,  one which is in dire need of more support.

On the practical side, for our advocacy organizations to truly be effective, each state organization needs full time, paid, experienced and trained leadership.  For far too long, arts advocacy has been a volunteer effort and that reality keeps us from being serious players in the game.  And each state needs a lobbyist.  But too often the arts have subscribed to the erroneous notion that the employment of a professional lobbyist absolves the advocacy effort from much of its work.  Turn it over to the lobbyist, and viola, problem solved.  They will do the work.  Lobbyists are only as effective as the support available to them from the client base.  And lobbyists are businesses. They will take your money and try their best for you, but you need to stay on top of them, work with them and manage a field that can support them in their endeavoring to represent your interests.

Mobilization of our own field, to zero in on effective narratives, case making and storytelling requires work - lots of work - and unless there is a paid staff, that work, as often as not, simply won't get done.  It will not perform itself.  And that staff must be experienced in community organizing and politics, as well as in the arts.  Mere passion is not enough.

Then too, mobilization of wider support - be it from other interests aligned with ours, or other agencies of government - requires considerable, time consuming additional work. Again work that takes expertise and will not do itself.

On the visionary side, while every state and every region and every local area is different, and no one cookie cutter approach will work everywhere, we still need to have some consensus and near universal buy-in as to who we serve, why and how.  We need a shared idea of what we want and how to get it.

Finally, I have long held the view that we have become intoxicated with the idea that if we just communicate our value to decision makers, and get them to understand that value, by storytelling and statistical evidence, we will ultimately win the day.  While that approach may have succeeded in maintaining the status quo, it hasn't led to realization of our objectives. It's been like running in place, and never moving forward.  Our efforts in this area are what advocacy is all about.  But politics is also about lobbying - and that is a defined game (and whether we like it or not is irrelevant), with a history, rules and players with skill sets.  Failure to engage in the game has consequences.  Elected decision makers very often base decisions on their perception of potential constituent / voter revolt (consider the NRA).  We must figure out how to develop that tool as part of our arsenal.  We haven't yet even begun to do so.

On that thread, we must ask ourselves why we haven't ponied up the individual contributions to financially establish PACs (Political Action Committees) on the state levels.

We must also ask ourselves why national players in our field, including foundations,  haven't rallied to financially support the creation and sustaining of state arts advocacy.

Too often, symposiums, summit meetings, research studies and other gatherings that try to consider big issues, publish reports that are read by few people, and end up relegated to the shelf.  That's both understandable given the demands on everyone's time, and lamentable because we ought to make the time to, as a field, address major practical and policy issues.   Advocacy ought to be on the table as a priority.  Clearly government funding is not the biggest source of our income, but it is a major piece and it's not the only decisions by government about funding that affect us.

I hope you will read the Westaf report and pass it on in your community.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit