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