Sunday, July 15, 2018

Merchandising - the Untapped Arts Cash Cow

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

When I was in the music business in the 70's and 80's, it was called the Record Business, because record sales were where the money was. Tours were done to support the release of records. Merchandising was kind of an afterthought in support of the artist's brand.   Napster changed all that, and shifted the income to touring, as music downloading and streaming dried up the cash cow of record sales - for the artists anyway.  And now touring is increasingly becoming not just a revenue source, but a tool in support of where even more money is today - in merchandising.

Touring income is still (especially for the larger stadium acts) a substantial source of income.  But merchandising is growing. Everything from the old staples of Tee Shirts and Tour Jackets, to mugs and pens and books and posters and you name it - rock and roll, as a generic form, is a merchandiser's bonanza.  The group KISS has taken merchandising to dizzying heights and their reaping untold dividends from savvy marketing and merchandising has educated the rest of the industry and likely has had an impact on the growth - industry wide - over time.

Professional athletes, at the top, have always made more money from their endorsements than from their contract salaries.  Today, some of those endorsements  (as for example, the major basketball stars athletic shoe tie-ins) are tied in to a percentage of sales and constitute major sources of income.  And all teams make money selling merchandise. The winning teams with the biggest stars do extremely well.

Not so in the nonprofit arts, where ticket sales is still the primary source of earned income (but not, in many cases, the equal of philanthropic support).  Merchandising?  Virtually non existent but for a few big museum gift shops that contribute something to the bottom line.  Many organizations make a half hearted attempt to sell shirts or calendars with the organization or artist logo at live performances, but it is an anemic exercise at best.

What about those few big organizations that do earn measurable, if not truly meaningful, income from merchandise?  As noted, the major players in this game are the big museum gift shops.  Take the Met for example.  They have multiple gift shop locations in New York and New Jersey, including at the airports.  They also, surprisingly, have locations in Australia and two in Thailand - both in Bangkok, both at high end luxury hotel branches. Museum gift shops like the Met stock all kinds of art items, and not just their own logo branded stuff.   Because their own branded stuff wouldn't fill more than a couple of shelves.

There are many other Museums across the country that have similar gift shops attached to their locations, but not multiple locations.

The same option hasn't really existed for other types of art organizations in the dance, theater, music or other disciplines - though I'm not convinced that the option isn't viable.  Take Dance - there is all kinds of dance stuff that could fill the shelves of a gift shop at the local dance venue.  And if the enterprise is really too much for a single dance company, then what is stopping a dozen or more dance companies from working together in the launch and ownership of such a retail outlet.  Not enough money if you split it so many ways?  I don't know.  I think it might be substantial.  We ought to find out.  Theater companies might have a harder time making it a go, but in addition to books, posters, CDs, and memorabilia, each company could market their own logo branded items - e.g., the traditional Tee Shits, Polo Shirts, mugs, posters, wine paraphernalia, scarves and scores of other products that might appeal to people who frequent the theater. And maybe someday we could have a chain of arts gift shops across the country that sold dance, theater, music, visual arts, film etc. etc. stuff, including locally branded logo items,  all under one roof with shared income; stand alones at venues or in malls or downtown shopping areas; cooperative stores within larger name stores; holiday pop up stores; massive online operations and more.

And individual artists might contribute signature items to supplement the inventories.  Certainly our creative artists could create beautiful, desirable, iconic products for us to market - fashion, home, educational, and more.

Yes, of course, bricks and mortar space is a critical consideration, but if the enterprise was a money maker, I'm sure the space issue could be addressed - and that public or private funding support for an answer would be possible.  Funders are always interested in supporting ways for nonprofit arts organizations to expand income, particularly on a sustainable basis.  Big lobbies of performance venues easily lend themselves to carving out enough space for a gift shop on site.  And cooperation and even partnerships with local transitional retailers could very well be do-able to put arts retail sites within their walls.  Empty malls are looking for tenants.  There are lots of possibilities.

To be sure, rock and roll and sports merchandising is built, in part, on the fanbase that sees the artist, athlete, band or team as emblematic of their beliefs, lifestyle and culture.  And that adoration is, in part, one of the drivers of their successful merchandising efforts.  The arts lack that celebrity cachet, and arguably their merchandising efforts can't match that of the music or sports merchandising industries.  But I think that argument too is built on false assumptions.  While our performers are not household names; not celebrities with huge fan bases - nor do our organizations command the intense loyalty of sports teams, there is great affection for, pride in, and goodwill towards the arts and specific arts organizations - large and small; new and established - all over the country.  The aggregate arts audiences are huge.  Arts organizations have a certain legitimacy and place in the lives of countless people across all age groups, income levels, geography and more.  I think we haven't yet made even cursory attempts to exploit the potential to merchandise the arts.  To ignore the potential is to underestimate and undervalue what we have to offer and how people think of us.

And successful merchandising is a prime component of effective branding.  For us, it could be a tool to both brand the arts generically and countless specifics arts organizations specifically.

As I have suggested before, this is the kind of thing that we might experiment with by organizing and funding a couple of pilot retail experiments during the holiday season, when many of out seats are sold and people are looking for unique gifts.  There is, I believe, a false narrative out there that holds that nonprofit arts merchandising is small potatoes and not even potentially a source of real income.  I think that is categorically wrong, myopic and costing us a potential source of a revenue stream.  We ought to find out.

But the effort has to be more sophisticated than just laying out some logo imprinted tee shirts and calendars on card tables at performances.  It has to be packaged and marketed professionally and on a sophisticated level, including being continuously sold and pre-sold at every level of the organization, including communications.  We have to create a culture wherein nonprofit arts merchandise is sought, is coveted, is regarded as cool.   That's largely marketing.  And we need to enlist some help from those who already occupy cultural adoration - and who may be arts friendly.   So if Beyonce were to wear a dance organization Tee Shirt - watch the sales go up.  There are all kinds of ways to tap into the potential of marketing merchandising for the arts.

Such an effort will take time to really grow.  But it could ultimately generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue across the sector. The money is out there.  Waiting to be spent.  We have a really good product with great potential.  We talk about income sources.  We ought not to squander the opportunity merchandising may present.

Christmas seasoning planning begins now - in July.  Maybe somebody, somewhere will pick up on the idea and interest a funder and some participants.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Arts and Aging: Interview with Aroha Philanthropies Founder, Ellen Michelson; and Executive Director, Teresa Bonner.

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

Aroha Philanthropies has been at the forefront as one of the major forces pushing for more arts and creative aging awareness and projects throughout the country and across sectors. Arts and Aging is really two separate fields:  programs and projects concerned with aging gracefully and with meaning; and programs and projects concerned with the impact of the arts and creativity on seniors with health issues; on their wellness and recovery.  Aroha is principally involved in the former - focusing on the vast majority of seniors who are healthy.  Both thrusts have gained considerable traction in the past five years, and both are at the top of areas in which the arts are moving forward rapidly with outreach, programs, projects, funding and research.

Ellen Michelson is the Founder and President of Aroha Philanthropies, and has set the vision for the organization.

Teresa Bonner is the Executive Director of Aroha Philanthropies and works closely with Ellen in all aspects of the foundation's activities, programs and projects.

Here is her Bio:
Teresa has served as the director of the U.S. Bancorp Foundation, the Piper Jaffray Foundation and two nonprofit organizations. As director of the U.S. Bancorp Foundation, Teresa managed $20 million in Foundation grantmaking annually and led the company’s community relations activities.

Teresa is a member of the Council on Foundations' 2013 Family Philanthropy Conference Task Force and the Family Philanthropy Exchange Steering Committee of Northern California Grantmakers. She served on the Planning Committee for the Minnesota Council on Foundations 2011 Family Philanthropy Symposium and is a member of the Minnesota Council on Foundations and the Association of Small Foundations. Teresa is a frequent speaker on philanthropy, most recently to California and Minnesota affiliates of the Family Firm Institute, estate planning councils and planned giving councils.

Prior to joining Family Philanthropy Advisors in 2008, Teresa was Senior Vice President and head of Business Development and Charitable Services for U.S. Bank’s Private Client Group, where she oversaw new business development and services offered to high-net worth clients, including private foundation services, grantmaking, endowment management and charitable services.

In addition to her foundation management roles, Teresa has served as Executive Director of Milkweed Editions, an acclaimed nonprofit literary publisher, and as Executive Director of the Library Foundation of Hennepin County, where she directed planning and implementation of marketing, fundraising, promotional, programming, public relations, grant administration and volunteer functions for one of the country’s largest library systems.  Prior to her work in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, Teresa was a partner in the Minneapolis law firm of Lindquist and Vennum.

Between 2001 and 2007, Teresa chaired the board of directors of MacPhail Center for Music, one of the country’s largest community music schools, where she led the transformation of that organization’s governance, successfully completed a major capital campaign for the creation of a new flagship facility, and chaired the Center’s grand opening celebrations.  She has served on several other nonprofit boards and has been a frequent panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts.  Teresa won the “Woman Changemaker” award from the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal in 2004.

Teresa graduated magna cum laude from the University of North Dakota with a degree in journalism. After completing Law School at the University of Minnesota, she served as a judicial clerk for the Hon. Gerald Heaney of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Together, Michelson and Bonner have successfully guided an initial commitment to dramatically increase the field's awareness of, and response to, the issues attendant to arts and creative aging; funded and nurtured scores of impact projects in the arena; and have directly created, and brokered, meaningful working partnerships and collaborations across sectors. They have accomplished this success by a sophisticated focusing on moving slowly and methodically, measurably building a foundation of awareness within the sector - which approach has yielded amazing accomplishments in making the arts and aging field one of critical importance in the arts and to society.   

Here is the interview with Ellen and Teresa:

Barry:  The main thrust of your and other activities in this arena has been how arts and creativity can help people age gracefully, with dignity, joy, and better and more fulfilling social engagement. In pushing those objectives, you’ve - wisely I think - spent considerable time and resources to inform and educate the arts field about the potential in this area, to train arts organizations in how they might approach providing services to their aging constituents, and to share ideas and projects that are working.  Can you comment on your development of that strategy and where we are in the obviously ongoing process of working within the arts field to expand and grow awareness of, and participation in, the arts and aging field within the wider arts sector so as to someday make arts and aging programs ubiquitous.
 Having been involved for five years, and having successfully moved the needle, what lessons have you learned so far? 

Teresa:  Thanks, Barry, for the kind words and great summary of our key strategies. Let us share a bit of background on how we got to them and where we are today.

Ellen: As an individual funder, I have supported arts education for youth for many years. In 2011, I attended a session on creative aging at the Grantmakers in the Arts conference and learned about the work of Tim Carpenter of EngAGE, which has created amazing senior arts colonies in the Los Angeles area. I knew then and there that I wanted to support arts education for older adults and began thinking about how I might approach this. When leaving the meeting I asked Tim how a small foundation could start work in this arena. He said to me “teaching artists…bring more teaching artists to this work.” That didn’t seem too difficult an idea, so Aroha started our work with teaching artists as our inspiration to dig in.

Teresa: First, as we began learning about the broad field of creative aging in 2012, Ellen and I met with Maura O’Malley and Ed Friedman, co-founders of New York-based Lifetime Arts. They had a clear vision of the potential of arts education for active older adults, what best practices looked like, and what the field needed in order to grow. Each of them brought long careers in arts education and administration to this field, and they understood how the arts education principles that undergird K-12 programs could and should be adapted for active older adults. They champion professionally led, sequential, skill-based learning in an art form over time, in a supportive environment that intentionally builds community and friendships among participants.

Ellen:  At that time, we were finding our philanthropic focus within creative aging. This type of programming was the most compelling to me personally, and we felt it was also the most underserved area of creative aging, as most arts-related programs for older adults were designed for those with dementia. We realized that very little programming was designed for the broader population of older adults, most of whom remain independent very late in life.

Teresa: Second, we saw that a field was just beginning to emerge, with programs springing up, mostly in isolation, across the country. We were surprised to find an almost complete lack of philanthropic support for it. We wanted to inspire other funders to see the potential of this work, and Ellen was motivated to personally reach out to them to build awareness.

Third, we were eager to see new programs with the potential for success and replication arise across the country. At the same time, organizations clearly needed help in developing programs that appealed to older adults. We’re great believers in the cohort model of shared learning, and so we developed “Seeding Vitality Arts” to both fund new programs and train grantees to develop and implement them. We provided this for both our first national cohort as well as our second group of Minnesota-based organizations. We’ve just invited proposals for a third cohort, which will be made up of museums of all kinds across the country.

We engaged Lifetime Arts to provide training, technical assistance and capacity-building for the grant cohorts, as they have done for library systems, arts organizations, arts councils, teaching artists and many others over the past decade. We brought the grantees together in person for a two-day training in fall 2016 and Lifetime Arts offered extensive technical assistance to them online and by phone.

We knew our grantees have much to learn from each other, and in early 2018, we re-convened our first cohort after successfully completing their first year of programming to share their successes and challenges in person. We were thrilled to see the enthusiasm with which they have embraced these programs. We’re also using Basecamp, an app that allows easy communication and sharing of ideas, photos, videos and other documentation of the work, to enable our grantees to stay in contact.

Ellen:  We’re grateful to our partners who are helping us get the word out about the potential these programs have to improve lives. Here are just a few highlights:
In terms of awareness, the National Guild for Community Arts Education began promoting arts education for older adults many years ago. It has offered and is expanding training and capacity-building programs to support its members’ desire to develop programs for this population.
Grantmakers in the Arts and Americans for the Arts have both welcomed presentations on this topic at their annual conferences.

We are now collaborating with the American Alliance of Museums to bring programs to museums of every kind across the country. We announced the RFP for our new “Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums” initiative in June, and welcomed 350 museums to apply during a webinar. We look forward to announcing a new cohort of museums beginning this journey in the fall of 2018.
The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies invited Aroha to present two briefings on this topic for state arts leaders at its biennial assembly in October 2018. We are eager to find great ways to support state agencies’ commitment to meaningful arts programs for older adults. 

Teresa:  Last, the key to expansion, we believe, lies in two areas. First, we need many more cross-sector collaborations between arts organizations and organizations that serve and/or attract older adults. This can take many forms, including collaborations that offer workshop series in senior housing communities, senior centers, faith communities and colleges that want to directly serve their communities. Second, we hope to see arts organizations that offer arts ed for the P-12 population to begin to serve older adults. Those that have done so are seeing new relationships with their stakeholders and new ways to be really entwined in the lives of their consituents and communities. In the long term, this may be much more sustainable than creating new organizations that focus exclusively on creative aging. 

Ellen: There is so much potential here, and a few examples will give you an idea of this. The Minnesota Opera created a chorus of adults 55+ and 200 people participated in an eight-week workshop series in which they learned and performed opera choruses in three languages. Organizations offering arts workshop series routinely report that they can’t meet the demand for classes. A museum in Massachusetts noted that it had tried for years to establish collaborations with a neighboring senior community without success, and that this program has changed that. A public library in Tennessee partnered with a local college’s art department to offer visual arts workshops, and the faculty as well as the participants formed a great collaboration. The list goes on and on.

Barry:  There are now countless stories of how the arts have improved the lives of real seniors.  How do we get those poignant and effective stories out and heard?  What is your overall, ongoing approach to telling the arts and aging story to the arts field, to decision makers, and to the public?

Ellen: The short and true answer is that we started very, very small and are ramping up our communication. 

I am a visual learner. I believe that inspired storytelling - in pictures, not just words - is absolutely essential. We produced several short videos that anyone can view, download and share. These videos are accessible, moving and entertaining, and we have received great accolades for them. You can view them at

 We developed a website,, and brought together many resources designed to inspire and inform readers, including research studies that demonstrate the benefits of the arts for active older adults. 

I was shocked that so few funders were aware of the field of creative aging and wanted to make a difference. In 2015, we invited a select group of public and private arts funders to day-long sessions in Palo Alto, CA and Minneapolis, MN, to learn about this field. As noted above, we’ve also conducted sessions and/or webinars for Grantmakers in the Arts, Grantmakers in Aging, Philanthropy New York and Americans for the Arts to reach a broader array of funders.

Teresa: After that, we launched our “Seeding Vitality Arts” initiatives, first nationally and then in Minnesota, with open RFPs, because we know that nonprofits pay attention to new funding opportunities. That worked beautifully – we had more than 200 applications for the first cohort! We deliberately chose grantees representing a robust variety of art forms, each of whom is part of a broader constituency with which this work can be shared. For example, our grantees are affiliated with as the American Alliance of Museums, Opera America, Chorus America, Theater Communications Group, Dance USA and more. We encourage our grantees to view themselves as leaders in this emerging movement and to share their stories with their colleagues across the country. We strongly encourage our grantees to document their work with engaging photos and videos so that they can share the stories with their stakeholders. 

We’re now ready to take on a more pro-active deliberate communications strategy. Stay tuned!

Barry:  In terms of program evaluation and research, where are we in terms of understanding and confirming the role and value of the arts in the lives of seniors?  What more do we need to do research-wise in the short and long terms?  What do we know and what don’t we know?

Teresa: This research started with Dr. Gene Cohen’s 2006 study of the arts and aging, which evaluated the impact of programs of the kind that we are supporting. His study found that the arts are indeed good for older adults. Those who participated in multi-session arts learning programs shows improved cognition (both memory and executive), improved quality of life, improved emotional wellbeing, and fewer over-the-counter medications, doctor visits and falls compared to the control group. A number of other small studies have showed similar benefits. The NEA has been particularly interested in this topic and has funded evaluations and studies. 

Dr. Julene Johnson of the University of California San Francisco has led a more recent, major study on the impact of choral singing on the health and wellbeing of older adults, and we hope to see the results published soon. 

For both our national and the Minnesota initiatives, Aroha engaged Minneapolis-based Touchstone Center for Evaluative Inquiry to help us measure the impact of Seeding Vitality Arts programs on participants. More than 700 program participants were surveyed, and grantees were interviewed. The interim results are amazing: In the first year of programming, participants reported increased creativity and mental engagement, with more than 80% saying their capacity for creative expression had improved and 77% reporting increased mental engagement. The vast majority of participants said their skills and confidence in creating art and their interest in other art forms also increased.

Ellen:  We need more research to explore the impact of arts programs on older adults. We need more studies with larger sample sizes and strong design. We hope that someday making art will be as well recognized as a boon to older adults’ health and wellbeing as exercise is today. 

Barry:  Early on, you collaborated and partnered with the Center for Creative Aging and with GIA, among others.  What other collaborations and partnerships have proven effective, and what new ones might be in the offing?  The arts are already working with special groups such as veterans and caregivers. I’m thinking about AARP, universities, more LAAs and SAAs, the NEA and NEH, Libraries, NASAA, and more.

Teresa:  We’ve already described some of Aroha’s collaborations with partners in the arts and aging fields. We are especially excited about our new partnership with the American Alliance of Museums ( AAM represents more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field. They are contributing critical thought leadership, communication and much more to make this a success. AARP has provided leadership and information on the importance of addressing social isolation among older adults, and they’ve featured one of our videos on their site. We believe that the leadership of the NEA, the NEH, IMLS, and state and local arts agencies are of critical importance in encouraging program development and training as well as signaling the importance of this topic in their respective communities.

Barry:  How much emphasis are you currently putting on the value of arts participation in senior’s social  lives?  Can you cite specific programs, projects, or grant awards which you think are, or can, have a positive effect?

Ellen: Social isolation is an enormous problem for many older adults, and it leads to dramatically worsened outcomes in health and wellbeing, so building community and social engagement are absolutely central to this work. Grantees in our Seeding Vitality Arts cohorts learn to create supportive, trusting relationships among the teaching artists and the students throughout the process. Class members share life experiences, hopes, losses, and their aesthetic views. Friendships often spring up and endure long past the workshop series.

Teresa: The midterm evaluation of our Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. cohort shows we’re on the right track. More than two-thirds of the 700+ participants surveyed reported that they had formed new and/or stronger relationships through the classes. Sixty percent said that their participation had encouraged them to participate in other community activities. We’ve received tremendously moving testimonials from participants, such as this participant in Johnson City, TN, who wrote, “We don’t need condescending, ‘thumb-twiddling’ pastimes. We need community, respect, rigor and real interaction on sophisticated levels with imaginative, involved people who expect us to be the same.” Another wrote, "It's hard to put into words what this class meant to me. I lost my husband in 2008 to lung cancer. I lost myself also. Now I feel hope... you changed the rest of my life!" These are people who participated in an 8 or 10-week workshop series.

Barry:  How would you describe and characterize the infrastructure and the ecosystem of the arts and aging field as it exists today, and where is it strong, and where does it fall short and need improvement?  By infrastructure and ecosystem, I mean the coordination and communication between all those working in this area, the funding mechanisms, the research, the convening and opportunities to exchange information and ideas et. al.

Teresa: Today, this is still a very small field. Systemic support and coordination is most evident through the National Guild for Community Arts Education, which has regularly hosted preconferences and sessions on creative aging at its national conference and plans to build a network and a conference track on creative aging in the future. We are not seeing regular, coordinated national communication by many organizations other than Lifetime Arts and ourselves, which is part of the reason we pulled many resources together on our web site, The National Center for Creative Aging continues to be a resource for those seeking information on creative aging programs.

Barry:  There has been a measurable increase in the public media coverage of the value of, and the efforts behind, the arts and aging movement.  What is the next step in getting the message out even further?

Teresa: Our grantees are playing a big role in this in their local communities. We’ve seen strong press coverage of the programs in a number of communities. National and regional associations of arts organizations will have the opportunity to help tell these stories. We hope to communicate more effectively with the aging services community, including senior housing, to bring these stories of change to many more. 

Ellen: Next Avenue, the PBS platform “where grownups keep growing,” has done a fabulous job of sharing stories of older adults’ excursions into art-making. We’ve made major grants to enable Next Avenue to add this topic as a regular part of their programming. You can read these inspiring stories at

Barry:  Much of the future of the movement to bring the arts to an aging population will depend on government policies, funding and general attitude.  Where do we stand in terms of organizing our advocacy and lobbying efforts in this arena?  Do you have any plans to mount a sort of Aroha’s Army of Arts Advocates to spearhead this kind of effort?

Ellen: What a great idea! We understand the importance of this, but we are a very small foundation and a truly organized policy advocacy initiative is beyond our scope. We could do much more to activate the advocacy of older adults – this population is ripe to contribute to this effort. Perhaps this is something that Americans for the Arts will embrace!

Barry:  What do you see as the biggest obstacles and barriers to increasing your successes, and where do you see the greatest opportunities to expand your successes further?

Teresa: We believe that ageism is at the root of the biggest challenges. Our current culture does not view older adults as creative, vital, interesting contributors. Age is generally equated with disease and decline, not a time of growth and opportunity. Sadly, as people age, they find themselves becoming invisible and viewed as irrelevant – this is a refrain that we hear over and over. As a result, programming designed to help older adults build their assets is simply overlooked.

  Funding is a big obstacle. Funders, like most others, often have ageist attitudes and don’t envision older adults as a priority – despite the fact that if being “older” starts at 55, it can be a 50-year span of time. State arts agencies have the opportunity to lead on this issue. Older adults should be considered of vital importance to their work, particularly given that within 20 years they will account for 1 in 4 or 5 people in this country.

 All of that said, it appears that this movement is trending upward. People who participate in these classes gain so much and want more – they will be advocates for its expansion. 

Barry:  If credible evidence can be mounted that the arts connection to health is valid, and those participating in arts programs are less likely to fall victim to at least certain kinds of illnesses and that they are likely to recover faster when ill, then it would seem that the insurance companies would be very likely willing funders of our efforts as their bottom lines would improve.  Have you or anyone representing the arts yet held any preliminary discussions with insurance companies about their support, and perhaps participation in the research?

Ellen: Again, this is a very good idea, Barry. We highly value research, but our emphasis is on program development, training, capacity-building and advocacy. Given our very small size, we have to stay focused, so this will be for another day. 

Barry:  In the beginning, you were somewhat of a lone voice funding the arts and aging area.  Where is the larger funding community at today in terms of joining your efforts and what are you doing, in addition to your presence and sessions at GIA, AFTA and other convenings and trainings, to recruit other funders?

Teresa: We are sharing the results of our work with other funders and cultivating relationships with those who are interested. We have invited a couple of funders to join us in the museums initiative and hope that they will get involved. Again, we think that state and local arts councils are key to prioritizing this work within the broader arts landscape. If they signal that this is a priority, we believe that their local philanthropic institutions will also begin to think about how they can contribute.

Barry:  Is there an overall or unifying strategy on your part to make sure all of the various arts disciplines are involved in arts and gaining programs and projects.  Not necessarily a quota system, but some kind of plan that systemically involves everyone - dance, theater, visual arts, museums, film, crafts, music?  

Teresa:  We have designed the initiatives and chosen grantees to showcase the ways these programs work with virtually every art form. It’s been a major criteria in choosing grantees, as has geographic and cultural diversity.

  Happily, the grantees have taken this and run with it. They have offered workshop series in so many art forms: jewelry making, 3D printing, graffiti art, songwriting, playwriting, ukulele, dance, video memoir, analog and digital photography, quilting, sculpting and so much more. 

When arts organizations think of programs for older adults, they sometimes think only of writing memoirs or singing songs from the 40s and 50s. While this appeals to many, it’s not for everyone. We want more, better programs!

Barry:  Is there a one stop Clearinghouse Website that incorporates all of the efforts and resources of all of the organizations working in the arts and aging field?  And if not, might that be a project you would consider underwriting?

Teresa: There really isn’t a one-stop shop at this point. We have tried to pull a lot of resources together on our website, including inspiring programs, supportive research, and more, but it is not the comprehensive website that you describe. Such a site would definitely have value, but we also recognize that it will be only as good as the work it takes to keep it updated and current. At this point, we’re not aware of an organization in a position to take this on, and I’m not sure the field is big enough to support yet another stand-alone service organization.

Barry:  Who or what impresses you for their work in this arena?   Where ought we be looking for ideas and inspiration beyond ourselves?

Ellen: We’re inspired by every person who has taken the leap into a creative life and wants to tell their story, as well as every organization that has stepped outside its comfort zone to offer this programming. For most people, this is new territory.

Several organizations have created lasting, vibrant programs, such as MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis, which enrolls hundreds of older adult students in group and individual classes; San Francisco Community Music Center, which has collaborated with the City’s aging services divisions and is now receiving city funding; Young@Heart Chorus in Massachusetts, which has been going strong since 1982 and is the subject of an amazing documentary; and Bihl Haus Arts, which has been offering arts programs in senior centers San Antonio, TX, since 2007.

Barry:  Where do you see Aroha in five years?

Ellen: Hopefully, Aroha will have brought in other funders who see the value of creative aging programing. Greater funding streams are critical to keep the work moving forward. We are always seeking innovative ways to bring the inspiring message of creative aging to the greater public. Innovative ways could mean we will have aligned our work with talented artists who believe creative aging is important in all of our lives. It would be wonderful if older adults could share/present their work alongside a known artist’s work in a public performance/exhibition. This would help disseminate the value of creativity to a much larger audience across the United States. We will have aligned ourselves with many, many more national, regional and local organizations who want to do this work. We will have more people in the game working alongside us. 

With what I have just written, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we weren’t needed in five years? Perhaps creative aging programs will become ubiquitous, and arts, senior service and senior residential organizations will know how to offer them successfully!

Thank you Ellen and Teresa.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Feminization of the Field - Gender Imbalance

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

I ran across an article on the Ladders website that noted the vast differences in the words that men use on their resumes vs. the words women choose.

'The study analyzed over 200,000 resumes from around the world in four key job sectors — financial services, IT, management consulting and retail — looking at the lexical, syntactic and semantic differences in the text that distinguish male and female resumes from each other. The results found that 90% of the Top 10 words men used in male resumes are powerful proper nouns and nouns. Interestingly only 68% of the Top 10 terms on female resumes use the same."

The book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, popularized the notion that society has acculturated men and women in dramatically different ways, resulting in the gender's experiences, expectations, thinking, and behavior being markedly different from each other.  To be sure there exists many still unexplained biological and learned differences that may account for how men and women approach life and living differently, despite the predominance of similarities between the genders.

The culture has always placed different pressures on the genders, imposed different restraints and limitations, inflicted different expectations and awarded different privileges and rewards.  Men have generally benefited from society's preference for male dominance and leadership, and the relegation of women to child rearing and homemaking.  It is really only recently that women have been given equal opportunity or equal access to the countless ecosystems in which men dominate - challenging the traditional roles of men as hunters and women as gatherers; men as in charge, women as the followers.  The world has long suffered immeasurable damage from the limitation of decision making residing almost exclusively in men.    

So it is not surprising that men and women are conditioned and programmed to see the world differently.  Each gender brings different life experiences and different perspectives on any and all decision making.

Despite the causes of our differences, whether by nature or nurture, like any demographic category, men and women do bring different assets and liabilities to the table.  

In the arts, we have been trending, for decades now, in a different direction.  Rather than fewer women in the ranks of arts administrators, including leadership positions, there are more women employed than men.  We suffer that imbalance within our staffs, and likely on many boards too.

According to an American for the Arts study cited in a GIA study on arts workplace diversity authored by Antonio Cuyler:

"Americans for the Arts (2013) studied the salaries of arts managers who work in local arts agencies (N = 753). Approximately, 86 percent of the full-time respondents self-identified as white, and 72 percent as female."

As increasing numbers of new hires in the field have graduated from an arts administration program, that imbalance is likely to continue for the foreseeable future as women far outnumber men enrolled in university arts administration programs.  According to a report on the feminization of the field authored by Erica Weyer Ittner:

"In 2010, 70 percent of the individuals attending arts administration programs in colleges and universities were women (Gaskell).  As women become the primary jobholder in a particular field it is deemed feminized, or gendered."

The feminization of a field has often been accompanied by it being patronizingly regarded as less important than a male dominated area.  Indeed, public funding for the arts may be negatively impacted because elected decision makers regard it, and its nonprofit status, as simply inferior to the private sector and not the equal in terms of value as male dominated enterprises.  Women, and the arts field, have had to confront that kind of prejudice for a long time.

But any endeavor dominated by specific demographic groups faces the challenge that's its institutional memory and its organizational perspective is thereby compromise and limited, and, as a result, it decision making apparatus lacks perspective and depth.

Diversity is a lofty goal for two principal reasons:  1) the fairness and equity social justice issue - i.e., no group should be excluded from sitting at the decision making tables anywhere.  Society benefits from all demographic groups being represented and having input access, and 2) decision makers, organizations, communities and society itself all benefit from having differing perspectives, differing life experiences represented at the decision making point - including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age and gender

And so, we must ask whether we have lost or are losing, to some extent, the male perspective in the nonprofit arts -- as fewer males are in, and are coming into, the field?  That may be ultimately unhealthy, in the same ways that any inadequate representation - of whatever demographic category - is.  Having primarily only one gender perspective hamstrings all our decisions and limits us - in way we might not even fully understand or appreciate.  It's simply unhealthy for a female skewed ecosystem to dominate the field, much as it is for a white male dominated cohort to dominate it.  If we are to do a credible job at truly engaging our communities and providing services to the whole of our society, we need to get to an inclusive balance.

So we need to examine the reasons why the arts administration field grew to be female dominated, and ask questions such what are the short and long term trends?;  how can more of a balance be achieved?; and what are the predictable negative and positive consequences of the trend continuing?  We need to know the extent to which the female domination of the sector is at the lower ranks, and not in the higher leadership positions; whether or not pay inequity still exists between the sexes, and to what extent, in our field, and the extent to which comparative low pay vs. other fields keeps people of both sexes from entering the arts; why more men are not enrolling in, and graduating from university arts administration programs; and how we can move to a more balanced gender situation in our field -- at all levels -- while, of course, making progress on all the other diversity fronts that challenge us.

We need data and numbers and then a more intense examination and look at the situation, its ramifications and what we can and should do about the challenges.

Real and full diversity isn't easy.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Top Ten Nonprofit Arts Brands

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

For longer than a hundred years, in America and across the planet, companies, enterprises and organizations, both public and private, have been branding their goods and services to implant in the public mind their quality and value, including their accolades, and to entice that public to support them.  Recognition, familiarity, trust, and interest are the success benchmarks.

From Coca Cola to Kleenex to "Scotch" Tape, companies have sought to associate their name brand with the essence of the product.  And not just with their products, but with their companies themselves/  From General Motors to General Electric.  More recent additions to the brand success stories include the iPhone and Apple, Google, and Facebook.  Uber quickly became synonymous with private taxi service, while Airbnb meant an alternative to hotels - which hotels had spent considerable effort, time and money to brand themselves.  The New York Times has seemingly been around, and at the forefront of news gathering, forever.

Indeed, the goal is for the brand to first become widely known and recognized.  But equally important  - to be recognized for a superior product or service at a good value.  And now we have seen a ratcheting up of the importance of a company's image as a responsible corporate citizen as part of the brand.

Establishing a widely known and trusted brand usually takes time, effort and money.  While it use to take a considerable period of time to establish a brand, today the time factor seems to have been lessened - e.g., iPhones and Apple's meteoric rise in less than a decade.  Procter and Gamble took decades to really establish TIDE as the premier detergent. Google took far less time to be recognized as the search engine.  Advertising support geared to brand identity establishment still plays a significant role, but today word of mouth, social networking platforms and the internet in general can greatly speed up the process, and there is considerable effort to use those tools.  And nothing works like mass usage over time.

Still, establishing a brand it isn't easy.

Brand identity can be global as in the case of certain products or services, like smart phones, luxury cars, airlines, fashion and the like.  But it can also be localized and regional as in the case of certain supermarket chains, restaurant chains and more.

In the nonprofit arts, there are brands established at various level of recognition and in various territories as well.  Virtually every arts organization is committed to establishing and enhancing their brand.  Here then is a subjective list of the TOP TEN ARTS BRANDS -- the ones mostly widely known:

  • Museums:  The most recognized brands in the field are The Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.  Both have been around for a long time, enjoy substantial numbers of domestic and international visitors, receive ample press and media coverage and offer an impressive product based on massive collections.  They have successfully achieved destination status.
         There are a number of regional museums - from the Guggenheim to the Getty - that have solid brands as well, but arguably cannot compare with these two top entries.

  • Dance:  While the Joffrey and the American Ballet are fairly well known, it is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater that seems to have the most widely recognized and powerful dance brand.  That achievement is, in part, because of the near canonization of its' principal - Alvin Ailey, and the media hype that has long surrounded the company
          Again, there are a number of local / regional companies that are widely recognized as well.

  • In music, the New York Philharmonic is probably the most widely known brand.   Having celebrity artist relationships, as in the case of Leonard Bernstein, helps establish a brand, as does length of time in existence.
          There are likely a dozen other widely known orchestras and symphonies around the county - in Los Angeles, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Houston and elsewhere - that have enviable brands as well.

  • And, of course, in Opera, is is the New York Met that dominates as the brand most people recognize.  Their movie theater offerings have helped cement their brand position.
          Note: As New York has, for so long, dominated arts culture institutions, in part because of their longevity and their media exposure, large funding streams, their major cultural institution brands are more established that those of other areas.   

  • In Theater, the company brands are all more regional and diffuse.
  • And for Performing Arts Centers, while there are some spectacular ones around the country, it is the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, certainly due in part to its national Kennedy Center Honors television specials and its designation in Washington D.C. as the nation's center, that has the dominant brand.
  • We now have literally hundreds of major arts festivals in towns and cities, small and large.  But the most widely recognized festival  brand is likely the Sundance Film Festival.
  • In our own insular world, with brands limited to success within that field - that of arts managers and administrators - the two biggest brands are: 1.  the NEA - for us because of its grant program, research and leadership.  And to the public, unfortunately because of its political hot potato status as the whipping boy of the conservative right wing.  2.  Americans for the Arts - because of its umbrella housing of a number of segments of our field, and because of two of its principal activities:  advocacy in support of continually saving the NEA, and research on the economic benefits of the arts - is the most widely recognized and known arts service provider organization.  
          Again, there are a number of growing brands within our field, but none yet have the brand identity of AFTA.

  • And finally, also limited to our field, in the area of communications and publications, Arts Journal - the arts news aggregator with a substantial following - has established a solid brand.
All of these brands are impressive. All took time to build.  This list is purely subjective and not intended to diminish or exclude any of our excellent organizations.  People may disagree and support other brands as more important.  This is just meant to spur on some thinking about brand identity.

Hopefully, your organization is on its way to establishing your own solid, respected brand within your field and territory.  

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Apple Update to Show You Just How Much Time You Spend on Your Device - But Do You Want to Know

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

We are all guilty, to some extent, in overuse of our smart phones, tablets, and computers in our over reliance on social media, emails, web surfing and the like.  But to what degree, and wherein lies the harm?

In an article in Business Insider, the author previews "a new feature in the iPhone operating system which shows how much time you spend on your phone".  The feature is coming to your phone as part of the IOS 12 update this fall.

"It collects data on how many times you use your phone and how many times you pick it up. It also includes statistics on which apps you use most, and how many notifications you receive."

After using the feature, he was shocked at how many hours a day he is on his phone"

"Before I looked at these stats, I didn't think I had a phone problem. I've actively tried to limit notifications, and I try really hard not to check my phone during meetings or conversations, so I'm not being rude to people around me.
I'm still not sure if I have a phone problem, but I may simply be in denial. The fact is that I'm using my phone for a huge number of my waking hours — a way higher percentage than I would have guessed without these stats."

And he adds that even Apple CEO Tim Cook was surprised by his personal usage:

"I've been using it and I have to tell you: I thought I was fairly disciplined about this. And I was wrong," Cook said in an interview with CNN. "When I began to get the data, I found I was spending a lot more time than I should."

Being tethered to our devices, constantly checking email and feeling we have to respond immediately to everything sent us, unreasonable and perhaps even irrational addiction to the whole array of social media sites, compulsive web searching even when it's clear that the information and data we are unearthing probably has little or nothing to do with what motivated us to look for it in the first place, the distraction of wild goose chases we go on as a result of our undisciplined curiosity -- has caused us lots of lost and wasted time, stress, anxiety, and other problems.

And that time squandered has serious impact on our work, our private lives and our organizations.  It can, and does, result in:

1.  Interference with our ability to focus and concentrate on work at hand, impacting our finished product.

2.  A negative impact on our personal lives, free time and family mental health.

3.  A negative cost in terms of interpersonal relationships and the creative and positive other benefits of those relationships.

4.  Misuse of limited available time in addressing the challenges facing an organization.

Doubtless, there are many more reasons why we have been long counseled to rein in our addiction to our phones and other devices, and to install some self-discipline in the usage.  And this is seen as important for not only us, but for our friends, everybody in our families, and our work colleagues too.  For too many people, the first thing they do in the morning and the last thing they do at night is to check their phones or tablets.  When the internet connection is lost, we panic.  And all of this is new in just the past decade.  Clearly, some of us are in denial about having a problem.  And probably most of us have an erroneous idea of how much we use our phones and tablets.  Think about it.

So this fall, if you install the IOS 12 update, you will be able to shock yourself by knowing exactly how many hours you are using the device, how many times you pick up your phone or tablet each day, which apps dominate your usage and more.  And then, maybe, that information and the conclusions you can draw, will motivate you to do something to alter your behavior.

What can you do?  As the article indicted, there are already some apps that will allow you to discipline your usage, though virtually all of them will allow for manual overrides. Still, it will be instructive if you end up using those overrides on a frequent basis.  Even without those apps you can resolve to limit your usage to certain hours, a certain number of times, or even to forego some of the social media you use, but might be better of without.  Failure to stick to your resolutions will tell you something about your usage.

The thing is, almost everybody is likely guilty of overuse and over dependence on our devices and being tethered to the internet.  We have become the prisoners of the technology that was suppose to free us.  It is affecting our independence, our ability to relate on human terms to other people, our sleep, our work and productivity, and there are very likely small and large health impacts - from headaches to eye strain to who knows what  - all to degrees we aren't even fully aware or appreciative of.  Few of us think about our surrender of control at all.  And, of course, there is the stress that the control by our devices causes us.

I wonder what would happen to the world, or just America, if there was a national Off the Grid Day when all of us turned the devices off and didn't use them for 24 hours?  Would the world end?  Probably, the only impact would be that the demand to get back on in the first two minutes after the 24 hours ban was over, would crash the grid everywhere.

Good luck in finding ways to temper your own use that will improve your life, your relationships and your work.  I'm sure you can do it.  You'll excuse me, I've got to go check my emails.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Common Failing of Both the Utilitarian and Intrinsic Arguments for the Arts

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

Note:  I'm a little - but I hope only a little - off schedule for the next few weeks due to doctors and tests.  Once the medical ecosystem gets ahold of you, it becomes increasingly hard to escape them.  

LOGIC is no match for EMOTION:
We have debated, for decades now, whether we are better off using the utilitarian or the intrinsic value of the arts argument when seeking to expand public funding or public value.  We have embraced the economic argument as a means to convince legislators to fund us in the face of opposition.  What we are really doing is giving them a credible defense to supporting us - "Hey, I vote for arts support because it is good for the local economy and thus my constituents."

The same may be said for the intrinsic argument - the arts are valuable for their own sake as "they enhance the quality of life for the individual and thus the community."

Most, but not all of us, favor using both arguments, or whatever works.

But both the utilitarian and the intrinsic arguments ignore the growing evidence that logic arguments, of which both utilitarian and intrinsic - though a little less for the intrinsic camp - use, aren't the kinds of arguments that are the most persuasive.   Emotional appeals work best, in part, because the content of the argument is often secondary to the emotion it elicits, and often that depends on how the argument is delivered.   Click here for some quotes on why emotion works better than logic in certain kinds of arguments.

Indeed, there is growing evidence that the kind of argument that works best in all situations is almost never a logic argument, but rather an emotional appeal.  Appealing to one's logic and appreciation for data and facts, is never as effective as appealing to one's emotion.  Stories about the value of the arts economically, or the value of the arts for their own sake, if personal and compelling, and if they appeal to our emotions, are far more effective in getting whatever it is we want than trying to convince someone of the rightness of our logic.

The bottom line is that while logical conclusions, based on data or numbers or just common sense, may provide cover for decision makers, emotional arguments that tug at the heartstrings are potentially capable of changing people's attitudes and positions, and converting the nonbelievers into believers.  Logic is often merely a temporary tool and convenient excuse for supporting us.

That is not to suggest we not use either, or both, the utilitarian or intrinsic arguments.  Rather that we ought to couch those arguments in the form of emotional stories that humanize them in ways people can't help but relate to.

I have long personally subscribed to the belief that if you want to win legislators to your side, nothing is as effective as campaign contributions and support, but as we cannot mount the wherewithal to play in that league, we basically depend on arguments.  While logic arguments have worked for us, the question looms as to whether or not we have really capitalized on the emotion potential that can bulwark our arguments.  I think we need to seriously  consider just how truly effective the logic arguments have been, and reexamine the value of purely emotional appeals - at least in the circumscribed context of trying to convince decision makers and the public.  .

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Report Shows Precariously Low Cash Reserves for Most Arts Organizations

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

Earlier this month, the National Center for Arts Research at SMU released a report on Working Capital, which found, not to anyone's real surprise, that a majority of arts organizations have relatively small levels of reserve capital to handle current and unexpected expenses.  Not surprising was the finding that museums had larger working capital reserves than did performing arts organizations.  What was somewhat surprising was the finding that smaller budgeted organizations had larger relative cash reserves than did larger budgeted organizations, due in part to their smaller fixed expenses allowing them to be more nimble.

While the study found an average of five months working capital across the sector, it noted that the majority of organizations had considerably less reserves as the results were skewed by the fact that working capital was concentrated in larger organizations and especially art museums.  Moreover, and perhaps most troubling is that there has been a decline in available working capital for most organizations.  Fifty-five percent of organizations had less working capital relative to expenses in 2016 than in 2013.

"...we found that some museums exerted a particularly dominating influence on working capital. To better reflect the overall museum experience, we looked at the median (i.e., midpoint in the range) level of working capital. Here, a more sobering figure emerged: the median art museum’s 2016 working capital was only 1.5 months, compared to 13.4 months for art museums on average.
Performing arts sectors broadly exhibited a more precarious liquidity position: they held from 2 weeks to 4 months of working capital and collectively averaged just 1.7 months’ worth.  Operas, theatres, and orchestras averaged one month of liquidity or less."

This, despite ongoing efforts across the sector to emphasize the importance of adequate capitalization, including GIA's multi-year effort in the area.  The reasons vary within sub-sectors in the field, and for individual organizations, but cuts to public and private funding, competition for scarce donor dollars, economic uncertainty, and poor planning and management by individual organizations are largely the cause.  Much of this is unavoidable and out of our hands.  But not all of it.

"Overall, NCAR’s research showed that the majority of arts and culture organizations are cash-strapped. Average working capital for performing arts organizations, as well as for half of the museums, is equivalent to fewer than two months of total expenses."

So what?  Living hand to mouth for many arts organizations is the norm, and has been for some time. And many do not see what they can do to fundamentally change that reality.  The expenses won't go away, and if they are to pursue the organization's vision, those expenses are necessary.

But the White Paper accompanying the study suggests some practical and real things arts organizations can actually do to mitigate the downside of inadequate working capital.  Among those suggestions:

1.  Face the Challenge.  Organizations can't make the situation go away by ignoring it.  It is essential to figure out how much reserve capital you need for times of limited cash flow and for opportunities that arise that require extra cash.  A long term plan is necessary, and then the hard part:  you have to budget to the plan and make reserves the priority, even if that means you need to cut back somewhere else.

"Organizations primarily build working capital through the generation and set aside of surpluses. When arts leaders budget to the zero mark – often because they are encouraged to do so by board members or some funders – they unintentionally perpetuate a starvation cycle. They spend every last dollar of revenue raised or earned, making it impossible to create short- or long-term savings."

2.  Fundraising needs to go beyond the traditional budget cycle and include fundraising specifically for cash reserves.

3.  The Board must set specific policies governing the use and replenishment of savings, and insist on sticking to those policies.

4.  Unrestricted liquidity as a financial planning goal has to always come first.

Funding for the arts will likely continue to demand ever increasing time and human resources to simply stay the course.  Public and private funding for the arts will continue to be challenged by other competing causes, by economic uncertainty and downturns, and by shifting public policy priorities; all of which will be complicated by the arts ability to generate earned income tempered by the public's changing preferences for the way it accesses art and other forms of leisure activity and entertainment.  That reality is all the more reason organization survival will depend on smart money management and self-discipline which includes hard decisions, and continuous effort to generate and manage cash reserves.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Arts and Voter Registration Drives

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

It's hard to watch the news on television.  Senseless tragedies mingled with continuing political insanity as background noise to the ongoing polarization of America and the threats to a free press, democracy and truth itself.   That seems true no matter what side you're on.

And the threats aren't confined to America. The world faces increased authoritarianism, over population, climate change, wealth concentration, unbridled technology seemingly regulated only by greed - and the potential of war gotten out of hand, pandemics and God knows what else.  Add to that the reality that almost every human being on the planet has their own serious issues - be they health, financial, emotional or whatever.

It can be depressing and discouraging.

And hard to remind oneself that the world survived the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Plague, World Wars I and II, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and more.  And the odds are that we will survive the threats of today as well -- as nations, as individuals.  The problem is that History, Earth and Mother Nature exist on an almost infinite timeline.  We, unfortunately, don't.  Things are more urgent to us because time is so precious.

So, what can we possibly do in the face of all that is going on that concerns us?  We're not in control, we have limited power, lots on our plates,  and action is difficult to realize.

The Arts, of course, can and do, as they always have, call attention to what is going on, and increase awareness and generate momentum to action.  The Arts can play a role in aggregating individual responses to whatever threatens.   Those responses can take a hundred different forms.

One relatively simple thing we can do, is we can encourage people to vote.  To become aware of the issues and what is at stake, and then vote for candidates they believe will address those issues.   This November's election may be the most important election of our lifetimes.  It may well determine the future of the country and of our democracy for decades or longer.  We are in camps - at odds with each other as perhaps at no other time since the Civil War.  The upcoming election will tell us how we intend to grapple with the threat to who we are as a people.

But you can't vote, unless your registered.

And it seems to me that's where the Arts can most readily play some role.  We can use our venues, our performances and exhibitions, and our events to set up voter registration tables to encourage those not registered to do so, and to encourage everyone to vote in November.  It is very likely that most of the people who interact with us as audiences will already be registered.  But not all of them.  This may be particularly important targeting cohorts that may have a lower percentage of voter registration - including some multicultural groups and younger people.  We talk about being engaged with our communities.  What could  be more engaging?

Most states apparently have no, or very few, regulations or restrictions on registering new voters.  You would need to contact your state's Secretary of State, or Election Commissioner, or even your County Registrar of Voters about what you need to do to set up a voter registration table at your venue, event, performance or exhibition, and what the rules and regulations of such an effort might entail, but it would seem that this isn't a difficult process.  You need the voter registration forms and an action plan as to how to go about your drive.  There is support via the internet - just Google voter registration drives / booths - and you can also easily google your state's / county's voter registration offices to find out what rules govern action in your area.  I suspect that a couple of hours of a staff person't time could answer all the questions regarding such an effort, and then you can recruit one or two volunteers from your base - and they can't recruit others - to bring the plan to fruition.

We need to encourage people to vote in November.  Of course, we hope that those that come to our arts performances, events, etc. will vote for candidates who support the arts.  But there are, as everyone knows, bigger issues and much at stake.

This may be a very small effort, but over a few months, multiplied by hundreds, or even thousands of organizations around the country it can have a positive effect.   And it's something.  It may help to give us a sense that we have, at least, some control over the events that dominate the news.  And remember, we aren't the only ones out there who understand the importance of voting in November.  Everyone can appreciate this election's importance.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Does Your Organization Have a "Story" Bank?

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

Stories have long been part of our "case making" process.  Though anecdotal, our stories, particularly of our supporters, audiences, volunteers, and donors complement other kinds of data and evidence we use to make our case to funders, the media, the public and our own constituent base.  The stories are important because they play to the human side of the equation, often giving context and meaning to our other arguments as to our value.

In advocacy, for example, we are encouraged, in personal meetings with elected officials, to always have someone with us who can tell a personal story as to how what we do has personally impacted them in a positive way.  That impact can be anything from an education, health or even emotional  benefit.  Stories give our arguments a human component and thus make other arguments more understandable and meaningful.

A Story Bank is a way to collect stories from people involved in our organizations and to organize and make those stories more easily and readily available.  Rather than having to identify an appropriate story every time we might have use for one, a Story Bank is a readily available, ongoing catalog of those stories, which can be used for a myriad of purposes.

In a post by Wendy Levy, Executive Director at the Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, she notes:
"A storybank is a mechanism for capturing and sharing stories in a variety of mediums. If we don’t capture our stories and share them, they’ll disappear.
But stories are more than just currency. They are footprints, chronicles of our collective human experience, exchanges, lessons, memories and maps."

I would urge every organization to set up a Story Bank as a repository of stories relevant to the organization.  Those can chronicle personal impact and value, can preserve the organization's history and legacy, and can categorize beat practices and past mistakes.  While data and evidence based decision making is essential, stories can give data and evidence meaning, and enhance how we use data and evidence to make smart decisions.  It is our stories, particularly of impact and value, that support the argument of the preference for the intrinsic value of the arts.

There are all kinds of stories:  Stories that changed the direction of a young person's life; stories that gave meaning and helped the health care of a senior; stories that helped to bridge divides between people in a community; stories about the sheer joy of beholding something of beauty; stories about well spent afternoons or evenings in the company of friends.  Our stories are unlimited and endless.  And they need a place to live.  They can help us, inform us, and remind us of who we are and what we do. They can be used as evidence, in reports and even evaluations, in marketing and publicity and to help form our best decisions.  And over time, they lend perspective to where we've been and where we're going.

So how do you set up a Story Bank.  Start by surveying your own staff and Board and ask them for their stories as to how the organization and the arts have influenced and impacted their lives, and why they value the arts.  This doesn't have to be complicated, nor do the stories need to be epic tomes.  A paragraph of a personally told anecdotal story is often enough. Try to start your story database there, then when you have that foundation, move on to your supporters, donors, volunteers, and don't forget the kids - whose stories are often the most poignant and impactful.

Finally, move to your audiences.  Send out simple surveys.  Set up a table at your event to encourage people to include their stories. Give them examples.  Make it simple, and fun.  Ask people if you can call or email them to do a very quick interview, then create a template of two or three interview questions designed to get their story.  Figure out ways to reward your story tellers.  Generally, people like to tell their stories.

Over time you will have created a Bank of Stories that you, your staff and Board and others can tap into to make the case for your organizations on multiple levels.  That bank can help the organization for years.  If possible, you can create a separate website to house all the stories and make it accessible to the public, to the media etc. - or at least include a story section on your main website.

The folks at FamiliesUSA - a site devoted to family healthcare - have created an excellent Toolkit, including video instruction, on how how to create, collect and manage a Story Bank.  Excellent resource.

Stories are powerful.  But you need to organize and catalog them to make them accessible to you - and others - so as to make them easily available and to capture their power.  They do little good hidden away and forgotten.  Give them the light of day.  This needn't take away precious staff time; it's a perfect project for a volunteer to organize.

Good luck.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, April 23, 2018

If Multi-Tasking Has Been Discredited as Not Working - Why Do We Continue to Embrace the Concept?

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

For a long time, the ability to simultaneously juggle multiple assignments - to multi-task - has been a required skill for arts administrators.  Our job announcements list it as necessary.

The reason we have embraced this concept is likely that our workloads have become ever more demanding and complex, while our time has grown ever scarcer.  We simply lack the financial resources to employ a sufficient number of people to get the work done, and so each of us must take on a greater and greater work load.  This is particularly true for smaller organizations with small staffs.  We juggle, we attempt to multi-task.  We try to do several things at once.

But the evidence is very strong that multi-tasking not only doesn't work - it is counter productive, and may slow us down rather than enabling us to get more done.

According to an article in Health:

"Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn’t save time. In fact, it will probably take you longer to finish two projects when you’re jumping back and forth than it would to finish each one separately.  
What you call multitasking is really task-switching, says Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” he says."

So multi-tasking is really a misnomer.  We constantly switch between tasks.  Too often we switch back and forth, and suffer the same negatives that are associated with multi-tasking.

In a Los Angeles Times piece reposted in Psychology Today, Steve Chawkins noted that Dr. Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor, who was the director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab, noted that multi-tackers:

"showed impaired cognitive processing, which is necessary for effective multitasking and deep thought. His research looked at three skills: filtering, working memory management, and task switching. Filtering is the ability to focus on the relevant and ignore the irrelevant. Working memory management is the ability to organize information and retrieve it efficiently. Task switching involves the speed at which someone is able to move from one task to another. In all three areas, Dr. Nass and his colleagues found that multitaskers performed quite poorly.
"In an NPR interview, Dr. Nass described multitaskers as "suckers for distraction and suckers for the irrelevant, and so the more irrelevant information they see, the more they're attracted to it." He also discovered that multitaskers tend to be worse at managing their working memory and slower at switchhng from one task to another."

As reported in the Psychology Today article, Chawkins's LA Times article noted that:

"Dr. Nass was especially concerned to find that "people who regularly jumped into four or more information streams had a tougher time concentrating on just one thing even when they weren’t multitasking "

The Health article noted a dozen reasons why multi-tasking may be a bad idea, including:

  1. "It's stressful," and that stress is not without consequences.
  2. "You're not actually good at it."  
  3. It wastes time.  "Psychiatrists and productivity experts often recommend OHIO: Only Handle It Once. It basically means if you take something on, don’t stop until you’ve finished it. The problem with multitasking, though, is that it makes Only Handling It Once a near impossibility—instead, you’re handling it five or six times, says Winch. “If you’re going to stick to this principle, you need to be disciplined and plan out your day so that when a distraction arises or a brilliant idea occurs to you, you know that there will be time for it later.”
  4. "It’s dampening your creativity.  Multitasking requires a lot of what’s known as "working memory," or temporary brain storage, in layman’s terms. And when working memory’s all used up, it can take away from our ability to think creatively, according to research from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Too much focus can actually harm performance on creative problem-solving tasks,” the authors wrote in their 2010 study. With so much already going on in their heads, they suggest, multitaskers often find it harder to daydream and generate spontaneous “a ha moments.”

Another online article authored by Simone Smith in 15Five, adds:

  1. "More Tasks = More Mistakes. This is a logical consequence of the lack of focus characteristic of multitasking. When doing several things at once, your mind is divided between them so it’s only natural that your mistakes will multiply. And according to the Stanford research, multitaskers are terrible at filtering out irrelevant information. That means that there is sure to be some mental cross-firing and overlap between tasks."
  2. "It affects your memory.  In 2011, the University of California, San Francisco published a research study showing how quickly shifting from one task to another impacts short term memory."
  3. It causes anxiety.

So why do we continue to believe multi-tasking is a positive attribute; one essential to our work?

Clearly, all of us have a lot on our plates.  Different tasks that have to get done every day; frequently too much really.  But the evidence suggests that trying to deal with all these things at the same time is counter productive and a poor use of our time.  Better to focus on one at a time, than to have several open at once.  

And just like when we were students, many of us likely procrastinate, and instead of starting work in earnest when an assignment first materializes, we postpone diving into it until it registers with us that the completion date is at hand. That's unfortunately a bad habit we need to unlearn. So the key may be prioritization, and getting an early start on new tasks -- though I know that is a luxury not always available to all of us.  Certainly reducing our workload isn't always possible.  Avoiding jumping back and forth, and focusing one one task at a time seems to work better.

We ought to delete the mythical skill of multi-tasking from our job posts.  Asking people to accept that the job entails doing the impossible is a mistake for people and organizations.  Focus is the skill we need, and the habits that make it possible.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, April 16, 2018

Strategies for Increasing Age / Socio Economic Class Board Membership Diversity

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

Two weeks ago, I posted a blog suggesting that when we consider diversity on our Boards, we ought to include both age and socioeconomic status as considerations.  Specifically, we need more young people and people who are less economically, educationally and otherwise privileged.

Calling out the glaring omission of most of our Boards to have that kind of representation is, of course, the easy part.  Deconstructing the obstacles and barriers to achieving that goal and coming up with concrete ways to go about addressing the challenges is the hard part.  Action is always the hard part - knowing where to start, what to try, and, as often as not, just getting a handle on ideas is not always easy.

I got an email in response to the blog post from Sherry Wagner-Henry, Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration in Wisconsin, informing me of a program to put students on Boards:

"We launched a nonprofit board leadership program through our home school--the Wisconsin School of Business--to provide opportunities for graduate students in business, nonprofit studies, environmental studies, education, law school, social work, and of course the arts, to both share the content we've developed around good practices for serving on a nonprofit board, and simultaneously, place them on a nonprofit board (in teams of two students per org) around Dane County.
Our motivation for launching this program was two-fold: I was most interested at first to make sure the the MBA arts administration students of the Bolz Center were getting board service and leadership opportunities before they started leading organizations. But the second motivator was more complex. My partner and I had read a report from BoardSource "Leading with Intent" where we noticed that all forms of diversity on nonprofit boards was not moving much--with the exception of gender diversity. While it is still not the case in For Profit boards, nonprofit boards have become much more gender balanced. But when it comes to ethnicity, age, socio-economic status and sexual identity/orientation, we are still leagues away from where we should be. This got us to thinking--the university is a microcosm of all these sorts of diversity--particularly age--so why not use this opportunity to direct a demographic that is much needed toward board service BEFORE they graduate and start becoming the leaders of industry, education, the environment and the social sector at large?"

Good idea this.  The University program is a natural pool of younger people; future leaders who will be, and are now, excellent candidates for Boards.  Both the students and the organizations benefit from the experience and opportunity.

Sherry added:

"The results have been phenomenal! We fill the class every year (looking to expand number of sections offered); we have partnerships with more than 40 organizations in Dane County, with a waiting list for others that want to participate. For profit and nonprofit companies are calling us, asking us to develop training programs for their organizations. The course runs for an entire academic year, with the first semester being about the matching/recruitment process, orientation, and on-boarding for the student teams into the culture and process of these boards. They get to know their organizations while they take coursework that help them understand how to best contribute to the work of their nonprofits. By the end of the fall term, they have developed a governance-based project with and for their board. Spring becomes case study work and implementation of said project.
By placing students in teams of two, they don't feel so isolated or alone, while they get to know their mentors and their executive directors. And the EDs have told us they are thrilled with this opportunity. Not only does it open up and help them consider recruitment and board development strategies for diversification and inclusion, but the unexpected result is that their boards have become MORE engaged than they ever have been--because they are modeling good behavior and practice for the students in the room!"

 I wondered if her success included a representative sample of our field.  So I asked her:
Did her organizational partners run the gamut of arts organizations in terms of budget size, Eurocentric v. multicultural, older more established organizations v. newer and smaller? 

Sherry responded:

"I think they are as broad as the spectrum actually is at the moment in Madison, Wisconsin--and for those who are willing to open up their boards to our program.  We've had very small organizations (under $150K) tell us they don't think they have the time to give the students the experience they feel they need.  Of course, many of those types of organizations are lucky to have one paid staff member, so we certainly understand their assumptions.
We have both small and large budget arts organizations--from that $150K level to our downtown PAC at $13M.  We've had an interesting development just today--a donor to a dance company in town wants to pay to give all the staff and board access to the course.  We actually make the class available to the EDs and any board members who wish to attend, but we rarely get any takers after the first night of pitching/matching happens.
As for ethnic diversity, what is interesting is that we are finding (like in many places) that some of our social services partners, who do bring more diversity in their staff and boards, are also most interested in leveraging the arts and arts programming as part of their programs, particularly for youth.  Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, Big Sisters Goodman Community Center and the YWCA have all exhibited commitment to arts programming, and therefore, are interested in Bolz Center students being on their teams.
MMoCA (Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) is our oldest organization at around 130 years old, while Forward Theater Company at 9 years old, is our newest."

One of the challenges to recruiting younger people to our boards is identifying the pool of individuals who might potentially be a good fit, and from which to draw.  University programs, particularly those in arts administration, are a natural fit, and, best of all, they already exist and are easy to identify.  I think the Bolz program Sherry has instituted might be something that can be replicated elsewhere. It can be  both a source of immediate board member candidates, and a longer term build up of a pool of experienced board members as the student cohort enters the field and moves into the tenures of their service.

There are likely other extant pools of potential younger cohort candidates for our boards, in those arts organizations that specifically serve younger people as their target.  A program like the Bolz program that provided some training, mentorship and ongoing support could benefit the younger cohort and the organizations they might serve.  More difficult than the University setting where the whole experiment can be organized as part of the curriculum, but still potentially win win.

This kind of approach might be one way to address the absence of younger people on our Boards, but it doesn't solve, or even really address, the issue of the absence of representative socio-economic and class status on our Boards.  Certainly most younger people recruited to our Boards will not yet have had time to accumulate wealth, status and position,  and so they might theoretically qualify as yet privileged.  But it also likely many of them, in University programs, and even as beneficiaries of our programs targeting youth, are from the privileged class and / or on track to be such.  Those that might be accepted by our least socioeconomic diversified Boards are very well likely to mirror the socioeconomic composition of those Boards, if not now, then in time.  So while there is promise for the Bolz approach to address the age challenge, in all probability, it doesn't address the socioeconomic challenge.

The one element of the Bolz experiment that might be tried is in our growing relationship with other nonprofit organizations within our communities; organizations with which we may already be seeking to collaborate and partner on projects; organizations that more completely include lower socioeconomic classes and less privileged people.  Our outreach to those organizations to help us to diversify our boards, our outlooks and perspectives might be fertile ground for addressing the lack of any obvious pool of candidates into which we can tap.  As we increase our community involvement on other levels and for other purposes, it may become easier for us to identify ways to recruit more diversified people to out Boards.  And if we were to take that approach, we might be able to identify organizations and groups within our communities that could provide us with a pool of Board candidates even if there were not other mutual projects or programs for us to pursue.

People tend to cling to their own.  Familiarity breeds not contempt, but comfort.  Nonprofit Boards in general have been the province of people who have the luxury of time to devote to the enterprise.  And on high profile cultural organizations and foundations, the categorical composition of those Boards hasn't changed much in decades.  Even the recruitment of people of color, of women, and in some cases "out" gays - have tended to be limited to those who share socioeconomic status, educational level, working relationships and other vestiges of what we call privilege.  it's a good thing, but its not the solution of representative socio economic status.

I haven't come across a great program or strategy to increase the socioeconomic profile of our Boards, one that includes those who do not share the same trappings of privilege we can ascribe to those now in the positions.  If anybody has one, please let me know.  This is not an easy challenge to address.

Of course, the biggest challenge has to do with our 'will' to make inclusion of differing socio economic classes on our Boards.  Without wanting to make that inclusion, no available pool of potential candidates will matter much at all.  And it seems likely that while we may make attempts to increase diversity of age on our Boards, if only in token numbers, we are less likely to see socioeconomic status diversity hold the same priority.  Boards have their own legacies and cultures, and change is often difficult - particularly as the organization grows older.  That's just a given organizational dynamic.  I doubt attitudinal changes can be legislated or mandated.  Perhaps as the movement for organizations to be more involved in their local communities grows, change will come.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, organizations that seek to add the diversity of age and socioeconomic status to the perspectives of their Boards need to first identify potential pools of candidates.

Many thanks to Sherry at Bolz for sharing with me a great program.  Hopefully it can be launched by others.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit